After the fog halted our coring efforts for the day, we took a few minutes to walk around in the clouds before heading back to camp (first panorama). The next day, we got up early and headed back over a nearby pass to start our long descent out of the mountains back to the Karnali River valley (second panorama).
Window through the Clouds back to Camp, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x50″)
Path over the Pass, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x52″)
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 rain stopped and many of the clouds started to clear off by sunset, so I climbed out of my tent, grabbed my camera and tripod, and rest stepped my way up the hill above camp to photograph the landscape as the sun descended over the ridge the west. I think the panorama with the rock in the foreground was one of my most successful photographs on the trip (first panorama). Although I don’t usually include my own image in my photographs, I also liked the way my shadow falls across the hillside opposite the setting sun (second panorama).
Rock Shadow at Sunset over the Lake, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x44″)
Rising Shadows and Retreating Clouds at Sunset, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x60″)
As I mentioned in last week’s post, rising air on the flanks of the Himalaya brings moisture to ~14,000 feet by around 11:00AM. We could see clouds gathering by 9:00 AM as we hiked across an open, rolling landscape to reach one of the slightly higher lakes (first panorama). By the time we cored the lake twice, visibility was down to a few feet- getting wet out on the water with no sunshine made the work miserably cold (second panorama).
Hike to the Upper Lake and Distant Clouds, near Jumla, Nepal (14″x82″)
Fogged in Upper Lake, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x74″)
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″)
After descending from the pass and high plateau, we continued up a river valley and made camp on the bank near sunset. Rhododendron bushes and small trees lined the hillsides at the edge of tree line, and landslide debris was piled on the hillsides (first panorama). Another rainstorm rolled through around sunset, and I was able to photograph a few grazing horses on a ridge top in front of the clouds (second, third panoramas).
Landslide Debris and Hillside, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x55″)
Horses and Storm Clouds on the Ridge, near Jumla, Nepal (16″x32″)
Storm Clouds over Hillside and Stream, near Jumla, Nepal (13″x53″)
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″)
We crossed into the Karnali River drainage in the fog at ~3,500m elevation. After descending just a few hundred meters, the mists cleared, and we were able to see down valley. The descent was slippery, but as the rain stopped, the land leeches retreated and the hiking was relatively easy.
Fog and Trees on the Pass (2), far western Nepal (16″x47″)
Descending out of the Clouds, far western Nepal (16″x47″)
The pre-monsoon rains filled the rivers with water in the valleys; worried about the rising water, the truck drivers left us before the rivers became impassable and drove around the mountain range to meet us in the Karnali River valley near Manma. After coring the mid-elevation lakes, we packed our field equipment and started our multi-day journey through the mountains to meet the rest of the trucks. A slippery stone path led us over a pass through the dripping branches, wet leaves, and land leeches. Occasional dog barks and other sounds echoed through the fog as we walked, but the fog obscured any views of the surrounding countryside.
Stone Path and Trees in the Fog, far western Nepal (16″x48″)
Fog and Trees on the Pass, far western Nepal (16″x48″)
After the clouds moved up the steep valleys below our tents, the fog crept through the Dr. Seuss-like trees and over the campsite, eventually blanketing the ridge top and shrouding the morning sunlight.
Sunlight through Morning Fog, far western Nepal (16″x52″)
Fog Creeping through the Trees, far western Nepal (16″x54″)
More panoramas of our campsite from our two days coring lakes in the cloud forest in the Himalayan foothills. After dinner, I liked to sit and watch the clouds lift and lower over the cliffs in the distance (second panorama).
Ponds and Trees in the Cloud Forest Camp, far western Nepal (16″x72″)
Thornbush Wall and Cloud-Draped Cliffs in the Distance, far western Nepal (16″x50″)
As I mentioned in last week’s post, we established a camp at the end of the road in the Nepali rhododendron cloud forest and stayed for three nights to do a preliminary study on a few land slide lakes above our camp. Stone walls covered in thorn bush branches surrounded potato fields next to my tent (second panorama). I enjoyed sitting on one of the many grey boulders, watching the clouds fill the valleys then creep up the mountainside (first panorama), but working conditions were often chilly and wet, and the land leeches wriggled out of the ground when it started raining.
Approaching Clouds down Valley, far Western Nepal (16″x54″)
Stone Wall in the Cloud Basecamp, far Western Nepal (16″x46″)
We passed through rice fields, crossed rivers, and finally drove up a steep, narrow dirt road into the rhododendron cloud forest. After establishing a camp at the end of the road, we spent a few days studying lakes formed by landslides a few centuries ago. Here is a panorama of one of the smaller rivers and steep hillsides. Also, a view from our camp of the surrounding town and boulder-covered landscape at the end of the road.
Steep Hills, River, and Boulders, far western Nepal (16″x41″)
Village at the End of the Road, far western Nepal (16″x75″)
While doing field work in far western Nepal, I enjoy watching the pre-monsoon rice field planting and flooding. Farmers till the fields then build complex rock walls to divert water from streams and rivers to irrigate the crops. As the rice sprouts, vibrant greens begin to cover the valleys and hillsides. While we stopped to fix a flat tire, I took a few panoramas of the nearby fields.
Terraced Hillside, far western Nepal (16″x39″)
Greening Fields, far western Nepal (16″x44″)
High winds brought the edge of a thunder storm past our camp in the terraces. Before bed, I watched the lightning flash in the clouds over the nearby hills like strobe lights. When I got up in the morning, fog was clearing off the valley and revealed a cobble stone paved road leading through the fields.
Terrace Camp Sunrise, far Western Nepal (16″x70″)
Terrace Camp Fog and Sunrise, far Western Nepal (16″x69″)
Cobble Stone Road through the Fields and Fog, far Western Nepal (16″x50″)
After coring lakes in the Himalayan foothills, we stayed at a town in the pines on a ridge top. I got up around sunrise and walked along the cliffside highway to take a few photographs of the light through the trees.
Sunrise through the Pines, far Western Nepal, (15″x48″)
We cored a lake near Bhimdatta then drove for a day or two along cliffside highways into the Himalayan foothills. The heavy, pre-monsoon air hung around us as we unloaded the trucks and sweated our way up the steep hillside. The river was black with sediment from the nearby rains, and the air was hazy with humidity.
Crossing the Swollen River, far Western Nepal (13″x59″)
Tower in the Field, far Western Nepal (13″x56″)
Path through Terraced Fields, far Western Nepal (16″x64″)
We stopped at a hotel near the Indian border in Bhimdatta, Nepal to stay over night before coring a lake in the nearby Himalayan foothills. From the hotel roof, I photographed the line of approaching storm clouds in the evening then the surrounding town in the morning. If time had permitted, I would have explored and photographed the half-constructed cement structure in the morning (left side of second panorama)…but we had to get to work.
Evening Pre-Monsoon Clouds, Bhimdatta, Nepal (16″x48″)
Morning View of Bhimdatta, Bhimdatta, Nepal (16″x73″)
This past spring, I returned to Nepal to conduct more field work before the summer monsoon. We spent a few days in May driving west from Kathmandu across the hot, humid Terai (the lowlands near the Indian border) and stopped in Bhimdatta, a border town near the Sarda River. Before heading into the Himalayan foothills to core lakes for our research project, I took a few panoramas of the town.
Evening along Bhimdatta Road, Bhimdatta, far western Nepal, (16″x66″)
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.
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.