Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 14 – Narethang To Tarina Via Karakachu La

Previous Post: Day 13 – Rodophu to Narethang

  • calendar date: October 11, 2019.
  • time:  7 hours
  • distance:  16 km. (Jordans); 18 km. (Lonely Planet); 16.9 (my Polar M430)
  • start point altitude: Narethang  4920 m
  • endpoint campsite: Tarina 3880m
  • high pass crossing: Karakachu La 5180m (my Garmin inReach); 5120 (Lonely Planet) 5020 (Jordans).
  • Maps: Bart Jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many possible variations of the Snowman Trek, as well as others.
  • See here for a Google Earth view of the day’s walk. It helps to use the Google Chrome browser!
  • 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!)

    first view out of the tent at Narethang – October 2019 – Huawei P30 shot

    We got up to a light dusting of snow at our over-5100 meter Narethang campsite. As I looked around at the tents, I certainly got that exhilarating feeling of being on a high alpine expedition.

Narethang Camp – early morning in October

our Narethang camp – early morning in October

a few of our horses in the morning at Narethang

We zipped open the dining tent’s rear door to let in some air and some of the view too. Soon the sun poked over the mountain walls that we were camped behind and streamed into the tent.

our Narethang dining tent at breakfast

A typical breakfast on the trek was a bowl of cereal or oatmeal – either the watery gruel supplied by the cook team or the Quaker Oats-like stuff I had brought from home. I supplemented the oatmeal with some of my supply of nuts, raisins, cranberries, and dried blueberries.  My from-home peanut butter also came in handy; here I spread it on some Indian flatbread called chapati.  What I didn’t finish for breakfast I would put in a Ziploc bag to have as a snack later on in the morning.

my breakfast plate at Narethang – oatmeal and chapati with peanut butter

We set off from our Narethang camp knowing that our high pass of the day would be coming up very soon into the day.  1 1/4 hours and 250 meters in elevation later, there we were at  Karakachu La. [The Lonely Planet guide to Bhutan calls it Kang Karchung La.]  In the image below the red arrow indicates the location of the pass on the horizon.

heading for Karakachu La from Narethang

A bit further up the trail to the pass,  I turned back to where we have come from. Our Narethang campsite is on the horizon – ie. the dead center of the image – and some of my fellow trekkers are coming my way.

looking back at the trail from Narethang

Only the last twenty minutes or so is a bit steep; we came at it from the bottom left of the image and would end up at the pass on the right hand side.  There we would find the customary laptse (i.e.stone cairns) and prayer flags.  A few less clouds would have been nice, but as it was the views were excellent.

fellow trekkers approaching Karakachu La

prayer flags at Karakachu La above Narethang

Karakachu La – laptse with strings of prayer flags

Karakatchu La rest stop -

taking in the view on Karakatchu La

When I looked back to the southwest at where we had come from, I saw the two small lakes below.

one last look west from Karakachu La

Then I turned northeast for a view of the plateau-like terrain we would be walking into, at least for a while.  We were at 5180 meters; by the end of the day we’d be at 3880 at our Tarina campsite.  That is a drop of 1300 meters!

a first view east from Karakachu La

On the horizon were peaks with names like Teri Kang (7300m) and Jejakangphu (7100m) and to our left (not visible in the image below) was Tsenda Kang (6400 m).  The image below captures a bit of the peak experience we had!

zooming in on some of the peaks east of Karakachu La

the trail down from Karakachu La

As we made our way down, we would experience our first serious traffic in days! First, a yak train came towards us; they were on their way to Laya.

yaks from Lunana heading west to Karakachu La

A while later, this team of pack horses and their owners came by. The yaks may also have been theirs; if so, they were well-trained and stuck to the trail on their own!

We continued our still gradual descent, unaware that the most spectacular view of the trek so far was coming up.  It was a view that the dog sitting without a seeming care in the world on his flat rock perch had as his own until our arrival.  I imagined him to be a buddha sitting there and the words “Be here now” came to mind.   He didn’t even budge as we walked by, unthreatened by our presence.  What was he doing there?

descending to the Po  Chhu flood plain from Karakachu La

a free-roaming dog surveying his Himalayan domain

From the dog, my eyes and mind moved on to the view below. We were looking north to the Bhutan-Tibet border and a snowcapped string of 7000-meter peaks, the single most impressive stretch of rock we had seen so far.

what the dog was looking at from his rock perch on the side of the trail to Tarina

The river streaming from the two glacial lakes visible in the image above is the west branch of the Pho Chhu, the very river that flows by Punakha less than seventy kilometers to the southwest. [The main branch of the Pho Chhu we would get to know better in days to come as we walked into the heart of Lunana.

Note: The Lonely Planet guide to Bhutan refers to the river here as the Tang Chhu, and not the Pho. The lack of uniformity of names or their spellings can get a bit confusing and affects the information you get when googling. Use a different spelling or different name and you come up with a different set of links!  Google Earth calls the river the Po Chu.

satellite view – Karakachu La North to the Tibet border

trekkers heading down to the Po Chhu valley floor – shot with the Huawei P30

As we headed down to the valley floor of the Po Chhu, some 800 meters below, we were passed by an eight-person trekking group from Switzerland. We moved to the upside of the trail as their horse team came our way. Here is the video I posted on Youtube –

two horses coming up from the Po Chhu valley floor – shot with my Sony RX100

And then it was some serious downhill walking.  I lengthened the trekking poles a few centimeters and let gravity do some of the work as I danced my way down, down, down for over an hour until we came to the bottom.  Four hours after leaving Karakachu La, we stopped for lunch in a flat open space on the west side of the river.  It was the first of a few which showed evidence of use by trekking parties in the past. (What evidence? Badly hidden piles of garbage left behind.)

The valley floor trail runs along river right (i.e.the west side) of the Po Chhu in a southeasterly direction.  Some sections, like the one in the image below, were a muddy mess; other stretches were packed sand and gravel and nicer to walk on.

along the Po Chhu trail to Tarina campsite

Just before we got to our site, we crossed the river and continued on for less than a kilometer. We could see that the camp was already set up. The tent crew had done it again!

Tarina campsite – a morning view from the northwest

Google Versus Apple  Satellite Views of the Pho and the Tarina Campsite:

Both Google and Apple have 3D satellite views of our planet that provide a different perspective on things.  While a comparison is perhaps unfair since the Google view is zoomed in a bit more than the Apple view,  I do find the Apple Maps 3D look more appealing. Until this post I have been going the Google Earth in Chrome route; I’ll have to remember to check out the Apple view more often!

Google Earth 3D View:

Tarina campsite Google Earth satellite view

Apple Maps 3D View:

Apple satellite view of the Po headwaters and Tarina campsite

Next Post: Day 15 – Tarina To Green Lake Above Woche

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2 Responses to Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 14 – Narethang To Tarina Via Karakachu La

  1. Garry says:

    Ramblin’ Boy, a wonderful way to lead the way to Christmas Eve…beautiful photos of a breath taking scenery! Tho…I still believe the lead animal in “the horse team” is actually a mule…the 2nd is a horse…I’m looking at the tips of the ears and the muzzle.
    A MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and ALL!!
    Garry

    • true_north says:

      I may just be following the custom of the country when I refer to them all as horses! On the other hand, I am probably just plain wrong!

      BTW, a belated Merry Christmas (and a shout out to the Donald for making it okay to say again. Isn’t America great!). Garry, all the best in 2020 – let’s hope things come back into focus!

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