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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

5 - Day 2 Tshokam to NobTshonapatta, second night halt, 20th February, 2017

Our group photo at Chozu La  4117

8 hrs 20 minutes hiked

I heard some footsteps near our tents. It subsided and again got louder, went past my tent far to the left, gave out some faint coughs and it persisted. My watch read 3 AM, I wondered who could it be and got a little suspicious of wild animals too. When you are high up in the mountains you don’t know what will show up anytime out of the blue. Gathered myself up, slowly unzipped the tent, popped out my head like a baby kangaroo from its mother’s pouch and far to the left saw a dark shadow of someone standing in the thick fog. My head grew bigger, but I will have to go and check. Walked slowly, trying to figure out the red light going out and coming back on every interval from the tip of that dark shadow.  Oh, gosh, got up at 3 AM in the cold, foggy and drizzling early morning just to find out it was acho Penjor our senior team leader smoking. He just slept for about 3 hours and he is already done with his sleep for the night. That’s really surprising……. I went back to sleep!

Trekkers woke up to a foggy chilly morning. Expected some rain but it didn’t. It was 6 AM.  Breakfast was served, repacked everything, loaded the ponies and up we started to ascend at 8 AM. In 45 minutes we were at Chozu La 4117 meters above the sea level, we were told we can see Mount Jomolhari from here but the weather didn’t allow us. It was an easy hike though. We had some the best group photo shoots.

Chilly foggy morning at Tshokam 

Standing by the fire  in a group to fight cold!

From Chozu La it was all down, down and down. Through the rocky trail, slippery path one step miss means you are going to go way down. Sometimes when we looked down the length hurt our knees, but looking back at the distance covered it motivated us to keep going. Down the grove, over some dead logs in 1 hour 9 minutes we reached a temporary shed used by highlanders to camp when they migrate in winter and summer.  We took a 10 minutes tea break to boost our energy because from there it was all up till Tsabjo La.

March pass in the groove. Look at the drill master? :D :D
Tea break by the temporary highlanders' shelter

Crossed a small wooden bridge covered in Lungtas. A few minutes up and there was no trail to be seen for about 20 meters, completely hidden by black ice - that’s how locals used to describe for its risk and danger. We could cross it catching hold of thickets around but our ponies won’t budge. I knew it is going to be a challenge before we could get them back on the track moving. Experience comes in handy in a situation like this. The horseman pulled his leading pony up and stopped him at the threshold of the black ice. Took out his big knife and started chopping huge chunks of ice off the trail, put dry soil over it for grip and repeated throughout. He inspected once again and then slowly escorted his ponies one by one to the other side. After 28 minutes all the ponies were back on the track. And so we continued to hike up yet again setting eyes on Tsabjo La.  

The black ice being take care of by experienced squad. 
Folks can wait and rest while they make revamp the trail for ponies. 

The mild climb helped us keep our pace because we know today it cannot be like yesterday, we should walk fast. We got passes to conquer, distance to cover and the revered lake to reach. Our first day trek was a warm up, since we had some new trekkers with us and nobody seemed to mind too. But today we really got to stick to our plan if we are to make to Nob Tshonapatta, for as of now we still haven’t reached the place where as per our plan should have been our first night camp site.

Snow on our way welcomed us to Tsabjo La 4194 meters after walking for 2 hours 10 minutes from the point where our ponies got stuck. It had snow on just one side of the face telling us wind is quite naughty up here. Yet, it didn’t deter us from jumping, sleeping and running in the snow taking numerous pictures. Of all acho Penjor was the photo bomb, a clear sign he is full of energy. Acho Karma T’s knee caused him some pain but acho S.T was there with medicines. Down I looked saw Dolma and Gem climbing slowing followed by Kinley Penjor and Dawa far below, latter had a little hard time because of the thin air but she kept her pace.

Second pass on our trek to Nob Tshonapatta, Tsabjo La 

Yes, conquered Tsabjo 4194 meter!

I can do a little posing too, at Tsabjo 4194 meters

Going down, and down to Wangjithang.

34 minutes steep down again where Dechen Lhamo almost skidded more than five times because she was wearing a pair of sneakers plus she had height phobia which of course I am not really sure because I heard from other fellow trekkers later that she does fear height, and that gave her some hard times on the trail. All of our folks were waiting for us far below to lunch. After 4 hours 18 minutes of climbing up and down two passes we reached Wangjithang narrow valley 3688 meters which was supposed to be our first campsite, we had lunch there.  Some of the best lunches are those lunches you have high up in the mountains after trekking for hours. Be it good, bad or even icy cold, everything tastes delicious.  

Lunching at Wangjithang 3688 meters above the sea level

Revitalized, ponies and guides together with ashim Ching ching, Thinley and ashim Chimi they started ahead us to maintain the pace, everyone tired but couldn’t walk much since it was up again to the second highest pass of Nob Tshonapatta trek the Gongche La 4307 meters above the sea level. I know exactly how they might have felt looking back at us climbing slowing so out of breath still then walking one step at time, because I had walked way ahead of the rest then sat on a huge rock and took numerous pictures observing my fellow trekkers climbing from a distance. What ran through my mind was, “These folks really are passionate of mountains!”      

Resting on the rocks; on the way to Gongche La

45 minutes of walking, resting and motivating one another, up we reached Gongche pass. However, with due respect; she didn’t seem to be too happy to have visitors in her locale and appeared quite annoyed to have trespassed her tranquility. The weather changed drastically, although it is expected in the mountains, looking at the way she didn’t allow us to take rest even for a minute and how she engulfed us completely by dark fog mixed with heavy hail stones, she seemed really angry. Not really sure who made her angry, for we came with a very clean conscience and intended to end in same.

Gongche La - 4307 meters - welcomed us with  fog and hail stone. 
Weather changed instantly. Acho Karma T. having a tough time covering his face in the hail stone and harsh wind.

Visibility dropped to a few meters, wind picked up and hail stones hit us real hard. We had to wear goggles to protect our eyes from the thorny wind. Ashim Lhamu was laughing to ashim Yangchen, “Yalama, the wind broke my goggles, haha!” She did not hear her, wind was too loud. Our Phuntsholing girls were really trying to keep up with the rest. Dolma wasn’t feeling well she had a terrible stomach ache and that really slowed her down, Gem tired his best to motivate and I carried her bag. But acho Karma T’s leg was quite better and he did good. 23 minutes down the Gongche La it was the frozen lake. Past this we walked up slowly together in groups fearing we might lose our way in the foggy hail-stony weather through Tsholumpa. 

Tsholumpa where red and yellow puppies are normally ample in its season.

It was only later as I was gathering some data from different sources to write this blog, I have learnt that we can see ample of red and yellow puppies in a perfect season in this locale. 27 minutes up from frozen lake our trail was through ankle length snow and it did start to snow making our visibility very poor. I caught up Wangchuk and he was quite tired but the simple yet profound trekking technique “walk 10 steps, take in 3 deep breaths and take another 10 steps” kept him walking to Thinley who was waiting for him in the snow some 30 minutes away. From there on we were walking on the base of Tsejay La. 

Snow was really ankle or knee deep? Sonam Wangchuk knows :D
Yes, we waited for the sweeper, acho Penjor in this case today!

What came in as a news of relieve was when one of our guides waiting for us said, “Nob Tshonapatta is now just 10 minutes walk down from here!” I ran down like a little boy who is happy to go home after hours of walking in the rain. Exactly at 4.20 PM there we were at the Nob Tshonapatta camp site. Everyone was inside - the small wooden house - cold and cuddling by LPG gas stoves, because the fire was hard to build. However, our experienced guides and cooks built one within no time and served tea also.  Gentlemen went out to pitch tents, and before the dark fell they were all up. Dinner was served early. It rained and wind howled. Fire didn’t burn well. Cold started biting our tired bodies. Trekkers went to crash early that night. Ogyen was quite upset our tent was pitched at the end, he felt left out which made Sangay and I laughed out loud like a donkey. Sangay Khandu and Ogyen came with an idea - may be heard from other trekking mates - to use blankets used on the backs of ponies. Those blankets saved the three of us. It snowed throughout the night.   

Pitching tents in the snow near Nob Tshonapatta. The wooden house in the hind is where our the
remaining folks cuddled around the LPG gas when fire was hard to build.


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