Lamayuru to Padum: a trip diary
Our pony guide with the horses. From left to right: Dolma, Poru, Seri, and Nori.
7/12 Lamayuru to Wanla
It is the first day of our trek and our four ponies are loaded and ready to go. Our pony guide, Sonam, is from a Tibetan refugee colony near Leh, and has taken three days to get here. Sonam will be our pony guide and our cook. My first impressions of Ladakh and Zanskar are that they are lands of great beauty and contrast. Dry, barren landscape is cut by flowing water into canyons and plateaus. Above this tower jagged peaks clothed in snow at the upper regions. Where there is adequate water and a slice of level land is the shocking green of cultivation. We start out in this cultivated land and move abruptly to a desert moonscape of hills and mountains, then plateaus and finally over our first pass, which rewards with glimpses of rock and snow peaks Then we follow a gully set in conglomerates down to the valley where Wanla, our stop for the night, is located.
The geology is fascinating, peaks with layers of conglomerate, rows of fins, and tortured, folded rock that must have seen hell near the earth's center.
Throughout the journey we see walls and walls of beautifully carved prayer stones. These are in Lamayuru.
Inside Lamayuru Monestary
The contrast between cultivation and desert is incredible
The sun peaks through the clouds at Wanla
7/13 Wanla to Honupatta
We are walking through a maze of valleys and gorges. Down one valley, right turn to go up another, another right turn into a towering gorge with rock walls of 1000 feet rising above a rushing, boiling river, and finally another right turn into a narrow valley perfumed by wild rose bushes. Although there is a lack of vegetation in many areas, there is no lack of color. In the rocks there is black, green, purple, orange, gold, russet, brown, and yellow that glows so brightly I think it must be full of yellowcake (uranium)! We reach Honupatta camp just as it begins to rain.
This was an incredible gorge.
Looking back from Honupatta
7/14 Honupatta to base of Sisir La
We got a late start today, as Sonam had to walk about two hours to retrieve the horses, which he had dropped off last night high up the mountains, where the grazing was better. As we went up the valley it became decidedly more alpine, full of low growing flowers and with views of snowy peaks up ahead. We had planned on going over the Sisir La (La means pass) today, but decided instead to stop at the base of the pass as the valley looked beautiful to explore and there was and unnamed 18,000 foot peak that looked like it might be fun to try to climb.
Sonam carefully leads the horses over a slippery (for horses) rock bridge. The peak we tried to climb is in the background.
This photo is for my geologist readers. The folding is amazing.
7/15-7/16 "Rest Days" at Sisir La base
We awoke to a thick ice fog, wind, rain, and finally snow. It is a good day for reading, not exploring! For Sonam, who has a cotton parachute tent with many holes (he calls it air conditioning), it is a struggle to stay dry. We gave him a tarp we brought but it was only big enough to cover less than half the tent. Around 1pm, it had cleared and we decided to scout climbing routes today and that tomorrow would be one more "rest day" to attempt to climb our peak. Tim went up to the pass and climbed within 10 meters of the summit of a 5200m peak and I went back into the valley. The valley was magnificent, with glacier hung peaks at its heart. Putting our information together, we decided on a route for our climb.
The next day, we started out around 9:30am at our camp at 4450 meters. We hiked a few kilometers back into the valley and got onto a secondary ridge which led steeply up scree and boulders to the main ridge, at about 17,000 feet. From the main ridge it is 1000+ feet to the summit. It was a difficult day, with each step growing more and more difficult due to the steadily increasing altitude. We finally gained the ridge at 17,130 feet, the highest I have climbed by about 3000 feet! The view was absolutely stunning! We could see snow and glacier clad peaks of the Zanskar range surrounding beautiful river valleys, and off in the distance several white pyramids of the Himalaya range.
Unfortunately, it was about 3pm and getting to the summit looked more difficult from close up. We decided that we would never make it up and back before dark, but the views from the ridge were worth each and every difficult step that day and so I was not too dissappointed! After descending and exploring the valley a bit more, we reached camp at 7:30, to a hot meal of rice, dal, and curried potatoes cooked by Sonam. Having a cook is truly luxurious way to trek!
Himalayan peaks seen from the ridge of our unamed peak
Tim then I on the ridge
The glaciers on this peak are amazing. You can really see and imagine mountain carving in action.
7/17 Sisir La Base to Singge La Base
Over our second pass today and up the long valley to the base of our third. Coming down Sisir Las was pretty scary, especially with the horses. The trail was super steep, narrow and slippery as it switched back down a near vertical slope with a deadly fall zone. The horses alternated slipping and sliding down with freezing in fear in some precarious position that looked to have no way out. At the top of the pass, Sonam had pulled hair from their manes to tie in the prayer flags. After they made it safely down to easier ground, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Our fear coming down the pass turned out not to be unfounded. On the trail we ran into Sonam's uncle, who was returning from the Lamayuru to Padum trek. Earlier, on his way to Padum, he lost two of his horses. One had fallen coming down the pass that we had just come down. Another he lost on the high ledges between Wanla and Honupatta. Sonam said that his uncle was very sad and confused and would not do this trek again.
Sonam and the horses on SirSir La. From left to right are crazy Poru, Dolma, Seri, and Nori
7/18 Singge La Base to Khyupa La Base
Last night was my second bath of the trip, taken in the ice cold glacier water near Singge La. As we went over this pass today, the landscape has become drier and more rocky with canyons, rock fins, and towering gorges. The Zanskar River is somewhere below us, hidden within the gorges.
Peak visable from Singge La
Sunset at Khyupa La base camp
7/19 Khyupa La base to Lingshet
We went over Khyupa La and Netuke La today to arrive in Lingshet in the midst of bustling activity. The Dalai Lama is coming in August and the entire place is in uproar! A beautiful two story building with many windows is being built as a holy place, for the Dalai Lama to teach. In a room of this building, six monks spend their days painting brand new cabinets, tables and intricately carved wood trim. Within the monastery itself, there is much construction and many new murals being painted on the walls. A beautiful room with walls of windows, wall paintings, and lots of carved wood is being constructed for the Dalai Lama to stay. The monks and villagers do not know how long he will stay, but they hope he will spend one night at the gompa I hope so too, seeing all the effort preparing for his arrival!
A newly painted mural in Lingshet
The room being prepared for the Dalai Lama
7/20-7/21 Lingshet to Snertse
Over our fifth pass today, a difficult one, and down a river drainage, where I saw Fireweed, which also grows profusely in Alaska! We stayed in Snertse for an extra rest day, and met a monk who specializes in mandalas (sand paintings) and was heading to Lingshet to teach.
Barley fields near Lingshet
Barley is one of the staples of the diet
Woman wearing the traditional clothing with an animal hide around the waist. Click on photo to enlarge and see detail.
7/22 Snertse to Hanumil
We crossed our sixth pass today, and on the other side we could look down on the Zanskar River, flowing trough an impressive gorge below. We are now out of Ladakh and in the Zanskar region. As we yet again side hilled down a narrow, slippery path above a near vertical 1000 foot drop off, I feel sorry for the person doing this trek who is afraid of heights!
7/23 Hanumil to Pishu
7/24 Pishu to Karsha
7/25 Karsha to Padum
These were fairly easy days, as the valley gradually grew wider and flatter. Turning one large river bend we suddenly saw before us the glacier clad wall of the Himalaya! The camping area in Karsha was full, but a boy of about 10 years old brought us to his house and let us camp in the yard. The next day, after visiting the Karsha monastery, we headed into Padum. Tim and I enjoyed the luxury of a hotel here. Sonam spent his time helping a friend who had broken his hip working as a pony man. The clinic in Padum was inadequate for his care, and Sonam and another man worked until 9 that evening finding a taxi that would take him to Leh. The bill of US$250 was footed by the trekkers. It seems like being a pony guide is rather dangerous for both the guide and the horses! We are thankful to have reached as far as Padum safely. Tomorrow we begin the second half of the trek, from Padum over the Himalaya range to Darcha.
The Future Buddha in the Karsha Monastary
A monk at the Karsha monastary
A woman hefts her load
A woman weeds her Barley field near Padum