between the Nakvak and the Korok: an expedition to the Torngat mountains. Hiking through the Valley of the cirques, climbing Mont d'Iberville, fishing in the Nakvak Valley, Canada, Torngat Mountains, northern Québec, trek, Nakvak, Korok, icefield, caribou trail, summit, travelogue, trip, travel, hike


Woman with burden


Tuesday, November 18
From Marpha to Kalopani

The next morning my towel was dry. A good omen. I got in a quick shave at the sink in the hot water shower room. We had some porridge and Tibetan bread, which was fried bread made in a skillet. Not bad. We got off to a reasonably early start. I was a little sad to leave lovely Marpha behind. But before we had gotten far, Krishna had us stop at the gates of an agricultural station run by the government. Within the gates were rows of apple trees and a few other fruit trees including apricot. And there were vegetable gardens. A man took us into one of the buildings and showed us an old distillery where the apple brandy was made. Krishna bought a couple of one liter plastic jugs of the stuff and added it to their burden to carry. He said he was taking it back to his father and father in law. However, due to Bira, not all of it reached them. Krishna also bought bags of dried apple slices which were delicious, the best I have ever tasted. And despite my diarrhea-avoidance strategy of refusing uncooked fruits and vegetables, I ate fresh apples. And they, too, were delicious.

Eventually we set out again, with the day's destination being a village by the name of Kalopani. I had been improving my pronunciation and learning a few more words of Nepali from Krishna. What does pani mean, I asked him, because a lot of these village names end in it. It means water, he said. Like Tatopani, tato means hot and pani means water, and there is a hot spring there. This was when I made my only joke in Nepali. I think we should call Muktinath (where we had spent our miserable first night) Cheesopani, I told him. I knew that cheeso means cold, a reference to the available but untested cold shower in that frigid village.

The trek to Kalopani was brutal in its own way, and as always, different from yesterday's. It started on a trail, which fed us into the riverbed again. But the wind wasn't so bad. After some time we came upon these flimsy bark covered houses on the riverbed, with corrals outside and sometimes numerous horses. They reminded me of what I imagine a pony express station to be like. Tired ponies rest and load the freight on a fresh pony and move on. I think that's what one of them was. Krishna said these were winter houses, where these people live in the winter. It occurred to me that the river would prohibit them being there in the rainy season, so maybe they are flimsy because they move them. We were resting at one when a woman came walking along the riverbed, which extended seemingly endlessly in both directions. She was carrying two big conical baskets on her back, and they looked heavy. But I wasn't sure what was in them. She was just one of many people we passed who carried heavy burdens over difficult terrain for amazing distances. In fact, Krishna himself had done this for a few years, and that is how he had learned the trails. Later he took the training to become a certified guide. But this experience was partly the basis of the wisdom of his feet. You could never go wrong following Krishna and putting your feet where his had gone.

For some time we crossed the river by hopping from rock to rock. But eventually we got to a place where there was no bridge and there were no rocks above the water, which was less than knee deep. This is where we carry you across, Krishna said. We said, no, we'll take off our boots and wade across. Look, this is what we do, so just let us do it, they said. So we did. Lila first took his pack across and then returned for me. He had me lace my fingers together and hold onto his forehead like a tump line, and he carried me on his back. It was fairly hilarious to see Andy carried by Bira, who probably weighed about half as much as Andy.

We climbed up off the riverbed and trekked on a trail that ran along the river, along the mountain sides. Of all the days of the trek, this was probably the easiest physically. And all day the white peaks of the Annapurnas traveled with us, or so it seemed, like they were always looking at us over the shoulders of closer mountains.

Lunch that day, between Marpha and Kalopani, we had on a second floor terrace overlooking the main street of a village. I should mention that the menus at these places include damn near everything, including Italian food and Mexican, etc. Food for trekkers. If you order something like that, you expect it to be a little different, since the people probably don't have the exact ingredients or experience. Rob and Krishna and I had dahl bat, which was ok but not very hot. Andy ordered a bean burrito, and we were long finished with our food and sitting there still waiting for his. A flock of sheep appeared, being driven down the main street of town. They all had magenta dye on their hindquarters where they had been treated with insecticide.

They literally packed into the street and blocked it, and it took quite a while to get them moving on through town. Finally, the burrito came. It had been very carefully made from something like a big chapatti and kidney beans, but I didn't taste it. Andy said it was the best thing he'd had to eat on the trek.

What is it that makes trekking such a wonderful experience? I know I haven't revealed it here. It is a synergy of various things, including traveling under your own power, being in a new and wildly different place, and the rhythm and physical exertion and cultural challenges and the people you meet or even just see and greet along the way, the glimpses into their amazing faces and lives. And the experiences shared with your companions. And the food and the sunrises and sunsets on the snowy peaks and the little villages and the rhythm of life in those villages and on the farms you pass, and having the time to experience them some instead of flying over them or whizzing past them in a car. Soaking in the smells, the tastes, the feel of the place. And Nepal has a good feel, a friendly feel.

Kalopani is a small village, but the guest house was reasonably nice. Our rooms were on the second floor, as they always seemed to be. The shower and toilet facilities were the best so far. Not only was there warm water, you could actually adjust the temperature! After we got settled, Krishna took us over to a school, which does technical training and boards the young students who attend.

At dinner, we sat with some Australians and Europeans and shared the warmth under the table and conversation about what to expect. We had been where some of them were going, and of course they had been where we were going. There was a discussion of the Maoists at Ghorepani, and we expected to encounter them in a couple of days. Several people at the table had terrible coughs. I had encountered a lot of travelers who were sick, and I was in the later stages of a cold myself. We lingered and the boys played cards and I read my book, Cold Mountain, appropriately enough.

When we went to our rooms, I lay in my cozy sleeping bag and soon realized that the walls were absurdly thin. The people in the next room sounded like they were in the next bed. I could clearly hear people several beds away. And they were doing more than coughing. But another great thing about trekking is the ease with which sleep comes. During the night I got up to head down to the toilet, and I lingered on the balcony to watch the stars. They were spectacular.

The next day

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