Tilman Pass crossing

Posted on 09 Jun 2019

You will notice a change in writing style as Jasmine, a prize-winning book editor who had assumed the role of blog writer, has now left the GHT; leaving myself, Brian, as the sole trekker.

Jasmine and I called ourselves the odd couple, but despite the differences in our personalities, we got on well enough and we both share a love for Nepal and hiking. She was thoroughly well prepared for this one with a copy of Robin Boustead’s book on hand (he’s a well-known Great Himalaya Trail pioneer). Jasmine is also extraordinarily generous. One time she offered me one of her walking sticks despite needing both for a dangerous traverse above a long steep snow slope on Cho La. Her company will be missed.

Bikash is now our leader. He led me for most of Stages 4, 5 and 6 back in 2017 and had urged me to “come back and do more.” I would not have attempted Stage 2 without such a recommendation being in my late sixties… yet here I am!

 

Here I jot down some daily entries during Stage 4:

Day 76 (May 11): I enjoyed a rest day at Panch Pokhara and the newcomers, Maia and Peter, practised jumaring and abseiling – using a rope to assist ascending and descending.

Day 77: It felt like a seamless day that went smoothly as we made our way toward the Tilman Pass.

Day 78: It started well but then it started to seriously snow. The fresh powdery snow rested on an icy layer below it that had been melting, a treacherous mix. We put on our crampons.

Unfortunately, two porters slipped at the top of long steep snow slopes. Since they carry their loads by head bands, they were able to easily discard their loads. Though I did not see it, Jasmine saw the loads tumble towards the edge of a cliff. Some went over, and some were damaged beyond use, but our gallant crew coped very well.

The gear was subsequently replaced by a courier from Kathmandu at Kyanjin Gompa, the request being made by satellite phone. The GHT is a serious business.

Later, I personally slipped, along with two more porters a few metres away. I did the correct mountaineering technique of trying to arrest the slide using my bamboo walking stick, but for two seconds the speed did not decrease. Luckily my front pointing crampons did not get any traction, which would have caused me to tumble out of control. It was not an experience I wish to repeat. That night we camped again on snow.

Day 79: A beautiful morning with magnificent views of the mountains, far superior to the European Alps, and we had the pass to ourselves.  We had a late start to Tilman high camp at 4800m. This time the snow aided us in creating flat surfaces on an otherwise hazardous rocky surface.

 

Tilman Pass

Day 80: I had a 4am wakeup call, leaving at dawn with climbing harnesses on. Soon we fixed our crampons on with the porters ahead climbing on the steep snow slope. Below the ice fall, they looked like ants against the immensity of the pass. We followed, avoiding the ice fall and the wall to the right, which is normally jumared. Instead, moving even further right, we climbed on steep snow.

Traversing back to the left, with a hand line to ease our nerves, we came to the base of the final easier snow slope to the top at 5300m. In the lovely sunshine of the early morning and magnificent views in our wake, we congratulated each other. Pure magic. Moments of pleasure to treasure.

But reaching the pass was only half the battle. We still had the long and difficult descent on the Langtang side. I found that the extra snow that covered much of the unstable rocks made it much easier. Maia, with only three practice abseils under her belt, abseiled effortlessly down the steep snow, clearly enjoying herself.

We passed the site of the usual high camp north because our lack of gear made it impractical to camp there. So, we continued, descending the steep, unstable side of the lateral moraine onto the glacier. The sustained concentration of stepping down onto unstable rocks required us to rest for a while at the bottom, listening to the rattle of stones coming down. There were more unstable rocks when crossing the glacier, then past the glacier mouth, with the stream issuing from it. Following undefined paths downstream, we finally reached our campsite close to the main Langtang stream at about 4000m.

9 hours on the go, with feet feeling like they had been given a bit of a pounding, I tried to relax. The most hazardous sections of the GHT were now over.

Day 81: I had promised myself to kiss the parapet of the little wooden bridge at the bottom of the pass if I made it this far, but the bridge was in such poor condition, and Bikash told us to rush across. I later kissed the next suitable bridge parapet. Today, I welcomed the easy morning flat walk to Kyanjin Gompa at 3800m greeted by the sound of mountain goats grazing on the hillsides above.

Kyanjin has grown considerably in the last two years and has a lovely coffee shop with magnificent mountain views. It also has walks of various strenuousness. With the nearest bus stop two days walk away and accommodation cheaper in this area, consider it as a pleasant retreat to write that book that is struggling to get out of you.

 

Langtang valley 

Day 82: It was a warm sunny descent down Langtang valley to a cramped site at Lama hotel at 2400m. Passing the new Langtang village with its narrow twisted main alley, it’s reminiscent of a century’s old community, yet it is just 4 years old.

Further on, you’ll find the old Langtang village covered by rockfall from the hanging glacier above, loosened by the 2015 earthquake. The old village, and army post, is still visible on Zoom Earth. I find the image chilling. Nothing of the old village was recovered. Nothing. The death toll remains unknown.

At the Lama hotel camp site, monkeys were visible only 100 metres away. In the middle of the night in my tent, I was woken by something falling on me. “What the hell was that” was my thought. Fortunately, I still had by headlamp on my head. An over-friendly dog was evicted. Not expecting snow, I had not fully closed the zips.

Day 83: We had a warm sunny descent to Syabru Besi at 1500m – the end of the trek for the others but also the beginning of their celebrations. Peter found a bottle of reasonable Australian wine, much to everyone else’s surprise.

A young Russian woman joined us, her English perfect. From Kazan, she was working in Hong Kong for a steel trading company. I thought it odd that a Russian would feel cold in such warm air, but she had taken Diamox, a drug reputed to help with managing high altitude, but delivering intense tingling in the fingers. We were suggested to take it for Stage 2, and I was glad to get off it. Sitting on the balcony of the small hotel with the tents in the back garden below overlooking the river muddied by construction work upstream. We watched a thunderstorm approach up the valley, until rain forced a retreat. 

My first visit to Syabru Besi was in the 1980s. It was a small Tibetan village, tucked up the side of Langtang valley. Now it is a small town. In 2017 I could not walk around the town because of political tension and civil restlessness. Someone had their ear removed while I was there, and next morning as when I was leaving the town, a tyre was burning in the main street. Today, as I looked around, I expected a dump, but no, it was a frontier town. Rough dirt road in the main street with trucks doing deliveries. Little green wheelie bins serving as rubbish bins showed local organisation.

Though traffic to Tibet (China) was very light, the rail line to Kathmandu will go through here too, and presumably be easily extended to India, directly connecting the two billion population nations. Freight trains will pass here day and night. With most of the developed world in stagnation or decline, it was nice to see a place in boom times with more to come.

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