ACT Day 13 - Thorong La Pass

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We started hiking at 06:45, almost an hour later than we had originally planned. There had been rats in the walls of our room the night before, and they had been scratching and scampering around the entire night. My earplugs would normally render me impervious to distracting sounds like those made by the rats, but the thin wooden walls of the room seemed to nullify the efficacy of the earplugs and instead amplified each and every single sound those rats made. In hindsight however, it turned out that we had had plenty of time since we started the hike at High Camp (elevation : 4925m) instead of Thorong Phedi (elevation : 4450m) .

thorong la

The mist had descended once again and everything was left blanketed in a complete whiteout by the time we left the lodge. This not only dropped the visibility, but also the ambient temperature. We ascended to the north end of the Thorong High Camp Hotel and approached the stupa that was located on the trail head. The trail twisted up the barren terrain in a north-westerly direction and was flanked by yellow and white posts that marked the way at various intervals. The posts were quite useful in the whiteout as their silhouettes stood out starkly against the heavy blanket of mist, and as a result made navigation much easier than in other whiteouts that I had encountered previously.

Thorong la cage bridge

The cage-like bridge

There was a roar of a river to our right--we could hear it but could not see it. As the sun began to rise and warm up the landscape, colours were restored; over time, the mist slowly dissipated and the ghostly visage of the river began to materialise. Just shy of 5000 metres above sea level and just under a kilometre in, we arrived at a cage-like bridge that stood imposingly above the frail-looking, much older wooden bridge directly underneath it. The trail then swung right, ascended towards the ridge above, and swung left once again. Another river greeted us on the other side, and its sounds intensified just as the others' faded. Not too long after, we passed a structure that had been ruined by rockfall, and the trail continued to wind up the slopes, switch-backing ever upwards into the thickening mist.

thorong la insect


It was a little surreal not being able to see anything other than the path that lay right underneath our feet. It reminded me a little of scuba diving or hiking at night, where all that could be seen was what lay within the bright cone of our torches. Occasionally the mist would clear just a little, and the silhouettes of the numerous layers of hills that were stacked up along the horizon would appear, and cutting through them was the thin trail that showed us where we needed to go. The mist seemed to cling to the ground, and in the process, did not just blanket us in a layer of fine moisture, but also with a heavy layer of complete silence--which I found to be very comforting. The drizzle however was intermittent, and each and every time it stopped, I would whip off my hood. The hood completely cut-off my peripheral vision and also limited my hearing, which, somewhat counter-intuitively, did not allow me to appreciate the silence that had engulfed us.

thorong la landscape

Layers and layers of hills

Next (Day 13) : Thorong La Pass (Part 2)

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Thorong La Pass

We finally reached the Thorong La Pass (elevation : 5416m) at 09:45 after covering 3.6 kilometres. The flags that were festooned around the signpost slowly peeped around the corner, with more and more being revealed with each and every step. There was no drop-off at all at this high-altitude pass, and both its ascent and descent were extremely gradual compared to other well-known passes, such as Renjo La or Cho La. Basically, the bigger the drop-off was, the better the view had been.

There was a little viewpoint up to the left of the signpost however, that revealed views of the small pools that lay at the base of the north-eastern slopes of Thorong Peak (elevation : 6144m), as well as the two sections of icefall that clung precariously to the steep mountain slopes just beyond. The best thing about the pass however, was that we had it completely to ourselves...that is until Raleigh and her German friends arrived.

thorong la pass

thorong la pass

thorong la pools

The turquoise pools of Thorong La

By that time, we were about to head down the other side of the pass anyway, so we said our hellos and then our farewells and continued westward. It was 10:00 by then, and we first ascended the mound directly in front of us for a quick peak, before cutting right to join the main trail down below. The peak of Yakwakang (elevation : 6482m), also known as Thorongtse, on our right was still shrouded in clouds, but we could hear the deep rumbles that came from up above. The mist wafted upwards a little and the pinnacles of Yakwakang revealed themselves for a short while--their light brown contorted shapes a stark contrast to the huge blocks of icefall that hung from the slopes of Thorong Peak on the other side of the valley.

The path down was wide and very well-trodden (the mist must have thought so too, as it descended down upon us once again just to make sure that we would not get away that easily) and the poles that lined the trail stood out clearly against the thick mist. The poles were useful on more than one occasion as the scree path sometimes diverged into multiple trails, that most often than not, converged once again after some time. This made the route easily navigable by those who did not have the GPS route, as all that needed to be done was to just walk from pole to pole to pole.

thorong la valley

The valley after the pass

Next (Day 13) : Thorong La Pass (Part 3)

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The notorious ridge that I had read about in other online accounts was reached at the 6.4 km mark. This section had thrown other hikers off before as the trail seemed to continue onto the ridge straight ahead, when it instead veered down the slopes to the left. Fortunately, there were now both indications that were painted onto the rocks just before the turnoff, as well as pole markers on the left that indicated the correct way. We decided to stop for our lunch soon after that point--where we prepared hot soup that was to be eaten with tibetan bread--at a large boulder just above a grassy meadow with the ruins of a small structure. We had figured that this point was a good stop as it was approximately half way down elevation-wise from the high-altitude pass (which was 1700 metres higher than Ranipauwa).

mustang valley

Window into Mustang

Minutes after we stopped, the mist directly in-front of us cleared and left a window of sorts that looked straight down to the valley floor. The clouds above framed the arid landscape of Mustang like a picture, but the surreal beauty of it--the juxtaposition of the arid browns and the lush greens--made it seem more like a painting. The timing had been absolutely impeccable. Birds flitted around that at first I had thought were alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus), but their calls were 'caws' rather than puppy-like 'yelps', which told me that they were house crows (Corvus splendens). There was a lot more grass from this point on, which livened up the landscape somewhat, but by the time we started walking, the mist had descended upon us once again. The barometer pressure on my Suunto Spartan Ultra had also dropped, which had in turn initiated the storm warning. This had also caused the estimated altitude to rise slightly, so I had to manually offset it for a while.

mustang valley

By the time we caught sight of the guesthouses of the hamlet (elevation : 4190m) that did not seem to have a set name--some signs referred to the place as 'Changur' or 'Chongur', others as 'Thorong Tha', whilst others still as 'Chambharbhu'--the elevation had already corrected itself and gave a fairly precise elevation of 4200m. The mist had also cleared a little by then, and we were able to see all the way through to the hamlet of Jhong that was nestled in a sea of green. As we approached the guesthouses, we saw that the trail passed straight through them, which was a little inconvenient considering that we would then have to tell each and every one of the owners, who all happened to gather outside whenever a trekker came along, that we were just passing through. The trail then wound down to the Jhong Khola approximately 9 km in, before passing the junction to Muktinath. By then, the rock-fringed trail had taken us into grassland that was interspersed with mounds of low bushes. Each time we ventured into terrain like that, we made sure to always keep our eyes peeled for signs of pikas (Ochotona roylei)!

mustang valley goat

After a few river crossings, the last one with a long suspension bridge, the trail swung left before sidling the temples of Muktinath (elevation : 3800m) and then straight on to the hamlet of Ranipauwa (elevation : 3700m) . We ended up staying at the 'Path of Dreams Hotel (Les Chemins du RĂªve)'; the room cost NPR200/2, and the meal of dhal bhat cost NPR490.

*We were not alone! A solo hiker came in very late whilst we were having dinner : 8/13

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Day 13 Expenditure

Next (Day 14) : Ranipauwa to Kagbeni

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