Breaching The Unknown – Part 4: Conquering The Pass

Day 9 – Nothing like trying some yak meat first thing in the morning. A dish local to the Manang region, Khoo. A rice and potato porridge with fried yak meat and chives on top. An extremely simple dish, but so flavourful. A prime example of how the mountain villages make the most of what they have to work with. I found the yak meat similar to beef with a stronger flavour, slightly gamey. Comparable to the difference between lamb and mutton.

Khoo - a local Manang dish. Rice/potato porridge with fried yak
Khoo – a local Manang dish. Rice/potato porridge with fried yak

Leaving Yak Kharka walking through pastures with yaks grazing (the literal translation of Yak Kharka, yak pastures), it was a short day and reasonably effortless compared to previous days. Over a couple dodgy looking bridges and Thorong Phedi appeared around the edge of the mountain. We decided to spend the night here instead of going up to the high camp, only about an hour further up a steep path.

Day 10 – Rest.

At the pinnacle, Thorong-La Pass, 5416m
At the pinnacle, Thorong-La Pass, 5416m

Day 11 – Five in the morning, that time when you would rather throw your alarm across the room. It was hard to get motivated, the rest day had taken my momentum and the poor weather didn’t help. It had rained recently and the clouds threatened it might again. I couldn’t justify sitting around another day, I was anxious to reach the pinnacle of the Annapurna Circuit and conquer the Thorong-La Pass.

First stage was to climb the steep path to high camp, recommended to do the evening before. Now I see why, as doing this first thing in the early morning was, well let’s say not ideal. A quick tea break, then the final two hour ascent of six hundred meters to the climax. My quads burning, my chest heaving, but as the mountain of prayer flags came into view, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. A fresh wave of energy flowed through my veins as I almost broke out into a run to reach it. One of my most rewarding accomplishments.

A celebratory shot of whiskey was slugged back as the photo shoot began, everyone getting their fair share of pictures at 5416 meters, crossing the Thorong-La pass. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our sides obscuring the view with thick cloud cover. Sitting around enjoying the atmosphere of such a tremendous achievement, after thirty minutes a light snow began to fall and it was time to accept that the only way forward was back down.

Taking in the view on the way to Muktinath
Taking in the view on the way to Muktinath

Three hours of constant downhill put the strain on my knees to stop me from running forward. At the beginning it was barren mountain desert, void of most life. It had a quiet beauty of its own as I lost everyone in the thick fog. The clean air, arid landscape and noiselessness of it all cleared my mind, taking my thoughts into the vast expanse of nothingness. Breaking through the fog into the valley leading down to Muktinath was a view meant only for the eyes. Almost a shame to even bother capturing it on film.

Yak Donalds, yak burger with yak cheese
Yak Donalds, yak burger with yak cheese

Day 12 – Originally planning on renting mountain bikes to carry on to Jomsom, there was none available due to off season. Oh well, what’s one more day of trekking. Only downside was for the most part we were back on the developing road with minivans, cars and bikes honking away, disturbing the peace. An annoyance I had almost forgotten about. A short stop in Kagbeni, the entrance to the Mustang region of Nepal (special permits required to go any farther), to eat at a restaurant I heard so much about, Yak Donald’s. One of those things you have to try. I ordered up the Yak Donald’s combo, a yak burger with yak cheese, fries, salad and sea buckthorn juice. Simply put, McDonald’s has some competition. Much better food, if your one who considers McDonald’s food.

The next morning we caught a bus from Jomsom back to Pokhara since everyone was running short on time left in the country. This was one the best experiences of my life, physically and mentally pushing myself to limits I was unaware of beforehand. The people, culture, scenery of the Himalayas is incomparable to anything I’ve come across before. The food humble and unique to the region. This is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but would recommend to everybody.

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