Day 7: Tilicho Base Camp - Yak Kharka
Side Trip: Tilicho Lake
Total distance: 165.84km
Total Ascent: 8635m
Total Descent: 5638m
One week now I've been on this trek. That's one week of cold weather and thermal clothing. One week of sleeping in a new bed every night and living out of a backpack. One week of squat toilets. One week without a sink to wash my hands or brush my teeth. One week of single beds with foam mattresses. One week of sterilising water. One week of barely any fruits and veggies. But also one week of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen in my life, covering 165km of the Himalayas. You can achieve a lot in a week.
A 5:15am wake up call, 5:30am breakfast and 6am start for the trek to Tilicho Lake (without the backpack - woohoo!). I had a few people in front of me so I knew I was heading in the right direction. Being so early in the day the ground was mostly frozen at the start, so my poles were no good to me. The terrain soon turned into loose scree, zigzagging up the hill towards the lake. It was tough going, particularly at this elevation, but nowhere near as tough as the Ice Lake. I still felt as though I was moving at the speed of a sloth. Towards the top the landscape flattened out and large patches of snow appeared. I was grateful that it was the firm, crunchy variety of snow that my trail running shoes had no problem traversing over. The manager at the lodge told me that it takes about three hours for a fast walker to reach the top. I did it in 2:15.
Tilicho Lake, one of the highest lakes in the world at 4920m. The viewpoint was at 5005m, a new record for me. The lake is completely frozen over at this time of year, so there were no amazing alpine reflections, but the views on the way up and down were stunning. Every now and then I could hear the rumble of ice breaking away from a glacier, or the cracking of the frozen surface of one of the smaller lakes. Of course every time I heard these sounds my mind immediately thought, 'Avalanche!'. But no, it was just the daily shifting of the ice with the changing temperatures.
I stayed for about half hour to capture the view from every possibly angle, then made way down just as winds picked up. Where I could I would half run down the mountain, eager to get out of the cold gusts and back to relative warmth.
I was starving by the time I reached the hotel, so I ordered Tibetan bread to refuel. I had no idea what Tibetan bread was, but it turned out to be gigantic, oily and doughy, and it hit the spot perfectly. I swear it took me 15 minutes just to eat that one bit of bread.
There's only one way into Tilicho Base Camp and one way out: via the landslide zone. Somehow it seemed less scary today, but my heart rate was elevated at every crossing of the steep, slippery slopes (and it wasn't because of the altitude). My plan was to not look up, not look down, keep my eyes in front of my feet and take short, quick steps. I guess it worked, as I crossed it twice as fast as yesterday.
I reached Shree Kharka by lunchtime, so decided to continue on to Yak Kharka, a town back on the main Annapurna Circuit. Not long after starting out the clouds rolled in and the winds picked up, making for a chilly walk. I reached what would have been an amazing viewpoint, looking down two sides of the valley, but I could barely see anything due to the low cloud cover. I didn't pass a single trekker for two hours, but I managed not to get lost without someone to follow (I'm getting good at this).
The descent down from the viewpoint turned steep and slippery, with snow lining the edges of the path. At this point a light rain began to fall, adding to the difficulty and the coldness. I made it to the bottom without falling over, crossed a bridge and started my ascent up the other side. That's when the light rain turned into light snow. I didn't expect to be walking through snow, although it shouldn't have come as a surprise. It was sort of peaceful, watching the flakes floating in the breeze. After about 15 minutes the light snow turned into not-so-light snow. I was really testing out the waterproof guarantee of my backpack. Luckily it wasn't heavy enough to get my shoes wet.
After eight hours of trekking I walked into Yak Kharka, stopping at the first guesthouse that looked decent. Due to my super fast hiking speed, I had completed the three day side trek in just two days. In the end I had only added one day to the itinerary, as I would have taken a day to walk from Manang to Yak Kharka anyway if I had stayed on the main circuit. I was skeptical about making the trip due to time restrictions, but it worked out perfectly in the end.
As usual, my first concern was food. At every guesthouse the menu includes a spring roll section, filled with veg, meat, potato or egg. I went the veg. Two enormous spring rolls arrived, full of actual vegetables, covered in fries. It was one of the most unhealthiest meals I had eaten in Nepal but it was just what I needed.
Out the window I could see the snow coming down harder and harder, and I felt sorry for the hikers who were still coming in. I would have taken a photo but there was no way I was going outside. My room wasn't warm either (stone walls, tiled floor) but the blanket and sleeping bag were. The nights are definitely getting colder.