As I mentioned in a previous week’s post, lake levels were down in 2016 in the mountains of far western Nepal after an especially hot year. I am accustomed to ‘bathtub ring’ images of Lake Powell in the American Southwest, but we could see our own ‘bathtub ring’ effect around our study lakes in the Himalaya.
Bathtub Rings around Retreating Lake, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x42″)
Cloud Reflections in Shrinking Lake, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x41″)
The weather at 14,000 feet in June in the Himalaya can make coring lakes difficult. The sky tends to be clear from around sunrise to 11:00 AM, so I woke up early every morning, shook the ice off my tent, ate a quick breakfast, and got out on the lake to start work before conditions made coring nearly impossible (hail, lightning, thick fog). Here is a panorama of a picturesque cold, clear sunrise before we started our work.
Shoreline, Sunrise, and Shadows, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x62″)
The final push up the river valley and a steep ravine to our lake basecamp would have been easy at 5,000 feet, but near 14,000 feet, carrying a heavy pack up a hill can be exhausting. However, the relatively short hike to our campsite was worth the view- a lake basin surrounded by constantly shifting clouds draped over craggy peaks near 16,000 feet. Although these ‘hills’ are insignificant by Nepali standards, for North Americans doing field work in the area it was a beautiful sight. The lake levels were noticeably lower this year- a few warmer and drier seasons had left lake levels well below where they had been on our previous trip two years ago (see exposed shoreline in second panorama).
First Look at the Lake, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x93″)
Exposed Shoreline Rocks and Camp, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x58″)
We rested at a high plateau on the pass near ~14,500+ feet. Horses and sheep appear to graze at this elevation, and the soil appears to be eroding rapidly (first panorama). The landscape is mostly covered in shades of brown, but occasional patches of yellow wildflowers seem to flow through dry stream beds (second panorama). On our way down from the plateau, we passed a herd of horses grazing near 14,000 feet (third panorama).
Eroded Pass and Clouds, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x62″)
Flowers on the Pass, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x72″)
Stream Valley and Horses on the Pass, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x64″)
We ate a quick breakfast, packed our tents, and descended into a fog-draped valley before continuing up a steep, forested hillside. We climbed through the pines along a mountain stream, passing the occasional logging camp. The scents of cook fire smoke and pine resin wafted through the forest. After hiking most of the day in the trees, we ascended a last few steep slopes and popped out above tree line in an open meadow. We stopped and made camp in this valley (first panorama) to allow ourselves to acclimate to the higher elevation. The next morning we rose early and started over the 14,000+ foot pass (second and third panoramas). At this elevation, clouds surrounded us throughout most of the day.
Camp in the Foggy Valley, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x83″)
Cloudy Path over the Pass, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x57″)
Patches of Light through Clouds on the Pass, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x75″)
After crossing over a small mountain range, we met the trucks in the Karnali river valley and stayed over night in Manma before continuing the next morning to Jumla along a one-lane road along a sheer drop off. We rested a day then re-packed the coring and backpacking equipment and started our trek to a series of lakes around 14,000 feet. On our first day, we hiked east along the Karnali river and took shelter in a small sheepherder hut as a pre-monsoon thunderstorm passed (first panorama). We then continued over a small pass and camped near 10,000 feet (second panorama) before starting our ascent to the lakes in earnest.
Thunderstorm over Foothills and Fields, near Jumla, Nepal (13″x69″)
Camp on the Saddle, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x77″)
After crossing a snowfield on the back side of a pass, we took a break with this view across the valley to the west (first panorama). The base camp that we used to get to Pale Daha was nestled in the valley near the snowfields on the bottom right corner of the panorama. On our way out of the mountains a few days later, a hailstorm crept up on us as we were traversing a ridge well above 4000m elevation. It seemed we were out of luck because there was no place to camp and my field partner was suffering from intermediate stage altitude sickness. Fortunately, we came across a rock overhang that provided protection from the storm (second panorama). We waited until the morning to cross over the final pass before descending to the road.
These rock structures seemed to watch over the travelers and sheep herders using the trail (they also provided a good excuse to stop and take a quick photo and water break). We encountered one shrine on our way into the mountains and one on the way back to the road near Jumla, both around 3,500-4,000m elevation.
We reached 4,000-4,500m elevation on our third day of hiking outside Jumla. The slight elevation headaches could not overcome the gorgeous views of the hillsides at sunrise (see top panorama). We cored one lake (second panorama) while feeling a bit sick from the altitude, and after an evening of lightning, hail, and snow, we woke up to snow-covered hills (third panorama).
In our attempt top reach remote, relatively untouched lakes in the Nepali Jumla region, we ascended to near 4,000m elevation on our second day of hiking. Although we tried to avoid climbing too quickly, limited water sources prevented us from stopping at lower elevations, so we continued on our second day up another 1,000m from our first camp. Before dinner, we scouted a potential lake for our study, and as we returned to camp, clouds crested the ridge top and obscured the sun.