gmhTODAY 07 gmhToday Mar Apr 2016 - Page 91

We drove to the small village of Yuksom at the gateway to Khangchendzonga National Park to begin our trek. The road there was steep, bumpy and often narrowed to one lane due to rock debris as well as people traveling on foot with their animals. But the picturesque views of the deep river valleys, tiered rice fields, tea plantations and snow-covered mountains made for a wonderful, worthwhile adventure. The next morning, after breakfast prepared by our trek kitchen crew, we set off on our big adventure. Our tour group included seven hikers, two guides, four kitchen crew, two animal handlers, seven dzos (a cow-yak crossbreed), four small horses, two tent men and two porters. It was November 2nd, and our first day of hiking involved a steep trail with lots of ups and downs, narrow (often swaying) bridges made of wood, steel and concrete and covered with prayer flags. Then came dense jungle terrain filled with banana trees, vines and wild orchids. I kept an eye out for Red Pandas (never did see one). As we entered Khangchendzonga National Park, our guide cautioned us to stay on the “mountain side” of the trail when passing others or risk being knocked off the trail into the canyons below. It was good advice, and I learned to listen for the warning bells around the animals’ necks so I could stay safely on the trail. We were also told that if our pack animals fell, there was no good way to retrieve either the animals or the packs. I never saw this happen but thought of it often! We made camp at Sachen (7,150 ft.) after a four- hour, 1550-foot climb. The kitchen staff prepared a delicious dinner. After tea, we headed for our tents to sleep. Our guide reminded us frequently to drink lots of water and tea to keep hydrated and prevent altitude sickness. While our sleeping tents were fairly spacious, the tent toilet was cramped. The downside of hydration was having to make frequent visits there, especially in the middle of the night. Our days began at 6:00 am with hot tea and a warm GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN MARCH/APRIL 2016 91