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  • Writer's pictureJodie Mohrhardt

Trekking through the clouds of Markha Valley

Day 1- The basket adventure

The lights seen from within a city are beautiful! The way they twinkle and dance among the streets flowing with so many colors. However, for me, nothing can compare to the lights far outside the city walls at night, the ones that make movies and dash among the sky on a clear night while they flirt with the moon.

Day one of our trek should have been strait forward and easy. We took the cheaper option and shared a bus with the rafting company to get us to chilling, the start of the trek. However, what should have been an easy 2 hours turned into about 5. As we approached our destination there were men working with their bare hands to remove a giant rock pile from the road. This is a one and a half car road so there was no chance of squeezing by. We waited for about 30 min and then they had finished loading the truck with the rocks. The rafting guide said we were almost to the rafting spot, which meant close to the trekking start I mile down the road, so I began to hydrate. As soon as I finished my bottle (2lts.) of water, there was a second rock clearing. This one much much larger. Apparently they blast for rocks whenever they feel like it and people just have to wait. So we waited, and waited, and I had to pee so bad my bladder was about to explode. But there was a bunch of people working in front of us, a line of busses and cars in back of us, a mountain that went strait up on the right and a fall to your death river drop into the Zanscar river to the left. I grabbed anne as my cover and I found a vehicle wheel to squat behind and went! Thank god! About an hour or more later we were back on the road driving. The last rock blast zone was right after the rafters got dropped off. Which made us walk an extra mile to the village of Chilling. And when I say village I mean one house with a tea stall. So we strapped up, hiked past the rock men and were on our way. About 1/2 mile later one of the rock trucks picked us up as we stick out our thumb hoping to get a lift the last little bit. That was possibly a mistake! For me at least, the men were very safe to make sure I would not fall out of the back of the truck. I think I must have had at least 3 different Indian hands on me holding me in. For some reason I didn’t feel any safer though. Thank goodness that next half mile went quick.

When we arrived in chilling we realized we needed to cross the river. There was only one way to do this and it wasn’t a fancy boat transfer or a nice bamboo bridge. It was a cart on a pulley that you sat in and flung yourself across as far as you could go as someone from the other side reeled you in like a fish. The Zanscar river was a fast white water flowing river about 50 ft wide. This was no joke and not for the faint of heart. I reeled in the basket to my side, gathered my belongings, and pushed off. I was soaring over the river against the current. It was a rush. Next comes Darja, then Anne.

We walked on for another few hours before we arrived at the first village. It was Sque, a small homestay with a few houses. The guy at Sque kept pushing us to stay there because the next village was full. “We wouldn’t find a spot, Im sure of it” he kept telling us. We basically had two options.

1. Stay in Sque and do the trek in 5 day, only hiking 4 miles day 1. No room for error later on. 2. Continue on to Sara another 4 hours away and be hiking in the dark, possibly not get a place to sleep and have to sleep in the kitchen tent. And we could do the trek in 4 days, leaving a day for error later or a nice relaxing day in Leh later on.

We choose option 2 of course. Your talking about 3 girls who thrive for that fine line between cutting it close and staying safe (but dont worry moms, we never cut it that close). I decided that adventure is what you make of it. You can decide to go for an adventure and if it happens like planned, you will have a story. If it doesn’t… you will have a different story which sometimes can be even better.

Nothing big happens in our story except we found the most delightful tent homestay 30 min. outside of our destination of Sara. When we arrived we were immediate shown to our tent, brought chai, and told dinner would be ready in 30 min. The rest of the night was good food, good company by Ladakh people and a good sleep on possibly one of the best mattresses we have had yet since South Korea.

Day 2- Marka river swim

Ohh morning comes fast when you sleep so well. We woke to fresh baked chapati and peanut butter for breakfast with endless cups of chai. Our host sent us on our way with full bellies and packed lunches for a long day of hiking. Our day today would consist of over 12 miles of hiking through river beds, fields, small villages, rickety bridges, mani walls, uncountable gompas, and amazing monasteries. My favorite two were the Marka Monastery, and the Monastery that was situated on the tippy top of a mountain like you would see in a fairy tails or a movie.

We also had to cross the treturous Markha River which we have been hearing stories of the whole time. Things like, “it is up to chest level” and “there should be people there to help you cross it because its rough” so we really didn’t know what to expect except it might end up like a scene from without a paddle! Which it almost did. There was no one around so we got down to our underwear to avoid getting all our clothes wet. Anne braved the freezing cold rushing water first as her little toe touched the Markha. Then she took one step up to her ankle, two steps up to her calf, three steps to her knee, 4 steps to her thigh, 5 steps…. Ahhhh!! Anne! I got you! The current grabbed her foot and started to take her down the river pack and all. We got her back on her feet and we scurried to the shore. We decided to all go together to hold each other up and catch each other if we fell. It was fast and we still were unsure of how deep. Together we began the slow motion stampede through the water and bravely made it to the other side with the water making it up to waste deep. We did a little Top Gun move in our underwear and watched as two people headed to the river from the horizon. We got changed and waited a moment before going to see if they would need help. They decided to cross at a different spot. We had looked at that spot but it seemed like a stronger current and not a good place to cross. From far away we observed as they tiptoed across the water with ease only having the water touch their calves! What!! Ugh! Ohh well, like I said, maybe you aren’t having an adventure if you don’t have any stories to tell at the end of the day.

We marched onward through the fields of Hunkar that were an electric shade of green contrasting against the deep brown mountains of earth beyond them. We arrived at the homestay passing a dead mongoose and greeted by a Zoe (mix between a yak and a cow) for a delicious meal that Anne and I helped to prepare that night in our preumptive cooking class, fresh momos. (Everyone could tell which momos were ours.

Day 3- tent stay at 15,600ft

An early morning wake up call and more chapati was in store for us today as we ventured on the shortest yet steepest day in the Valley trek. We would be making it from our 12,000ft homestay in Hunkar to the tent camp at 15,600ft. Almost 4,000ft, of elevation change over only a 4 mile hike. It proved to be spectacular as the Kang Yaze mountain standing stoic would poke its head out one in a while to show us it was still there. Kang Yaze is a 22,000ft peak that you can summit sometimes from the camp we will be staying at tonight.

As the uphill increased, our water intake increased, as our water intake increased my pee breaks became way to frequent! I had been worried sick about altitude that water was becoming my best friend. I had been drinking about 4 lt. every day and about 10 min after I drank I really needed to pee. It was so odd. Finally I remembered that salt helps hold water and I’m sure there is not much salt in my body. So I started adding salt to everything for the rest of the trek.

We finally could see our tents situated so delicately in the middle of the valley floor surrounded by sheep, horses, yaks, zomos, and other friendly animals. I wanted to sprint to get there and be done for the day. We walked on another 30 min and we arrived at a tea house where we would stay the night. This whole trip we have seen only a handful of other people until now. There were so many at the top! We were disoriented as to what was going on! The rest of the evening was playing a card game taught by some British guys called shit head, and playing dice. Dinner was fantastic as was all the tea we drank to keep us warm.

Day 4- the summit

Wake up bright and early for a long day today. Actually, I’m not sure if any one of the three of us actually slept last night! It was brutally cold and we very much ineffectively packed for this cold of weather. I had glimpses of dreams through the night and one of which was me going through the things at home that I wish I could have brought with me to this icy tent. We were all praying for morning to come so there would be hot tea and warm bodies in the dining hall together.

We finally arose from the frozen grave and we filled our bellies with… you guessed it, more chapati but with porrage this time! Thankfully it’s mostly downhill after the first mile. The first mile we climb from camp, 15,600 to the summit at 17,600. It was a brutal uphill with a rewarding finish that gave a strong spiritual feeling as the massive amounts of prayer flags flew in the wind around us and the peaks of the mountains towered over the Valley floor. We took photos, got together with friends from the base camp and spent a good amount of time reflecting at the top. I also brought with me some prayer flags and we wrote the names of the people we wanted to send happy thoughts and words of blessings to as the flags fluttered and danced in the wind for the next 50 years. After some time we started the beautiful but painful decent down.

Anyone who hikes knows that there just aren’t words for what you see when you hike in a new place. When you venture to unknown corners of the world you cant describe everything. I would in a visual sense describe the beauty of this place to you, but it would take me forever to describe and it would still be far from good enough. Some things you just can’t be told and you can only see for yourself.

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