Following a long deployment to Afghanistan, eleven members of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, along with one member of Sheffield University OTC (instructor), were lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Nepal for a three week adventure in the Nepalese Himalayas.
The group left London Heathrow late on the 4 March 2012 arriving in the bustling city of Kathmandu some 24 hours later where we were warmly welcomed by our guide Khil Thapa from Gurkha Adventure. After settling into the British Gurkhas camp in Kathmandu, we enjoyed a traditional meal whilst taking in the vibrant atmosphere.
The following day at the break of dawn as Kathmandu stirred, the party embarked on a 9 hour journey weaving through forest and valley. For lunch we stopped in a small but lively town where we were soon caught up in the National Diwali festival (festival of colour) which quickly embroiled the group among the colourful water fights that were in full flow. After rinsing off, we continued the journey up to Bahundanda at 1310m where we were to start out trek.
The following morning with the group buzzing with enthusiasm we started at a steady pace through an extremely picturesque valley parallel to the Marsgangdi river. We stopped for lunch where we basked in sunshine while waiting for our traditional Dal Baht lunch. We headed on and crossed over the first of many cable swing bridges that we negotiated with some caution due to the age of the bridge, some suspect engineering and the oncoming donkey traffic. The scenery became more impressive with every day and each corner that we turned. Each evening we stopped over in quaint village tea houses where we would have tea, rest and prepare for the following day.
The group made good progress up to the village of Tal at 1700 m. taking advantage of the relatively low altitude. As we headed deeper into the mountain range the route became increasingly picturesque and we soon found ourselves surrounded by spectacular vistas of 6000+m mountains standing proud against a cobalt blue sky. As we ventured higher the effects of the increasingly thinner air began to be apparent with hearts and lungs racing, making the most menial of tasks an effort.
We arrived at the village of Upper Pisang at 3310m, a stereotypical rock house settlement with prayer flags linking rooftops. The flags vivid colours fluttering in the wind against the bright blue sky further heightening the experience of Nepal. Here we visited a small monastery where we were warmly welcomed and given a greater insight into Buddhism. The arduous conditions continued as the temperature began to drop with each leg and the altitude further sapping our strength. We stopped at Manang (3540m) the main town of the district where we spent a day acclimatizing and resting to help prevent the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). We set off early from Manang spending a night in Yak Kharka before pushing on to High Camp at 4850m where we would base ourselves for the final ascent to the high pass. This leg of the trek was extremely steep and taxing, our group showing their resilience by passing many teams descending in order to further acclimatize. We made it to the high camp where headaches were rife as the body struggled to adapt to the thin atmosphere.
The 0400am wake up call for the ascent came quickly and we woke to find a perfectly still and picturesque nightscape, the moon beaming onto the snow capped mountains around us. The temperature had dropped dramatically during the night to -15 C which resulted in the air chilling and drying the throat with every breath. Despite the early hour, there was a buzz of activity in the serenity of this breathtaking environment.
We departed and quickly set about achieving our aim of climbing up and over the Thorong La Pass at 5416m. Under moonlight we snaked our way steadily up ensuring every step was taken with care as a slip could result in a potentially fatal fall. The sun rose early warming our backs and transforming white mountains to a deep striking orange. With burning legs and aching lungs every step required around three times the effort as the altitude starved the body of oxygen. However we soon made it to the top of the pass and were rewarded with an idyllic 360 degree mountain view stretching North far into Tibet and South into India. The physical challenges of the past few days were all well worth it simply for this view.
We descended with weary legs to a welcome hot shower and two days of rest and recuperation in the form of some white water rafting along the Trilisu river. The trip was a great success with all members returning unscathed and with a greater understanding of Nepalese life and culture, and the experience of trekking at high altitude.