Sue and Hosta at 4750 metres
Friday 12 November
Thorung Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La
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
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.
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
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
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
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)
Finish: 3700 metres
Time: 8.8 hours
Stops: 3.1 hours
Walking time: 5.7