Day two started with much better weather, so the clouds were a
bit disturbing. It was to be the hardest day with an ascent
1200m, during which we would reach the highest point of the
snow on the ground was patchy and did not pose a problem.
As we were getting higher and higher there was more and
more of it and eventually there were only two colours around:
the white of the snow and the blue of the sky. The glare
was so strong that I had to wear two pairs of sunglasses
simultaneously. All of us were gasping for air, stopping
every 3-5 steps. Many had to swallow their pride and ask
for a horse for 20-40 minutes to regain the strength. I
ate anything for breakfast but even that didn't stay in
my stomach for long. The trail was up, and up and up. Never
ending. The group scattered over a few kilometres and many
had time to reflect and enjoy the solitude and stillness
of the mountains. On the final
the Zhukar-La pass we were overtaken by our yaks! Eventually,
after nearly 8 hours we reached it. The altimeters recorded
nearly 5,300m (17,500 ft). There was much joy and cheering,
swapping T-shirts, taking photographs and hugging. Not
for long though. The menacing clouds, which followed us
a while (see photo below) suddenly started unloading their
cargo: tons of hail and snow. The temperature dropped some
20 degrees in less than 5 minutes, our hands became numb
as we struggled to pull our jumpers and anoraks from our
rucksacks. We had to evacuate the pass as soon as possible.
What followed was the 'mother of all blizzards', which
for many was the fright of their lives. First it was the
hail. While going down the steep descent single-file we
created a gully in the snow, in which the hailstones gathered,
turning it into a bobsleigh run. I'm amazed that nobody
slipped on it. Then the hail stopped and a strong wind
started whipping up mini-tornadoes of very fine snowflakes.
With the howling wind and our hoods on we could hardly
hear each other. Soon we couldn't see each other either.
The visibility was down to two metres. The group fragmented.
Even I started being worried. It was nine hours since we
left the camp and many of us were tired, cold and hungry.
no idea where we were, couldn't see any path and
only have faith that our Tibetan leaders knew what they
were doing. Losing our way and being stuck on the mountain
two days away from any inhabited place was one of the
dangers. Slipping into the abyss was another. Soon we
started hearing thunder, and better not to think what the
third might have been...
blizzard lasted for about 2 and a half hours, which there
and then definitely felt like eternity. Eventually the
cleared and we caught a first glimpse of a camp in a distance.
It may look like a frozen
you, but for us it was the most warm, homely sight we could
wish for. A sleeping bag and a cup of hot tea... the ultimate
dream. I checked my watch - it took nearly 13 hours to
reach the camp. We were told that we may not sleep well
because of the altitude - 4,880m (16,100 ft) - they
must have been joking! I slipped into my sleeping bag
just after we reached the camp with no dinner. I
slept for over 12 hours having the best sleep of my life!
I was somewhat surprised at night that I couldn't sip my
water as I usually do, but in the morning it all became
clear - the plastic bottle turned into a block of ice!
Apparently it was minus 10oC at night.
gorgeous morning with an impeccable blue sky was spoilt
by another discovery that our wet boots from yesterday
also turned into blocks of ice. It was impossible to put
rushed to the kitchen tent to thaw them. But this story
belongs to Day 3.
my Portrait Gallery of the Tibetans