While crossing this region we planned to move from the lower route to the higher route of The Great Himalaya Trail via Lake Gosiankund with the following route in mind:
Gul Bhanjyang – Kutumsang – Mangengoth – Therapati pass (3690m) – Gopte (3530m) – Phedi (3630m) – Lauribina pass (4610m) – Lake Gosiankund (4380m) – Lauribina (3910m) – Syabrubesi
A map of the Lake Gosiankund trekking route:
From Syabrubesi we’d continue on the high route through The Ruby Valley, Manaslu, Annapurna, and beyond.
Day 31. As we happily munched on breakfast in Gul Bhanjyang the lodge owner came to ask us about our route. When we mentioned we were headed towards Lake Gosiankund via Therapati pass (3690m) and Lauribina pass (4610m) he immediately said ‘not possible’. He told us the Lauribina pass was closed as there was 5ft of snow on it’s top making it impassable. We listened to what he had to say but did not give it a great deal of emphasis as we’d not heard anything from anyone else… not that we’d asked. That morning we hiked through a beautiful rhododendron forrest with white, pink and red varieties to the next town called Kutumsang.
As we stopped to stock up supplies in Kutumsang the shop owner asked about our route. He also told us no tourists nor Nepali people had yet been able to cross the Lauribina pass from either direction as there was too much snow. Our heart sank. We decided to keep heading towards the pass to see how far we could get. We hiked up through more rhododendron forests with enormous monkeys in the trees to reach Mangengoth (3300m), above the snowline.
Over lunch we spoke to a lodge owner who confirmed what the other two men had told us – no one had yet been able to cross the pass due to the snow. She said we could get to the nearer and lower pass Therapati (3600m) – four people had headed there today – but not further due to the snow. We felt absolutely gutted about having to turn back, we’d been really looking forward to the higher altitudes. With the pass being closed our only option would be to walk south for a few days to join the lower route before again walking west. Seemingly to confirm our fate, not long after we’d arrived a massive storm moved in and hammered the lodge with snow.
On day 32 we awoke to a cloudy morning. About a foot of snow had fallen overnight. Unwilling to concede defeat we again decided to continue heading north to see how far we could get.
While hiking through the forest we looked up to see a dog bounding over the hill towards us, followed by a western couple. The dog was an excited little bean who did a thorough exploration of us and the surrounding forest while we had a chat. The couple turned out to be British. To our absolute delight they told us they’d come from Gosiankund Lake – they’d been the first ones across the Lauribina pass, and although very snowy they told us it was ‘doable’. We were over the moon. In fact, all three of them had crossed the pass together – the dog had followed them for two days, from Lake Gosiankund. They had no difficulty persuading us to take her with us back towards the lake. And that is how we recruited our best hiking buddy yet who we named Molly. Molly have us a good sniff, decided we were friends and then ran circles around us for the next two days.
Molly and me
After about 3hours hiking we reached Therapati pass where we met a further three German men who’d come over the pass the day before. Five people over the pass meant five sets of footprints to follow. Knowing this we decided it would be safe for us to try. We continued on our way, hiking through thick cloud to reach Gopte and then later Phedi, after 7 hours. The snow was knee to thigh deep in places; we slipped, stumbled, and waded our way along. While going down some steep sections it was easier to just toboggan on our butts. We inched our way across four wide snow chutes that had nasty drop offs on the left.
Halfway to buried:
It took us about half an hour to cover the last 100m up to Phedi – up an incredibly steep slope where almost every step we took we went up to our crutch in snow and had to haul ourselves out. It felt like we were wading through quicksand, uphill, at altitude. We took turns going first to make the footsteps and compact the snow.
In Phedi the three of us huddled around the wood fired stove as big gaps in the flimsy lodge stole the warm air away from us. The lodge owner, a kindly Nepali man served Molly a big plate of rice, which she chased around the room, making an almighty mess. We decided that if the weather was OK tomorrow morning we’d attempt the pass to reach Lake Gosainkund. We would get up at first light so that the snow would be harder and less likely to swallow us. We ordered dal bhat for breakfast to power us through the 5hour 1000m elevation climb through the snow to Lauribina pass (4600m). As we brushed our teeth we saw it was steadily snowing outside, which meant two dumps of snow since the Brits and Germans had crossed the pass two days ago, and little chance of being able to follow their footprints.
Day 33. After a fitful sleep we woke at 4.30am to clear skies and howling wind. At least 10cm fresh snow had fallen overnight. Our boots which we’d left by the fire to dry out had instead frozen solid, the laces like wire and impossible to tie tightly. We force fed ourselves dal bhat, not hungry at all but knowing we need the energy. As we ate the lodge owner kindly told us horror stories about people getting lost while attempting the pass. One person got lost for 44 days! Some Dutch siblings also took about 36hours to do the pass, and when they eventually found Phedi their shoes and socks were frozen to their feet and had to be cut off. He told us even two tourists with two Nepali guides had got lost trying to cross. Although the butterflies in our stomach where quickly multiplying, we decided to give it a go, if we went wrong we could always follow our foot prints back… right?
Off we went, with Molly streaking ahead like a lunatic. We ploughed on up, carefully looking for footprints, hearts pounding, puffing due to the altitude. We could vaguely make out human footprints at times which gave us confidence. The sun rose with us, making for spectacular views.
We came across the ruins of an old house after about an hour, which we knew to be on the route, again bolstering our confidence. We continued up, now walking across big snow drifts which gave way beneath us causing us to go crotch deep in snow. When we tried to haul ourselves out using our other leg or our arms these would often also fall in causing us to be totally stuck in the mud. This was initially hilarious but as it happened over and over again it ultimately became a frustrating expletive-laden affair that left us totally exhausted.
Taking a breather:
After a couple of hours we found that both our water bladders had frozen, so we were waterless. We continued up, each step making our thighs and lungs burn. Our feet were freezing and our toes numb, and each time the snow gave way beneath us it flooded into our loosely tied boots. Molly had deserted us by this point, likely because we were too slow. We could see her foot prints every now and again, confirming the little ratbag knew the way.
After coming over a small ridge we reached a blissfully flat frozen lake, from which we could see the prayer flags and chorten that marked the pass. What a releif.
As we got closer we saw four other foreigners and a guide coming over from the other side which meant fresh tracks to follow to Lake Gosiankund, perfect. Ronnie’s toes were totally numb by this point so we hurried down the other side, again falling crotch deep in snow every other step and at one point totally face planting when both legs got stuck in quick succession.
After one hour more of panting, puffing, tumbling, and swearing, we reached Lake Gosiankund, which was totally frozen and covered in snow.
Lake Gosiankund and Ronnie in the distance:
Alongside the lake:
We hurried to a guest house and were delighted to find a wood burning stove where we pulled off our frozen shoes, defrosted our toes, and inhaled tea and macaroni. Once fed we hiked another 1.5 hours down to Lauribina (3900m) and spent the afternoon siting in front of a blissfully hot wood burning stove.
On the trail from Lake Gosiankund to Lauribina:
Sadly we never saw Molly again, although we saw her paw prints going further down the mountain, likely in search of warmer temperatures and a good feed.
On day 34 we woke to a stunning view from the lodge window.
We set off early for Syabrubesi, in search of donuts and a hot shower.
The trail was a half pipe of compacted snow and ice in some sections, and then slippery mud further down, making it slow going. I twice lost my legs from underneath me and landed with my backpack in the mud and my hands and legs flailing in the air like an upturned cockroach. We passed through more beautiful rhododendron forests with white, pink and red flowers and small creeks here and there. As we approached a small village we watched as a lady chased and enormous bearded monkey from her fields.
After hiking 5hours purely downhill we reached Syabrubesi (1500m) in a valley by the river, a drop of 2500m in elevation. Our knees were groaning. We basked in the warm sun, enjoyed a steaming hot shower, washed our clothes, and gorged on donuts.
Day 35 we had a rest day in Syabrubesi which was spent grazing and visiting the local hot springs. We had an onsen style relaxation extravaganza in mind and were disappointed to find a few dilapidated concrete square pools with a tap running into them. There was a small building alongside the pools with change room cubicles that had poo scattered all over the floor. We left quite quickly.
We met a British-German couple that day who introduced us to a life changing app: ‘Osmand’ – an offline GPS map which seems to have most (so far) trails marked on it, even local trails not on a tourist route. Rather annoyingly it has the trail to Phalut on the Indian border clearly marked, which would have saved us a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears on day 1 of the hike.
The afternoon was spent pouring over maps and tea, organising the next section: The Ruby Valley.
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