Day 76: Together again

Posted on 21 May 2018

We’ve arrived at Panch Pokhari (Five Lakes) and the two groups doing the Tilman Pass/Langtang section have been reunited; Steve and Vince as clients, and the full compliment of guides, porters and cook staff are altogether. We took slightly different routes to get here so Vince could stay on the GHT and Steve could get a few days to acclimatise before Tilman Pass. 

We had a rest day here and it was beautiful. The cluster of lakes is nestled in a group of high foothills and, standing above tree line at 4000 metres (13,500 feet), there are small patches of snow lingering from the last week of snow squalls.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few people here. It’s the season when people search the mountains for Yarsa Gumba, what they call caterpillars, but are actually a small plant with a root that looks like a caterpillar which are collected and sold to China for medicinal use. The people can be seen searching the hillsides for the plant and many camped with us at Panch Pokhari. 

The section of GHT trail we just covered was another little travelled section, with lots of up and down on trails travelled primarily by local herders; in other words, rough. There were areas with farming terraces and small villages. We are still in the area hard hit by the earthquake and reconstruction is happening but many villages still need help. Road construction is also rapidly advancing in the region.

Riding out the weather

I lay in my sleeping bag in a half dream state hearing the thunder roll around the canyon walls. Throughout the night the bells on the cows outside our tent rang, which combined with the sound of hard rain made for a restless sleep. Through half open eyes lightning flashes lit up the dim morning. The lightning seemed to be competing with the rising sun to see who can illume the day first. I wonder if we will pack up and hit the trail in this weather.

Yesterday was a relatively hard day with a plunge down a steep canyon wall to a river, crossing a swinging bridge, only to climb back to the same elevation on the other side. Today, we’re looking at another big effort, pretty much straight up the side of the canyon for about 5000 feet. 

I decide the best thing to do is get moving. The thunder is still rumbling but it seems to be fading and the steady drum of the rain is down to a light patter. The team have doubts about the weather, however, by the time breakfast is over there are patches of blue and it looks like another beautiful day.

The climb is mostly a joyless trudge up steep switchbacks through the jungle. Gradually, we make our way up through the climate zones into the still flowering rhododendrons and beyond where the views are spectacular. As the morning turns to afternoon the clouds are back. The tight formation of guides, porters and kitchen staff have spread out as the hard effort to reach our camp has taken hold. With only 30 minutes of climbing to go the clouds have opened up and snow pellets are coming down hard. We make camp and quickly set up tents to get out of the elements. The worst of the storm passes quickly and I burrow into my now familiar and cozy tent. Another successful day on the GHT complete. 

Keep climbing

Coo-coo, coo-coo, coo-coo echos across the terraces and up through the forest. I can’t see the cuckoos but they seem to be everywhere. It’s a pleasant call but over time it kind of has a grating effect like kids playing Marco-Polo in a swimming pool. 

One day, as we climbed what seemed like an endless series of steps through multiple villages on the side of a mountain, another call rang out. It has three notes that start rather softly with a little pause then they repeat a little more loudly and again a little more loudly. This goes on about five times until the call is like a scream. I couldn’t help but feel like this call was directed right at me. This is another member of the cuckoo family. In my head, all I could think of were these three notes saying: “keep climb-ing, keep climb-ing, KEEP CLIMB-ING”. Now, every time I hear that call that’s what I hear and it makes me smile.

Up next

Once we’ve taken a rest we’re headed up to Tilman Pass. We’re ready for a mountaineering crossing, if need be, but we’ll see what the conditions are like. It sounds like there hasn’t been much snow this year so we’ll find out in a few days. Everyone is in good spirits to have the group together with good weather and a day to relax in a beautiful setting. 

Steve, Vince, Juddha, Pikass

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