Wake at 4:30am, sun nowhere, but at 5am there is sun on the peaks above the pass. Glad to see the waterbottles are partially frozen, snow will be hard and easy to walk upon. Shoes are frozen.
Sky is stunning blue. Air is fresh and awesome. What a morning. Feeling great. I mouth as much Tsampa as I can stomach and get going. That tsampa is actually great energy food. Feels weird to take 4 big bites of alchoholic dough and call it breakfast, but 4 big bites of this magic butter/arak/tsampa mix really lit me up.
I pack quickly and head off onto the snow. I am so pleased to not be posthole’n. Road again is impassable – packed with steep snow and a slip means I’d go down a few hundred feet into a rocky creek. Instead I climb up and across a lower angle snow and rock field.
I reach road again but it is still terrible with lots of pushing and carrying.
Eventually I’m riding for a minute at a time and reach the top of the:
Switchbacks Part 3:
Yes, the switchbacks down to Lakong! I have been looking forward to doing some coasting for a while now, I eagerly jump onto bike, round the corner and am met with a road still full of snow!
Bummer. Road is so full of snow at the top that I actually skip the switchbacks and stomp down the snow until the switchbacks are clear. The road is mostly clear at the start of the lower switchbacks and I can finally see… breakfast? The Lakong tea stall… Well… nope! Not open! No hot chai ‘n cheese for me. Bummer.
I was so looking forward to a hot breakfast. Some of that hot cheese…
I coast down the remaining switcbacks and reach the empty tea stall, take some snaps and head out. My next stop is Kargiakh, 10km down the valley.
Last year I was sleeping at Lakong when some horseman arrived at 6am. They hooted like cowboys and raced down these switchbacks, first to arrive got a free breakfast.
River here is the Kurgiakh-Chu. On my right is lovely Gamburanjan.
I’ve done this hike three times before. Always there’s streams to deal with, and sometimes they’re tough and dangerous to cross.
Remember this if you visit the himalaya, or anywhere else with mountain rivers: Water can get big with afternoon snowmelt. Yeah… the trail clearly goes across, that doesn’t mean its safe to cross right now! People die crossing these streams. Smart people sometimes wait days for the water to get low enough to cross.
Anyway. You can sort of hope that now that there is a road you can just follow it. Well, upper Kurgiakh, as was true last year, the road literally goes down the river. I don’t mean some side stream, but it is literally going down a river thats 1.5′ deep at 5:30am. Yeah its gravel but… I’m not doing that. Thats not a road.
Did I mention it was a lovely morning. Freezing fresh air. Really great.
My stomach is sort of rumbling. I sort of feel like I want to have some hot tea. But I continue at a slow pace and try and take in all this glory.
Even going slowly I often find myself travelling too quickly. Whenever I’ve walked Lakong to Kurgiakh its has taken 4-5 hours. Well on a bicycle, just lollygagging it takes about 2.5 hours. Its downhill so… bike is fast.
Anyway. I head off down following the road or the horse trail, depending on what is most reasonable. The sun hasn’t reached this part of the valley yet so the water is much lower than I’ve ever seen. Often I cross the streams on sheets of ice. Excellent. On bigger streams I find the bike makes an excellent crossing companion: I wheel the bike half way, hold the bars and just leap across. Excellent.
There is a larger confluence below Gamburanjan, a maps calls it the (Rile-Cho) and just before it is a huge rockfall that goes to the river. The horse trail involves a bunch of crazy zig zag climbing so instead I make my own way along the base of the rockfall. My route becomes narrower until there’s no way forward and I must ascend up the vertical side of a 6′ boulder, step dainty-like across a few big blocks, and then down 5′ vertical to get back to dirt. This was strenuous but fun and saved me a bunch of nasty switchbacks up through the rocks above.
Arrive Kurgiakh at 10:45am. I’m met by several women asking where I’m going. They’re hoping to sell me a room but I’m heading straight to my friend Lobsang’s house. I’ve got some gifts for him.
I pull the bike up through the towns twisted paths and lean my bike up at Lobsangs, relax in the sun. Whew! A moment later his son pops his head out the door. This is lobsang junior who I met last year in Gonma – he’s an smart excellent kid working as a guide.
“Do you have a room?” “Of course!! Come on in.” He makes tea and chapati with potato. Then leaves me with a giant thermos of hot sugar milk chai. Yeah!
I pull out all my gear and lay it in the sun to dry, then go inside for more chai and a nap.
Being in this village is what I expect I’ll enjoy most about this trip.