Day 10 AC: Thorung La

The night on Thorung Phedi lodge wasn’t as cold as I thought despite all the snow we got the day before.  The room was still cold but tolerable.  It was still snowing on and off all night.  Doug woke me up around 4:00am.  I really didn’t feel like getting up at all.  I was sort of a wuss that morning and wasn’t in the mood to start climbing that first steep section to High Camp.  Doug went out to get our milk coffee and our packed lunch.  We ordered boiled potatoes and eggs the night before to have it as snack on our trek over the pass.  I was still full from the all the bread buffet I had the day before.  Maybe that’s the reason for my sluggishness.  We heard a few trekkers packing up and talking outside.  Everyone was bundled up and all I can think of was to pray that my shoes would keep me warm at least make it to the pass.

I bundled up with layers including my goose down jacket, I felt like the Pillsbury dough boy.  It’s either get warm or be self conscious.  I think I wore almost everything I had so my pack felt really light.  My brain was half asleep so who knows how I felt.  All I wanted to do was not move, it was so cold outside.

We had coffee and went to the toilet for last minute business.  We couldn’t eat at all that early.  Our system wasn’t ready for breakfast.  Doug paid the bill the night before and bid goodbye to the rasta owner.  We really liked his tea house.

It was pitch dark!  I can see a train of head lamps higher up the trail.  That is where we are going.  There is a series of switchbacks all the way to High Camp.  This climbing in the dark reminded me of our 3:00 am ascent to Mt Whitney when we did the JMT (John Muir Trail) backpacking trip.  It was the last day to complete the route then heading down to Whitney Portal.

I struggled the first few hundred meters because of that initial freezing cold temperature through my bones.  It was snowing on and off.  The trail was filled with some fresh snow but the snow is really light and fluffy so my shoes remained dry.  I was so consumed with the imagination of getting frost bite from reading that guide about a guy who trekked before 5:00am in the cold to go over the pass and ended up with “elephant feet” or really bad frost bite.  Every step I made, I commanded my body to use every single heat energy it has from the bread I consumed the day before to circulate warmth throughout my body.  It’s mind over body as they all say.

The climb to High Camp was a bitch, excuse me for my language.  It was slow, steep and went on forever.  I stopped a few times to catch my breath.  My body is still asleep and was having a tough time waking up.  We caught up with the French group and they let us pass.  As we passed them, we thanked them and I uttered, “slow, slow passing.”  It made me feel better because I really didn’t want to rush passing or else I would pass out from lack of oxygen.  A little effort or movement takes a lot of energy at around 15,000+ft.

We got to an icy section that required some scrambling over some rocks.  I stopped at each step just to catch a breath.  Doug was right behind me and I can hear him breath.  That was the crux of the ascent to High Camp.  High Camp looked very cold.  There were two tea houses that looked abandoned but it’s not.  I saw smoke come out of the tea house indicating that someone is in the kitchen making breakfast.  We took a potty break, warmed up a bit in the dining room then headed out for the pass.

The snow was starting to get heavy and it’s white out everywhere.  There was no view but we were able to see trekkers on the trails.  We were glad to see trekkers ahead of us knowing that we can’t get lost and trekkers also help break up the trail a bit more.  It doesn’t look like the snow was going to let up and it’s just getting worse.  Last year, in the winter time a few people were killed on Annapurna on the Thorung La.  The owner of the tea house said that those trekkers got lost after the unexpected dump of snow.  I’ve gotten lost in a small subdivision before because the new snow covered the trails, it wasn’t fun.  According to the tea house owner, all they had to do was turn around and follow the local horse herders back to a tea house but apparently, they continued on then later was struck by an avalance.

We trekked around the corner after High Camp and saw the porters again but this time, there were about four or five people in one section of the climb on the other side of the suspension bridge.  We were going super slow as I wondered why everyone was sort of stopped up there.  Did someone get hurt or was someone really sick?

We continued on crossing the bridge and saw the group have passed around the corner.  Shit.  The trail is very slippery and off cambered.  The very narrow trail got my nerves.  Gingerly stepping on some ice that was covered with fresh snow to get some grip.  I looked down the steep drop then started focusing on making pass the rut.  I made it to the corner but there was no Doug behind me.

I looked back and he was in that same rutted, landslide section the first group we saw had problems.  We know why they stopped.  That section was intense.  I could only see Doug’s half and it seems like he was working his way to cross that bad section.  I waited a few minutes then decided to go back to see what’s up.  Doug was struggling to cross over.  I came close to maybe reach out and grab his hand then pull him across but he told me to stay put.  He was scrambling on the wall of cold rocks trying to grab something to anchor him.  His footing was slipping and sliding.  I watched while holding my breath.  His arms were shaking as he muscled through and finally, crossed over to me.  I heard him say, “thank you.”  I didn’t do anything to help him but I think I knew he what he meant.  I understood.

The snow was starting to dump a bit more.  The climb to Thorung La was rolling up then down and wasn’t very steep, it’s the altitude that really takes a lot of energy.  We saw a bunch more trekkers ahead and passed a few more.  The Chinese group was struggling to make a short climb.  As we passed them, one of the trekker lady said something like “it’s just a few more meters…”  The wind wasn’t helping and being all covered up also didn’t help but I think she is told me that the pass is close by.

She was right!  I trekked a little farther up and saw a small tea house to the left and trekkers surrounding a sign with prayer flags.  I yelled back at Doug to let him know that we’ve reached the pass.  I heard him say something but it was hard to hear.  I know he was elated that we made the pass that early!  We both took a breather for all that hard work and watched other trekkers enjoy that moment of making it to the pass.  It was picture time!

The German guy we met in Ghurung was there with his big camera.  I asked him to take a picture of us and he was kind to do that.  I offered the same back and took a few pictures of him.  We were all feeling happy.  The snow was deep at the pass.  Posing for the picture took some energy and all I can do is hold on to the sign post and have one hand up to indicate that “yay, I made it.”  Doug posed with his surfing dude pose, as usual.  Seriously, it was epic for us.

Did I say epic?  We were half way done!

The descent was hard to describe but a lot of falls, deep snow, slippery rocks with a couple of fun ice glissading down some sections.  It was faster to glissade than to pick a line of slippery madness! It wasn’t easy.  There were a few scary times.  We both fell many times from slipping, I can’t count.

The descend was long.  Basically, the amount of altitude we ascended is what we would descend and it was a long way.  There were a lot of trekkers going down the hill and we were glad in many ways.  Finally, we hit some dirt on the trail and we knew that we were getting closer to the first village before Muktinath.  We got to the village around 11:00am and decided to have lunch.  We haven’t eaten anything.  We were able to stop a little after making it over the pass to attempt to eat but I my mouth was so cold I can’t even chew on my boiled potato.  I reached for my bottle to take a drink but it was frozen.  That idea didn’t work out as planned.

I ordered chow mein and Doug ordered some soup.  We had some masala tea and warmed up a bit.

My shoes was all wet and thankfully, it got soaked as we headed down after making it over the pass!  I took my shoes off and put on some fresh dry socks.  The wool socks I had was soaked but it did keep me warm.  I got that sock in Manang to warm my feet once I get to the tea houses.  I checked my feet and they were all good.  Doug’s shoes was also soaked and his feet looked good, too.  We were thankful to have no “elephant feet” or frost bite that day.  My fingers were really cold at one point during the descend from falling into the snow but I was able to use my smelly, dirty but dry sock to warm it up since I didn’t have any gloves.  Doug had wool gloves on (smart guy) but he said, it was still pretty cold.

The final hour to Muktinath was a relaxing hike and we were able to find lodging to spend the night.  It snowed all day and all night.  The lodge had a dining room but we had to walk aways to get there and I was able to negotiate a better price for our nice, comfy, attached bathroom for that reason.

8 hours that day and job done!  We were really proud of ourselves and happy to be alright after such an epic day.

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