Friday, February 11, 2011

The Dreaded Bonte-La Ice Patch

My last attempt during end of December, 2010 to cross over into the desolate but beautiful valleys of Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa was thwarted by the dreaded ice patches on the trails leading up to the Bonte-La (4,900 Meters) and Ngele-La (4,704 Meters) passes. The passes were then closed to both ponies as well as humans. So I had to abandon my trip to Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa.
I came back from the trip defeated but more determined to make another attempt at it. I simply could not pass up the photo opportunities presented by the sparkling weather conditions of the winter months. But first, I had to be better prepared to take on the ice that was causing all the trouble. The problem was not, unlike in earlier years, snow on the passes - but ice on the roads. The paths were caked with mounds of ice that caused humans and ponies to slip and fall. A peculiar condition this year was that while there was very less snow than usual, the temperatures were lot colder thereby causing frigid conditions.
In preparation of my second attempt, I bought 2 hand axes from Sherub Enterprises at Changlam Plaza and began to build a sturdy handle each for them. These axes will come handy in breaking the ice on the road so that the ponies can safely tread over the roughened ice. I then ordered 4 pairs of ice cleats and a crampon for myself and my assistants. These will help me and my assistants tread over the ice safely and without slipping - hopefully!
My second attempt started on the 30th January, 2011. This time, I and my team managed to cross over into the beautiful valley of Lingzhi. We had to break ice at about 5 places - but the ponies could pass over the Ngele-La safely and we were into Lingzhi and from there on to Chebesa village - a day’s journey further away. It was a worthwhile effort and in due course I will post some photos of the Lingzhi Dzong and the valleys surrounding it.
The Ngele-La pass has got to be Bhutan’s most unique pass. At 4,704 Meters (15,433 feet), this pass has neither a speck of snow or ice on it nor a blade of grass growing on it - a condition I found to be truly amazing! Much later I understood why - perhaps I will come around to telling you why - if I get the time.
Upon return from Lingzhi, I and two of my assistants managed to cross the Bonte-La pass (4,900 Meters). This time sadly, the ponies still couldn’t make it over the pass because the ice patches on the road leading upto Bonte-La was too thick and heavy. One has to see the ice fields to believe it! While we crossed over into Soe-Yaktsa, our ponies and the pony man took the direct road to Thangthangka. We rendezvoused the following day at a place called Tongsathangkha - just above Shana.
The photo below was shot at the base of Bonte-La pass on our way to Soe-Yaktsa. As you can see, the entire area is covered in a thick layer of ice. In the photo, you will see my assistants posing for me - on the ground is my camera tripod. The inset photo shows the ice cleats worn over the boot by one of my assistants. The peak in the background is the beautiful Jichu Drake.

The ice cleats worked like a charm! We could walk over the hardened ice without a problem. Talking of which I need to go and wash and clean the steel studs of the cleats. I will provably need to use them during my up-coming trip to Laya in about a week’s time.

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