Day 7 (Thangshing – Lamuney):
Today’s trek was one of the shortest and easiest. The distance from Thangshing to Lamuney (~4,100m) was about 4 km. We started off at about 9am and reached Lamuney before noon. Unlike other campgrounds, there was no trekker’s hut in Lamuney, but there was a stone dwelling for the yak-herder with a zig-zag entrance designed to shield against the wind. There were also many prayer stones engraved with the mantras “Om mani padme hum” scattered around the dwelling. Lamuney was the furthest place to camp along the trail to Goechala. Camping was not allowed beyond Lamuney. The highlights of Lamuney were the possibility of sightings of wild animals and snow. We saw a big herd of blue sheeps (Bharal) grazing 200 metres away from our tents. They were pretty shy animals, scattering off into the mountains the moment they sensed my presence. The wind was very strong and we could feel the wind chill even inside our tents. We tried to break the wind by building “fortification” around our tents - piling rocks around the exposed edges of the tents. This method proved to be quite effective. To our pleasant surprise, it started snowing at night.
Day 8 (Lamuney – Goechala and Samiti Lake - Thangshing):
Today was supposed to be the D-Day for us. The original plan was to wake up at 2am for a 4 hrs trek to Goechala Pass for sunrise. However, seeing that most of us were still mentally unprepared for the cold and arduous trek, our guide suggested to start the trek at 5am instead, giving us 3 additional hrs of sleep. However this also meant that, we would miss the sunrise and only had enough time to trek to checkpoint 1 of Goechala as our schedule was very tight.
Our guide woke us up at 5am. By the time we started to trek, it was already bright daylight at 6am. The trail to Goechala was rocky and steep throughout the way. After trekking for nearly 30 mins, we reached Samiti Lake – a high altitude glacial lake (water source from surrounding glaciers) at 4,300m. The lake was turquoise- coloured, partially frozen and extremely still. The lake, though small in size, was beautiful and considered to be a holy lake by the Sikkimese. There was an abandoned and dilapidated trekker’s hut nearby. The Sikkimese government had banned camping in the area to prevent the pollution of this beautiful lake.
From Samiti Lake, we trekked for another one and a half hrs to reach Checkpoint 1 (~4,600m). Along the way, we saw a mini snow-avalanche on the slope of Pandim. We stopped for a few minutes for the tumbling snow to settle down before carrying on further.
At Checkpoint 1 (facing the direction of Goechala Pass), Pandim was on our right, the Zemathang Glacier was beneath us on our left and across Zemathang was the eastern wall of Kanchenjunga. The entire scenery was grey with traces of white against the deep blue sky. Under the monotonous colored landscape, everything looked much nearer than they actually were. The Pandim peak was a good 2,000 m above but it looked like I could easily walk there within 30 minutes.
From Checkpoint 1, it was another 2 hrs to Goechala Pass via a narrow moraine trail (1 1/2 hr to checkpoint 2 a.k.a false checkpoint and 1/2 hr to checkpoint 3 – Goechala pass). We did not proceed onto Goechala Pass, as we were exhausted and already satisfied with the view that we saw. We turned back after staying for 45 mins around the area.
On our way back to the campground, we dropped by the Samiti Lake to take a closer look at the beautiful lake. We made a mini snowman using twigs and stones to create the eyes and nose and had an enjoyable stay at the lake throwing snowballs at each other.
After breakfast, we set off for the return journey back to civilization. We followed the route Thangshing – Kokchurong – Tshoka – Yuksom. From Thangshing, we would take a different route back, bypassing Dzongri to get directly to Tshoka.
Initially, we planned to set up camp at Kokchurong for the night. However when we reached Thangshing, we were informed by the housekeeper (there were housekeepers for the trekkers’ hut at Thangshing and Kokchurong) that Kokchurong was already fully occupied. The housekeeper had just returned from Kokchurong. We were very disappointed because we were looking forward to camp beside the scenic Prek Chu river. Hence, we ended up spending yet another cold night in Thangshing again.