Gya­ma Ol­ma–Kor­zok

Up today at 9 per the normal routine. I have been waking up at or before sunrise every day, so it's a bit frustrating to be waiting around in the cold for three hours before we can set off. I think I would prefer to get a couple of hours' walking in before breakfast.

Today's plan is much like the other days: walking up a side valley to the next pass, the Yarlung Nyau La. This one is the highest yet, and also the last. The valley starts off much like the others, but after a couple of km the path starts to follow the rocky stream bed between slopes of large stones. It's an alien landscape, or maybe a Doctor Who landscape, an abandoned slate quarry standing in for another world. The valley sides drop down as we climb, but the stream does not diminish, and eventually we discover the reason as the valley opens out into a wide basin ringed with mountains, some with snowfields on their flanks. But the path does not enter the basin: it suddenly climbs up leftwards out of the stream bed and with hardly any more climbing we find ourselves at the pass, marked as always with sheep skulls and prayer flags.

There is little time for celebration, however, or for lunch, as the weather is closing in and Anna's headache is as bad as it's going to get. We can see Tso Moriri from the pass in the distance, at least until the clouds come in and obscure it. As we descend we get the strongest snow storm yet, but it still lasts only five minutes or so, hardly long enough to put on waterproofs.

The path descends steeply down between great crags, a contrast on this side from the rolling landscape of upland Rupshu. The ground underfoot is stony to start with, but after a few hundred metres' descent becomes sandy and unstable. We slalom down the side of the mountain to a point where a set of boulders and a break in the weather suggest a stop for lunch. Tso Moriri has come out again, we can now see almost its whole length, with dark clouds menacing the mountains on the other side. To our right are the snow-covered peaks of Mentok Kangri, known as '1', '2' and '3', though I don't form a good idea of which is which. Our route to Korzok is obvious, as the path drops into a great bowl whose only outlet is a narrow gorge directly opposite us. Again the distance is deceptive: once we reach the floor of the bowl there is a good 5 km of trudging across the desert to the other side, mostly in bright sunshine: it's appreciably warmer down here. At one point a cloud envelops us. It would have been a snowstorm further up, and we can see snow appearing on the higher slopes, but down here it's just a strong gust of wind whipping up the sand. Near the entrance to the gorge are signs of human activity: a chorten, the sound of monks chanting (Suraj tells us this is a school rather than a monastery, so presuamably the monks are there for some special occasion only), a small bridge across a stream.

The gorge collects all the water from the bowl we just crossed, and is more of a pleasant valley with a wide stream and grassy banks. Suraj points out tiny fish in a rivulet. We pass an enclosure holding the tents of the Swiss cyclists, cross a bridge, and there is Korzok, a somewhat scruffy village on a rocky spur overlooking the delta of the stream we have been following. The lake is cold, clear, and quiet, surrounded by the highest mountains we have yet seen (Chamser and Lungser Kangri on the other side, Mentok on this side); a fitting climax to the trek. Tomorrow we will be jammed into a vehicle for 8 hours, across Rupshu and diving down into the Indus gorge. But this evening we can enjoy the storms floating across the hills, the chinks of sunlight illuminating the slopes, and also the half bottle of slivovica which the Slovak trade delegation has smuggled all the way here...