Trekking in Ladakh, over the Timti La to Kanji
We settle into camp before exploring the canyon, which will be our route to the Timti La. Prayer flays fly overhead and small shrines called Lhatoos are perched on boulders that litter the canyon floor. They're pre Buddhist shrines placed in auspicious places to placate the spirits of the mountains and we always welcome them.
Back at the camp we watch the evening light fade to black, the distant hills turn a deep red before the sun's final blast before nightfall.
We set off in good spirits but the drama of the canyon turns into a long slow haul up the valley, at the turn of a bend we can see the pass but the path is broken by rockfalls and boulders and progress is slow. We find bear prints in the soft mud by the stream. They look rather large, and fresh. The trail is hard to follow among tamarisk and wild rose bushes, both are long past flowering and we only see one bush with rose hips, apparently the bears have eaten the rest.
As we get closer to the pass the valley gets steeper and the path becomes even harder to find. The only compensation is that as we escape the narrow confines of the gorge, we're no longer overheated by the hot rocks of the valley sides.
The gradient increases towards the pass and the path is intermittent. Sometimes we have to shuffle our way across loose black scree. My boots didn't arrive this morning and the rough ground is harsh for my walking shoes - and my feet. I'm feeling strong but need some music on the headphones to keep me going; pausing to look back, there is a magnificent view back down the valley, mountain ranges stretching into the hazy distance.
We're glad to each the Timti La pass at 4750 metres but we've taken several hours longer than expected. Lunch revives us and we celebrate with the usual ritual of tyeing the prayer flags to the cairns.
Stanzin and Tashi look ahead at the way down. Deep shadows already fill the canyon and the path down looks even worse than the path up. The entire valley is blocked with huge boulders and there is no end to be seen. It's clear we're going to run out of daylight.
Stanzin finds a way but mostly there is no path. At times the valley drops vertically and I can see no way through. The light fades rapidly and I struggle to see my way in the half light. Finally, the last trace of light goes completely and we have no torches but only the light from three iPhones to guide us through the pitch black. Incredibly, not one of us has brought a torch.
Everything is black or white and you can see only a few feet ahead. I decide, rather belatedly to relax and enjoy it for what it is. The shapes loom out just as shapes, you can't see anything else to distract you. Were it not for the fact that we don't know how far there is to go and we don't know if the lights will last, it could be enjoyable. And it's potentially dangerous, we easily miss our footing.
There are no stars and no moon. We are all considering the possibility that we'll have to sleep out. And there are bears.
Tashi takes one of the iPhones and runs ahead to fetch help. In fact he runs all the way out of the valley and then down the track to Kanji where he finds a taxi driver and Dorje, the old pony man.
After 12 hours we see lights ahead though we can make no sense of where they are, one is high above us, the other is lower down ahead and below us. After what seems like an eternity but is probably not that long, Dorje runs and half stumbles down the sides of the canyon to meet us. Summoning last reserves of energy - and nerves, it's a little dangerous when you can't see what you're doing - we scramble up the steep sides of the canyon onto a ridge then slowly descend and finally and make it to the road.
The taxi is small and we can't all fit in. Stanzin sends us ahead, we arrive at Kanji at 10.30 and we marvel that none of us had brought torches. Our late arrival elicits some interest, food is waiting but our appetites got left behind somewhere.
Dorje has obviously enjoyed rescuing us, pony men's skills don't often get appreciated but when it comes to it they can run up and over sheer slopes like true athletes, it goes with the territory.
The taxi goes back for Stanzin and Tashi but they're a long time coming. It seems the taxi broke down and they had to push start it.