Hiking in the rain we descended from alpine glacier country to the tropics. We have GORE-TEX while our porters have simple sheets of plastic.
A severed chicken foot is a simple Lopa tribal toy. The young boy shows us with great amusement how pulling a tendon causes the claw to contract.
Here Troy Gillenwater and the porters cross a makeshift bridge. It is a very steep descent with water everywhere.
Here Troy Gillenwater negotiates the tricky jungle slopes. Even though the village of Charasa is 2,000 feet below us, this portion of the trail heads steadily upwards.
The tribal women of Pemako are remarkable. In addition to their natural beauty, their strength and sure-footedness as porters is phenomenal. And their calm and even demeanor helps balance out the aggressive energy of the male porters.
The tribal women of Pemako can also be extremely seductive and beguiling.
This is Pemako in all its immensity and magic. Note the tiny porter crossing the stream at the bottom of the waterfall.
Our first glimpse of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Even from 2,000 feet above it looked daunting.
Gil Gillenwater and a Lopa takin hunter pose with flintlocks. These smooth-bore rifles looked like they are right out of the American Revolutionary War.
Troy Gillenwater scopes out our evenings camp – Charasa – 1,000 feet below.
At an elevation of only 4,100 feet the barrack grounds of Charasa are sweltering hot and crawling with bugs and leeches.
A surprise visit from three of our 1995 porters. We are convinced Chimed Gompo saved our lives on that fateful expedition. Left to right: Chimed Gompo (avoiding the camera), Troy Gillenwater, Lobsang, Gil Gillenwater, and Sonam Chimbe (avoiding the camera).
Dawa (in green shirt) translates as Gil Gillenwater records the conversation. Left to right: Chimed Gompo, Lobsang, and Sonam Chimbe laugh as they recount the trials and tribulations of our 1995 Kundu Dorsempotrang expedition.
Like moths drawn to light, the heat-seeking leeches would slither into the flame and die.
The day’s climbing is hot – really hot.
Ken Storm decides to also split from the expedition and join us on our unpermitted dash to Pelung. His study and knowledge of the Pemako area will be key to our extraction and exploration efforts.
Troy Gillenwater and Ken Storm cross a cliff face over a primitive scaffolding on their way to Longlep.
Gil Gillenwater and Ken Storm get their first view of Longlep.
Arriving in Longlep late in the day, the few villagers welcomes us as family.
We are graciously offered a place to stay in Longlep. While waiting for dinner Troy Gillenwater and Ken Storm discuss possible escape routes out of Pemako. Our wet clothes can be seen drying in the background.
In addition to Stalin and Lenin, our host cabin sports a poster of the Kalachakra. In Vajrayana Buddhism this symbol represents the “wheel(s) of time” and is one of many of the tantric teachings and esoteric practices.
The view from our cabin’s glassless window is spectacular. The mighty Yarlung Tsangpo churns through the serpentine valley below.
Initially, cloudless skies escort us on the trail back down to the river and the village of Gande.
A telephoto view of Kangla Karpo.
Two Gande boys with Kangla Karpo in the background.
Our “coincidental” second encounter with Matuk is the key that will unlock the guarded entrance to Pemako’s forbidden Inner Gorge for our clandestine expedition.
We are such a curiosity in the sequestered world of Gande that the children follow us everywhere.
Our two young Tibetan Sherpas, Dawa and Bhim, hire local porters to assist in our escape from Pemako. We are a motley looking crew. Left to right: Bhim (back row), Troy Gillenwater and Dawa (hands in the air) and Gil Gillenwater (far right). Many are wearing the scarves Gil Gillenwater have passed out.
Matuk points out a tiny rock spire situated high on a cross-valley mountain shoulder (as seen in the top right of the photograph). This stone outcropping will play a pivotal role in our upcoming journey and in our lives.
With an average annual rainfall of around 25 feet, these uncharacteristically clear Pemako skies are a true blessing. Gil Gillenwater hikes down a grassy shoulder in the bottom right of the photograph.
While Dawa is negotiating with the porters we hike down and explore the river. Here we were 8,000 feet lower in elevation than we were when we rafted this same river three years ago - in 1994. Even at these lower elevations the “Everest of Whitewater” is earning its name.
With our porter dispute settled everyone jumps into action to set the lines and get us across the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the fading day’s light.
The immensity of the Yarlung Tsangpo River gorge makes this late afternoon cable crossing a daunting task.
We have 12 people and a lot of gear to cross in the fading daylight.
The heights and churning waters below are daunting. Notice the lone porter at the top of the photo.
Matuk looks on as Troy Gillenwater gets lashed to the pully for his cable crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Photo taken in the middle of the crossing.
Troy Gillenwater is half way across his cable crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
This night hike brings us together as a group. The extreme circumstances allow us to better recognized our shared human condition. This bond will grow tighter as our journey continues.
In Lugu we peeked inside a small home. It is filthy. A Lopa man and his son lived there and Gil Gillenwater gives the boy a glow-in-the-dark pen. He hangs it proudly from his neck.
In Gogden we are offered a shrine room as a place to sleep. Here a thangka of the goddess White Tara is displayed prominently.
Two boys from Gogden. The locals are always so happy to see us.
Our porters Matuk, Brad Watts and Trashi Padi load up on yak butter tea in preparation of the day’s grueling hike ahead.
In Gogden we spy a propaganda poster tacked to a wall purportedly representing the harmony between the Communist Chinese military and the Tibetan people. To see this brain washing propaganda in a cabin this remote is absurd.
In Gogden the village chieftain proudly shows us his flintlock rifle. There are only three such rifles in the village.
Uncharacteristically clear skies shine on Troy Gillenwater and the chieftain’s flourishing marijuana crop.
The ongoing collision of two continents creates seismic geologic instability and constant landslides.
Negotiating the many landslide areas is hard on our bodies as well as our nerves.
The steep climb out of the Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge to the Tsebung La Pass is two vertical miles in elevation.
Cresting the Tsebung La Pass we have our first view of the 23,891-foot-high Gyala Pelri Mountain. Standing on the Asian continent, it is only 13 miles away from the 25,531-foot-high Namcha Barwa Mountain situated on the Indian sub-continent.