The Lonely Planet Guidebook suggests there is no reason to leave early but it is quite cold out in the room, and hard to sleep. Every half or full hour during the evening waking suddenly gasping for air. Lets get this over with.
Today’s walk is best described as “a bitch”. This stage requires an ascent of 1040 meters/3,400 feet up at an elevation where its a struggle to get enough oxygen. I had to slow down my pace or I would be gasping for air. One needs to be slow and steady. The ascent is slow going and will require 4 hours more or less. Trekkers shout for joy when they reach the top but this is my third time so I know better. It is the descent of 1620 meters/5,314 feet that is a killer on the knees and ankles. Heck on the whole legs for that matter.
So I got my things together, had a hot porridge and left at 4:20. The first hour up to the High Camp is a tough slog. It is a steep climb in the dark and very cold. On the plus side when taking a quick breather and turning off my headlamp, the starts were bright and magnificent in the still dark skies this high up in the Himalayas. The ground is filled with snow but the narrow path is beaten so it could have been much worse.
After an hour we reached the High Camp and stopped for a hot tea. Unfortunately, I needed to take a crap but this is one of the worst places I’ve ever experience for that endeavor. Sure enough, walking to the outhouse which is a crude shelter with a hole in the ground, there was excrement piled up topping off 6 inches above the hole. There were also dozens more logs scattered about. Thankfully, everything was frozen so the smell was not as bad as it could have been.
There was not too much wind, but enough to really chill you and unfortunately shortly past the High Camp, the trail followed a narrow ridge requiring all of us trekkers to go in single file and the slippery snow and ice was slowing everyone down. Being forced to slow down and sometimes stop and stand in the freezing cold was frustrating. Fortunately, reaching another shack tea house which was not open yet we continued on moving a bit faster.
The last 1 1/2 hour there are several false peaks where you sense and hope you have reached the Thorong La Pass but once you get to what you think is the Pass you see one more top ahead. After 3 or 4 of those I just put my head down and found a rhythm and continued on reaching The Pass at 7:30 which surprised me. The last time I did this I was 6 years younger, it was in much better conditions, not much snow and it took me 4 hours.
Anyway, it was fun reaching the Pass with Nathan and Brit, and we celebrated by enjoying a hot tea in the little dug out of the snow tea house a few steps from the Chorten (monument) reading Thorong La Pass 5416 meters (17,769 feet). The worker in the teahovel told me he walks up every day from Thorong Phedi to make and sell tea. These Sherpas work damn hard.
It is a mistake to think you are done with the tough part on this walk as the descent is over 1600 meters. Brutal on the knees. So after our break we began the long descent to Muktinath. The going was tough as there seemed to be deeper snow on this side of the Pass and not a real worn path to follow. This made for some tough slogging in the snow. Within an hour or so Nathan and Brit were far ahead of me. One of my cheap crampons would slip off every 10 minutes or so but all one can do is continue on.
The previous two times I had walked this stretch, there was some snow for just the first 15 minutes and just a few icy spots up near the Pass. Today, there is a couple feet of snow and some deep drifts all around and it did not let up. On the plus side, the views from the wide valley to the soaring Annapurnas is more spectacular than ever.
3 hours later, my knees were aching and my thighs were tightened up, as I wobbled on my rubbery legs into Chabarbu, a small trekkers village with a few lodges. Coming off the trail into the town, Nathan and Brit, yelled down to me from a teahouse about 50 meters above me. As much as I wanted to join them, I yelled back that I didn’t think I could walk up any more.
Being too tired to eat I had a bowl of garlic soup and a glass of warm seabuckthorn juice. A half hour later, I struggled to stand as my legs were sore and not obeying my order to move.
By the time I reached Muktinath amidst the melting snow, there were a few patches of wet ground, and I was walking on shear momentum, feeling if I stopped to rest I might not be able to get back up. Fortunately, I made it to Mona Lisa Hotel before dropping. The Manager, Tashi, is the cousin of the Manager here back from my last visit in 2013.
Tashi set me up with a hot shower, and a room at the back of the Hotel with a magnificent view of the mountains to the west. Afterwards, I sat talking with Tashi for an hour or so and had them frequently fill up my tea mug with piping hot Chai Tea (Masala Tea here).
Tashi was the epitome of Nepali Hospitality. We had some nice chats about Muktinath being a holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists. We also talked about Guru Rinpoche (considered the second Buddha who brought Buddhism to Tibet and Nepal) and identified this as a holy site. His presence was strong here and I was not even aware of him until educated about him by Lance Collins last year during our Manaslu/TsumValley trek.
It’s always a joy to reach Muktinath as the single hardest day of Annapurna Circuit Trek is behind you and now one can walk in the lower elevations enjoying both the company of the wonderful Nepali people and the magnificent scenery.
It is interesting to watch others as they plan to hurriedly take a jeep to Jomsom to fly out or bike ahead to Jomsom and catch a bus to Pokhara. I prefer the slow route. This is still one of the great long walks in the world and I am in no hurry to get back to civilization. So I say “Ultreia!” (Onward) down the valley happy to be walking all the way to Pokhara.