ACT Day 11 - Tilicho Base Camp to Yak Kharka

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Morning Run

The mountains finally revealed themselves as the sun rose that morning. As soon as I glanced out the window and saw the snow-covered peaks that surrounded Tilicho Base Camp (elevation : 4150m), I knew that I had to head up to the ridge above once again. My Salomon X-Ultra 3 GTX shoes were low-cut and were light enough for a trail run, so I quickly put them on and grabbed my camera before heading out to the trail head.

The view from the bedroom window

The view from the bedroom window; Khangsar Kang / Roc Noir (elevation : 7485m), its sides so sheer that they struggle to hold snow

Snow cover on the top of the ridge

Snow cover on the top of the ridge on the north-west of Tilicho Base Camp

It was still early and the morning chill lingered in the air. The temperature was perfect for a quick run and was low enough that a thin layer of snow could be seen on the normally bare and barren ridge that flanked the north-west side of Tilicho Base Camp. The 150 metre ascent was very brief and was practically over before it had even begun. As I rounded the top of the ridge, all three prominent peaks--Gangapurna (elevation : 7454m), Tare Kang / Glacier Dome (elevation : 7069m), and Khangsar Kang / Roc Noir (elevation : 7485m)--appeared before me in all their glory. I ran up to the pinnacle viewpoint for some quick 360-degree panorama shots and then immediately ran back down to the guesthouse.

I had expected to be out of breath at such a high elevation as the oxygen was only 60% that of sea level (for a blood o2 sat of about 88%), but was surprised to find that I was not. This meant that I was fairly well acclimatised, most likely due to choosing the high route via Upper Pisang and doing an acclimatisation hike up to Kang La. My slow ascent had also meant that this had also been the case during my trail run at Annapurna Base Camp earlier in the year.

The lateral moraine

The lateral moraine of the glacier and the ridge that ascends from it to 'Peak 5126'.
The triangle-shaped peak on the left is Kangsar Kang, or 'Roc Noir'

The northern face of 'Peak 6170'

The northern face of 'Peak 6170'. The slopes of Om Myurpa (elevation : 5039m) can be seen in the foreground on the right of the image

We were eager to start the day's hike as the weather was excellent, so we quickly ate breakfast, which was a piece of tibetan bread (NPR305) each with a shared bowl of jam (NPR105/2). We then settled our bill before returning to the room to pack our backpacks.

Next (Day 11) : Tilicho Base Camp to Yak Kharka (Part 2)

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We set off at 08:45 in absolutely beautiful weather, with the sun warming the grassy slopes and the mountains only partially concealed. The plan for the next few days was to cross the watershed and over the Thorong La Pass (elevation : 5416m), but in order to do that, we would have to trek northwards through the Thorong Khola valley. Instead of backtracking all the way to the town of Manang (elevation : 3540m) however, we planned to bypass it completely by backtracking to Shree Kharka (elevation : 4070m) and taking the route to Upper Khangsar (elevation : 4120m). This route would eventually swing north at the river confluence before heading up the Thorong Khola valley.

The view from Tilicho Base Camp

The view from Tilicho Base Camp: Om Myurpa (elevation : 5039m) in the centre with the snow-covered northern face of 'Peak 6170'
on the left of the image. Khangsar Kang / Roc Noir (elevation : 7485m) and the rest of the Grande Barriere are on the right

The lateral moraine of the glacier

The lateral moraine of the glacier and the ridge that ascends to 'Peak 5126' in the centre, Om Myurpa (elevation : 5039m)
rising to the left of the image, and the faint trail to Tilicho Lake (elevation : 4920m) tracing the slopes to the right.

We began to walk east towards the arid pinnacles, and were completely transfixed with the snow-covered northern face of 'Peak 6170' that lay just ahead of us. This was the first time that we had seen the peak as it had been obscured by cloud cover over the previous two days. We reached the triple waterfall in 20 minutes and began to walk through the rock fall section immediately after that. I found the amalgamation of the various elements to be quite amazing--to the right were a multitude of waterfalls that plummeted into the glinting Marsyangdi Nadi and were topped by imposing snow-covered peaks; to the left were the desolate and otherworldly pinnacles that were surrounded by greyish volcanic-like sand; behind us lay the formidable wall of ice and glaciers that made up the Grand Barriere; and directly above us came the sharp puppy-like yelps of alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus)--all of which were within 30 minutes walk from Tilicho Base Camp (elevation : 4150m).

Looking east

Looking east with the waterfalls to our right and the pinnacles just ahead...

Looking west

...looking west with the snow-covered peaks and the pinnacles behind us

We made it out of the landslide-prone area after exactly an hour of walking. By then, all the familiar flowers had returned and with them came all the insects. Pollinators such as butterflies and blister beetles (Family : Meloidae) were plentiful, as were coprovores, such as dung beetles (Family : Scarabaeidae) that were attracted to all the horse (Equus ferus caballus) faeces that besmeared the trail. We crossed the waterfall and eventually reached the suspension bridge after an hour and forty-five minutes of walking. The path then began to descended down scree again to Shree Kharka (elevation : 4070m) and met the junction to Yak Kharka just after the 5km mark.

Meadow blue butterfly

Meadow blue butterfly (Polyommatus sp.); fritillary butterfly (Argynnis sp.)

Next (Day 11) : Tilicho Base Camp to Yak Kharka (Part 3)

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Upper Khangsar

We took the upper left branch that led to Yak Kharka (elevation : 4018m) instead of turning right and down the slopes to the Thare Gompa , which was where we had come from several days prior. Shortly after stopping for lunch, amongst pine trees and great mulleins (Verbascum thapsus) that lined the sides of the trail, we spotted the hamlet of Upper Khangsar (elevation : 4120m) in the distance.

The northern lower slopes of Tare Kang

The northern lower slopes of Tare Kang (elevation : 7069m), also known as Glacier Dome. The treeline
can be seen tracing its way across the slopes with alpine grass just above and pine forests just below

Upper Khangsar

Upper Khangsar (elevation : 4120m) seen from a distance

Upper Khangsar appeared desolate and the only things that greeted us there were the long gazes of grazing horses (Equus ferus caballus). The hamlet seemed camouflaged, with the stone walls that made up the houses being the same shade of brown as the surrounding stones and boulders. The houses themselves looked abandoned, with many of them having been reduced to just piles of rubble over the many years.


Yaks (Bos grunniens) grazing below the hamlet of Upper Khangsar

A noisy chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar) was heard long before it was seen. It made a loud continuous sound of "chukara-chukara-chukara-chukara", something between a cluck and a squawk, which drew us towards its direction. It was seen perched on the side of a stone wall, but shortly after it was spotted, it let out a loud "squawk" and flew off in a great hurry. Initially we thought that it had spotted us, but soon after, a pair of large Himalayan griffon vultures (Gyps himalayensis) swooped in from the direction that the partridge had been facing. The vultures must have seen something, as the pair circled the thermal currents above us for quite some time.

The chukar partridge

The chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar) before it flew off in a panic

One of the Himalayan griffon vultures

One of the Himalayan griffon vultures (Gyps himalayensis) circling above

From there, the trail continued east and ran parallel to a wall that was uncannily similar to the one that I had followed on the Galties hike in Ireland just a year ago. Across the valley, the treeline that looked to be slightly higher than we were could be seen, but the trail eventually rose to meet it, just before reaching the edge of the spur at the 8.6 km mark. This was where the march eastwards along the Marsyangdi Nadi ended and the walk north along the Thorong Khola was to begin.

Next (Day 11) : Tilicho Base Camp to Yak Kharka (Part 4)

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The Viewpoint

At the edge of the spur , a huge rocky slab jutted out that overlooked the expansive valley, with seemingly nothing underneath it but the bottom of the valley floor that lay hundreds of metres below. The slab provided a magnificent view of the confluence of the two major rivers: Marsyangdi Nadi, which flowed from Tilicho Base Camp in the west, and Thorong Khola, which flowed from Thorong Phedi in the north. The town of Manang (elevation : 3540m) and some of the smaller hamlets that were located further down the valley could also be seen in the distance.

View looking south-east from the slab

View from the slab looking south-east. The slopes on the right of the image are the lower north-eastern slopes of Gangapurna (elevation : 7454m)

From there, we had to descend 300 metres to the bridge that crossed the Thorong Khola, so we made the sharp turn northwards and followed the scree trail as it zig-zagged down the side of the valley. The flora was abundant and amazingly diverse here and seemed to almost be a slideshow of all the flowers that we had encountered over the past ten days: violet dandelions (Melanoseris macrorhiza), asters (Aster spp.), and edelweiss (Leontopodium sp.) were particularly abundant, whereas other flowers like larkspurs (Delphinium kamaonense) and five finger cinquefoils (Potentilla cuneata) could be spotted every now and then. The silky seed heads of clematis (Clematis sp.) plants also fringed the trail, but their flowers on the other hand were nowhere to be seen.

As we entered groves of Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis), the sounds of chirping birds returned; their slight movements seen in the bushes only after we stopped and remained perfectly still and silent. A mountain weasel (Mustela altaica) bounded over and across the path at one point, and momentarily stopped frozen in its tracks with its long neck craned upwards in order to get a good look at us, before bounding away into the bushes once again. As we descended, we could also see the hamlet of Gunsang (elevation : 3900m) across the valley to the east.

The bridge that crossed the Thorong Khola

The bridge that crossed the Thorong Khola

We finally reached the bridge (at the 10 km mark) that was located just upstream from where the Ghyanchang Khola, which flowed from the western slopes of Chulu (elevation : 6584m), met the much larger Thorong Khola. There was a guesthouse called 'Nirvana-Karche' directly across the bridge that turned out to be closed since it was the low season. From there, the path continued on behind the guesthouse and ran alongside the Ghyanchang Khola before it climbed up a boulder-filled section. The rocks here were completely covered in a huge variety of saxicolous (epilithic) lichen.

Lichen are a product of the symbiosis of fungus, which gives the lichen its form, and either algae or cyanobacterium, which gives the lichen the ability to photosynthesise. This consolidation is quite powerful, as the new 'composite' which behaves as a single individual is now able to receive nutrients from photosynthesis, and is hardy enough to resist dangers such as exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which tends to increase with elevation.

Sunburst lichen

Sunburst lichen (Xanthoria sp.), their distinct 'fairy cups' clearly visible; white crustose lichen

The boulder-filled section led up to a rise which in turn gave way to a grassy plateau that was covered with seemingly manicured mounds. The trail cut through the plateau before it joined the main trail to Yak Kharka (elevation : 4018m). I had initially planned to stop at Ledar (elevation : 4200m) for the night, which was the next hamlet further up; this was because it is located almost 200 metres higher than Yak Kharka, which would help with acclimatisation, and only had two guesthouses as opposed to the four of Yak Kharka, which would help us avoid the crowds. The problem was that it was low season, and we were a little unsure whether the tiny hamlet of Ledar would even be open. We had also just returned from Tilicho Lake and as such had had a lot more time to acclimatise. The wide trail from there was long and fairly uninteresting, and the floral diversity that had been so high further up the slopes had dropped significantly--the only flowers that lined the trail here were Himalayan stelleras (Stellera chamaejasme).

Yak Kharka (elevation : 4018m) was a fairly stretched-out hamlet that was located at the confluence of the Tarken Khola and the Kone Khola, and was bounded by the slopes of Syagang (elevation : 6026m) to the north-west. By the time we arrived, we were fairly glad to set our heavy packs down and to dig in to a hot meal of dhal bhat (NPR500/2) and egg curry (NPR500/2). We turned out to be the only hikers in the guesthouse once again (day out 8 of 11)!

Route Playback

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Download file: Annapurna Circuit - Day 11.gpx

Day 11 Expenditure

Next (Day 12) : Yak Kharka to High Camp

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