Manaslu Circuit Trek: Turned out to be “On and Off the Beaten Track through Solukhumbu”

I spent three weeks in April/May on another great trek with Val Pitkethly, and in the company of two familiar faces from last spring’s Tsum Valley Trek – sirdar Chhiring and cook Krishna.

But instead of tackling the Manaslu Circuit as planned, Steffi, Charles and I spent three weeks with Val and our trek crew trekking off and on the beaten track in the Everest area, ending up in one of the remote valleys below the Renjo La that lead to the glacier-passes to Tibet.

Remote valley views
Remote valley views

On the beaten track you could easily forget about the earthquake (and then you’d find a house/stupa in ruins). Off it, people are still sleeping out under tarps and tents, too scared to sleep in their houses.

LED solar light checks, Upper Bhote Kosi valley
LED solar light checks, Upper Bhote Kosi valley

Val and Chhirring did solar light distribution and checking/repairs/replacement all the way, and we were often invited into homes and tarp-tents to be thanked with tea by ladies living solitary lives tending their family’s yaks in their summer pastures way up high in the region’s remote valleys. A hard life for humans and animals – ongoing drought meant that vegetation was sparse, and what there was had dried to a crisp.

LED solar light distribution, Upper Thame valley
LED solar light distribution, Upper Thame valley

Some of the other main memories: Stunning rhododendrons; Steffi and Chhiring Pilates Planking; Jack, Nikolai and Lubko (how could we forget you?); potatoes….; a Krishna-Cake for my birthday in Bhulbhule; that bird call; dice games galore; coffee, cake and wifi in Namche; actually seeing Namche, and the Kongde Ri; exciting river crossings; three sick days; “last night” dancing party in Lukla, loads of amazing views…. and al fresco loos.

Rhododendrons en route to Bhulbhule
Rhododendrons en route to Bhulbhule

So how come we switched from Manaslu to Solukhumbu?

I caught up with Val just before she headed out to Nepal a couple of days ahead of us. Our plan to do the Manaslu Circuit was off – there had been some big landslides in the previous couple of weeks which made some sections of the trail difficult underfoot, even for the people who live there, plus Val was worried that there could be more landslides.

So we were on Plan B: Solukhumbu.

Val knew Steffi, Charles and I had all been to the area before – Steffi and I met her (and each other) on the Three High Passes to Everest trek in 2011 – and so Val had planned out an alternative route which would have some familiar names but the places in between would be new to us, and off the beaten track as far as possible.

All being well, we’d get stunning views and the opportunity to deliver / check / repair / replace some of simple solar lights that Val’s charity – Light Education Development (LED) – provides to some of the region’s most remote communities.

And we did.

From the road head at Dhap we trekked to Junbesi via PK / Pikey Peak (aka Off the Beaten Track, part 1), then took the main trail to Namche, north west into the Thame Valley and up the Bhote Kosi towards Lungden (On the Beaten Track, part 1) before heading off the (relatively) popular route to explore the remote valleys beyond Arye (Off the Beaten Track, part 2).

Our return route back down to Thame took us high, high above the Bhote Kosi valley, and we headed back to Namche via Khunde and breakfast with Dr Kami Temba at Kunde Hospital (Not sure if that classifies as On or Off the Beaten Track!).

The final section – Namche to Lukla – was always going to be On the Beaten Track (part 2) – and The Big Question for Steffi and I was whether we’d actually get to fly fixed wing back to Kathmandu…. which we did….. just…. but only after almost two days of increasingly agonised waiting featuring a day of low cloud and hail, a premature farewell party with our crew and lots of time in the dining room of the Lukla Numbur Hotel. Next time I’m insisting we plan on walking back out right from the get go.

Our time in Nepal over, we were treated to wonderful Himalayan views out of the window of our Jet Airways flight to Delhi, although we did almost lose Charles in the international transfer “process”.

Steffi wrote up our trip for the LED website and Charles’ photos are in his (private) SoluKhumbu Trek, 2016 Flickr album. I fear my photos and notes will be a time coming yet…. [and it’s August 2016 now]