Day 6: Manang - Tilicho Base Camp
Total distance: 138.78km
Total Ascent: 7092m
Total Descent: 3981m
Now I'm sleeping above 4000m. Things are starting to get serious.
Today was a significant improvement on yesterday. There was no going off course and I didn't fall over. That doesn't mean it was an easy day though.
Because of the high altitude I have to take my elevation gain slowly. This gave me a great excuse to check out Tilicho Lake, a three day out-and-back excursion that will give my body a chance to acclimatise. Day one involved trekking out to Tilicho base camp, just below the lake.
The walk started out fairly easy, on a well-marked path through the labyrinthine village of Khangsar and tiny Shree Kharka. There were a few tough climbs here and there, which my legs and lungs protested against, but nothing like what I had undertaken in the last couple of days. My shoulders definitely appreciated the day off yesterday. The path followed a huge wall of white on the other side of the river, offering picturesque views up and down the valley at every turn. I didn't spot another trekker until I reached Shree Kharka, 2.5 hours after starting out. Of course doubts went through my mind that I was heading in the wrong direction, but the frequent signs allayed these fears.
The difficult part came about an hour before the end. I knew it was coming, but I had no idea how scary it would be. A small, plain sign indicated the start of the death-defying adventure: landslide area.
I didn't know what to expect, but I was soon met with long, bare, steep slopes of loose scree that I had to traverse directly across, with only a minimal path to follow. And by path I mean the footsteps of people before me leaving imprints on the trail that I was supposed to follow. Every now and then a barrage of stones would fly down the mountain in front of or behind me, some the size of large grapefruits. It was like a deadly version of dodgeball, hoping I could make it across each slope without being hit.
The flying scree was only half the problem; the other half was the actual walking. Every step resulted in my foot sinking deep into the rocks, sending dozens of stones rolling down the hill. I was sure I was going to go down with the rocks, and my trekking poles could do nothing to save me. At one point I froze, positive that if I shifted my weight to take a step that it would send me sliding. Yesterday's events ran through my head, but if I slipped here there was nothing to stop my fall except the ground, hundreds of metres below. I eventually worked up the courage to move, only sliding slightly before I planted my other foot and continued on. I can't believe so many people make it across here unharmed. This trek would not be legal in Australia.
Arriving safely at base camp my first priority (as usual) was food. I had tried the local dumplings (momos) a couple of times but they were the steamed variety. I recently saw someone's order of fried momos and they looked amazing, so I had to give them a go. I was glad I did. They looked like mini samosas, filled with a beautiful curried vegetable mixture. I could have eaten 10 plates worth.
I wasn't used to arriving at my destination so early in the day (12.30pm), and it left me unsure as to what to do. Base camp consisted of three hotels and that was it. It was too cold to stand around outside, so I sat in the semi-warm dining room with dozens of others, reading up on many of other treks I could complete in Nepal. The views out the window of 7000+m icy peaks, the base of which started right outside the hotel, were outstanding. I'm sure my legs were thankful for the rest.
The higher I climb the colder the nights, and with no heating in the rooms I gave to resort to layering up. Generally I've been wearing a thermal top, thermal pants and thick socks. Tonight I had to add the fleece-like jacket. I'm not sure how many more layers I can add.