Day 14 Dhaulagiri Circuit - Marpha

Everyone has been focused on getting across the French Col and climbing Dhampus Peak and hadn't really given the last day of the trek much thought.  It turned out to be a real sting in the tail and longer and harder than anyone had expected.

Actually, according to the schedule, it was a two rather than a one day walk but no one had noticed.  We knew it involved a massive descent (2,000 metres) but had all somehow assumed that this would start almost immediately and not after a tough three hour walk through the snow.

The campsite we stayed in last night was not exactly comfortable.  Just beyond the Dhampus Pass it had been carved out of deep snow at just a smidgen below 5,000 metres.  The weather had also changed, the wind had got up, spindrift was blowing of the top of Dhampus Peak, and cloud building up in the valley below.  After yesterday's perfect weather today felt just a bit ominous.
Tougher than expected final trudge through snow

Although the weather meant that we didn't get yesterday's perfect views the scenes were still dramatic.  All the groups - the Swiss, Italian and Japanese - seemed to be leaving the mountains at the same time and the scattering of trekkers and porters across the mountain side conjured an epic image of retreat and escape.  I'm obviously mentally scared from reading War and Peace but I can't see people spread across a snowy landscape without picturing Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.
In retreat
The snowy landscape comes to end on the upper edge of the gorge and we head down steeply across what feels like moorland from the north of England to Yak Kharka which was horribly windswept and bleak. On a clear day the views of the Annapurna's would have been amazing but today wasn't one and the decision not to stop there overnight was completely vindicated. 

Beyond Yak Kharka we dropped into a different more comfortable climate zone.  It was suddenly warm.  We were also entertained to an amazing aerial display from some eagles and vultures.  To be honest the vultures looked almost exactly the same as Griffon Vultures I've become so familiar with as a consequence of walking in Spain but the general and more exotic conclusion of the group was that we were witnessing a display from Lammergeier.  Either way they came very close - less than 20 metres away at times.

Final descent to Marpha
Marpha itself, particularly on first sight, is a lovely little town.  Stone buildings running either side a paved "high street", bedecked with a monastery it's as near as you get in these parts to a picture postcard settlement.  We were camping in the garden of a tea-house whose owner clearly felt her ship had come in as a group of westerners settled down to some serious end of trek alcohol consumption.

As the bottles were lined up on the table someone offers Pem a drink only to get a "not while I'm on duty" response.  He must have known, he still had some work to do.  Half an hour later one of the Swiss party pops her head around the corner to tell us we still had people struggling on the mountain.  There was also a slight inference that our Sherpa's had already started their celebrations.  Chris listened, was not concerned, but when the woman had gone went to check with Pem.  Pem, as Chris guessed, was already on the case and had already sent Sherpa's back up the mountain to help Tenzing with Charles.

20 minutes later Charles was welcomed into the room.  He was completely knackered and like a boxer destroyed by a heavy blow to the chin had lost the use of his legs. Tenzing, a small man but incredibly strong, had literally carried him down the mountain.  Although it was horrible to see Charles so tired it was also wonderful to see, yet again, what the Sherpa's will do to get us home.

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