ACT Day 12 - Yak Kharka to High Camp

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The Valley

The morning mist was interspersed with drizzle yet again, but by then we knew that it would lift if we just waited. When the views gradually opened up after our breakfast--which was tibetan bread (NPR270) and jam (NPR60/2) once again--they revealed the two towering mountains of Annapurna III (elevation : 7555m) and Gangapurna (elevation : 7454m) way down the valley to the south. The plan was to head all the way to High Camp (elevation : 4925m) that day as it would then mean that the elevation gain the following day would be practically halved, from 1000 metres to about 500. We had also stayed two nights at Tilicho Base Camp (elevation : 4150m) and had spent a full day at Tilicho Lake (elevation : 4920m), so were pretty well acclimatised by then.

By the time we set off down the trail, the sun was out and its warm rays had lit up the barren triangular peak of Syagang (elevation : 6026m) that lay just in-front of us. An assortment of flora, that included Jacquemont's cobra lilies (Arisaema jacquemontii), were scattered here and there, but the flora that surrounded us was overwhelmingly yellow, and was made up almost entirely of the sunflower-like Cremanthodium ellisii and five finger cinquefoils (Potentilla cuneata). Birds that twittered endless tunes flitted from bush to bush, and their endearing antics brought us to a complete halt on more than one occasion.

Himalayan beautiful rosefinch

A male Himalayan beautiful rosefinch (Carpodacus pulcherrimus argyrophrys)

Milk parsley

Milk parsley (Selinum wallichianum); larkspurs (Delphinium kamaonense); Cremanthodium ellisii; Himalayan onions (Allium wallichii)

Just after a kilometre-and-a-half in, we reached the bridge that spanned the melt-water of the glacier that flowed down the west face of Chulu West (elevation : 6419m). The small hamlet of Ledar (elevation : 4200m) lay almost immediately after, and upon realising that the lodges that made up the hamlet had been open after all, a deep twinge of regret hit me, as I would much rather have made the extra 45-minutes hike the day before just to have been able to sleep 200 metres higher.

Blue Sheep

Our pace was slow and leisurely as we could not help but stop to appreciate the views and observe the wildlife. It was nice to take it nice and slow instead of pushing our way through, grunting and staring at the ground the way most trekkers did; we had plenty of time and absolutely nothing to prove, and as such were able to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells in their entirety. We came across a yak watering hole lower down the slopes, so we dropped our backpacks and climbed all the way down to observe them grazing and bathing for a while. Right after we climbed back up to the trail and just as I had put on my backpack once again, we spotted slight movements on the slopes above the trail. A herd of Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), also known as 'bharals', were grazing on the ridge way above us. I quickly dropped my backpack once again and scrambled up the slopes to get closer.

Despite their name, blue sheep are more closely related to goats. The brown coats of these deft rock climbers can sometimes look greyish-blue (hence the name) and help them to blend in to the surrounding rocks. They rely on their camouflage so much that they sometimes remain completely motionless when they are approached, in the hopes that they will not be seen.

Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) peering across from the ridge

Looking north up the valley

Next (Day 12) : Yak Kharka to High Camp (Part 2)

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Thorong Phedi

It was almost midday by the time we set off once again, so we decided to just snack for lunch--alternating between home-made trail mix and crunchy tropical müsli. We reached the suspension bridge that crossed the Kone Khola approximately four kilometres in, and then passed the magnificent waterfall that was partially obscured by a ridge that had been plagued by rockfall. The waterfall was so large that watching the huge volume of water plummet down hundreds of metres to the river below was quite mesmerising. The trail that continued straight ahead up the valley (instead of crossing the bridge) was apparently more risky and passed large areas that were prone to rockfall, so we decided to follow the red and white NATT trail markers which took us down to the suspension bridge and across the river to the other side of the valley.


Yaks (Bos grunniens) grazing on the slopes; the waterfall

The trail now followed the left side of the valley as it made its way northwards, and wound its way up the slopes before passing two seasonal tea-houses. The trail entered a landslide-prone area five kilometres in, which would end up lasting all the way to Thorong Phedi. On the other side of the valley, Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) could be seen scampering nimbly up and down the steep slopes, oftentimes with unbelievable dexterity. The source of the Kone Khola revealed itself soon after--a huge waterfall that plunged down from between the narrow clefts in the barren and desolate cliffs.

Looking north up the valley

Looking north up the valley just before the hamlet of Thorong Phedi was reached

We finally reached Thorong Phedi (elevation : 4450m) (which means "Foot of the Hill") at the 6.4 km mark. The trail that ascended the slopes to High Camp (elevation : 4925m) began just outside the front gates of the hamlet and climbed up the slopes to the left towards the solitary hotel known as 'Hotel New Hilltop'. As we ascended, I could not resist glancing back at the imposing layers of deformed stratified rocks behind me. Lines of trails zig-zagged and intersected across the grassy slopes near the base of the cliffs, and way above them was the towering waterfall that flung water out into the air before it plummeted down to the cliffs below.

The rocky pinnacles

The rocky pinnacles that lie to the west of Thorong Phedi

Looking east after climbing up past Thorong Phedi

Looking east after climbing up past Thorong Phedi. The hamlet
can be seen near the bottom of the valley towards the right of the image

Next (Day 12) : Yak Kharka to High Camp (Part 3)

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High Camp

The plants that dotted the slopes here were rather unfamiliar and appeared almost otherworldly, with quite a few of them appearing almost marine-like, such as transparent tubular plants that reminded me of tunicates (Subphylum : Tunicata), and spiky basal leaves of soroseris plants (Soroseris sp.) that had yet to flower that reminded me of crown of thorns (Family : Acanthasteridae). It was interesting to recall then that what is now the Himalayas used to be at the bottom of the Tethys Ocean millions of years ago, before the Indian continental shelf smashed into the Eurasian Plate. The 'Mian Shen' plant (Eriophyton wallichii) was also ubiquitous on these slopes, its fluffy overlapping leaves and strange flowers looking like something straight out of a Dr.Seuss book.

Mian shen

Mian shen, 绵参属 (Eriophyton wallichii)

As we criss-crossed up the scree-filled slopes and made our way up towards the prayer flags on the ridge, we encountered yet another small group of Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur). They made their way deftly over the slope above and passed within metres of us, seemingly unfazed by our presence. The path then curved to the right to avoid a huge fanned-out landslide area that had emerged from a small gap in the layered pinnacles above. The path continued to stay right and ultimately made its way under an overhang and towards the stone stairwell that led up to Thorong High Camp Hotel (elevation : 4925m).

Himalayan blue sheep

Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur)

There were plenty of people walking around the hotel and its grounds, most of whom seemed to be Spaniards. The room for the night ended up costing NPR300/2 and the hot meals of dhal bhat, which we eagerly devoured around the central burner in the massive dining room, cost us NPR720 each. We then made our way back to the room for an early night as we were to tackle the high pass the next day!

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Download file: Annapurna Circuit - Day 12.gpx

Day 12 Expenditure

Next (Day 13) : Thorong La

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