4/4 UPPER MUSTANG & UPPER DOLPO

Upper Mustang and Upper Dolpo trek trip report – Part 4. Shey Gompa to Juphal

Day 26 Oct 27 Shey Gompa 4343m – Nangdala La 5350m – Forest camp 3750m. It’s a beautiful walk today! The first two hours is a gradual, steady climb up the valley from Shey Gompa; the next hour is a traverse around the hillside, followed finally by a short steep climb up to the pass for stunning views of the high, barren landscape ( it took me just over three hours, including a snack stop, to reach the top of the pass). It’s then a steep descent to the river, followed by a couple of hours picking your way along the rocky river bed, criss crossing the river as the trail continues down through a Mordor-like canyon until you emerge into a forested area where the river meets the Phoksundo Khola. The temperature rises rapidly as you descend, be prepared to strip off those layers!

Day 27 Oct 28 Forest Camp – Phoksundo Camp 3630. This is a very easy, very short two hour walk along the Phoksundo Khola to the campsite on the northern shore of Phoksundo Lake. Stunning views of Kanjirowa Himal to the west. Once you’ve unpacked, there is a great walk along a little-used trail along the hillsides of the northern shore of the lake. It provides stunning views down the lake and into the eastern arm of the lake. Along one long stretch of the trail I saw fresh snow leopard paw prints in the dust, but sadly no visible snow leopard…

Day 28 Oct 29 Phoksundo Camp – Ringmo 3630m Again a very short walk, less than 2.5 hours including many photo stops and stoppage time to let the numerous trains of mules and horses to pass. The trail here is generally very narrow, if you see/ hear a train of pack animals heading your way, give yourself plenty of time to find a spot to scramble off the path….it’s a long way down if they push you off! Views of the lake are incredible… the colour of the water is stunning. In the afternoon it’s nice to visit the Bon gompa on the southwest corner of the lake; the trail up the hillside behind the gompa has fallen into a pretty bad state with multiple rockslides.

Day 29 Oct 30 Ringmo – Rechi 3011m. We were supposed to have a rest day at Ringmo to allow for exploration around the lake, however our esteemed leader made the inexplicable decision we would pack up and walk a couple of hours down the valley. We took the route on the western side of the Phoksundo Khola, with lovely views from the rotunda, however there is also a path on the eastern side which passes through Rike village before re-joining the main path. It is a scenic walk down the valley through the forest to Rechi ( the plan had been to stay at Amchi, however all the campsites were full). The river is a stunning clear pale bule colour. Along the way there is a major trail coming off to the west, this leads to the Kagmara La – apparently a lot of work has been done on the trail to the pass making it suitable for horses and mules, opening up this route to trekkers.

Day 30 Oct 31 Rechi – Kageni. It’s a lovely walk down the valley, first to Chhepka ( about three hours from Rechi), another half an hour or so to the small hydroelectric power station ( hello power lines for the first time in weeks!) – great lunch spot just across the bridge from here – then another 1.5 hours to Kageni. It’s so warm that a dip in the river here is almost inviting…

Day 31 Nov1 Kageni – Juphal. It’s a short walk down the valley to Suligad, past the check points ( we went straight through), across the river, then across a large suspension bridge to meet the Juphal – Dunai road. There are a few taxis on this road, however you need to have the phone number of someone in Juphal or Dunai to send an empty taxi to pick you up. It is a short walk up the road toward Juphal, before taking a shortcut along a trail which winds through the multi-level village. The tourist hostels are in the uppermost portion of the village, near the tiny airstrip. Don’t stay at Tripura… my room key was labelled “Toilet 1”, which was a pretty good description. Stunning views of the surrounding hillsides and villages.

Day 32 Juphal – Nepalgunj – Kathmandu. Flights to and from Juphal are a bit dicey. We were booked on the first flight of the day (6am), the airport is hilarious – fill out your own boarding pass; get checked by security ( they like to open your checked luggage ; my bag was locked, when they saw I was a tourist they didn’t bother to check it however a fellow trekker was not so lucky and they confiscated his pocket knife from checked luggage). Once you pass security, you then get a VERY thorough pat down, then stand out on the tarmac until your plane arrives. Juphal is probably not a great airport for nervous flyers, although it has now been blacktopped. It is a very short sloping runway – wheels up as you run out of tarmac!! It’s a very scenic flight to Nepalgunj, though maybe a little too close to the hilltops at times. At Nepalgunj, hopefully only a couple of hours to wait for the connecting flight to Kathmandu, however if the flight from Juphal has been delayed you may be forced to spend a night here.

A word about gear for this trek:

  • Bring tough boots. Dolpo destroys boots – rocky, dusty, poor trails will destroy the soles and uppers of your boots.
  • Bring the warmest sleeping bag you can find, to keep you warm on nights of minus 15C
  • A fleece sleeping bag liner will help keep you toasty warm
  • Down slippers to wear in the dining tent at night will mean your feet are warm when you go to bed.
  • An inflatable pillow – 75g of heaven!
  • I used a Patagonia Black Hole duffle bag. It withstood being scraped, dragged, dropped and stuffed. When the horses went for an inadvertent swim, the Black Hole duffles proved themselves totally waterproof while other bags did not fare so well.
  • Down jacket – the warmer the better. I never hiked in mine, however I packed it in my daypack so it was easily accessible as soon as I arrived at camp. As soon as the sun drops behind the hills (3.30 or 4 pm) it is freezing.
  • Softshell jacket with a hood – vital for those wind-whipped passes.
  • Softshell trekking trousers
  • Primaloft trousers for evenings
  • Thermals – I love Icebreaker and Helly Hansen
  • Warm socks – I took way too many, and my boots did a great job of keeping my feet warm anyway. The crew were happy to put my spare socks to good use.

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