Thursday 26 July. Sumdo, Chatsang La to Chatsang

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Next: Chatsang Glacier

There’s some uncertainty about the names of the passes on this section. It’s not a well used path. Without a GPS we couldn’t verify the exact locations of the passes or camps, and the maps and guides disagree. Other sources imply the names Lalung La and the Pobe La rather than the Chatsang La. It’s also the case that some places may have more than one name. We used a combination of the Olizane Central Ladakh map and Google Earth.

A slow, steady slog up a broad valley, leki sticks and a lighter load, less water, but later I regret taking only a small camera and no fleece. Fragrant yellow-white flowers clustered round short stems, low gorse shrubs, scampering mouse-rabbits. Lost in thought, I’m startled by shrieks from a large marmot at the side of the path, my heart pounds with the surprise. Early lunch of boiled egg and potatoes - too dry, I get hiccups. The path steepens as we approach the upper valley and by 10.30 we’re resting by a cairn before walking across the pathless, rounded head of the valley to a rocky outcrop with spectacular views of canyons - and our first glimpse of the snow covered Kang Yatse range. Our ponies are bipassing this little summit and skirting round to the pass we can see far in the distance. Anticipating a steep descent and climb to the pass I’m relieved when we take a longer but gradually ascending route in a never ending wide arc that leads to the pass. We temporarily lose the views of KY, we walk among edelveis and primroses, pass by a herd of grazing dzos and alternate hot and cold as the clouds pass, before emerging on a rocky crest above the pass, the Chatsang La.

Sittting on shattered black and yellow slate piles at the side of the pass we can smell the heat coming off the rocks. We look across to a new, magnificent vista; Kang Yatse’s main summit is a ferocious slab of snow falling from hammerhead summits. Baby Kang, our objective, is off to the right, separated from the main summit by a stark black ridge. An elegant ridge to our left leads to the more beautiful twin peaks of Dzo Jonga, the cow’s horns. We can faintly make out the path across the snow to the summit taken by Richard’s group. 

The Chatsang La is smooth, symmetrical, streaked with white deposits and barely marked with two small cairns and a thin string of prayer flags. There’s been heavy snow on Kang Yatse this summer and, in retrospect, I think at this point we all decided it was way beyond us. Maybe we could have changed our plans, hung around for a while and considered Dzo Jonga but at this stage we weren’t yet adequately acclimatised.  A steep path leads down to the campsite located on a sloping green plain, lumpy with small stones and pitted with the burrow holes of dozens of small mouse rabbits and marmots. It's a spectacular location: the green valley drops steeply to the north between deep red cliffs; to the northwest, and surrounding the old route to the Pobe La, ochre stickleback outcrops rise from smooth scree. The green slopes to the west - the route we'll be following - are streaked with white deposits. The glacier at the head of the valley, south east from camp, supplies the two streams which run past camp and the cold wind that brings an instant chill whenever the sun disappears behinds clouds.

We doze in the tents, eat mashed potatoes, pasta, vegetables and tuna salad followed by coconut custard; confirm our decision to abandon thoughts of Kang Yatse and decide to stay 2 nights here to help acclimatise, the altitude’s approx 4500m. A cold night.

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