Tapethok

Today (13 april) we left Taplejung (where we arrived very late yesterday, and had dinner after midnight) quite late. It’s not very far to Tapethok, but the road is very primitive and in many places kind of non-existent, so it takes us 5 h to get there (at an average speed of 8 km/h). Tapethok is kind of in middle of nowhere and has only 1G, so no internet today. The little lodge “Hotel Tamor” we are in, has only 11 beds, so 3 of us will have to sleep on the floor. Despite the fact that Tapethok is at ~1400 m, it is still very hot and humid. There is still bamboo growing and palm trees around. Plans change daily… our next goal is Cheram, but there has been a land slide and it seems we cannot get our luggage there overland. So we will probably fly by helicopter tomorrow (or the day after) and keep our fingers crossed that we will
be able to continue from there.

Taplejung

Yesterday we had planned to fly to Suketar, the airport of Taplejung, with Sita Air that has small planes.

Group photo in the garden of the Shanker hotel

After taking group photos, we got to the airport, after some waiting got boarding passes passed the security and waited for 6 hours. Then it appeared that Sita Air had found a commercially more profitable use of the plane and dumped us. So we went back to the Shanker. We discussed all options in the group and decided to fly to Bhadrapur , in the southeast of Nepal and drive from there to Phidim, sleep there and continue the next day to Taplejung. After another swim in the pool, went for dinner in the Vino Bar, one of my favourite spots in Kathmandu. We had a wonderful hilarious night

Vino Bar

This morning we got again to the airport and this time we flew without any problem to Bhadrapur. On the way we even had a glimpse of Kangchenjunga.

Kangchenjunga at a distance

At Bhadrapur we got two small buses and set off to Phidim. It is hot (over 30 degrees and palm trees…) and humid but we should drive up and it would be cooler then hopefully. The road is by times very bumpy or gone in spots.

Road repairs

On the way, we stopped for lunch and learned that Phidim had no lodges available and it was decided to drive all the way to Taplejung where we arrived just after 22 h. So after a very long ride we actually regained a day on the schedule, which is important for the trekkers to Kangchenjunga base camp.

Stop on the way
Lunch spot

Kathmandu

Last Thursday Aly brought me to the airport where the lady at the check-in didn’t bother about the excess luggage weight. I had a very pleasant flight with KLM to Dubai, where we arrived – despite the more than one hour delay in departure – only about 20 min late. Moreover, the purser gave me a bottle of wine ‘since I appreciated it so much during the flight’.

Courtesy of KLM

With a short taxi ride I arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn in Dubai where I spent the night and after breakfast I went back to the airport for another pleasant flight with FlyDubai to arrive well on time in Kathmandu. The problems started there,since my luggage didn;t arrive. After an endless procedure of filling out forms etc. I went to the exit where Pasang was waiting for me. A taxi brought me to the good old Shanker hotel where I’ve stayed so many times. I share my room with John Gill, from Canada, who organised this expedition with Namgya. Arien en Lisanne are also in the Shanker and Friday evening we go the the Purple Haze Rock Bar in Thamel where some (very loud, but apparently famous) band was playing live.

Purple Haze

Saturday morning John and I get up quite early have breakfast and drink coffee with Namgya. Namgya later went picking up Fane and Catalin, the 2 Rumanians that join the expedition, at the airport and finds there one of my bags (that apparently arrived with the early morning flight from Dubai) and brings it to the hotel. The other bag comes with the second flight from Dubai and is delivered to the hotel at five. Quite a relieve that everything turned up timely, Most of the day I spent at the pool as the weather and water are very nice,

In the evening we went, together with the Indians who also arrived in the course of the day, for dinner in Thamel. We had a good time and I learned to know the Indians and some of the trekkers much better. Suresh, one of the Indians – with a very impressive climbing record – is only 23 years old and is the baby of the team of which I am the granddad. After the dinner we have a group meeting to give everyone an update of the (already changed) plans. One of the issues is that halfway the day, the Nepalese government have declared tomorrow a public holiday and that our permits have not been issued.

Group dinner at K2 top restaurant
The oldest and the youngest climber of the expedition.

Sunday morning, after breakfast, Namgya, John and myself meet with Billi Bierling who now maintains the Himalayan Database. Billi and I have met several times before and talked a lot in German to catch up. We settle all the database business and then I go to do the final shopping. When I get back, I go to the pool once more and then we have another updat as the plans have changed again. Most of us will fly tomorrow to Suketar (Taplejung) where we will stay overnight. Namgya and Mingma will stay in Kathmandu and sort out the permits, They will fly tuesday to Badrapur with the luggage. Then both teams will drive to Kewang and possibly even Yamphudin.

Our last night in Kathmandu for the time being, Arien, Lisanne, Adam, Steward, John and I go to the Nepalayan Restaurant in Thamle for a nice dinner and drinks afterwards in the hotel bar. Our luggage is sorted and tomorrow we go !

Return

As expected we got a permit for KY2, which gave us three days (25-27 January, since we need to be back in Leh on January 29th) to climb KY2. Unfortunately, another front passed with first severe snow-fall and then very clear and bright skies and – consequently – extremely low temperatures down to -40 degrees at night (where we had up till now -20 to -25 during daytime and -30 to -35 degrees at night). I have been sleeping with two layers of merino underwear below my clothes, two pairs of socks, two buffs, two caps, gloves, and my down jacket in my big down sleeping bag and still wasn’t very comfortable. During day time, I dressed completely in black as, without much wind, the radiation of the bright sun would nicely warm me. The back-side of this extremely cold wheater (considering that -40 degrees at 5100 m would imply tempetratures down to -50 at the summit) is that the snow doesn’t ‘set’ which, again, makes avalanges a significant risk. As a consequence, Tsewang and I had to decide that a summit attempt was too risky and we had to cancel a summit attempt. So, on January 25th, Jingmat was sent down to Hankar to warn Tundup to come up with the horses.

The horses arrived in KY base camp

Thursday, Tundup and Jingmat showed up with the horses in the course of the morning. We had already packed most stuff and prepafred to go down. Tsewang and I left as first as usual. It was still very cold and actually I asked Tsewang just to keep going as any pause would just make us shiver. After just less than 4 h we reached Hankar, where – to my surprise – we did not camp but a ‘homestay’. This basically implies that you sleep in a kind of shed behind one of the local Ladakhi farms. Primitive, but very comfortable compared to a tent on the glacier. It took ages for the horses to arrive. Due to the heavy snowfall, several of them fell and had to be unloaded to allow them to get up again and then reloaded.

Homestay

The next morning we got up and continued to Hankar and Thinlaspa. The weather was still nice: clear skies and crispy cold, but quite enjoyable. The Markha valley is very beautiful (and apparently a very popular trek in summer, but totally deserted now).

The frozen Markha river
Markha valley
Markha valley

After an almost 3 h hike, we reached a small homestay-place where we waited for the horses to arrive. The owner would drive us to Leh with his 4WD. It took again quite a while until Tundup arrived with the horses. After everything was packed, the old 4WD would not start…. Luckily all the men seemed to have knowledge about cars and after half an hiour the enigine started running. A spectecular drive over the frozen river, bumpy trails full of pitholes and rocks brought us to Chilling where the paved road started but the 4WD broke down. Once again, all men were busy for a while and we could continue (at a very slow speed) to Leh where Rigzin was already waiting for me.

Horses arrive
The 4WD at the frozen Markha river being fixed by Tsewang and Mingma.
Fixing the 4WD with united forces

Snow

Yesterday, the weather was really bad it was snowing lightly when Mingma and I went for an acclimatisation hike, but it worsened rapidly. Yesterday evening it was snowing heavily. I was already in my tent when Tsewang came to shake the snow from my tent and he warned me to keep an eye on it as he was afraid the tent might collapse under the load of snow. Apparently, it was a front with clear skies afterwards as it got extremely cold. Today, the weather looks ok. It is sunny with clouds. It stopped snowing which is good as the horses cannot come up if there is too much snow. KY1 is still in the clouds and it looks too dangerous to climb as the risk of avalanches is too high. We might climb KY2 (6240 m) instead as it is less avalanche prone. Tsewang will try to change the permit today. We have 3 days left and that might just be enough for KY2 if the weather holds.

Acclimatisation hike to ~5350 m
Mingma

KY Base Camp

Yesterday, we moved up from Thochuntse to KY base camp, almost 1000 m higher. As usual, Tsewang and I set off first and the others followed after loading the horses. Until approximately halfway it was fine, but then the weather started deteriorating with more wind and it got very chilly. In some spots there was a lot of snow and I couldn’t prevent getting it in my shoes. At -20°C and a considerable chill factor it got very nasty and cold. Finally, we reached the spot for base camp, a rather large plain so the wind was everywhere. I don’t think I haver ever been so cold. Soon after Tsewang and I had arrived, the others arrived as well and we quickly set up the tents and started cooking. As soon as possible I got in my sleeping back with three layers of merino on. This morning we woke around 8 when the sun comes over the mountains. You could hardly see it through the clouds. KY is totally in the clouds and it has been snowing which is bad news. Despite the light snow Mingma and I make a short acclimatisation hike to ~ 5350 m. The rest of the day we sit in the tent. It keeps snowing…

Tsewang
Buddha on the way to ensure timely and sufficient snow fall in the valley…
KY Base camp
KY in the background of my tent

Tsochuntse

Got up at sunrise after a very bright, cloudless night with beautiful stars but terribly cold (< -25°C). The first sun rays felt really warm and I put my sleeping bag and mattresses out to freeze-dry. After breakfast, around 9 h, Tsewang and I set out for Thochuntse. The others would pack the horses and donkeys and follow with Tundup, the horseman. Tsewang and I made good progress, too much progress according to Tsewang, so we made a small detour to a nearby monastery at a 3900 m peak. Unfortunately, the monk was not there as from the inside you could see KY. However, after another hour, at a turn of the Markha valley, we saw KY. An enormous pyramid of ice and snow, dominating the valley and surrounding peaks. Extremely impressive steep icy flanks that explain its alpine rating as D-. Sublime but also a bit scary. When we reached Hankar after about 4.5 h, we sat down in the sun at a small farm and got tea. After an hour Mingma arrived and we decided to wait there for Tundup, Nankat and Jigmat with the cattle as we would now enter a small valley without sun (and it is still freezing crazy). The trail runs for long stretches over the frozen Markha, extremely slippery and more suitable for skates than shows. The hoofed animals struggle with the ice and Tsewang and I have to wait a lot. Around 5 we arrive, with the cattle, in Tsochuntse where we will camp overnight.

21/01/2022

Kang Yatse seen from Markha valley
Monastery on the top of the hill

On campsite

Just arrived on our campsite for tonight after a 3.5 h drive from Leh. Up till Chilling the road was perfect (probably for military purposes, the army is everywhere). First we followed the Zanksar valley and then turned to the Markha valley where the road is no more than an icy, rocky trail. Altogether a spectacular ride through half-frozen rivers with sublime views on snowy mountains. The horseman was already on site. We have set up the tents and started cooking. It’s freaking cold, about minus 20 and the sun has only set half an hour ago. Tomorrow we are heading for Thochuntse.

Campsite at Thilanspa

The horses arrived

Yesterday (18 Jan) was officially the last day of my quarantine and the folks from the medical department had promised to come test me early morning so the result would be available in the evening. However, it turned out that all members of the ‘testing squads’ were found positive themselves the day before. As a consequence, there was no personnel to go around taking samples. Finally, yesterday evening, two ladies showed up to take a sample. However, the test result was not reported today despite the promise that it would be delivered within 24 hours. It seems they are totally disorganized and it is extremely frustrating that after being 8 full days in quarantine in Leh there is still no result.   

Nevertheless, we plan to leave tomorrow but with an adapted itinerary. In the original plan, we would drive only to Chilling and trek from there, along Markha river, to Skiu. Since this trek is mostly at the same altitude as Leh (and I think I’ve acclimatised already to this altitude with my illegal hikes), we will now drive up all the way, via Kaya and Skiu village, to Thinlaspa, close to Markha (~ 3750 m) and camp there overnight. From there we will hike the next day via Hankar to Thochuntse (~ 4300 m), camp there overnight and subsequently follow the original itinerary to Kang Yatse base camp. This way we will gain one or two days of time compared to the original plan which should give us sufficient time despite all the time lost due to the quarantine. In addition, we plan to make only one camp at ~ 5550 m instead of the two originally planned camps at 5400 and 5750 m.

This afternoon, we met for the first time with the complete team at the Padma Ladakh hotel: Nantak, our cook, Jigmat, the kitchen help, and Tsewang and Mingma (who is released from quarantine today). Tsewang and Mingma will climb with me. In fact, Tsewang replaces Rigzin who had a dislocated shoulder a while ago and cannot join, but takes care of all the organization. We discussed the best route and approach, the shopping  needs etc. In addition, Rigzin informed us that the horsemen are ready with 5 horses to take our equipment from Markha to base camp.

The team: – from left to right: Nantak, Jigmat, Mingma, me, Tsewang and Rigzin.

This evening we had the big celebration for the team that climbed UT Kangri. It was a very nice evening with lots of speeches, drinks and food, and  – of course – many, many pictures taken. The UT Kangri team will leave tomorrow before we (hopefully) will finally take off.