Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tibet, Progress and Ancient Tracks - Lhakpa Ri Expedition - May 2017

Xegar (New Tingri), Tibet | 2147 | 4330m / 14,210 feet | 7 May, 2017

Views of the end of the Himalayas and the start of the Changtang plateau on the flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

Greetings from Tibet. Over the past whirlwind days we’ve been traveling overland on the Changtang plateau in an expedition van provided by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association.  We have a permit to climb 7045 meter Lhakpa Ri on the Far East Fork of the Rongbuk glacier. During this Spring season, foreigners are required to enter Tibet by flying into Lhasa, hence why we are approaching the peak by such an indirect route. Gomba and Karma Sherpa are driving to base camp from Kathmandu over the Tibetan border and we will meet them there in two days time. Then we will be a team, of six, all together. Nepalis are the only people allowed to enter Tibet through the Nepal border. This Autumn foreigners will be allowed to enter through Nepal again, yet only Cho Oyu will be open for climbing this Autumn. All peaks will return to Open status for 2018, and foreigners will be allowed to enter through Nepal.  Permit fees have increased this season in Tibet. Foreigners are required to pay US$200/day to be in Lhasa in addition to their peak permit cost. Permit holders are required to pay for their meals while traveling to base camp now as well, which was covered by the permit in the past. All of the information above is from a meeting I had with the China Tibet Mountaineering Association two days ago in Lhasa, Tibet, China. It is fact. Moving on..
    We are Luke Smithwick (USA) - leader and lead guide , Charles De Courval (Canada) - climber, Francis Lawrence (France and now Australia) - climber, Wilmars Mikelsons (Australia) - climber, Gomba Sherpa (Nepal) - assistant guide, Karma Gyelje Sherpa (Nepal) - cook. I’ve climbed with Charles and Francis previously, this is Wilmars first trip with me. Gomba and I have worked together for four years now. Karma I’ve worked with since 2012, although he does work at Mount Kailas in the summers as a cook with mostly Indian tour groups on yatra.
Locals walk the daily kora (circle) around the Potala Palace, notice the snowy mountains in the background.

Views of modernising Lhasa from the steps of the Potala Palace.
     So let's begin in Lhasa, first impressions. I'd always envisioned Lhasa to be a place that time forgot. Tumbleweeds (not literally, but figuratively), ancient monuments, a place for one's imagination to run with thoughts of the past. While that is still very present, the modern world is quickly coming to Lhasa. Cranes work 24 hours a day, expensive SUVs ply the spotless streets, and the city is timely and efficient. Amongst this, there is the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace.
towering over the growing metro area.  Lhasa is the upscale Tibet, Tibetan couture, everyone dressed in their best. Within the Potala Palace, I presumed a museum, yet there is life. Monks pray and chant in each room, shukpa juniper incense wafts through the hallways and catacombs, and it is still bustling with the life of the Tibetan people. We were not accompanied by hoards and throngs of foreign tourists as we passed through the Potala, yet people from Amdo, from Shigatse, and from all over Tibet who were there to pay homage to this center for Tibetans.  It was an excellent experience, and the palace is so well preserved and respected.
A father and son from Amdo province enter the Potala.

Granite crags outside of Lhasa. There is a lot of cragging to be done around town on clean granite cracks.

Modern Lhasa, clean streets and new vehicles.

Tibetan locals converse under Chinese street lamps. An amalgamation of culture can be seen everywhere in Tibet now.

From Lhasa, we drove out of town towards Shigatse after fresh snowfall the night before, the nearby mountains covered in a dusting of snow.  We could see fresh tracks in the snow from locals crossing passes with their animals just outside of town. Francis and I have kept a keen eye for birds on this trip, both of us being keen birders when there are others interested. So far we've spotted Cattle Egret, Yellow Billed Blue Magpie, Common Lora, Greater Barbet, Common Pigeon, House Crow, Scaly Breasted Munia, Oriental Dove, Himalayan Bulbul, Yellow Naped Woodpecker, Large Billed Crow, Blue Thrush, Smew, Lammergeier, Citrine Wagtail, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Goldeneye. 

A roadside lunch stop on the way to Shigatse from Lhasa. Noodle soup being prepared by the restaurant owner.

The group with our driver and local guide (Tashi - second from left) at a lunch stop yesterday near Shigatse.

    You drive along the turquoise Tsangpo river to get from Lhasa to Shigatse, and it was clean and enticing. One of my goals is to raft it someday. Shigatse is larger than Lhasa (400,000) with 700,000 people. We drove in the evening and rested before having dinner and taking an evening walk to the Tashi Lhunpo monastery.  I was also impressed with how clean and modern Shigatse was.  This evening, we are resting here in Xegar (New Tingri) at 4300 meters.  The team feels good, there have been some minor stomach issues, and one person has a mild cold, yet all will pass. Tomorrow we drive to Tingri and will stay the night, driving to base camp the following morning. I will post the next update from our base camp, which is also the base camp for Mount Everest.

-Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides (