Luke ~ Into the alpine

Day 6 of the trek started with bright blue skies and high spirits. Although we had been following what seemed like a roller-coaster track built into the sides of Himalayan ridges, the word was that we would start to gain some more elevation overall in the next few days. Mind you, we would still have to do some serious ups and downs as part of the elevation gain.

Karma looks back toward Sibuje as we continue our steady, roller coaster-like climb.
Karma looks back toward Sibuje as we continue our steady, roller coaster-like climb.

During a pretty serious uphill section early in the morning, we met a farmer from Sibuje who just happened to be ‘pasturing’ his cows along side the steep trail in a rhododendron forest, 4 hours trek from his home. At the top of the pass, there was much celebration. Christen turned to me, stunned, saying something like, “I know that can not possibly be Nicki Minaj!” Ang Rita Sherpa had just turned the music on his little Nokia cell-phone, and he was proving just how disturbingly deeply western pop culture has spread into what we foolishly thought was one of the world’s last strong holds against the likes of Justin Bieber. And yes. Justin Bieber was next up on the cell-phone play list. The next thing I knew, Glen had Kami on his shoulders and was chasing everyone around. Nothing is as fearsome as that dynamic duo.

Glen and Kami do the only respectable thing you can do while listening to Justin Bieber at high elevation.
Glen and Kami do the only respectable thing you can do while listening to Justin Bieber at high elevation.
Ang Rita shows off the sleeping area we had at the spot lovingly named by us as "the Tick Farm", where Glen found a large tick trying to burrow into his back.
Ang Rita shows off the sleeping area we had at the spot lovingly named by us as “the Tick Farm”, where Glen found a large tick trying to burrow into his back.

As we ended day 7, we walked along a gigantic river gorge, picking our way through boulders the size of houses and buses. Karma explained to us that the gorge we were walking up ended in a glacial moraine and a glacial lake that we would see on Day 8 in Tagnak. 15 years ago, a huge ice chunk broke off the overhanging glacier above the lake. This building sized block of ice caused a huge wave to come overflowing out of the lake, down the river gorge, and far into the Terai, the lowlands of Nepal, where hundreds of unsuspecting residents were killed.

As we continued up, we glimpsed our first view of Mera Peak. It is the triple-humped snow-capped mountain on the top right of the photo.
As we continued up, we glimpsed our first view of Mera Peak. It is the triple-humped snow-capped mountain on the top right of the photo.
Christen picks her way through the boulders as she follows the trail along the river gorge.
Christen picks her way through the boulders as she follows the trail along the river gorge.

The next day, we were completely in the Alpine. Trees gave way to boulders everywhere, and the sun was impossible to escape. I thanked Glen silently multiple times for picking up the industrial grade sunblock with titanium in it. The day had us following the same river up the valley. We came upon a Buddhist monastery on the way, and Pasang and Karma offered prayers up for safe travel.

Pasang prays for a safe journey.
Pasang prays for a safe journey.

The scale of the landscape in this region is almost beyond comprehension. Distance was difficult to judge. It felt cozy and intimate while still making me feel tiny and insignificant. When we got into Tagnak, at about 14,200 ft above sea level, it felt like we were in the heart of the Himalaya. It was fitting that Glen gave us the high altitude safety briefing that night. He explained that if symptoms become serious enough, the best treatment is to descend at least 1000 ft below where you slept the previous night – not a particularly easy feat while suffering from altitude sickness, I thought.

The group begins the 8th day by following the river valley into the alpine area.
The group begins the 8th day by following the river valley into the alpine area.
Chongba,  , Karma, Ang Rita, Dawa, Pasang, and Christen take a quick break.
Chongba, Kami , Karma, Ang Rita, Dawa, Pasang, and Christen take a quick break.

Tagnak is a stunningly beautiful place. We were surrounded by 6000-7000 meter (19,800 – 23,100 ft) peaks. The weather was also very dynamic here. One minute, the sky would be clear. Only a moment later, clouds would move in up the valley with eerie speed. We were all taking in the beautiful scene while trying to do our laundry outside in the afternoon. The next day would be a “rest” day, so we were all glad to be here. In truth, we were to use the next day to acclimatize to the altitude by hiking up to a ridge at over 16,000 ft. So much for “rest”…

Tagnak is a stunningly beautiful place surrounded by peaks up to 23,000 ft.
Tagnak is a stunningly beautiful place surrounded by peaks up to 23,000 ft.
Christen does her laundry outside, Himalayan style.
Christen does her laundry outside, Himalayan style.

 

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