Pinnacle Range on test in Asia – Nepal & India, 2009 Alan Ward
Earlier this year I led the inaugural Rohan Trek in Iceland during August. Whilst there, I was able to test a set of the Pinnacle waterproofs on a couple of very stormy days. My initial impressions were very favourable with the jacket and bibs providing a good comfortable fit with excellent fabric breathability.
For my November trip to Nepal, I was also asked to test two other items from the Pinnacle Range: the Strata Jacket and a Nightfall Jacket.
I arrived in Nepal during early November and met up with a couple of friends ready for a two week trek into the Upper Langtang Valley before returning to the sacred Gosainkund Lakes and descending through Helambu into Kathmandu. Having been fortunate enough to visit Nepal on numerous previous occasions, our proposed route was new to me and promised a whole new experience of Himalayan trekking. The sacred lakes of Gosainkund were of high interest for me as I’d waited many years to visit this spectacular area.
As a part-time, but freelance Expedition Leader, most of my trips are on a professional basis with an average group size of 10 – 15 participants. Last year’s trip was to the Kingdom of Mustang in western Nepal and this fascinating trip was with The Mountain Company. This year’s trip however was a private trek for three friends and a local company, Nepal Sanctuary Treks provided excellent support services for our small group. I’d worked with our excellent guide, Mangal, in Mustang last year and he was supported by three porters: Prem, Raj and Dorje. Anyone wishing to trek in Nepal on an independent basis with friends would do well to contact Tulsi at Nepal Sanctuary Treks. For details of costs or other information.
After an 8 hour 4WD journey to the roadhead at Syabru Besi (1,420m) for access to Langtang, the weather was good and I was wondering if my Pinnacle Range garments would actually be needed, much less to be tested over two weeks in the mountains.
Day 1 of our trek from Syabru Besi saw us crossing the first of many suspension bridges before a gruelling climb of 800 metres to the village of Khangjung where there are several lodges and a small gompa. After a break we continued climbing for another hour before reaching a spur with views southwards to Syabru. The trail then contoured northwards towards Lantang and we stopped for lunch in an isolated lodge before Sherpagaon. Our Tibetan Bread took some time to cook and by the time we set off again it was raining heavily. Donning my Pinnacle Jacket and Bibs I really was impressed that I didn’t get too warm so full marks for fabric breathability. Having lingered too long for freshly cooked Tibetan Bread at lunch it was time to continue northwards. We didn’t arrive at the small settlement known as Lama Hotel until well after dark where we eventually found space in one of the lodges, which were all crowded.
Having hired our support crew as independent trekkers, our daily costs for full board and overnight accommodation were about $20 each, making our trek quite an affordable one.
Day 4 saw us in Kyangjin (3,900m) in Upper Langtang, to explore the surrounding area and have an exploratory walk up to the foot of the spectacular Kymoshung Icefall to the north. I’d briefed my two friends about high altitude mountain travel so they were aware of the needs for taking the advice seriously. Back in the UK, one of the first aid courses I run is High Altitude Medical Problems which is a one day course held in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Details of these courses can be seen on my website but the course will run for a minimum of four participants.
Up at 4,000m, there was a real need to get the Pinnacle Range into use. For daytime use I liked the Strata Jacket, almost windproof which kept the piercing wind at bay with ease. Back in Kyangjin to explore the settlement, the Nightfall Jacket really came into its own and it did keep me warm throughout the rest of the day and in our lodge that evening. No doubt anyone buying from the Pinnacle Range will make their own judgements but as a professional International Mountain Leader the items I was testing certainly exceeded expectations and I’d recommend them for mountain travel throughout the world.
Day 7 saw us leaving Sing Gompa (3,250m) behind for a tough day’s climbing up to the small settlement at Gosainkund (4,381m), next to the sacred lakes. The trek out of the Langtang Valley had been easy enough but gaining the ridge at Sing Gompa had taken a relentless two days of climbing with an overnight stop at Syabru (2,200m). From Sing Gompa, the route climbed gently up through pine forests to a couple of lodges at Chalangpati (3,670m) where we drank black tea and ate biscuits. The climb continued up to Laurabinayak (3,925m) where again we rested as our porters needed lunch. The views from here were stunning with fine weather allowing views westwards of the Annapurna Range and northwards into Tibet. Our map advised “steep path” for the next section but it wasn’t too bad and we were soon up at the small chorten at the pass which led into Gosainkund and our lodge which was very basic!
It was extremely cold at 4,381m so it was straight into my pack for my Nightfall jacket before exploring the area around the lakes, a site of important value to pilgrims travelling up through India. There wasn’t much heating in the lodge so the Nightfall Jacket kept me warm and snug whilst we ate dinner then played Uno with our crew.
Day 8 began cold and clear and after breakfast we climbed up to the Laurabinayak Pass (4,610m) above the upper lakes. The path was snow covered and the going was slow but we reached the pass after an hour or so for the most amazing views of the trip to date. Prayer flags adorned the cairns at the pass and to the east, ridges rose above the lower cloud in the valleys which made them look like islands in a sea of clouds.
Later in the day we passed the site of the 1992 Thai Airbus crash which killed 99 passengers and 14 crew. Contributing factors to this accident were a flap fault which, although corrected, required that the initial approach be discontinued and radio communication difficulties between the TG311 crew and the air traffic controllers that stemmed from language difficulties and ineffective discussion of apparent unresolved problems. I found the walk that day somewhat spooky as 59 days after the Thai crash, I was flying in to Kathmandu when the PIA aircraft ahead of us crashed killing all 155 passengers and 12 crew because the aircraft was below its approved descent path. Since then flight safety standards have improved in Nepal thankfully.
Day 10 was our last day on trek with a long descent from our overnight lodge at Kutumsang (2,500m) down to the road head at Chanauti on the Melanchi Khola river where we hoped to catch a 1400hrs bus back in to Kathmandu. The descent was extremely interesting, through terraced farmland where watermills were active producing flour for the winter months. We passed through small settlements where only children played as their parents were working the nearby fields. Reaching Chanauti (950m), we had plenty of time to relax with a coke as we waited for the bus. The bus arrived and we were soon occupying the rear seats on the very crowded bus.
Our bus journey back in to Kathmandu followed the river downstream before turning westwards and climbing towards high ground. This was where it really started to get scary with frequent tight, hairpin bends with drops into the adjacent valleys of several hundreds of metres and not a crash barrier in sight. From time to time, passengers would scream as they thought the bus was going over the edge but it was only a deep pothole on the un-surfaced dirt track. My friends were often alarmed for similar reasons but, whilst I put on a brave face, it was the scariest journey I’d been on that I can remember for a long time.
We had a couple of days in Kathmandu to catch up on cold beers and showers before two of us flew down to Delhi for a mini triangle tour to Agra and Jaipur which Cox and Kings had arranged for us. Some long drives were worth the effort as the Taj Mahal looked magnificent as did the Amber Palace in Jaipur.
The Pinnacle Range will continue to be tested in 2010 in Nepal during January and other equally exciting destinations, which will be featured in Rohantime – watch this space!
Images of this trip can also be seen on www.bigfootservices.co.uk
For any further details of this trip, contact Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org
British Association of International Mountain Leaders