Druk Path, Day 1
Technical Information is based on Dan’s watch. Below are the links to today’s trip information.
Five days of hiking were before me. The group gathered in the hotel lobby and tossed their bags into two piles: one for the pack animals and one for the transit van. Good-bye, bathing suit! Until we meet again…
The weather had turned: it was grey and damp and cool. Normally I would consider this perfect hiking weather, but a good part of the draw of hiking in the Himalayas was to see amazing views and vistas. Sadly, today would not be a day of amazing views and vistas.
The bus followed the same route from the previous day to the museum, but instead of turning off at the parking lot, it continued up the dirt and rock road, past the sign that warned that only small and medium sized vehicles should proceed. I wondered what category our bus was?
A muddy field of horses and mules greeted us as we got off the bus in a light rain. Porters were busy transferring bags of food, camping gear, tents and supplies onto the backs of the patient animals. Our own packs were of varying sizes. Some in the group had massive packs and Lord-knows-what inside of them. Others had typical day packs. I had my day pack and my fanny pack. The day pack held some clothes, a small first aid kit and a few odds ‘n ends. The fanny pack was all about my camera and water bottle. The fanny pack was wonderfully convenient for the entire hike. It sat low on my hips, so any weight was easily distributed. The camera was out of the way, but always handy when I needed it. The water bottle fit nicely and there were pockets for sunscreen (haha), chapstick, a bandana and a few other little things. Say what you will about fanny packs, but they are damn comfortable. Rather like Crocs.
Today’s view of Paro
I couldn’t tell what made the horses with the red plumes special
The porters, the pack animals and the bus
We shouldered our packs, left the porters behind and began walking. We continued to follow the road that we had driven up, climbing further into the clouds. The road was in remarkably good shape, considering the remoteness of it. There were infrequent habitations along the route and we picked up a canine fan.
Stones in the corners
(Dan’s) Our new companion
Eventually the road ended and became nothing more than a trail. The trail was a lot less forgiving than the road had been. It had a serious attitude about our elevation gain and wasn’t going to make it easy for me. I was thankful for the hiking poles I had picked up for this trip. Generally, most people rely on them for the descents in order to give their knees a break. But for me, it was all about distributing the effort of the climb. If my arms could take some of the work in getting up the trail, then so be it! I needed all the help I could get.
The trail goes up
(Dan’s) Looking back at the group
Before leaving for this trip I had some vague, fanciful ideas of what hiking in the Himalayas might be like. I imagined something above the tree line with low vegetation and a narrow dirt track leading across a mountainside. Something like this:
Rachel Lake, Washington State
Imagine my surprise when I found myself in a thick, green forest with lichens hanging from the branches. Ferns grew up from the underbrush and there was an amazing feeling of “life” all around me. It was hard not to watch where I was walking as there was so much to see around me. And I had to keep telling myself that I was in Bhutan, not Washington. The resemblance was that great. I never expected was feeling as though I was back in Washington State in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, rather like this:
Hoh Rain Forest, Washington State
Druk Path, Bhutan
Of course, the similarities make more sense when you look at the distribution of temperate rain forest across the globe:
Looking back down the trail
The group had spread itself out again, as it did on the hike to Tiger’s Nest. We re-grouped periodically but for the most part we had our place in the natural order of things. My place was near the back. I shared this with a few other regulars such as Sarah, Petra and Samantha. We took turns hanging out together. I was always happy when Sarah would stop as it would give me an excuse to stop as well. I think that Samantha felt the same way about me. And I think that Petra hung out with us mostly because she was Sarah’s friend, but it was nice to talk with her as well as we trudged up the mountain. Eventually we were even passed by our lunch transport.
The packhorse and her foal
We had been hiking for a few hours when we stragglers came upon the rest of the group. They had been there for a while – long enough to find seats and make themselves comfortable. Lunch had been unpacked and was being handed out. I gratefully took my cup of tea as I took a seat on a wet log. The rice was topped with hot vegetables and was extremely tasty and welcome.
Chunjur serves up seconds
I heard bells. From down the trail I could hear a faint jingling and it was getting closer. Almost immediately afterwards, our lunch spot was inundated with laden pack animals. These were ours, making their way up the mountain to our campsite. Dozens of animals made their way past us, encouraged by the porters that expertly and gently kept them moving.
After lunch very little changed. We continued to hike upwards through the forest. The way was steep but beautiful and I took my time. As Petra wisely said (numerous times): we’re here to enjoy ourselves.
Eventually we broke out of the trees – there was almost a view! The clouds were still low, but higher than where we were. The trees thinned out and we trudged through meadows of thick grass – it was a welcome change.
(Dan’s) And still up we go!
Dan’s having fun
Not our campsite (but a reminder that there are other trekkers in the mountains)
By the time we crested the final hill there were already tents populating the weedy field. The porters had made good time and unpacked the animals. I was impressed by the sheer opulence of our campsite. There was a dining tent set up with tables, chairs and tablecloths. As the darkness grew, lanterns and alcohol were brought in. Tents were set up for us trekkers as well. Most people signed up as twosomes, so they shared a tent. Only two people were single and they each had their own tent. While that sounds luxurious, keep in mind that it gets cold at night and it is nice to have someone else to help you heat up the air in your tent. Included in each tent was a pillow and sleeping mattress. Our sleeping bags were in the black bags and these were handed out as we arrived in camp.
There was a second large tent set up for food preparation and storage. I found out later that only after we all retired to our own tents for the night could the porters sleep, as they took over the dining tent for their sleeping quarters at night. Those guys were amazing: always polite, pleasant and helpful in any way possible.
Setting up the dining tent
Field of dreams
There had been a lot of rain and the ground was saturated. The dining tent was set up on a slight hill, so half of us sat “uphill” from the table and the other half were at a serious disadvantage of reaching their plates. The field was full of weeds but the guys did a pretty good job of cutting them down with machetes, at least on the main walking routes. They also gave us the ultimate camping luxury: two pit toilets with raised seats and a privacy tent (yes, it is a privy, but I like the term “privacy tent”). This isn’t camping, this is better than staying at a Holiday Inn!
One of the “privacy tents” – a room with a view
Sitting around in the dining tent, waiting on dinner
Dusk on our first night in the mountains
Dinner was great. It is impressive: the chef has to prepare meals for sixteen people (plus the nine porters and Chunjur), with all of the supplies carried on the backs of the pack animals. He used gas cylinders to heat up our water (for tea and rice making!), as well as cook the various vegetables and meats. Every night was a little different and there was always something tasty on offer.
(Dan’s) Huddled in the dining tent
(Dan’s) Tent flaps closed to conserve the heat
I survived the first and (what I thought would be the toughest) day of the hike. My feet were so comfortable I didn’t even notice them. The Big Blue Boots were a success and it meant that I could focus on other aspects of my hike, like breathing. It was great and I was ready to tackle the next day!