Click here to read part 1, if you missed it!
From Ghunsa we began to travel back up a different valley. I thoroughly enjoyed leading another delicious grind up a steep hill in rhodendron forests. I snagged the blissful opportunity to get my heart pumping and felt like I could have flown up that climb, happily drenched in euphoria of effort, similar to the runners high. I reached Selele in the sunshine, feeling great. Soon after the others caught up and we “checked in” to the rudimentary teahouse constructed there. Thick fog blew in to obscure our views of the first of four passes we were meant to climb the next day. I felt apprehensive about the mists since the passes were rumored to be difficult to navigate in snow or cloud. The room which slept three of us was teeny tiny and consisted only of a single raised platform with three thin sleeping mats placed on top. I admit I felt fear and terror at the prospect of sleeping there, in the cold. Rightfully so, we retreated into our room after an icy dal bhat dinner to experience a chilly, uncomfortable sleep.
Fortunately, the morning was clear enough that we determined it should be safe to attempt the passes. We climbed the first pass at 4450m which afforded us stunning vistas of Mount Jannu nearby, and Mount Makalu in the distance. After traversing some moraines and the next three passes, including the final Sinion Pass at 4645m, the weather deteriorated for us somewhat. Luckily, it’s not as much of a problem on the descent. At the final pass before descending to Cheram, we crossed paths with two American guys who’d just experienced an extremely negative incident in which they had to fire their guide who’d been drunk for 36 hours straight. I urge all trekkers travelling to Nepal to research trekking agencies beforehand, ask to interview guides before hiring them, and AVOID all-inclusive pre-paid packages unless you trust the guide and company fully. These poor American guys had unwittingly entrusted this alcoholic stranger to carry all their cash for the trip, having purchased an “all-inclusive” package in which the guide would even be paying for their meals on trail. Upon firing him, they were not able to get back very much cash from the guy, and they were worried about whether they’d even have enough money to get them food and lodging on the way out from the trek. When doing teahouse treks it’s always best to be responsible for paying your own accommodation and food separately.
In Cheram we’d re-entered a forested area, and down at an elevation of 3870m. Night time was still chilly at this altitude so we were eager to get moving again the next morning, climbing once more up to a place called Ramche. The climb took us through large boulder fields and across flat plains which afforded excellent views of the magnificent Kabru mountain, towering over us at 7412m. We walked alongside glacier for most of the day until reaching Ramche at 4580m where we were able to enjoy a very tasty Tibetan Thupka soup. Similar to Lhonak or Selele, Ramche contained only two small structures made of piled up stones, providing only mild protection from outside winds. The beds were very simple thin mats. I was perfectly terrified to sleep here, knowing exactly how cold I could expect it to be overnight.
Miraculously, I did not actually freeze to death in my sleep and was able to awake the next morning for another (slightly later) alpine start, which saw us trekking by 5:30am. We didn’t have very high or far to go, and arrived at our destination, Okhordung, by 7am. I had a hard time estimating the temperature but our climb of only 150m had not been strenuous enough to warm me up, so I was still chilled from the cold night and had to enjoy the views fully clad in nearly all the clothing layers I’d brought with me. Under my thin trail runners I wore two pairs of warm socks, and on top of this I donned thermal pants covered by trekking pants and gaiters, two pairs of mitts, two thermal tops covered by a down jacket and a hard shell, a thick yak wool scarf and a toasty toque on my head. Our guides sang us Nepali songs which I danced to for warmth, while attempting to enjoy the impossibly fabulous views Mount Kanchenjunga from the south. Soon after I simply had to descend to avoid frostbitten fingers. The others followed soon after and chased me down to Cheram.
Upon arriving in Cheram at the early hour of 11:20am, my original trekking group of just Ben, Alba, Raju and I decided to part ways with Mary, Thomas, Kanchen and NT. Ben wanted to try to get back to Hong Kong earlier than planned so we opted to continue our descent from Cheram all the way to Tortong at 3100. Unfortunately along this twisting, winding downward descent through the forested river valley, I mis-stepped and twisted my ankle. It seared painfully but after a brief rest I felt ok to walk on it again. And yes, it was the same ankle I’d injured while trekking in the Far West. Since I hadn’t really given it a good opportunity to heal I think it was in a state in which I could injure it more easily. In Tortong I was able to nurse it a bit and Ben gave me some magical healing Chinese plaster which actually seemed to do wonders for the foot. Tortong was a good place to rest, nestled in a charming clearing in a mossy old-growth forest of beautiful tall trees. The only negative thing about Tortong is that fact that we had to pay a whopping $2.50 for one fried egg – Oh.My.God.$$$.
From Tortong we climbed up and down through rhodendron forests, and across the biggest landslide I’ve ever seen in my life. Shortly after lunch we were hit with an incredible storm – some of the only rain we experienced during the whole trip. Luckily we were at low enough of an elevation now that this storm didn’t bring snow, but it did hail on us for a little while and encouraged the leeches to emerge. After an extremely long hiking day and 2100m of descent we arrived sopping wet in Yampudin. Here we tallied our leech bites (Alba – 3, Ben – 2, Michelle – 0, Raju – 0), rung out our socks, and got drunk. Ben, Alba and I decided to indulge in some local Tongba which made us act silly, and enjoy our food even more than we otherwise might have.
A slow moving morning finally saw us off to Khebang. Along the way we started passing more villages and large crops, including many yummy cardamom plants. In Khebang the warm temperatures allowed me the opportunity to wash my hair for only the third time in three weeks. It was bliss. From the balcony of the home we stayed in I charged my electronics and watched the children playing football. I was able to start processing all that had happened in the past three weeks and was overcome with a great feeling of peace and happiness. The next day was our 16th and final day of walking together, so we took it slowly and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the villages we walked through. Following this we bussed for 15 hours, then flew back to Kathmandu over two full days of torturous travel.
Travelers to Nepal should know that the far eastern regions of Nepal were unaffected by the recent earthquake, and completely safe to visit. This region had been impacted by a large earthquake back in 2011, but I saw no signs of remaining effects.
A huge thank-you is owed to our wonderful guides Raju, NT and Kanchen. We must have had the highest guide-to-trekker ratio of all time but we wouldn’t trade the dal bhat boys for the world. An additional large thanks goes out to our excellent trekking company, Kanchenjunga Trek, which I highly recommend to anyone thinking of traveling to this region.