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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Traveller Rob Steele tells of his latest Himalayan journey

THE starting point of The Arun Valley Trek is Tumlingtar, in the remote far south east of Nepal. There is a small mountain airstrip, but why do things the easy way and besides, I quite fancied taking a look at this often unvisited corner of Nepal.

Appropriately enough, with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee upon us, Gosforth traveller Rob Steele writes about his recent return to Everest base camp.

He said: “In 1998, whist struggling through snow drifts and rock-falls on my way up to Everest base camp on the traditional route from Jiri, I stumbled upon a large boulder painted with ‘Way to Arun Valley’ and an arrow pointing vaguely skywards. The result was this year’s trek.”

Here, Rob describes his latest adventure.

So, Saturday, March 10, saw myself, three trekkers and three Nepali trekking staff leaving Kathmandu in the pre-dawn in the relative comfort of a Toyota Landcruiser. Fourteen hours later, and with slightly numb bottoms, we were in the aptly-named hill town of Hille. We had an overnight there and then transferred to a Landrover as the already bad road deteriorated into little more than a set of ruts for the final six hours to Tumlingtar and the starting point of our trek.

Tumlingtar is at a mere 450 metres and from there we actually dropped down to 250m to cross the mighty Arun Khola River on a long suspension bridge. At this altitude we were trekking through fields of wheat and maize, nevertheless, soon after crossing the bridge we started heading up and spent our first night in a small simple lodge at 975m.

The next day we continued up and over a ridge before dropping down and following the Chikhuwa Khola, initially to Dobani and then to Salpa Phedi where we started the long climb up Salpa La (La meaning pass in Nepali) already at 3200m and within sight of the distant snow peaks.

From Salpa La the path plunged into another deep valley to cross another suspension bridge below 2000m before passing through the delightfully named Rai village of Bung where we were lucky enough to arrive on the same day as the weekly market selling everything from “fresh” buffalo meat to Chinese batteries and jeans.

Then up again and over another 3000m+ La, Surkie La, then, yes, down again to well below 2000m to cross the Imukhu Khola on a vertigo-inducing suspension bridge.

Here we spent a night in another very simple lodge where tragedy had recently struck. The lodge owner’s wife had died in childbirth and left this unfortunate young man with a baby daughter to bring up on his own in quite primitive conditions. He seemed to be coping remarkably well even though the grief he was suffering was still obvious.

On leaving the lodge we scaled a ‘hill’ that has been previously described as “brutal” before crossing yet another La over 3000m, Pangkoma La, then down once more before crossing our final La, Kari La, again over 3000m, before dropping down to where the Arun Valley route joins the main trail from Jiri.

And there it was, just as I had remembered, the same boulder indicating “Way to Arun Valley” and the arrow pointing vaguely skywards!

From here we followed the now more popular trail, soon passing under the mountain airstrip of Lukla where 90 percent of trekkers fly into and with the dubious honour of being one of the most dangerous in the world.

Then continuing on up to Namche Bazaar where we took a rest and acclimatisation day, the “rest” part being a hike to The Panorama Hotel which afforded us with our first good view of Everest.

From Namche Bazaar we were somewhat restricted with the length of the days we could safely trek because of the height gain guidelines which significantly reduce your chances of being adversely effected by Acute Mountain Sickness, so we trekked quite a few short days, a pleasant change from the longer ones we were now used too!

Five days after leaving Namche Bazaar on March 29 I trekked into Everest Base Camp and was very fortunate with the weather, cold with an indigo blue sky, which showed the Upper Khumba at its very best.

Then a simple trek back down to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu. Twenty-two days of pristine trekking on a route that I would recommend to anyone with average fitness and a bit of determination.

This was my ninth visit to Nepal and already I have a plan for trip number 10.

Rob will be holding an annual slide-show of his recent visit in aid of Cancer Research in Gosforth this October. For more details to go  http://www.pro-tector.co.uk/recommendations.htm

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