It rained steadily during much of our second night in Manang, and was still raining as we resumed our route following the acclimatisation day. The weather was becoming a bit depressing, this was the fourth day of clouds and it seemed to be getting worse rather than better. We had come to Nepal at what is really the beginning of the peak season after the end of the rainy season, and nothing in our first few days of walking had suggested we would get conditions like this. It seems that this can happen at more or less any time, and our guide did his best to raise our spirits by suggesting that it wouldn't last too long. The shame was that we had passed at least three of the major peaks in the Annapurna massif without seeing them well.
We were now heading for Thorung Phedi which is the base from where we would do the ascent of the Thorung La Pass, lying at a little over 5400 metres. I was feeling recovered from the altitude problems that I had the day before, but it was perhaps just as well that the ascent up to Thorung Phedi is mostly a fairly gentle one. Even so, we would still be going up around 900 metres on the walk. Manang seemed very quiet as we left, there were few walkers and porters on the trail; a significant change from the previous days. The valley we had followed from the first day continues up towards the mountain of Tilicho, but the Annapurna circuit swings round shortly after Manang to head up a different valley.
The poor weather didn't mean that we couldn't see anything at all, there were views of some of the smaller peaks around us, small in this area meaning that they probably only reached 5-6000 metres.
Looking back towards the Annapurnas, it seemed they were to remain hidden.
The rain came and went as the clouds shifted around us, and the landscape became barer as we went above the tree line. But the path was mostly good and relatively easy to walk. We stopped for lunch at the tiny settlement of Letdar, which has a couple of hotels. Here we met a British couple with some bad news. They told us that they had met someone coming back down from Thorung Phedi because the weather was too bad for people to cross the pass and there was no room in the hotels there. They were going to stay in Letdar. I mentioned this to our guide, but he seemed to think we should try our luck in Thorung Phedi; we always had the option of returning if there really was no room.
So we continued walking after lunch, having crossed the now much narrower river we made our way gradually up the steep sided valley towards Thorung Phedi. At this point I began to feel the altitude, even though the path was generally not too difficult. To keep myself going rather than stopping all the time, I used a little mantra composed of Manang and Thorung Phedi to control my rhythm of walking so that I could keep going. Going slowly like this ends up being more comfortable than going faster but having to stop.
At one point we walked past a sign warning about rock slides and it wasn't hard to see the evidence of them. We got through this stretch without any problems, but it was difficult not to be a bit nervous about our eroded, rocky surroundings. The landscape was now truly bleak and as we got nearer to our destination the rain got worse again. By this point I wasn't looking forward to hearing about any problems of accommodation.
Thorung Phedi only has a couple of places to stay and nothing else, but we were in luck. The man who showed us to our room told us that some "crazy Israeli" had been telling people they couldn't cross the pass but it wasn't true. We had a room to ourselves, but even at this time of day it was too cold to spend much time in it. So we did what everybody else did and settled down for the afternoon in the hotel restaurant. It wasn't very warm there but the presence of lots of people generated enough heat to make it bearable. Outside things just got worse and worse, although you could hardly see anything through the steamed up windows anyway.
At one point in the afternoon I started thinking about how cold it might be at night and went to see if the hotel could provide us with blankets. They had a room full of heavy quilt type covers so I grabbed a couple of those for later. After spending hours in the restaurant reading, drinking tea, eating or just chatting we reached the point where it seemed like a good idea to sleep. We had to get up very early the next morning to do the 900 metre climb up to Thorung La.
Back in the room I made sure I had everything I might need to hand, this was not a night when you wanted to be looking for things in the cold darkness. Once inside my sleeping bag and underneath the quilt I was warm, but I lay awake for a while listening to the sound of the rain falling onto the metal roof. It had now been raining non stop for hours and showed no signs of giving way. I was thinking about the next day, if it was like this down in the valley I didn't want to imagine what conditions were going to be like higher up the mountain.
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