Day 1: Arrival in Lhasa

Day 2: Sera Monastery

Day 3: Bumpari Mountain

Day 4: Urban Kora

Day 5: Drepung Monastery

Day 6: Potala Palace Kora

Day 7: Gyaphelri Mountain

Day 8: Preparations for Kailas

Day 9: Gyantse

Day 10: Tashilungpo Monastery

Day 11: Lhatse

Day 12: Saga

Day 13: Pariyang

Day 14: Darchen

Day 15: Dirapuk Monastery

Day 16: The Glacier

Day 17: Dzutrulpuk Monastery

Day 18: Lake Mansarovar

Day 19: Return to Saga

Day 20: Nyalam

Day 21: Return to Lhatse

Day 22: Lhasa 2.0


Day 7: Gyaphelri Mountain

The sacred mountain of Gyaphelri, my destination for today, is over 17,000 feet above sea-level and over 5,000 feet above Lhasa: the route up it starts behind Drepung on the same path I took two days ago.

I get up in complete darkness and head out to the monastery by taxi. I time my arrival perfectly: just enough pre-dawn light to work my way around the left side of the monastery. In the cool of the early morning the stretch up to the higher monastery that took me all afternoon last time now takes only an hour. The monks invite me in for hot water (all they have on hand other than some raw vegetables) and show me the way up to the summit path.
I come suddenly upon a curious creature like a small dog or a giant ferret. I try to take his photo as he dashes to his hole - of course the result is hopelessly blurred.
His footprints actually look very like a bear's, and are not that much smaller than the horse shoe-prints that you see in the same shot.

Animal Tracks

As I move higher up I run into herds of skittish yaks that often block the path. I am frightened of them and try to give them a way out rather than 'cornering' them. At about 15,500 feet I see my first pure-bred Tibetan yak silhouetted against the skyline - not one of the yak/cow hybrids you see at lower elevations.

Pure Bred Yak on Slopes of Gyaphelri

At about 16,500 feet I reach the crest of the ridge separating the Lhasa valley from the next valley over. I also meet a group of Tibetans, led by a lama, returning from the summit. They are mostly women and no longer in their first youth, but even so they are two hours ahead of me, even though I started before dawn. They give me a couple of snacks and a canned high-altitude herbal drink that really gives me a great second wind, and without which I don't think I could have completed the climb.

Group of Tibetans Met on the Gyaphelri Ridge

I am completely unprepared for the weather that greets me at the ridgetop. I set out in T-shirt, shorts, and a hat. In my daypack I had light workout pants and an emergency shell (one of those that is so small it fits into its own pocket.) I have put both on but neither makes a difference. It's raining hard on the far side of the ridge, and a fifty-mile-an-hour wind is blowing the rain up over the ridgetop where it turns to hail that is actually flying upward and pelting me from below. Nothing I have is windproof or even close to it: I'm chilled to the bone, flayed alive, and shivering in the first stage of hypothermia. I stop and consider turning back several times, remembering the look of apprehension on the faces of the Tibetans I just passed. But every time I stop I look forward at the gentle ridge crest and the six-foot-wide path over the grass, clearly marked out with stones the whole way, and continue. After about half an hour the upward-driving hail suddenly vanishes, to be replaced once again by sunshine and warmth. Inconguously I'm still shivering in the eighty-degree heat, from all the melting hail running down inside my clothes.

View Along the Gyaphelri Ridge

I climb the final 500-ft dome to the summit, from which prayer flags radiate in every direction. The views are of course to die for.

Summit of Gyaphelri

I head back, leaving my shorts with the other cast-off clothing draping the boulders round the summit.

One View from the Summit of Gyaphelri

The walk down is fast and pleasant until I drop off the ridgeline, when I suddenly hit a wall - I guess the energy drink the Tibetans gave me just ran out.

View Down to Upper Monastery

Somehow I find my way down to the upper monastery, only to lose my way below it (on a wide and well-graded path that I am traversing for the fourth time already: my mental focus is really slipping.) The scrambling required to regain the path saps almost all of my remaining energy.

If completing the 'kora' around Drepung was hard before, this time it is torture. I take over an hour from the place where this path meets the Drepung kora path to the parking lot in front of the monastery, and when I finally get there around 7 p.m. the monastery is closed. After waiting in vain for a bus or a taxi, I finally start walking down to the main road - a long and unglamorous walk that I am really not in the mood for. Of the mile-and-a-half walk I get a ride for the last 300 yards, then take a taxi straight back to the hotel.

Under my door I find a note addressed to 'John' (my middle name, which I never use: my first name is Martin) inviting me to dinner. The message gives a location but no idea how I might know the author, and it's too late now anyway, so I just hit the hay.

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