A rest day in Ghunsa which was not really good. It had been snowing all day and it was freezing cold. Which meant that I couldn’t get out of my sleeping bag even during the day. At least the physical recovery after the exhausting week was given, which was caused by the sufficient food. The next destination should be the Nango-La Pass – with 4700 m neither very high nor technically very difficult – to get from Ghunsa along the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) first to Olangchungola and then on to our next stage destination in Hongon.
Nepali and the time (1)
Nepali basically have a very relaxed relationship to time, just like Africans or South Americans. If you ask a local Nepali about the walking time for a certain distance, it is a matter of its own. We had not been given a halfway appropriate time figure, on average we were told one third of what we really needed in the end. Of course, due to the luggage, we were certainly a bit slower – but not that slow either. It seems to me as if somebody had known somebody sometime in the past who had really reached this time in an approach of sportive peak performance. And from that point on it was clear to everyone – it takes just as long to get from A to B. It’s like when I know someone in my circle of friends who runs a marathon (about 42 km) in 2:30 h. If someone asks me how long it takes to walk from Graz to Bruck, my answer is about 2 ½ – 3 hours – which is of course absolute nonsense.
To our question, how long it takes from Ghunsa over the pass to O-gola, we got 8 – 10 h for the answer, up to the pass it would take 2-3 h.
We were warned by the snowfall that it would take longer – but unfortunately we had completely misjudged the situation. Not only was it difficult to ascend 1200 meters in fresh snow – unfortunately we couldn’t find the right way in the weather conditions.
Although we had already started at 5h in the morning, we were in a cloud somewhere below the pass at 11:00 am when there was snowfall. After some climbing inserts I had enough at 16:00 after 11 hours and we stopped our project without finding the pass. Camping in the White-Out – a circumstance that should happen to us several times in the next days and weeks. But because of the good equipment (thanks to Gigasport) no real problem. The only thing that was really unfamiliar and uncomfortable was getting into frozen socks and shoes the next morning – but even that is only a matter of practice.
In the morning, the weather is always as if the weather is changed – wonderful sunshine for a few hours. Enough time to find the pass (it was about 100 hm below us) and descend to O-Gola within 13 hrs. All in all we needed a total of 24 h for a predicted time of 8 – 10 h.
Olangchungola, a traditional Tibetan village in Nepal about 5 hours’ walk from the border, was once an important trade and transshipment point for the salt caravans on their way from Tibet to India. Even today the village is still supplied exclusively from Tibet.
Despite early departure, we arrived long after nightfall at 21:00 and it was not so easy to find a tea house with sleeping accommodation. In the teahouse there was by chance a group of experts for the crossing of the pass. They wanted to advise us not to cross the Lumbha Sambha Pass because of the snow and the current weather situation (the monsoon has obviously arrived 2 months too early this year).
Nachdem die einzige Alternative die Rückkehr nach Taplejung gewesen wäre, waren wir beide trotzdem entschlossen, es wenigstens zu versuchen. Prognostizierte Gehdauer bis nach Thudam (dem nächsten Ort nach dem Pass) waren 2 Tage – durch die Erfahrungen der vorangegangenen Tage vom Nango La waren wir aber auf 4 -5 Tage eingestellt. Vor allem weil wir wieder in der Situation waren, den genauen Weg nicht zu kennen und er auf Grund des Schnees nur sehr schwer zu finden ist.
Der Vormittag wurde noch dazu genutzt, all jene Dinge einzukaufen die voraussichtlich in den folgenden Tagen gebraucht wurden – d.h. Kerosin, Reisflocken, 20 Pkg. Nudelsuppe, Milchpulver, Tsampa (Hirsemehl), Zucker und Kekse.
Wegen des langen und anstrengenden Vortages waren wir erst gg. Mittag mit dem Ziel einer kurzen Tagesetappe aufgebrochen. Das erste Mal so richtig anstrengend wurde es erst am Tag darauf, trotz frühen Aufbruchs waren wir ab einer Seehöhe von 4000m ab 12:00 wieder inmitten einer Gewitterwolke.
In the snow flurry with thunderstorm (lightning not from above but from the side) we had to find a campground shortly below the actual ascent to the pass (4400m). The unpleasant thing about it was that overnight there was an additional 30 cm of fresh snow. A circumstance that should cause us a lot of difficulties the next day.
For the crossing of the Lumbha Sambha Pass there are actually 2 passes to be crossed – first the “1st Pass” with 5136m and shortly after that the actual pass with approx. 5160m. With no snow and good weather conditions a task of maybe 2 h. We needed about 10 hours for the 3 km distance and about 750 hm from the campground to the 1st pass and then because of total exhaustion we pitched our tent in the recent white-out directly next to the pass marking.
In the snow we couldn’t find the right trail again, so we had to follow our own way cross country to the pass. My body weight with the additional 30 kg on my back is an enormous handicap under these conditions – without exception, with every step up to my thigh or hips in the snow, the exertions are a borderline challenge. For a certain section of about 25m I even needed more than half an hour. At first I was sunk in the snow up to my armpits. So down the rucksack, somehow torture out of the hole, catch my breath and check the next step. It was halfway ok, the rucksack strapped on again and with the step after next again up to the armpits in the snow. The whole four times in a row. It was kind of desperate. After 4 hours I could not feel my toes and soles because of the cold. A break was necessary to melt snow with the petrol stove in the middle of a steep slope and to thaw my feet with my water bottle as a temporary hot water bottle. This was also the first time I was not sure if I could make it and I had openly talked with Wang CChu about the possibility to turn back. His argument – if the feet are halfway okay again, we’ll make it sometime – was plausible. So on.
After another 2 hours he wanted to give up. Meanwhile we were again in a cloud, snowfall had started again and the visibility was zero – no chance to find the pass. His fear to be snowed in for the next one or two days if the bad weather continued and then maybe not be able to go back or forth for a week had its advantages. During the ascent to the pass camp the day before, there was a technically quite difficult spot, which would hardly be passable without a rope on a possible descent when it is snowed in. For him a circumstance to turn around. But I was able to convince him to find the right pass crossing (we had 3 possible ones to choose from) with the help of the compass even in the snow. So further on in blind flight.
If we make it up to the pass then we make it in the next 1-2 days also in bad weather somehow on the other side down. At 6 o’clock in the morning we had set off and at 16:00 we could finally – on the top – pitch our tent at the “1st Pass”. Once again a day true to the motto: “When the going get’s tough, the tough get going” – and it will not have been the last one.
The reward for our efforts we received the next morning. After a night with outside temperatures of -15° Celsius, we were able to take a last look at the Kandchenjunga from the “1st Pass” in bright sunshine.
One hour later we reached the actual Lumbha Sambha and from there we had our next destination in sight for the first time – Makalu, with 8.485m the fifth highest mountain on earth.
The fine weather lasted just long enough for us to get out of the snow and then descend to Thudam in the rain.
Thudam is also a purely Tibetan village, about 5 hours from the border, completely free of electricity or modern technology. The people live from their yaks, potatoes, millet and do some trade with nearby Tibet. We stayed with a young family that was happy to earn a few rupees. In Thudam we were confirmed that we were the first to cross the pass from O-Gola this season.
For our next destination Chyamtang we were predicted 8h. The trail was extremely difficult and hard to find without knowing the place – we got lost in the rain again, had to camp somewhere on a slope without water and food and finally arrived there after 18 hours
Rain-free and on a good path we continued within one day to Hongon – our stage destination. While from Ghunsa up to here we did not meet any people outside of settlements, from Chyamtang on it was different. The trail to Hongon is highly frequented and on the way you will always meet funny people with whom you can have a gossip.
Hongon – also Tibetan – is a bigger settlement where we should be able to replenish our supplies, because the next days towards Makalu Base Camp will be at least as exhausting as the previous ones.
9 days of noodle soup were enough – I finally wanted to eat something different again. Since the lady of Hongon’s kitchen had never heard of pancakes before, I unceremoniously complimented her out of her familiar surroundings and prepared some for myself. Eggs, yak-milk, sugar and tsampa (millet flour – because there is no wheat flour here) were available in sufficient quantities. Purely optically they failed me – but most important were the excellent inner values like taste or calories – there was nothing to complain about.
We had pitched our tent on the only flat area directly next to the Hongon school – of course the school was paralyzed immediately after our arrival – not only the students but also the teachers could not get enough of watching us at work and commenting every move.
From Hongon we continue to the Makalu Base Camp. A very exciting, thrilling and partly dangerous stage. See you next time.