Frozen Trekking and High Passes....

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Factoid: Everest has hosted close to 2,000 successful summiters. 179 people have perished giving a fatality rate of 9.3%. In total, only 130 climbers have summited Annapurna, while 53 have died. The overall fatality rate for Annapurna is thus 41%. Everest is safe! hmmm...

Abstract: Trek started from old Tingri, Pony cart selected in preferance to Yaks (too uncomfortable/skittish), three nights camping (VV COLD, -18C at breakfast and frozen sleeping bags). Arrived Rongphu Monastery and views of Everest spectacular. In morning finally walked to base camp. Graham proposes and Rach accepts! That night beautiful sunset on mountain. After another visit to Base Camp we drove to Nylam via high passes with fabulous views of Shishapangma (8012m). Following day make way to 'friendship bridge' border with Nepal. The valley suddenly became very green, lush and verdant after the tibeten plateau.

Nitty Gritty: Started trek to Everest Base Camp with a pony cart support vehicle as the yaks we'd booked were a) too uncomfortable for Lucy to ride (back bone enema!) and b)the one loaded with our gear needed 2 men to restrain it and looked as though it would canter off never to be seen again! (we later heard about a yak dissapearing over the horizon with trekkers gear and realised we'd made the right decision).

First day spent trudging up a valley before camping in a sheep fold for the night and fending off the local kids from our food and gear - at least they asked before trying to grab something. Water was obtained from a constantly running tap which would otherwise freeze and our evening washing up froze the instant it was washed. It was cold and windy and as soon as the sun went down we took to our sleeping bags, squashed together, three to a two man tent, and awoke to frost and ice on the inside of the tent and covering our sleeping bags. Lucy and Rachel's glasses were frozen and required defrosting on the stove and the thermometer registered -18C at 10am!

It was impossible to get up or start packing up the gear until the sun was up, due to the cold. We had all had an episode of claustrophobia / gasping for air in the night and had gone to bed wearing thermals, several fleeces, down jackets, hats, socks and with down sleeping bags and had just been warm enough.

At the end of the valley the track started to climb offerring us views of snowy peaks and frozen streams. The scenery was barren with little vegetation and no trees, but the sky was an amazingly clear blue. The wind whipped up in the afternoon and we were exhausted when we made camp that night at the foot of the Nam La pass at about 5000m - it was going to be a very cold night. Luckily the sheep fold had sunken areas and the pony cart man (pc man) managed to find Denzing (the horse) somewhere sheltered for the night. Denzing was in lovely condition and his owner took very good care of him, feeding him regularly on barley from a nose bag made from half a football, or barley meal made into a gruel with water or hay in the evenings after he'd got his horse blanket on.

Although we'd bought loads of food for the trek, the altitude was making us lose our appetites so we didn't really eat much after we'd made camp. By this time G & I had started to develop hacking coughs. The night was really cold and there was thick ice on the inside of the tent, the drinking water and wet ones were frozen and everything in the tent was covered in a layer of ice. We were banned from moving as as soon as one person touched the side of the tent, the other two were showered with ice including their faces.

We had to break the ice on the nearby stream to get drinking water and to wash up the breakfast things(the ice was a couple of centimeters thick)and it was 11.30am before we had packed up and left camp. It was only a short climb to the Nam La pass at 5250m and was only about 100m higher than our tents and would have been a bit of a non event except for a few prayer flags and the pc man indicating that we had reached the highest pass on the trek. Unlike Michael Palin, non of us were really suffering from altitude sickness. From the pass we descended into a lovely sunny valley with views of Mt Makalu and it's range.

As our merry band continued, two Tibetan men rushed onto the track with a bicycle which had a puncture, wanting to borrow our pc man's pump (our cart had bicycle wheels). The only way to mend the puncture was to isolate it so one of the men unwound his hair which was coiled around his head and used some of the strands of twine connected to it to tie around the inner tube either side of the puncture and hey presto, once pumped up the tyre stayed inflated.The guide's eagle eye spotted some rare blue sheep (they look like deer) and some gazelles on the nearby hills.

Since we had such a great view of Makalu (8462m/27765ft) we decided to camp in a sheep fold, and spent the afternoon eating, and chatting in the sun. There was a village further down the valley but we'd wanted to avoid staying there due to begging children (people don't realise how much harm they do by giving children sweets and money). However, all afternoon nomads passed our camp whilst herding their yaks down the valley and they would come and stare at our camp, us and all our gadgets for keeping warm - these hardy folk found it fascinating that we were so rugged up. Women herders sang as they passed us. The pc man would light a dung fire to cook he and the guide food - it's amazing how hot dung will burn and we were all grateful for the warmth of the fire.

The pc man used the afternoon to do some mechanical repairs to the pony cart underlining the fact to us that there was a reason why we paid for him, the horse and the cart as it took a real hammering on the track. The eternal problem was that it was too cold to sit around outside as the afternoon wind got up so we retired to the tent faced with 16 hours before it would be warm enough to get up again. Hmmm.. Our faithful pc man reminded us to put all our gear in the tent (which was a struggle) to avoid passing nomads from helping themselves. That night the guide (a young Tibetan) and the pc man sat up drinking Chang (barley liquor), and there was much giggling coming from their tent.

In the morning we were happy it would be a room in the Rongphu monestry that night. We walked down the valley to a small village and then joined the main route to Base camp where the driver 'rescued' our guide from further suffering. The poor bloke had been unhappy with the cold from the start but carried on without complaining to his credit. Since we only had to follow the road and had the pc man with us we said he could go in the 4wd and he was so happy... Considering he is of Tibetan nomadic heritage he should have been tougher!!.

After 6 hours walking we rounded a corner to see Everest's north face in all its glory. We had been battling bitter headwinds all afternoon and with Rongphu monastery about 15 minutes walk away, we gratefully collapsed through the door for tea and (later) fried rice...We were very sad to say goodbuy to the pc man and Denzing, but he wanted to press on on the return journey, so we loaded him up with our uneaten food, a tarpaulin and a good tip (which he used some of to buy some cigarettes!).

Since the mountain had clouded over we had an excuse for going to bed early. It was cold and our faces were burning due to the headwinds of the last few days and stung when moisturiser was applied. In the morning R's face looked like she's had a chemical peel - people pay good money for things like that in the West!! Despite our tiredness, the altitude and coldness had prevented sound sleep. R had a moonlit pee in the carpark - you don't want to hear about the toilets! and Everest and all the surrounding snow was glowing in the dark - it was absolutely clear and very exciting.

We were chomping at the bit in the morning as Everest was clear and bathed in sunshine so G & R set off on foot and Lucy followed in the car a little later. The road was a real slog up the morraine and was really hot initially therefore requiring us to strip off and remove the thermal underwear. Woo hoo! G had developed diarrhoea and R was struggling with the altitude and each step was really hard work, but we refused to get into the car. At one point the road became a series of hairpins and we thought we were being clever by following paths between them, however this bought us out some hundred metres above the road on a hill with an amazing view of Everest. As I struggled to get my breath and hunker down from the wind, G proposed and I think my first words were "your not doing it here!" before I said "yes"!! We had actually bought the ring in Hong Kong on our way to Tibet and I felt sure G would ask me in Rajistan, India at Christmas. The ring looked a bit naff on dirty, rough and wind wrecked hands with nails thick with dirt, but we were really happy.

It wasn't easy to scree slide down to the road without putting your left hand down as I didn't want to damage my ring!.We reunited with Lucy, took some photos os a hill overlooking the base camp and spent an hour or so in a nomadic tent drinking tea out of the wind. Back at Rongphu we shared our news with Lucy (yes, we took the car back!)and sat in the sun in the Monastery chatting to a monk who spoke good english about the winter there (it is the highest monastery in the world and the road to it is closed for 3-5 months), before heading to the posh hotel for a celebratory dinner - it was not only a celebration of our engagement, but Lucy's 400day of travelling. G & L had spicy potatoes and I had delicious chips, all washed down with Lhasa beer. The altitude had done things to my taste buds and I had earned the name chip women by my capacity to eat chips when nothing else would hit the spot. Whilst we were enjoying the heat of the stove, we were treated to an amazing sunset over Everest during which it glowed red - ther perfect end to a momentous day!.

R's cough had got worse and after a breathless night's sleep we packed up for our return to Old Tingri. We visited base camp one last time as the mountain was really clear. A group of mountainbikers arrived whilst we were there, en route for Kathmandu. At breakfast we had chatted to a Swedish girl who lives on the Isle of Sky who had just returned from camp 3 at 6500m where she said it was unbeleivably cold - she and her partner (a mountaineer) had spent 7 months trekking through the Himalaya.

The road back to Tingiri was really bumpy and we all felt a bit car sick, but it was interesting returning via the same track we had walked as the views in the opposite direction were completely different. We were absolutely delighted to see the pc man and Denzing who had stepped off the road to let us pass as when he realised it was us, broke into a wide grin and warmly shook our hands and we patted Denzing. At one point the car slid off the track on a patch of ice and was at a rather nasty angle so we jumped out and to his credit, the driver put the car in 4WD - wonders will never cease!

Back over the pass, we passed several herds of yaks driven by their nomad owners, returning to lower ground for the winter. Back at our lodgings in Tingri, we discovered one of the wheel bearings had gone (an indication to us as to what would have happened to Larry had we not got his fixed) which took about 6 buckets of water to cool it down. We treated ourselves to a face wash, hand scrub and clean of the teeth before settling into the teahouse for some grub. The small village was buzzing with men clattering up the road on horses they were roadtesting and women selling goat carcasses hanging from wooden frames. Lucy and I treated ourselves to some apples as we hadn't had fresh fruit for days.

Th following day we were due to camp at Shishapangma base camp but decided against this due to the cold and the deterioration of all of our health following our last spot of camping. The day was amazingly clear and when we reached the 5100m pass we had amazing views of Shishapagma and the whole Himalayan range to its left - awesome. Here we took the group photo and the driver grabbed a pair of Yak horns and stuck them on his head, flintstones style which was really funny.

From here the road descended and we could feel it getting warmer and we were lucky to see some Tibetan Antelope. We stopped briefly at Milarepa's cave where the holy Milarepa had turned green from eating nettles - the cave was dissapointing but the view from it down the valley and to the mountains was fab. For the whole trip we had been trying to avoid Chinese hotels, often having to stay in them as the police insisted we stay there. Tonight we were praying for a Chinese hotel so we could have a shower. Unfortunately for us, but fortunatley for Nylam it had no such hotel, but it did have a great public shower where we had wonderfully hot showers with heatlamps and felt great even though we had to put our direty clothes back on afterwards.

Our last day in Tibet was the road to Zhangmu and the border with Nepal. The road descended steeply and suddenly everything became green and we saw cour first trees in weeks. It also started to get hotter and at the border it was consiously easier to breath, a really weird feeling. Zhangmu is perched on a hillside with a considerable descent to the border and with lorries galour parked along the side of the steep road which meant that we had to reverse up the road several times before we could reach the Chinese border. We said goodbye to the guide and driver (Lucy gave the guide her sleeping bag which he was delighted with), fought off the porters and money changers and passed through the Chinese checkpoint before securing a reasonably priced lift through no man's land to the friendship bridge which constitutes the border with Tibet. The people were more Indian in appearance and we were excited to be moving on to somewhere new.
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