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Day 3 – May 13th early morning
We were up at 3 am and hurriedly began to get ready for the climb up. Last night’s rain had again ensured a clear sky and we could see a myriad of stars twinkling away. It was a chill morning with the mercury a few degrees below 0 and armed with ear muffs and gloves, we began the steep climb up to Dzongri top.
The climb is a pretty tricky one as the route is steep and goes past scrub and loose sandy soil. As we slowly marched up and onward, dawn was starting to creep up, brightening the sky. The peaks of Mt Pandim and Rathong were beginning to appear on our left as we moved onwards.
It had been a pretty chill night and the path was strewn with a thick blanket of frost. The lesser peaks around us were also white with fresh snow from last night and it was a beautiful sight that was unfolding past us. Panting and wheezing, we manage to finally crest the ridge that leads onto the final narrow path that leads up to our final destination – Dzongri top.
As we reach the top, we stand in awe… witnessing the might of nature. In front of us stand the Kabru peaks, Mt Pandim, Mt Jopuno and Mt. Kanchenjunga. Its a 270 degree Himalayan special that makes me stand spellbound in the chill, bitter wind.
The sun begins streaking the mountain tops with gold as a sunning sight begins to unfold. A clear wondrously blue sky as the backdrop for the spectacular golden peaks all around us. We wait and watch it unfold and click photos as the peaks come to life. It been a sight worth savouring and the effort to be able to view this is soon forgotten.
As the sun finally rises in all its glory, we wait a while and then begin the walk down into the clouds and the ubiquitous sweet scented “sun-paate” bushes. Its been a memorable and extraordinary morning and one that we will cherish years on.
(Some useless info here : we were hoping to see the famous rosy pink peaks but were told by one of the locals that pink sunrises happen during October/November winter months only. The summer months give blazing gold sunrises. That obviously means I need to be back in winter to pay obeisance to the peaks again )
Day 3 – May 13th late morning
After having had a filling breakfast, we again packed our bags are prepared for a long march to Lamuney.
We moved out by 8:40 am, climbing up the hill on towards Kokchurong. The path leads up through scrub and unusual patches of desert like white sand. The terrain reminds me of the Scottish moors and its gently undulating all the way over and across the ridge onto the other side. Some spectacularly beautiful moors all around as we hungrily breathe in the scented alpine air.
The first hour of the walk is nice and easy with easy climbs and descents. Once we cross this beautiful, wild plateau, the first deep descent comes into view. Far below in the valley, you can see the gorge with a bridge across it. The descent needs to be made slowly and carefully (especially me with a bad knee) tracts are pretty steep and scrabbly and thanks to animal hooves, are a bit unsteady as well.
It takes quite a toll on your legs but after about 45 mins of descent, you are at the base where the trekker hut at Kokchurong awaits.
The forest around is amazing with a thick mist all around the deodars and unusual vegetation trailing everywhere. The clear stream cascades over the rocks as we step across boulders and across the bridge onto the other side.
The forest on the other side is even more amazing with thick yellow lichen encrusted boulders and gnarled tree roots giving it a mystical, almost Lord of the Rings like appearance. Its truly breathtaking and I begin expecting a troll to pop out at any time blocking our way!
After about an hour of reasonably easy walk, we come across a boulder strewn climb that is a bit difficult but lasts only for about 30 mins or so before it opens out into a wide sweeping valley where the cold wind suddenly swoops down on us.
This is actually the start of the pass that leads onto to Goecha-la and beyond. It is this very pass/valley that keeps going on and up through the majestic Himalayas.
In the distance we can see the Thansing trekker hut and a few camps but the amazing panorama of the peaks beyond is hidden behind low lying cold clouds that are looming threateningly.
We stop at Thansing to have lunch (which the cook has already prepared… they obviously being way faster than us!)
After an hour’s breather, we continue walking on towards Lamuney. This is the easiest stretch and is over and across very gentle slopes with mountain peaks around us shrouded in clouds.
Half an hour out of Thansing and the threatening clouds finally break. Initially its a shower of tiny hailstones but within 10 mins the wind picks up and it escalates into snowfall. We huddle under a rock and pull out our plastic ponchos and drape them over ourselves and our bag and hurry on through the alternating sleet and snow. After about half an hour, the snowflakes get bigger and denser and we are truly trudging through a medium scale snowfall.
Another 45 mins and we are at Lamuney. Lamuney does not have a trekkers hut and only has a kitchen which trekkers have to share with the cooks/porters if they do not carry tents. The kitchen was dark and smoky and over crowded but was a relief from the cold outside. Our feet and hands were chilled and we gratefully accepted the glasses of tea proferred around. We had reached Lamuney quite comfortably by around 4 pm and the snow continued to pelt the camp for the next 4 hours well into the night.
We had a quick dinner and somehow everyone found space to crawl over or under benches and tables and we all eased down to sleep.
Day 3 had been yet another eventful and fantastic day with us experiencing all kinds of weather and picturesque scenery… all unique and stunning in their own way.
Day 4 – the tryst with the legendary Mt. kanchenjunga
3 am and as always time to brush the cobwebs, step out of our sleeping bags and embrace the stinging, chill air. As we had come to hope, expect… and enjoy … the skies were clear again. It was a winter wonderland with shades of black, white and grey, as we began our hike up the first ridge. The fresh snow had made things very difficult with only the footsteps of the previous group (10 minutes ahead of us) as our only guide.
Here we are cresting the first rise with the Lamuney camp already left far behind.
We kept climbing up the next rise and as we reached its edge, the sun decided to show us its glory.
Having crossed the lip, a sublime sight greeted us – the golden peaks reflected in the gently rippling waters of Samiti Lake.
Struggling up the rise on the shore opposite Samiti Lake, the pass can be seen in its entirety, snaking from after Lamuney all the way through the Himalayas.
Beyond Samiti Lake, the going gets tougher, as we struggle through the snow up the increasing gradient, carefully stepping on rocks and avoiding getting our shoes wet! As the sun rises in the sky, our hearts soar to see the gigantic peaks appearing beyond the lip like an impenetrable wall.
Just the sight of these peaks gives us renewed energy as we strive on… (you can get an idea of the scale by seeing the size of the humans against the mighty mountains)
A Little panorama added in to give a taster
…To finally behold the magic of Goecha-la… the mighty awe inspiring Mt. Kanchenjunga and the surrounding stunning peaks!
Sadly the clouds were starting to creep in towards Mt. Kanchenjunga which forced us to take the decision to abort the trek to the final viewpoint BUT this is how it is in the great Himalayas…you can only have the privilege to be close to them when THEY want it, not when we do We decided to turn back from viewpoint 1 for multiple reasons… the risk of the mountain clouding over was too strong and also the fact that as the sun climbed in the sky, the fresh snow would start to melt, making the descent extremely treacherous.
No harm done though, it was mindblowing, spellbinding… unbelievable MUCH more than what we had imagined. Human nature being greedy as always though, we decided on the spot that we would do one better – pink sunrise in November at Goechala our next target
We turned around exhilarated and began our march back down the slopes … all the way to Tsokha.
We began trudging down the slippery slopes back to Lamuney where we would have a quick breakfast and then proceed to Kokchurong for lunch followed by a brisk walk back to Tsokha. Our target was to reach Tsokha before nightfall since the inclement weather could break anytime.
Here are a few pics of the same route back, looking different in the blazing sunlight
As planned, we moved back down past Kokchurong onto the less travelled route that led directly to Phedang. This was one weird route (and a pretty tough one at that) a really unusual forest that has the reputation of being haunted and also full of bogs. All I felt was that this was a truly narrow path through a dense, spooky forest which probably contributes to its reputation. It was also a pretty difficult route to take and after a pretty hard climb/descent, we finally came out at Phedang. From here on the going was easier… pretty ,much downhill. Finally, at 6:15 pm, we reached Tsokha.
A truly strenuous Day 4 finally ended.
Day 5 was pretty much a breeze as compared to what we had been through, and we were home and dry in Yuksom by 1:30 pm
Evening was spent looking around town (the coronation throne, Phamrong falls) and finally chilling with a nice hot water bath followed by an awesome booze party well into the night
All in all, we managed to finish the trek in excellent time (5 days) even with our mulish packloads… AND managed to enjoy every moment of it. The mountain gods were merciful and we had great weather all throughout.
Just a little side-note … I am also a smoker and I dd smoke at all altitudes, albeit sparingly – only about 3 cigarettes a day. It did not hamper (or improve) my performance in anyway but well… it was fun to smoke while in the driving rain with lightning streaking the sky
Our next target now – the incredible Green Lake trek… time to get back in shape again!!