Kangchenjunga & Lumba Sumba: Photos & Notes

Tip: If you’ve not read it yet, I’d recommend you read my Kanchenjunga Base Camp and the Lumba Sumba Pass: We’re (almost) back! blogpost first.

I love this part of a Big Trip – taking the time to remember each day, looking at the photos and reading my diary. It reminds me just how much we did, and how amazing it was.

Me, at the hot juice stop on the gully climb from the wide hanging valley to the upper section of the Dingsamba Khola valley
Me, at the hot juice stop on the gully climb from the wide hanging valley to the upper section of the Dingsamba Khola valley

We had a brilliant trip, largely due to Mingmi, Mingma and Tenzee on the trip and Val’s input before it – and before her accident precluded her actually leading the trip. Their combined knowledge and experience paid dividends in planning a route well within our combined capabilities: we all got to Kanchenjunga Base Camp at Pangpema and we all got over the Lumba Sumba pass. Plus we had a fantastic crew, and were all fuelled by Dali’s fab food on the camping sections. And not forgetting the superb weather – November is a good time to trek in Nepal.

Trek Team Photo, Yak Kharka Camp
Trek Team Photo, Yak Kharka Camp

Summary

Outline itinerary

Fly London – Doha – Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Fly & drive Kathmandu – Bhadrapur – Phungling / Taplejung
Drive Phungling / Taplejung – Sekathum
Trek Sekathum (1660m) – Amjilossa (2400m)
Trek Amjilossa (2400m) – Gyabla (2730m)
Trek Gyabla (2730m) – Ghunsa (3430m)
Ghunsa Acclimatisation Day, hike to “Prayer flag deurali” (4000m)
Trek Ghunsa (3430m) – Khambachen (4095m)
Khambachen Acclimatisation Day, hike to Jannu Shrine (4400m)
Trek Kambachen (4095m) – Lhonak
Trek Lhonak (4761m) – Kanchenjunga North Base Camp / Pangpema (5142m) – Lhonak (4761m)
Trek Lhonak (4761m) – Kambachen (4095m)
Trek Kambachen (4095m) – Ghunsa (3430m)
Trek Ghunsa (3430m) – Chauri Kharka / Nango La camp (4160m)
Trek Chauri Kharka / Nango La camp (4160m) – Nango La (4776m) – Langjong Kharka camp (3734m)
Trek Langjong Kharka camp (3734m) – Olangchungola (3208 m)
Olangchungola Rest Day, Deki Chholing Gumba
Trek Olangchungola (3208 m) – Sanjung camp (4012m)
Trek Sanjung camp (4012m) – Lumba Sumba Pass camp / East High Camp (4646m)
Trek Lumba Sumba Pass camp / East High Camp (4646m) – Lumba Sumba Pass (5139m) – Yak Kharka camp / West High Camp (4480m)
Trek Yak Kharka camp / West High Camp (4480m) – Thudam (3556m)
Trek Thudam (3556m) – Yak Kharka camp (2750m)
Trek Yak Kharka camp (2750m) – Chyamtang (2250m)
Trek Chyamtang (2250m) – Hongon (2445m)
Trek Hongon (2445m) – Hatiya (1585m)
Trek Hatiya (1585m) – Gola (1128m)
Trek Gola (1128m) – Hedanga Ghadi (1180m)
Trek Hedanga Ghadi (1180m) – Num (1567m)
Drive Num – Tumlingtar
Fly Tumlingtar – Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Fly Kathmandu – Doha – London

36 days London-London; 25 days trekking; 5 days Kathmandu (permits & prep before / relaxing after); 3 days travel within Nepal

As I said in my “We’re (almost) back!” blogpost, our trekking route comprised two main sections: the well trodden / well served trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp and back to Ghunsa, and then heading off the beaten track to trek west-ish over the Nango La and the Lumba Sumba passes, then south to the roadhead at Num.

Photos

Photos are collected in my Nepal, October / November 2023 Flickr album.


Day by Day Detail

Here’s the detail of what we did, day by day.

Wednesday, 25 October 2023: Abbey Dore – Abergavenny – London (Photos)

Train to London with Phil and IPWW with Hazel, Steffi and Fi.

Overnight: Hazel’s

Thursday, 26 October 2023: London – Doha (Photos)

Qatar Airways flight from LGW to DOH. Late take off and a vast airport in Doha meant we only just made it onto our connecting Qatar flight to KTM.

Overnight: In transit

Friday, 27 October 2023: Doha – Kathmandu (Photos)

Overnight flight to KTM, giving us pretty much a whole day in Kathmandu to work through jet lag and for a surprise catch up with Tseten and Tenzi.

Overnight: Manang Hotel, Thamel (Marshyangdi was fully booked!)

Saturday, 28 October 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

A whole day in Kathmandu, giving Mingmi and Tenzi time to sort out our permits while we strolled and shopped, moved back into the Marshyangdi and repacked our travel bags into daypacks and kit bags ready for tomorrow.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Sunday, 29 October 2023: Kathmandu – Bhadrapur – Phungling / Taplejung (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Fly Bhadrapur / भद्रपुर (91m). Drive to Taplejung / ताप्लेजुङ / Phungling / फुङलिङ (1440m).

Mega Marshyangdi breakfast then to KTM Domestic terminal for our 45 minute morning flight to Bhadrapur – fab views of Gauri Himal, Melungtse, Everest, Makalu … ad Kanchenjunga.

Hot down in the delta lands, lots of greenery.

Spent the rest of the day driving north east, reaching Phungling (aka Taplejung) around 8.30pm after 9 hours or so. We stopped for a tasty dal bhat lunch in a roadside thakali place set amidst the tea plantations at Kanyam, where we also changed jeeps / drivers. Good roads.

Overnight: Hotel Annapurna, Phungling / Taplejung

Monday, 30 October 2023: Phungling / Taplejung – Sekathum (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Drive Phungling / फुङलिङ / Taplejung / ताप्लेजुङ (1440m) to Sekathum / Sekāthum / Sekhathum (1660m)

Time to explore Phungling Bazaar and to buy a replacement watch (mine was hanging out in KTM….) while the jeeps were readied for the half day’s drive to the current roadhead at Sekathum.

We drove through various hamlets and lunched (early and leisurely) en route, pulling up outside the lovely Sekathum Guest House at 2pm after only 4 hours on decent dirt roads, often lined with green leafy bushes which we came to know was cardamom – it’s a major crop in this part of Nepal.

We settled into our simple rooms at the guesthouse then had a mooch around the cottage gardens (home to some cute goats), the hydroelectric project offices and a short stretch of a trail high above the River Tamor. Back at base we relaxed on the first floor back deck next to our rooms, on a DIY sofa made out of brand new duvets and sipping tea until it was dinner time. Then bed.

We’d not even started trekking and we’d had our first encounters with The Andorrans (outside the hotel and en route) and The Japanese (at the guesthouse), who we saw most days on the Kanchenjunga section of the trek.

Overnight: Sekathum Guest House

Tuesday, 31 October 2023: Sekathum – Amjilossa (Photos)

Trek Day 1

Route: Sekathum / Sekāthum / Sekhathum (1660m) – Lamatar – Phedi / Fedi (2036m) – Amjilossa / Amjilosa / Amjilesha / Amjilosha / अंजिलोशा (2400m)

Distance 10km | Ascent 965m | Descent 160m

A day following the Ghunsa Khola upstream to Amjilossa. Bridges and waterfalls; butterflies and kittens, pigs and goats; paved trails and stone staircases; cardamom and bamboo galore.

A leisurely mid morning mint tea in Lamatar and an early lunch in Phedi to refuel us before the 400m climb up to Amjilossa.

Me, Steffi and Sonia, Lamatar
Me, Steffi and Sonia, Lamatar

Arriving mid afternoon, we had time for ginger tea high up on our bedroom level, marigold lined terrace – three sets of steep stone steps above the dining room – plus diary catch up and some clothes washing, with time to get it dry(ish) in the last of the afternoon sun.

A very hard bed – a wooden platform with a thin layer of insulating foam by way of a matress. I should have got my thermarest out. Very clean though, and there’s electricity for lightbulbs and recharging.

Overnight: Chhiring-Kipa Guest House, Amjilasa

Wednesday, 01 November 2023: Amjilossa – Gyabla (Photos)

Trek Day 2

Route: Amjilossa / Amjilosa / Amjilesha / Amjilosha / अंजिलोशा (2400m) – Pangling Hill (2550m) – Thangem / Thangyam / Dhangem / Thyangyam (2379m) – Gyabla Phedi (2555m) – Gyabla / ग्याब्ला (2730m)

Distance 10km | Ascent 750m | Descent 450m

Another warm day once the morning sun hit our side of the valley and we were glad of the bamboo shade as the path delivered gradual ups and steep downs.

Butterflies and cicadas; woods, waterfalls and rhododendrons – this’ll be a gorgeous route in the spring when they’re in flower.

Reaching Thangyam after a couple of hours walking we settled in the very-geared-towards-trekkers Hotel Shingi Namjong for coffee and biscuits and an acoustic guitar set from Tenzee. And western loos.

A further 90 mins walking brought us to Gyabla Phedi where we had a water stop before the final climb up to Gyabla, arriving at the collection of three or so tea houses and old farms on the plateau below the main village (which we only twigged was there as we were leaving the next day).

At the Hotel Namaste we were loudly welcomed by small person – Lapka Tashi – and spent most of the rest of the afternoon being entertained by and entertaining him: paper aeroplanes, photos, writing and drawing.

Crossed paths with quite a few people / groups coming the other way during the morning’s walking, and shared the lodge with a solo trekker from the Czech Republic (and his guide) also on his way home, who said it had been busy higher up on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp N&S Circuit.

Stunning orange and pink sunset.

Overnight: Hotel Namaste

Thursday, 02 November 2023: Gyabla – Ghunsa (Photos)

Trek Day 3

Route: Gyabla / ग्याब्ला (2730m) – Tea shack – Phale / Fale / Folay / Phole / फले (3232m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3595m) (3430m)

Distance 14.5km | Ascent 910m | Descent 220m

A cold morning until the sun hit the hillsides at which point walking got hot again and the shade of the tall trees was very welcome. We walked under canopies of gorgeous autumn colours, crunched on fallen leaves, passed by persevering purple primulas.

The path dropped down to the Ghunsa Khola and back up again a few times, with bridges and waterfalls, stone steps and a gateway before the valley opened out and the river split temporarily into babbling brooks and we emerged into the high pastures leading to Phale.

A long lunch stop at Phale gave us time to explore the village including the sacred mound topped with prayer flags and the closer of the two gompas – Tashi Choling Monastery (closed so that the monks could travel to the festival at Olungchungola) – and to spot a sign for a Carpet Shop (sadly also closed).

Sipping hot lemons before lunch and ginger tea afterwards we did some people watching too as other trekkers passed by including the infamous coca cola bottle throwing, weed smoking, silently superior solo trekker and the french pair (a Canadian-based young woman and her dad).

Leaving Phale we followed the power lines as the trail returned to the trees and the narrow valley of the Ghunsa Khola, taking us past the turn off to the Nango La, which we’d be returning to for the start of the Lumba Sumba section of our trek, and the memorial to the 2006 helicopter crash before crossing the river a final time – with the “new” suspension bridge providing views of the older bridge collapsed into the icy, white waters, mountainsides clad in golden larches, green juniper, red leafed spiky bushes and snowy peaks ahead.

Bridge over the Ghunsa Khola leading into Ghunsa
Bridge over the Ghunsa Khola leading into Ghunsa

We walked on paths through the fence lined fields of Ghunsa just as the sun’s light and warmth left the village and settled into Room 101 at the Kanchanjunga Guest House for two night stay. Time to unpack and sort things, charge batteries and to meet The Very Tall Belgian Lady – Hello Annik!

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House <– hot showers! hair dryer! western loo! fabulous food!

Friday, 03 November 2023: Ghunsa Acclimatisation Day (Photos)

Trek Day 4

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – “Prayer flag deurali” (4000m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा  (3430m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 600m | Descent 600m

A leisurely breakfast before going back across the river and hiking up to the “Prayer flag deurali” at approx 4000m for our acclimatisation. We hung out under the prayer flags taking in the views – and chatting with the French-Canadians – before heading back down for lunch sandwiched between showers – hot showers! – and a bit of opportunistic in shower clothes washing.

Sonia, Mingmi, Steffi, Tenzee, Mingma, me and Krishna at the "Prayer flag deurali" above Ghunsa
Sonia, Mingmi, Steffi, Tenzee, Mingma, me and Krishna at the “Prayer flag deurali” above Ghunsa

We spent part of the afternoon at the village health clinic running an LED eye clinic – Pat B had sent us out with three shoe boxes of (mainly) reading glasses – and then adjourned to the Dzonga Bakery & Cafe for coffee and cake…. the posters we’d spotted en route did not lie (except for the bit about cheese).

Ghunsa looks a little like Prok (on the Manaslu Circuit) and serves a function similar to Namche (on the Everest trek ie it’s the biggest place on a trek, and you’ll pass through it twice) but on a much, much smaller scale. Still, it’s home to good tea houses, some small shops and long awaited Dzonga cafe … No wifi anywhere though.

Pizza & chips for tea 🙂 and a snug night in the sleeping bag.

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House

Saturday, 04 November 2023: Ghunsa – Khambachen (Photos)

Trek Day 5

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – Sypchen (3541m) – Tartang (3583m) – Chhermalung (3740m) – Labuk Teashop (3789m) – Hajare / हजारे ओडार (3892m) – Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 810m | Descent 170m

A colder day today, as we gained another 700m elevation. A beautiful morning walking through the woods stopping at the Buddhist shrine at Sypchen, and making our first landslide and icy edged stream crossings of the trek. We met a couple of large groups heading down, and looking cold.

We had a leisurely lunch stop at the Labuk Teashop where the lady who runs the tea shop prepared dal bhat (for us) and boiled potatoes with hot (HOT) chilli (for M, M & T) while her entrepreneurial niece made the most of the school holidays and the pausing, passing trekkers and crew to make a few seabuckthorn juice sales…. One of those really memorable parts of the trip.

Shortly after lunch we left the tree line behind us and started up the stone steps that took us up and around the terminal moraine of the Kumbhakarna Glacier. Cloud had built up in the valley of the Ghunsa Khola over lunchtime and it was a cold afternoon. No views of Jannu (Kumbhakarna / Phoktanglungma “mountain with shoulders”) (7711m) at the “First Views of Jannu” signpost, but it came into view later in the day along with Phole South (6501m), Phole Sobithonje (6645m), Khabur (6294m) and Ghunsadhar (5740m), some of which I think might have been the peaks we’d seen from the Prayer Flag Deurali yesterday, from their southern side.

A long landslide crossing high above the Ghunsa Khola got us to the long suspension bridge across to the western side of the river and the final section of the trail to Khambachen. As we waited, a lammergeier glided slowly down the ravine, below us but almost close enough to touch.

Steffi and Krishna on the last landslide traverse of the day
Steffi and Krishna on the last landslide traverse of the day

Two sets of stepping stones and an old wooden bridge later we arrived at the Khambachen Guest House where we chose our chalets, settled in and then adjourned to the Dining Room for tea and biscuits, diary, chat with fellow trekkers, including The Andorrans we’d met at Taplejung and on the drive to Sekathum, and, in time, dinner. The first yak dung stove of the trek made the room nice and snug.

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Sunday, 05 November 2023: Khambachen Acclimatisation Day (Photos)

Trek Day 6

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Jannu shrine (4400m) – Khambachen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 14km | Ascent 300m | Descent 300m

Our hike to the Jannu shrine took us back to the suspension bridge and across the Ghunsa Khola – cold while we were in the shade but things warmed up once we were in the valley of the Nupchu Khola and following a clear, rock paved trail beneath the Kumbhakarna Glacier’s side moraine. Emerging out into a wide high valley, we found seabuckthorn bushes, icy streams and and the occasional blue gentian. The trail levelled off a little and in time the Jannu shrine (Parung fokku faktanglung) came into view.

Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond
Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond

The shrine is a massive free standing boulder, sat in the plain between Jannu and the Merra Massif, and is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. We all did a circuit before sharing the large thermos of lemon ginger tea and several packets of biscuits that Mingmi had carried up. We = me, Sonia and Steffi plus our KBC crew Mingmi, Tenzee, Mingma, Krishna, Lokpa and Pasang. Dali and his kitchen team and the other porters had stayed behind in Ghunsa.

Great views of 7711m Jannu / Kumbhakarna / Phoktanglungma (“mountain with shoulders”) and the snow covered peaks and ridges either side. Jannu was largely free from snow, and its gorgeous stone colours glowed in the sun.

Lots of photos!

Me, Steffi and Sonia, Charlie's Angels at the Jannu Shrine
Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond

We retraced our steps to return to Khambachen, collecting goba for the guesthouse stoves and paddling in an icy stream <- Sonia only there!

Back at the guest house we settled in at the tables and benches in the grassy space in front of the guest house and in time tucked into a late lunch of veg noodle soup followed by pancakes, enjoying the last of the day’s warmth and listening to three newly arrived French ladies chat. It grew cold as the clouds built up again and we adjourned to the dining room, which grew busy with the French group, the Andorrans and an English chap (Hello Peter if you’ve found this write up!).

Clear skies overnight = lots of stars. Two loo trips 🙂

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Monday, 06 November 2023: Kambachen – Lhonak (Photos)

Trek Day 7

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Lumbuchhemu (4222m) – Ladam (4291m) – Khando Waterfall (4381m) – Ramdang / Ramtang / राम्दङ (4596m) – Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m)

Distance 12km | Ascent 820m | Descent 150m

A fab day’s walking. Cold initially as the trail stayed in the shade as we followed the river north east, but once we emerged into the sunshine it was lovely and warm. We still needed light down jackets, hats and gloves on mind you. The trail was stone paved for a lot of the way – a recent improvement – and led steadily ever upwards.

An exciting section over landslide / rockfall zone brought to the spectacular Khando Waterfall. A tricky crossing stepping from one icy rock to the next, snow cover and icicles on the banks and buttresses. Seabuckthorn too. A lovely spot for a breather, once the crossing was completed. And plenty of photos.

A final flight of stone stairs brought us out onto a wide open plateau, home to Ramdang and its two tea houses. Lemon and ginger tea outside, taking in the spectacular views and the “Queen Mary” rock outcrop, then inside for veg thukpa and chat with an English guy who’d worked in Solukhumbu for 6 months in his younger years.

Another 90 mins across the plateau and up a narrow glacial moraine lined valley then the trail turned away from the Ghuna Khola and followed the Lhonak Khola instead. A wooden bridge brought the teahouses of Lhonak into view. Not many trekkers and teams in residence, in contrast to the tales we’d heard of groups sleeping in dining rooms and resorting to tents a week or so ago. The Andorrans were there though.

Panorama: Mingmi on the trail above the Lhonak Khola, Lhonak Glacier dry lake bed and Lhonak
Panorama: Mingmi on the trail above the Lhonak Khola, Lhonak Glacier dry lake bed and Lhonak

We settled into our lovely twin rooms in the Himalayan Guest House’s new block, each complete with foam insulation lined walls and hooks for hanging stuff up – always a good sign – and a loo at the end of the corridor.

Relaxing at one of the outside tables in the afternoon sun we decided it was time to crack open the Kathmandu Coffee… and between Tenzee and the wife of the couple who ran the guest house and her kitchen, we cooked up the coffee and I headed outside with the saucepan and a sieve… and some biscuits. What A Treat.

Coffee al fresco, Himalayan Guest House, Lhonak
Coffee al fresco, Himalayan Guest House, Lhonak

Once the sun went the temperatures plummeted, and we were very glad of the yak dung stove in the Dining Room, where we also found the Japanese Quartet – reunited!

Big day tomorrow, so after tea and popcorn we tucked into chips, spring rolls and momos.

Overnight: Himalayan Guest House

Tuesday, 07 November 2023: Lhonak – Kanchenjunga North Base Camp – Lhonak (Photos)

Trek Day 8

Route: Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m) – Syamjo (4851m) – Thanakpu (4966m) – Jorkyu (5035m) – Pang Pema / Pangpema / Kanchenjunga North Base Camp / KBC (5142m) – Jorkyu (5035m) – Thanakpu (4966m) – Syamjo (4851m) – Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m)

Distance 20km | Ascent 700m | Descent 700m

Up early for a very long day trekking to KBC and back. The toughest day of the whole trek for me – I didn’t eat / hadn’t eaten enough and it told in super low energy levels before we’d even got to Pangpema. A glacially cold wind and, after the sun hit the valley floor, strong sun were in our faces all the time too. The pricy garlic soup at the KBC tea house helped; a packed lunch would have been better. No energy for many photos or much exploring. I just about managed to put my prayer flags up, with some help from Mingma, Tenzee, Krishna, Lakpa and Pasang.

Sonia, Me, Steffi and Kangchenjunga (8586m), Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Pangpema
Sonia, Me, Steffi and Kangchenjunga (8586m), Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Pangpema

Cold wind and bright blue skies followed us for the return route too and by the time we’d got back to the yak kharka tea house where we did have a late dal bhat lunch I had a splitting headache and felt sick so didn’t eat much. Thankfully back at the Himalayan Guest House a good meal – spring rolls and chips followed by a slice of 80th birthday cake courtesy of the older Japanese lady (80!!!!) – and a good night’s sleep sorted me out.

At 20km it’s a long day anyway, and although the trail was generally good there was a very long and steep descent down a sandy landslip, and then a long and steep ascent back up again. And the same again on the return route. That cold wind and strong sun took their toll too.

Bed tea at 5am, left Lonak at 6am, arrived at KBC c. 11am, tea house lunch 1pm (?), Lhonak 4pm, dinner 7pm.

Overnight: Himalayan Guest House

Wednesday, 08 November 2023: Lhonak – Kambachen (Photos)

Trek Day 9

Route: Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m) – Ramdang / Ramtang / राम्दङ (4596m) – Khando Waterfall (4381m) – Lumbuchhemu (4222m) – Ladam (4291m)  – Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 12.5km | Ascent 150m | Descent 820m

A leisurely start, the departing Japanese group having provided a 6am wake up call, with time to pack and to hang out in the kitchen with the family who run the Himalayan Guest House as they made all our breakfasts.

The sun arrived just as we were leaving Lonak. Lovely walking and pretty much downhill all the way  back to Kambachen. Tea again at Ramdang, more photos at the Khando Waterfall, al fresco mint tea then lunch back at the Khambachen Guest House.

A free afternoon. Sonia, Mingmi and I walked up to the prayer flags and followed the sign for the Snow Leopard Research Centre, which looks more like a big hotel in the making than anything else. Smashing views of the village, and north east up the Ghunsa Khola towards Lonak and north west up the Nupchu Khola side valley. We walked the ridge trail to the next couple of chortens, high above the Nupchu Khola and Kambachen’s potato fields.

Back at the tea house we sorted out our stuff in our chalets and then adjourned to the Dining Room – stove already on – for lemon and ginger tea, chat, diary and dinner.

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Thursday, 09 November 2023: Kambachen – Ghunsa (Photos)

Trek Day 10

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Hajare / हजारे ओडार (3892m) – Labuk Teashop (3789m) – Chhermalung (3740m) – Tartang (3583m) – Sypchen (3541m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m)

Distance 14km | Ascent 170m | Descent 810m

Another day retracing our steps back down the Ghunsa Khola valley and back below the tree line – the autumn colours had grown richer in our absence as the birch and larch leaves and needles turned gold and orange whilst the rhododendron, yew and juniper remained dark green.

A stop for a ginger tea at Labuk Kharka with the lady and her niece, more landslides crossings than I’d remembered, and back in Ghunsa in less than 4 hours.

We returned to the Kanchanjunga Guest House for a late lunch of momos, pizza and chips to share, and to rejoin our full complement of crew.

A relaxing afternoon settling into our chalets, doing some washing, recharging camera batteries and sorting out kit bags for the next stage of the trek. While most folks are either going up / down to KBC northside or crossing to / from KBC southside, we’re about to leave the beaten track and start our Lumba Sumba adventure with a couple of nights camping en route to Olangchungola.

Stuff sorted, it was time to hit the Dzonga cafe again for final americanos / cappuccinos and chocolate crunch cake before returning to the KGH’s Dining Room for tea, diary, chatting with other guests and – in time – dinner.

After we’d eaten, Mingmi introduced us to an older man who’d worked for WWF monitoring and tagging snow leopards for 10 years, up at Kambachen.

Bed 8.30pm – A Late Night!

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House

Friday, 10 November 2023: Ghunsa – Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) (Photos)

Trek Day 11

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – Helicopter Crash Memorial / Nango La turn off (3342m) – Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) (4160m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 850m | Descent 50m

Today was the day we left the main trails and started on those that would lead up and over the Lumba Sumba. It was our first night under canvas too.

Up and packed for 7am breakfast, on the trail by 8am. Cold in the shade, but toasty once we were walking on the sunny side of the Ghunsa Khola. Beautiful golden larches, green and gold rhododendrons and hanging moss. Orange  butterflies and birdsong. Blue skies above.

We retraced our steps down the main trail to the helicopter crash memorial and shortly after turned into the trees at a sign for the Nango La. Then it was up up up a stream-carved side valley on an easy trail through the trees. Occasional stops for water and views – clear across the Ghunsa Khola valley Mingma pointed out the Mirgin La trail that connects KBC South to KBC North. As we climbed the trees grew smaller and larch gave way to juniper, and we emerged above the tree line and crossed a rock field at the lip of a hanging valley that was home to our first camp.

Two blue roofed buildings – one kitchen / crew accommodation and one toilet – a water hose bringing water from the Yangma Samba Khola (ie the stream we’d been following) to a tap and concrete “sink”, and a fenced terraced area for tents. The campsite has superb views over to Tso Kang South (6138m), Boktoh (6114m), Boktoh Central (6037m), Boktoh West (5798m) and the Lapsang Bhanjyang (5161m).

Cloud in the Ghunsa valley, and mountains beyond, our tents in front - the view from Chauri Kharka, Nango La Camp
Cloud in the Ghunsa valley, and mountains beyond, our tents in front – the view from Chauri Kharka, Nango La Camp

Hot juice and camping stools on arrival. Dali and team were already busy preparing lunch, having already done dal baht for the crew, and soon we were feasting on veg curry, chips, Tibetan bread and cheese as our tents went up, and the cloud came down. Post lunch tea, then washing water, then afternoon tea and biscuits.

While we’d been lunching, the porters had been out gathering firewood, and once the  campsite fell into shade a camp fire was lit and we all whiled away the rest of the afternoon keeping warm by the fire and watching the sun set on the snowy peaks across the main valley. Then the stars emerging, and a satellite whizzing overhead.

Dinner was another Dali marvel – soup then momos, greens, curried potato, and apple for afters. Then bed. Two loo trips under wonderful star-filled skies.

Just magic.

Overnight: Chauri Kharka Camp

Saturday, 11 November 2023: Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) – Nango La – Langjong Kharka camp (Photos)

Trek Day 12

Route: Chauri Kharka / Nango La Camp (4160m) – Nango La / Nā̃go Lā / NangoLa pass (4776m) – Thasa Khola Stone Hut (4480m) – Langjong Kharka camp (3734m)

Distance 13km | Ascent 615m | Descent 1040m

Bed tea 6am, breakfast 7am, off at 8am for our Nango La crossing day.

Easy trail, still following the course of the Yangma Samba Khola heading towards the bare rock peak the occupies the skyline at the head of the valley.

We walked steadily up as bushes gave way to grass and grass to surface scree. A few stops en route provided views back out over the Ghunsa valley but as the trail curved to the north we lost sight of yesterday’s spectacular peaks.

A (relatively) tough steep zig zag to the right of the rocky peak brought us onto the final flat section of trail that leads to the prayer flags at the Nango La where a cold wind blew. Fab views of Sato (6164m), Sharphu III (6220m) and Nangma Ri (6547m) to the north.

Sonia at the Nango La (4776m)
Sonia at the Nango La (4776m)

We had a bit of time to explore then added our prayer flags, took photos, and set off northwards down into the valley of the Thasa Khola. Rockier terrain underfoot, but the trail was clear all the way down to the Thasa Khola. We hopped across the rocks and stones to the roofless stone hut where our porters were resting, and Dali and the kitchen crew had prepared another delicious lunch. But first, mugs of hot orange juice.

We resumed walking around 1pm, turning west and following the Thasa Khola downhill into the valley where the clouds were gathering. After lunching in t-shirts we soon found ourselves trekking through sleet. Shrubs reappeared, followed by rhododendrons and juniper and then tall evergreen trees. A few stream crossings and some boulder clambering as the trail approached the yak kharka where we’d spend our second night camping.

Langjong Kharka was home to yak herders who were gathering their beasts ahead of moving them to new pastures, and another blue roofed wooden hut for camping groups. Our tents were pitched in the clearing … and being investigated by the more curious (or unobservant) yaks while others decided it was time to establish who was alpha-yak with a bit of fighting. Quite alarming to be inside the tents as the yaks meandered around, and to see their eyes shining in torchlight during overnight loo trips!

Colder under cloud, but the crew got another camp fire going and we had another lovely evening gazing into the flames and feasting on Dali’s dinner.

Overnight: Langjong Kharka Camp

Sunday, 12 November 2023: Langjong Kharka camp – Olangchungola (Photos)

Trek Day 13

Route: Langjong Kharka camp (3734m) – Yangma Khola (3430 m) – Chyane (2925m) – Yangma Khola / Tamor Nadi river junction at Ramite (2800m approx) – Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m)

Distance 18.6 km | Ascent 525m | Descent 900m

This turned out to be our Holy Mackerel day, and it took us from yaks, frosty grasses and rhododendrons through moss and tree ferned forests of rhododendron, larch and birch to bamboo and cicadas, and back up into forests again. But the Holy Mackerel was earned by the long stretches of fresh landslides, high, high above the Yangma Khola and a 10/11 hour day. The photos don’t really tell the tale.

Bed tea at 6am, breakfast in the dining tent and time to warm up by the revived campfire before leaving our Langjong Kharka camp at 7am. The frosty trail followed the Thasa Khola valley downstream through rhododendron groves that grew from shrubs into trees and merged into forest, gradually getting steeper until we emerged onto the eastern banks of the Yangma Khola.

Our first, short, section of freshly trodden trail over this year’s landslides brought us to a new wooden bridge crossing to the sun-warmed northern banks of the river, lined with river tumbled rocks, giant boulders … and more dramatic landslides traversed by long sections of sandy trail, trodden two footwidths wide into the steep landslip, as the river dropped through its gorge. Lots of scrambling, lots of slippy sections where streams washed through the trail and clambering over tree trunks swept down the collapsing riversides by this year’s monsoon, and occasional relief when the trail returned to the through forest high above the river.

Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m)
Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m)

Around 1pm we reached Chyane, a small flattish ‘kharka’ area, thin soil sitting over big rock slabs left behind as the river carved its way through a deep rock gorge. It was also  home to another new-ish looking hut where the crew were relaxing and Dali was waiting with dal bhat for our lunch. How the team carried their loads along today’s trail I’ll never know.

Tree trunk & branch steps, on the trail from the Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m) to Chyane (2925m)
Tree trunk & branch steps, on the trail from the Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m) to Chyane (2925m)

After lunch we continued to work our way carefully south west crossing yet more landslides, one of which involved clambering down tree trunks and stairs made of branches packed with mud and stones to the beaches lining the slower sections of the Yangma Khola. Eventually the landslides gave way to bamboo and wood and/or stone staircases, one of which boasted metal railings and a viewpoint across the Yangma Khola to one of the many powerful waterfalls plunging down through the forested eastern bank.

The vegetation grew increasingly lush as we continued our overall descent down the Yangma Khola valley heading towards its rendezvous with the Tamor Nadi, flowing down from the north west. In time we reached the bluff overlooking Ramite’s two blue roofs the confluence of the Yangma Khola and the Tamor Nadi,  and the trail up the Tamor Nadi from Sekathum, and on up to Olangchungola.

Soon we were on the bigger trail following the Tamor Nadi north west upstream, through three distinct valleys, each one higher than the last, waterfalls coming in on both sides and the river boiling blue over rocks.

At times the trail looked like a jeep track, at others we were crossing landslip again – but nothing like the earlier terrain. A straight forward schelp back up approx 600m brought us to the Walung village of Olangchung Gola around 5pm, and the end of the day’s trekking.

A very Tibetan-looking village, wood and stone houses stretching along stone paved “street”, prayer flags flying and mani walls brightly painted. We were arriving on the last day of the Futuk festival at the 450 year old Diki Chholing Gumba, and the village was looking its best.

Hardly a soul to be seen mind you! We assumed it was because everyone was either at the Gompa / Monastery or resting, but it turned out that there was a third reason – emigration. Also during COVID the Chinese had closed the border into Tibet and that had cut off the village’s traditional trading route north. Mingmi got talking to the village leader who was going to walk up to the border post to petition the Chinese representatives there to reopen it as getting supplies up from Nepal-side was complicated by the fact that almost all the trails and bridges have to be remade after each monsoon and after the winter snow melt too.

Mingma led us to the only one tea house in the village where our crew were washing and settling in. We did likewise in our first floor rooms – wooden walls lined with fabric, reminiscent of Gokyo! The stairs up/down from the cobbled courtyard, the loos and the main house were virtually a steep step ladder, and hard work after the day’s trek.

Into the older wooden building, the main house, and up the wide wooden staircase to the dining room where we found the stove going, thermoses of tea – and lots of other guests, including the Belgians!! A lovely evening hearing all about their trek in from Ghunsa (they’d come via Sekathum) and their experiences at the Futak festival. A speedy dinner and in bed around 8pm, content in the knowledge that we’d be staying two nights.

Overnight: Guest House (No name, but it was the only one open in the village)

Monday, 13 November 2023: Olangchungola (Photos)

Trek Day 14

Rest Day: Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m)

Distance 5.5km

Almost all the other foreign tourists set off back down the valley in the morning leaving lovely Olangchungola to residents, local pilgrims and us.

A much appreciated rest day featuring several visits to Deki Chholing Gumba / Diki Chholing Gompa / Ngagyur Dikyi Choeling Monastery, strolls around the village, wifi blagging, army commander chatting and hand made carpet buying. Even a bit of washing.

Sunny and warm. A relaxing, easy day. Just what we needed.

Olangchungola (3208m)
Olangchungola (3208m)

Overnight: Guest House

Tuesday, 14 November 2023: Olangchungola – Sanjung Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 15

Route: Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m) – Tamor Nadi Bridge / Dingsamba Khola valley turn off (~3710m) – Sanjung camp (4012m)

Distance | 11km Ascent 800m | Descent ~0m

Leisurely start with time for photos at the Guest House before we set off on the trail again.

A steady climb on a jeep-y track that stays close by the glacial blue waters of the Tamor Nadi. Signs of logging and planking at suitable riverside spots for the first hour or so, and abandoned road making machines.

Once we’d crossed the wood and stone built bridge and turned west to climb a stone staircase into the Dingsamba Khola side valley we were on stone paved trail following the river all the way to Sanjung camp.

We arrived in time for lunch, and a leisurely afternoon.

Sanjung camp
Sanjung camp

Both valleys are wooded, although the Sanjung camp is at the point where trees have given way to bushes – lots of juniper and rhododendron.

A lovely spot to camp – with better behaved yaks this time! Another new-looking hut for the kitchen and crew, another campfire, another evening of sunsets, stars and satellites.

Overnight: Sanjung Camp

Wednesday, 15 November 2023: Sanjung Camp – Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 16

Route: Sanjung camp (4012m) – Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (4646m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 500m | Descent ~0m

Fabulous day on wonderful section of the trail, blue skies above, following the Dingsamba Khola upstream to its source and our last camp before crossing the Lumba Sumba.

We returned to stone paved trail for the initial section out of Sanjung camp, ascending steadily up the valley, rhododendrons giving way to juniper until we were above the shrub line. Ice covered the slower sections of the stream, and we reached our first Lumba Sumba signpost, and, later, a narrow wooden bridge adorned with prayer flags that marked our arrival at the wide, flat hanging valley. Beautiful vastness. Silence only broken by the sounds of the stream and the cracking of the melting ice.

Teenage selfie at the second Lumba Sumba sign
Teenage selfie at the second Lumba Sumba sign

A breather and a  Snickers at the far end of the valley, by the boulders and prayer flags that mark the start of the steep climb up, up, up the gully to a higher, smaller valley carved out by now gone glaciers – and our camp, complete with a concrete camp hut!

A leisurely lunch and time to enjoy a sunny afternoon – a bit of a wash, aired the sleeping bags, explored up the stream in the final section of the valley – but no glacial lake.

In the time between tea and biscuits and dinner, blue sheep crossed the scree above the camp, and the three of us pondered what best to wear tomorrow. Early dinner, early to bed – we’ll be early up for our Lumba Sumba Pass day.

Overnight: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp

Thursday, 16 November 2023: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp – Lumba Sumba Pass – Yak Kharka Camp / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 17

Route: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (4646m) – Lumba Sumba Pass / Lumbasumba La / Lumbha Sumbha / Lumbā Sumbā / Lungbasamba Pass (5139m) – Yak Kharka / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (4480m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 500m | Descent 660m

Pass day. Actually passes day as the Lumba Sumba comprises 3 distinct passes.

An absolutely superb day. Amazing views back towards the Kanchenjunga Massif at the first pass, a framed Kanchenjunga view from the second and out over towards Makalu and Everest from the third pass. Easy undulating rocky terrain in between.

Early start – bed tea at 5.30am as dawn light started outlining the surrounding mountains, and we watched sunshine chase the shadow line away as we breakfasted and readied our daypacks before setting off around 7am.

The first section was on a steep trail up a spur coming down from the high lands above to the west of the camp. Snowy in the shade but an easy trudge, and no snow to speak of once we were on the plateau. Slow and steady uphill cross country following Mingma and the cairns, peeling off the layers and stopping to admire the views which just got better and better, until we arrived at the first pass where we put up prayer flags and took a bazillion photos.

Steffi arriving at Lumba Sumba Pass No 1
Steffi arriving at Lumba Sumba Pass No 1

Then down into the shattered stone bowl between the passes, a short stop at pass No 2 to put up prayer flags then on to the main Lumba Sumba Pass and the gobsmacking views over to Makalu. The wind had picked up making it cold but not too cold for our third set of prayer flags and another bazillion photos.

First sight of Makalu (8485m) - and Mount Everest (8848 m), and many many more, from Lumba Sumba Pass No 3 (5139m)
First sight of Makalu (8485m) – and Mount Everest (8848 m), and many many more, from Lumba Sumba Pass No 3 (5139m)

A steady down over snowfields, deep in places, icy in others, brought us onto rocky plateau where we ate our picnic lunch and drank in the Makalu views.

The afternoon descent to camp took a while, with some steep scree sections and quite a few landslide traverses, all the time dropping deeper into the valley carved out by the Lapsi Khola, which I think starts in the frozen blue pokhari we’d sat above at lunchtime.

Lovely camp site, tents on flat grass next to a wide stone bottomed stream. Deep in shadow by 4pm tea time. Early dinner. Cold night.

Overnight: Yak Kharka Camp (4480m)

Friday, 17 November 2023: Yak Kharka Camp / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp – Thudam (Photos)

Trek Day 18

Route: Yak Kharka / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (4480m) – Ladang Kharka (4193m) – Lase (Lapsi Khola / Medek Chheju Khola Confluence) – Samnay / Somne (3973m) – Thudam (3556m)

Distance 12.5km | Ascent ~0m | Descent 1,000m

Cold start, camp caught in the shade of the narrow Lapsi Khola valley, but with Makalu gleaming bright white against the blue skies.

An easy half day with a lot of down to Thudam, following the Lapsi Khola to its confluence with the larger Medek Chheju Khola, and the turn off for Tibet, and on to Thudam – our first village since Olangchung Gola.

Initially a gradual descent and an early section of the trail took us hopscotching over boulders and cat ice to cross the braided shallow streams of the Lapsi Khola, and into the sun. The path then dropped more steeply, lots of cascades as the stream hurtled down over boulders and rocks, the valley levelling out occasionally for kharkas, then narrowing again.

The descent brought us back into greenery – rhododendrons, juniper, the red spikey stuff, “yew” (?) hung with tinsel moss, trees that had produced lots of leaves underfoot.

Goner met us with the hot juice kettle again, a short way up trail from Thudam – a small Tibetan village, with wooden houses, chortens, mani walls and prayer flags. And yaks. We could see our camp on the other side of the Medek Chheju Khola, just below the Syangjing Khola junction, and in the sunshine – for now! Also away from any risk of yak jamboree.

Thudam (3556m) - village, river and camp panorama
Thudam (3556m) – village, river and camp panorama

Time to hang out sleeping bags out to air (and dry – lots of condensation from nighttime breathing) before lunch then a relaxing afternoon exploring the village and lounging around by the river before the valley fell into shade and it was time for tea and biscuits in the Dining Tent.

Another campfire, stars, early dinner, early bed.

Overnight: Thudam Camp

Saturday, 18 November 2023: Thudam – Yak Kharka Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 19

Route: Thudam (3556m) – Phamjo (3556m) – Chhibu Kissa – Chijung Danda (3360m) – Yak Kharka camp (2750m)

Distance 18.5km | Ascent ?670m | Descent ?1,000m

This was the day that Val’s itinerary had described as ‘a long day’ – and it was. It took me and Sonia over 9 hours, and Steffi a few more.

An epic hill hugging day. Initially quite easy, continuing on down through the mossy woods following the Medek Chheju Khola. The hard part started with some “straight up” through the trees from Phamjo to Chhibu Kissa, leaving the river far down below and cutting its way ever deeper into a very narrow, wiggly gorge.

We spent the rest of the day on a trail traversing the flanks of the Himaloso Danda. The route was easy to follow but a lot of up, a lot of down, a lot of round – and a lot of very exposed sections dropping straight down into the river gorge, and wood, stone and earth walkways cantilevered around bare rock faces. Some rock-cut steps, some stone paved trail, mostly just a bare track – and always narrow.

Hot walking through trees and bamboo. Swifts soaring above.

A super view of Makalu and friends from Chijung Danda Pass (3360m), and on the far side of the Arun Nadi the village of Chyamtang spread out over sunny slopes.

As the afternoon wore on, streams started feeding in from the north, and the monsoon rains had brought down a lot of big trees too, which required clambering over where they’d fallen across the trail often embedded in a landslide. There was a lot of clambering for one reason or another.

The blue roofed building signalling the first yak kharka is a red herring…. there was still a good couple of hours to go after that, and we were shattered by the time we got to ‘our’ yak kharka camp.

A tiny place, our two tents taking up all the flat terrace next to the ankle-breaking stone cobbled courtyard in front of the wood and bamboo house. We had tea and biscuits, and later on dinner, in the new “extension”, as yet unroofed, which served as our Dining Room and doubled up at a cabbage and potato store.

Not the most prepossessing camp site, but a lovely family who spend their summer there tending to their yaks.

Overnight: Yak Kharka Camp

Sunday, 19 November 2023: Yak Kharka Camp – Chyamtang (Photos)

Trek Day 20

Route: Yak Kharka camp (2750m) – Arun Nadi Suspension Bridge (1750m) – Chyamtang / Chyāmtāṅ (2250m)

Distance 12km | Ascent 500m | Descent 1,000m

Although I think we would all have relished a day off after yesterday’s epic, and even though the family at the Yak Kharka camp were lovely, it wasn’t somewhere any of us wanted to spend a whole day. So, after a leisurely start, photos of the family, cute goat kids, a team photo and an LED Solar Light donation, we set off up through the forest on the trail again, destination Chyamtang village. But would there be wifi? or showers?

It turned out they had the latter, but not the former. But getting there entailed descending all the way down to the Arun Nadi – approx 1000m descent, with giant nettles, butterflies, swifts – crossing over the Arun River on a suspension bridge that had a few gaping holes in the side wire chicken netting …. and then climbing 500m back up again on stone steps that brought us to the fields below the village and thence on a stone trail into the village. Hot work.

Lots of construction going on. Small girls carrying large rocks on their backs in their bamboo baskets. There’s a big road at the top of the village, for the Arun River hydro project and/or for access to/from Tibet / China. We didn’t see any traffic on it at all, which was a relief as I had visions of spending the remaining 5 days trekking on a busy jeep / bike track.

Himali Hotel & Lodge wasn’t quite the “nice tea house” we’d been hoping for. Very basic, but there was a hot shower, and a phone signal (and Mingmi’s hot spot), and a shop selling a vast array of goods including wellingtons …. and packets of dal mut (“bombay mix”), which went down very well with a shared bottle of 8% Ghorka beer or two that evening.

Dali took over the kitchen and he and Mingma made us chips for lunch.  Everyone did some washing (clothes and selves) and a leisurely afternoon leading to teatime in the Dining Room / Bar (we rejected the “Ladies Saloon” we’d been sat in on arrival), then those beers and nibbles before dal bhat dinner. On the best brass plates. Indian cricket extravaganza on the big telly.

Overnight: Himali Hotel & Lodge

Monday, 20 November 2023: Chyamtang – Hongon (Photos)

Trek Day 21

Route: Chyamtang / Chyāmtāṅ (2187m / 2250m) – Linggam / Lingam (2249m) – Chepuwa / Chepuwā (2040m) – Gimbar (2200m) – Hangdak Khola Suspension Bridge – Hongon / Honggon / Hongong / Hungung / होङ्गोन (2133m / 2445m)

Distance 17km | Ascent ?880m | Descent ?690m

Another day with a lot of down and then a lot of up! Those darn rivers….. And a long day, even with a pack of tasty treats from Mingmi.

The first section was on the new road, but thankfully Mingma soon turned off it and we were on village trails to Linggam where our permits needed checking and then onto Chepuwa, via an unexpected landslide section. They keep on coming!

Lovely walking around Chepuwa, and its fields, on a stone paved trail up to a series of Chortens and a Mani Wall. Beautiful. Then onwards, hugging the hillsides again high above the Arun Nadi valley, gradually contouring round towards Hongon. Lots of stone staircases, golden fields of millet and rice, a few stops – one with a group of ladies walking the Chyamtang for a wedding, one with a bunch of soldiers carrying their rifles. And another hard, hot slog up from the Hangdak Khola Suspension Bridge to the village…. and all the way up to the Very Top of the village, and the road.

Mingma on the trail from Chepuwa to Gimbar
Mingma on the trail from Chepuwa to Gimbar

Still, the Yangla Hotel and Lodge was lovely. Good views, lovely clean duvets, plenty of plug sockets, lots of ginger tea. And bottomless tomba for the crew. The only downside was the steep sandy path down to the hotel rooms, and the steep stairs down and up to the loos. Lots of lactic acid build up in the legs these past few days!

Overnight: Yangla Hotel & Lodge

Tuesday, 21 November 2023: Hongon – Hatiya (Photos)

Trek Day 22

Route: Hongon / Honggon / Hongong / Hungung / होङ्गोन (2133m / 2445m) – Hatiya / Hattiya / हटिया  (1585m)

Distance 12km | Ascent ?m | Descent 500m

After breakfast we left the road and the yellow digger parked outside the Yangla Hotel & Lodge and headed back down into Hongon village, veering south west on the trail that would take us to Hatiya.

A genuine half day trek today, mostly on stone / rock trails and no significant uphill sections, mostly traversing with a gradual descent. Lots of fields of rice, millet, potatoes and – increasingly – cardamom, and more mani walls and chortens.

Hongon
Hongon

A short section back on sandy road brought us to the fields below Hatiya and thence onto the stone paved lanes that thread through the village. Lots of Namastes and Tashi Deleks; lots of ducks, chickens, goats; lots of kids! A primary school, a bank and a small army outpost.

We lunched in the dining room of the Community Party of Nepal, Hatiya HQ, sorted out our rooms then explored around the village. Clouds arrived, so after tea we have a few hands of Rummy, Lakpa joining us for that. Language proves no barrier when it comes to cards!

Overnight: Community Party of Nepal, Hatiya HQ, Homestay

Wednesday, 22 November 2023: Hatiya – Gola (Photos)

Trek Day 23

Route: Hatiya / Hattiya / हटिया  (1585m) – Barun Dovan / Barun Bazaar (1100m) – Gola / Golā (1128m)

Distance 15.5km | Ascent ?m | Descent 500m

Another day of gradual down. On trails to Barun Dovan where we had lunch, then on the road all the way to Gola.

The trail section featured increasingly lush vegetation, giant grasshoppers, lots of cardamom. A tricky down and up to get through a deep landslide that had collapsed into the Arun River, and quite a lot of wood and stone cantilevered sections.

Cardamom lined trail from Hatiya to Gola
Cardamom lined trail from Hatiya to Gola

We rejoined the road not far from Barun Bazaar, and had photos with two enterprising young men from the lowlands who were selling eggs – a large van’s worth. My attempt to exchange a photo for a lift came to nought.

At Barun Dovan / Barun Bazaar the blue Barun Nadi flows into the murky Arun Nadi (Mingma told us that locally the main river is known as the Kosi Khola until further down) and the old suspension bridge has been superseded by an earthen causeway that allows vehicles to drive across, large concrete pipes let the Barun flow through. We’re on a lot of road from now on.

Sonia and I had a “foot spa” – cold – before lunch.

The road to Gola made for fast going but not particularly interesting or pleasant. Lots of construction sites, heavy machinery, construction workers, motorbikes and jeeps. We’re suddenly back in the modern world.

In Gola, after we’d settled into our carpeted (!) rooms and had had a wash, we headed out to explore the shops, the jeep stop and the bus station and encountered turkeys downtown and Mingmi and Tenzee in a local place at the top of town where they’d tracked down pani puri, which they shared two platefuls with us washed down with 3 large cans of Tuborg on our part. Cool under cloud and in the deep valley shade.

Dinner in the telly room, guessing the plot of Pogaru.

Overnight: Community Homestay No. 4

Thursday, 23 November 2023: Gola – Hedangna Ghadi (Photos)

Trek Day 24

Route: Gola / Golā (1128m) – Ekuwa (1330m) – Simma – Hedangna Ghadi / Gadi Bazaar Hedangna / Gadhidanda / गढिबजार (1180m)

Distance 17km | Ascent 200m | Descent 150m

A day on the road. Thankfully hardly any traffic once the bus from Gola had passed us by playing its cheery “I’m off!” horn tune. Cool while the shade lasted but hot thereafter.

Leaving Gola
Leaving Gola

Bananas at Ekuwa, a short, steep section up through millet fields provided a shady shortcut to a deurali village, where the roadside tea house was shut. Thankfully another was open a little further along the road, just before Simma. Tea and biscuits admiring the long waterfalls on the other side of the river valley, then we pressed on to Hedangna Ghadi.

The Sherpa Guest House was delightful. A lovely traditional house, on one of the “roads” through the large village / town, perched above their gardens (and their pair of pigs) and with a breezy veranda attached to our basic dorm room with lovely views. Late lunch in the old house then we headed out to explore town, returning to enjoy cold beers – from their fridge! – and nibbles on the veranda before dinner.

Overnight: “Sherpa” Guest House

Friday, 24 November 2023: Hedangna Ghadi – Num (Photos)

Trek Day 25

Route: Hedangna Ghadi / Gadi Bazaar Hedangna / Gadhidanda / गढिबजार (1180m) –  Arun III Dam / Arun Bridge (870m) – Num / नुम (1567m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 700m | Descent 300m

Last (half) day trekking.

One lovely short section of old trail through fields and past farmhouses but road almost all the way down to the river, the bridge and the Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project’s vast construction site.

Arun III Bridge / Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project
Arun III Bridge / Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project

Tarmac on the road on the far side…. but thankfully Mingma knew the old stone staircase up to Num had survived, too steep for the road to obliterate.

And, yes, it was steep, and a lot of up but fortunately through forest so we were mainly in the shade.

Num is the road head, a big place and the start / finish for Makalu treks too. The Sherpa Guest House was fully booked, but we had a lovely triple room, plenty of hooks and power sockets, and sparkling clean duvets.

Over ginger tea Sonia and I got chatting with a small group of french friends who’d just finished Lumba Sumba and the high route to Makalu Base Camp.

Late lunch sat out the front, which turned out to be the football pitch once primary school ended for the day.

Hot shower / bucket wash, mooch around town, bought oranges and snacks, sorted out tips (always tricky!), relaxed with Gorkha beers and nibbles.

Dinner, “Congratulations” cake (Dali’s last mealtime miracle), thank yous, tips and beers all round. Then bed.

Overnight: Sherpa Guest House

Saturday, 25 November 2023: Num – Tumlingtar (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Num / नुम (1567m) – Khandbari / खाँदबारी – Tumlingtar / तुम्लिङटार  (285m)

A long morning in the jeeps, with a breakdown en route. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a lot of hammering.

The road was rough to Khandbari where the tarmac starts and where we said farewell to the crew who just made it onto the bus back to KTM.

Tumlinglar is where the airport is. There is little else to recommend it and the Hotel Makalu is a hole. Not recommended. Nowhere else any better though. I’d look to stay in Khandbari another time.

Overnight: Hotel Makalu

Sunday, 26 November 2023: Tumlingtar – Kathmandu (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Fly Tumlingtar / तुम्लिङटार  (285m) to Kathmandu / काठमाडौं

Definitely not “au revoir” to the Makalu Hotel in Tumlingtar, we took the morning flight to KTM, called in at the Marshyangdi to swop kit bags for clean clothes and continued on to the Chharari Retreat, high in the hills above Kathmandu, which provided lovely rooms, long hot showers, fresh food (from a menu!) and plenty of peace and quiet….

Our lovely room at the Chharari Retreat
Our lovely room at the Chharari Retreat

Overnight: Chharari Retreat

Monday, 27 November 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

Relaxing at the Chharari Retreat. Fresh fruit. Massage. Wifi.

Overnight: Chharari Retreat

Tuesday, 28 November 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

Leisurely morning at the Chharari Retreat, then Mingmi and Tenzee arrived in their jeep and transferred us back to the Hotel Marshyangdi. We treated them to the Famous Falafel Wraps as a late lunch. Settled into our rooms, did a bit of shopping, met Annick for early dinner at the New Orleans Cafe.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Wednesday, 29 November 2023: Kathmandu (No photos)

Indulged in the vast array of tasty treats that is the Marshyangdi Breakfast Buffet. Prelim packing, then SHOPPING! Bought fresh fruit gift to take with us to dinner with M&T&family – but the gods decided that that was not to be.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Thursday, 30 November 2023: Kathmandu – Doha – London (No photos)

Early start – Qatar had brought forward the departure time for out KTM-DOH flight and annoyingly that meant we were too early for a second stab at the breakfast buffet…. and made do with a breakfast box. It also meant we have a lot more time to kill in Doha – SO EXPENSIVE, and I was tired.

Flights fine. Farewell to Sonia at LHR luggage carousel, and Steffi and I caught the Elizabeth Line to Paddington, emerging into a FREEZING night in London. Checked in at the Gresham – chosen for proximity to Paddington train station – then nipped back to the station to purchase M&S snacks for late dinner back in our room.

Overnight: Gresham Hotel, Paddington

Friday, 01 December 2023: London – Hereford – Abbey Dore (Photos)

Homeward bound through the frosty fields to Herefordshire.

Overnight: Home

Notes

Place name spelling = map / signposts

Altitude = signposts / map / The Mountain Company itinerary / Camera GPS

Distance = Sonia’s stats / The Mountain Company itinerary

Ascent / Descent = The Mountain Company itinerary / Calc from map

Mountain etc identifiation = Mingma, Mingmi and Tenzee / Mingmi’s PeakFinder app / the following pages on Günter Seyfferth’s wonderful Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya) website:


Some thoughts

Although this was the longest trek I’ve done in terms of days on trek (25), I found the Dhorpatan and Dolpo (2017) and Mera Peak & Amphu Lapsta (2019) trips harder / more challenging. I suspect that on the fact that on this trip we only had 7 nights camping, split into one 5 night chunk and one 2 night chunk, played a part there, and the generally lower altitude, and excellent weather, too.

That said, there were some hard days and tricky sections.

Even though I was well acclimatised, trekking to Pangpema and back to Lonak was a very long day, and I was knackered before we even got to KBC. But that was down to not having eaten enough. The icy cold wind and strong sunlight didn’t help either.

The two passes – Nango La and Lumba Sumba – were both very straight forward. But then we didn’t have any snow to contend with.

The landslide crossings were the trickiest I’ve ever done, particularly the long stretches high above the Yangma Khola en route to Olangchungola. That was a tiring day, concentrating hard.

As well as Sonia’s stats for distance, steps and flights (Apple iPhone Health App – fine until we got to 4000m, then the data went all doolally), Mingmi monitored our heart rate and O2 saturation levels using a PulseOx meter. And, as I do love a graph, here’s the graph of my PulseOx data and the corresponding altitude:

Nepal 2023: Kanchenjunga & Lumba Sumba - Graph showing my Pulse-Oxygen Readings (nights spent at over 3000m)
Nepal 2023: Kanchenjunga & Lumba Sumba – Graph showing my Pulse-Oxygen Readings (nights spent at over 3000m)

Logistics as at November 2023

The road reached to Sekathum at the start and Num at the finish (although we saw jeeps and jeep tracks as far north as Hatiya).

On the KBC section we had electricity / sockets in our rooms, and from Chyamtang onwards at the end.

Wifi was scarcer due to limited data signal coverage – nothing between Sekathum (mobile signal & wifi) and Chyamtang (mobile signal + hotspot).

Herefordshire Week 206: Tuesday 05 – Monday 11 December 2023

Wet week and a couple of lovely Christmas meals.


Booked next year’s Crickhowell Walking Festival walks, which included figuring out routes, guests and dates for next March. It’ll be here soon enough.

Gym routine resumed, we had the aerobics ladies Christmas lunch at The Kilpeck Inn (smashing all round) on Wednesday and later in the week C and I sorted out our schedule for my first go at PT starting in Jan.

As the Christmas cards start to arrive, I wrote the bulk of this year’s listening to Marina Hyde and Richard Osman dissect Nigel Farage on I’m a Celebrity…. and the David Beckham, Robbie Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan documentaries on The Rest is Entertainment (big tick!).

On Saturday we drove to Hay for their Christmas Market only to find it had been cancelled due to high winds. I’d spotted that Vowchurch and Turnastone were having their Christmas Market the same day, so we’d stopped off there en route. Other end of the spectrum when it comes to scale but a really nice atmosphere. We returned with cakes from Hay Deli and A Book.

Very wet walk with the GVWC on Sunday: Llanthony Low Level Loop, which was a new route for me. A lot of rain for the first hour or so and water streaming off the hills all the way round, not always in Official Waterways, with a lovely warm mulled wine at the end courtesy of Llanthony Priory’s Cellar Bar.

GVWC: Llanthony Low Level Loop
GVWC: Llanthony Low Level Loop

Distance: 8.62 miles
Elevation gain: 1,191 ft
Walking time: 3½ hours
Elapsed Time 4hrs 10 mins

Then on to Abergavenny for the Loosemore Family Christmas dinner (and B&B) at The Angel Hotel, featuring mulled wine and mince pies, a lovely dinner, a vast bed and a leisurely breakfast on Monday morning. Thank you, dad!

Monday was a beautiful day and I spent a couple of hours in the Orchard tending to the compost heap and the ex-tomato plants in the greenhouse. Leeks looking good.


Low chinooks and loud explosions at the army camp this week.

Upgraded iOS on my phone. Generally OK but the tapping at the start or end of any text highlights it and suggests typos and alternate words, when all I want to do is edit at that location. Grrrrr.


TV: Andor (season 1), Beckham (last episode), Doctor Who (Russell T. Davies, David Tennant & Catherine Tate return in the 60th anniversary specials, but waaaay too twee for me), Grand Designs (another unfinished project), Fleishman is in Trouble (first two episodes, not sure…. but then that’s what I said about Andor and I ended up really enjoying that)

Podcasts: History Extra, Case 63 (season 1), The Rest is Entertainment

Audiobook: Mrs England


Photos: Herefordshire week 206 on Flickr.

Phil: w/e 2023-12-10.

Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso & Manu: Photos & Notes

This year, Alfonso and Manu organised two treks in the Pyrenees for Team Mucho Gusto: Carros de Foc and La Ruta de las Golondrinas.

The Carros de Foc is in the beautiful Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, and it’s a gorgeous part of the Pyrenees with lots of alpine lakes and forests, and granite underfoot. We did a 6 day route (5 days, plus an hour or so getting to our starting refugio in the Park on the first day): Refugio Ernest Mallafrè / Estany de Sant Maurici – Refugio J.M. Blanc – Refugio Colomina – Refugio Estany Llong – Refugio Amitges – Estany de Sant Maurici.

Alfonso's Outline for Carros de Foc
Alfonso’s Outline for Carros de Foc

La Ruta de las Golondrinas is further west and in a more developed area (roads, ski resorts) but beautiful deciduous forests and plenty of peaks plus limestone underfoot. Here we did the 4 day Golondrina Clásica: Refugio de Belagua – Refugio de Linza – Refuge de l’Abérouat – Refuge Jeandel – Refugio de Belagua.

Alfonso's Outline for Ruta de las Golondrinas
Alfonso’s Outline for Ruta de las Golondrinas

We were on the Spanish side of the Pirineos for most of the time, but las Golondrinas took us into France – and thus the Pyrénées – for a couple of days and nights. The trekking was straightforward (we didn’t tackle the trickier sections of the Carros de Foc) although las Golondrinas included one very long day (day 2) and one short section of cable to help us down from Pas de l’Osque on day 3.

Both routes made use of the refugios / refuges for sleeping and food with dinner, bed, breakfast and packed lunch coming in at around €75 pppn. The Spanish refugios were all excellent, the French refuges so-so. On the Carros de Foc we slept in dorms whereas las Golondrinas provided rooms for 8 or 4.

For the Carros de Foc you book direct, for las Golondrinas, which is a relatively new route, you can book a package and you’re provided with a map (and a branded T-shirt, thermos and swag bag!) at the start of the trek.

Maps: Editorial Alpina publishes the Carros de Foc hiking map and guidebook (ISBN: 9788480908641) and they also print the 1:25,000 Ruta de las Golondrinas map that’s provided as part of the package.

Photos are in my Flickr Album: Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso & Manu, August / September 2023

And here are Alfonso ….

Alfonso on the precipice rock looking out over Vallée d'Aspe, Les Tourelles (2041m)
Alfonso on the precipice rock looking out over Vallée d’Aspe, Les Tourelles (2041m)

… and Manu:

Manu on an avalanche barrier above La Pierre Saint-Martin
Manu on an avalanche barrier above La Pierre Saint-Martin

and one of the many, many teenage selfies taken on the trip:

Teenage Selfie! Pic d'Arlas (2044m)
Teenage Selfie! Pic d’Arlas (2044m)

We had a brilliant time. Here’s what we did.

Tuesday, 29 August 2023: Hereford – London (Photos)

Overnight: Hazel’s

Wednesday, 30 August 2023: Fly London Stansted to Lourdes (Photos)

Overnight: Luxury Loft Lourdes

Thursday, 31 August 2023: Drive Lourdes to Parking de Prat Pierró. Walk to Refugio Ernest Mallafrè (1885m) (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 1: 3.7km +241m -16m

Meet Alfonso, Manu & Esther.

Drive Lourdes – Vielha – Esterri d’Àneu – Espot – Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park / Parking de Prat Pierró.

Dam, Estany de Sant Maurici
Dam, Estany de Sant Maurici

Walk to Refugio Ernest Mallafrè via Els Encantats and Estany de Sant Maurici.

Overnight: Refugio Ernest Mallafrè.

Friday, 01 September 2023: Refugio Ernest Mallafrè (1885m) – Coll de Monestero (2715m) – Refugio J.M. Blanc (2310m) (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 2: 8.6km +850m -450m

Evergreen forests, alpine meadows with clear mountain streams, mirror pools and lake (Estany de Monestero), our first “elevenses” with a view back down into the valley of the Riu de Monestero, scree section up to the Coll de Monestero and magic views from the pass ….

Me and Rach at Coll de Monestero (2715m)
Me and Rach at Coll de Monestero (2715m)

… descending towards the lakes and a photo opp on the granite block perched over a no-name lake, Estany Negre de Peguera and its beautiful stepped dam …

Beautiful stepped dam, Estany Negre de Peguera
Beautiful stepped dam, Estany Negre de Peguera

… strolling through old pine forests, and getting our first sight of Refugio J.M. Blanc in its stunning setting on the Estany Tort de Peguera peninsula…..

Love at first sight: Refugio J.M. Blanc
Love at first sight: Refugio J.M. Blanc

… beers on arrival at the Refugio and, later, after dinner, relaxing on the sun deck at sundown and watching the lightening on the other side of the mountains.

Overnight: Refugio J.M. Blanc.

Saturday, 02 September 2023: Refugio J.M Blanc (2310m) – Coll de Saburó (2718m) – Pas de l’Ós (2542m) – Refugio Colomina (2395m) (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 3: 6.8km +400m -300m

The day of the Five Lakes…. Estany Tort de Peguera, Estany Negre de Peguera, Estany del Cap de Port, Estany de Mar and Estany de Colomina.

Map of today's route from Refugio J.M. Blanc to Refugio Colomina
Map of today’s route from Refugio J.M. Blanc to Refugio Colomina
At the Pas de l'Ós (2542m)
At the Pas de l’Ós (2542m)

A cool day, with rain clouds only just keeping above head height all the time we were out. And shortly after we arrived at lovely Refugio Colomina (my favourite), the clouds descended, the heavens opened and the wind picked up. Not nice walking for the family that arrived in dribs and drabs over the next hour or so. The Refugio team rallied round and provided hot drinks, towels, warm clothes, and asked us not to use the free, solar-heated, showers so that they could to warm up.

A lovely afternoon featuring Tea and Twix, Pochohontas and Ornitorrinco, and Tina’s Map – the one the professionals use.

Time for Tea and a Twix, Refugio Colomina
Time for Tea and a Twix, Refugio Colomina
The Professionals Checking Tina's Map, Refugio Colomina
The Professionals Checking Tina’s Map, Refugio Colomina

It was also day where I discovered I’d not brought any spare charged camera batteries with me, and my one and only battery ran out at Refugio J.M. Blanc. Thank heavens for Manu’s Many Cables – and the Colomina’s bank of plug sockets. My batteries were back up to 100% in less than an hour.

Overnight: Refugio Colomina.

Sunday, 03 September 2023: Refugio Colomina (2395m) – Colladeta de Dellui (2557m) – Refugio Estany Llong (1985m) (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 4: 12.6km +400m -820m

A cloudy start developed into a very wet morning, but thankfully the rain (and wind) held off almost all the way to the Colladeta de Dellui.

Me (plus Estany de Mariolo, Estany de Cubieso and Estany Eixerola) on the trail up to Colladeta de Dellui
Me (plus Estany de Mariolo, Estany de Cubieso and Estany Eixerola) on the trail up to Colladeta de Dellui

The morning featured a section along a disused mine railway line that brought a trip (me) and two falls (me & Esther), and a lot more lakes: Estany de Colomina, Estany Tort, Estany de Mariolo, Estany de Cubieso and Estany Eixerola, and on the other side of the Colladeta de Dellui, Estany de Dellui and the beautifully named Estanyets de Dellui.

Descending towards the Estanyets de Dellui
Descending towards the Estanyets de Dellui

Grassland gave way to a rocky traverse with views down into the valley accompanied by Rachel’s emergency chocolate, followed by a descent through the Bosc de les Corticelles and the Bosc d’Estany Llong that brought chamoix, bilberries and juniper – and, as the rain started to ease off for good, Refugio Estany Llong.

Arrived at Refugio Estany Llong
Arrived at Refugio Estany Llong

Sodden boots off and wet stuff hung up to drip dry, we were welcomed in to picnic inside.

A sunny afternoon, just right for a stroll down into the valley of the Aigüestortes and a paddle in the Riu de Sant Nicolau – and pooh sticks.

Riu de Sant Nicolau, Aigüestortes
Riu de Sant Nicolau, Aigüestortes

The sunshine and the breeze made for perfect drying weather.

The night when the other English group agreed that “the bottom bunks ought to be reserved for the over 50s”. Ah, if only they knew ….

Overnight: Refugio Estany Llong.

Monday, 04 September 2023: Refugio Estany Llong (1985m) – Portarró d’Espot (2430m) – Refugio Amitges (2380m) (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 5: 8.1km +800m -500m

A fab day.

Sunshine.

The day our route did a short cut between two section of the Carros de Foc proper. Lovely trail, lovely weather, time to loiter and linger.

Lots of opportunities to Do Something!

"Do Something!", Rest stop and the last view of Estany Llong
“Do Something!”, Rest stop and the last view of Estany Llong

Franco’s Road, the Pi de Peixerani, Portarró d’Espot and its Mirador, smashing views of Estany de Sant Maurici and El Encantats …

At Mirador del Portarró, with views of Els Encantats (right) and Estany de Sant Maurici
At Mirador del Portarró, with views of Els Encantats (right) and Estany de Sant Maurici

… the Race to the Lone Pine ….

The Race to the Lone Pine (video, 3m 14sec)
The Race to the Lone Pine (video, 3m 14sec)

… raspberries, a paddle (for some) and a picnic at lunchtime, relaxing at Refugio Amitges, chanting on the shores of sparkling Estany dels Barbs, spotting Alfonso and Manu high up on their Agulles d’Amitges, and cold beers and cocktail snacks before dinner.

Cold Beers all round for the ladies, Refugio Amitges
Cold Beers all round for the ladies, Refugio Amitges

Overnight: Refugio Amitges.

Tuesday, 05 September 2023: Refugio Amitges (2380m) – Estany St. Maurici (1912m) – Parking de Prat Pierró (980m). Drive to Vielha (Photos)

Carros de Foc day 6: 9.3km +40m -740m

A leisurely last day on the Carros de Foc, dropping back down to Estany de Sant Maurici via the exhilarating Cascada de Ratera and learning / singing Arde Londres.

Me at the Cascada de Ratera
Me at the Cascada de Ratera
Team Mucho Gusto at Ratera
Team Mucho Gusto at Ratera

Back at Estany de Sant Maurici we found a quiet spot for elevenses and Instagram, flocks of small birds and ripples of jumping fish, before walking back to Parking de Prat Pierró where it was time to say a fond farewell to Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici.

Another lovely lunch at Restaurant Vall d’Àneu in Esterri d’Àneu then back to Vielha and two lovely rooms (and showers and clean clothes) at Hotel Eth Pomèr.

A magic evening out – presenting the Team Mucho Gusto T-Shirts (plus chutney and spare toothbrushes) at REFU Birreria followed by dinner at Woolloomooloo.

Hazel, Steffi and Me, in our Mucho Gusto T-Shirts, Vielha
Hazel, Steffi and Me, in our Mucho Gusto T-Shirts, Vielha

No photos from the evening, so it must have been a good one… Oh, and Alfonso sent us a video of the three of them climbing back up to their Vielha base.

Overnight: Eth Pomèr, Vielha.

[20 October 2023: This is as far as I’d got when Phil and I headed off for our sunny week in Northern Italy. I’m flagging a bit having come back to finish off these photos & notes. So the daily descriptions may be a bit brief.]

Wednesday, 06 September 2023: Drive from Vielha to Refugio de Belagua (1428m) via Ainsa and Jaca (Photos)

A tasty breakfast buffet at Eth Pomèr, farewell to Esther, then the long drive west for our second short trek in the Pirineos, the Ruta de las Golondrinas.

En route we stopped at Ainsa (mediaeval hill town) and Jaca (canteen lunch, food shopping – Mini Magnums! – and perusing outdoor kit at Barrabés) but decided to skip Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña as we didn’t have enough time.

Ainsa
Ainsa

Refugio de Belagua (technically Refugio Ángel Oloron) was our base for the Golondrinas, and on a sunny September afternoon it was packed. Lovely views out over deciduous forests and back down the valley, and a super-well organised refugio with a really lovely team – who presented us with our surprise Golondrinas swag!

Arriving at Refugio de Belagua
Arriving at Refugio de Belagua

Overnight: Refugio de Belagua.

Thursday, 07 September 2023: Rincón de Belagua car park (~900m) – Collado de Maze (1540m) – Refugio de Linza (1340m) (Photos)

Ruta de las Golondrinas day 1: 14km +700m -350 m

Cathedral forests, meadows and sparkling spiders webs….

Sparkling spider's web
Sparkling spider’s web

… a stiff climb, shady woods and a pincic … and showers, beers and Scrabble in Spanish at Refugio Linza

Scrabble in Spanish, Linza
Scrabble in Spanish, Linza

Overnight: Refugio de Linza.

Friday, 08 September 2023: Refugio de Linza (1340m) – Collado de Petrachema / Port d’Anso (2090m) – Refuge de l’Abérouat (France) (1442m) (Photos)

Ruta de las Golondrinas day 2: 21.6km +1300m -1200m

The longest day by a mile, in terms of both distance (~22km) and duration (we set off at 7.20am and finished at 6.30pm; 11 hours elapsed time). But really fab: startled chamois and whistling marmots; grassy valleys, limestone rocky plateau and scree descent; beech woods and streams, waterfalls and rivers; fab views from the Col de Pétragème, plus spiralling choughs and climbers at the base of the Petite Aiguille d’Ansabère, a novel-reading, red wine-drinking, hanging-chair-owning berger selling his goats cheese at the Plateau d’Ansabère …..

Alfonso and Steffi, at the start of the trail down from Col de Pétragème
Alfonso and Steffi, at the start of the trail down from Col de Pétragème

…. and at the end, beers, cold beers, 7% beers!

Oh, and Bonjour la France! 

The hardest section was the 4km on the road in the Vallée d’Aspe, partly because it was the literal low point of the day and we knew we had a 700m climb up to the refuge and partly because it was on superheated, radiating, tarmac.

We made it! Refuge de l’Abérouat

Overnight: Refuge de l’Abérouat. <– aka the one with the ridiculously low headroom for the top bunk. I couldn’t even sit up without hitting my head on the ceiling.

Saturday, 09 September 2023: Refuge de l’Abérouat (1442m) – Pas d’Azuns (1862m) – Pas de l’Osque (1922m) – Refuge Jeandel (1620m) (Photos)

Ruta de las Golondrinas day 3: 11.8km +600m -400m (plus a bit extra for the Les Tourelles (2041m))

Panorama: Rach and Manu (and Alfonso) On top of Les Tourelles (2041m)
Panorama: Rach and Manu (and Alfonso) On top of Les Tourelles (2041m)

One of the best days, beginning with a rendition of Cumpleaños Feliz to send to Australia and featuring a scramble up Les Tourelles and chain descent from Pas de l’Osque.

Rach and me, scramble section complete, Les Tourelles ascent
Rach and me, scramble section complete, Les Tourelles ascent
Manu, me and Alfonso, on top of Les Tourelles (2041m)
Manu, me and Alfonso, on top of Les Tourelles (2041m)

Jeandel was a bit of a let down, and La Pierre Saint Martin sans snow is truly ugly.

Overnight: Refuge Jeandel. <– aka the one with the worst food (quantity and quality)

Sunday, 10 September 2023: Refuge Jeandel (1620m) – Pic d’Arlas (2044m) – Refugio de Belagua (1428m) – Rincón de Belagua car park (~900m) (Photos)

Ruta de las Golondrinas day 4: 16.5km +600m -1230m

Up Pic d’Arlas, and back down into Spain.

Alfonso, Pic d'Arlas (2044m)
Alfonso, Pic d’Arlas (2044m)

Rolling grasslands and an occasional stretch of tarmac brought us back to Refugio de Belagua.

After a late lunch, for the completists it was a super steep descent from Refugio de Belagua to the Rincón de Belagua car park to retrieve the van. Lovely end to a lovely trek.

Overnight: Refugio de Belagua.

Monday, 11 September 2023: Refugio de Belagua – Lourdes – London (Photos)

Drive to airport. Fly Lourdes to London Stansted. Train and tube to Hazel’s.

Team Mucho Gusto, and some sporting the exclusive Mucho Gusto T-Shirt
Team Mucho Gusto, and some sporting the exclusive Mucho Gusto T-Shirt

Overnight: Hazel’s.

Tuesday, 12 September 2023: London (Photos)

David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom in the Coal Drops Yard redevelopment north of Kings Cross.

David Hockney at the Lightroom
David Hockney at the Lightroom

A soft launch late lunch at Paro Indian (recommended!) followed by a tour of the outdoor kit shops of Southampton Street.

Overnight: Hazel’s

Wednesday, 13 September 2023: London – Hereford (Photos)

GWR train delay / termination at Great Malvern (grrr) made for a slow journey home – but Phil-the-taxi was waiting for me at Hereford.

Homeward bound. Thank heavens for the frozen jam doughnut....
Homeward bound. Thank heavens for the frozen jam doughnut….

Overnight: Home!

Herefordshire Week 197: Tuesday 03 – Monday 09 October 2023

(A bit late with this one too – still playing catch up!)

A few more days in Northern Italy, then back to Herefordshire for TLC and two walks.

Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin
Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin

The start of “Herefordshire Week 197” was spent in Northern Italy and on the journey back home. You can read my write up here Northern Italy – Turin, Ivrea & Nomaglio: Photos & Notes, and Phil’s here Turin, Ivrea and Nomaglio.

Here are the main events from Week 197:

After a late start, our Tuesday in Turin on provided two highlights – Pastarell’s (twice) and Pandas! On the food front, we had a smashing veggie lunch from Mezzaluna, gelato from Gelateria La Romana on Santa Theresa and our second dinner at le vitel étonné.

Wednesday was split between Turin and London Gatwick. A last breakfast at Pastarell’s, a visit to the iconic Mole Antonelliana and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Museum of Cinema), a second lunch at Mezzaluna, our first Bicerin to while away our final hour in Torino … and then I counted 234 Pandas between the bus stop and the airport. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR!

Good flight to London Gatwick which supplied M&S dinner and Premier Inn overnight to avoid the stress of trying to get to Hazel’s on a train and tube strike day.

Thursday saw us complete the rest of the journey back to Herefordshire by train, tube and Panda: London Gatwick – Farringdon – London Paddington – Newport – Abergavenny – Home.

Then over to Winchester to check up on a poorly dad and a stressed Jean.


On Friday it was back to the Dragons Back and Waun Fach with Sonia, getting in some ascents ahead of our Nepal trek. It was foggy, wet and windy on the tops. Sunny down in Crickhowell, where Latte Da still do excellent tea and cake!

Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular: Sunshine over Crickhowell
Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular: Sunshine over Crickhowell
Strava Map & Stats: Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular
Strava Map & Stats: Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular

Distance: 7½ miles
Elevation Gain: 2,141 ft
Moving time: 3h 22 mins
Elapsed Time 3h 45 mins

I drove home via Abergavenny Waitrose. Lots of bargains – and an orange Panda!!

Caught up with Jean again in the evening.


Sunny Saturday was spent in the garden. I weedkillered the drive, then got going on the mowing. Honda mowed the edges and tricky spots – harder given that the “power” wasn’t kicking in and the spark plug occasionally came loose (meaning the mower wouldn’t start / run) – then did the main mow everywhere except the Solarium, and all on a No 2 (short) setting. I reckon I collected 15 full loads of grass.

First two loads of grass distributed at Mower Turn
First two loads of grass distributed at Mower Turn

I also looked for the source of the apples on the upper path to mower turn, and it is the “I thought it was dead” apple tree by the bonfire. There are still apples on the branches that have grown away from the quarry.

In between there was a phone call with Steffi about our upcoming Pembs weekend and Nepal trek.


Still sunny on Sunday – but decidedly cool first thing, well it is October – perfect for the Jo’s GVWC circular walk from Garway Hill. And an extra bit at the start, walking from Bagwyllydiart to Garway Hill Car Park.

Strava Map: GVWC Garway Hill Circular: Route and Stats
Strava Map: GVWC Garway Hill Circular: Route and Stats

Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,620 ft
Moving time: 3h 06 mins
Elapsed Time 4h 11 mins

Gorgeous day, beautiful walking, lots of chat, medical rehydration at The Kilpeck Inn – plus a pick up from Phil-le-taxi.

GVWC: Garway Hill Circular: Morning Mist, looking south from Garway Hill
GVWC: Garway Hill Circular: Morning Mist, looking south from Garway Hill

And Val called me en route with more Nepal updates!

Back at base, collected apples.


I spent Monday with dad and Jean, including a trip into Hereford with dad in the morning and TLC throughout. Exhausting! But good outcomes, in the end.


On the bird feeders, the woodpeckers are back and I’ve seen robins too. The nuthatch(es) have grown more confident and the blue tits and great tits are as noisy as ever. Chaffinches galore and some sparrows. We returned from holiday to find a lot of small fluffy feathers scattered all over the patio…. and a large smudge on one of the conservatory windows. I wonder what it was? And what ate it?

There are still a bunch of big butterflies flying around (Red Admirals), and some shortlived fungi sprouted on the willow tree stump, wilted the next day.

Louie’s Salvia is thriving. Can’t say the same about some of the smaller goldfish…. Sounds like it might be oxygen starvation. Time to scoop out some of the goo….

Salvia Hot Lips - thriving!
Salvia Hot Lips – thriving!

And still So Many Apples!


TV: Sex Education (finished season 4), Ghosts, (started series 5 – the last one. Sniff),  Fleabag (series 1 – late to it I know).

Podcasts: The Forum, History Extra, In Our Time.


Photos: Herefordshire week 197 on Flickr.

Phil: F/E 2023-10-08.

Herefordshire Week 193: Tuesday 05 – Monday 11 September 2023

In the Pyrenees with Alfonso and Manu, finishing up our cut down Carros de Foc, then driving west and completing the Ruta de las Golondrinas, Clásica version.

Team Mucho Gusto, and some sporting the exclusive Mucho Gusto T-Shirt
Team Mucho Gusto, and some sporting the exclusive Mucho Gusto T-Shirt

Just brief notes here; for the detail you’ll have to wait for the write up – aka Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso and Manu: Photos & Notes. (Next on the list!)


Tuesday saw us complete our mini Carros de Foc trek, walking down from Refugio Amitges (2380m) to Estany St. Maurici (1912m) via the Cascada de Ratera and retreading the trail back to the car park.

Alfonso's Outline for Trekking Carros de Foc
Alfonso’s Outline for Trekking Carros de Foc

Lunch back on the sunny terrace of the Restaurant Vall d’Àneu in Esterri d’Àneu then on to Vielha for a night at Hotel Eth Pomèr (Apples, how appropriate), beers and presentation of the Team Mucho Gusto T-Shirts (plus chutney and spare toothbrushes) at REFU Birreria and dinner at Woolloomooloo.


Wednesday was transit day, driving west-ish from Vielha to Refugio de Belagua via Ainsa (mediaeval city) and Jaca (lunch, mini Magnums and a mooch around Barrabés).

The Golondrinas huts are all accessible by road, and Belagua was buzzing. We had a fab evening – receiving our Golondrinas swag, taking in the views, enjoying our private en suite room. And bottom bunks!

Arriving at Refugio de Belagua
Arriving at Refugio de Belagua

We set off on La Ruta de las Golondrinas on Thursday morning: driving down to the car park at Rincón de Belagua and then walking through forest and fields and forest again to Refugio de Linza. Hot.

A day of Cathedral-like beech forests, sparkling dew on spider’s webs, bracken and gorse, a stiff, sweaty climb, a picnic in the woods – all accompanied by an impossible light bulb riddle.

Sparkling spider's web
Sparkling spider’s web

The Linza hut was the quietest we stayed in, there were only around 10 other people there. Very relaxing. We played Scrabble in Spanish sat at a shady picnic table before dinner.


Friday saw us cross the border into France on Ruta de las Golondrinas day 2, trekking from Refugio de Linza to Refuge de l’Abérouat. A long, hot day.

Highlights: morning shade, chamois and marmots, Collado de Petrechema, goats cheese selling berger in his ‘house of love’, another beech forest picnic, 7.2% beers!

Rach and Me at the Collado de Petrechema, looking down into France
Rach and Me at the Collado de Petrechema, looking down into France

Lowlight: 4km on toasty tarmac.


We stayed in France on Saturday as day 3 of La Ruta de las Golondrinas (which I suppose I ought to be calling La Route des Hirondelles given we’re in France) took us from Refuge de l’Abérouat to Refuge Jeandel.

The trail took us over pas de Azuns and pas del Osque – and Alfonso and Manu provided an optional extra for Rach and I, climbing up one of Les Tourelles. FAB.

Vulture viewing, on top of our peak in Les Tourelles
Vulture viewing, on top of our peak in Les Tourelles

The Jeandel refuge and the manmade ski resort of La Pierre Saint Martin were less so.

I did get a proposal from a passing berger mind you.


Sunday saw us return into Spain as day 4 of La Ruta de las Golondrinas brought us back to Refugio de Belagua, a day after La Vuelta had passed by. En route, Pic de Arlás (2044m), quiet meadows and close up vulture views, and a bit of zig zagging over the main road in the run up to elevenses.

Vulture
Vulture

Late lunch at the hut then Rach and I accompanied Alfonso and Manu back down to the car park to collect the van. It’s a very steep trail down through the forests – very glad of the presence of poles and the absence of backpack.

The evening thunderstorm in the valley reached us overnight. Lots of rain, and lightning. A suitably dramatic end to our Ruta de las Golondrinas.

Alfonso's Outline for Ruta de las Golondrinas
Alfonso’s Outline for Ruta de las Golondrinas

Monday was a day for farewells, and the end of this year’s adventures with Alfonso and Manu.

We drove back to Lourdes airport, flew back to London Stansted in the company of nuns, got the Stansted Express back to Liverpool Street, said au revoir to Rach and then headed down to Hotel Hazel for the night, and another Thai Takeaway for dinner.

Yum yum
Yum yum

TV: My Mum, Your Dad (out of the corner of my eye).

Audiobook: The Bullet that Missed – Richard Osman.


Photos: Herefordshire week 193 on Flickr.

Phil: w/e 2023-09-10.