20 January Sunday morning
At 5 or 5:30 I heard two sets of accelerating then decelerating drumbeats.
After a breakfast of champa porridge (made with wheat), quite good, just after the sun came up Lal and I set off before the others. It was a cold clear day. The trail through the fifteen inches of snow had been somewhat broken, but after the first little town Tangki somewhat less so. After an hour or so the French Swiss guy and his guide caught up with us. He was a nice guy and didn’t want to pass me, but eventually went ahead after a rest stop.
I heard loud groaning noises and turned to look across the valley; it was a powder avalanche down the face of Gangapurna. It stopped after a few mutes in a hidden basin.
Lal pointed out Annapurna II, IV, III, Gangapurna, Glacier Dome to the south. The tip of Annapurna I 8091 m was briefly visible but looked low and hazy because far away.
An hour later as we were resting near a metal suspension bridge, which was hazardous with the snow, the three guys caught up, being tailed by the Korean with the bucket hat. Below us flying down valley we saw a half dozen large birds, probably vultures or Himalayan Griffons. A few minutes later down slope to the left a few hundred meters away were dozens, maybe a hundred, of blue sheep. Lal thought one of them might have died and attracted the vultures. Lal and I led them for a while then let the guys lead.
I was expecting the usual lunch break at a tea house but it didn’t happen, so I hadn’t brought enough water, only half a quart plus some boiled water that Lal gave me. Lal broke out some butter cookies. I had to explain to him how westerners aren’t resistant to Nepali diseases that might be in untreated tap water.
Everyone was congregated in front of the first hotel at Yak Kharka when I arrived. Lal said to me lets go to the next one, and everyone followed us to the Thorong Peak Hotel. Everyone had tea; the Korean ordered a pancake, and I got a bowl of onion soup which had a creamy texture. The Swiss guy hiked on further with his guide.
Everyone’s feet was wet. The snow melts as it comes into contact with the boot. Nobody’s goretex was effective. Feet perspiring could have contributed. My feet were chilly but not numb. A fire was built in a large stove similar to the one at Manang, and everyone spent hours drying their boots and socks.
The problem of snow melting on and soaking the fabric surface of my boots even on a day below freezing with soft snow hadn’t occurred to me. I hadn’t used them in these conditions.
Wet boots and socks are a large worry because it would risk frostbite to hike over the pass with wet feet. It will be a longer day and likely colder. It seems to me absolutely essential at least to start out with dry socks and boots, so it is a worry whether we will be able to dry our boots either at Throng Pedi or High Camp, which Matt and the guys were talking about going to tomorrow.
I asked if anyone had dry feet. Johanne said that no boots are waterproof; I pointed out that that is not true. Matt said that the Swiss guy had some kind of mountaineering boots that kept his feet dry.
The porter of the Korean was wearing blue jeans and drying the legs of his corduroy pants; they steamed as he pressed them briefly to the metal. He was also was drying a pair of low cut shoes; as Lal remarked later, five hundred rupee shoes.
Tim worried about carbon monoxide; the room was smoky. Some coals fell into the bowl of dung as the fire was being stoked from it, igniting the dung. At first I thought the dung ignited from being too close to the stove and yelled for someone to move it. No one understood; finally Matt moved it a few feet away but it ended up getting moved back. Sticks were put on top of the stove to keep drying socks from contacting the hot metal; of course they caught fire. A little later someone put pieces of dung on top of the stove, which of course also caught fire. It was the inexperienced guides and porters, from lower elevations, that did these stupid things.
It transpired that Matt’s guide has never done Thorung La in the winter. He said he was going to sleep in the dining room because it was too cold in the room. Later I heard that he did sleep in a room.
When we got to Muktinath Lal told me he didn’t carry a sleeping bag; he sleeps under the blankets supplied by the lodges. He prefers the cotton blankets to the fuzzy synthetic ones.
Boots were everyone’s weak spot. I didn’t want to carry a heavy pair of boots for two weeks to wear them only one or three days. Everyone’s boots are completely inappropriate for the conditions, which might be unusual because of the amount of snow; it was the first heavy snowfall of the season.
There is no cell phone reception here. I cannot recharge my iPad because the water to the hydroelectric is frozen. They add kerosene to the bin of water used to flush the toilet, or the bin was previously used for kerosene. I have to break the ice with the metal cup to flush.