And the mules go on…

Trekking from Tso Moriri to Spiti was an interesting insight into the off-‘tourist duty’ life of a Himachali muleteer. Hansraj was itching to get home for the winter and wanted to travel fast, so suggested we try and complete what is usually a week-long trek in two days. This seemed unfeasible to our cycling-conditioned legs, but eventually we agreed to complete it in four, with penalties for over-running. Only later did we realise that the days would be unevenly split: 35km, 38km, 30km, 3km.

These few days taught us that once mules start walking of a morning, they just don’t stop. A 5kph plod is maintained hour after hour after hour. On the flat we could keep up, but on steep ground or walking up a glacier we trailed far behind. Only a rare patch of greenery would distract them from their mission, but a quick shout, whistle or prod with a stick from Hansraj would get them moving again.¬†When we trek alone we rarely spend more than 60% of the day on the move, but with the mules it was nearer 95%. We arrived in camp shattered all 3 days, and Haz’s knee took a long time to recover.

Two mules would’ve been sufficient to carry all our belongings, but with six at our disposal the loads were spread, albeit unequally. We pitied ‘Bikes’ who really drew the short straw, even though ‘Bags’ load was almost certainly heavier. ‘Bag’ had it easy, while ‘Wheels’ was the group’s troublemaker and so wasn’t asked to lug her fair share. ‘Shoes’ was only young so didn’t carry much, while we never found out what ‘Bugger All’ had done to get off scott free.

Thus loaded the merry band were all able to maintain the same steady pace, except ‘Bikes’ whose unwieldy Surly cargo left her trailing at the rear. We were still behind her though, so she took her revenge in the only way she could: by farting triumphantly in our faces. We thought we’d heard it all during our Beanfeast fuelled Raleigh International days, but oh no! My god that mule could fart! Minute long arse-conciertos had us continually running for cover.

And what about the trek? The scenery around the Parang La was magnificent and as, much to our surprise, the bikes only suffered superficial damage from the experience, we were well satisfied with our route choice into Spiti.

'Bikes' the mule
‘Bikes’. A lovely mule, and an incredible trumper.

Following the mules to the Parang La
Following the mules to the Parang La.

Climbing to the Parang La
Climbing the glacier to the Parang La.

Nearing the Parang La
Nearing the Parang La.

Mini-pass after the Parang La
Mini-pass in Spiti, after the Parang La.

Our muleteers from Manali
Our muleteers, Hansraj (right), and his assistant.

Reassembling the bikes near Kibber
Reassembling the bikes near Kibber.

See more photos of this trek on Flickr.

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