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  • Trek Day 3: Soi Thangthangka to Jangothand

    When I signed up for this trek, I knew that I would be close to nature, but I didn’t expect to be this close to yaks, horses, and dogs. It is obvious that the land belongs to them, not us. Yaks run through the camp. Horses wander. Stray dogs follow us. As you might imagine, there is yak dung and horse poop all over. Bhutan is not a place to be barefoot.

     

    After yesterday’s drizzly day, this day is starting off promising. When I woke up, the sky was cloudy, but it cleared just before we left. It’s a good thing because this is day that we’ll arrive at Chomolhari Base camp, elevation 13,268 feet. Our hike is almost 12 miles, but our elevation gain is only 1,348 ft. Tashi, our trip leader, told us the trail conditions will be much better today.

     

  • Trek Day 4: Chomolhari Base Camp

    The problem with Chomolhari is that it is big and beautiful. It can’t help but to dominate the landscape. It draws our attention and compels us to take photos and videos as if somehow we could capture its essence and bring it home with us. Is it more beautiful in the twilight, the early morning, or the full sun? It’s difficult to decide, but one thing is for certain—we are very lucky with the weather. Like most mountains, Chomolhari can be a magnet for clouds. So far, except for a few clouds that quickly disappeared, it’s clear.

     

    The morning starts out frosty with the sun casting a subtle pink hue on the face of the mountain. Today is a layover day. Base camp is relatively crowded, with about 4 or 5 groups camping in the vicinity along with some local yak herders and the usual trekking horses, yaks, and stray dogs.

    Last night while we were trying to sleep, we were awoken by a snorting noise coming from an animal that was running in our direction. It stopped directly outside our tent. We were too afraid to look outside, so we yelled at it to go away. It moved on to the tent next to us. Was it an angry yak? The animals all look so peaceful this morning that it's impossible to tell which one is the culprit.

     

    Layover Day Lets Us Explore the Area

    It is a fine day for a hike. Five of us decide to take the option to get a closer look at Chomolhari while three of our group are staying at camp to rest. We hike uphill behind the camp and cut across a ridge, passing a large herd of blue sheep.

     

    The ridge is very windy, but it affords a 360 degree view with mountains in all directions. There is a beautiful valley at the base of Chomolhari. Yaks graze in the distance. After exploring a small river that runs through the valley, we make our way back to camp where solar-heated showers and tea await.

    Koren, Taski, and Pema on a day hike from base camp.

  • Trek Day 6: Tso Phu to Chorapang

    This is the day of the big pass—Bang Tue La at 15,700 feet. I set my alarm and get up before everyone else because I am still obsessed with Chomolhari and Jitchu Drake. I want to see the early morning sun on them. It takes me a long to warm up and motivate myself to leave the tent. But it is worth the effort. It’s crystal clear and the view is, once again, spectacular.

     

    When the pink is gone from the mountains, I head back to camp to pack up and join the others in the trek to the pass. I use my typical strategy to get up the pass—one foot in front of the other at a steady pace I can maintain. Koren and Bill make it up first. Then Glen and I. Then the others. Our guides are amazed. They allotted 2 hours for the final climb, but we made it in under an hour.

    Prayer Flags at the Pass

    It is windy but clear at the pass. I feel great. We linger to take in the view. Koren, Glen, and I brought prayer flags that we had blessed by a Buddhist monk before we set out on our trek. Koren hangs the flags we brought in memory of her mother, my sister, who died just two weeks before we left the country. Glen hangs the flags we brought in memory of his mother, who died last year.

     

    We modified the prayer flag tradition a bit be cause white vertical flags—108 of them—are traditionally placed on poles to remember the dead. The horizontal colored flags are hung to increase life, fortune, health, and wealth to all sentient beings. The flags will unravel slowly in the wind, thread by thread, over time. These threads carry good fortune and for us, they also carry the memory of Elizabeth and Juanita.

    We don’t have much farther to go to our next camp, and we need to drop more than 2,600 feet. The trail is sharply downhill. We come over the crest of a ridge and see our lunch spot—an open meadow surrounded by the Lesser Himalayan range. As usual, the cook and horseman are already at the site. The table is set up with hot tea, rice, and other food. No doubt we'll have spicy peppers and cheese, a Bhutanese staple, with our meal.

     

    We hike a short distance after lunch, and can already see our camp in the distance. Chorapang, our destination is at an elevation of 12,300 feet.