High Roads News Sticky , 2014

July 24, 2011

Srinagar-Leh update , December 1st : dry road practically all the way , Snowy landscape starting a few klicks before Sonmarg. Eleven hours nonstop from Srinagar , beautiful ride.

Himachal update , November 10th : Kunzum La out after heavy snowfall , Manali-Leh now also shown as closed on the official Leh Council site.

Manali-Leh road October 13th : Border Roads aims to keep Manali-Leh open in to December , at the same time as the Rohtang goes subzero daytime also , and the snow buildup can start . A few inches of snow in the latest road report , interesting to see how the weather will cooperate with this goal.

Moderate snowfall over the Rohtang La and Kunzum La forces Raid de Himalya rally to pause , October 8th.

J&K update , October 8th : partial train service in the Vale , all major roads working.
September 16th : receding water levels in Srinagar , but still major parts under water. Jammu-Srinagar road opened today . Army supplies being re-routed via Manali , expect heavy traffic.

J&K weather update, September 6th: fifty bridges and hundreds of kilometers of road under water , Srinagar waterlogged and Jhelum river continues to rise. Srinagar airport road under a meter of water.Class three and four ( highest ) weather warnings from India Met Department for the coming days.

September 1st : first snow in Himachal : light dustings of snow over the Rohtang La and Baralacha La on the Manali-Leh road , and on the Kunzum La to Kaza/Spiti. This will burn away soon , night temperatures at the Rohtang still well over zero.

Saach Pass opens , 2014 : open road to Pangi Valley July 9th

Himachal weather update , July 26th: Slow monsoon so far with two thirds of normal rain levels in Kullu/Manali region , and one fiftth in Lahaul and Spiti : good roads and bad crops..

Ladakh Inroads Updates 2014 : June 25th: . Buses coming in from Manali , road officially open for all vehicles.
Manali-Leh Opens ,June 3rd 2014 : IANS quotes BRO official saying road finally cleared Monday , and now running.

Open road up to Keylong first on May 3rd , when first HRTC buses were sent off from Manali.
Srinagar-Leh finally cleared May 16th ; . See last comment from Leh :

Okay, now it’s real, Zoji-La is open and we’re eating fresh fruit in Ladakh on 16 May 2014! ..

Last heavy snowfall April 26th , over ten meters of snow in the pass.Open road beyond Sonmarg. Border Roads have given up their earlier goal of opening the road by the end of the month , no promises before elections May 7th either.
Two Ladakhis dies in attempt to cross the Zoji La on foot March 8th.

Karakoram Highway closed , opening earliest April ( as in this happening for the first time ever last year. )

Nathu La closed , expected opening in May.


Worlds Highest Cable Car

June 17, 2014

Up , up and away : grand day out starting from Lijiang in Yunnan at 2400 meters , taking the cable car to 4506 meters , topped by stair excercises up to 4680.




This is the highest running cable car in the world at the moment : the Meridian cable car reached 4700+ meters , but stopped operating in 2008. Second highest would be the Lina Rioja down to La Paz from El Alto @ 4061 meters.

Honorable mentions below 4000 meters :
* the Quito TeleferiQo claims to go up to 3945 meters , starting from 3117 , which checks out on Google Earth
* the Gulmarg gondola makes two different claims on their official homepage : 3747 meters ( around thirty meters lower than the the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix ) and 3979 meters . The later is clearly an exaggeration , Google Earth places it a few meters below the Quito Teleferiqo. A second level of exaggeration is often found on Indian websites , giving not the altitude of the cable car station but the top of the mountain , starting from 4200 meters.

* The Aiguille di Midi in the Mont Blanc massif at 3842 meters

* Yunnan holds another cabe car going from Kangding at 2600 meters , reaching .. have to check that with a GPS next time around.


Higher Learning , For Free

April 2, 2014


High Altitude Medicine & Biology , the best perk of working at a university hospital , is running a short period of free online access right now. This is a gold mine for everyone who is interested in hard data based articles on high altitude physiology and  medicine :
* Horrendous fail rates on Kilimanjaro , way outside all guidelines in Prevalence of Acute Mountain Sickness among Finnish Trekkers on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania  

* Report from the first run on the Beijing-Lhasa railway ( first train in world with onboard oxygen generators ) , and how effective this is in preventing altitude sickness

* The article the Finns , and everyone on fast , fixed itineraries should have read first : Altitude Preexposure Recommendations for Inducing Acclimatization


On top of this is there is a lot of medical history , with still highly relevant results. There is a whole issue dedicated to the 50 year anniversary of the Silver Hut expedition , still a benchmark in the effects of extreme acclimatization : five months spent at 5800 meters , followed by bringing down more physiological data from up to 7400 meters. Those who still believe that it’s essential to push large volumes of fluids will struggle with the fact that that Milledge and the other members managed well on around three liters of fluids per day , including climbing up to 7000+ meters.
One of the results of going thru this issue that I’ve just dived in to the man and explanation of why the Hillary/Tenzing ascent succeeded , after seven British fails in a row : Griffith Pugh , the picture perfect mad scientist and genius that that pushed a kicking and screaming climbing fraternity in to a physiological approach to climbing : using oxygen , planning nutrition, designing tents and more.


Gentiana , Snake Bladders & Sulphur : Bad Altitude Info Award 2013

October 20, 2013

Best contender so far  this year : the Tibet and Lhasa Health & Safety section on Lonely Planet , about the (perceived ) dangers of Diamox treatment : 

“the use (of) Diamox is controversial. It can reduce symtoms , but may also mask warning signs. Severe and fatal cases of AMS has occured in people taking this drug.”
The advice seems well researched at a first glance , correct doses are given and there are a number of sources at the end of the document.

It has a number of serious problems though , starting with
fake sources
LP lists a number of sources / suggested reading … which all are very solid , and all say the opposite of what LP claims .

*Pollards classic High  Altitude Medicine Handbook , a given in my backpack since many years : 

” there is no evidence ” that Diamox has a masking effect. Feeling better with Diamox comes from the increased ventilation made possible by Diamox.  

*Richard Dawoods Travellers Health. Dawood worked three seasons with The Himalyan Rescue Association clinic in Periche  and one one can safely assume he agrees with their position on Diamox/acetazolamide : “the most tried and tested drug both for altitude sickness treatment and prevention… unlike dexamethason this drug does not mask the symtoms but actually treats the problem” 

The main reason Dawood would agree on this is that he is the author  , the AMS section in his book and on the HRA site are identical…

*Pocket First Aid & Wilderness Medicine , by Duff and Gormly : ” Azetazolamide increases the breathing rate at altitude and speeds up the acclimatization process… Acetazolamide does not mask the onset of AMS , HAPE and HACE”


* Last but in no way least : CDC , which are responsible for the national health guidelines in the US. CDC has consistently pushed for better/wider acceptance of preventive medication with Diamox in their altitude advisory ( shortlink : http://korta.nu/cdcalt ) . This year they published a separate Cusco advisory . Cusco is lower than Lhasa , and wording is more direct now : everyone travelling to Cusco should be prepared to prevent or treat altitude sickness with Diamox. 



Finding today anything written that can’t point to  a single online resource gives a weird 90’s feeling. And the resources have been out there for a looong time : the High Altitude Medicine Guide and the Himalyan Rescue Association sites were both up in ’95 , soon followed by the International Society for Mountain Medicine and CDC . Any  of these sites will for example point out that the most efficient medication is oxygen , which never comes up at LP. This could be an atavism going back to first printed Tibet LP guides , saying that the effect from oxygen is “mainly  psychological” (!)



LP brings up a number of alternative medications. First up is Rhodiola , which is called a Tibetan herbal medicine. Reading this as a uniqe local tradition is definitely off the mark : Rhodiola grows over wide areas over the world  , including Russia , Sweden and China . The search for a  medical use of Rhodiola started in the classical  Greek period, re-surfaced with Carl von Linné and … Josef Stalin, the later being the main reason westerners today are aware of Rhodiola.  The fuzzy wording “recommended by locals” leaves no clue if this is to be seen as a part of the Tibetan medical tradition , or if this is a word on the street thing , like the infamous soroche.  pills in South America. 

The entusiasm for non-proven medication is not limited to Rhodiola : the proposed medication list also includes Gentiana against AMS , which will  baffle …, basically everyone , including doctors and herbalists. To top it off the litteral Snake oil cures comes up : the classic Chinese cure of dried snake gall bladders against pneumonia (!) is mentioned.


Extra points for bringing up “Sulphur allergy ” ( Sulphur is an essential trace element , used in the body) . The mixup here is with sulfonamides , where allergic reactions are  in no way is certain between the antibiotic sulfonamides ( “sulfa” ) and the non-antibiotic group , like one of the worlds most common prescription medications , the diuretic furosemide. 




Kathmandu-Lhasa Road : Earthquake

September 3, 2013

imageEarthquake north of Nyalam on the Friendship Highway gives a good shake all the way down to Kathmandu in the weekend . No details on casualties or damages to the road.


Bang ! ( Actually : Whimper )

July 20, 2013

Good news can also be irritating : after tracking a week of predicted heavy rains from India Met Department the numbers were revised this morning , by a factor of nearly ten . Shimla forecast tomorrow 14 mm , yesterday …221. Kinnaur 16-29 mm the coming five days , yesterdays prediction for tomorrow was 167 mm.
In hindsight yr.no consistently showed numbers similar to todays forecast – the lesson here would be that relying on a single source ( which I normally don’t ) is a bad idea.


Low Landing

June 18, 2013

Low Landing

IGI Airport , Delhi , June 17th : altitude…. too low.


On a more serious note : monsoon death toll in not-so-northern India now over 60. Impressive floodings in Uttarkhand, news reports talk of up to 60 000 pilgrims and tourists stranded.

In Himachal Pradesh the NH22/Hindustan-Tibet road is very much out : minister evaced with helicopter from Sangla in Kinnaur after 60+ hours.



Opening The Roads To Leh , 2013

April 5, 2013

Srinagar-Leh will open tomorrow , according to The Tribune.  This may  actually happen, since the BRO road crew was a few klicks from the Zoji  La pass a week ago. There is still a conspicuous  lack of details though. Weather forecast says says rain five out of six coming days in Srinagar , thinning out towards to Kargil and Leh , night temperature just under zero , so more snow is definitely possible . 

No mentions of the the earlier bold BRO claim that the road would be thrown open  on March 31 – but still good chances of  this becoming the earliest opening of the road in more than a decade , the former record was April 15th in 2008 . That turned out mildly chaotic


The timeline for clearing the roads to Leh : 


Srinagar-Leh : first the road will be cleared up to Sonmarg ( this year March 16th  ) , then the Zoji La will be almost cleared and the first loads of fresh supplies will come in to Leh …with donkeys ( last days in March , this year ) .A few cabs will get in before the road is officially thrown open. Lastly the roadmarker at  the LAHDC  site will show open when the road is deemed fit for all vehicles , i.e. busworthy. 


Manali-Leh : first there will be rumors , like this years classic when some Indian media claimed that the whole road would be cleared by April 15th. Clearing the road starts in March , with three BRO groups working at the same time : two crews working from south ( Manali ) and north ( Koksar ) end towards the Rohtang La , and the third crew working going past Darcha towards Baralacha La and the 5000+ passes beyond that . Once the Rohtang has been cleared ( BRO´s goal at present : mid-April ) all groups will unite  in the push towards Leh. There may or may not be a period ( like in 2011) when the road is declared officially open , but not for buses : ” Open For LMV” , i.e. Light Motor Vehicles , including minibuses. Last of all the Rohtang will open for the daytrippers from Manali. This year the plan is introduce one way traffic , up only in the morning hours , down in the afternoon. 


Srinagar-Leh and Manali-Leh are military priorities , and get a lot of resources. The NH 22 route , Shimla-Spiti over the Kunzum La will open later than Manali-Leh , and the road over Saach Pass even later.


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