Weather wise things have changed. After 4 days of brilliant sunshine, the clouds have dropped and it's cold and drizzly. Today we reached the highest point on the trek, the pass, the Kang La (5250m), crossed it and descended down to Shey Gumpa, our northern destination and turnaround point.
|Leaving High Camp in the drizzle|
The Kang La is generally seen is the dividing line between alpine Nepal and Tibetan Nepal. The Himalayan ridge, home to most of the world's largest mountains, forms a barrier that keeps hot and wet Indian weather from penetrating the Tibetan plateau to the north. Without the impact of the monsoon, it's weather is hot and dry in summer and cold and dry in the winter. Compared, to the lush landscapes to the south, it's a desert. We certainly experienced the desert like landscape but not the hot dry weather.
|The steep 'Nepalese route' to Kang la|
Crossing the pass from High Camp is a two-step affair. The first step involves a steep 150m climb out of the valley and into a gulley. The main event, the 450m climb up the pass, starts at the end of the gulley.
|A tough bleak climb to Kang La|
The weather sapped our initial enthusiasm and we were slow to break camp. The French were well ahead of us and had already climbed into the gulley as we set off. At least 30 minutes behind by the time we arrived at the end of the gulley, the French started the main ascent. Our porters were some way ahead of us and seemed to be taking a more direct route than the French whose route took them around 2 sides of a triangle. Christine suggested that we follow our porters despite BB's warning that the 'Nepalese route' was a lot steeper.
Shorter but steeper the Nepalese route took just as long and felt worse. The French started their climb 30 minutes before we did and the gap was just as big when they arrived. Failure to close the gap made Christine in particular feel she was going slowly and that she wasn't properly acclimatised. Maybe she wasn't properly acclimatised but she was wasn't going slowly, just slow relative to some mad self-inflicted target. Why are two idiots in their sixties trying to race French people to the top of a 5200m pass anyway?
|Smile please, you're at the top|
Feeling cold, exhausted and slightly disappointed we didn't linger for long on top of the pass. BB was attaching a fresh prayer flag to the cairn there but we took our leave and headed down and out of wind into the valley on the other side.
The pass by the way, in late September, was totally free of snow. Jagged Globe had told us to bring three season flexible crampon compatible boots and that Summit Trekking would provide the crampons if the needed them. We don't normally wear boots, even on our Alpine adventures, but I managed to find an old pair and Christine reluctantly bought some new ones. Having found them comfortable in the shop she tried them out on a longer walk and found them so disagreeable she left them at home (broken metatarsals last year hasn't helped) and like me bought her Inov8 trainers and a pair of very lightweight 1 season boots.
|In the desert terrain beyond Kang La|
I crossed the pass in my trainers and Christine was wearing her boots (it was cold). The pony man had packed his plastic sandals and had shifted to canvas plimsolls. I'm not saying this makes me right and Jagged Globe wrong (it's interesting to note that when Peter Matthiessen crossed the pass (three weeks later in the year) there was a metre of snow) but it's worth pointing out that Summit Trekking weren't anticipating snow as they didn't bring the promised crampons!
|Descending to Shey Gumpa|
As we descended from the pass the weather improved, we got warmer and our mood lifted. Stopping for lunch on a grassy knoll the sun at last broke through and it looked like the weather was on the turn.
The final descent through to the campsite took us through a beautiful valley whose steps sides and rusty coloured rock reminded me of the Dolomites. Shey Gumpa, a small terracotta coloured building, sat at the end of the valley.
To be honest I didn't really clock the famous 'Crystal Mountain' , the destination for pilgrims and the reason for the Shey Gumpa monastery. Our student friend pointed to a cloudy gap in the mountains which was there the Crystal Mountain was but I'm afraid, because of the clouds, we didn't see it.
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