Day 11: Shree Kharka to Yak Kharka
All preliminaries cast aside, we must attempt the main challenge in the next three days, the high pass, the ancient trading route between Manang and Tibet, the Thorung La, standing at 5416m. The approach today is to the lodges at Yak Kharka. Verily this is Yak territory, and we pass a herd of the noble beasts, doing their best on patches of bleached stubble.
Approaching what looks like a hilltop village, we find it is instead a collection of stone walls and shelters for the animals in severe winter weather.
We enter a birch forest … how interesting that the homely Scottish tree is also represented up here, though the Himalayan specimen is capable of much sturdier trunks.
The view back down the valley towards Manang is flooded with light.
Day 12: Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi
Some portents of a change in weather: high cloud and a strong westerly wind. This is tough climbing and I stop more frequently, trying to follow the advice I´ve been given to breathe more deeply, without hyperventilating, to compensate for the steadily reducing oxygen quotient.
The valley narrows and after we´ve crossed the river, we can see the whole collapsing landscape of landslips, with a few plaintive trails that have been partially carried away. We are in the bleak embrace of the cirque of rocky peaks and can go no further; only upwards in the early morning, after a cold night here.
Day 13: Thorung Phedi to Mukinath by the Thorung La
The slow procession of torches below at 4.00am. The main thing is to keep going and keep a regular pace. But you can appreciate both the commanding cirque of mountains to the east, as well as the broad stately nature of the pass, and the curving ascent of the path.
There is an unlikely, but very welcome, tiny tea house serving scalding ginger tea as we get higher. It all flattens out, but you recognize that the increasing gentleness houses a number of false summits, but here we are finally, this is actually the top. And we could see a number of climbers going up the nearby snow clad slope of a climbing peak, edging higher in brilliant light.
Although there were snow flurries the night before, they came to nothing. The pass was snow free.