Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Monday, 27 June 2022

November 2004 - The Annapurna Circuit - Day 12

                                       Sue and Hosta at 4750 metres

Friday 12 November
Thorung Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La pass
Itinerary: DAY 12 Muktinath (3,802m) Today we make a very early start to cross Thorung Pass (5,416m). There is a steep section at the beginning for about an hour. Then the walk towards the pass is gradual uphill with several false summits. The view from the pass is simply stunning. On either side of the pass lies Yakawa Kang to the north and Khatung Kang to the south. The Mukut and the Mustang Himal lies in the west with the Kali Gandaki Valley down below. The peaks of Chhulu East and Chhulu West lie on the north and the entire Annapurna range dominate the southern horizon. From the pass there is a long, steep descent down to Muktinath. (8 - 9 hours walk). 

[Diarist: Sue]
The big day - crossing the Thorong La pass.

The alarm prompted action at 4:25 am. Frost glistened inside the tent. Both of us had slept pretty well, although two pairs of boots inside Martin's sleeping bag for the last 2 hours proved a heat sink. 

Tea arrived at 4:30 - no washing water today. We packed quickly and headed to the warmer dining room for breakfast at 5 am. All, except Mark who was feeling very nauseous, managed porridge, a cinnamon roll, and omelette, in preparation for the 1000 metre ascent. Last night's cloud had dispersed, and under a starry sky we set off at 5:30 am. Head torches could be seen on the trail ahead, but ours were only needed for a short time, as the sky lightened.

The first hour or so was fairly steep, culminating in a cleft where a 'high camp' is situated. Here I removed one of the two down layers I was wearing, whilst we waited for others. Warmish feet were thanks to Martin's boot warming technique. Lots of people were doing the same crossing and there was more camaraderie between groups than had been experienced on other days. 

The sun had lit the top of Gangapurna before we left 'high camp'. Mountains surrounded us but today we were certainly among them instead of admiring them from a distance. The trail ascended more gently now. Ice had to be negotiated and I helped the 'table man' over one such section, whilst one of the sherpas, Hosta, was assisting us.

Amazingly, small tea houses break the ascent. After 1 hour 40 minutes lemon tea went down well inside one of these, warmed by the sun streaming through the window. Mark provided chocolate and we listened to the concerns of a girl who was worried about continuing. Outside, horses awaited anyone unfortunate enough to need carrying to the top (or more likely back down) - it would have been a chilly journey. 

The sun took a little of the cold away, and when Andrew arrived the rest of us were ready to continue. This was the 5000 metre mark. 

With Martin ahead*, Hosta and I chatted on the next section. This was difficult due to the need to breathe heavily. The mountain scenery was bleak but beautiful under its snow, with Thorong Peak close to our left.

Today, as usual, was cloudless. A cold breeze meant that no more layers were removed, despite the sunshine. Just after 9 am, fluttering prayer flags signalled the top of the pass at 5416 metres - in fact, the pass was festooned with colour. Unbelievably, a tea shop is located here too! A little higher was Martin, behind a rock on a small high point. Out of the wind, it proved a warmer place to wait for the others than the pass itself.

Mary soon arrived, but it was some time before Mark and Lindy turned up. Lindy had felt faint and had wondered whether she would make it. Andrew was not far behind them. The view onward and the views back were superb. Mary's 'Minstrels' were welcome too, although we weren't really hungry. 

The six of us, plus Sanjeev and the three sherpas, plus a couple of porters, squeezed into the tea shop for hot lemon. It was dark apart from the stove and light from the open door. Finally, photos were taken and it was time to go down. Martin managed an hour and 20 minutes here, and me not much less. Both of us were going well and had no symptoms of the altitude apart from shortness of breath. Before leaving, Sanjeev and the sherpas produced some prayer flags that they fastened to the many that were already there.

Looking down from our high point to the Thorong La tea shop

The descent was nearly 1700 metres, mostly on a dusty path, but with occasional icy patches. This side of the pass was less snowy, but covered in boulders. After about an hour, it warmed up considerably and a clothing removal stop turned into lunch. Our packed lunch, taken at around 11:30, was welcome. A raspberry yoghurt drink, muesli bar, hard-boiled egg, bread and chocolate, all fortified us for a few more hours.

Ahead, a brown landscape, which is the Kali Gandaki Valley, with more snow-capped mountains. It was an open vista. Later, the snowy cone of Dhaulagiri (another 8000 metre peak) comes into view. We have fun on a snowy section which a few people struggled on.

More lemon tea at another 'restaurant'. It is now warm enough to remove thermal leggings, and comfortable sitting around. Our destination, Muktinath, comes into view and we are surprised by the white wall around a temple, passed before coming into the 'Wild West' town. Wares for sale line the edges of the streets, with women trying to sell coloured beads and weaving to us.

We reached camp at 2:30 pm, a brown site at the edge of town, brightened by our yellow tents. A good spot to relax. We're able to wash off the dust, and have tea in the sun in the dining tent at 4 pm. Due to the wide valley here, we benefit from later sun, and it disappears at 4:30. 

Between then and dinner at 6 pm, we all adjourn to our warm sleeping bags, as it gets cold here at 3800 metres. A Nepalese dinner in the mess tent included rice, dhal, vegetable curry, and a hot chilli chutney, after soup, with mango to finish. It was tempting, once hot water bottles arrived, to go to bed after such an early start, but a celebratory beer was in order. Down clad, we found the bar on the top floor of the North Pole Hotel, where the four occupants already there, left. Tuborg beer went down well, its effects greater than they would be at sea level.

Under a cloudy sky, bed at 9 pm.

 * I remember this well. I was going slowly but steadily, and to my surprise I passed the leader of another group. This stimulated him into rushing ahead of me whilst I continued my slow plod. A few minutes later I passed him again, after pausing to check that he was ok in his collapsed state, apart from being out of breath! - Ed

Start: 4500 metres
Ascent: 920 metres
High Point: 5420 metres (525mb)
Descent: -1720 metres
Finish: 3700 metres
Time: 8.8 hours
Stops: 3.1 hours
Walking time: 5.7 hours

No comments: