High Roads News Sticky , 2016

 

( 2015 sticky archived , see the sticky category)

SRINAGAR-LEH OPENS ON APRIL 30 : it’s official in todays ( April 28th ) news , and the weather forecast looks good.

SRINAGAR-LEH UPDATE , APRIL 25th : Zoji La cleared , BRO expects to have the road fully open ” within a few days ” .

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(  Zoji La inspection , April 25th – from Ladakh News Service group , Facebook )

MANALI-LEH UPDATE , APRIL 24th : snowfall over the Rohtang , both sides : five centimeters of snow down in Keylong. 350 persons trapped for eight hours near the pass on Sunday , until BRO managed to clear it agagain.

Srinagar , April 15th : fifth civilian death on Friday in the widepread protests in the Vale. Srinagar under partial curfew , including shutdown of internet .

April 10th : 6.8 earthquake in Afghanistan rocks Srinagar, Shimla , Kullu… no word on casualties yet.

MANALI-LEH UPDATE , APRIL 7th : Rohtang La  cleared but not open for traffic yet ,according to BRO. Mixed clouds and snowfall in the weekend  in the weather forecast.

SRINAGAR-LEH UPDATE , APRIL 1st : BRO has cleared the road up to ten kilometers from the Zoji La pass. Nights  still ( barely) subzero at the pass & in Leh.

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KASHMIR WEATHER UPDATE  , MARCH 17th : heavy rains over the Pir Panjal , roads blocked. Thirty centimeters of snow in Sonmarg . More snow over the Zoji la on the Srinagar-Leh road.

 

HIMACHAL WEATHER UPDATE , MARCH 17th : 45 centimeters of snow in Pangi Valley.        More snow over the Rohtang . Daytime temperatures barely above zero daytime in Keylong , below zero both night and  daytime above four thousand ( i.e. The Rohtang La before Keylong , and nearly all the way  between Keylong and Leh ) . More snow coming in this weekends weather forecast .

HIMACHAL WEATHER UPDATE , MARCH 7th : heavy snowfalls and avalanche warnings in the high passes : 90 cm at the Rohtang La , 35 cm down in Keylong . Snow turning in to sleet and rain in the lower reaches.

HIMACHAL WEATHER UPDATE , MARCH 7th : heavy snowfall over the Rohtang & Kunzum La , 30 cm in Keylong .

Srinagar-Leh update , March 1st : BRO  at work from Sonmarg towards the Zoji La , snow levels between one and three meters. First guess from BRO : work completed up to Leh by the end of the month – this would be nearly two weeks earlier than the record in 2013 . NB : they have been wrong before , many times .

Himachal weather update, February 20th : heavy snowfall above 3000 meters , half meter over the Rohtang La , Kunzum La and Saach pass . Twentyfive cm in Keylong.

Himachal weather update , February : moderate to heavy snowfall in Shimla and over the Rohtang La on the 8 & 14th.

Himachal weather update , January 7th : 30 centimeters of snow at the Rohtang La , 15 centimeters in Keylong , also breaking the long warm spell in Shimla.

January 30th : BRO starts clearing the road from Manali towards the Rohtang , earliest ever.

January  4th :

LADAKH :  SNOWLOCKED  since December 21st , 2015 : Srinagar-Leh closed , and from the Manali end BRO retreats from Marhi ( south side of the Rohtang La ) and Koksar (north) . No fresh veggies in Leh for a couple of months..

NEPAL FUEL CRISIS/EMBARGO : you can get in by land , the usual route via Gorakhpur and Sunauli. Flights run with the airlines that can refuel before landing in Ktm . Little drama for tourists , apart from some price raises.

NEPAL-TIBET : Friendship Highway between Kathmandu and Lhasa still not open after the 2015 earthquakes.

PAKISTAN-XINJIANG/CHINA : Karakoram Highway closed as usual , opening ( earliest ) 1st week April.

SIKKIM-CHINA  : Nathu La closed for the winter , and still not an option either for Indian nationals or angrezis.

 

 

Third Highest Airport

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End of my 2015 tour in Kham , driving past worlds third highest airport serving Kangding @ 4280 meters . Looks like a interesting landing , with the four thousand meter long runway ending as a ramp . Think cutting of the top of a cone , and flipping it to extend the flat surface.

 

Kangding town  is forty  klicks away and seventeen hundred meters lower : flat real estate is scarce in these parts.

Handkerchief Parachutes

“I guess this is a horrible thing to say , but I felt better when I heard the guy in the next room also vomiting . I didn’t feel alone anymore.”

Wang is one of the now – being a weekend – two handfuls of Chinese who are visiting the Larung Gar institute hotel ,image in mid-December. She has spiky Laurie Anderson-y hair and her head rests on a wide triangle : chin down on the narrow breakfast table between us , fingers propped up against her temples.

” -I didn’t expect it to be this bad .. I got this headache right when we got here , and then I started to vomit ..

– Yes , I would expect that . ”

Cold is the known and working deterrent here . It is cold , every last inch of the water pipes are covered in arm thick insulation , and the electric blankets in the beds are a neccessity , not a luxury.

Altitude obviously isn’t . Had I heard or seen Wang the other night I wouldn’t have been calm or nice , now I find myself being curiously detached : yes , that could have ended badly. But now … well , she made it down to breakfast , and has actually eaten . And kept it down. On the mend.

” I thought there would be a small pharmacy or something…”

Not really . What is to be had is one of the never proven Chinese herbal remedies , and disposable oxygen cans. I usually refer to these as handkerchief parachutes ( right idea , totally wrong scale ) but these are the biggest ones I’ve seen so far . Not exactly table cloth parachutes – lets stretch it to shopping bags. The English specs say it contains fourteen liters – a few minutes worth for example for post op patients who aren’t fully awake yet.

“You slept where last night ?!”

I didn’t see this coming – Wang and all the others ( or at least the ones I could speak with , mostly indirectly ) all had made the same journey : from Chengdu ( 800-ish meters ) to Sertar …at 4000+ meters. Nonstop . One day. I continue my callous streak by mentioning my pet AMS trivia : two percent of soldiers flying in to Lhasa start to develop pulmonary edema. And that’s nearly four hundred meters lower than the Sertar hotel. There is the known option of sleeping down in the village – Wang mentions this – that would make it to a first night around Lhasa altitude instead. The other option , valid enough for a first night at Lhasas altitude would be to medicate preventively , and this is virtually unknown in China. After the great Yushu earthquake China sent in thousands of rescue workers higher than Lhasa , unmedicated and rushing straight to the front . This became a minor catastrophe in itself , as local rescuers had to shift focus to rescue their colleagues , and have them flown out after less than a day.

The others around me were not far off from Wang : the two other Chinese in my four bed dorm obviously would have benefited from going down. One said he spent the first four days in bed , the second still had splitting headaches after the second night.

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Working out at 4000+ meters : stair  excercise with yaks up to the top ridge with the institute hotel and the mandala , and photo op break during the kora around the mandala.

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Worlds Highest Airport

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Landing at 4411 meters … an instant aging experience. Well , I got younger again down in Daocheng at 3750 meters. But not fast . There is a better way of doing this : a long flight to Kunming , where the airport is at 2100-ish meter, and then a connecting flight to Daocheng/Yading . Doesn’t run in the winter though.

( There are now four airports at 4000+ meters : La Paz , widely believed to be the worlds highest is the lowest one at 4061 meters. )

Small Sip of Water on the Hemkund Sahib

Todays quick read : a small pilot study on altitude sickness in Sikh pilgrims . Pilgrims progress up the Himalayas in a manner that will make experienced docs shudder , in part from a mindset that invites suffering – to a point. It is the same reality described in Basnyats Disoriented and Ataxic Pilgrims , from Gosaikhund in Nepal , where a large majority of the yatras suffered from AMS.

This small study ( 28 subjects , interviewed at the Hemkund Sahib temple @ 4330 meters ) is fuelled by two concerns : the rapid ascent , and the minimal fluid intake. The authors have set up a info page for coming pilgrims echoing the same concern about the water intake , urging a high water intake not only during but also before trekking up the Hemkund Sahib. Their main source for this is an article by Peter Hackett , mentioning advice handed out by the Himalayan Rescue Association – in 1975 (!) . This advice coming up now will surprise anyone who

* has read what Hackett ( who after extensive work with the HRA summited on Mt Everest as part of a medical research expedition , and now is the head of the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride ) written on the subject afterwards :

..In reality you only need an additional liter to a liter and a half of water at altitude. Too much water is harmful and can dilute your body’s sodium level (hyponatremia) causing weakness, confusion, seizures, and coma.

* has read the advisory from the Himalayan Rescue Association over the last decade :

Maintaining adequate hydration

Adequate amounts of fluid (about 3 liters a day) are necessary in the mountains:- dehydration mimics altitude sickness and may even predispose to it. On the other hand excessive water drinking should also be avoided as this may lead to electrolyte imbalances.

( Also note that right from the start in -75 HRA talks of total fluid intake , not about drinking water : all fluids count , and the only unique value of plain water is a stronger push towards hyponatremia . )

* has read the relevant part of Hacketts first study : the outcome was that all participants lost weight , and that those who had the highest weight loss were the the ones who did not develop AMS :

Weightloss occurred in both groups , but was less in the AMS group (P0.07) . Indeed , the worse or higher the symptom score , the less the weight loss.

The other strong predictor for avoiding AMS was higher urine output. The second source quoted by Sahota and Panwar manages to find support for that . And only that.

Sources mentioned here :

Current acclimatization advice from Himalayan Rescue Association

A Pilot Study on the incidence of Acute Mountain Sickness at the Sikh pilgrimage to Hemkund Sahib

The incidence, importance and prophylaxis of acute mountain sickness – Peter Hackett & Drummond Rennie in The Lancet , 1976

Altitude Myths @ the Institute for Altitude Medicine

Nerin et al : Acute Mountain Sickness : Influence of Fluid Intake

For a non-medicalese version of acclimatization and hydration advice , see this interview with David Shlim , another veteran of the HRA clinic in Pheriche , fifteeen years as head of the CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu, and co-author of the CDC altitude advisory with Hackett.

The Pope As A Coca User

The one news story on coca ( well played , Evo Morales ) that will be remembered this year : the Pope “combated altitude sickness” on his visit to Bolivia by drinking coca tea.

The missing story , and context is found in his itinerary : the Pope had a textbook preparation for flying in to El Alto/La Paz by first going to Quito @ 2800 meters , and staying overnight . He spent less than four hours in La Paz the next day before flying out to Santa Cruz … altitude 416 meters.

To be expected , the usual media mix up on the altitude of La Paz and El Alto airport : the airport , and only the airport , is at 4000+ meters . The low , and posh , end of La Paz is nearly a thousand meters lower. Town center is 3600-ish. The common claim of the worlds highest airport is also off the mark : there are now five commercial airports at at 4000+ meters , and El Alto is the lowest. Yading @ 4411 meters in China is the highest , nearly four hundred meters higher than El Alto . It will be the second highest after the completion of Nakchu airport.