(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
15-09-2014 - Monday
We left New Tingri headed for (old?) Tingri, about 60 km away. The cycling was excellent, down a gently sloping valley with stunning views. You could have stopped every 100m to take a photo as the constantly changing play of cloud shadow and sunlight on the mountains was beautiful. I stopped a little less than that but did take quite a few photos!
Solar powered cell phone sites (below left) were a common sight throughout the trip. Seems bizarre to get a signal in such remote country but I guess it is the simplest way to deliver communication coverage. Maybe I needn't have gone off-line for this trip!
About 8km from town there was a checkpoint. Although we've been through literally dozens of these it was the first where it required more than slowing down and a wave to/from a bored looking policeman.
This time, and I never really found out why, it was an army run one. We all had to go into the office with our passports. We had been told to open backpacks if asked as they'd just cut open any closed bags. The bus & truck go through this at every checkpoint, about every 50-100km or major town, but usually we just ride through.
Once inspected we could return to the bikes and cycle thru without further inspection. I asked if it was a regional border or something but seems was just a 'difficult' one.
Prayer flags in a lake(?) and a very relaxed looking Tim snacking
We had lunch just outside Tingri with stunning mountain views.The guys had made lovely noodle soup, veges, tuna and japati!
From there a rough 'road' led up the valley towards Everest (which wasn't visible yet). It wasn’t the main road as going this way avoided taking the bus & truck through yet another checkpoint.
Some of us rode up to the campsite, about 12km on a mix of sandy track (really) and very rough gravel/stone/rock track. It was challenging, after covering 60km already, but I felt the bike was at home on this terrain. Those fat tyres and the front suspension which had been a bit unnecessary on most of the ride so far came good.
At one stage we passed through a village where a mob of little kids ran into the road. Was quite worried about hitting them as they didn't seem too concerned about getting in the way. Some just wanted to stay hello, others grasp for anything they can get.
The trip notes had said some might expect lollies but encouraged not to promote this. Still, must be a bit out of the ordinary to have bunch of foreigners pass through when you live somewhere so remote.
It felt the bike knew what do do on the soft sand and rough gravel, just had to be in the right gear to have sufficient power to get thru. I felt sorry for those on more road oriented bikes as touring tyres would have been a real handful in the sandy stuff. Even did a small river (ok creek) crossing without much trouble. Just one wet foot from pedalling through.
Glad Tim’s photo of me didn’t capture a spectacular fall as that water was icy cold!
The road got rougher and rougher, to the point where there really wasn’t a ‘road’, before we intersected the proper road for the run into camp.
Prayer flags on the bridge near our campsite blowing in the wind.
Now we are camped down the valley from Everest (not quite as it turned out) although it isn’t visible. We are here for two nights, as the itinerary has changed.
Change of plan:
As the main approach road to Everest is closed (for tar stealing) the alternative is a much rougher gravel
track road. Combine 70km each way of that with the climb from 4500 to 5200 at base camp and our timetable is next to impossible.
Several people are already unwell, a vicious gastro-type bug going around, and riding to 5200m then staying overnight would be a real strain (due to there being that much less oxygen even compared to here).
The guides have an alternative plan where we stay two nights here in the valley (at a mere 4480m) and bus up to base camp. This means everyone who wants to go will be able to get there and one less repack/move.
Some of us have elected to bike back. It's 1,000m descent over about 70km with, if the current weather holds, a tailwind!
Little did we know what really was in front of us!
It was fine with a reasonable wind (headwind for the last part of our ride) when we arrived here. Since sundown the wind has picked up (to est. 20-30 knots) and the wind chill had me break out the Icebreaker thermals, beanie, gloves and jacket as dinner wear. Since I wore their socks for the whole trip I was head to toe, fingertip to fingertip covered in Merino!
Although it stayed cold overnight I was fine in the toasty warm sleeping bags World Expeditions provide as part of the trip kit. I still hadn’t used their Jacket as found the combination of Icebreaker base layers and the Icebreaker MerinoLOFT Helix Hood Jacket was fine. Was really glad I’d added an Icebreaker merino Beanie and Sierra gloves to my kit, last minute when I collected the bike, as they were great around camp.
I don’t like being cold and was happy to invest in the right gear to avoid it. As it turned out I carried that bulky World Expedition Jacket—and stuffed it into my kit bag daily—for the whole damn trip and never needed it!
Shows how fortunate we were with weather (no blizzards!) and how well the Icebreaker base/layering system works.
Here endth the free advertisement for Icebreaker. I wasn’t sponsored by them but did make good use of my staff discount at R&R Sports (now Torpedo7) which is part of The Warehouse Group!
Dinner tonight saw everyone at the table in their full cold weather gear. Food was the usual high standard: Garlic & Onion soup with pappadum, vege curry, hand cut French fries and coleslaw. Desert was pineapple (tinned of course!) and I had a hot milky coffee (latte’ish) to warm up.
I had to get up in the middle of the night, thankfully not with the dreaded lurgi*. The cold clear starry sky was majestic but the temperature meant I didn’t linger too long to admire it!
Quote of the day:
"Survivor Tibet, the elimination rounds" – can’t remember who came up with this but it was to become a theme. Initially prompted by only a few turning up for afternoon tea due to a mixture of weariness and the dreaded lurgi.
* I didn’t know until writing this the phrase “the dreaded lurgi” originated with The Goon Show which I loved listening to as a kid (repeats, I’m not that old!).