Previous Post: Day 4 – Jomolhari Base Camp Acclimatization Day
- calendar date: October 2, 2019
- time: 6 hrs. (including 1 hr. for lunch and a bit more time for a few rest breaks)
- distance:21 km.
- start point altitude: Jomolhari campground 4044m
- high pass: #1 Nyile La 4890m
- endpoint campsite: Lingshi campground 4010m
- Maps: Bart jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many variations of the Snowman and other treks.
- Google Earth: Check out the satellite view here.
- I used a Sony RX100 III to capture most of the images you’ll see below; a fellow trekker’s Huawei P30 captured the others. (Thanks again, O, for letting me use them!)
Before we left camp, we took advantage of a visible Jomolhari for a promotional World Expeditions shot of our 16-member trekking group and our two Bhutanese guides. Behind the camera was our non-Bhutanese guide Angel Armesto, the World Expeditions representative on the trek. Given his decades of high-altitude experience, this trek – his first in Bhutan – was perhaps a bit of a break from his usual more stressful mountaineering expeditions.
Photos done, we looked around the camp and noticed that the tents were almost all down and packed away. The tent crew was experienced and got things done fast, even going so far at the end of the day as to blow up the Thermarests and place the carpets and each tent’s duffel inside! Whenever I could, I thanked them for their service and told them I could take care of the duffel, carpet, and Thermarest myself!
Just after 8:00, we were off – and the blue sky was still visible!
We walked back along the path we had taken the day before for our acclimatization hike to Tsho Phu. However, instead of taking the first bridge across the Paro Chhu, we kept on going towards the settlement of Jangothang, at the end of which is the second bridge. Crossing the river here, we started our way out of the valley up the zigzag trail and headed east into another valley we would walk up to access our first high trek pass.
I knew it was too early, so when I saw the piles of stones (laptse in Dzongkha) and the prayer flags, I told myself not to be fooled! I did sit there for a while, sipping water from my Nalgene bottle and munching on half of the one Clif Bar that was my day’s allotment.
We were at 4680m, having come up about 300 meters since leaving Jomolhari camp. Still to go – another one hour and 200 meters before we were at Nyile La. As the photos make clear, we walked on a clearly defined trail through low-level scrubland and scree. I was not missing the muddy forest trails, horse-shit-filled puddles, and rock to rock stepping that defined the first two and a half days from Shana to a half-day before Jomolhari.
When I got to the top, there were already five or six fellow trekkers there (one of whom took the above photo!). I took off my backpack, had a sip of water, and pulled out my bag of dried fruits and nuts for a snack. Then the camera came out – the colourful prayer flags were calling out to me! I consciously framed a few shots that avoided one thing – the hydro pole and the wires coming up and over the pass.
A photo includes and excludes whatever the person behind the lens decides. Scroll down to see what it was that I at first avoided including. My photos include at least a few with those poles and wires in the Shana to Laya part of the trek. And quite honestly, who am I to complain?
For the locals, access to electricity means a more comfortable life. Hydropower is Bhutan’s #1 export – it is good to see it also benefits its own upcountry people for cooking, lighting, television, computers, and the internet … even if it means the end of traditional Bhutanese culture. That culture is increasingly celebrated only at festivals which seem to have tourists in mind just as much, if not more, than the locals, who get to act as colourful props as the tourists’ cameras snap away.
Note: Many of the strings of multi-coloured prayer flags are put there, not by locals but by trekkers. On our rest day at Jomolhari, our Bhutanese guide gifted one set of flags to each one of us to put up at a pass of our choice. We were told that they had been properly blessed by a Buddhist monk and thus would presumably earn us merit in our karma banks. These flags are the most colourful reminder of the Tibetan-style (i.e. Vajrayana) Buddhism, which characterizes the traditional culture of the Himalayan region.
To the west of the pass, as seen in the image above, is the hilltop known as Nyilele (5090m). It looks like there is a communication tower at the top of it! On the right-hand side of the pass is Golung Phu (5096m). No one gave in to the temptation of a quick scamper up either of them, though the shot below was taken from about a quarter of the way up to the Nyilele hilltop.
Soon the other trekkers were up on the pass. We looked around to see the first of the horses coming. They carried the tents and the camp gear to our Lingshi destination, another 12 kilometers or so away. By the time we got to camp, most everything was already up and ready for us to move in. Taking down a village and setting it up again every day – a great crew!
Also coming up to the pass were Karma and Kinley, the guys in charge of lunch. Here is Karma with one of the three horses that carried all the supplies necessary to do lunch Bhutan trekking style – i.e. tables, chairs, table cloths, plates and cutlery…wow! A boxed lunch is the usual format.
The brochures mention something about the last dramatic views of Jomolhari or Jitchu Drake from the pass. However, the daily clouds that roll in mid-morning and seem to last all day mean we have to accept something a bit less.
The same would go for our view towards the east! Before we set off from Jangothang, our Bhutanese guide had gushed about the 6840m Gancheta (aka Great Tiger Mountain) as our WOW view of the day. The peak to the north, the 6526m Takaphu (aka Tsheri Kang), should also have been quite a sight, given how it dominates the nearby string of peaks.
For the next few days, we would hear daily references to a view of Great Tiger Mountain; it became a bit of a joke as we stared at yet another clouded-over vista on the horizon. Seeing it proved as elusive as seeing one of the claimed 30 or so snow leopards which apparently roam the upper reaches of the 4400 square kilometer Jigme Dorji National Park that we were walking in.
We turned our focus to the tasks at hand –
- a descent down the scree slope on the other side of the pass and
Down we went. We had gained 800 meters in altitude on our way up to Nyile La. Now we would give all 800 meters away by the time we got to our Lingshi campsite.
However, it is rarely continuously downhill! Even in losing 800 meters, you may have to do 500 more uphill! Here is a brief uphill stretch about 45 minutes after leaving the pass, which is beyond the top lefthand corner of the image.
Finally, lunch. It is shortly after 12, and we have been on the move for four hours. Our tables are set up in a meadow, and the lunch team horses are grazing as yet other horses carrying our gear stream by in the distance.
The walk after lunch was an easy one over open terrain
Had the weather been better, we would have had a tremendous view of Jitchu Drake and the 6526m Takaphu. Maybe next time!
As we got closer to our campsite, we got our first view of the Dzong for which Lingshi is famous. It sits dramatically on a cone-shaped hilltop. We would camp below and to the south of it and then pay a visit the next morning on our way to Chebisa.
I didn’t realize until the next morning that there was an actual village attached to the name too! We would walk through it after we descended the Dzong hilltop on the north side. The satellite image below makes it all clear to me now! The trekkers’ campsite is on one side of the Dzong hill; the village of Lingshi is on the other. Also visible on the satellite image is the trail we would follow up to the dzong.
Our camp was all set up by the time we arrived. The camp is at 4010 meters, almost the same as the Jomolhari camp. The day’s walk over Nyile La gave us a good acclimatization exercise. As the mountaineer’s saying goes – “Walk high; sleep low.” We had done that, and everyone seemed to be acclimatizing to the higher altitude, and no one was reporting any headaches.
Next Post: Day 6 – Lingshi To Chebisa