We have abandoned our plan to go walking in the Picos mountains in Northern Spain at the end of August / start of September.
It was already looking complicated (trains / flights / hotels / masks etc and a day/night in Bilbao.. and that’s before we got to the relative safety of the mountains) and when the UK Government reintroduced quarantine on return from Spain overnight at the weekend, that was the final nail in the coffin.
Even if the Government were to lift quarantine by the time we were due go (which is unlikely), the risk of it being re-reintroduced while we were there felt greater.
Alfonso has been amazing, and gracious as always.
Our current thinking is to do the trip next year. Hasta el Año Que Viene.
Steffi’s now working through requesting all the refunds etc. EasyJet’s cancellation email for our return from Bilbao on 08 Sept arrived today. Now we are just waiting for BA to cancel the outbound flight. I hope they don’t continue to play hardball – at present they are only offering a voucher if you don’t want to take their flights to Spain.
On my To Do List: seeing if I can get a refund for my train tickets. Unlikely.
Tuesday morning I walked the Camp Crossroads – Cockyard – Kerrys Gate route and then settled down for my last week at work before my first holiday of 2020.
The working week ended in a rush making Thursday evening’s fish and chip supper with dad and Jean rather more manic than I’d wanted. Still, The Old Stables turned up trumps again, and we polished off three cod, two large chips and one battered mushrooms in a birthday and pre quarantine celebration. Plus one bottle of wine, which ousted the traditional pot of tea for three.
Friday to Sunday were spent with Steffi in Pembrokeshire.
The A40 from Hay provided a winning driving route, and I was there in about 2 1/2 hours. Reinvigorated by coffee and a slice of sourdough toast, Steffi drove us over to Bosherton Lakes where we strolled around the lily ponds and along to Barafundle, Stackpole and back before returning home for a takeaway Mexican treat.
A leisurely morning in the caravan on Saturday and a leg stretch south from Newgale before setting off north to Solva in the afternoon. There and back was 14 miles mostly under grey skies with rain arriving towards the end.
Bramble gin, bread, cheese, toms and apples for dinner.
Sunday was sunnier, and we walked around St David’s Head, starting at Caerfai and finishing off with ice cream at Whitesands Beach aka Sussex-on-Sea.
A lovely long weekend.
Less lovely was the UK Government’s surprise announcement on Saturday night that it was reintroducing, immediately, 14 day quarantine for anyone returning from Spain.
Having spent my weekend on the coast in the far west of the British mainland, on Monday Phil and I drove all the way east to Essex for a week in Walton on the Naze.
It was a long drive and the M25 and A12 were particularly tough – heavy traffic, with lots of lorries heading, presumably, to Felixstowe. The motorway pace itself isn’t a worry, but there are some drivers out there making manoeuvres that left no room for mistakes. No room for anything!
Anyway, we got there. And Phil made his first foray to the supermarket for a good few months, returning to stock the fridge full or treats for our week’s holiday in WON.
TV: I May Destroy You – do believe the rave reviews. I don’t think I’ve seen twenty-something life in London shown so truthfully on TV before.
After that, we went back in time to the early 1930s, with HBO’s remake of US Private Eye series Perry Mason, which we’ve powered through only to find they’ve yet to release the final pair of episodes – that’s our binge-watch blocked!
Podcasts: On sleepless nights, I often put on the earphones and listen to a podcast or two, and on Wednesday BBC Radio 3’s The Essay featured Chris Wood‘s Sofa Song. A poignant piece about a seemingly mundane item of furniture. Lovely.
Having booked flights way back when, and sorted out hotels and refugio bookings, we put everything on hold once COVID-19 hit. But we were (are) all keeping our fingers crossed.
So, it was not EasyJet’s finest moment when they emailed yesterday to let us know that they’d cancelled our outbound flight.
After a flurry of emails, we’re now booked on the BA flight on the Saturday – a much earlier departure, and a lot more expensive, but at least we should be able to get there….
… although obviously the trip is entirely dependent on the Travel Corridor between England and Spain remaining open, and the summer’s lockdown easing not generating a second / third / fourth / nth wave of infection in either country.
Still trying to work out the safest way to travel to/from London.
This blogpost is my day by day account, with links to each day’s photos, of my trek with Steffi, Nicola, Ernst, Stuart and Paul, led by Val Pitkethly and Ang Chhering. Our trip was 31 days in total, with 26 days “on trek” including the driving from/to KTM.
Before we start, here’s the mark up of our route that Val added to my map – click through to zoom in on the detail in the original, on Flickr:
Scroll down to the end for details of which sections of Günter Seyfferth’s invaluable Die Berge des Himalaya website I’ve used in this write up and when identifying some of the mountain views in my photos.
We were even less enthusiastic about our unwanted extra day in Dubai after a fairly tortuous transfer to the hotel and check in experience – might as well not have bothered booking a room for the night before. But, ever keen to make the most of a bad lot, we had a couple of hours power napping then we took the hotel shuttle bus to The Dubai Mall to spend the afternoon in air con comfort. Coffee; a late lunch at the excellent, tucked out of sight, food court; dancing fountains and people watching all featured. As did lots of strolling, always slightly lost, around this multi-storeyed citadel of consumerism.
A dip in the rooftop pool preceded the You Booked Direct free aperitif accompanied by al fresco Waitrose nibbles – our attempts to track down a supermarket in The Dubai Mall having proved futile.
Overnight: Premier Inn, Dubai International Airport.
Friday, 01 November 2019: Dubai – Kathmandu (Photos)
Much more efficient hotel transfer to Dubai terminal 2 where we rendezvoused with Nicola for our 4 hour FlyDubai flight (EK2155 / FZ0575) to Kathmandu.
Endured an hour or so queue at immigration – hot and stuffy, and exacerbated by the arrival of 3 jumbo-worth of tourists – followed by the inevitable, domino effect, queue to get through the security scanners. At least, after all that, we didn’t have to wait for our luggage. Just find it…
A relief to spot Mingmi waiting for us, and a relatively quick jeep ride to the Marshyangdi.
Great to see Val waiting for us in reception. Rooms sorted – newly refurbished ones, LOVELY – speedy unpack and a cuppa, and down the road for dinner at the good old Thakali Bhanchha Ghar.
A rare extra day in KTM ahead of the trek, which gave us a bit more time to get over jet lag (just don’t mention the cooing PIGEONS!), a leisurely Marshyangdi buffet breakfast, and to hang out with Ernst!
Spent the morning in Val’s tender mercies – kit check, crampon fitting and shopping, settling up and changing trek spends into NPR. Plus packing… always a challenge. Thankfully big boots, crampons and ice axes were allowed into separate kit bags, but cramming the remaining 6000m gear into our usual kit bags was tricky. Extra layers, puffier down jackets etc.
Paul and Stuart arrived – first impressions: They’re GIANTS! Lovely men, both of them.
The afternoon was spent mainly faffing. Steffi, Nicola, Ernst and I headed out for coffee and cake in the Hotel Mandap’s garden bakery/cafe.
Early dinner back at Thakali Bhanchha Ghar. Early night. Early start tomorrow.
Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel.
Sunday, 03 November 2019: Kathmandu – Phaplu (Photos)
Trek Day 1
Route: Drive Kathmandu / काठमाडौं to Phaplu / फाप्लु (2500m) (9-10 hours).
Overnight: Numbur Guest House.
So, not really trekking. But getting closer to the start, and avoiding an internal flight and the attendant uncertainties / risks. Lunch in Okhaldhunga / ओखलढुङ्गा (1561m).
High trail above the Hinku Khola / Inkhu Khola, dropping down through the Mojang Forest to lunch at the bridge over the Mojang Khola.
Camp: Sherpa Hotel & Lodge camp.
Sunday, 10 November 2019: Kothe (3600m) – Thangnak (4350m) (Photos)
Trek Day 8
Route: Trek up the Hinku Khola valley to Tagnag / Thangnag / Tangnag / Thangnak (4350m). Lunch at Gondishung / Godishung Gompa (4161m).
Camp: Pemba Dickie’s Tagnag Lodge camp.
Monday, 11 November 2019: Thangnak (4350m) (Photos)
Trek Day 9
Route: Acclimatisation day at Tagnag / Thangnag (4350m).
Hike up towards the moraines below Kusum Kanguru to the cairns at 5025m.
Camp: Pemba Dickie’s Tagnag Lodge camp.
Tuesday, 12 November 2019: Thangnak (4350m) – Khare (5000m) (Photos)
Trek Day 10
Route: Trek to Khare / खरे (5000m), via Dig Kharka.
Camp: Pemba Dickie’s Khare Lodge camp.
Wednesday, 13 November 2019: Khare (5000m) (Photos)
Trek Day 11
Route: Acclimatisation day and skills training, Khare / खरे (5000m).
Morning: Acclimatisation hike above the Hinku Shar / Khare Glacier system to c. 5400m.
Afternoon: Training with crampons and ropes (jumar up, karabiner across, abseil down).
Camp: Pemba Dickie’s Khare Lodge camp.
Thursday, 14 November 2019: Khare (5000m) – Mera La (5415m) – Mera La camp (5350m) (Photos)
Trek Day 12
Route: Trek over Mera moraine to crampon point, onto glacier/snow and climb snow slopes to the Mera La (5415m). Drop down off glacier to Mera La camp (5350m).
Crossing from the West to the East side of Mera La takes you from the Hinku Valley and into the Hongu Valley.
Camp: Mera La camp.
Friday, 15 November 2019: Mera La camp (5350m) – Mera Peak High Camp (5800m) (Photos)
Trek Day 13
Route: Climb easy snow slopes to Mera Peak High Camp (5800m).
Camp: Mera Peak High Camp.
Saturday, 16 November 2019: Mera Peak High Camp (5800m) – Mera Peak (Mera Central, 6461m) – Kongma Dingma (4850m) (Photos)
Trek Day 14 – Summit Day
Route: Mera Peak High Camp (5800m) – Mera Peak (Mera Central, 6461m) – Mera La (5415m) – Kongma Dingma (4850m)
Described as “Climb easy-angled snow slopes and short steeper section to summit Mera Peak.” Incredibly hard work at this altitude – each step felt like it was the last one I could take. But, roped up with Chhering and Nicola, I did it.
Mera Peak / मीरा पीक has multiple summits – we did Mera Central (6461m). As always, Günter Seyfferth’s Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya) is invaluable for its annotated photos and maps. Here’s his page on Mera Peak.
Then a long descent to Mera La (5415m) and off the glacier down by our previous camp for a really, really long descent into the Hongu Valley to camp at Kongma Dingma / Kongme Dingma (4850m).
A long day: Wake up call / bed tea at 2.30am, into KD around 4pm. Bed around 7pm?
A fantastic day.
Camp: Kongma Dingma camp.
Sunday, 17 November 2019: Kongma Dingma (4850m) (Photos)
Trek Day 15
Route: Rest day Kongma Dingma / Kongme Dingma (4850m).
Seto Pokhari means White Lake, appropriate given it is frozen.
Camp: Seto Pokhari camp.
Tuesday, 19 November 2019: Seto Pokhari (5035m) – Amphu Lapsta Base Camp, South (c. 5600m) (Photos)
Trek Day 17
Route: Trek north up the Hongu Valley before turning north west off the main glaciated valley and climbing to lunch at Panch Pokhari. Big Baruntse views. Trek to Amphu Lapsta / Amphu Lapste / Amphu Labtsa / Amphu Lapcha / Amphu Labcha Base Camp (South) (c. 5600m).
Camp: Amphu Lapsta Base Camp (South).
Wednesday, 20 November 2019: Amphu Lapsta Base Camp, South (c. 5600m) – Amphu Lapsta (5780m) – Imja Khola camp (c. 5000m) (Photos)
Crossing the pass entailed crunching over moraine, then rope and crampons to jumar up the glacier snow slopes to the pass.
On the Imja Khola side, a steep, steep descent clipped onto a roped route, with a short abseiling section over large rock outcrop.
Once down in the bowl of the Ambulapcha glacial valley, it was an easy but long trek over sand then turf towards Imja Tsho’s southern moraine wall before heading west to reach camp next to the Imja Khola. Another long day.
Camp: Imja Khola camp.
Thursday, 21 November 2019: Imja Khola camp (c. 5000m) – Island Peak Base Camp (5100m) (Photos)
Trek Day 19
Route: Trek to Island Peak Base Camp (5100m)
Ernst was helicoptered down to the hospital at Khunde, and the rest of us crossed the Imja Khola and the glacier’s moraine debris and did the gentle stroll over up the other side of the Imja Tsho to get to Island Peak Base Camp. Busy! After lunch, Nicola and I settled in to camp and to prep for tomorrow’s ascent, Steffi and Stuart opting to head back down to Chukhung (4730m) for a couple of rest days.
Camp: Island Peak Base Camp.
Friday, 22 November 2019: Island Peak Base Camp (5100m) – Chukhung (4730m) (Photos)
Trek Day 20
Route: Climb Island Peak – if you’re Nicola and Chhering! I started, but turned back after 45 mins or so – I just didn’t have any energy. Trek to Chukhung (4730m). Tea and apple cake with Steffi and Stuart.
Camp: Chukhung Cafe & Snooker House camp.
Saturday, 23 November 2019: Chukhung (4730m) – Phortse (3840m) (Photos)
Trek Day 21
Route: Trek to Phortse / फोर्छे (3840m) via Dingboche / दिङबोचे (4410m), Shomare (4136m) (lunch) and Pangboche / पाङबोचे (4030m) and Pangboche Gompa.
Overnight: Namaste Lodge.
Sunday, 24 November 2019: Phortse (3840m) – Monjo (2840m) (Photos)
Trek Day 22
Route: Monjo / Monzo / Manjo / मान्जो (2840m) via Dudh Koshi river (bridge), Phortse Thanga (3680m), Mong La (3975m), Kyangjungma / Kyangjuma / Kyanjuma (3620m) and Namche Bazaar / नाम्चे बजार (3440m, lunch), Larcha Dovan (2935m) and Sagarmatha National Park Entry, Jorsalle / जोरसल्ले.
Our last night together with the full crew – so it was time to party!
Overnight: Monjo Guest House Eco-Lodge.
Monday, 25 November 2019: Monjo (2840m) – Pakhepani (2710m) (Photos)
Trek Day 23
Route: Trek to Pakhepani (2710m) via Benkar / बेन्कार, Phakding (2639m), Choplung / Chheplung / Cheplung / छेप्लुङ् (2660m, lunch) and Surke / Surkhe / सुर्के (2290m).
We said farewell to Ernst, Chhering and Budi before we left Monjo, and to Stuart and Tenzi after lunch in Chheplung. Ernst had extra time to take its easy for a few more days, and Stuart and Tenzi were braving the Lukla-KTM flight. Steffi and I kept our fingers crossed for good weather for them all.
Overnight: Khumbu View Lodge.
Tuesday, 26 November 2019: Pakhepani (2710m) – Nuntala (2440m) (Photos)
Trek Day 24
Route: Trek to Nuntala / Nunthala / नुनथला (2440m) via Chutok La (2775m), Paiyan / Puiya / Paiya / Puiyan / Poyan / Poyen / पैया (2770m), Khari La / Kare La / Kari La (2840m), Bupsa (2360m), Kharikhola / Kharikola / खरीखोला (2040m, lunch), Jubing / Juving / जुभिङ (1670m) and Chhirdi (1500m) / Dudh Kosi river / दुध कोसी.
We said farewell to Val and Despier before we left Pakhepani. A long day – we were walking in the dark for the last hour.
Drive to Phaplu / फाप्लु (2500m) via the Trakshingdo La / Takshingdo La / Takshindo La / Trakshindo La (3071m) and Ringmo / Rungmu / रिङमो.
Drive to Khurkot / खुर्कोट via Okhaldhunga / ओखलढुङ्गा जिल्ला
Overnight: “Khurkot Roadside Motel”.
Thursday, 28 November 2019: Khurkot – Kathmandu (Photos)
Trek Day 26
Route: Drive to Kathmandu / काठमाडौं.
We had the traditional last night feast at The Mandap, hosted by Tenzi. A bit strange to be without Val and Chhering.
Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel.
Friday, 29 November 2019: Kathmandu – London (No photos)
Route: Fly Kathmandu – Doha – London
Qatar Airways QR 0653: KTM 11:25 – DOH 14:35 (5h 55m), then Qatar Airways QR 0015: DOH 15:50 – LHR 20:25 (7h 35m). Steffi and I said our farewells at the airport, then I took the tube home.
I cannot recommend highly enough Günter Seyfferth’s Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya) website with its annotated maps and photos. The following are the pages covering key elements of our route.
The Hinku Valley including Kothe, Thangnak and Khare
(7) Blick von Kenjoma (3600 m) nach Nordosten mit Taboche (6505 m), Lhotse (8516 m) und Ama Dablam (6814 m)
(12) Blick vom Kloster Tengboche nach Nordosten zum Nuptse (7864 m), Mount Everest (8848 m) und Lhotse (8516 m)
Not surprisingly, having just spent a chunk of time revisiting this trek, I am now desperate to get back to the mountains…. I doubt it will be this year, but Kanchenjunga south and north base camps with possible extension to exit via the Wolungchu valley is TOP of my list now.
Why: Last July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.
This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us. That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers plus lunch and water in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.
Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:
Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London
Steffi has booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!