Saturday, 27 April 2013

Conquering the Pass - and then the downside...

Day 9
High Camp to Muktinath
14 km
6 am - 3 pm

At High Camp ready to tackle the Pass

At 5.30am we were packed and eager to be off, and even though we weren’t particularly hungry we decided to have a decent breaky before heading up. We met Neville and Louis in the common room as we hurriedly ate our porridge and potato pancakes (both actually very tasty). They offered to hike up with us, aware that we’d had a terrible night and that Dave was quite scared of heights - which was going to be interesting since we would be walking on an icy path with a sheer cliff on one side. They had a guide/porter, Carlu, with them who could lend a hand if any of us got into trouble - so we gladly accepted their offer and the 5 of us set off together.

The first section of the hike, just passed High Camp was probably the worst part of the entire ascent, definitely the most treacherous. We crossed the dangerous sections very slowly, thankful that we at least had one pole each but also wishing that we actually had two…

The ascent had us both panting for breath and Sarah's arms and legs were quite tingly from the Diamox she’d taken during the night and again in the morning to help fight the altitude sickness. Nevertheless, the frequent stops to catch our breath were rewarded with stunning views over the snow capped Annapurna ranges, glistening in the still early morning sun. Carlu was great and knew the best places to rest and enjoy the magnificent panoramas.

We made it!! 5416m high - breathtaking :)

We trudged higher and higher, it was a matter of just keeping on and keeping on, and in almost a perfect 2 hour time frame we arrived at the pass – 5416m above sea level!! We were ecstatic, such a great feeling of achievement to not only have hiked the route from the very beginning in a tight time frame, but also to have done it under our own steam, carrying everything ourselves and learning so much about the country and its beauty along the way. We of course enjoyed the moment with a hot cup of tea, along with a Snickers bar that we’d bought back in Manang and had been carrying for this exciting occasion.

We had chosen a beautiful day to climb the pass, no wind and crystal clear skies with a view from the top that was breathtaking – literally.  It seemed our luck from Switzerland (where we seemed to always have perfect weather whenever we went up a mountain) had followed us into Nepal…

Around 9am the skies began to grow cloudy so we decided it was time to begin our descent, and what a painful 3.5 hours followed - steep, consistent, shale and rock – terrible! It was especially tough on Dave’s knee, even with his brace on, again we regretted not having two poles each. Neville and Louis went on ahead as we were really slowing them down, even Andy and Miriam caught us up and they started from Thorong Phedi! They had no poles at all and we’d planned to give them ours at the end of the day as we wouldn’t need them afterwards but unfortunately we didn’t meet up with them again.

Finally after an agonising descent we arrived at Charabu and stopped for coffee and lunch. Neville and Louis had waited there for us to make sure that we'd made it down ok. They had long since finished lunch so we exchanged emails before they continued on. We enjoyed fried noodles and mo-mo’s before facing the last hours descent into town.  The rest of the way wasn’t too bed except that our knees and backs were already aching and the adrenaline of crossing the pass was beginning to really wear off. We were very relieved to finally hike under the stone archway and enter Muktinath right on 3pm as it had been a mammoth 1616m decent in altitude.

Our companion while waiting for the jeep
We walked through town trying to find a jeep that would take us onto Jomsom. We found the 'jeep stand' on the far side of town but had to wait until it filled up before we could leave. So we rested are legs and backs for the next hour, counting the number of fellow hikers that were slowly entering the jeep area, passing the time until we reached the magic number of people that would allow us to start the last part of our journey. In the end we waited, as is usually the case, until the jeep was actually overfull, 13 people in fact. So by 4pm were all bouncing together in our packed little jeep on the way to Jomsom. 

It took us a bumpy, no suspension, everyone needing more deodorant filled hour to get to Jomsom and no sooner had we arrived then we were walking the streets trying to find a place to book a flight out of there. (This is no reflection on the town itself which was really quite picturesque, but rather a reflection of our time-frame and need to pick up our Indian visa's back in Kathmandu....) After a bit of a run around we manage to get the last two seats on the early morning flight to Pokhara, however the flight would only take off if the weather was good so there were no guarantees. We'd talked to other travelers who had    wasted two or three days for the weather to clear enough to fly and in the end given up and taken the two-day jeep journey instead, we really hoped that this wouldn't become our story. 

A local lady in Muktinath
After paying in cash for the flights, we negotiated a fair rate on a room and after three days without a proper shower we enjoyed a hot, long scrub, but not too long as we were both starving as well. We wolfed down dinner in about 5 seconds flat, and still feeling hungry we decided to stroll around town since we hadn’t been in a proper one for what felt like a long time. We found a small bakery that was still open and enjoyed a delicious cheese cake which managed to hit the spot. 

By 8.30pm we were in bed exhausted, marveling that we’d hiked 122km in 9 days (including one acclimatisation rest day), ascended 4600m, reached the dizzying heights of 5416m, and had one of the most amazing experiences we’d ever have in our lifetime. To be honest at that moment we felt like any future obstacle that confronted us we would be able to deal with together after achieving what we just had. But before sleeping we were mainly thankful for the small things :- like not to be sleeping at altitude and that it wasn’t -20°C outside. 

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