Note to new subscribers: I recently returned from a month long journey through the Himalayas. This is the second post in a series that began last week. You may want to read the previous week’s entry to learn about the beginning of the trip.
During Dinner on the second night, Paul asked Haba (our main guide) about the trail conditions for the morning. He responded, “If it rains, the trails will be muddy.” Hard to argue with his crystal clear logic.
On the third day of the trek, I woke to clear skies, mountain crevices filled with mist, fresh snow on the peaks, and soggy soil around my tent. A towel dipped in a silver metal bowl with about a liter of semi-warm sudsy water put a minor dent in the grime building on my body. The end zone for this day was about 17 KM away and included 1,500 feet of elevation. By the end of the day, we would arrive at Mt. Chomolhari Base Camp (13,260 feet). The mountain straddles the border with Tibet and is the second highest in Bhutan at an astounding 24,035 feet.
The first half of the day was exceedingly rocky and muddy. The second half was smooth and much drier. Yun is a Chinese national raised in Holland and now practices law in Hong Kong. She is in her mid to late 30’s and has a zest for life. She booked the trek to get away from a hectic career at a fast paced firm specializing in international mergers and acquisitions. Being a smart ass, I asked if she missed work. She chimed, “Be careful or I merge you into the river!” I like her.
One of my only regrets about taking this trip was to miss the beautiful fall colors at home. Luck was on my side as the Himalayas were bursting in an astounding array or vibrant colors. About half way through the day, I crossed a bridge and was stunned to see a gigantic animal trudging across the crystal clear blue water. My first yak had jet black greasy fur and long red furry earrings. I tapped my inner Ansel Adams and took about 25 photos of this glorious creature. Most yaks are domesticated and look like a cross between a cow and buffalo. They stand five to seven feet tall and can tip the scales above 2,200 pounds. Their long shaggy hair comes in many colors including black, brown, white, and grey. On the trails they own the right of way.
At one point we passed through a tiny village with about six abandoned buildings. There was a mysterious pile of rocks under a metal structure next to a stupa (Buddhist monument). The guide explained that this was a crematorium. At death, Buddhists believe that the accumulated karmic forces are unleashed and determine the next rebirth. A cremation ceremony is attended by friends and family and the body is burned in their presence.
Arriving at the base of this grand mountain is a moment I will never forget. Even though it was shrouded in complete cloud cover, I could feel the presence of Mt. Chomolhari. While washing my socks and underwear in a stream, I glanced up and had my first view of the summit. Grey clouds swirled around a stoic snow crusted top. I have never seen a brighter shade of white. By night, the sky cleared and the mountain was lit by a full moon. My mind, body, and soul were filled with gratitude.
Our incredible staff supplied each trekker with a hot water bottle prior to bed. My skepticism eroded through the night with a furnace in my sleeping bag. Even with the constant clinging of yak and horse bells, sleep was not an issue on this great night. When I woke up, I unzipped my tent and was treated to a front row view of the mountain. The fourth day of the trek was a day of rest to help us acclimate before our first major mountain pass. Not wanting to sit around, we all agreed to embark on day hikes. Eight people left as a group to visit two mountain lakes. As the lone wolf, I headed up towards the mountain.
I hiked for three hours and did was not even remotely close to the bottom of the snow line. At the top of my climb, I came across a flat river of blue water. There were at least 50 yaks hanging around the water. I witnessed my first yak collision as two males cracked heads. After being tied to the group since my arrival in Bhutan, this was my first taste of independence. I savored the alone time. I followed a 4-lane yak track back to camp and enjoyed stunning views.
Back at camp, I decided to attempt to shave my face/head and clean my body. Shaving without a mirror is a daunting task and the staff could not stop glancing and snickering when I applied shaving cream to my head. The sun was shining but not nearly enough to mitigate the freezing temperature of the glacier water running through the river. I stripped and plunged into the icy waters with a bar of soap. I could relate to the classic episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza complained of shrinkage.
In the afternoon, I joined several of my fellow trekkers and we walked about 20 minutes to a tiny village that was hosting the Mt. Chomolhari Snow Leopard Festival. There were archery competitions, a horse race, yak rides, dart contests, drinking, and gambling. Most of the locals are yak herders and live in this area year round. It was a joyous afternoon.
After dinner, I met a couple from Australia that were the only two trekkers in their group. Vivian and Brian were delightful people and having the time of their lives on this walk. We discussed the Camino de Santiago, and their eyes lit up. It was on their “fuck-it” list. They feel that a bucket list is for dreamers but their unique version is for reality. If they put something on the F-list, it means that the trip outweighs all time or financial constraints. I like the way they roll.
To be continued……..