Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

March 9

March 10th, 2016

March 9 Day 9 Thorung Phedi to High Camp

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My room was 20 degrees F this morning, so maybe it is time to explain the guest houses on the circuit. Most are built of stone, many are three stories, with the rooms opening out onto wooden galleries. The rooms are not heated, usually they have wood or concrete floors that are sometimes swept. The bunks have thin mattresses that remind me of camp, and in higher altitudes they also have large blankets of varying cleanliness. The beds have linens but they do not change them– carrying a sleeping bag is a good idea. Usually the toilet is down the gallery and it the usual porcelain footprint over a hole. You flush with a bucket of water. The kitchens are often on the second floor, very dark, low and covered with soot as they usually cook on wood stoves. All hotels have a large dining area, usually with benches or plain chairs and bare tables (though some are covered with rugs). Those rooms have a lot of windows, though like the ones in the rooms, they are single paned wood sashes, usually with a lot of air blowing through. The windows tend to be covered with stickers advertising various trekking agencies and the like. People tend to gather in these big common rooms though they are also unheated and usually freezing until late afternoon when they light the stove for a few hours. The higher the altitude, the lower the buildings tend to be, and the less heat as there is less wood and animal dung, and of course higher altitudes are also much colder. I’m looking forward to crossing Thorung pass and heading back down to warmer altitudes. Spent the morning at Base Camp Hotel talking to Kumar and Kit and watching last night’s snow melt. The trekkers who had stayed one town downhill started rolling in mid-morning, many familiar faces. Will, Kyle, and I left about noon for a short hour’s hike up to High Camp, which gave us another 500 meters acclimatization before crossing Thorung La tomorrow. A long cold afternoon in the common room with, at 4:00, a press of people huddled around a small, smoky woodstove. Early dinner and early to bed just to get warm. Also very tired of the lengthy, detailed discussions of how to get over a 5400 meter pass without suffering from altitude sickness. The height is making me dizzy, tired, and cold, but I will be glad to be back to quiet trekking away from such anxiety.
Milarepa seems appropriate today:

From the Songs of Milarepa:
Cool mountain water
Heals the body’s ills
It only the grouse and mountain
Birds can reach it
Beasts of the valley have no
Chance to drink it

March 8

March 10th, 2016

March 8 Day 8 Blue Sheep Hotel to Thorung Phedi

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Didn’t see any blue sheep at the Blue Sheep Hotel. I kept thinking of Peter Matthiesson’s Snow Leopard and their search for blue sheep in the Dolpo region. All I saw were a lot of yaks on the high pastures. Today was supposed to be a short, relatively high but level trek over to Yak Karka. Still hiking with Will and Kyle and regularly bumping into other trekkers I have met on the trail. As we hiked out of the Tilicho valley, even though we more or less kept the same altitude, the snow began to disappear and we slowly ended up in a birch forest. I think it has more to do with the amount of sunlight in this part than with altitude. All the way down the valley the eagles circled, riding the thermals. I watched a pair flying closely together in perfect coordination, one shadowing the other, feeling the movement of the air between them. It was a magical dance between bird, bird and air. One flew directly overhead and I could hear the sound of the air as it ran through its feathers, something I’ve never heard. On the way down to the river, the birch thickened though still not forest-like. They had a twisted, tortured look’ and are shedding bark –reminded me of home. Getting to Yak Karka at noon, we decided to press on after lunch to Thorung Phedi, another 5 km and a higher altitude. Tomorrow will then be just a short hike up to High Camp for final acclimatization and a rest day. The Base Camp Hotel in Phedi (not at the High Camp) is a great guest house. The proprietors, a Nepali musician with long dreadlocks and a generous personality and his partner, a woman from South Africa — Kumar and Kit– were a lot of fun, good conversation. By 5:00 they built a dung fire in the woodstove and we all gathered around. Some young Nepalis on the circuit whom we had met yesterday, a Dutchman from Zwolle just finishing a three month teaching gig, and the British and Dutch pair we had met at the lake. Kumar played the guitar to the music on the stereo, while we all kept warm within the circle of heat made by the stove and the snow swirled down outside. The younger Dutchman was also a musician, so they broke out several guitars and played around the stove for the rest of the evening.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 6

March 10th, 2016

March 6 Day 6 Manang to Lake Tilicho Base Camp

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At 7:15 the chocolate pastries came out of the oven and I was there for the first one, along with a cappuccino which made for a decidedly cosmopolitan breakfast. It also led to an early start. Had 15 km with a fair amount of altitude gain, so thought I better head out early, but while lingering over my coffee I watched as the Manang locals going off to work, many carrying the now familiar back baskets equipped with shoulder straps and the tump (forehead) band. They carry everything in them– firewood, tools, compost–wonderfully utilitarian objects in a place where everyone must always be involved with moving goods from here to there. The woodcutters could bring a load in with a truck, but often there are no trucks, so they each shoulder a large log (not in the basket) and carry them where they need to be. I found my way out of the town through a series of gates and twisting alleys. Everyone I passed was praying, some fingering prayer beads. Soon I was on my way climbing to a path that leads up the river eventually to the lake. Parts were narrow and steep, some were on a narrow dirt road. Just outside Khangsar a man was driving cattle down the path and greeted me with a loud “namaste.” He had a smile missing some teeth but full of affection and asked if I was walking to the base camp. I replied yes. He pointed toward the village and said “tea,” then pointed to his red coat. I looked at the town and could see a red hotel building. We both laughed at our effective communication, and I walked on, disappointed to find the hotel closed. My march continued up some steep slopes then past an old closed gompa. Most of it was corrugated steel, but it was strangely beautiful, fading yellow and red paint. Just past were two large closed hotels near a cliff and two magnificent birds. Too big for hawks, at first I thought they were vultures, but one swooped down and I could see clearly its feathered head and hooked bill. When one landed I saw its feathered legs– they were eagles. The latter part of the trail crossed a series of scree fields which reminded me of trekking on New Zealand’s South Island. Much of it was narrow and loose but I was still confident from my long trek. Nearing base camp I hiked with Kyle and Will, an American and an Englishman, for the last stretch. There were two hotels. I had lunch in one and tried to get a room, but because there was a large influx of trekkers the proprietor wanted to overcharge me for a bad room. When I protested he just laughed. I ended up joining Kyle and Will in their three bunk room and spent the afternoon in the dining room talking with them as the temperature dropped and it started to snow. We wondered if the trail will be open tomorrow but the locals say it should not be a problem. My plan is to hike up to the lake then head back to the one hotel that was open back past the scree fields which should put me in a good position to make it to Yak Karka the following day. Finally they made a fire in the wood stove to heat the dining room. In went some rotten chunks squirted with kerosene which did not really catch. He reached into a large bag for dried cow dung which soon warmed the room, a circle of people around the stove: seven Nepalis, one Chinese, three Americans, one Belgian, two Brits, and a Dutchman– a veritable UN.

T. Hugh Crawford

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