Bhutan – Day 7

Druk Path, Day 4

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Saturday

Technical Information is based on Dan’s watch. Below is the link to today’s trip information.

I slept very well, but it came as no surprise since I had taken Dan’s sleeping bag. Dan, on the other hand, woke up cold and miserable. Ah-ha! So it wasn’t just me being sensitive to the cold! Of course, this knowledge wasn’t going to help later today when it was time to go to sleep again, other than giving me the impetus to fight for his bag again.

Chunjur had told us before we left Paro that the mountain lakes were sacred. Some people – especially the older generation – believed that spirits lived in these lakes and it was sacrilegious to even touch this water, let alone swim in it. Ciaran, an Irish guy who was part of the Billy Goat group, took this caution under advisement and instead, bathed in the river that fed the lake. It was early in the morning and nothing else was going on, so a few of us stood around with our hot tea and watched the very thorough washing process on the rocky shore. The man was braver (or crazier) than the rest of us!

Washing up

The rest of us either used baby wipes to clean up, and/or the warm water provided to us each morning by our helpful porters. You can see the gas canisters with the water bucket on top set out in the middle of the campsite in the photo below

(Dan’s) Morning ablution

The morning dawned dry and almost clear, a bit of blue sky visible to the west. The group was excited at the prospect of a clear day! I stood with a few others, still with our tea, and discussed the upcoming day. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of movement. I turned in time to see a hawk (?) madly chasing a small songbird over the camp. The two of them twisted and turned mere feet over the tents before the songbird disappeared into one of the trees on the other side of the river and the hawk flew off in failure. It is scenes like this that can only live properly in my mind, and one that makes the day stand out from others.

(Dan’s) Clouds coming up the valley

If you have been following closely and opening the Garmin links at the top of each page, you might have noticed that we were now at the end of a long, narrow valley. This valley was acting as a funnel, with clouds coming up over the edge beyond a thin line of trees at the far end of the lake. I watched the ebb and flow of these clouds as we ate breakfast – once again outside! – and hope that the final outcome of the cloud cover would be “ebb”.

Breakfast at camp

Behold the glory of the sun!

Sunny, but damn cold

Dan gives me a little pedicure

Tea and breakfast complete, we hefted our packs and headed out to retrace our steps along the soggy lakeshore. I was sneaky today though: I left my pack in the Black Bag for the horse to carry. I was going to “go light” and carry only my fanny pack. Today was all about enjoying the day!

After we slogged around the lake there was a wide river to cross. Stepping stones were already in place, but they weren’t always stable or easy to navigate. I haven’t mentioned my hiking poles in a while, but they had always been at my side and today was no different. The additional balance of the poles was a great help in crossing the rocks and I enjoyed the challenge.

Water crossing

(Dan’s) Here I come!

There was much cooperation on this crossing

Leaving the lakeside meant climbing. I had mistakenly assumed that we were going to hike down the cloud funnel from the morning’s view, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The trail immediately went up through a thick cover of straggly rhododendrons. The surface was covered in loose rocks and when it wasn’t rocks, it was mud.

Leaving the lake behind

It is important to stop once in a while and look around (back towards yesterday’s hike)

Lunch has a new ride – and is staying back a little further than previously

I mentioned before how great our group got along and nothing had changed that so far. We came from a variety of places, but they were all Western and the cultures were close enough for easy joking and story telling. Five were from Canada, two from the UK, one from Ireland (the crazy river-washing guy), one from Switzerland, two from Luxembourg, one from the Netherlands and two from the US. And of course, Dan and me. Most of them have previously done hikes of similar if not greater difficulty than this one. Dan and I had thought ourselves fairly well-traveled – until we got to know these guys. Here’s most of the group gathered near a “dangerous trail crossing” – the rock pile at our feet did not have a lot of supporting material underneath it.

Due to a slightly higher cloud cover I could see a parallel ridge and asked Chunjur if that’s where we were the day before. He confirmed that it was – hooray for visual reference points! It felt oddly satisfying to see where we were and to understand better the topography that I was hiking through.

Yesterday’s hike was somewhere over there

Looking down the valley, roughly towards Paro

(Dan’s) Climbing up!

Not as many trees up here

And a lot more flowers

Me at the top of one of the “prayer flag passes”

Looking down into the valley

The trail, with a waterfall and lake in the distance

More winter yak shelters

The lake below the waterfall in the earlier photo

Today’s hike was pretty good for me. There were more views, which always makes me happy. The trail went up a lot, but it also had long stretches of more enjoyable levelness. The vegetation was varied, interesting and beautiful. There were a couple of interesting features to distract me (the stone shelters, the waterfall, a couple of small lakes). Yes, it was a good day of hiking.

This gives you an idea of how spread out the group was. See the guys up front? (center)

Another water crossing

My happy hike ended abruptly: the trail took a turn to the right – right up the side of the mountain. And it wasn’t much of a trail at this point, but more like a river of rocks – complete with an actual river running over it. The clouds had moved in and dropped their bounty on us. It wasn’t just a light mist now; it was full-on rain. So I plodded my way slowly up the rocky road and concentrated on breathing and planting my feet in the most efficient way. I imagined what it would be like to climb Mt Everest: one foot in front of another, never looking up, concentrating only on the steady intake of oxygen. Except this wasn’t Mt Everest and I wasn’t really going to die of oxygen starvation.

I took my time and remembered to enjoy myself.

The trail

(Dan’s) Another trail pic


(Dan’s) Wide and wet

The rhododendrons took over

It was down to Sarah, Samantha, Petra and I at the rear of the group, but eventually Sarah and Petra disappeared up the hill and it was just Samantha and I. The lunch mule eventually passed us (thank goodness) and even Chunjur came back down the trail a bit to see how we were doing. Slow and steady wins the race. And our prize at the top of the hill was tea and biscuits.

We were close to the campsite, so instead of breaking out a full lunch, our hosts passed around tea and biscuits as we stood in the rain. Matt pulled out his ground cover but it soon became useless as a dry place to sit as the rain sprinkled on it from above. Our pack animals had caught up to us and cut through the middle of our group, a few of them more interested in the green grass than getting to the campsite. I can’t say I blame them.

Anyone for a spot of tea?

Sarah and Petra show off their ponchos

(Dan’s) And off we go!

Hiking into – no, make that “through” – the clouds

(Dan’s) Another prayer flag pass!

As I neared the prayer flag pass pictured above I felt pretty good about things, despite the cold and the rain and the swirling clouds. Who knows? Maybe I felt good because of all of those things. The trail was narrow at the pass and I had to wait a while as those in front of me pulled out cameras for photos. I assumed that Dan was out of sight around the pile of rocks and called out to him. “Hey Dan! Wait there for me!” Naturally he didn’t answer me (he rarely does) and I eventually got to the pile of rocks myself.

There was no Dan on the other side.

I looked around in surprise. There were a handful of us still at the pass, but everyone else had taken off. Chunjur was just about to leave when he heard me ask where Dan was. He turned to me and then pointed down the trail. A bright dot of yellow was all I could see of Dan. Oh well – so much for a chance to get a photo of the two of us together!

Approaching the pass

See the light colored dot in the upper right quadrant of the photo? That’s Dan

This is me without Dan

After I made my way down from the pass and through more wet and swampy fields, I noticed Dan sitting on a rock at the side of the trail. Apparently Chunjur had caught up to him and ominously said “You’re going to get something. Your wife is angry.” And then Jessica came by and said that I was upset with him and gave him a piece of chocolate to appease me. Neil, a normally quiet and reserved guy, caught up to him and said “Yeah, she didn’t seem too happy.”

I walked up to Dan and said Hi. He said Hi and offered me some chocolate. I laughed and told him how I had been hoping to get a picture of the two of us at the pass but he was already long gone. He laughed and told me about the string of warnings of my approaching ire. I wonder what my reaction must have looked like for so many people to think that I was going to berate Dan for taking off like he did. Hell, I half expected it anyway and was practically laughing about it. Maybe my “eye roll” was a little more emphatic than I thought.

This was another day where the hike was much shorter than expected and we landed in camp early in the afternoon. With the wet and the cold, it was a little disappointing to stop. At least when I’m hiking I am warm and distracted but in camp there was little to do. Everyone else (and I mean literally everyone) had brought a book to read. Before Dan and I left Switzerland he wondered if he should bring his e-reader. I said no, absolutely not. We were going on a trek in the freakin’ Himalayas and we were going to enjoy the freakin’ Himalayas. Now I wish we’d brought our books.

Early arrival to camp

The horses graze by another yak shelter

Close up of the stone work

It was the wettest campsite yet. The guys laid out stepping stones simply to get from the sleeping tents to the cooking/dining tents. They had a hard time finding enough ground “above water” to even pitch the tents. Standing water was everywhere and the rain came and went. Our group took immediate shelter in the dining tent, leaving the poor porters to fend for themselves in the cooking tent. Sarah had a deck of cards, which made the evening interesting, and some others just let the day’s efforts wash over them.

Desperate for tent space

(Dan’s) A better view of the campsite

(Dan’s) Standing water outside one of the tents

That evening I had a brilliant idea: I asked Matt if I could borrow his ground cover. The idea was that if Dan and I laid it over our sleeping bags, it would help keep the heat in and I would not freeze during the night. Matt agreed and we dried off the rain left over from the tea and biscuit break.

Our evenings had gradually gotten shorter and shorter with each night camping. Yes, there was a small group of people who “closed the bar” each night. I felt bad for the porters, as they slept in the dining tent each night, but could only do so after the last of us had retired to our own tents. Knowing that they had worked hard for us, and then would get up well before us to serve hot tea and warm water, I thought that they deserved a good night’s sleep more than we did. Not that I would have (could have?) stayed up any longer than I did anyway.

This night I crawled into my sleeping bag with all of my warm layers on and the ground cover laid out on top of both of our bags. I was confident of a good night’s sleep. I would be warm and the soggy ground was sure to be more comfortable than the last couple of campsites. I was very wrong.

I woke up a number of times to the sound of rain pounding down on the tent’s rain fly. I had heard about one of the other tents getting a little bit of water in the corner, so a corner of my mind kept going over what was at my feet and would it be wet in the morning. Then I noticed that there was a layer of moisture on the outside of my bag: the ground cover trapped heat, but it also trapped condensation. Both of our bags were slowly absorbing this water – an unhealthy effect, to be sure. Dan was awake and together we shoved the ground cover towards the door of the tent. Dan fell asleep and I lay there a while longer, tossing and turning in the cold and wondering just how much rain would fall that night.

Bhutan – Day 8

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