Laurebina Pass was a pretty large obstacle on the trek to Gosaikunda Lakes, it looked pretty daunting as it rose up to a height of over 4600m.
After earlier leaving the Helambu trek route, we headed on towards the Gosaikunda Lakes. It was still just 11am but the cloud was starting to fill in along the ridge tops and the snow patches contrasted against the darker ground. Time was still on our side so we called into a mountain lodge at Phede for some lunch. This places’ claim to fame was sadly being next to the remains of a Thai Airbus that crashed into the Himalayas here in the 1990s, some wreckage was displayed but I wasn’t really keen to see the crash site itself.
As I get older my fear of flying seems to grow greater, gone is the excitement replaced by constant assessments of what could go wrong. This was one of the motivations behind cycling to China – it meant less flying!
After yet more egg fried rice for lunch we both felt fit and pushed on up the 900m final climb. We were a little unsure and anxious about both the path up, from afar it had looked a bit dicey, combined with the uncertainty over how well we would deal with the altitude. Travelling fast meant we had limited acclimatisation and we now rose from 3700 to 4600 in 3kms.
It turned out that the path wound its way up to the pass gradually, it was pretty much like a sidewalk. The cloud was slowly closing in so unfortunately we lost the views, we could have been in Scotland! Deep patches of snow became more persistent as we got higher but it was solid enough and easy to walk on. Near the top the altitude probably raised our heartbeats but it was remarkable how little impact it had, I assume my high base fitness from cycling so much helped. I was happily scampering up while singing songs in my usual out of tune manner, this habit of singing out loud has arisen from Central Asia, after riding my bike on my own in empty landscapes, it now just seemed normal to badly sing songs out loud!
I did however stop singing quite abruptly as we came across a group up ahead of us. An older lady appeared motionless, while being carried up the final stretches by a tiny Nepali porter. It was an impressive show of strength, however it was hugely concerning to see her lifeless body, then after a while we saw the porter had to stop and the lady was actually totally conscious and able to walk. There was a guide and her husband accompanying them, neither of whom had much else to carry nor did they ask for any help when we offered.
At the same time the weather had closed in and snow started to fall being driven by strong cold winds. We turned our attention to our own well being and scurried across the more extensive north facing snow patches towards our lodge.
To add to the situation, Marion noted the struggling porter to be wearing flip flops at 4600m. It was also strange that the guide was climbing higher and higher rather than descending down to the safety and lower altitude of Phede lodge. On reflection it was probably the actions of instinct, assuming all would work out rather than a considered safety first response. This all illustrated that trekkers must be careful both when choosing guides and selecting suitable treks.
At the pass we took some pictures of the snowy landscape before descending on steeper compacted snow towards the vast Gosaikunda lakes. The sneaked views between cloud were stunning despite a blizzard blowing around us!
The lakes themselves are a site for huge Hindu pilgrimage each monsoon season. This is because the Hindus believe lord Shiva rests in its waters. A large rock island in the middle represents this and as a result there are many temples and shrines along its shores. The direction we approached had a shrine littered with prayer flags, creating an amazing outlook over the lake.
As we reached the lake’s shores, at 4300m, we were out of the worst of the blizzard but we passed two porters heading up to help the sick lady, maybe with the weather the situation it was getting more serious. We were travelling fast and light and we didn’t have much spare warm clothing to offer help. In situations like this we always ensure we have a constantly recording GPS track and follow a traditional compass bearing as you can quickly lose the path and your direction.
Within 30 minutes from starting the descent, we had reached the safety of the lakeside lodges at 4300m. Luckily it was also yet another free place to sleep extending our precious and limited cash a bit further. The wooden structure had warm blankets and a roaring fire, so it appeared pretty cosy, the draughts however cancelled this coziness out. Luckily we took a room on the lee side so we were less affected by the roaring snowy winds whipping in across the lake and slamming into the lodge.
We listened to the weather as we settled in by the fire with a cup of tea and dried out our wet socks. This was the view from the lodge:
The owner cooked up the standard simple, but filling food for dinner, I also had one of the potent Mustang coffees afterwards for warmth!
We shared the lodge with a young Russian couple, an Israeli couple, a chap from Mississippi and a few guides from the other lodge’s guests. We had a fun evening talking to them all: Marion and the Israeli girl got crochet lessons from the owners wife, I learnt about writing in Hebrew and then talked photography with the Russian guy.
We also picked the guides brains on peaks to climb near Langtang and saw some recent pictures on his camera. Again these were clearly not trained mountain men rather villagers who knew the local paths and acted as guides, but nevertheless they were friendly to chat with. The picture below was taken with the Russian guys expensive 50mm prime lens, does it look any better than my normal portrait pictures?
After the fire went out at 6.30pm we went to bed, but with the cold we initially struggled to sleep, this was despite packing the numerous icy draughts with bags, and hanging all our food away from the mice. It was brutally cold up here but in the middle of the night I braved a toilet trip, which being outside revealed the sky had cleared: sparkling stars illuminated the freshly frosted mountains and lakes.
I went back to bed and warmed up, but I couldn’t sleep well. I had this nagging feeling that I was missing out on an amazing session of night photography! So I got up again put on all my clothes, walked down the creaking corridor, removed the internal storm proof barricading of the front door, then I got outside with my camera and I looked all around. The stars had gone, was it my imagination? Where were they?
As dawn arrived it was clear that the cloud was back in force, we ate hot porridge and had a ginger lemon tea, today was about getting out early and safely below the snow line.
The snow had drifted to about 18inches in places but thankfully nothing too deep. We scurried down the path watching our footing on what varied from sheet ice to gripy fresh snow. We passed a sad and cold looking mule, that Marion tried to feed, it then followed us for ages, so I loaded it up with our bags and we stole it for the rest of the trek, OK we didn’t but it was tempting!
All was forgotten though because the cloud suddenly vanished and we savoured a short view of what was to come.
We finally pulled ourselves away from the view and headed downhill, quickly getting back below the snowline.
Today was all about heading downhill, because we had to descend a knee swelling 2800m!! Not long past the panoramic viewpoint we took a short cut through some dense Rhododendron forest. Here we cut down walking sticks to aid us while the going got steep. We used dead fallen pine because the twisting, contorting Rhododendron tree branches are not that practical as walking aids! They would however make excellent props or atmospheric back drops for any wizarding movie!
The steep path was rather dull but we quickly lost a colossal amount of height. We just kept going down and down, passing a few mule herders carrying up supplies but little else broke the monotony of Rhododendrons that were unfortunately not in flower!
We finally broke into a clearing with two smart tourist lodges loaded with backpacks and older French hikers. I didn’t envy the long and tedious climb that lay ahead of them and I was glad we had come from the other direction and were able to quickly pass this section.
Past the lodges we could see the Langtang valley where a further 1000m of descent lay directly below us! My knees are normally solid but the 1800m so far was already causing them to complain somewhat!
We stopped in Syafru, a busy tourist village, where we ate steamed vegetable Momos (dumplings) at the cheapest place in town and watched the world and his wife go past.
We finally headed down the last section towards the Langtang valley itself. We crossed a vast spanning suspension bridge which was where the real crowds started, a Nepalese ‘guide’ was hanging off the bridge pretending to be a monkey while shaking it violently for all the German tourists happily snapping pictures of him. The views might be great but I am a self confessed mountain snob who dislikes sharing them too much and the crowds annoyed me!
The scenery however was about to get absolutely fantastic. That was not until we had passed a monkey infested jungle that was bizarrely sheltering yak too! The Langtang valley trek was so photogenic and stunning that it gets its own blog, it was probably the scenery highlight of our time in Nepal.