We headed off early and encountered early morning life in Manang. People were ploughing the fields, cattle were being herded through the village and women and children were in training for what is a major part of life in this part of Nepal – being able to carry heavy loads. People train with a wooden carrier on their backs and in it they stack slabs of concrete. As they get stronger they carry more and more weight. With no cars or trucks this is the only way that people can transport materials in this area. As we headed out of Manang we had out final views from the Marsyangdi valley of the Annapurna's and Gangapurna. About an hour into the day we headed up into the Thorung Khola valley and towards the foreboding Thorung-La pass
. We also say a women carrying what we thought was just firewood, but on closer inspection we saw there was also a baby on the top as well – who needs a pram then !!
Along the way we had a very interesting conversation as Ruth asked us all 'what were the best pants for trekking?’. Now I haven’t gone all American and started calling trousers – pants. No, I am talking about normal British pants. So the topic of conversation centred around was it better to wear multi-pack pants or singular purchase pants. Now to me this was rather a rhetorical question – obviously it had to be the multi-pack pants, although this wasn’t down to any technical reasoning – it was just because these were the only pants I owned. You have a pack of black ones, and a pack of white ones – Marks’s and Spencer’s of course, and then you might have a pack of slightly more exciting ones – like in a different colour (and this is right out there now), ones with spots or stripes. Although were only to be worn on special occasions. I did have some black ones with white spots and they were my ‘lucky knickers’. This all goes back to my childhood when at Christmas the family used to play cards and Auntie Marg used to tell us that she was going to win as she was wearing her ‘lucky knickers’. Anyway my lucky knickers never really worked – I wore them for both marathons and both of them were pretty disastrous
. And yes – I can often remember what pants I was wearing on certain days. I have a very good memory for complete trivia (hence my expert knowledge of 80’s and 90’s music). Whenever I could recount in great detail some story from my childhood Bill used to always ask ‘and what pants were you wearing that day?’. Anyway – turns out that some of the group only owned singular purchase pants, but the conclusion from those who had a variety decided that the multi-pack ones were much better for trekking in, more comfortable, and disposable if necessary.
Anyway – we headed up the Thorung Khola valley and some new views. We could see the Chulu’s – Chulu West (6419m), Chulu Central (6584m) and Chulu East (6429m). And this is where I feel I need to have a bit of a rant about the lack of effort that has been put into naming Himalayan peaks. Already I have mentioned Annapurna I, II, III and IV – well that took a lot of effort to name them !!!In the UK we give names to all our peaks no matter how high they are. The lowest highest (yeah I know) peak in a county is Beacon Peak in Norfolk. That is only 79m high but it still gets a sensible name. These mountains are well over 6000m high and the naming people could only manage to come up with one name and then add on West, Central and East. Did they just get in the same people who did the stations for London Underground who with very little imagination could come up with Hounslow West, Central and East
. K2 the second highest mountain in the world, name comes from the notation used by the Great Trigonometic Survey which means Karakoram (the range it is in) 2 (there is a Karakoram 1 but that was renamed to Masherbrum – using it’s local name). Even Everest only just got away with it – originally it was called Peak XV. So come on people there might be a lot of mountains in the Himalayas but surely there are worthy of better names than they have.
On the way to Yak Kharka we encountered a lot of wild Yaks (I wonder why it got that name). They are actually pretty intimidating so we always got out of their way on the path. And lets face it – being killed by a yak would have been a pretty embarrassing way to go. We made it to the tea house by lunchtime and I must admit it had been a pretty hard day. The altitude was starting to take it’s toll and I was now on Day 8. I was now into unknown territory in terms of walking for this many days – and I still had 10 more to go. Could I really manage to walk for 18 days in a row ?? Altitude can cause different problems for different people. It can make you sick or give you some pretty hard headaches. More me the appetite went. Now ordinarily I would say this would be a positive but I did to eat for energy and to be able to cope with the altitude itself. After a bit of lunch and a rest we then headed out for an acclimatisation trek. We climbed up another 300m to get some great views of the valley – well we would have done if it hadn’t been really cloudy. It was also getting a bit cold now. We were also now into ‘no shower territory as it was too cold.
So onto Day 9 and we woke up to a dusting of snow (that will be the clouds and cold from the day before then !) However, once the fog lifted there was some stunning views to be had
. It was freezing cold as well and my runny nose had arrived (another side effect of altitude). So today we only had a 6km walk today up to Thorung Phedi (4450m) which was the last stop before we were to head over the pass. We arrived by lunchtime and then had the afternoon free. Amazingly they had the internet so I had an opportunity to send a few emails and catch up on the news (well just the celebrity gossip really – Kate was looking lovely again though). I spent the afternoon chatting to a lovely couple from Scotland who were travelling the world as well. They were just doing the trip themselves and were carrying their packs (madness if you ask me !!). We had some food and then a very early night as we were going to have a very early start and to be honest the only place with any warmth was my sleeping bag. To make life easier in the morning Sue and I decided to go with the get dressed the night before and then sleep in it all. So for the first time I was decked out in my full set of thermals.
So onto Day 10 and it was the big day !! We were going over the Thorong-La pass (5416m) and it was going to be a hard day as we had a 16km walk, which included 934m of ascent and then 1616m of descent. We were all up at 3am. I tumbled out of the sleeping back, put on my boots and I was pretty much ready to go (that cunning plan of getting dressed the night before). We had a bit of breakfast (really didn’t feel like it at 3.30am but somehow managed to get some porridge into me). We had requested sandwiches as there was not going to be any teahouses with food for several hours. I opened my bag to discover I had been given a roll and a bit chunk of cheese. Nabin seemed a bit perplexed when I wasn’t too impressed with it all and requested a knife. I then spent a good few minutes explaining the concept of a sandwich and that they tend to have the filling inside of them, and that a roll with a lump of cheese separate didn’t quite make it as a sandwich
. I had a masterplan of having cheese and pringle (left over from the Amy Winehouse afternoon) sandwiches (no salad cream which would make it the ultimate sandwich). I also had a bag of fruit and nut chocolate. (it’s my secret weapon – got me up both Kilimanjaro and Cotapaxi so I was hoping that it wouldn’t fail me over the pass. Oh and I meant I was going to eat it – not just carry a bag of chocolate as that would be a tad daft. We headed off onto the trail at 4.10am in complete darkness so we had to use our headtorches (mine shone the brightest of them all – I felt like Rudolph). The Germans and Israeli’s had also been staying in the same teahouse so we (well just me really) were on a mission to get to the top before them. We had about an hour of walking in the dark and then the sun started to come up and the snow come down. At our first stopping point at 400m up the hill we encountered the French and the Dutch groups (I was now getting ultra competitive – the race for the South Pole in 1911-1912 had nothing on this one – it wasn’t just us and the Norwegians it was Team GB against the French, the Dutch, the Germans, the Israeli couple (she still hadn’t pulled up her trousers) and the very strange woman sporting a hideous outdoor outfit comprised of lime green and purple North Face clothing. Actually it was more like ‘It’s a Knockout’ than the Race for the Pole. Unfortunately there was no members of the Royal family taking part or Stuart Hall there to shout "And here come the Belgians"
. And there were no Belgians either – the Belgian girl on the trail who we had met a few days earlier has unfortunately been suffering from the altitude (well it’s very flat in Belgium – to be expected really) sickness.
Anyway after a brief break at 4800m we continued up the hill (in the lead). The snow was pretty deep in places but we all ploughed on through. We then stopped at a teahouse at 5000m for a hot lemon and some bourbon biscuits (oh yeah I had them too in the bag). Then it was back on the trail for the last 400m. We had to stop a few times for people to go to the toilet – not easy when it’s very barren with few rocks and we were way above the tree line. Going to the toilet also took a lot longer than normal as we were wearing so many clothes, and it was pretty cold (you didn’t hang about when parts of the body that don’t normal see the light of day were exposed to the cold, wind and snow.
Just before we reached the summit we were passed by one of the Dutch and then one of the Germans but they were both being taken over the pass on horseback as they weren’t going to make it any other way (and it costed about £200). Then at 8.45am we finally made it over the pass (we were an hour ahead of schedule - I think it might even constitute a new world record - well in the five women in their thirties and forties category)
. Thorong-La is one of the highest passes in the world and is supposed to be the biggest (not too sure what biggest means here – am going to go with it meaning wide). We stopped for a few minutes to get all of the photos taken and then heading on for the most difficult part of the day. We were going to have a really hard descent down 1600m to Muktinath. In the distance we had a stunning view over the sacred Mustang Valley. The problem was that as soon as Nabin had told up what we were looking at I straight away thought of the song ‘Mustang Sally’ and then I did a Kylie Minogue (no I didn’t bring the gold spangly hot pants with me) and I couldn’t’ get it out of my head for the next 6 hours (deep joy !!). Though being the caring, sharing individual I am – I did share it with Amanda and Sue so they did a Kylie as well. At one point we could have been the backing singers in the Commitments (well apart from the slightly important fact that the girls from the Commitments could sing and we really couldn’t). On the way down the weather was pretty horrendous – it was just like coming back down Snowdon in the drizzle and mist. The other problem was that I had forgotten to really eat. I’d had a few bits of chocolate but that really wasn’t going to give me the energy needed. There weren’t the usual teahouses on the way down for a few hours and I just ran out of energy. By the time we finally did stop at about 1.30pm I was exhausted. However, after a few bites of my cheese and pringle sandwich and a hot lemon (yes it was verging on being an addiction) I was ready to go and face the final hour
. We headed on down the valley, over a very scary suspension bridge (thought I was fine with them but this was swaying a hell of a lot) and then into Muktinath. As per usual our lodge for the night was the last one in the village. But on our way we passed a Seven Eleven and the Hotel Bob Marley. We were staying in the North Pole Hotel (no idea either). We were all utterly exhausted and I was struggling to cope when the power went off again (starting to lose it to be honest). Still all was well again when we I’d had a hot shower – this was the first shower I’d had in three days and the first really hot one I’d had on the entire trek. It was gas powered by a great big huge gas canister in the bathroom (when you are that desperate for a shower you don’t even contemplate the health and safety aspect of it all, needless to say the very strong smell of gas kind of made you think it might not pass it’s gas safety check with a corgi dog). Then that evening I finally had a pizza as we were now in the safe zone and could eat a bit less dal bhat.
So after our couple of days in Manag we were now into the serious section of the trek. On Day 8 we trekked 9km from Manang at 3540m over 4000m to Yak Kharka at 4050.