Alsek Lake and the Big Growlers

Days 12-14

June 27-29

Our days of lounging around were over, it was time to move downriver to Alsek Lake, the last of our unknowns on this big river. This lake lies at the bottom of two big glaciers, the Alsek and the Grand Plateau. The river just above this point abraids into a number of separate channels which change every season and even can even do so during a season so river rafters never know what is in store for them as they approach the lake. Jimmy explained to us that typically there are three main entrances to Alsek Lake – Door Number 1, Door Number 2 and Door Number 3. Doors number 1 and 2 are often closed off by icebergs on the lake while Door Number 3 can be too shallow if the water levels are down. If none of the doors are navigable then we would have to portage our gear a distance of just over a mile and drag the boats the same distance. Not something we looked forward to, especially after getting so spoiled by our leisurely last few days.

On our way downriver past the big Sapphire Glacier we stopped a couple of times to climb up on big scree slopes to try to scout our fortunes on our three entrance possibilities. Even from up high it was difficult to be sure about Doors 1 and 2. However, from our second stop Jimmy could see that Door 3 was high and dry. The cool weather we had been experiencing had slowed down the glacial melt thus leaving the river lower than expected. Door 2 appeared to be completely choked off by the wind-driven icebergs on the lake. He thought there might be a small opening near Door 1. With the thought of the mile long portage weighing heavily on our minds we headed hopefully towards Door 1. We were now committed to this little channel through towering icebergs pushed hard into the silt and sand of Alsek Lakes’ shoreline by the prevailing winds. The river water ran hard under and around these behemoths and if that current grabbed our boats we were in big trouble. It could pull us into and hold us against a large berg leaving us stuck or it could suck the boat right under the berg. Jimmy carefully oared us around and through the maze – suddenly we found ourselves in the lake. All three boats responded with a big wahoo! Free and clear. Our last real obstacle on the adventure. Huge growlers in the lake, the huge flowing Alsek and Grand Plateau glaciers plus surrounding mountains provided us with endless photographic opportunities. Ron and I grabbed paddles to help Jimmy get the raft down the lake since we no longer had the river current to speed us along. The Canadian group we had met a few days before were camping on the spit below Pilot Knob Hill so we made for the bay just beyond them. It was foggy and cool but the blue sky down river towards the coast just 12 miles away gave us encouragement. We had been looking forward to views of Mt Fairweather (15,400 ft peak) but the low ceiling kept it hidden. It had been a great day with two great glaciers, a wonderful adventure of paddling through this maze of icebergs, and the communal joy at sharing a big experience here on this great river.

The growlers were banging into each with big loud crunches and thunderous collisions several times an hour. Rock slides roared down mountain slopes. Calving by the glaciers and growler collisions both caused mini-tidal waves to rush across the lake. We went for a walk high up on Pilot’s Knob, the steep high-topped island which we were camping below, to watch these various floating icebergs bumping and banging each other in the water far below. It was fun to make bets on which berg would free up by the wind or current to charge forward and run amok through its neighbors until finding another to crash into. Sometimes a great chain reaction would send bergs every which way and fill the air with the resulting booms of their collisions. We sat there on a small rock cliff for some time despite the constant light rain. It was an experience we may never have again. It had been a steep and wet trip up through the alders to reach this point but so so worth it.. I found myself thinking about tomorrow and the two day trip home.. This life is so comfortable one doesn’t want to think about endings,

No Fairweather that night but there was steak, potatoes, salad and even a Dutch oven cake. Damn good day.

On our last day on the river we awoke early to pack up and head for our take-out point just above Dry Bay. We had some work oaring and paddling to get across the lake and back into the river’s current. This day brought many eagles to the river banks and cottonwoods lining them. The sockeye run has just begun and soon there will be bears in the bends and pockets of shallower water soon. Once we left Alsek Lake we were no longer in Glacier Bay Park and now we started to see a few remote fishing camps along the river sides. These are basic and primitive as the area is not very accessible. We reached the beach were we would be picked up by a local fisherman with a four-wheeler and trailer to take us across this peninsula to a small rugged airplane landing strip. We hauled our gear out and sorted it – Jimmy and Rustin along with our two trainees deflated the boats and rolled them into a manageable state, then we had a small lunch while waiting for our short ride.

Pat Pellet came rumbling up the beach with his 4-wheel ATV pulling not one but two trailers behind it. He is what I would simply describe as a good ole boy with signature bibs and knee high boots. Very comfortable in these surroundings, he has an easy way about him and very colorful language. I liked him right away. He and his wife Pat are two of only 12 people who live here in Dry Bay year round, He has been commercial fishing here for 48 years. Amazing. This year his fishing was limited to just one day a week as they were allowing a number of fish to escape up the river to spawn. We talked fishing for awhile and I learned about the breadth of his knowledge about environmental changes that are affecting the fish and the future of fishing here on the Alsek basin. He may be living very remotely but he sure is connected to the big outside world in every other way. Pat is leaving for the Walker Glacier to remove a small building which had been used in the past for housing equipment used to measure river flow.. It was no longer needed and the Park wished to remove it from the wilderness setting. Pat would be flown up there, take the building apart, and fly most of it back to his place here in Dry Bay. After flying Pat up to the Walker the pilot returned to grab most of our gear and take it and Angie back to Haines.

We were transported to Yakutat from Dry Bay on a single engine Otter. There were eight of us now since Angie had accompanied the gear back to Haines. Yakutat is a vey small town but serves as a hub for smaller jets connecting people back to the rest of Alaska from this long remote coastline. There was a small bar which we took advantage of since we had a couple of hours before flying back to Juneau. While it felt great to celebrate our experiences together with a few beers in a bar setting I know we all were thinking about how we would miss the beautiful simplicity of our two weeks on the mighty Alsek River.

Since we were all spending the night in Juneau before heading in our various directions home we met for a last dinner. The fun was highlighted by Rustin’s mighty attempt to eat an order of fries and a triple burger (one and a half pounds) with everything on it plus sauces and cheese and of course the layers of buns. The challenge was offered by the restaurant. It you could eat this meal within twenty minutes it was free. We just looked at Rustin and laughed. What a great guy. With cheers from all sides Rustin sat down to dig in. He had prior experience in a pie eating contest but this was a little bigger effort. He started out methodically putting away all of the fries and condiments, then hefted up one of the half-pound burgers. When that was gone Rustin looked a little pale and he also had started to sweat, Not easy. He got up and walked a little around the bar. Still had ten minutes. He sat down to try again. Another burger gone but much slower this time. People were making bets. Another break and a big belch. Jimmy told him if he could finish he would buy him a case of his favorite beer. If not, Rustin owed Jimmy a halibut dinner. Rustin plopped down to see what he could manage. Another burger choked down at the thirty second mark. Rustin stood up to cheers then bent down to eat the orange slices – the only thing left on the plate. We all stood up and cheered. Rustin just won a free meal. Of course what he didn’t know was that we clients were buying dinner for Marley, Rustin and Jimmy anyway. What a way to end a wonderful two weeks with great new and old friends on the world class Alsek River.

Thanks for coming along.

Relaxing Days on the Big River

Days 9-12

June 24-27

The days following our trip over Turnback Canyon moved along at a new pace. Relaxing. Once we made our date with the helicopter our schedule was much looser with the guides no longer feeling the pressure that the expensive ride in the big bird brought to the table. The first day we wound our way for three hours through unbroken mountains and glaciers on all sides. I’ve never seen so many glaciers in such a short stretch. While we were marveling at the topography, Rustin remarked quite simply, “It gets better. Just around the corner it gets better.” Ron and I just started laughing. Rustin has been telling us all trip that it will get better all the way down river. But how do you top this? We have been winding around gravel bars and sand spits as this big river separates into many different channels and passageways. They all merged as we rounded what Rustin termed Kodak Point. What a beautiful sight swept into view. Rugged jagged peaks intermixed with hanging glaciers and windswept snow fields then suddenly a view of the snout of Walker Glacier followed soon by icebergs and Walker Lake itself. It was absolutely stunning. OK Rustin, you are a prophet. We pulled the boats up to a sandy embankment next to a blue spring fed stream and clambered up to our camping area located just under the glacial ice. After setting up our tents we took a hike over to the lake for photos. Bear tracks in the soft ground added to our experience. We had traveled in sun all day and now hung out in cotton t-shirts. It was our best weather day yet. It was definitely scenery on steroids here.

Jimmy had found an extra sleeping pad for Ron and also patched my rain bibs with a waterproof sealing tape so no more wet butt for me. I had brought a bug jacket – Ron purchased one specially for this trip. We didn’t need either one as the breezes and cool weather kept those mosquitos at bay. Chili and cornbread with a little of our favorite drinks around the campfire highlighted our evening. Ron and Dan had glacier ice in their Jameson’s and Eric also found room for some in his glass of Chevas Regal.

Our days in the boat now are very short – just three to four hours. After the big drop at Turnback our weather has been warmer and the vegetation more lush. We are all very content in this routine but becoming more aware that we are short-timers on the Alsek now. Alsek Lake is just ahead and not far beyond it is Dry Bay and our take-out. It will feel a little surreal leaving our life here on the Alsek.

Alsek River Rafting Trip – Day 1 – 2017

June 15th 2017

One day about 12 years ago I received a call from Ron, a good friend since our college days so many years ago now. “Buck, I want to go on an adventure, what can we do?” Ron and his wife, Debbie, had raised a daughter and then due to circumstances, also raised a grandson. Ron’s career in real estate, his family obligations, and life in the suburbs had kept him far away from the wild environs that I liked to play in. He wanted to really get outside. So I suggested a rafting trip down the Alsek River in Alaska which I had heard about from Rob Foster, an old friend who had spent his geology career in remote Alaska. Happily, as it turned out, Ron had seen a National Geographic documentary on this very trip and was really excited about the opportunity.

Here we are now in the spring of 2017 in Haines, Alaska, finally ready to raft the Alsek River. We had arrived in Haines on a Cessna 207 from Juneau and found our way to the 115 year old Halsingland Hotel overlooking the harbor in this small quaint adventure town in Southeast Alaska. It’s a rambling but majestic old hotel with lots of charm and comfortable rooms. Having a few hours before meeting our guides, we took a tour through the streets of Haines where we not only found a nice meal of halibut but also an odd little museum. The Hammer Museum. An admission of $5 – what was there to lose? An amazing little place, it had over 2000 different hammers from all over the world and, as we were told, 5000 more in storage, You have to wonder, why hammers? And why here? The museum was founded in 2002 by a blacksmith from Ohio named Dave Pahl, who had been collecting hammers for years. He had moved to Haines to get away to a simpler life.  The museum became a non-profit in 2004. My guess is that it was always a non-profit. Ron and I were amazed by the variety of this collection of odd but technically useful tools lost to time and change but for this little building in this remote place. We had two favorites – the around-the-corner hammer and the electric hammer. See my photos below.

Our hostess while wandering through the rooms of the museum told us a great little story about Armand Hammer (the baking soda people) suing the Hammer Museum for copyright violation of the name of its museum in Los Angeles. A rafter wandered into the museum during this time period and learned of this suit. He happened to be a writer for the Wall Street Journal and, after a little investigative work, published an article about Arm and Hammer’s suit on the bottom of the front page of the paper. The suit was dropped two days later.  Hooray for the good guys, and also common sense.

The annual Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay from Haines Junction to Haines (158 miles) is scheduled to begin in two days so the town is abuzz about the arrival of about 1200 cyclists. Since we drive up to Haines Junction tomorrow to put in our boats we will miss all the craziness.

 

Annapurna South Base Camp – October 19 thru the 26th.

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At the conclusion of the bicycle portion of our Nepal trip on October 16th, we still had 12 days before needing to fly back to Kathmandu, box up our bikes and fly home. Bridget and I had discussed this before we left for Nepal and agreed to add this time since we both had noted that quite often following the ending of a trip things come up that you wish you had time to do but tickets home dictated that you couldn’t. We had talked about going down to Chitwan National Park where one can see elephants, rhinos, and many other animals plus a chance on a tiger, but the hot steamy weather there this time of year put us both off on the idea. We settled on a trek – staying in higher cooler climate since mountains are really what Nepal is all about for both of us. Since we finished at Pokhara, the easiest add-on trip logistically was a trek up to Annapurna South Base Camp since it was a relatively short bus or jeep ride from the city to the start of the trek. So a phone call to Nima during the last part of our bike trip brought him now to Pokhara with our permits in hand and a guide and porter set up to meet us on the 19th to start our new adventure.

After a big night out on the 16th, the rest of the group had left for their various homes, leaving JR, Bridget and myself in Pokhara with a couple of days before JR had to leave for home and we off trekking to ABC. We fed ourselves well at different restaurants throughout town, caught up on our internet needs, hiked up to the Peace Pagoda above town and just plain lounged around. On the evening before our trek, our guide Aital and porter Dawa appeared at the hotel lounge to meet us. The jeep would be at the hotel next morning around 10 to take us all to the trailhead above Ghandruk where we would begin on foot. We were both excited to be off moving again. We said goodbye to JR after breakfast, climbed into the jeep with Aital and Dawa and were off.

This trekking trail left the jeep tracks behind. Walking and mule trains only. All towns above Ghandruk on the way up and until Landruk on the way down were roadless. It really changes everything. The jeep trails on the Annapurna Circuit, while really primitive and limited, still add a lot of people, make goods much more available, and definitely change the culture. They are the wild west version of the more serviceable roadways of the future which will lead to development and more commercialization of the area. It is already happening there. Of course, these changes are in many ways great for local peoples economy, education and health care into the future. They do, however, change the experience for those looking for a romantic, quiet, pollution free trek into old world Tibetan Buddhist culture. We still found that on our stay in the Upper Mustang during our biking trip but not always on the rest of the Circuit. Bridget and I were looking for that experience here on the trail to Annapurna Base Camp.

We also had originally decided to really pare down what we took along so we could carry our own backpacks, however, when Nima lined up our two people we decided to “go with the flow” and combine our things into one duffle which Dawa would carry for us. That left us both with just day bags to deal with. I was fine with that since it meant we could employ two people and Dawa’s bag was quite light so I didn’t have to feel very guilty. Aital, our guide, would prove to be very helpful all along the way.

We learned early on what we really already knew – everything in Nepal is either really steep up……..or really steep down. One of our standing jokes here is when a Nepali describes some terrain as being flat. It’s really Nepali flat – / – which is certainly not to be confused with Minnesota flat – . As we worked our way down through villages along the river valley bottoms and up along the ridge tops we followed slate lined steps shaped beautifully over the centuries to help transport goods and people. Load ladened mules with bells jangling also trod along the same elevations – they were so well trained to their role that they expertly stepped around people, sheep and dogs. At one point we were adopted by one of these Buddhist dogs. She followed us along the trail for so long we were getting quite worried that she may never go home. At a couple of villages she had to fight her way around other dogs snarling to protect their territories but always appeared back with us undamaged by her encounters. Now, there weren’t many dogs here, but what dogs we found in Nepal were all very similar. Broad-shouldered, long haired black and tan with a shaggy tail curled up over the back described the canines we found on the Circuit and Upper Mustang. The dogs found on this trek were colored the same but the tails no longer curled up and over and they were not as large as those found above. One thing that was the same with all was their Buddhist temperament. We had no encounters with them on the whole trip. They merely watched us bike by if they noticed us at all. Most would lay along the side of the trails and often would sleep in the middle of everything moving, seemingly unperturbed by any danger. As bikers we have been chased, bitten and snarled at on every continent since most dogs find us fair game. I have dubbed these dogs Buddhist Dogs for obvious reasons and am sure I’m not the first to do so.

We were told an entertaining story by a Buddhist Head Llama named Kunga up in the Upper Mustang. He was giving us an impromptu tour of his Monastery and came to an abysmal looking carcass hanging from the low ceiling by old cord. It was a snow leopard which over a century or two ago had been roaming the monastery grounds at night, frightening everyone there. The village dog was unleashed and in the ensuing battle both animals died. The leopard’s remains are still hanging here in the monastery. A very large dog is chained outside in the middle of the monastery grounds. Maybe they expect another snow leopard some time soon.

On this trek we were staying in guesthouses along the way. It is an eight day trek up to Base Camp and back down to Phedi where the Jeep would bring us back to Pokhara. Unbeknown to us when we planned this additional adventure, this was a week-long Festival for all Nepalese. The government here has been promoting domestic travel to places like the ABC so we found that along with the normal amount of foreign trekkers, the addition of locals made this time very very busy. So busy that rooms were getting very hard to find. Our guide, Aital, did a great job in planning our days and securing places to stay as we moved closer to Annapurna. Many people were traveling with no reservations and ending up sleeping in dining areas and porter dormitories. One American’s reservation was taken when a group of 40 South Koreans descended on a small village and took all available beds. He ended up sleeping in a barn. Twice we found ourselves sharing a room with other foreigners whom we didn’t know. Two young Australians joined us in a tightly cramped four-bed room with little space for any of our belongings. It worked well tho with a combined spirit of cooperation necessary in small spaces. Another night we shared with an older gentleman from South Korea whom Bridget and I both enjoyed. He had a gentle disposition and was very intelligent. He was trekking here alone after an earlier trip in the Khumbu. He had retired from his job as an engineering firms group leader in the shipping industry in South Korea. Our last guesthouse on the way up was the Machhapuchhre Base Camp. This Base Camp consists of five guesthouses (none that big) which were all more than full of trekkers. Machhapurchhre is a sacred mountain which is more commonly called Fishtail for its unique forked top resembling just what the name infers. We found it to be our favorite mountain on this trip (along with Daulagiri). Since the area around the mountain was also considered sacred we started seeing signs as we got near Fishtail for no open defacation. We learned in the guesthouse menus that no pork, buffalo or beef was to be consumed within the sacred bounds. It is illegal to climb Fishtail despite a Base Camp located near its base.

We arose early and left MBC for a hour and a half trek up to Annapurna Base Camp. ABC is 450m higher than our treks starting point but since there is nothing really steep on the way, the walk seemed easy. This feeling was aided by the increasingly big bold mountain views as we got closer to our destination. Annapurna South (7219m) is an immense mountain face from our new vantage point. Although a number of large mountains are prominent in one’s field of view, Annapurna South towers over all else. Even Annapurna 1, despite its great height (8091m), is secondary from our view here. It is located much further away and generally approached by a different, more northernly base camp. Machhapuchhre and Hien Chuli are now behind us so their positions relative to the big mountain have changed. All of the big mountains on the Annapurna Massif, including Annapurnas 1,2,3 and 4, South, Gangapurna and others, are located within a huge glacier river system that averages about 22,000 feet of elevation and makes it hard to place each mountain geographically in one’s mind. Bridget and I both read (re-read in my case) the classic book Annapurna of the first 8000 meter peak ever climbed (1950) following our trek. One of the most difficult things for these climbers to conquer was actually to find the mountain itself. Maps of the day were wrong and the huge glacier fields masked the drainage systems needed as approach vehicles. It is truly an amazing book.

We spent several hours here at ABC, having breakfast and marveling at the great beauty in every direction on a blue bird day here in the mountains. Many photos. Too often clouds obscure mountain views but today there was none of that. They would come in later in the day and views be essentially gone. The pattern here was clear in the morning and gone in the afternoon mists. We both felt very lucky.

After the perfect weather we had at ABC, we discussed just how lucky we had been this whole trip weather-wise. In five weeks we never had a day we had to peddle or trek in the rain. Although cold at times, the late monsoon season left us with warmer than usual conditions and no snow on the Thorung La Pass (5416m or 17,800 ft) when we climbed up and over our biggest hurdle. We learned later from a group of young American cyclists that it snowed just a few days after we went over the Pass and they had to deal with the snow on their climb. One could spend a lot of time in the mountains and not have one day as perfect as so many of our days have been. As we moved along on our two trips, I kept referring to that big horseshoe we were carrying. It stayed with us the entire time there.

On our trek down, Bridget decided to count the steps leading up to one of the villages along our route. At 2000 she told me what she was doing and that she was tired of counting. I counted the remaining 308 steps. We only counted the vertical steps. Steep. It was not our longest step climb or our largest descent, but the total was telling as a barometer for just how much work it is to move along on these Himalayan treks and also how much work it is for people and mules to get goods up to the remote villages. Not too many washing machines are going to be found there. Essentials are the luxuries. Life is simple.

In Chomrong we got a room with a private bathroom and hot water. Wow, One certainly doesn’t appreciate these things until they haven’t been there. Also WiFi. It was heaven.

Nepal is now behind us but the experiences will stay with us. Each day there felt like it lasted so long and each week passed seemed like so long ago. A sign of a trip well taken and packed with the stories that make life interesting.

Descending Down to Pokhara

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Oct 12 – 15

We began our descent from the beautiful high altitude country of the Upper Mustang to Pokhara with three days that seemed to contain almost as much climbing as descent. Several big passes and warmer temps tested our stamina. The travel was also very technical on the bike. The last thing we wanted now was any injuries and these types of steep drops were tailor-made for accidents. Slowly, slowly was our mantra. Bridget did take a spill on the 3rd day down and luckily not badly hurt but did hit hard and she was having trouble taking any deep breaths. Combined with her bad cold, it was tough riding for her. Of course she persevered and was up to the task.

The ride into Tatapani was 50K’s of the craziest descents any of us will ever experience. Over 2000m of drop. I cannot adequately describe to anyone just what this “road”was like. Bedrock, rock piles, washouts, creeks flowing down the track, deep mud, dust, steep climbs and steeper descents – all this with a constant flow of massive-tired four wheel drive diesel powered buses spewing black clouds, diesel jeeps, and dirt bikes vying for space on a track barely allowing for even one lane. We weaved our way through all on a very tiring hot day. Actually, we were able to move more efficiently on our mountain bikes than any of the others. The bus rides had to be miserable. These jeep trails will eventually evolve into something drive able – they are just a Wild West fore-runner of what will someday open this area to people other than locals and adventurers.

The countryside had become heavily forested with huge mountains rising high over the forests. It reminded one of the Alps of Switzerland. Dhaulagiri was especially impressive at 8100m and looming just above the small villages that we peddled our way through. As we dropped further in elevation, the forests turned to jungle and the sides rose steeply from steamy ravines, blocking out the mountains above.

After a night in Tatopani, we cycled down to Beni where we were picked up by a van and taken to our hotel in Pokhara. Our bikes traveled with the staff by bus to Kathmandu. We met back up with JR here in this pleasant lake-side city and enjoyed our last dinner together with a big splurge at a local restaurant, spending the last of our group money. Farewells happened the following morning with all but two of us flying back to Kathmandu en-route to different homes around the globe. Two of us are staying here and headed trekking to Annapurna Base Camp.

One year ago I dreamed of this mountain bike adventure alongside the massive of Annapurna, inspired by Herzog’s mountaineering masterpiece, “Annapurna”, the first 8000m peak ever climbed (1950). It has been widely proclaimed throughout the years as the most beautiful trek in the world. The views are the same but the rough jeep trails have changed the experience compared to the roadless trekking areas of the Khumbu. I had trekked there last year with Lonnie Dupre and others. Taking the bikes here was a big challenge for all of us but also so rich in its rewards. It was tough having JR leave early due to elevation sickness and Rien departing after flying over his handlebars onto the rocks. We all hope his shoulder heals well. We’ll see him again on another ride somewhere.

It’s hard to believe this biking adventure is behind me. The two biggest highlights for me had to be our time in the Upper Mustang and our success in crossing the Thorung La pass at 5416m (17,800 ft). The pass was a great achievement for me by bike and the time in Mustang was an incredible experience. I feel very lucky. My bike, a Rocky Mountain Sherpa, built in Vancouver, was perfect. No mechanical problems, not even a flat tire on this whole trip. Amazing. I had read a review of the Sherpa in Adventure Cyclist magazine last spring and knew it was the bike for this trip. For those of you who are bikers, it is a 27.5 plus with 2×10 drive, full suspension and 2.8 inch tires. Eliminating my clip less pedals early on for platform pedals gave me a measure of confidence and safety that was hard to be sure of when clipped in. Our group became close, forming a tight bunch who helped each other out all along the way. We were relaxed and easy-going, having all traveled extensively in third-world countries on previous trips. No whiners.

Simply a great experience that has now become a part of me.

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Lo Manthang

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Oct 9 – 11

We finally arrived in Lo Manthang, the Walled City which was originally inhabited in the 700’s and other than a few years of occupation by invaders, has been presided by its own King as an independent kingdom. The present King is now 92 years old and is in care on Kathmandu. Nepal has now absorbed the whole area including Lo Manthang into its realm so this may be the last
King. None of these towns are very big – the whole area of the lost Kingdom only has 6000 people. They live mainly by herding animals including goats, yaks, cattle and horses. Life is very simple here. Lo Manthang is the largest and most important town in the Upper Mustang. It is dominated by its 3 Gompas though only one is presently used. We visited all three plus a very interesting Monastic Museum. The oldest one is from the 14th Century and the interior walls of two of them have been restored by the American Himalayan Society. There are no lights in these important Buddhist sites but one can use a camping headlight when touring. All three and the museum are located inside the walls of Lo Manthang. There is also a Winter Palace inside the Walls and a Summer Palace high on a hill outside of the town. The Summer Palace is in ruins and only part of the Winter Palace is now usable.

The museum was small but had a great collection of old artifacts including hideous masks used in festivals, drums, and old tools. There is also a million year old Wooly Mammoth tooth displayed here openly as though they are found everywhere. Everything is full of dust and displayed haphazardly but really cool to see. This whole area including Lo Manthang has been used as a refuge for Tibetans since the Chinese invasion. The culture is definitely singular to Tibetans. We are really enjoying this visit to an area seen by relatively few in this world. A friendly pastoral landscape preserved by its remoteness.

The following day Bridget and I hiked up 8K to the small village of Choser which is only 13k from Chinese Tibet. Just outside of Choser we found the incredible caves of Jampa where the Tibetans hid from the Nepali army during a conflict here. It was an amazing maze of caves climbing higher and higher into the steep cliffs. It also offered a great view of anyone coming so all could hide. After touring this honeycomb of caves we went to a Gompa in the village itself. The monks were playing music with 3 cymbals , two small horns, two long large horns and a couple of drums. It was great. Bridget got a video of them playing – usually they don’t allow cameras. We hiked 16K and we were happy to get back onto Lo for the evening.

Tomorrow we start biking three days down to Jomsom where our porters leave us, then on to Pokhara. We leave our bikes in Beni for the bus trip back to Kathmandu. We will fly from Pokhara.

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Into the Upper Mustang

Oct 5 – 7

We had to wait for our permits to enter the Upper Mustang (Lost Kingdomimg_4110

) to become valid as we were a day early so we only rode as far as Kagbeni. I’m sure the porters needed the rest as well. These permits cost between $500US and $750US depending on the size of the group. Nepalis can pass freely. This fairly large area is the last enclave of Tibetan culture not controlled by the Chinese or absorbed into Nepali culture. It includes Lo Manthang, a walled town where the King of Lo resides.

We rode from Kagbeni to Samar, a trip of 26k with about 1300m of climbing. It starting out with rolling but mostly uphill cycling on what is good surface by Nepal standards then ended with a big climb into Samar. We are now in highly eroded deep canyon country with beautiful varied rock colors and formations. Nilgiri presents a big mountain backdrop with Annapurna 1 obscured by clouds. We stopped for lunch at a pleasant little village with rock lined pathways and short small rock tunnels moving you through the enclave. The tea houses now are more traditional in their interior structure and the Tibetan culture shines through in tidiness and dust-free cleanliness. The owner has a daughter in the US and a son in Korea. He is waiting for his son to return, marry, and give him some grandchildren.

It was my Birthday here in Samar. Bridget had brought along a bottle of Amarula from South Africa for all to enjoy. The cook made a big chocolate cake replete with candles that wouldn’t blow out. Much laughter followed then songs and clapping ensued which were improved by the Amarula. Kami, our Head Sherpa, then presented me with blessing ribbons and we shared the cake and liqueur with out support crew. Really a Birthday I will remember.

Our next day brought blue skies and a couple of passes to climb. We stopped a village early as the porters were tired from the long previous day. Annapurna 1 finally showed its face amount the rest of the huge peaks around us. It was the first 8000m peak ever climbed and the basis of a classic mountaineering book by Herzog. He was the leader of the French team that was successful. Reading that book was the inspiration for this trip.
Since we arrived early today, we spent a pleasant afternoon drinking lemon ginger tea and sitting in the sun. Life is good. Sent from my iPad