From the Yosemite of Nepal to the West Col

Posted on 17 Apr 2019

Greetings from the Honku Basin, on April 11, day 42 of our trek. It’s been an eventful week since our combined group of seven trekkers—Brian, Jasmine, Louise, Richard, Dick, Greg, and Tom—left Yangla Kharka on a brilliantly sunny morning that offered magnificent views of the steep valley with towering walls that have given the area the apt nickname “the Yosemite of Nepal.” The weather favored us through lunch, which we enjoyed from a meadow beneath an enormous cliff that was home to waterfalls, huge icicles, and playful crows. But as we climbed onward a heavy mist closed in, and we arrived at our campsite at Langmale Kharka in thick fog punctuated with snow.

The next day we continued following a river westward, with more and more snow peaks coming into view. Amazingly, the higher we climbed, the less snow there was covering the ground. As the trail turned to the north, we were treated to full-on views of Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak. Soon we arrived at our camp—the mostly deserted Makalu Base Camp (4870 meters)—where a teahouse had just opened for the season and where the ground was wonderfully snow-free. There we had a rest day, with a puja (Buddhist blessing ceremony) in the morning to help ensure our safe passage through the difficult terrain ahead. We also received an initial training in ascending fixed ropes with jumars and abseiling with rappel devices. Over the course of the day, dozens of porters for climbing expeditions arrived, and that night there was quite a Nepali party in camp!

Stage 2 of the Great Himalaya Trail towards West Col

On April 6 we trekked up to Swiss Base Camp, at 5100 meters, a rare patch of level ground amidst the boulders of the seemingly endless lateral moraine we had been climbing. The last hour or so snow began to fall, making the rocks slippery and progress nerve-wracking. From our camp we had a full frontal view of the brutality of Makalu, unforgiving all the way to the very top. The next day was another rest day for acclimatization and to practice jumaring and abseiling again, this time with our double mountaineering boots and crampons.

The next morning we initially continued up the same rocky lateral moraine, gaining a distant view of Lhotse and Everest, the latter showing its eastern, Kangshung Face and the little peak of the South Summit, to the left of the main summit. Then we turned left up a rocky, lung-busting climb to Sherpani Col Base Camp, at 5700 meters, camping on snow nestled beneath a glacier.

On April 9, we were woken at 3 a.m. and, leaving at 5 a.m., immediately began climbing the steep toe of the little glacier, front-pointing on our crampons—a brutal start to the day. Thankfully, the steep climb was short, and soon we enjoyed the welcome rays of the sun on a gentle but exhausting climb up soft snow, followed by an awkward jumar up to 6180-metre Sherpani Col. On the far side of the pass we descended via a series of abseils, some strangely horizontal, over craggy, snow-covered rocks, finally arriving at the expansive snow plateau below, at about 6000 meters, which lies between Sherpani Col and our next objective: 6190-metre West Col. On the way down, Richard managed to puncture his left leg with his right crampon; fortunately, he’s a doctor and was able to stitch up the wound (6 stitches!) in his tent that night.

Stage 2 of the Great Himalaya Trail towards West ColThe hope had been to continue across West Col so we wouldn’t have to sleep at 6000 meters, but there weren’t enough hours left in the day, so instead we plodded across the plateau to the base of West Col—an exhausting endeavor, thanks to the deep, soft snow that has plagued us for so much of the trek. That night, a relentless wind howled through our camp and blew snow into our tents through every tiny opening. 

The next morning, we descended the first 200 meters of the West Col via a series of abseils over craggy rocks and snow. We all got down safely, but the baggage had it much tougher, being bundled and rolled down the snow gully. Fortunately, the only casualties were a few sleeping pads, a frying pan, and one porter’s sleeping bag, for which there was a spare. After the steep abseil, we made a long, gentle descent through—what else?—deep, soft snow, with occasional rocks and mud, to Honku Basin, at  5500 meters, where we camped in yet more deep, soft snow. Yet we were grateful that the air felt thicker and it was somewhat easier to breathe, despite the air pressure being half that at sea level.

The night was cold, with temperatures down to -15C in our tents, and the next day was designated a rest day to give the porters a rest and allow them to dry their socks and boots. No complaints from us! We were all knackered at best and perhaps a bit jaded despite having by far the easiest lot in this challenging journey. For most of the day, the weather has been bright and sunny, and we’ve basked in a 360-degree panorama of stunning mountain scenery.

Up next, we must cross one final high, technical pass. Then we will be camping below 5000 meters for the foreseeable future. We are looking forward to (hopefully) being warm, and perhaps enjoying a few of the comforts of civilization as we enter the Everest region.

 Tsering, Brian, and Jasmine 

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