Day 12 - Hike over Phorung La Pass (5,416m)

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April 22nd 2019
Published: May 6th 2019
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Today was the penultimate challenge day, reaching the highest point of our trek, Thorung La Pass (5,416m). We woke at 02:45 and the original plan was not have breakfast but Sudarshan was having porridge so we all decided to do the same thing. This meant we didn’t start our hike to High Camp until 03:45. We all had headlamps and you could see a trail of lights going up the trail. None of us had a good nights sleep as it is more difficult in high altitude, but somehow, we all managed to wake up enough to take the first steps upwards.

The weather was literally freezing and un-seasonal snow covered the whole trail. This was not what we expected in April and although pretty, it made the hike even more challenging, particularly going downhill in the afternoon.

The first section to High Camp was very steep and light snow was falling as well. We were already exhausted just 90 minutes into the hike, reaching High Camp, which is the alternative stop before taking on Phorung La Pass. It was so cold, my camera didn’t function and ice had formed over the front filter from the sub-zero temperature. Vicki and I considered hiring a yak to take us to Thorung La Pass, but the only yak available was already booked. In good weather, horses are also available but this was far from good weather. In any case we found later that cost of hiring the yak was $US450, so I doubt we would have paid that much money in any case.

After that we continued upwards, stopping again for a morning tea break around 07:00. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take photos with my DSLR until about 07:00 because it was still dark to that time and the ice only started to melt off my camera when the sun finally appeared. We reached the pass at 09:45 so it had taken us 6 gruelling hours including the stops for rest. I still can’t believe we did it. We felt like real mountains climbers walking through the snow and sleet, and we all felt a great sense of achievement inreaching this point. We all hugged each other and Vicki and I had tears in our eyes.

After that we’re thinking, now it will be a much easier downhill hike, but it still took us 5-6 hours and the un-seasonal snow, sleet and slippery rocks made it very hard going. In some parts, the snow was quite fresh and your foot would sink in about 15cms. After about 3 hours my left knee started giving me problems similar to our Shivapuri NP hike and I had a lot of difficulty getting down. The youngsters pushed on ahead and Vicki and I took our time as we were both experiencing difficulties. Sudarshan took Vicki’s day-pack and Ganesh took mine to make things a bit easier for us and Sudarshan lent me a pair of crampons as I was slipping a bit and losing balance. There were a couple of sections that were quite steep and a few hikers, including us decided it was easier to slide down on our back-sides using our hiking poles as ski poles. Actually, at the second slope neither Vicki or I had really made a decision as we both slipped and landed on our back-sides anyway , so just slid down the remainder of the slope.

The last 60 minutes, Sudarshan stuck with me and held my hand and arm at times as I was also starting to lose my sense of balance, because of tiredness and, as it turned out, lack of food. Just near the end it was obvious I was having difficulties and they came up with the idea to carry me down but at this point it was only another 15 minutes to walk, so I said it wasn’t necessary. Sudarshan also said that instead of hiking to Muktinath, we could get a motorbike or jeep to take Vicki and I from Phedi at the bottom of the mountain to Muktinath rather than walk. We both thought that was an excellent idea. When we finally reached the bottom the youngsters had lunch organised for us on arrival and after eating and resting, we all felt quite good and I even felt like I got all my senses back. Sudarshan had ordered a jeep and the youngsters had also decided that the jeep for the last part to Muktinath was a good idea.

We had to walk a bit further down to an area where the jeep could pick us up and it was the bumpiest ride any of us have ever had. By the time we reached Muktinath I was thankfully, feeling quite normal again. At the Hotel Buddha, the rooms even had an attached bathroom and hot showers so we all took advantage of that after the basic facilities we had over the last couple of nights. Best part for me was dinner as Sudarshan said that now were back in civilization, it would be OK for us to eat meat, although he suggested we stick to chicken and not try yak. So we tried fried chicken and chicken momos which were both great. The vegetarian meals we had been consuming over the last few days was hard going for me. We were all very glad to have a well deserved rest in our hotel after such an epic day.

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