So, as the snow continues, we begin our way back to the 1st hut.
The first hour back to the hut by the river was fairly easy as the 8+" of snow covered all the stones and we are just walking along. But the next 6+ hours get long! A package of crackers and a powerbar help keep the energy going. At times, slipping and sliding I find myself losing some steam! I think we all thought it was a localized storm and we would hike out of it. But the further we went, the deeper the snow and we begin to realize the storm probably came up the valley.
Poor Umbert is breaking trail, and only 5'5", many times the snow is above his knees. I quickly learn being #2 is almost as tiring as breaking trail. But #5 or 6 is so much easier. I no longer worry about falling with the camera, as everyone is falling, but by now there is 14-16" of snow, so they are soft landings. The trekking poles help, but as they sometimes sink even with the baskets. It seems to take an awful amount of energy to pull them
out, only to have them sink again with the next step. But they do help with the balance.
I feel sorry for Raphaelle as her pack is quite heavy. and Remi most times is on ahead, leaving her to fend for herself. Their guide stays in the back and only reluctantly breaks Umbert, breaking the trail. He goes too fast and then tires out about 20 minutes later. But, plod on we do. Rafaelle actually, about 3 hrs into it, allows their cook to carry her pack. She fares much better. One porter has wrapped his feet into plastic bags, but keeps walking out of his sandals. I guess their last trip it was warm. And he decided he didn't need his boots. He is our Asst cook and many times his basket of pats and pans goes tumbling. with no golves and no real jacket he is the least prepared for this. I feel bad for him, but there is not much I can do for him.
Ffinally @ 5pm we make it to the first hut. The yaks have gone a different way, so there is no food. We are about one hour thru the rhodis
to Tsoka. Re-energized by recognizing the hut, we start the long slide switchbacking down. It quickly turns into a telemark lesson and the poles are very helpful! We get a 1/2 hr of marginal light till our flashlights are all that light up the path. But, this time I have a heavy duty flashlight with extra batteries! It throws quite a beacon compared to the silly head lamps. The last hour gets quite long as with each turn I think we will see the huts below.
At some point the dzos catch up with us, or we to them. Their ringing bells are very pleasant to accompany us. Besides that, all is quiet and pristine, except for the occasional 'umpf' as someone falls and sometimes an English expletive from Remi. The trees and rhodis all covered with +12" of new powder snow, often creating a lovely canopy over our trail, as they drape down. And at long last, from the distance we hear the dogs barking from Tsoka hut. The porters burst into song and as we round the bend, far below, but there we finally see the huts. The far hut we see flashlights dancing outside. And with
a tremendous sense of accomplishment, we plow down the last 1000'. Wet and tired we feel great! Yak bells ringing, porters singing, dogs barking! We join in the singing with Christmas songs. Life is Grand!
At the hut we are warmly greeted by the American couple who had stayed at Dzongu. They were the only ones who knew we had gone on to Thanzing and were quite worried about us. Funny, worry and fear never entered our picture. I think we were all too focused on what we had to do. And fortunately no one got hurt. The only time I was even somewhat aware of our situation was at one point climbing up there was a downed tree, snow covered. As i went to climb over, my leg slid and went right under the log. Quickly realizing this is now where I want to be, I scrambled out, only to have Umbert do the exact same thing. Not afraid, but realizing a broken leg would complicate things. But after seeing the first protective rock overhang, if we had to we could spend the night out, as protected from the wind was about all the huts did anyway.
Anyway, coming into the hut, the American couple greeted us with hot chai that tasted fabulous! By now, spending the last two nights with Remi and Raphaelle, the 4 of us quickly crowd into one room and quickly get out of our wet gear, hanging a rope and hanging our clothes over it. Our powerstretch, warm and dry, never felt so wonderful! With all of the hiking, other than very wet feet, none of us got cold.
Later, in the middle of the night, I have to go out to use the outhouse. Ed later tells me he was quite impressed that i refused to sacrifice my only dry pair of socks that i was sleeping in, and actually put my bare feet in those very cold and still very wet boots. I told him that was not near as rude as all the snow I kicked down into them trampling to and from the toilet!
Dec 29th Day 6 The next morning, with a bit of mixed feelings, we wake up to the clearest, bluest sky and the one mountain we can see is stunning with its fresh coating of snow! I think, all of us, except
perhaps Remi, recognize we made the right choice. It could have just as easily snowed for a couple of days. But I am sure Goecha-La was spectacular this morning! Oh, well!
Remi and Rhaphaelle decide to stay an extra day. We are ready to head to Pelling, a village about 2 hours south of Yaksum. In our minds, we have the idea of a fairly easy hike out. But, the 12" of snow is quickly melting and the first hour we are rained on from the melting snow from the trees. Once out of that, it is quite muddy. And our legs, for the first time, are tired, still feeling the efforts from yesterday. For me, it is my knees, particularly going downhill, that scream. For all my feelings earlier of feeling fit, I am now feeling a little pathetic,as I crawl downhill! But, by the end of the day, we are in T-shirts and the pep returns to our step. Lunch is a delightful stop at the bridge. We go down to the rive and enjoy the sight of the waterfall. Quite amazed as the others actually wash their hair and bodies. It's too cold for us!
Back in Yaksum, we enjoy a 5 gallon bucket of hot water, so hot we are able to enjoy 2 of them after adding cold water. It feels fabulous, dumping it over our filthy bodies. I decide not to waste any of it on my hair, as by now, as long as I don't touch it, it doesn't feel that dirty. A decision I later regret, especially after finding out a bucket of water only cost 10rps. I wished I had ordered a 2nd bucket. By now, the sun has set, and it is much too cold.
Dinner includes yak meat. It is quite flavorful, but I think Umbert is disappointed we eat so little. Good taste grilled, tastes alittle like lamb, but is quite grizzly. I am sure the others enjoyed it.
Dec 30th Day 7 Up early for the 6:30 departure to Pelling, we only have a cup of tea. Umbert tells us the cook wants to buy our fleece jackets. We hesitate as we are wearing them. It is still quite cold! Last night was the first night without our sleeping bags and fleece. We were fine, plenty warm. We had all 3 quilts form
the 3 beds on one. One on bottom, two on top. They were warm, but man were they heavy, abit like sleeping under a dentist's xray jacket! You sure didn't move much. But since we will be heading south, we tell Umbert, ok but 200 rps each, firm. He comes back with the 400 rps and we somewhat reluctantly give them up. That is before our jeep shows up and it is an open air jeep!! It is a shared jeep, and one of the few times i am cheering for more people to fit, 4 across, no problem!
The trip is pretty much directly across from Yaksum, but unfortunately there is a deep valley in between, so it is 1.5 hrs for a 25 mile trip. And we freeze! I still only have one pair of dry socks, so i continue to put the cold wet ones on. Trekking it was not a problem. Within 20 mins they had warmed up. But stationary against the cold jeep floor, they are like ice by the time we get to Pelling. But the view, that was below Yaksum and hidden, now is across the valley and it is supurb! Barely
a whisp of a cloud and the air is so clear.
We pull up to the center of town where there is a lot of jeep activity and tons of people. In the 1st hotel, we quickly find out, 'our snowstorm' knocked out the power of Pelling 3 days ago. No water, no electricity and the guests are being told to leave, and the hotels are not allowing anyone else to check in. Flushing toilets, washing dishes all by bucket. Ed and I are both hungry and cold!
Ed goes to check out a few places. I decide to use one of those foot heat packets, for the first time. So I plunk myself down on the corner steps of a hotel, pretty oblivious now to all the commotion. I tear open the packet, shake it and put it in one of my boots. Do the same with the other boot. As I am tying up the 2nd boot, a very nice Indian gentleman is standing in front of me and says quietly "what did you put in your boots?" I look up and there must be @ 8 gentlemen watching me intently! I pull the packet out
and explain as they all circle closer. They feel the heat and are quite interested in it.
Meanwhile Ed comes back and says none of the hotels seem to be letting anyone check in. By now 10:30, we are still hungry and cold! We decide to find some chai and we'll sit down and think! We find The Galaxy serving food and we have a delicious breakfast and chai!! They also agree to let us stay the night! With a place to stay, warming up and no longer hungry, we are feeling much better! We go up to the balcony rooftop to spread out our still wet clothes. Then we just sit up there with the binoculars and thoroughly enjoy retracing our trek! We feel pretty darn proud of our trek!
The next morning we catch another jeep to Siligiri, a much larger town with plenty of modern conveniences. It is New Years Eve, tomorrow we leave on a 28 hour train straight south to Mamallapurnam for some well deserved beach time! But that night, we wander around town and had the usual picture taking occur. The next morning at breakfast, Ed is looking at the paper and
say, 'look, we are in the paper!' And ironically in the local paper called The Statesman, is a pic of Ed and I with the caption 'foreigners enjoying the New Year' ! It has been an interesting trip!
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