Leeches and Clouds near Gorkha, Nepal
The sound of rain thumping on my tent fly woke me up at about 5 AM. After packing up my sleeping gear, I got up and grabbed a cup of tea from our camp kitchen. The rain continued, and we started up the ridge by 8 AM to core a lake ~1500m above us. According to Dill, our trusty guide, rain “gives leeches many power.” I didn’t fully understand or appreciate what this often-repeated phrase meant until this final coring expedition in the wettest region in Nepal. The leeches look a bit like wriggling little twigs. They wait on vegetation and in mud for passing boots or hooves and then latch on, frantically inching their way up until they feel warm flesh, then attach.
After making a steep, wet, chilly final 600m elevation gain through 2 km of leech-infested oak and rhododendron cloud forest, we popped up onto a bright green grassy ridge crest spotted by the occasional bush, water buffalo, or grazing sheep. Clouds squeezed over the ridge top, and we found our lake nested among tall rhododendron. We ate an abbreviated lunch and got out on the lake by 1 PM to start making measurements and recovering sediment cores. The sun made an appearance for the afternoon, and the leeches mostly went into hiding while we were coring. My field partner and I finished our lake observations by 4 PM, and we headed down the slick, wet hillside. The guides assured me “leeches are now all sleeping,” but I was suspicious. Although no one else seemed to be getting parasites on their boots, I was still certainly playing siren in the forest and had to stop periodically to use a trekking pole to dislodge the more adamant leeches from my calves and ankles.
The day wasn’t all leeches and rain: the clouds cleared just enough for a small glimpse of the hazy 8000m peaks in the distance (Mansalu), and we were rewarded around sunset with a great view of a winding , hand-made stone staircase descending to one of the towns below. We were able to make it to the road by dusk, and we finished our hike in the dark.