I tighten my cap, swing on the hood of my insulation jacket and zip it at the fullest. The wind is howling straight into my face and I feel some ice christals forming on my ugly, wide beard. To my left, the Lhashamma peak (6412m) is being swallowed by the clouds. The first such weather for weeks. It has been crisp for ages now.
I feel like running the marathon, exhausted but still 5km until the finish. Every step up it takes, my lungs cry for oxygen and my muscles cry for help. 200m ascend until the 5100m Kagmara La pass is reached. I’m allready higher then any possible summit in the Alps, but the ridges and gloaming peaks around me just laugh with that thought.
I still cannot distinguish the prayer flags at the pass for which I long so much. A golden eagle swoops without any effort in a thermal. My thoughts swing away back to Simikot, which we left in the hot, baking sun 2 weeks ago, with a compass heading south-east.
We were about to follow the turquoise Humla Karnali-river into the Mugu-district. At lower elevations (we descend into the Middle Hills at around 1500m-2000m), the ever rising and plunging down along the river was easier to digest.
Dense, mixed, conifer, birch, oak, walnut and rhododendron forrest are opened up only for some of the most primitive villages we have ever been through. Huge cannabis plants border the wheat fields and spread with a small breeze its deep, sweat smell over the trail.
Time has come to a halt here centuries ago. Children don’t beg for balloons, pens nor chocolates in the villages of Dharma and Rimi. Englishis is an unknown language. It’s half-way october and the fields shine like gold. Harvest is closing-in soon now. This time of the year people can feed themselves (and us). We do not want to imagine how life must be here after winter when all food is gone. Life is harsh here in Mugu. Tourism is below infancy. The Great Himalaya Trail will hopefully boast the region in some way in the coming years.
The scenery changes with every curve of the river altough in this part of Nepal you will not find the extreme, high 8000m fluted peaks for which the Himalaya is known. Walking here is a flash back in time, where modern world has not touched down yet. People are poor and underdevelopped, but that ever welcoming smile burries ever such taught.
We cross the suspension bridge over the Mugu Karnali river and step into a dinstinct world. Gamghadi is a radical change. Everybody is preparing for the Dasain-festival. Painting is going on. And a gravel road construction is on the way from Jumla, 3 days walking away. It’s an up and down of mule caravans on the steep forrested trails, transporting out the famous red rice, cultivated in Mugu, and bringing in consumer goods, transported into the region via the only road, which ends in Jumla.
In Jumla we hire 2 new porters before setting of for Nepal’s least inhabited district: the mystical Dolpo. Fortress-like settlements are very scattered, so we need to carry more food and kerosene. Dolpo, like the Limi-valley, is tied culturally to Tibet. Budhism is the way to go. Manis, stupas, gompas and prayer-flag ornated monasteries. Dust-throwing yak caravans are just mere dots in the arid red-rolling mountain desert, set against ever blue skies and radiating sun.
Exhausted I reach the 5100m Kagmara La and I fail miserably in limbo dancing the prayer flags (not recommended in thin air). Another steep walled valley splunges down in front of me. This is the Shey Phoksundo National Park, encompassing the major part of the Dolpo district.
Herds of blue sheep jump the ledges of an impossible steep, granite wall above our bivaouc spot. They are the main food source for the magical, mystical, elusive snow leopard. Under a full moon we fall asleep under the tarp (yes it works in the Himalaya above 4000m!), while the howl of a wolve reminds us of our remote, wild whereabouts.
We reach the deep, blue Phoksundo Lake at medieval Ringmo village and visit the ancient Bon gompa at its shores.
As we still have not enough for this stretch of the Great Himalaya Trail, we cross the 5100m Baga La pass and 5300m Nama La pass in a tyring and cold 48-hour stretch. The scenerey get more arid with every step we take now. As for high altitude desert, they surely have thrown with superlatives here. It is hard to soak on in all the views here. My brain is too small for this huge landscape.
The fluted Kanjiroba Himal to the northwest hides the world’s remotest valleys for which we should return one day when its acces permit hopefully may be less steep. At the southern horizon 8000-peak Dhaulagiri blocks the monsoon rains and to the north the vast Tibetan plateau still awaits its freedom.
We plunge into the Tharap valley, which must be the perfect resume of what forbidden Tibet must be all about. A steep, wild gorge brings us back to thicker air and greener valleys where a flight from a frightning airstrip in Juphal brings us back to the lowlands and into the splurges and hot shower of Kathmandu.
We are gearing up for a 5-week Rolwaling-Khumbu Alpine traverse for which we will need to cross glaciated 5750m Tesi Lapcha, 5780m Amphu Lapcha and 5415m Mera La passes. On the way we do an attempt on 6476m Mera Peak.
See you back here around X-Mass.
Steve and Katrijn