Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014 Pare Chu Peaks Exploratory

So how did the Pare Chu Peaks Exploratory go for 2014? Well, we never made it!  The guests on the trek had a last minute emergency before leaving home, so we adjusted the itinerary to fit their new needs. Hence, a Markha valley trek with Kang Yatze climb in June! A nice trip, and in the truly quiet season. Notes and photos below. -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides

Hangkar | 4039m | 17 June 2014 | 1715

We started yesterday close to lunchtime after shifts in our program due to guest needs, moving from Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in a quick period of ten days (a huge move for 12 horses, all the gear, 3 Nepali guides, and 1 local guide). We made the move in order to accommodate our guests, who in the end at to put off their trek for personal reasons.
Enjoying the evening in the meadows of Hangkar. We spend two days here to acclimatize properly to move up to the high plateau of Nyimaling.
  So there we were, the 2014 Pare Chu Peaks Exploratory instantly morphed into a Markha Valley trek with a climb of Kang Yatze 2.  Two guides from the United States, Evan Miller and Rebecca Yaguda joined us for the experience.  We've moved quickly through the Markha valley, covering what is normally four days ground in two big days. With our first glimpse of Kang Yatze today, we are looking forward to moving up to base camp in the coming days, and focus on climbing on this quick trip to the alpine. Evan and Rebecca are strong guides and enjoyed having long days walking.
The citrine wagtails have returned to this small ochre-colored valley to summer and nest in its thickets and groves.  While being one of the most popular treks in Ladakh, June is proving to be a quiet month, with few others trekkers seen and great weather, if not too warm and sunny. Ngima Tenzi Sherpa, Da Gyelje Sherpa, and Gombu Sherpa are adjusting nicely, and keep referencing Dolpo and Mustang in Nepal as Ladakh's similarity.  It is their first season guiding in Ladakh, with 37 years guiding experience collectively in Nepal.
Last night was a perfect reference Da Gyelje's cooking, with homemade pasta and sauce with parmegian, and banana flambe for dessert. It appears that everyone, including the guests, are content to be in the mountains again.  We'll probably rest here tomorrow at 4000m, and move up to base camp the day after.  The river is flowing quiet high now, a local elder mentioning that the Zalung Karpo La is releasing it.
1828 | 4030m | Hangkar, Ladakh | 
Morning in Hangkar, the horsemen skipped town early to get cheaper grass charges.  We had a nice breakfast of omelettes with fresh roti bread, filter coffee, muesli with fresh fruit, and set about putting fresh paint on company gear, washing clothes, and enjoying the morning sun. Donkeys grazed in the fields around, and as the morning came on locals came out of their freshly-whitewashed homes to plow their dark brown fields with dzo-driven tools, sowing the seeds of this years barley.  
Across the way, groups of locals are together to build a dwelling, perhaps a new home stay house or a growing family.  This afternoon, kids passed by our tents and said hello in perfect English, fresh out of the local school. I pulled out the climbing equipment and made sure that all the crampons fit everyone's boots well and were ready for us to move up to Kang Yatze base camp tomorrow.
Clouds rolled through intermittently throughout the day, without a drop of rain and a passing breeze occasionally.  Evan spotted some blue sheep on a distant ridge; and also reported seeing a large raptor, perhaps a Lammergeier or Himalayan Griffon.
1708 Saturday 21 June 2014 Kang Yatze Base Camp

Trekking up to Kang Yatze base camp from the Markha valley. What a view!
We moved up to base camp here three days past, and have spent our time acclimatizing, going for hikes, and chatting in the dining tent with Da Gyelje's banana cake and chai.  A nice few days, we plan for a climb of Kang Yatze 2 in the morning. 
Ngima Tenzi, Gombu, and Kunsang have been practicing with their climbing gear and knots; as Kunsang is an aspirant mountaineering guide and can pick up a lot of tips from Gombu and Ngima; if not Da Gyelje the cook as well; his having climbed Everest 5 times. 
Today being the summer solstice, we awoke to a Himalayan snow squall.

22 June 2014 | 5032m | Kang Yatze BC

The team started climbing Kang Yatze 2 at 0500 this morning. It's 1132 and rightly snowing with about an inch on the ground.  The Himalaya are giving them a true climbing experience, and hopefully it will clear and they'll make the summit.  Not sure as it looks like this weather has set in for the day.
Still stiff in the legs, I expect by tomorrow I'll be ready for another climb here in the Kang Yatze massif, having completed an ascent of Kang Yatze I via the northeast ridge two days prior. I began the climb at 0845 and made it back to camp at 0031. A big day and a good reminder to always bring your head torch.  
We've a few more days before heading down to the Ladakhi capital of Leh, and plans to establish a high camp on the Dzo Jongo glacier and get some steeper alpine alpine climbs in.  With the current weather, I'm not sure what we're going to get done, and how the group will fair today and the condition they'll be in upon return. Will have to wait and see.  
The view from Kang Yatze massif.
A group of yaks are grazing this valley for these weeks while we're here.  Da Gyelje hums a tune over the steady hum of the kerosene stove in the kitchen tent, and Mamoo sneezes and pops his head out occasionally to eye his grazing horses.  Snowing patters on the tent above me, and the call of Himalayan snowcock and the whistle of the marmot and staccatoed-chirp of the perennial nesting Horned Larks gives a sense of place to an otherwise serene meadow with a young and meandering glacial stream steadily flowing through.  Kang Yatze towers in front and doesn't seem to be in any hurry to take notice of anything occurring beneath it, even as its seracs and massive ice walls steadily trickly away to meet the mighty Indus River 40 miles distant.  
They've returned a few hours ago, reaching 6000 meters and no summit.  The snow continues to fall in mixes of flakes and graupel stones, and I wonder about the current weather pattern and the duration of its continuance.  I'd like to see it burn away this evening but have my doubts.
0703 23 June 2014 Kang Yatze BC

Morning with snow overnight, it looks like we'll be moving out of base camp this morning.  With the ground and surrounding peaks covered in white, it's a nice break from the snow and freezing rain over the past few days, but it doesn't look like it's done.  We hatched a plan to move over the Stok range today, and then move along its northern flank.  If we put in two solid long days, we will be in the Matho valley to make a climb of Shuku Kangri, and then to traverse to Stok Kangri to finish the trip.  Just the walk will be spectacular, and hopefully we won't get too much precipitation along the way.  
Regardless, I don't think sitting in base camp here or establishing a higher camp is wise with the current patterns in the weather. I'll talk with Evan and Rebecca to see what their thoughts are and we'll go from there. 

1304 27 June 2014 Leh, Ladakh

We've been back in Leh for a few days, visiting ancient monasteries, having nice meals with the Himalaya Alpine staff in the comfortable guest house, and keeping warm in the unseasonably cool weather.  A nice short trek, it certainly wasn't what we all had planned at the end of May, but it was a fun experience, and we look forward to returning to the area soon.  Onwards and upwards.    
   -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides