Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 Himlung with Mustang and Saribung Expedition

29 September 2014 | Pokhara, Nepal | 1503 | 876m

All of the team arrived yesterday, all three of us that is. There is Brett Ryan of Sydney, Australia, and Charles de Courval of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  I enjoy small, focused teams the most.  As a guide service, we are able to mold each day to the interest of a guest better that way, and really go and do some nice side trips and extras.  Brett is a seasoned climber, and Charles a skier who wants to move into high altitude climbing. His most recent expedition was a ski trip across Greenland in 27 days. Impressive.
     Our plan for this particular expedition is multi-fold, with a start in extraordinary Mustang.  Along with us is one of the best local guides to the region, Karma, who hails from the village of Samar. I'm looking forward to returning to the village to catch up with his family while they winnow the season's barley and wheat harvest, and perhaps even help out myself.  One of the other highlights of the trip will be a night of camping with the nomads of Mustang, as they graze their yaks and work a time-honored existence.  Mustang never dissapoints, and I'm looking forward to showing Charles and Brett the sky caves, cave monasteries, and historical sites of this mountain kingdom.
     Today we flew into Pokhara mid-morning, had a great lunch in lakeside, and then toured the International Mountain Museum.  Glacierworks, an organization headed by David Breshears, has installed a nice exhibit on climate change, which will be in place until September of 2015.  There is also an interactive module for exploring the Khumbu, where you watch film at 60 million megapixels per frame, zooming in and out to check out the west ridge of Everest, the South Face of Makalu, and other interesting climbs. An afternoon of rest, we'll have our final restaurant meal tonight, and fly early on the first flight into Jomsom, approaching and sleeping in Kagbeni tomorrow afternoon and evening.  After a week in Kathmandu and a week in Delhi, I am excited to get back in the mountains for my 6th Himalayan expedition for 2014. Stay tuned for more photos and updates as we move up the trail to Lo Manthang, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mustang. I've attached some images of Mustang below. Stay tuned for new ones! -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides

Gheling, Mustang, Nepal | 3 Oct 2014 | 0655 | 3620m
It’s a crisp morning, with ice on the tent fly and the Dhamodhar Himal in its snow-covered contrast to the surrounding brown, orange, and ochre hills. We are in Mustang. Last night we swiftly made a change in our plans, the local office in Kathmandu reporting that it’s next to impossible to collect the requisite 11 mountain porters we’ll need during this Nepali holiday, wholly unrelated to the current spectacular weather.
The team, Brett and Charles, are adjusting nicely to the altitude and new environment. It always requires a “break-in” period of about a week to feel fully “here” after a trans-continental flight; what with the new air, altitude, diet, and daily routine of the trekking life. One has had a headache a few times, and the other has had a short bout of diarrhea, but both seem to now be finding an equilibrium.
Our approach thus far has seen big days, covering two days worth of ground in one, a testament to the teams fitness and endurance. Everyone reports sore legs, but enjoying the 5-7 hour days of walking, some on bits of double track, the other on the traditional trail.
We passed through the Syangboche gorge yesterday, visiting the Chungse cave monastery on the way. It was more lively than times passed, with Tibetan Buddhist locals arriving on their healthy ponies to light butter lamps and perform pujas to ask forgiveness for the widespread slaughter (“mar” in Nepali) of sacrificial animals today by Nepali Hindus.
The two days prior brought us in by flight to Jomsom and Kagbeni that night, and then on to Karma’s village of Samar the following day. The wind kicks up the Kali Gandaki river like clockwork, with a steady breeze coming to gusts by 1030 every morning.
The road from the Tibetan border through Msutang is now completely open, and locals use it get around by jeep. The Rinpoche (chief lama) of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism was arriving in a days time to Jomsom when we arrived, and there was hiatus of monks and locals descending from the dispersed Lopa villages of the region as we climbed up, many of them coming by jeep.
As with anywhere with a passable you can certainly drive through Mustang, but you will certainly miss seeing the numerous cave structures, scores of soaring exotic predatory birds, hearing the wind move through the ancient junipers and golden poplar, and watching locals work their time-honored pastoral existence, and simply Mustang, itself.
Mustang requires time, a knowledgeable local guide (like Karma) and the willingness to trek if you are to truly experience all its fascinating nooks and crannies.
Leaving Kagbeni as the monastery and villagers swept and poished for the Rinpoche's arrival, we walked north for about an hour before leaving the main track (read:road) and descending to the Kali Gandaki river. Off the trail, we began what we had come for on this section of our 45 day expedition, to explore off the beaten track and see what we could find. Jackpot! After about 20 minutes up the river we found a cave site complete with about 50 rooms, char marks and ashes from ancient fires, and also a spring that could have served the inhabitants with fresh clean water.
We continued upriver, inspired by our find and managing to also locate 7 saligrams on the rivers course, Brett finding the best specimen. After our ninth river crossing, with the final one up to our waist, we decided as a group to climb back up to the trail and make some mileage to the next village of Chele. Onwards up the gorge, we arrived in Karma's village in late afternoon with a cool breeze flowing down slope and bringing the sharp and distinct smell of juniper. I caught Charles exclamating silently with fists into the air from around a corner, we were extremely content on our first day in upper Mustang. Day one and we had already spotted blue sheep, found ancient fossils, and located an unmarked cave site.

That's all for now, my apologies for the run on sentences, awkard grammar, and spelling and spacing errors, trying to fire off an update before the power and connection goes. Onwards and upwards... -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides
-more tomorrow, and photos and video to be added in Kathmandu after 7 November-

Tsarang, Mustang, Nepal | 5 Oct 2014| 0626 | 3615m

The weather always amazes me in Mustang, with the rest of Nepal
dealing with the ins and outs of valley systems and local cloud cover,
Mustang generally remains clear with a gentle breeze. We've had an
excellent few more days of approach, visiting the quaint village of
Dhakmar, and then moving to Tsarang, the old capital of Mustang,
evening past.
Dhakmar has a backdrop of giant orange sandstone cliffs, the cliffs
themselves pockmarked with ancient cave dwellings. Many of the locals
were down valley attending the visitation of the Sakya Rinpoche in
Jomsom, while the others were finishing the winnowing of the
buckwheat, whistling to call the wind as they sifted through the
reddish gold grains.
The village itself, being off the main road that now runs through
upper Mustang, felt much more unencumbered by tourism. Perhaps this
is due to less guest houses and trekkers themselves, many being on an
itinerant march to see the sites and then get back down valley.
Yesterday morning, we climbed up the red cliffs that are the namesake
of Dhakmar (Dhak=Cliff, Mar=Red), making our way on a trail that Karma
dubbed the "blue sheep" trail. Steep, it took us to the top of a mesa
of sorts, with views of Annapurna, Nilgiri I, and the Dhamodhar Himal.
Enroute to Tsarang, we spotted several more raptors, and at the
altitude they soar, it is a challenge to I.D. them with the naked eye.
Ah, I almost forgot, we spotted a flock of around 500 Tibetan
Black-Necked Crane migrating south yesterday. It was the second time
I've spotted them, the only passerine species to migrate across the
Himalaya, and they are always a welcome sight.
It's impossible for me to record all the moments that make a
mountain experience like this unique, and they come in flashes of
memory as time passes. I think this is the aspect of my work that I
enjoy the most, recalling events, and getting to share them with
guests. It's always little things. The way the wind moves through
the golden poplars in Autumn, the smell of dried juniper smoke on the
kitchen hearth in the morning, the unfiltered smile of a young Lopa
child as you pass by their home in late afternoon sun, the body worked
and tired from a days ascent. It goes on and on, and I can't wait to
see what is around the next corner. Over the next week we will
traverse the Dhamodhar Himal, climbing to 6000 meters, then to descend
into the Lost Valleys of Nar and Phu, and our main objective,7126m
Himlung, the mountain of winds. -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya
Alpine Guides

Luke Smithwick
Himalaya Alpine Guides :
email :
skype : himalaya-alpine-guides
Phakding, Solu Khumbu, Nepal | 21 October 2014 | 0619 | 2715m

Jump forward a week, we've since moved the entire expedition to the Marsyangdi gorge, approached Himlung base camp, experienced a massive storm that claimed more than 40 lives, retreated to Kathmandu, and then flown to the Everest region yesterday.
We're now on approach to Nirekha peak, a gem of a mountain sandwiched between the Gokyo, Khumbu, and Changri glacier complex. We'll approach via Namche Bazaar ("Nauche" in Sherpa/Tibetan), the cultural and economic center of the Everest region.
Namche itself is an interesting place, having grown into a monetary economy over the past 15 years due to a tourism boom. Locals no longer work their fields, and many no longer own livestock either. This is an anomaly in Nepal's mostly subsistence economy.
Tibetans come over the Nangpa La (a pass from China's Tibet into Nepal) to sell their wares in the market of Namche. The last time I was in town 700 yaks arrived fully loaded with their owners goods; including jackets, hats, pots, and a menagerie of other items.
The salesmen remained in Namche until all their goods were sold in adjoining valleys, with Namche used as the center for trade side trips.
The skies are clear here, and there is no sign of the catastrophic weather of a week past. Our spirits are high, and we're ready to move on up. -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides,

Thangnag, Gokyo, Nepal | 24 October 2014 | 0806 | 4700m
We are at 4700m on the left lateral moraine of the Ngozumba glacier. We will move to Nirekha basecamp tomorrow morning. Right now the team is resting next to the wood stove and preparing for a nice dinner in the heated lodge. Everyone is fired up to climb, and we just received a favorable forecast through the 29th October. -Luke Smithwick,

Gokyo 3rd Lake | 28 October 2014 | 0637 | 4800m
Checking in from Gokyo. We had a nice climb of Nirekha two days ago, turning back 200 meters from the summit in poor visibility. Some of us are out climbing Gokyo Ri, and I'm down here in lodge with a giant pot of coffee, talking other climbs with one of the guests. We will trek over the Renjo La tomorrow and check out new territory.
Approaching the climb near the real Cho La.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 Lungser Kangri Expedition

Day 1: Sunday, July 20, 2014 
Everyone has arrived in Leh by dinner time today.  There are thirteen of us total: company owner; Luke, western guide; Kyle, yoga instructor/guide; Trevor, trekkers; Sandra, Cori, Camilla, Håvard, Mahesh, Ben, Brian, Ryan, Alex and myself, Amanda. We will be accompanied by one lead Himachali guide, Kunsong, chef and mountain guide Gomba Sherpa. Also 4 local Ladakhi helpers - Singay, Mutup, Jigmed, and Stenzin.  Finally, 4 horsemen and their 24 horses. 

The group relaxing at the guest house. 
We are a young and ambitious group.  Before we can head out to the wild of the Himalaya we have two days of acclimatization in and around Leh.  These will not be wasted days though, there is a whitewater rafting trip for tomorrow and pre-trek with monastery tour planned for the following day.  

Day 2: Monday, July 21, 2014
Today I did not feel well in the morning and decided to skip the whitewater rafting trip planned for the group.  Fear not, Trevor will be guest blogging the day! 

Yes, it was a bummer to have to leave Amanda and Camilla back in Leh to recover, but more important that everyone would be as healthy as possible to start the very demanding trek. 

The 11 folks that took off for the rafting adventure were first introduced to the Alchi monastery. A very old monastic village, Alchi is unlike many of the other monasteries in Ladakh as it is not built upon a big hill. What it lacks in altitude, it more than makes up for in beauty as many of the decorations inside the temples have stood the test of time. It was a really neat start to our day. 

We then drove another hour along a very-much-under-construction dirt road that traced the Zanskar River towards the small village of Chilling, where we were to embark upon our rafting adventure. This road was quite treacherous and there were many workers busy drilling into the rocks alongside
the road to set explosives, as well as giant earth-movers dumping previously blasted rocks into the 
river below ( which we were soon-to-be rafting through!)

We were given our rafting orientation in Chilling and set off for 3 fantastic hours of navigating the Zanskar. Luke led one boat and a local leader led the other. It was a nonstop affair of attacking each other with water splashes and occasionally sneaking up to dunk folks from the other boat. Good times. We had a few pretty strong rapids and one of them almost knocked Alex off the raft but Luke grabbed him and pulled him back just in time. 

The highlight was when we came back across the road workers. They had rigged an explosion and 
everyone above us was yelling at our boats to hurry up and get down river so we wouldn't be sprayed 
with debris. Sure enough, as soon as we had gotten out of range, the dynamite was triggered and a
huge cloud of dirt and rocks burst into the air and river below. The massive BOOM reverberated 
across the canyon walls and gave us all a huge adrenaline boost. 
The rest of the rafting was largely relaxed and we all enjoyed a short ride back to Leh when it was done. Evening was very chilled out. 

Day 3: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Turns out that I have amoebic dysentery, which I have started treating with a dual course of antibiotics taken thrice daily for three and five days.  Trevor will again be your guest blogger for today. 

This was the first day for everyone to feel what it was like to put on our trekking gear and break in the Himalayas. Our group (minus Amanda and Sandra - who ended up receiving a successful root canal this afternoon) took off on foot from our hotel to trek through Leh, up a hill across 2 3900 meter passes, and down to the nearby village of Sabu. 

One of the few times everyone walked in a straight line. 
It is only a 2-3 hour trek, but given that it is the first time for many folks to find their Himalayan
lungs, it ain't easy. All of us were pretty beat at the first pass and took it slow up a fun scramble to 
the second pass. The remaining downhill section to Sabu was HOT. Our 2 drivers were waiting there for us and whisked us away to begin a monastery tour. 

A local monk was our guide as we headed to Hemis monastery for lunch. This huge and secluded monastery is one of the most famous and important in the region. The home of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Hemis is a very important center for Tibetan pilgrims. There are many incredibly ornate paintings and shrines within its temples, plus a thorough museum that documents a very interesting history of the region. 

After Hemis, we made a stop at Thikse monastery, a picturesque city upon a hill. It is home to an enormous 2-story "future Buddha" - symbolic of the Tibetan belief that a new Buddha will come along down the line. It was here that we entered another beautiful temple and a lama blessed our prayer flags. We planned to place these holy symbols high upon a mountain summit or pass and as the wind blows the flags, prayers are sent out to the atmosphere to spread to everyone. 

Buddha statue
After 3 hours of trekking and driving and monasteries, again the group was very tired and ready to 
head back to Leh for some R&R. It was nice to come back home to Sandra and Amanda both in high spirits and ready to join us the following morning. 

Day 4: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 
Today was an interesting day.  The plan was to have a leisurely morning, pick up any last items in Leh and take the 2 hour drive to our first camp at Rumtse at 2:00.  The first two items on our itinerary went off as planned, the third provided a bit of a hiccup.  We handed our passports to our driver Tashi at the Upshi checkpoint, and when he returned to the truck in very short order, I became a bit worried (nothing is that quick at a military checkpoint). The driver asked Luke for our permits, at which point Luke also went up to the checkpoint. After several minutes and several phone calls back to Leh, it was determined that through some miscommunication, our local agents in Leh had organized our permits to climb Lungser Kangri but a new military policy was now in effect and we would need an additional permit simply to cross into the first part of the trek.  Unfortunately, by this time the permit office has already closed.  So, big bummer but back into the cars and back to Leh we went.  The mood was lifted when we came across an epic polo match taking place with the most beautiful desert backdrop. There was a group filming a promotional video for Ladakh tourism and it was nice to sit and enjoy the uniquely beautiful scene while sipping beers that met the occasion. 

Polo player racing towards us. 
After half an hour checking out the polo, we continued back to Leh, determined to not let this setback affect us. The new plan was to get the permits as soon as the office opened in the morning, drive out to Rumtse and start trekking immediately to our second camp at Chorten Sumdo.  We had a delicious dinner in town before heading back to the guesthouse to sleep.

Day 5: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Success! The permits were acquired without issue, checkpoint passed easily and we met up with our guides who had traveled ahead of us yesterday.  Our gear was unloaded from the trucks and onto the horses in record time. One of the horses was a surprise, a 3 month old baby pony! I first saw him sleeping by his mom while the horses were being loaded with gear.  He was a highlight of the first half of the trek for me.  Then we were off and trekking to Chorten Sumdo.  We moved for about three hours before stopping for lunch.  I felt great for the first hour or so of the walk.  Then a combination of heel pain and fatigue set in.  At the lunch stop I was barely hungry, my appetite having not yet returned.  I was happy that the rest of the walk to camp was mostly flat as I was exhausted when I arrived.  We all took some time to make our tents 'home' for the night before piling into the dining tent.  This tent ended up being the living room, rec room, meeting hall and center of some of the most hilarious moments of the trek.  

Little Baby Pony
Camp at Chorten Sumdo, this was the straightest our camp ever was. 

Day 6: Friday, July 25, 2014
We made our first major altitude gains today over two mountain passes moving from Chorten Sundo to Tisaling.  It was a tough day for all.  As we left camp we moved towards the first pass of the day. This was up a long slow incline.  Near the summit of the pass the path became steep.  As I neared the top the horsemen overtook and passed us, even the baby pony! Their cheer and the jangling bells of the horses lifted my spirits.  The top of most summits are adorned with mounds of rocks called cairns and strings of Tibetan prayer flags.  Once these are in your sights you know you can breathe a sigh of relief that the end - well more accurately - the top is near.  

Happily at the top with Sandra and Cori. 
After resting awhile at the top of the pass we continued on.  For the next hour or so we walked mostly flat and downhill.  For lunch we descended down a steep slope to a grassy area next to a glacial river.  I was feeling exhausted at this point.  I was still on the course of antibiotics from the dysentery I picked up in Leh.  I was also having the wonderful side effect of nausea that required I pause to burp and settle my stomach about every fifteen steps.  To add salt into this wound my boots were biting hard into my heels.  However, the only way to get to camp was up, so up I went.  The second pass of the day was much steeper than the first.  Trevor, who stayed behind with me, recommended walking some of the way up backwards.  With some skepticism, I followed his advice and it worked! Turning backwards relieved the pressure on my heels (I wish the same would have been true for my nausea) and allowed me to make a more easeful way up.  About a quarter of the way from the top I completely ran out of energy.  I told Trevor I just had to sit for awhile and rest.  He must have noticed a change in my voice or color because he took my backpack and walked ahead to the top of the pass to inform someone else of my condition.  As I sat thinking and breathing and resting I remembered that the only option was to continue to camp. With this thought I went a little bit insane.  I began to make up new lyrics which suited my current situation to original songs.  With a chuckle at my own humor I stood up and began walking up the pass again.  Shortly, Trevor was on his way back down and was, I think, a bit surprised to see me walking with a huge smile on my face.  I sang him my new songs the rest of the way to the top of the pass.  

After a rest, full of relief, we continued along the ridge and then down into a valley to camp at 
Tisaling. The beauty of this camp was enhanced by my long, trying day.  The glacial stream was 
practically calling my name to wash off this day! 

Day 7: Saturday, July 26, 2014
Today we moved from our camp at Tisaling to Pongunagu near Lake Tso Kar.  After my struggles yesterday and this being my last day of antibiotics for dysentery, I chose to take advantage of the riding horse for the day.  We ended up naming this horse Balthazar Turnbuckle.  I also learned that the baby pony is tied to a long lead line at night (the other horses are free to roam) so that he stays near camp to keep him safe from a snow leopard attack!

Riding Balthazar Turnbuckle. 
There was a strong steep uphill climb to start the morning. From the top of the ridge we could see Tso Kar in the distance.  The rest of the day moved mostly downhill and flat along a valley. As we first descended into the valley there was a small hail storm! I can certainly say that was the first time I've been on a horse in a hail storm.  Fortunately, it cleared up quickly.  The final stretch before camp went by some interesting ruins/goat herder camps. The staff got camp set up just in time for another storm to pass through.  I took this opportunity to nap, while Trevor snapped photos of the incoming storm. 
Stormy skies 
Rainbow after the storm. 

Day 8: Sunday, July 27, 2014
The morning yoga session today was changed to breathwork in the dining tent as the ground was still soggy from the rain last night.  We had a minor crisis after breakfast when it was discovered that the water filter was no longer working properly and there was not a second one packed (we later realized there were actually 2 extra water filters packed but we forgot about them)  Concern was minimized as we had many tablets and battery powered ionizers to clean the water until we could arrange a new filter (a few days later Kyle remembered he had them in his bag all along - doh!) We also were heading up towards some beautiful glacial streams and knew the water would be very clean to begin with. 

The first part of the walk was along the shores of Lake Tso Kar, which was beautiful. Then we moved into a wide slightly up sloping valley for the remainder of the day.  As we stopped for lunch we noticed a kiang AKA Tibetan wild ass about 100 meters from us.  It kept a watchful eye the whole time we ate.  

Kiang observing our lunch break. 
We had to cross a glacial stream to get into our campsite.  We mostly arrived together and were taking turns either walking or taking a running jump across. Trevor decided to try to clear the whole stream in one leap.  He did, unfortunately as he landed his right ankle rolled awkwardly under him.  He was able to slide with his hands to save himself from more damage, but the ankle was definitely hurt.  The glacial stream is ice cold, so while camp and tents were being prepared, Trevor soaked his ankle.  Just as we finished setting up the truck arrived with a new addition to our group, Nick.  Also in the truck was a local horse broker that Luke sent along.  Due to some unforeseen issue, half of our horsmen decided to leave early and were planning on heading out the following day.  If new horses were not secured we would not be able to leave our next camp. Trevor and Kyle were able to make a contract for another nine horses and two horsemen to join us in two days time.  With the potential crisis averted it was time to relax for dinner and an early bedtime. 

Day 9: Monday, July 28, 2014
The day began with the most beautiful yoga session yet. After the injury to his ankle, it was Trevor's turn to ride the horse today.  The walk started with a long gradual climb to the top of a pass at 5040 meters.  Then we moved into a narrow green valley.  Here there were strong winds and a few showers threatened.  The valley also held our first yak sightings they grazed with their young along the river.  

Resting at the top of the pass. 
Baby yak playing tag. 
Next we moved up the left side of the valley and looked down on several goat herder camps.  We had to turn left into a new valley to reach our Spanglung base camp.  This left turn turned into the first real 'choose your own adventure' of the trek.  Some people followed the horses through the goat herder valley up the right side of the new valley and down into camp. Others continued on the left ridge all the way into camp.  While others still (myself included) followed the left ridge down to a river crossing then along the right side to camp.  Whichever way was chosen we all had long day, and were rewarded with the best camp yet. 

Gorgeous Spanglung camp. 
Our Spanglung base camp had no one else nearby, a beautiful glacial stream steps from the tents, soft ground and incredible views.  I was especially happy to know this is where our first full rest day would be had.  All of these things eased my sadness that the baby pony and all his cuteness would be leaving with half of the horses.  At dinner it was suggested (by vegetarians), that we pool some money together to purchase a goat and have it slaughtered for dinner tomorrow.  Even though our group would largely categorize ourselves as vegetarian, we felt that the free range lifestyle of the goats and the traditional herding practices made this a unique opportunity. Everyone agreed that this would be a delicious treat.  Ryan organized the collection of funds and communication with Kunsong to make this happen.

Day 10: Tuesday, July 29, 2014
We had our first optional rest day of the trip at Spanglung camp.  Kyle and Gomba Sherpa guided Ryan, Brian, Alex and Cori to a nearby summit at 6040 meters. Due to their 4:00 am alpine start, they returned to camp around noon for a half day of rest.  The remainder of the group used the day fully to rest and recover from the previous five days of trekking.  Part of this rest was washing bodies and clothes in the pristine and freezing glacial stream.  The best part of taking a bath/shower in a glacial stream is that after the first two minutes your body no longer registers the cold and you begin to feel warm! This lasts only a short window though, so you must be efficient about finishing up, getting to your tent and wrapping warm clothes around yourself.  

Horses grazing near our camp. 
A little before dinner time, our new horsemen arrived with nine fresh horses. This buoyed the spirits
 of the group almost as much as the arrival of our freshly slaughtered goat.  Kunsong and our main horseman Sanjay had set off earlier in the morning to purchase and have one killed and cleaned for 
dinner.  To call our meal that evening a dinner would be inaccurate - we had a feast! The staff cooked both the liver and leg meat for us, as well as a local spicy tomato chutney, bitter greens, rice and ice melon for desert.  They also had procured some local rum, which we added to chai to complete the feast.  We all went to bed stuffed and happy.  

Ryan with the fresh goat meat. 

Day 11: Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Today the group split again.  Kyle and Gomba brought Ryan, Brian, Alex, Håvard, Ben and Cori up to the Rupshu Glacier.  They strapped on their crampons and spent 3 hours traversing the ice field. All of them said it was a beautiful yet exhausting day. The glacier has melted quite a bit since Luke and Trevor traversed it in 2011, thus the group did not end up ice climbing. 

After a 9:00 start, the rest of the crew, horsemen, horses and Trevor went with Mahesh, Nick, Sandra, Camilla and myself departed on what was claimed to be a quick uphill and mostly downhill four hour walk.  Due to some miscommunication with the new horsemen, the route they think should be taken takes a left turn out of the valley, over a pass and into another valley camp (Nokpa Gozing).  The route Trevor and Kyle have discussed takes a right turn out of the valley, over a pass and into a different valley camp (Nugma Nunda). The difference of route is highlighted by the fact that our trekking group has split and we cannot inform Kyle et. all of the new plan.  After three different times stopping the progress of both groups of horsemen they are finally convinced by Trevor and Sanjay (our original horseman) that the right turn leads to the appropriate camp.  Because we have walked further into the valley than originally planed we now have to go up a much higher pass and steeper descent.  Including stops to convince and change course, our four hour moderate walk turned into a seven hour challenge.  Ironically this was the day that I found my mountain legs.  After lunch the route to camp was fairly basic.  I put on my headphones, shuffled my music and loved every step! There was one particularly magical moment while I was walking along a stream in a steep green valley with incredible white capped mountains in the distance when three horses, one white, one 
black and one bay came into view.  They frolicked and grazed on the lush grass looking curiously as I moved past them. 

Nearing the top of the pass.
By the time all arrived in camp we were exhausted. We learned the horsemen just simply misheard Trevor's english and that's why they had thought we wanted to head to the other camp. We shared our stories and laughs over a delicious dinner that included goat leftovers. 

Day 12: Thursday, July 31, 2014
Today's walk I affectionately named 'Ankle Krusher'.  It was only a five hour walk, but the terrain was aggressively rough.  At first Cori, Sandra and I decided to take the low road along the river, while everyone else took the high road along the hills.  Trevor and Kyle were worried about our safety and Kyle came down to bring us up with the rest of the group.  I'll never know if walking the riverbed would have been easier but the terrain up on the hills was a test of balance and ankle stability.  Fortunately, the walk was not a long one.  We even had enough energy at lunch to practice some acroyoga.  

Trevor basing Håvard, Trevor basing Sandra and Håvard basing Camilla

And a little nap afterwards. 
Our camp Tsakchang was near the road so that Tashi our driver could come in with a re-supply and 
take Brian, Ryan and Alex back to Leh.  They are only able to participate in a shorter trek due to work constraints in the US.  Even by a road we are next to a river and have beautiful views.  Luke accompanied Tashi and delivers news to the group that the military/government have shut down trekking to Lungser Kangri, which was the 6666 meter peak that the remaining group was to attempt to summit next week.  Fortunately, there are many other high peaks in the area and we will now attempt Mentok 1, a 6300 meter peak on the other side of Lake Tso Moriri.   It was the eve of Ryan's 30th birthday so after a delicious dinner and some celebratory scotch, the staff brought us an amazing cake with the cryptic inscription "Happy Birthday, Obey Dear".  We all thoroughly enjoyed the cake and went to bed stuffed again. 

Day 13: Friday, August 1, 2014
This morning was bittersweet. We had the most relaxed breakfast and start of the trek yet, but it was due to the fact that three of our group (Brian, Alex and Ryan) were leaving us.  

Group photo before departure.
Standing - Sandra, Cori, Alex, Kyle, Mahesh, Ben, Amanda, Brian, Sanjay, Nick, Camila, Håvard, Ryan, Kunsong, Singay, Gombo
Sitting - Trevor, Chenderson, Gomba Sherpa, Tashi, Jigmed, Stenzin, Mutup-
After they departed the remainder of the group began our walk down to Tso Moriri and our camp At Peldo.  The first three hours of the walk was a "choose your own adventure" along a riverbed.  We all met up at a bridge where the river turned into a delta as it fed into the lake.  After checking the map to determine the location of camp we set off again.  Trevor, Nick and Ben were in the front of the group.  As they neared the campsite a lone donkey took notice of them.  When they continued to advance towards him he pinned his ears back brayed loudly and began to charge at them.  It was hilarious!! We continued past the napoleonic donkey while he kept a watchful eye on us.  We arrived at camp a good hour before the horsemen because overnight four of the new horsemen's horses had run away.  Sanjay arrived with his horses and the five remaining of the new horsemen's horses and the majority of camp.  Later the helpers arrived with two horses that had been found.  

Scruffles before he decided to join our camp. 
This rest of the afternoon was time for relaxation and recovery. The staff had some fun mounting the donkey and taking him along for a ride. We were the only camp in a huge open meadow and it was the most comfortable flat ground we had experienced yet. The staff made us momos for dinner, which were delicious!

Day 14: Saturday, August 2, 2014
Today we took a well deserved full rest day which turned out to be quite eventful, especially for the horsemen.  A lone kiang had taken exception to our horses being in his area.  Now unlike the little donkey, who we named "Scruffles", kiang actually pose a threat for the horses.  They are larger, have very strong teeth, are territorial and quite aggressive.  The kiang made his first charge at our horses during the morning yoga class.  Needless to say, my attention was completely diverted.  The horsemen and helpers ran out and chased him away.  This was not the last we would see of him.  At least four other times, as we went about our baths, laundry and naps, calls would go up of 'KIANG!!' As he charged towards our horses.  Fortunately,  he was chased away every time and none of our horses were injured.  

Kiang getting kicked by our brave horses.
Another incredible view to wake up to. 

Day 15: Sunday, August 3, 2014
We had enjoyed a perfect view of Mentok 1, the mountain we were going to attempt to summit in just a few days, while at camp Peldo.  We were excited leaving camp to get this final part of our trek underway.  The first part of the walk was spent along the shores of Lake Tso Moriri, the water a beautiful clear blue.  Håvard, Trevor and Cori even stopped for a quick morning swim!

Trevor and Cori in Tso Moriri
Then it was time to climb up a pass to enter the next valley.  We had also been looking at the path to this pass for the past two days.  While it was a bit steep it didn't look too high.  Well, one of the fun things about mountains is that often they have surprises for you.  When I got to what I thought was the top of the pass, I found that actually I was only a third of the way to the top!  

Ascent up the first part of the pass
After reaching the top and taking some time to rest we continued along the ridge.  About this time the horses caught up with us and they had a surprise.  Scruffles, the donkey, had come along with them! Cori and I were delighted to see this, even more so when the helpers again tried to ride him.  When we descended into the valley we saw why they had brought Scruffles along, the valley was full of other donkeys.   As soon as he saw them Scruffles was off to join his friends. 

Stenzin riding Scruffles the donkey. 
Descending into the valley of Korzok Phu
Our new camp in the nomad village of Korzok Phu was set up between two branches of a glacial 
stream, another great spot.  Shortly after we finished lunch Tashi showed up with another trekker, 
Bob, to join our group as well as fresh supplies.  As happy as we were to have Bob join us, we were sad to have Sandra and Camilla leave and head back to Leh.  We sent them off with many photos, hugs and a few protests.  As we settled into camp the donkeys made their presence known.  It must have been breeding season for all of the arguments between males and females, before the "act" was consummated which was followed by more fights from other males who were upset they were not a part.  These loud fights and skirmishes continued into the night!  At dinner we decided that tomorrow would be an active rest day where we would trek up to the top of some of the nearby ridges. 

Day 16: Monday, August 4, 2014
Trevor left the tent this morning to go to the bathroom, when he came back he informed me that a dog was sleeping out the back of our tent.  I immediately opened up the back entrance and saw a cute healthy looking dog curled up nearby. It's ears pricked up and tail wagged when it saw me.  I called it over for a pat which it shyly obeyed.  I was so excited to finally see a dog that looked like it had been somewhat cared for!

Good Morning!!
The dog of course stayed at our camp during breakfast where Cori decided its name should be Ronald.  It was only after breakfast when it laid down for a belly rub that we discovered Ronald was a she not a he, but the name was set.  Ronald even joined us as we started our walk up to the ridges surrounding the valley.  

Ronald walking up with us. 
About halfway up I decided that I had enough uphill climbing and would spend the rest of the time 'choosing my own adventure' along the hills.   It was a beautiful morning of walking and meditating.  I went back to camp for some full on rest and lunch.  Awhile later the rest of the group came down for the same, except Trevor had also decided to have his own adventure and walk over to a glacial lake in one of the passes.  As it was getting close to dinner time and he hadn't returned I began to become a bit worried, but decided to just wait a little longer till I mentioned it to Kyle.  Then Jigmed, our local liaison, came and asked me if Trevor was back yet with a small look of concern on his face.  At this point I was full blown worried and not a few worst case scenarios wee running through my mind.  Two of the helpers volunteered to walk up to the ridge in the direction he should be walking down to look for him.  Håvard and Ben also took out their cameras to see if they coils see anything through their zoom lenses.  It was Nick, with his bare eyes, who spotted Trevor first.  He was jauntily walking down almost right where the two helpers had set out to.  PHEW!! I was very relieved and a little upset at having been worried.  He came back to camp happy that he had time to explore by himself. 

Glacier Trevor went to explore. 
Very happy! 

Day 17: Tuesday, August 5, 2014
We were told that today's walk would be a long eight hours of uphill climb to get to our base camp for Mentok 1.  While it was all uphill with a steep climb just before camp, the day only ended up being four hours due to a change in camp location.  I'm not sure what the other camp was like but the views from this camp were the most breathtaking of the trip.  

Steep incline before camp. 
I still can't believe we stayed here. 
It was also the most rocky ground, smallest stream and coldest camp of the trip....but those views!! 
Totally worth it! 
Ronald had walked with the horses and helpers from whom who she has been begging for leftovers 
just as successfully as she has been scoring belly rubs from us.  Of course, I was happy to have her around camp.  After lunch we had a group meeting and decided that since today was a much less exhausting day than planned we would attempt to summit Mentok 1 tomorrow.  Kyle gave a crampon, alpine harness, and ice axe/mountain tool workshop to those of us who have not used these things before.  This would come in handy for me tomorrow.  The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and enjoying the views from camp.  

Day 18: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
When I first heard the term 'alpine start' I thought it meant starting to walk up a mountain.  What it actually means is waking up in the middle of the night - in our case 2am - putting on all of your warmest clothes (or sleeping in them), eating a bit of breakfast and then, yes, starting to climb a mountain.  
This is what waking up for an alpine start looks like....! 
This was the first time on the trek that we all walked in a single file line quite close to each other.  The first hour and a half we walked in darkness with our headlamps to guide our steps.  Then the sunrise started to glow over the mountains across Tso Moriri, it was breathtaking.  

Taking a break just as the sun is about to rise. 
Just beginning to peak over the Lungser peaks. 
After another hour of walking in the lighted dawn we reached the base of a glacier.  After a pause to 
put on our harnesses, crampons and gloves we started walking on ice! This may be a normal 
experience for those that live in cold climates, but for this Florida girl it was totally new and exciting. 

Walking on, walking on frozen water. 
As we climbed higher I began to feel the air getting even thinner.  After a rest and snack break on the glacier we moved onto a very steep section.  Each step had to be taken with care so that you would 
not slip down the slope.  We all successfully made it to the rocks where again we paused, this time to 
take crampons off. 

Glacier break time. 
Steep final bit of the glacial traverse. 
The next part of the climb was over large and lose rocks.  This is where I lost my nerve.  After about twenty minutes of struggling over the rocks and with fear of falling I stopped to talk to Trevor and Kyle about continuing.  They both agreed that it would be best for me to head back to camp at this point.  Nick was feeling the effects of altitude strongly, and Mahesh was also ready to head back.  The three of us and Jigmed wished the rest of the group luck and turned around.  When we got back to the glacier I moved up a little higher to get my crampons on.  As I walked down to join the other three on the steep path I slipped and started sliding down, down, down the glacier.  While I was sliding I yelled 'what do I do, what do I do?!?!!' As the words came out of my mouth I remembered what Kyle had told us and slammed my ice axe/mountain tool into the glacier.  I was stopped and surprisingly not too terrified.  I was still near the rocks, so I wiggled over to them and climbed back up to start the traverse again.  This time I was extra slow and careful with each step.  I made it across without further incident.  While we were on the flat part of the glacier we heard a faint shouting.  We looked up and saw the rest of the team had made it to a high ridge above us!  

Ben at the top of the ridge.
The little black dots on the right side of the glacier are Jigmet, Mahesh, Nick and I! 
We continued our steep and challenging descent to camp, each at our own pace.  When I arrived I 
saw that Kunsong and Bob were already there.  When I asked Bob how he had beat us back, he said he had run out of steam a little further up than the three of us had and he and Kunsong had taken a different (and quicker) way down the mountain. 

Here I'll take a pause and let Trevor tell you what the summit was like.  

No one was fearless today. The ascent up loose scree on a steep grade made for some scary sections  where we were exposed to potential rocks careening down towards us from above. Every step was an adventure and oxygen was minimal. However, we could also feel our lungs and overall cardiovascular strength had grown exponentially over the previous 2 weeks since our warmup trek at just 3900 meters to Sabu. 

After Bob and Kunsong turned back, Cori, Ben, Håvard, Kyle, and myself continued up as best we could. This was entirely a exploratory section of mountain with no obvious route. We just did our best to figure out a way. We slowly got higher and higher until we reached a point with a somewhat apparent route to some prayer flags up above. This was incredibly soothing and we all took that final section in leaps and bounds.  We were exhausted, but the top was incredible. As Amanda mentioned, we were able to look down at their group beneath us and gave them a holler to let them know we were okay! It was a beautiful 6100 meter summit, adorned with prayer flags and worthy of a feeling of successful mountaineering, but it wasn't the true Mentok 1 summit which still beckoned from above. After 20 minutes of deliberation, Kyle and I decided we were taking the group going higher. 

The weather was beautiful and time was still on our side so we dropped much of our equipment and headed up with lighter packs carrying only the essentials (cameras, prayer flags, and beer!). Håvard and Ben had each been carrying a beer their packs the entire trek to save for this moment. About 45 minutes of boulders, scree, and very comfortable snow, we reached the massive cairn at the true 
Mentok 1 summit and began the celebration. No prayer flags were at the summit, so we were able to set ours up and send our positive vibes out to the universe. This ended up being extra special to me as I later learned that my niece was born later that evening in California, and thoughts were definitely sent in that direction.  The ceremonial beers were cracked and downed while photos were taken for about 30 minutes of perfect summit time. 

Trevor, Kyle, Håvard, Cori and Ben at the summit!
Kyle in a moment of reflection. 
Let's just say that coming down the mountain was exhausting and not early as exciting as going up. We think the beers at 6300m hit us pretty hard and headaches and sore ankles weren't very fun. 
However, we all made it back safely and basically passed out for the next 24 hours. 

Day 19: Thursday, August 7, 2014
Of all of the rest days this one was the most deserved.  Only Bob decided to climb again. He and Kunsong woke up early and set off for a summit attempt using the route they had taken to descend yesterday.  Everyone else spent the day in total rest and recovery mode.  We read books, wrote blogs, took naps, pet Ronald and drank tea.  

Nap time....zzzz
In the late afternoon Bob returned with success!  He had summited Mentok 1.  It was wonderful for another of our group to enjoy this achievement!  The cooks made us momos again, which were the perfect cap to our rest day. 

Sunset from Mentok camp. 
Have I mentioned the views? 

Day 20: Friday, August 8, 2014
Today was our last day of walking which was hard to believe after such a long time camping.  Certainly, the longest I have ever camped! After an outdoor breakfast at high camp, we began our walk back down to Korzok Phu.  Most of this walk was a nice downhill slope, which made for an easy and enjoyable final walk.  

Breakfast looking up at Mentok 1. 
One last look. 
Camp was set up in Korzok Phu at a spot that was a bit closer to the access road for the trucks that would be arriving to take us back to Leh.  Just after camp was set, a herd of yak came grazing by.  The babies were so curious about our tents.  Some of the braver ones came right up to them to investigate.  The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, I think our bodies knew this was the end of the trek.  After dinner the cooks surprised us with another delicious cake! A wonderful final touch.  

Day 21: Saturday, August 9, 2014
The final morning.  We were a mix of happy, sad, accomplished, sore, ready for a real bed, and wishing we could stay longer.  Kyle and Bob were continuing with a much smaller crew for another week.  We slowly said good bye to them as the rest of the gear was packed onto the trucks.  Then we piled in with the guides who were leaving for a long and beautiful drive back to Leh. Over the next few days, the group would slowly depart from Leh and head onwards with their life adventures. 

Where do we go from here?