Hiking the Himalayas Part 3: Lost in a Landslide and Thorung La
Day 10: Letdar to Thorung High Camp
To say that today’s hike was challenge and pushed us to the limit is a bit of an understatement. It started out like most other days of hiking over high grades, quickly gaining a lot of altitude. All of a sudden the path traversing the side of the mountain disappeared in a sea of small rocks. Looking above us, we quickly surmised that a landslide had occurred overnight or earlier that morning. This left us in a very precarious situation, do we attempt to cross over 50 feet of rocks ready to tumble at the slightest disturbance or turn around and descend to the riverbed, costing us two extra hours? Never ones to shy away from a challenge, we decided to give the landslide a go. Gabe took one step and immediately found himself slowly sliding down the mountain with nowhere to plant his feet for support. Responding to his exclamations, I grabbed to top of Gabe’s pack and lifted him back up to sure ground.
A minor setback, that’s all. I decided to give it a go without the burden of my pack. As I set my pack down, one of my trekking poles became dislodged and we watched as it slowly slid 20 feet down the mountain. Mounting a rescue mission, I gingerly made my way down towards the lost pole, placing my trust in the few larger rocks that seemed unlikely to betray my weight. With the pole just out of arms reach, another landslide began forcing me to take cover under a little alcove that a protruding rock had provided. For the next couple of minutes, I took refuge as rocks ranging from pebbles to the size of softballs whizzed past intent on taking out everything in their paths. With my pole carried along the landslide and buried under a pile of rocks, I abandoned the rescue mission and turned my focus on getting my ass back up the mountain to safety.
I slowly made my way back up the mountain, seeking solid hand and footholds but never really trusting any of them. Many times rocks slipped away under my feet and hands, bounding down the mountain and forcing me to hug the mountain face. After what seemed like a short eternity, I was able to make it back and up over the landslide. Returning to Gabe to retrieve my pack, we made our way across along the path I had used. As we got across, our fellow trekkers from the night before arrived at the beginning of the landslide. Mario, Ben, and one Chinese trekker followed our lead and climbed across as the others all headed back to take the much longer path along the riverbed. (We learned later that an Aussie girl tried to cross the landslide later that day and lost her pack down the mountain, almost following suit. When she made it across, she went to seek help for her Colombian boyfriend who was shaken up after watching her almost slide down the hill and remained on the other side. When she returned with two porters an hour and a half later, he had entered a state of shock and had to be rushed to seek medical attention.)
When we arrived at Thorong Pedi, we took a half hour respite to catch our breath and eat some Snickers, powering up for the insanely steep climb to base camp. Over the course of an hour, we gained 400 meters and shared some incredible views with the yaks. A day of serious hiking indeed.
Day 11: High Base Camp to Thorung La to Muktinath
Thorung La, the pinnacle of our trek. At 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) it is the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit trail. As such, it is also the coldest and the most susceptible to snowstorms and violent wind gusts. Hearing that it’s best to reach the pass before 9:00 when the winds become unpredictable, we woke up at 5 for a little hike under the moonlight. We ate a hearty breakfast and set off without any drinking water, which had all frozen overnight. The ascent to the pass was a real test, not quite as steep as the hike to base camp but much longer. Every time that a pass came into view a sense of hope entered my mind, only to be erased as another pass higher up in the distance came into view. Finally we came to the height of the pass and the plaque congratulating us on our success, covered in Tibetan prayer flags. We stopped to soak in the moment for around 15 minutes, drinking some lemon tea that Mario had brought and snapping the few pictures that our frozen hands would allow us to take. When I say that it was cold up there, I mean it was colder than a witch’s tit. Even behind the barrier of our gloves, our fingers barely responded to our brain’s signals to clench and extend to get some blood flowing.
It was all downhill from there. Literally. A very long, steep downhill trail awaited us. Literally running down the mountain to take some of the strain off our knees, we made our way to a small restaurant and got some food underneath the beaming sun we had never been more thankful to see. I realized that in the mad dash down the mountain my travel pillow became dislodged, hopefully some wild yak is now sleeping in luxury. After a couple hours of cruising downhill, we made it to the spiritual town of Muktinath, by far the largest town we had come to so far. Many temples connected by prayer flags lined the outskirts of the town and we settled into a guesthouse with a hot shower.
Enjoying a hot shower, (our first shower of the trip because who wants to take a cold shower in the mountains and then climb back into dirty clothes?) we felt rejuvenated and chilled on the rooftop with some fellow trekkers, sharing stories and sipping beers under the sun. We had heard that it is possible to rent mountain bikes in Muktinath and have your bags transported via jeep to meet up with you at your destination, but discovered that it was out of season and we would have to either walk or jeep our way down the rest of the circuit. Most people decide to jeep from Muktinath to Tatopani to save time, but we wanted the authentic experience and decided that we would hoof it out the rest of the way.
Day 12: Muktinath to Marpha
From Muktinath, Relic decided to take the jeep down to Tatopani along with all the other trekkers except for a 49 year old man named Willem from Holland. Effectively replacing Relic with Willem, we embarked on the dusty trail once more listening to Willem’s extensive travel experiences. These stories were highly entertaining and filled with useful tips, often punctuated by the exclamation “It was FANTASTICK!” The day’s trek was long and we took our second wrong turn of the circuit, crossing a bridge to end up in a secluded town where we ate lunch and turned around. As we travelled near the exposed riverbed lined with rocks (the riverflow was very narrow this time of year and swells up immensely during the monsoon season) a passing tractor offered to give us a ride. We threw our bags in the attached wagon, which turned out to be lined in oil to our dismay, and hopped on the back of the tractor for the ride of our lives. To say that we felt each rock under the giant tires is not an exaggeration. We were literally tossed around like a dog’s favorite chew toy, holding on to the overhang and sides for dear life. After a 45 minute ride, we arrived in Jomsom, the largest town on the trek complete with its own airport. Rubbing the aches from our bodies, we hit up a local bakery and grabbed some cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants that were much cheaper than in the other towns. With the road readily accessible, there were a large variety of goods to choose from at much cheaper prices. We looked into the possibility of getting a jeep or bus to Tatopani from here, but once again decided it was too expensive and that we preferred to finish the beast on foot.
After another hour of trekking we reached the neighboring town of Marpha and checked into the Paradise Guest House, which I highly recommend. The room here included double sized beds, lights that worked, and an attached bathroom with a Western toilet. We were living the good life and I had a hot shower for the second night in a row, prompting me to think of a praising haiku.
Rain over me sweet heat
Lingering in your embrace
Enlivens my soul