Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 11: Thorong Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La Pass

An early start with a light breakfast of honey porridge (the best so far) and jam toast. We choked back our Diamox, packed our bags and began the slog to High Camp, making it there in just under an hour. While this first section was too rocky to ride, a more pressing concern was the tingly pins-and-needles sensation that robbed my digits of their function. A documented side effect of the Diamox formed a tag team with the frozen air, dropping a painful body slam on my ability to grip and forcing me to push me bike upwards with only my palms.

While waiting for Michi at high camp the pain grew to an excruciating degree, as if my digits were about to explode. Hastily retrieving Cactus SPG gloves from my pack I swapped out riding gloves for these toasty numbers and with extensive use of spirit fingers the pain started to fade. By the time we were pushing again my fingers had returned to normal and I could focus on the challenging but and occasionally rideable trail to the pass.
Michi soldiers on to the pass
Surprisingly, breathing was not too laboured, although the fact that a yak train following the same route dropped me was a humbling sign that I couldn’t match the blistering pace of these large Nepalese mammals. An hour in the riding got really good, as I was able to follow the narrow bench that had been compacted into the scree by so many trekkers and porter trains.

Yaks leading the charge to Thorong La
Spinning the final gradual climb to the pass and as I crested the summit a tangle of prayer flags signalled I’d made it. Clearly a celebratable accomplishment as flags were a metre deep in places, filling the barren pass with a vibrant and joyful energy.

Clumps of prayer flags signal our arrival at the pass
Michi was some way back, battling with the altitude and recent case of the runs, but when he finally made the top we celebrated with a block of chocolate and a call to both our families on the Speck’s satellite phone. Both families seemed pretty surprised to hear where we were calling from.

Ollie calls home from the pass
Gathering extensive photo evidence of our feat, we rugged up and dropped into the biggest gears our Rohloff’s could muster to begin the 1600m vertical descent. Growing in a crescendo of gnarl, the trail was never more than 2 feet wide and always littered with jagged scree ranging from toaster to kidney bean sized. Periodically we would stop and swap position in the train, primarily to give searing brake pads a chance to cool, but also to allow the other person to get photo and video footage capturing the feats of riding bravado against the immeasurably beautiful backdrop.
Michi shreds it down to Muktinath

Jaw dropping mountains were never in short supply, with Dhulghiri (7th highest in the world) forming a perfect triangular icon, and the rapidly expanding villages still a thousand metres below giving culture to the gnar. To my great surprise all of the trail bar two yak affected switchbacks were rideable, so as we buzzed into Muktinath at 1PM the stoke level was pretty high.

Ollie hooks a turn above Muktinath

Such an intense and draining descent was of course followed by a nap, then a stroll around the temple that gives the town its name. Water played a large role at this holy site, powering prayer wheels and a 108 spout fountain where we watched a strange cleansing ritual.

Some of the 108 fountain spouts at the Muktinath temple
On the cards tomorrow is another 2600m descent, but the 62km it is stretched over should be easier on the nerves and braking fingers than today’s memorable ride.

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