Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How big are they?

Bhutan is often considered to be a good candidate for Shangri La, the mystical utopia hidden in the Himalaya introduced to the imaginations of many westerners via Lost Horizon, book or movie. The word La in Tibetan as well as Dzognka refers to mountain pass. So Shangri La would be the pass named Shangri. In Colorado we have Loveland Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, etc. Here in Bhutan they have Dochu La, Pele La, Nuksum La, etc. In Colorado many of the passes cross the
Rockies and the continental divide. Here in Bhutan the roads often wind their way up for many thousands of vertical feet to cross passes over minor ridges coming down from the Himalaya. The big mountains are hidden behind a veil of cloud much of the time and always unseen from many of the deep, steep sided valleys where many people live. A view of these mountains is a treat and far from a common sight in much of Bhutan. As the seasons change I am hoping to get some memorable vistas as the clear days of winter become the norm.
This past week an actual holiday appeared and by using only ½ day of precious casual leave I ended up with a full three day weekend. Ignorance of the programs involved with holidays often results in working a Saturday or Sunday with little warning, however this time the surprise was indeed pleasant. I left Gaselo Thursday afternoon to stretch the time as much as possible. I often walk from my house down to the main road along the river. It is a full hour, a steady, steep downhill walk through ever changing farmland belonging to the houses scattered along the steep sides of the valley. I have grown quite fond of the descent, it allows me to leave whenever I like, I know how long it will take, and it is always a bit of an adventure. The long descent is tolerated by my knees pretty well if I pack light and use my poles. Friday was spent traveling to Thimphu, 2 ½ hours on the road once a taxi has been arranged with a full load of passengers, and enjoying a bit of time in the “big city.” The treats include the best coffee in Bhutan which is a moderate cup of coffee by most standards, city wide 3G, wireless in the coffee place, the hustle of a burgeoning city of a 100,000, and a choice of shopping a step or two above that available to us in Bajo.

Friday evening six of us gathered at a Thai restaurant to enjoy the company and some flavors we don’t generally get in Bhutanese food. After dinner we headed to the home of two in our group in Chamgang. We planned to hike Talakha Peak on Saturday. The weather forecast had been less than great but the day dawned with enough blue sky showing around the clouds to be encouraging. The village of Chamgang sits at about 9,000 feet, our goal was a peak at about 14,000 feet. Anyone who hikes much knows that gaining 5,000 vertical feet in a day is a big day. The early part of the walk is through old forest with the occasional tree that is so huge it makes you stop and ponder for a moment. We climbed steeply for a couple of hours passing the winter
home of a yak herder, they have come down from the high country. After a bit we crested a long ridge along the top of which the walk was less severe and strikingly beautiful with an occasional larch tree lending some fall color. The most ancient looking rhododendron trees I have seen were along the way as well. As we began climbing in earnest again the trees became shorter and final at about 12,500 feet we at timberline. The true high altitude alpine tundra begins around 13,000 feet, a lot higher than we are used to in Colorado. In the lower 48 the “14ers” are the rooftop of this part of the continent. Peaks top out at a little over 14,000 feet in Colorado California, and Washington. Hikers in the U.S. consider these to be the big mountains and when you are on the summit of one it feels like the top of the world. The top of a 14,000 peak here is a high point well above timberline but the 15,000 foot peaks nearby are covered with fresh snow and the big ones over 20,000 feet lurk on the horizon, glacier covered and glistening white all year round, that is when the clouds lift their skirts and allow a glimpse.

The central part of Bhutan is populated between 4,000 and 10,000 feet, the capital, Thimphu, is located at about 7000 feet. Bhutan is farther south than Colorado accounting for the higher timberline and the feel of lower elevations in terms of climates. All this woos one to feel like they are not so high in the mountains since the distant peaks appear so far above. So, all I’m saying is that a climb of 5,000 vertical feet around here can gain a 14,000 foot summit but still be10,000 feet below the summits of the big ones, the Himalaya.

No comments:

Post a Comment