Kangchenjunga Trek - Day 14 Crossing the Mirgin La.
The Mirgin La isn't one, but a series of a series of five passes over the high ground which separates the Simbhua Khola from Ghunsa Kohla. On the map, it doesn't appear to be any distance between the two, but crossing it seemed a long way.
We were in the shadow of the mountain for the start of the trek and once again my hands were freezing soon after leaving camp. The over mitts seem useless- probably because they are so large, and with using the trekking poles my hands are held high which affects the circulation. I had to abandon using the poles again, which sort of defeats the object of having them, but it is less painful on the hands.
For the next hour or so, we climbed steeply from the camp-site before reaching a frozen pond where we stopped for a breather. Some of the group took time out to break of pieces of ice and skim them across the frozen surface. I was already feeling tired after the initial climb, and wondered how I was going to get by for the rest of the day. Looking upwards I saw small yellow dots weaving through the rocks higher up. Much, much higher up, in fact they were almost at the visual horizon. It was the porters in the over suits they had been provided. The sun picked them out as they weaved amongst the rocks, before they then disappeared from view, I knew there was more climbing to be done. At least I didn't have a load to carry!
Some of our group were well acclimatised by now and started to make their way up the slope following the porter's lead. I followed, but some distance behind making steady progress up the steep side of the slope. After another hour, I reached a more level piece of ground which afforded some views further down the valley and the clouds below. Looking back I could see the Yalung glacier stretching itself from Ramze right down the valley. I also saw Rathong, Kabru and the surrounding peaks where we had camped two days ago. It was quite impressive. The sun was now out and the sky was a clear blue, a reward after the early effort.
We continued to walk along some very rough ground where the hillside was scattered with rocks and boulders. The path was indistinct as we made our way across the boulders which was hard going underfoot. Large stretches of snow covered the boulders and it was difficult to gauge how far down one would go when placing your foot on it. I had many a slip across this part of the route. The bonus was that there were at least previous footprints where you could try and place your feet as opposed to walking on virgin snow. But, it was also had a down side in that the snow beneath was sometimes more slippery as result of having been compacted.
I noticed that the porters we passed were wearing their green baseball boots which apparently are the same as the Chinese army wear. The porters apparently much prefer these to the leather boots the westerners wear as they don't give them blisters. I noticed that the softer material allow the toes to flex more.. I had seen that when wearing flip flops, their feet flexed and seemed to mould to the shape of the ground. The porters were also wearing sun glasses which had been issued by the sirdar and essential to prevent snow blindness.
We lunched on an exposed piece of ground, high up on the slope of the mountain. We started with the hot lemon drink which precedes all the lunch stops, it is not only pleasant tasting, it helps to keep the hydration up. This is an essential part of the process when at altitude as it's is a great safeguard against AMS (acute mountain sickness) which is a real danger now. We also had some noodle soup, which appears to be the regular soup of late. I was told that the garlic, which the soup contains, is also good for the altitude.
After lunch there was another steep bit of ground to negotiate before we reached the next pass. Here there was a spectacular view as we could now see into the Ghunsa Khola for the first time, though it was still some distance away. The horizon was amazing as we had a view of most of the central Himalayan range including Manaslu and, a distant glimpse of Everest which was some forty miles away. We then had to negotiate a very slippery descent through some more snow fields which was hard going.
This continued for some time, as we climbed and descended, across the undulating terrain. After some time we reached a more level piece of ground but the clouds started to sweep in obscuring the views for a while. Eventually, we reached a rocky promontory where some prayer flags were fluttering in the breeze. As we climbed upwards, the clouds parted, giving us some clear views of Jannu which loomed magnificently on the horizon to our right. We had seen it from a distance from the other valley, but now, from this point, we could see its unique dome from a different perspective. I made my way along the narrow ridge of the promontory to the cairn at the end where I stood and looked at the clouds stretching out below me. It was a wonderful feeling.
After taking some photos we continued to descend, again crossing some large stretches of snow. The sun was beginning to decline and the lighting was more angular here, the shadows providing some interesting contour to the landscape. It was tricky coming across the snow and we had to be extra careful as it was very steep in places. This was compensated for by the breathtaking scenery. There was also excitement when we discovered that some of the tracks in the snow, just a few metres away from where we were walking could have been from a snow leopard. I wondered if it was watching us from one of the rocky outcrops.
It had seemed a long walk to our camp, and I was particularly tired and aching by the time we got there. But now my spirits are higher, perhaps its knowing that we have crossed the worst of the pass in good weather, and are moving into a new valley with different scenery.
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