Monday, January 16, 2012

Asian Adventure: Day 15 Thorong La Pass

Annapurna Circuit Day 10
High Camp (4800 m) to Thorong La Pass (5416 m) to Muktinah (3800 m)

At 4:30 AM we heard the knock on our door - time to drag ourselves out of bed and into the cold.

As soon as the sun hits, Thorong La Pass is prone to hurricane strength glacial winds. Therefore most people start the trek across the pass before sunrise in order to avoid the worst of the winds. When we got up there was already a long line of headlamps coming up the slope from Thorong Phedi below. Some people start as early as 3:00 AM!

At 5:30 AM we started up the trail towards the pass. Despite the bitter cold, it was rather magical starting out in the dark with the stars above and the train of headlamps bobbing along the trail. Slowly the sun began to light up the surrounding peaks slowly revealing the towering summits, massive moraines and impressive glaciers. Unfortunately with the sun also came the winds.

Hitting the trail at 5:30 AM

The trail climbs the scree slopes, twisting around the deep valleys formed by the moraines, hitting countless false summits... as we climbed Dave's headache got progressively worse and worse but he was not showing any other symptoms of altitude sickness so he slowly trudged along. 

Then we finally crested the last roll and the mountains of prayer flags became visible. We had reached the summit!

Summit Cairn

At the summit

Thorong La Pass
5416 m
Congratulation for the Success
Hope You Enjoyed the Trek
See You Again

Dave's altimeter said 5441 m but the official elevation is 5416 m. Dave had also used his watch to track our elevation gains and losses throughout the hike - in total we had done over 15,000 m!

The reading on Dave's altimeter

Khulung Kang

Yakgama Kang

The summit was extremely windy and freezing cold, so we only stopped for a couple minutes to gulp down a celebratory cup of tea in the tea house and quickly take the mandatory summit photographs before we began the 1600 m sprint down the other side.

Thorong Top Tea Shop

Tea at the summit

Heading down

Above the clouds - looking towards Muktinah and Mustang

Mules bringing gear from Muknitah

The trail down, down, down...

Back down in the warm valley, we stopped for a tea break in Chabarbu (4290 m) and visited the Muktinah temple complex before heading into town. The temple complex features a pagoda-style temple of Vishnu, several Buddhist monasteries and a gompa featuring a natural gas flame floating over a stream of sacred water.

Back down a 4290 m and feeling much better

Monastery bells

Vishnu temple

Cow fountains



Monks lighting yak candles

In Muktinah, we checked into the Royal Mustang Hotel and promptly treated ourselves to gloriously hot gas-fired showers before enjoying lunch in the sun on the roof top patio. As a Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage destination as well as a popular trekking destination, Muktinah is a bustling tourist town compared to the tiny villages in the Annapurna region. There is even a Bob Marley Hotel and a Seven-Eleven (not a real one of course). After a quick nap, we spent the rest of the day exploring town and stocking up on supplies (more cookies and chocolate).

Royal Mustang Hotel

Bob Marley Hotel


Weaver chatting on her cell phone



Muktinah Valley

The guidebooks state that it will take most people 8 hours to complete the crossing from Thorong Phedi to Muktinah. We had reached the summit within two hours and made it to Muktinah well before lunch despite taking three tea breaks and visiting two monasteries and a temple along the way. Our guide actually complained that we walked too fast and that he had trouble keeping up with us. Here I thought we were going ridiculously slow because Dave was feeling ill!

I was relieved to have the first half of our trek (and the constant worries of altitude sickness) behind us and was ready to head out on the second leg of our adventure. Tomorrow we would head into the remote Kingdom of Mustang.

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