Well, here I am back in Kathmandu after our 33-day trek into some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been! We left here on April 23rd (3 of us) with 5 Sherpa guides/porters to carry our 25 days food and cooking gear, cooking tent, and of course enough food and clothing for them too! We made one long trek out of 3 different ones.
First we trekked around Manasalu, the 10th highest mountain in the world. This trek is in a restricted area and requires lots of permit fees mostly resolved around a need for a liaison officer. The trek started about 50 kilometers west of Kathmandu where we left the main road, got a local bus and drove to the end of the dirt road. Sometimes the ruts in the road were a foot deep! We finally got to a river with no bridge, and this is where we started walking.
The first few days were pretty hot in more ways than one. There’s a lot of Maoist activity in Nepal though mostly in the far western reaches of the country. The Maoists mostly are against the corruption in the government, mostly the police force. So, they have a lot of support with the locals and I must say it’s not a bad thing at all. We read in the paper later that they bombed two police stations two days after we were there!
The Burhi Gandaki river valley we were going up got narrower and narrower with fewer and fewer people. We often were 1000 meters (3300 feet) above the river on such steep cliffs that at times we could throw rocks to the other side! 95% of the time, the water below was class 6 and gray from the fact that it was glacier runoff. Once we got over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) the people were exclusively Buddhists compared to Hindus in the lower elevations.
Most of the people who run the government in Nepal are Hindus with the Buddhists mainly living in the mountains. They are like night and day! The Hindus are often non-smiling, shopkeepers, seeing what they can get out of you. Where the Buddhists are usually smiling, working hard (especially the women) and often invite us or at least our guides into there homes to do the cooking.
Wherever we went though, we were usually the entertainment for the whole town and we’d have 10-20 kids around us every night. Needless to say, they were fascinated by the guitar!
When we got up to the cutoff for Manasalu Base Camp, we saw another camp where the locals told us were climbers. So, we started talking to them and found out they had just summited! Two Basque climbers (from northern Spain, the area I hiked in last year) were attempting to become the 7th and 8th people in the world to climb all four, 8,000 meter peaks. With Manasalu under their belt, they had now only three to go! And that’s why the helicopter came to take them to the next one, Annapurna. Then, when the helicopter landed, we were impressed once again as the pilot was the famous Nepali pilot, Medam Casey, the man who piloted the helicopter in the world record rescue of Beck Wethers in the famous ’96 Everest tragedy. He picked up Wethers and another injured climber (2 trips) at 23,000 feet!
After all this excitement, we took a rest day in which I climbed up to base camp at 4,000 meters. Continuing on, we took another supposed rest day although Mark and I set out with two of our best Sherpas, Gelzen and Kaji Pasang, and went up an old trade route to the border with Tibet! The last 300 meters were really tough in cold winds and snow as we weren’t acclimated yet, but we reached the border at 4900 meters (16,072′). It was so cold up there, yet Kaji Pasang stripped down to wear the Hobo Central T-shirt for a picture!
Continuing on, we left the last town for the pass and immediately a blizzard started which persisted for about 3 hours. We walked through it to our high camp at 4500 m before tackling the Larkya La pass at 5,000m! Spectacular views greeted us from all sides and of course we had our minds secretly thinking of the downhill in front of us. We had been walking uphill for 15 days now and were going to lose all that altitude in the next two! Needless to say, our knees were a bit sore but what incredible scenery!
There’s much deforestation in Nepal but our descent took us through some beautiful old growth forests! We passed fir and spruce trees that three people couldn’t put their arms around! After a few villages and through many different zones, we met up with the next main river, the Modi Khola, and the start of the second part of our journey in a town called Dharapani or Faucet Water at 1920 meters. That makes a two-day descent of 3,000 meters or 9,840 feet! Up until this point, we had seen one other trekking group of 8 people plus the climbers from the Basque country. Everyone else was native Nepali! In the first 15 minutes after arriving in Dharapani, we saw more westerners than we had in the previous 17 days!
Dharapani is on one of the most popular of the Nepal treks, the Annapurna Circuit! More trekkers go here than anywhere else in Nepal mainly because the circuit takes you around a tight knit group of spectacular mountains including Annapurna 1, 2 and 3, plus many mountains of between 7,000 and 8,000 meters! So now the trip changed a bit into what they call a teahouse trek. Instead of camping out every night in our tents, we slept and ate in teahouses with somewhat western menus. Again it was all uphill for about 5 days as we went up the Marsyangdi River valley to the high point at Tharong La at 5,400 meters or 17,770 feet! It was quite the crowd (for us) up at the pass with 9 or 10 other trekkers there with us, but we enjoyed a beautiful day with another inviting two-day downhill in front of us. On the way down, we stayed in the town of Muktinath, which is a site of a famous temple with fire coming out of the ground.
We finally had somewhat of a rest day in the town of Marpha, one of my favorite towns in all of Nepal, The architecture in this town is beautiful with narrow streets, high stone houses with intricate carvings around their windows and doors, and most importantly, clean streets. They fine people (supposedly) in Marpha if they don’t keep the street in front of their property clean (if only they would have towns this clean in all of Nepal).
But the next day, nursing hangovers, it was all uphill once again although this time we were acclimated and ready for it. Marpha would be the last town we would see for almost a week! So, the third and final part of our journey would take us on one of the toughest treks in all of Nepal and a very remote area: Around Dhalaguiri! This time we had to ascend from 1,500 meters to 5,000 meters (a gain of 11,500 feet) in only 3 days!
On our second day, we hit snow and had to traverse it for 2 days to 2 high passes: Dhampus Pass and French Pass. Going up French Pass in the late afternoon we were postholing up above our waists, at 17,000 feet, and some of the Sherpas were carrying up to 40 kilos. (84 lbs.) Twice I had to help them out of the breast deep snow. The good news once again was that it was all downhill from here but this time, we didn’t do the 12,000+ descent in 2 or 3 days but did it gradually over an 8-day period! Nice!
We arrived at Dhalaguiri Base Camp the next day and were a bit disappointed to find it really trashed! A 25-person German/Swiss group had just left with their 60 porters after 45 days without anyone summitting. I guess they were not too happy cause they didn’t take any of their garbage with them and didn’t bother to bury any of it. We were quite shocked as we as hikers had never seen anything quite so disgusting from a group of outdoorsmen! I’ve been to a lot of big mountain base camps but had never seen anything like this.
From Base camp, we now had to do our trekking on the glacier itself for the rest of the day! There were a few crevasses and one in particular sticks out in all our minds as Mark (who was looking a little too much at the camera), fell after his jump and started sliding backwards. Hopefully the picture will come out on that one.
Continuing downhill, we finally came to our first town and it was only a bamboo shack. We had a few hairy river crossings at this point on makeshift bridges above raging class 6 whitewater.
Finally after many steep ascents and descents, we started hitting real towns, one of them named Tato Pani which means hot water, as there was a huge hot spring there that we thoroughly enjoyed. 3 more days of down with more and more rain coming as the monsoon was finally upon us!
On our 33rd day, we came to our first road and took the bumpy bus ride to Pohkara and a badly needed day off with some excellent food and some mighty fine bakery’s! I saw so much spectacular scenery especially on this last part. I just hope the camera was working and I hope to put together another slide show.