AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Annapurna Circuit: Day 11 – Thorong Phedi to Muktinath

Altitude: 4,540m
Climb: Ascent: 1040m Descent: 1620m
Time: 7hr 15m + 1hr 30m lunch
Daily Cost: 6,660 rupees ($70/£41)

We woke at 5am and got dressed for the day. We’d spent a few days thinking about what to wear for the pass. The sun would only just be rising so it’ll be cold and the pass is at 5,400m. We’d read about strong and bitterly cold winds on the pass. Annemarie had been thinking about wearing her thermals for the day. I decided that based on the weather from previous days, where in the sun it’s very warm, I’d risk going up with no thermals, and in fact no more clothing than usual. My Berghaus trousers are wind proof and great for anything from 0°c – 35°c, so I’d be wearing them, along with a t-shirt, fleece and wind proof/waterproof coat. Annemarie agreed and wore pretty much the same.

We went for breakfast at 5:30am and sat with Marco and Marc. The dining room was almost empty. Marc had gone up past High Camp the day before with his bike and left it at the first tea shop, which is about 45 minutes past High Camp. The lodge owner had suggested this to make the crossing of the pass a little easier. Marco and Marc’s breakfast arrived, but nothing for us. Finally, we asked where our breakfast was and we were told it was coming. I have no idea why any lodge asks people to write the time they’ll have breakfast on the order pad, everywhere we’ve been has made breakfast when we arrive. It’s never ready at that time we ask for nor waiting for us. Anyway, this made us late. By the time we’d eaten, finished packing, last minute preparations and a few photos it was 6:15am. The view of Annapurna III as the sun rose was excellent.

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We set off up the steep slope. Marco set off about 10minutes before us and so was ahead, Annemarie seemed to struggle a little but still caught up with Marco and Harry who had left a little earlier. I felt far worse than I had been the day before, much more out of breath.

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We still made good time to High Camp. We struggled up and thought we were going very slowly, but in just 45 minutes we had made it. I had to take off my fleece, I was already feeling very warm. We took a few photos to celebrate then continued.

High Camp

Annemarie & Marco at High Camp

Andrew & Marco at High Camp

Andrew & Annemarie at High Camp

The section immediately after High Camp was terrifying. A long, steep slope down to the right and we had to make our way over a narrow track across the slope. The ground was metres deep in snow and the track had being semi frozen. A few sections had collapsed off the side and down the slope. We made our way very slowly around the hillside.

Path to the Thorong La Pass

Around the corner we entered a large canyon. The path went around and into the canyon, then up the canyon wall. Eugh! Walking up the side of the canyon was difficult. The rock was loose, so there were two problems. The rock we were stood on would crumble away and the rock over our heads was crumbling onto us. This meant walking on difficult and dangerous ground whilst paying as much attention to overhead and underfoot. Plus it was steep and at altitude it was tiring. We got up slightly out of breath – overtaking a group of Norwegians. From here the path was easy and we could enjoy the walk. The sky was clear and blue, the sun was shining, no wind, no noise, everything was sparking a perfect white from the snow and the mountain scenery was the best. Absolutely the best! We were almost as high as the peaks around us. This really is the roof of the world. It wasn’t long until we reached the first tea shop. Here we met Marc, who’d left before us, just about to set off with his bike. It was hard enough for us just walking up here, but he had to push a bike as well. An amazing achievement!

Path to the Thorong La Pass

Path to the Thorong La Pass

Tea Shop before the Thorong La Pass

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From the tea shop we followed the winding path through the deep snow and up into a valley. The scenery was amazing, if only we weren’t so tired and hot we could appreciate it more. Luckily we’d made the right decision about what to wear for the pass. The sun was hot and the white snow reflected it making it feel even hotter. This was t-shirt weather. We soon passed Marc pushing his bike and continued up through the snow.

Path to the Thorong La Pass

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Path to the Thorong La Pass

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Marco was leading and often a minute or so ahead. We reached a slope where a French man and his wife were resting on the edge of the path. Marco passed them but when I was about 5 seconds from passing they stepped onto the path and blocked my way. They then took a step every 2-3 seconds. This was incredible. How could anyone be so rude as to do that. I had no chance of passing, on the left was a slope to the bottom of the valley and on the right was snow a few metres deep which I’d sink into if a stepped on it. After about 30 seconds at this pace the guy had to have a rest. So we just stood there! We had used the slow walking (if you could call it that) as a rest to get our breaths back. Now we were good to go but simply couldn’t. I know the French are known for their arrogance and selfishness, but this was extreme. I was cursing, whacking the snow with my walking pole, stamping, banging the pole, etc. This was driving me crazy! We finally reached a wide spot on a corner after about 50 metres and we could get past. We walked off and met Marco who was sat waiting for us.

From here the slope got steeper. We kept on climbing, boiling hot, out of breath, tired. This was the toughest walk we’d ever done. We stopped by a large boulder for a rest and a snack.

Annemarie near the Thorong La Pass

Marco Near the Thorong La Pass

Path to the Thorong La Pass

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The path after the boulder was pretty steep and we were now at 5,400m, not far from the top of the pass. No wonder breathing was difficult!

It was a huge surprise to us when we saw a building ahead, on top of the hill. That must be the tea shop at the top of the pass. We had made it! We reached the top of the pass 3 hours 15 minutes after leaving Thorong Phedi. A rather reasonable time. I went into the tea shop and ordered some tea for us. Then it was time to get our photos by the Thorong La Pass sign. This meant dealing with the French again! We’d caught up with some more French people just before the top of the pass, but they had blocked the path and stopped for photos on the path before reaching the tea shop. Then the French had taken over the sign for photos. We finally got a photo but they were at the side waiting impatiently for us to take our single photo so they could take a thousand more! It was hard enough making them wait at the side, some of the French group just wandered around oblivious to others taking photos and stepped in front of the camera!

Andrew & Annemarie at the Thorong La Pass Summit

Prayer Flags on the Thorong La Pass

Andrew Drinking Tea on the Thorong La Pass

Tea House on the Thorong La Pass

Andrew & Annemarie on the Thorong La Pass

Thorong La Pass

Andrew, Annemarie & Marco at the Thorong La Pass

Andrew, Annemarie & Harry on the Thorong La Pass

Tea House on the Thorong La Pass

We spent a good half hour at the top of the pass. Admiring the view, talking to people, taking photos. Then Marc appeared with his bike. He’d made it to the top. Amazing!

Marc Cycling the Thorong La Pass

Marc Celebrating at the Thorong La Pass

Coming down we extremely difficult. It was when more difficult than going up. It was steep, muddy, slushy, icy and often covered in compacted snow. We slipped and slid our way down the hillside. I ended up on my backside at least 4 times. Annoyingly, Annemarie managed to stay on her feet all the way down. At one point, whilst walking along a the edge of a steep drop, the path was frozen and very dangerous. Harry used his ice axe, hacking away the ice and snow to create a route, not only for us, but also for the people behind us. Not all were grateful. A few Germans decided they were better and took a route slightly up the slope above us. They slipped a bit, which scared us because if they slipped down they’d probably hit us and we’d go off the edge too. The German guy realised this and came down in front of me. He’d gained 3 places in the queue by being an idiot. The Norwegians were more determined. We’d passed them earlier when they were resting before going up the side of the canyon, now they’d caught up with us and decided they were coming past no matter what. They slipped a bit but managed to get around the hillside above us without falling. Previously, Annemarie had watched as they slid down the hillside on their bums. As we made our way slowly down the hill many more people passed us. We struggled on for about 3 hours, until we reached a group of lodges at Chabarbu, located 4,190m above sea level. We had already dropped 1,220m, only 400m more to descend….

Thorong La Pass

Thorong La Pass

Towards Muktinath from the Thorong La Pass

Coming Down the Thorong La Pass

Coming Down the Thorong La Pass

Muktinath Valley

Down from the Thorong La Pass

My feet were wet from the snow and slush so whilst we waited for the food to arrive I took my socks off for them to dry. That was surprisingly painful. Then I saw why. The tops of my feet were bright red and the skin was peeling off. The sun from the day before had burnt my feet, really badly. They hurt to touch. I’d grown accustomed to my skin been able to handle the sun. When we went to the ice lake I’d forgotten to put sun cream on my arms (my face and neck were protected but somehow I forgot my arms), and for two hours in the bright sunlight I’d been OK. Same again on other days. But my arms are brown which offers protection against burning (although not the UV rays), my feet are bright white and had never seen sunlight. I simply hadn’t thought about it. (Ignoring Annemarie who advised me to put suncream on). Now I had to put up with the consequences of that mistake.

The food took ages to arrive and we spent well over an hour at the lodge. The landscape below the lodge was totally different to the landscape we’d walked through that morning. This was dry and dusty. Only a few patches of grass and bushes grew here.

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Another hour of walking and we reached Muktinath. It was a large town with plenty of shops and lodges. We looked at one, it was amazing with carpets, nice beds, proper curtains, en-suite with a hot shower in the bathroom! But there was only one room left, not two. The next lodge wasn’t as great. The next cost a fortune compared to what we’d paid so far. The next was not as good. Getting bored with looking we decided we’d pay for the expensive lodge. That was the Best Sleep Inn for 600 rupees per night, almost £4!

We showered and rested that afternoon. The day had taken its toll and we were tired. We used the WiFi to catch up with emails and Facebook then went to eat.

To celebrate our crossing of the pass we decided a proper drink was in order. We bought a small bottle of vodka and three cans of orange juice. The food was good and we enjoyed the evening. The day had been the high point (literally and figuratively) of the trip so far and we were pleased with ourselves for the achievement.

That night we slept very well!

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