Day 4: Junbesi to Nunthala
Pikey Peak, Nepal
Ascent: 950 m
descent: 1410 m
Distance: 19 km
Elevation at Destination: 2220 m
I haven't fallen over on the trail yet, but I did manage to fall out of bed. We were given the narrowest of double beds to sleep in, and during the night I must have rolled over the wrong way because I woke up as I face-planted the floor. A bleeding gum and a rapid heart rate were the end result of the experience.
The difference in temperature today was clearly noticeable. It was nowhere near as cold now that we were at a significantly lower elevation, which we very much appreciated. What we did not appreciate was the pain in our quads. The extreme amount of descent yesterday, especially when we had to jump down the larger boulders with our packs on, had destroyed the muscles in our thighs. It was going to be a painful couple of days of hiking.
This morning started with a long, slow climb through a forest, which meant I wasn’t given the views back towards Junbesi that I was hoping for. It also meant there was no warm-up for our weary legs. Emerging from the trees, a panoramic view along the valley was waiting for us. Colourful houses were placed sporadically on the slopes, but the hills were mostly covered in dry grass with clumps of white wildflowers. The snow-capped mountains had returned, including sightings of Mt Everest, and the weather was fantastic. It looked like it was going to be a great day.
That was until we missed a turn-off. We had been walking downhill for a while until we eventually hit a river, and we could see the trail continuing on the other side. The only problem was there was no bridge over the water, just a series of rocks we had to leap across. Some were stable, some were not. We did well for about 90% of the rocks, but in the end our shoes went in and our feet got wet. Not long after this, we ended up at a construction sight that was definitely not passable. Checking our GPS location, we discovered that we were well and truly off the main path. Back we went, over the river where our shoes became drenched again, then up the hill to the clear sign pointing the right way. This time we were given a bridge to cross the water.
From the river, a set of steep stairs carried us up to Ringmu, where we found plenty of other hikers eating lunch out in the sun. This seemed like a good idea to us, so we joined them and chatted to a few others about their journeys so far.
After lunch the climb continued, with rough steps guiding us up to Taksindu Pass. Several times we crossed over a dirt road, which were a tempting alternative to the stairs as it would have given us a much more gentle incline to the summit (albeit a much longer one too). At the pass was a stupa (shrine), a tea house, and what I had hoped would be amazing views across the countryside. All we saw were clouds.
Going down the other side we soon reached Taksindu Monastery, one of the largest in the region and home to several dozen monks who were milling about the place. Walking around the perimeter, I had hoped to find a decent angle to take a photo from, but found none.
All day we listened to the soundtrack of helicopters flying constantly overhead. Some were delivering supplies, some were giving sightseeing tours, some were transporting (wealthy) tourists between towns, while others were being used for medical evacuations. It would be a sight and sound we would hear dozens of times a day for the rest of our trip.
The final stage of the trek went downhill non-stop all the way to Nunthala. The pine trees had mostly disappeared, replaced by deciduous trees that were mostly leafless this close to winter. My legs were suffering after two days of extended descents, and my feet still hated the pointed rocks we were forced to walk on. Two kilometres from the end we saw the sea of blue roofs of Nunthala, which spurred us on to the finish.
We chose a guesthouse with a small garden setting that happened to have an attached toilet (a first for us on the trip), so we thought we were onto a winner. Then we discovered that they weren't going to light the heater in the dining room at dinnertime, which brought our rating down a couple of notches. I guess they figured the elevation here was low enough that the extra warmth was unnecessary. We didn't agree.