Kangchenjunga Trek - Day 16, Ghunsa to Kambachen
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There was a sharp frost last night. The clouds that came in yesterday have gone, but due to the steep slopes of the valley the sun didn't reach us for some considerable time which meant that a few of us were chilly for most of the morning. I don't know if it's the altitude, but I have been feeling quite tired and lethargic today, maybe it's the colder conditions and the fact that I am one of those people who have to have their choke out longer before I get going properly.
Today's route took us up through the cobbled main street of Ghunsa. I say cobbles but actually they are more like small rocks, which must have taken considerable effort to lay. I suspect that when it rains, and the thoroughfare becomes really muddy, the cobbles really come into their own, but for now with the ground hard with frost the going was much easier on the grass. As I passed through the village I noticed a number of different types of Yak in the small paddocks by the side of the street, some of them had much lighter coats and looked quite cute - but that could just be the altitude having an affect.
The trail soon left the village heading up the valley which began to get narrower the further up the valley we progressed. After following a river through conifer and rhododendron woods for a few hours the trail eventually moved to the opposite side of the river. This entailed crossing a rickety bridge with no hand rails for support, so any slip, and it would have been down into the icy river. At least it was reasonably wide and thankfully we all made it across okay.
Stopping for lunch in a clearing I noticed a solitary stone structure that looked as though it could possibly be inhabited. I discovered that it was some form of home to an an old Nepali guy who seemed to be living up here on his own. As this was the only building I had seen since Ghunsa (a good few hours away) I wondered how he coped for food up here. Perhaps he was a shepherd though I didn't see any animals about. Some of these shepherds live quite some way from villages during the summer months, taking provisions to tide them over for weeks at a time.
Immediately after lunch we had a steep ascent up the side of the hill. It's amazing how we always seem to have a climb immediately after lunch, and I regretted having had some second helpings. Again we were heading up the valley, but now on this opposite bank, instead of trekking along side the river we were traversing the side of the hill some way above the it. The ground underneath us was now distinctly loose in places as we made our way along the narrow scree laden path. Had we fallen it was along slide down into the river below. Now the trek had taken a different turn. Instead of walking and drinking in the scenery, it required some serious concentration; particularly on those parts where the ice hadn't melted fully beneath the scree. Making my way gingerly along the path, nervously laughing as bits of scree disappeared from beneath my boots to cascade down into the river I suddenly realised a potential new use for those gaiters I had in my rucksack.
After what seemed like a long trek across the scree slopes we reached camp; a small settlement of four or five stone houses with wooden roofs. The setting was magnificent, directly opposite us the glacial moraine of the Kangchenjunga glacier acted as a natural wall, towering way above it on the opposite side was Sobithong flanked by north face of Jannu, a magnificent almost sheer rock face topped by the unique lump at the crown which makes the mountain so instantly recognisable. I didn't have long to admire the view as the sun soon dipped behind the mountains, the temperature plummeted and by five in the evening it was near zero. I was soon feeling the effect of the wind that had been blowing down the valley for most of the day as it cut through the clothing I was wearing. One thing I have learned on this trek is that once you get cold its hard to warm up properly again, as the only source of warmth is the clothing trapping the heat of the body. The trick is not to let the core body temperature get cold.
I am sitting in the mess tent as I write this, everyone is wrapped up well against the cold and I envy the down jackets that some of the others have got on. I had looked at the jackets before coming away on trek and till now had thought them rather bulky, I also wondered how much room they would take up in the kit bag. Little did I realise that they actually fold down quite small and some even fold into an internal pocket. Have to put it on my list for another occasion.
I have been feeling the cold at night despite having a good down filled sleeping bag, but tonight I will probably also try using the blanket I bought at one of the lodges in Ghunsa. The only reservation I have is that it it does look rather grubby and I am not too sure if it has any fleas in it. Still it's that cold now they too will have to be wearing down jackets if they are to survive the chill!.
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