Tumlingtar to Kangchenjunga 1999

Click the photos for a bigger view. Most of these pictures are stills from the video but in a few cases they are repeats of those in the slide shows. It was taken from the notes I made along the way.

It is divided into 3 stages. Stage 1 Tumlingtar to Dhoban, Stage 2 Dhoban to Pang Pema , Stage 3  Pang Pema to Sukitar

Stage 1 Tumlingtar to Dhoban

Across the Milke Danda.

10th October 1999:

We arrived in Kathmandu to very warm sunny weather. It was the usual chaos through the airport. We felt like seasoned Kathmandoers having been here the year before and we were soon on the bus to the Raddison Hotel.

At 2pm we met the rest of the group, all 12 of them, and had our trek briefing. We went out for dinner that night and wandered back through the mayhem of Thamil, doing a bit of shopping along the way. It is always an interesting experience meeting your fellow trekkers and learning their names, especially with a group this size, is a daunting task.

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11th October 1999:

We flew to Tumlingtar (photo) after the usual tedious delays. It all seemed a bit de-javue but there were no views this time as there was too much cloud and haze.

Unlike last time we were not to camp so close to the airstrip. It was about an hour’s walk to the camp site and it was good to be doing a bit of walking except for the fact that it hosed down just before we got there, and it poured down for the rest of the night. It was a nice grassy camp above the river and it was very hot and humid.

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12th October 1999:

We were climbing all day but it was not too steep but it was very hot and humid. I think I sweated more than I ever have in my life but at least it didn’t rain. Several times I wondered what I was doing here again. I don’t take to the heat very well.

We camped at a village called Wana where the mill made a constant pop pop pop noise. It was a pleasant spot but very warm and humid, even at night. I had my usual beginning of trek headache, due mainly to coffee withdrawal. I prefer to suffer a bit at first and get it over with.

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13th October 1999:

The days walk started with a steep descent to the Shawa Khola. The path was very indistinct and washed away in places as it dropped through paddy fields. The walking was a bit tricky as we had to balance along the ridges between the flooded furrows. The bridge across the river was narrow and swung about but was quite secure, however it was a one at a time bridge.

It was a steep climb up the other side through wet slippery mud. It was still hot and humid and it was a welcome lunch spot under good shade trees. It was still up after lunch through the village of Sita Pokari (photo) to a school that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere where we made camp. It was high on the ridge with fine views and a few leaches. Sue and I went for a bit of a walk and met the teacher from the school and had a bit of a chat.

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14th October 1999:

An easier day today, traversing up the valley. The sun was hot but the air seemed fresher. We are around the 2000m mark and go up to 3000m tomorrow. It is a good camp site in a clearing in the rain forest. There are a few leeches about and one got me on the hip but they succumbed to Rid. I had a bit of a headache but it seemed to be more caffeine withdrawal than altitude. It was quite a tough day and I was glad to arrive at the camp.

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15th October 1999:

We first headed down into a nettle infested gully then across a creek. Then it was up for the rest of the day. We emerged from the jungle onto a steep clear ridge. We had lunch at a glorious spot looking out over the valley to last nights camp.

The afternoon was all up to the top of the Milke Danda at about 3100m. It was a terrific camp site but cloud came in soon after our arrival giving the whole place a surreal feel. At one point the cloud cleared giving us our first glimpse of the big peaks. We could see Kangchenjunga and Janu. They looked a long way off. I had a headache in the evening so did not join in the porters game of volleyball. At least that was my excuse. Peter did join in. I could only watch in admiration.

 
16th October 1999:

The day started with an easy walk along the top of the Milke Danda in the sun. We then plummeted of the ridge down a very steep, rocky trail where Peter twisted an ankle. The track was easier after this and went passed a meat market that did not look appetizing, with chooks pecking around the meat that was just lying on the ground in the sun.

After leaving the market at Tamron we left the main track and went down to the river across several washouts and crossed a few creeks. We arrived at Sangu (photo) for lunch which was disturbed by a short shower.

A we were getting lower it was getting warmer again and this made the afternoons walk to Durgi Sangu a bit of a slog. It was good to get to our camp by the football field.

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17th October 1999:

There were showers and storms in the night and the dining tent was left up for breakfast. Whilst we ate, the porters started their day with a game of football. It was an easy half days stroll down to Dhoban but the track was wet and slippery and quite steep in places.

The weather was fine as we crossed the bridge into the village of Dhoban. To the right was the village and to the left was our camp. As it was festival time the town was buzzing with kids (photo) everywhere. After a quick look round we went to the camp for lunch and to do our washing, then back to the town again to find the pub.

That evening a goat was killed and we had a nice goat curry although it was a bit tough. It was a pleasant night and everyone sat around on the grassy banks of the Tamur River.

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Stage 2: Up the Ghunsa Khola

From Dhoban to Pang Pema.

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 18th October 1999:

Today's walk took us up the Tamur river valley. It was fairly easy going as the valley at this point was wide, flat and rocky. We ran into another group of Australian trekkers but they were going slower than us and eventually we got round them.

In the afternoon it started to rain. It was fairly steady and got heavier as the afternoon progressed. The river rose rapidly, and was gushing through narrow gorges in a torrent of brown water. It was good to get to Mittlung, the nights camp. We were soon warm and dry with the rain pattering on the tent.

 
19th October 1999:

We walked up the Tamur River to Chiwira in constant moderate rain. It was too wet for me to even get my video camera out. We had lunch in an outhouse of a house whilst the rain poured down. A competition was held to see who could get to the toilet tent and back again in the least time. I was not even in the running although running was very descriptive for me at that time. It was whilst we were here that we heard about the coup in Pakistan.

The afternoons walk was wet but along easy paths and we waited in the village whilst the camp was erected. That evening the cloud broke a bit and there were a few breaks in the rain.

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20th October 1999:

We awoke to clear skies and the prospect of a fine day. Breakfast was, once again, taken in the open and we were soon plodding along in the hot sun.

The trail still followed the Tamur River up to its junction with the Ghunsa Khola, and here we followed the latter to the camp at Sakatham. It was hot walking and the cicadas were deafening, but it was better than the previous day and a half.

It was a good grassy camp with views up the Ghunsa Khola that we were to be following for the next week or so. The river was nearby so washing was done. Sadly the washing spot was also used by the locals as a toilet with repercussions tomorrow.

 
21st October 1999:

Sickness struck one of our number in the night and it sounded frightful. Some people stayed behind for the morning and they were to catch us up later.

The weather was fine, with hardly a cloud in the sky as we continued our way up the Ghunsa Khola to Amjileesa. The second half of the walk was very steep. We had lunch by a waterfall in sunshine that was a little too hot. The sides of the valley were very steep and the path precipitous, but there were fantastic views of the mountains to come, although they were still quite distant.

The sick party caught up with us just as we were starting dinner. I did not expect to see them so soon. It would have been a very tough walk if you were sick.

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22nd October 1999:

A short morning walk to Gepla where we made camp in time for lunch. It was getting cooler and the hot first few days of the trek seemed a long while ago. It was still warm in the sun which made for a pleasant afternoon doing chores like washing and cleaning. The camp had a good view of the Ghunsa Khola falling off a cliff. It was here that Matt introduced me to the gastronomic delights of dried noodle soup straight from the packet without water, the next best thing to a packet of chips.

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23rd October 1999:

It was a pleasant walk today continuing up the Ghunsa Khola. The weather was cool and sunny with a few more snowy peaks coming into view.

We had lunch in the sun near the river overshadowed by towering, ice encrusted cliffs. It was an easy walk in the afternoon. Summit, our leader kept the pace slow to allow for acclimatization, we were now about 3600m and it was beginning to tell. I had a slight headache.

We stopped for a look round a monastery (photo) shortly before entering Ghunsa. It was a fairly large, sprawling, but very pleasant village, and it had shops and beer so everyone was happy. After dinner Summit took Sue and me into a local house. They supplied us with tea and encouraged me to smoke my pipe. The all had a good laugh.

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24th October 1999:

This was our rest day. As I was to learn on treks rest days have nothing to do with resting. It really means we will camp at the same spot for two nights and the porters can have a rest but trekkers must ascent the closest steepest hill to assist acclimatization.

We were up before the sun and there was a thick ground frost. The temperature was about -7 and there was much stamping of feet to get the blood moving. Once we were off it was a good day for walking with the air fresh and cool and the sun shining. We walked up towards the Lapsang La and reached an altitude of about 4200m. We stopped there for a snack and to just admire the view of Janu.

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We went back to the camp for lunch; and as often seems to happen with me, it was the descent that gave me a headache. After lunch we had a demonstration of the inflatable altitude chamber. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the sun and doing the usual chores, such as lens cleaning and washing. 
25th October 1999:

It dawned another fine day but the temperature was about -5. Today we were to walk to Kambanchen, continuing our trek up the Ghunsa Khola. It was a pleasant mornings walk crossing many frozen streams in the sunshine till we got to the lunch spot at Dampuk Kharta. It was a nice sunny spot with a cool breeze.

The afternoon was more strenuous with a lot of tough uphill that set my head off again. We had to wend our way round the foot of the Janu Glacier and to do this rose high on the opposite side of the valley. The ground was unstable and the large scree slope (photo) we had to cross was alive with whizzing rocks. The crossing was about a Km but there were several rocky outcrops along the way where we could rest and get our breath back before making another dash to the next sheltered spot always looking up to see what may be heading our way. At an altitude of over 4000m it was a breathtaking walk.

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After this the path seemed safer. It was a grassy notch cut out of the very steep hillside so I could not see what was above. I was walking along feeling safe when out of nowhere a large boulder (the size of a small TV) thudded to the ground about 20m in front of me. I felt the ground shake as it bounced off the path and continued on its way down to the river.

There were magnificent views up the Jannu Glacier, (photo) with Jannu itself towering over us. The trail was fairly level from here and we were soon rounding the bend to Kambachen.

We camped in the village. It was cold and some cloud came in at dusk but cleared later to reveal Janu, floating earily in the moonlight. A magnificent sight that warranted pipe whilst Matt put his tripod to good use to photograph it.

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26th October 1999:

A fairly tough walk today from Kambanchen to Lhonak. It was another clear fresh morning as we set off. We had been warned that there was another active rock fall to cross and to follow the guides. Somehow things went a bit wrong and one group of us ended up trying to cross half way up. It was clearly safer at the bottom where the rest of the group were. The path, such as it was, was away from the foot of the slope so most of the falling rocks did not reach the track. It was a nasty exposed descent as we made our way down with rocks zapping around us sounding like ricocheting bullets. There were no serious injuries but one of the porters caught a rock on his finger.

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We had lunch in a pleasant spot above the river in the sun. Not much further on we crossed the snow line and it was a different world. The snow was fresh from the falls of rain we had a few days before, here it fell as snow. Soon we had our first view of Kangchenjunga glimpsed up a side valley (photo above). The snow made the walking harder and I was glad to get to Lhonak. The camp had still to be put up and we had to stand around whilst snow was cleared for the tents. Our offers to help were rejected. I think they take a pride in looking after us, and as Asik was always telling us we were on holiday.

The evening was a bit gloomy and very cold but it was still a pleasure to go to the mess tent, with its snow floor, in sub zero temperatures and have a good feed.

 
27th October 1999:

We had an early start to the day for our walk up to Pang Pema, the base camp for Kangchenjunga, and back. We were woken in the freezing darkness of 0500. 4000m+ altitude did not help but the cup of tea supplied by the ever smiling Asic did. I struggled blearily into the mess tent in my runners. My boots were frozen stiff and I could not get them on. After breakfast boiling water was supplied to defrost boots.

By 0700 we were off. It was cold and crisp and it was a long day ahead. We all went at our own paces, Sue and I stuck together most of the way and the lunch went on ahead, which was an incentive to keep going.

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The weather was perfect and the snow was thick on the ground, which made the going harder. The trail led along the northern lateral moraine of the Kangchenjunga Glacier opposite Wedge Peak (photo above). It was steady uphill at first then a more gradual climb to the high point of a bit over 5000m then a gentle descent to Pang Pema. 
When we set out I said to Sue that we would only go as far as we were happy with then turn back but the thought of lunch being ahead kept us going and by 1200 we were on the gentle descent to the lunch spot.

It was a magnificent spot with peaks all around. Kangchenjunga (photo), at the head of the glacier not looking the highest peak in view because of its bulk and perspective. Lunch was welcome but my appetite was annulled by the altitude, however the thought of the return walk encouraged me to eat up. We took some photos and video then started down again.

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Although it was downhill it was still a long way and at altitude and after a stiff walk up there, I found it a bit of a slog to get back. We passed several members of our group still on their way up. Some had given up and turned back and some were slogging on. Peter was having trouble with his eyesight and seemed to be suffering from the altitude. He had been up high several times before and never had difficulties. It was a lesson as to how altitude can strike unexpectedly. Sue was concerned as he was just sitting on a rock unable to move so she went on at a cracking pace, that I could not match, to get help from the camp at Lhonak. He was with some of the others who had decided not to go any further so I staggered on.

It seemed a very long walk back down. I was alone but that did not bother me, it just seemed to go on forever. I suppose I was tired from the walk up, and the altitude did not help, and it was a long walk for a day, not to mention the fact that I was now 51. It became an endurance slog. At each corner or rise I expected to see the camp, I just wanted to be back, it was getting late and the sun was getting low and there were many of up behind me and I was concerned about Peter. I soon passed some of our guides on their way up to help out, they were going fast. Later I met some climbers on their way up. When I asked how far to Lhonak they said they did not want to give me false hope and that it was still a way off. I just kept plodding. Alone in that snowy waste with the sun almost setting, feeling very tired and beginning to get cold I was starting to worry. Then the camp came in view. It was a way off but it was all downhill and flat and a path in the snow was well trodden. I don't know why, but as I stumbled into camp at 1730 and was greeted by a porter with a cup of tea, there were tears in my eyes.

Everyone was gathering in the mess tent and drinking tea. I was soon feeling better as trekkers dribbled in and finally in came Peter, much improved after taking Diamox. It had been a hard day and on reflection a little too hard. The freshly fallen snow made it more difficult, as did the altitude. However, it was well worth the effort to see those magnificent peaks with a coating of fresh snow on a fine sunny day.

 

Stage 3: Heading for Home

From Pang Pema to Sukitar

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28th October 1999:

Today we had to get all the way back to Ghunsa. What had taken two hard days to get here was only to take one to return. However it was all downhill (except for the uphill bits) and we were better acclimatized. I don't think we were really fitter. I for one was feeling a bit worn out.

Getting passed the rock falls was easier. On the top one we kept to the lower path and the lower one was downhill so we could run down it. We lunched at Kambanchen. A lovely spot (photo) on the grass in the sun, overlooked by Janu. The afternoons walk was long but not very hard. It was just one of those walks that seem that they are never going to end. Eventually it did and we were back at the same camp site in Ghunsa.

The last few days of sun were beginning to have their effect on my skin. I was getting burned despite liberal quantities of sun block.

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29th October 1999:

Today we had a real rest day. Nothing planned so we could just mooch around the village and do washing, drink beer and eat chocolate.

It was good not to move after the last few days that had been quite exhausting. Sue and I found a nice creek to do our washing in and sat around in the sun whilst it dried. When we had first arrived at Ghunsa it had seemed high and cold but after Pang Pema it seemed a warm friendly place with a thick atmosphere.

 
30th October 1999:

It was a fine cold morning as we left Ghunsa and headed uphill again. This time we were headed over the Mirgin La on the way to Tseram. There was a steep climb at first till we crested the ridge above the village then it was a little easier but still uphill.

We had lunch in a grassy spot in the sunshine but later the cloud came in and it got very cold. The camp was below the pass and was covered in snow. These camps look very nice but are not the most comfortable. We had to wait whilst the snow was cleared again for the tent to go up. By this time I was beginning to look forward to the lower warmer camps.

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31st October 1999:

After a very cold night we slogged up the Mirgin La which overshadowed our camp. It was another fine cold morning and there were magnificent views as we got higher. We could see the south face of Janu (photo above) and in the distance was Makalu. We rested at the top where a line of rocks had been planted in the ground like a row of teeth.

The way forward was not down, like most passes, but on over 3 more ridges that were minor passes in their own right. On the last one of these cloud began to swirl in but in the breaks we could see the Yalung Glacier and some of the surrounding peaks including Rathong Peak.

From here it was a very steep 1500m descent to Tseram (photo above) but we were there for lunch. The weather held off long enough for us to eat then we were treated to some squalls of hail so retired to our tent.

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1st November 1999:

This was to be another of our rest days where you go on a really tough walk. In a spirit of rebellion Sue, Berin and I decided we would only walk as far as we wanted then turn back.

We were all kitted out with packed lunches and set off up the Western lateral Moraine of the Yalang Glacier. If followed far enough it would lead to the Southern base camp for Kangchenjunga. The three of us did not get that far. We stopped for lunch in the sun on some rocks overlooked by Kabru and Rathong Peak (photo).

Cloud started to build up and we decided to head back to camp. By 1500 we were back in our tent and it had started to snow.

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2nd November 1999:

Finally we were heading downstream along the Simbua Khola. It was a frosty morning but it was fine and sunny after a few hours. We crossed the river and steamed up the Lamite Bhajyang. It was a fair climb but I was feeling more energetic at these lower altitudes so decided to pace myself against Asik. It was not really fair as he had a full pack and had to look after the others. I was glad when he dropped behind so I could take it a bit easier. We stopped for lunch half way up. The top of the pass was 3400m, which now seemed quite low.

The afternoons descent to the Omje Khola was steep and punishing on the knees. There were wonderful views to the south of ridges disappearing into the haze. The camp was by the river but as there were two other groups there things were a bit crowded.

 
3rd November 1999:

Today we had a short half days walk to Yanphudin over the Dhupi Bhanjyang which was a much easier pass than yesterdays. It was quite a steep descent and at the bottom we were in a populated valley again.

Camp was made by lunch time and everyone had an easy afternoon washing, sorting and exploring the village, which had a shop.

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4th November 1999:

We set off in fine weather on a fairly easy walk to Pompe Dhara. During the morning we just followed the river downstream, but there was a fairly steep climb in the afternoon when the weather closed in.

The camp was in the village with the mess tent erected in the main square (photo, breakfast, tent taken down). Rain started just as we arrived. Pompe Dhara is on the ridge high above the Kabeli Khola and the view of the valley was obscured by swirling mists and light rain. It was a spectacular but soggy spot.

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5th November 1999:

The penultimate days walk to a camp on the Phawa Khola. It was quite a long day with a fair climb before lunch but the weather was good and everyone was looking forward to getting back to civilization.

There was a long descent to the camp site and we could see the climb we would have to do tomorrow. It was a pleasant camp by the river in some harvested rice paddies. Being Guy Falkes night a Guy was made and burned by one of the UK trekkers.

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6th November 1999:

For our final days walking we were woken promptly at 0600 and everything was rushed to get us away and off up the hill by 0715.

It was a long hard slog up to Sukitar (photo) and everyone went at their own pace. The sun was out and it was a pleasant walk except for the gradient. Once I was at the top of the ridge there were still a few Km's to go to the village. As I walked passed the pub there were calls from inside and those ahead of me were sitting happily downing a few beers. After this it was off the the camp for lunch.

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The afternoon was spent in the usual end of trek activities. This includes a kind of raffle of all the unwanted trekker items for the staff and porters. The evening saw our last dinner in camp and we had a cake and plenty of Tongba. This is fermented millet and it tastes like it as well. It comes in a wooden cylinder with a wooden straw and you just keep adding hot water to the mash. We then had a bit of a “do? but another camp complained about the noise so we retired to the pub for a bit and then bed.

Tomorrow we fly back to Kathmandu from the grass airstrip, in another Twin Otter.

 

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