In January 1946, two Austrian mountain climbers, Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, stood below the Guring La (19,235'), a glaciated pass in the highest mountains near Lhasa. This mountain barrier was all that separated them from their goal of reaching Lhasa, the Holy City and capital of Tibet. Two years earlier, these two intrepid mountaineers had managed to escape from a British internment camp in India and headed for Tibet with only rough sketches for maps, the clothes on their backs, and a few meager supplies. Their crime? Climbing mountains on British-controlled soil at an inopportune moment—Great Britain and Austria had declared war in 1939 while Harrer and Aufschnaiter were attempting Nanga Parbat, an 8000-meter Himalayan peak within British Indian territory at that time.
For Harrer and Aufschnaiter, Lhasa was now only about a week’s walk away, and a new life was soon to begin. Little could these two imagine as they gazed toward the Guring La that they would spend the next four and a half years residing in Lhasa as guests of the Tibetan government. Aufschnaiter would marry a Tibetan woman and become a surveyor for the city; Harrer would become the tutor of the 14th Dalai Lama. Later, he would pen one of the classic adventure stories of the 20th century, Seven Years in Tibet.
In June 2018, Wilderness Travel and Gary McCue invite you to walk in the footsteps of Harrer and Aufschnaiter on a spectacular 15-day trek that retraces their final mountain crossing over the Guring La through the highest range of peaks near Lhasa. Our adventure begins at the climbers’ base camp at the foot of the main Nyenchen Thanglha mountain, where we hike and acclimatize, then meet our yaks and yak men for the trek over the Nyenchen Thanglha range, crossing Kong La Pass (17,750') to reach Tashi Do, a Guru Rimpoche meditation site perched on the shores of Nam Tsho, Tibet’s second largest salt lake. From the lake’s southern shores, we hike into the Nyenchen Thanglhas and pick up the trail used by Harrer and Aufschnaiter to cross the Guring La. We then descend into a huge Yosemite-like glacial valley of sheer granite walls to complete our trek at the Yangpachen Valley. Like Harrer and Aufschnaiter, we’ll head for the Yangpachen hot springs for a welcome soak at trek’s end before returning to Lhasa—a fitting end for our incredible experience of the magic and mystery that is Tibet.
Chengdu, China / Lhasa, Tibet
Fly from Chengdu to Lhasa (11,830'), holy city and capital of Tibet. Enjoy exploration around Lhasa and the Lhasa Valley to acclimatize. Visit Tibet’s colossal Potala Palace and major sites around the Lhasa Valley, including ancient Drepung Monastery. On Day 5, we visit Ganden (13,700’), a stunning monastic city set in a high amphitheater above the Kyi Chu River.
Trek in the Nyenchen Thanglha Mountains / Kong La
Drive to the remote Nyenchen Thanglha mountains and begin the trek, hiking to the cliffside perch of Kyangra Gompa (14,350’), crossing the Kong La (17,750'), and spending a day exploring at the ancient Tashi Do Hermitage (15,500') and its pilgrim paths.
Guring La / Guring Nang Valley / Pangochi Lhe
Begin the next phase of the trek, the long, glacial crossing of Guring La (19,325'), with a descent to the Guring Nang Valley and the herders' meadow at Pangochi Lhe (16,400').
Yangpachen Valley / Lhasa / Chengdu
We drop down from the high passes on our route and follow Heinrich Harrer's footsteps into the green Yangpachen Valley, where we stop at the Yangpachen hot springs for a quick soak before meeting our vehicles and driving to Lhasa. What a contrast to Harrer and Aufschnaiter’s arrival on foot almost 70 years ago! Depart on Day 23 via Chengdu, China.