Tso Moriri to Spiti Valley via Parangla
It takes a special kind of stupidity to venture out by yourself into the wilds of the Himalaya without a map, headed for trails you’re not entirely sure exist, over a mountain pass you know nothing about, and dragging a bike to boot. Now mine is a special, and quite capable, steed, but horse trails are, well, for (and by) horses, and sometimes (in the Himalaya, often, it turns out) they do things l just can’t do on the bike –which means pushing and or carrying. So l set out once again from Korzog fully aware that what l was attempting would be difficult, but without any real idea what l was getting myself into, and lulled perhaps into a false sense of security by the lovely and rideable circuit of Tso Moriri l had just completed.
Indeed l left town on the same spectacular lakeside trail Moy and l had recently traversed. This time, since l knew the trail, and was better accustomed to the handling of my loaded bike off-road, the 20 kms or so to the end of the lake were even more fast and fun. The trail evaporated at about the same point Moy and l had camped on the last-go-round, but I used the remaining hour or two of daylight to make my way to the Pare Chu river canyon, grinding my way along the mixed gravel and cobbles of the braided glacial river bed. There were several canyons to choose from and l was sorely temped to follow the Pare Chu downstream and across the contested border into Tibet, imagining pleading ignorance when eventually apprehended by the Chinese military.
For better or worse l resisted that particular impulse and spent the better part of the next two days wobbling over and around what mtn bikers call baby-heads: Loose river cobbles ranging in size from baseball to softball, packed in drifts and furrowed gullies by the meandering river. Literally riding up river as the canyon narrowed, crossing the river channel so frequently that my feet spent the whole day wet with icy water. Now and then the main trail would appear, always headed for high ground. It would climb a loose and crumbly cliff to a plateau following it until it ended and dive back into the river canyon, repeating indefinitely, always endeavoring it seemed to stay as far away from the water as possible. Fat tire equipped, l stuck to the river bed, letting all that low pressure rubber find its own way as l battled the increasingly stiff head-wind, which signaled the presence of the approaching glacier.
Lacking maps and pre-trip data, l hadn’t even thought about a glacier crossing, though a German botanist we had encountered in Korzog had mentioned that there might be one. I camped at the base and fell asleep wondering if l would need to use my emergency snow booties (neoprene socks). The day dawned bright and clear revealing that the trail, as far as it could be discerned from the lateral moraine it traversed, skirted the ice, at least for a while. Eventually the horse droppings left the jumbled rocks and made their way onto the glacier itself, where the pushing was actually easier. The ice was firm and smooth, without loose rock to slide out from under foot, and the horizon looked so close.
Much too close in fact. What l was seeing was naturally a false summit. Beyond which the ice got wilder, weathered into spires and ridges, and covered with a thin layer of snow concealing a varied landscape of ice needles and pools of ice water. Needless to say, the bike pushing got harder. But it wasn’t until l started turning my footprints pink that l realized what a beating my poor feet were taking, and got out my emergency snow booties. By this time l was in the middle of the glacier with a clear view of the steep couloir which l took to be the pass. After a fine lunch of Trader Joe’s chocolate; (a thoughtful pre-trip gift from my friend Lissa) which l had been hoarding for just this sort of extenuating circumstance; l continued slogging across the glacier.
In the middle of which l spied a lone trekker sticking close to the far side of the glacier on q route indicated by his GPS in order to avoid the crevasses. Crevasses which fortunately for me (since l was on the wrong side and had to cross them) were small and well equipped with solid snow bridges (l used my tent pole as a probe). After the crossings the terrain flattened out and soon all that was left of my glacier crossing was to drag my bike up the couloir to the pass, Parang La 5,580 metres / 18,307 feet, where the land dropped away rather spectacularly. I wasted little time enjoying the view, because it was already late in the day, it was a long way down, and l was looking forward to some down hill riding. (to be continued)