Thorong La Pass
It was -11C and the snow shower made it difficult to see the next black post guiding us to safety. The snowfall was one or two feet in places and the hot Australian bush was no training ground to learn how to descend through the icy slush beneath us. The pretty pictures in the slideshow below belie the rapid turnaround in weather on the descent. I was honestly a little scared and on reflection would do things a little differently.
The two Canadians who were with us were not perturbed however, skating down with their sticks showing us how it was done. Later confessing that if the conditions had worsened they would have been worried, we weren’t to know the precariousness of the situation until later. We ended up following the icy path etched into the snow by trekkers made earlier in the day but came eventually to a point where the track was uncertain, visibility was decreasing and the 5am brekky was starting to wear thin after the 1000m ascent from Thorong Phedi. What we hadn’t calculated was the effort required, after making the Pass, of the near 2000m descent that day. The snowfall certainly didn’t help. A prayer later and a guide appeared out of the haze leading our little group and two Dutchman to safety below.
The relief of sitting in the tea house was palpable as we counted off the friends who appeared out of the snow cloud and joined us for a late and well deserved lunch. It was easy to see how the disaster in October 2014 could happen so easily. Some of the promised improvements are yet to materialise and would have improved the experience for all concerned. These fears may seem somewhat unfounded to an outsider or two foolhardy adventurers we met but I for one have increased my estimate of the power of nature and of the Himalaya. It’s certainly not something to trifle with.
Four days prior
The snow fall earlier that week (four days previous) couldn’t have contrasted more strongly. We had climbed from Pisang to Ghyaru the day before and descended through a winter wonderland. Everything covered in a fine white powder, the Annapurnas resplendent in their icy finery reflecting the brilliance of the sun above. Snow fights ensued and the ubiquitous branch shaking followed as the sun came out to thaw the snow beneath.
Somehow we were the first people that day to break trail and when we had reached the foot of our descent had some great fun trying to pick out the path in the whited out landscape underneath. The inevitable snow fights ensued as the sun came out to play. Hot cinnamon scrolls awaited us in the next little village of Braga at the German bakery. The snow fell off the roof in chunks, curling off in waves of ice. On the descent from the pass later that week, there were no snow fights, just thoughts and prayers for a safe arrival.
One day later
Although foretold, I wasn’t prepared for the juxtaposition of the desert on the Jomsom side of the pass. The “rain shadow phenomenon” gets bandied around as the explanation for this landscape but still looks otherworldly with not a hue of green. It was such a different world that we entered after descending from Thorong La Pass. It looks like something out of Afghanistan or Pakistan with the desert beneath and snow peaked mountains rising above.
The Kali Gandakhi River provides relief however and two little oases were not to be missed. Many skip this next section opting for a jeep after the jarring 2000m descent. Kagbeni and Marpha were the little gems nestled amidst the desert landscape rising above. Apple pie of all thing therefore is to be found in spades throughout this section. None better than in Marpha where we ended up staying an extra night, enjoying a unique little town with a canal system ingeniously carved into the main stone covered street fed by the 7th highest mountain behind. Water is then diverted through the terraced apple orchards and fields beyond.
The experience of the Circuit is something else. This blog overreaches perhaps in describing this trek as one “Less Travelled”. Many thousands travel this route each year. We immensely enjoyed the company. For it to continue, we felt moved to write a letter requesting that those responsible improve the safety of the Pass. Something this magic needs all the attention available to allow those who live and work here the greatest opportunity the space it needs to thrive.