Off to Nepal to trek the Manaslu Circuit and Nar Phu, with Val and team, Sonia and Sara.
Up early on Tuesday to catch the 06.43 to London. Parked the car at the pay & display for the day – Phil returned from his long weekend in London / Witham later in the day and drove it home. We rendezvoused for coffee and croissant at Paddington.
Overnight flight to Kathmandu via Doha on Qatar Airways QR 0004 (LHR-DOH) and QR 0648 (DOH-KTM).
At KTM airport, the efficiency of the new improved tourist visa process (provided you fill out the form before you go) was offset by there only being 2 security scanners, plus Tihar Holiday meant luggage was slow to materialise.
Mingmi met me outside the new “international” entrance and organised a taxi to the Marshyangdi Hotel, Thamel.
Met Sonia and Sara, did some errands with Val, falafel wrap, had a nap. Dinner at Thakali Bhanchha Ghar.
On Thursday, S, S and I got a taxi over to Boudhanath Stupa for the morning. Back in Thamel, our coffee and cake quest was only partially successful – Tihar holidays struck again. Dinner at the hotel (Tihar again).
We set off early on Friday to drive from Kathmandu to Machhakhola – you can stay in the same jeep (provided it’s local) all the way through to Machhakhola, which is where the new road (rocky, dusty jeep track from Arughat via Arkhet Bazar, Sotikhola and Lapubesi) now runs to. In Machhakhola, the village Tihar party procession keep us entertained (to a point) through to the early evening.
Saturday: trekked Machhakhola (930 m) to Salleri (1360 m). We were on the proto-road all the way to the new bridge over the Budi Gandaki to Dobhan / दोभान (1050 m) – ie not nice walking. Once over on the west side of the river we were on the Manaslu Circuit trail – but the road is being carved out of the hillsides on the eastern side.
Sunday: trekked from Salleri (1360 m) to Deng (1870 m). Lots of landslides, some nasty ones between Nyak Phedi and Deng mean that the trail gets very narrow and precarious, with long, sheer drops down to the raging torrent down in the gorge below. Lots of up and down to the river too, where landslides have destroyed the trail completely.
Monday: trekked from Deng (1870 m) to Prok (2397 m). LED solar light distribution in Deng, Rana and Bihi. The hydo-electric power station high up in the forest just before Prok is now in service. Sara and I got stung by hornets at the old gompa in Prok.
You’ll have to wait for my Photos & Notes post for more details!
It’s been a flurry of activity in the last few days.
I got the final money instructions from Val on Thursday, after a nudge. Handily I had accumulated sufficient cash on recent journeys into Hereford. It’s a far cry from a couple of weeks of stopping off at the cash machine on the way to work and changing GPB for USD at Thomas Foreign Exchange just across the road.
I’ve had my COVID booster the Friday before last and am banking on my existing vaccinations being effective… probably need to check that before I travel again. Printed off my updated NHS COVID Pass (International travel version).
There are no COVID or visa requirements for transiting through Doha, but Qatar Airways wants me to present a completed Customer Acknowledgement Form at check-in, so I’ve printed off and filled that out for both pairs of journeys.
I sped through online check-in for LHR-DOH-KTM yesterday, and selected (hopefully) good seats, so straight to the bag drop for me. Did I mention that Qatar Airways had been playing around with the Doha arrival/departure times on my return flight, and then emailed to let me know they’d cancelled the DOH-LGW flight I was booked on? Thankfully they’d booked me onto another flight which leaves only an hour or so later – not that the notification email said that! Hopefully no more changes between now and then.
Packed this evening. Thank heavens for lists!
Now I just need all the alarms to wake me up tomorrow morning so that I can catch the 06.43 HFD-PAD….. (Tickets purchased 23 Sept)
Oh, and I’m still not entirely sure of the itinerary. I think we’re doing most of the Manaslu Circuit then branching off into Naar Phu before returning to … Annapurna Circuit? take another route to Jomsom or Pokhara? Anyway, it means I’ve not been able to check the weather forecasts on YR.no. All will be revealed soon I’m sure!
Woke to a misty morning on Tuesday, fog lingering late especially in the main A465 valley.
In not so good Nepal news, my inbox contained an email from Qatar telling me they’d cancelled my Doha-London flight and that I needed to rebook or request a refund. The reality proved not quite so alarming – they’d already rebooked me onto the flight that leaves an hour later.
Did weeknotes then headed out to walk Riverdale route. Beautiful day.
Did not want to spend the afternoon sitting at my work desk. Dinner Deliveroo down at TJL’s – mushroom risotto and apple & blackberry crumble.
Wednesday and Thursday workdays were enlivened by the finalflailingdays of Liz Truss’s tenure as Prime Minister, our second dose of political chaos this year. It’s not like we haven’t got some huge social and economic problems to tackle as the Tories desperately try to cling on to power.
God knows who we’ll get next. I pray it’s not that lying philanderer Boris Johnson again.
Thursday’s non-politics highlight was an email from Val letting me know how much cash to bring with me to pay for the trek, and in what currency. Cutting it fine…. And on Saturday my eBay purchased down jacket arrived in the post. Phew. Now all I need to do is pack!
Into town early on Friday to drop Phil off at the station, return library books and for a small shop. Then home to rattle through some admin until CP arrived – main achievement was to sort out various Nepal-related paperwork.
Outside it was rainy; perfect for lighting the first fire in the log stove for the season, catching up and seeing C’s photos from London in the days after the Queen’s death back in September.
We managed a stroll to Kerrys Gate and back on Saturday before CP headed on towards The Valleys. Did a few bits and pieces in the garden – including liberating a blue tit from the greenhouse – started piling up more things onto the Packing Bed and did some LED updates. Fidgety day.
Very heavy rain overnight, and a few rumbles of thunder.
Leisurely start to Sunday. I treated myself to a pot of tea and toast in bed with the LRB. I’ve finished February!
Spent the morning powering through Picos Photos & Notes, mainly getting the blogpost prepped and photos into folders.
Dad and Jean arrived a little after midday. We had a stroll around the garden – lots of mushrooms have emerged, lots of different types – then over to Ewyas Harold for lunch at The Temple Bar Inn.
Back home, I did online check-in and seat selection for my LHR-DOH-KTM flights then spent a good few hours flickring more Picos photos. Watched a couple of episodes of Medici with soup for tea.
Today’s greenhouse bird was a robin!!!! I think it and the blue tit might have got in through the bottom vents – I noticed they were wide open. So I’ve closed them.
We’ve lots of thrushes around at the moment. They move in large flocks, sometimes landing on the lawn (looking for insects and worms?) and at other times take up residence in the yew trees. I’m not sure if they’re mistle thrushes or song thrushes.
Lots of different mushrooms / fungi on the lawn, along the hedge and by the willow stump.
Sunday 11 September 2022: London – Bilbao – Arenas de Cabrales (Photos)
Early start for our 6.15 Easyjet flight to Bilbao. All good. Swiftly through COVID checks and passport control – my first post-BREXIT experience: there are stamps! – and out to rendezvous with Alfonso.
We spent the (sweltering) morning in Bilbao then Alfonso drove us to Arenas de Cabrales. Checked into the excellent Hotel Picos de Europa, out for a late lunch, back to relax and unpack (!) and then a route review and recommended kit run through. Repacking and dinner out.
Monday 12 September 2022: Trek day 1 – Puente Poncebos (277m) to Vega de Ario (1630m) (Photos)
Manu had arrived overnight, so we got to meet over breakfast in the hotel. Then a 15 minute drive to Puente Poncebos to park the van before setting off to walk to Vega de Ario (1630m) in the Western Massif – we did the Anillo Anticlockwise.
The first hour or so was easy walking along the Cares Gorge before striking off and up into a steep valley on our right at the start of the Blue Route (GR 202 Ruta de la Reconquista) to Vega de Ario. With hindsight, thank heavens we didn’t try the Green Route!
Once we’d reached the high summer pastures we stopped for lunch – bread, cheese, fruit purchased in Arenas yesterday – then more up, with a slight initial detour across the hillsides. We spent a lot of the afternoon in the rain, and as we got higher up the terrain became quite steep and rocky. Very windy.
We were very glad to reach the Refugio which turned out to be compact and bijou, and home to 5 or so other residents: a large dining room downstairs, a double decker bunk platform dorm upstairs; bags, boots and goretex etc left in the vestibule; outside the fence line, a water pipe for refilling water bottles, al fresco loo facilities and clever cows.
Tuesday 13 September 2022: Trek day 2 – Vega de Ario (1630m) to Vegarredonda (1460m) (Photos)
A wet and windy night continued once the day dawned. Too windy to attempt the optional extra summit, and even though the rain stopped for a few hours it was destined to return and so Alfonso opted for an alternate route: PNPE 4 back down to summer pastures and on down to Lagos de Covadonga (1134 m). Very muddy underfoot and very, very strong winds down at the lakes – we could barely stand.
Very strange arriving at Lagos de Covadonga to find the grasslands around Lake Ercina teeming with tourists and a car park packed with day trip minivans.
Still, there was a cafe, where we settled in for a spell to warm up with hot drinks and to dry off a little. And there were loos. We headed back outside to eat our picnic lunches provided by Refugio Vega de Ario then set off down to the lower lake (Lake Enol) and on along the valley bottom towards Vegarredonda. Easy walking on PNPE 5, the wind had dropped and the sun came out. A final couple of hours of up brought us to Refugio Vegarredonda just before the rain returned.
A bigger refugio, and with only one other resident we had a room of bunk beds to ourselves.
Bags into cages, wet things hung up to dry and mugs of tea to warm up, then plenty of time to sort out our beds. do some diary and chat before dinner and then bed.
Wednesday 14 September 2022: Trek day 3 – Vegarredonda (1460m) to Vegabaño (1432m) (Photos)
Another wet and windy day; another alternate itinerary.
Manu did the Plan A route, up and over the mountains, battling the wind and the rain. But before he left he’d been called upon to deploy his firefighting expertise to break into the kitchen after the warden’s key had broken in the lock.
We, on the other hand, walked back down to Lagos de Covadonga and caught the bus to Cangas de Onís, passing Covadonga “Cathedral” built to commemorate the eighth century battle of Covadonga – the first time the Christians managed to defeat the Arab-Berber invaders.
In Cangas de Onís we lunched tucked away in the old cider-making room at Sidrería El Polesu, took a few photos on the Puente Romano, then boarded a taxi-bus which took us south along the twisty turny road in the narrow gorge formed by the Sella river which forms the boundary between Asturias and León. A single track lane off the main road took us up to the village of Soto de Sajambre, and the end of the road.
We continued on foot, past fields and through woods, emerging in the meadows at Majada De Vegabaño.
The morning’s wind and rain had eased off by the time we got to the lakes and we had a sunny spell from Cangas to Soto de Sajambre, but by the late afternoon the skies had turned overcast.
At Refugio Vegabaño we found lots of strange artwork and statues – fairies, toadstool-type stuff – and Manu. Plus two Spanish girls. The log stove was on. We had a room to ourselves – triple decker bunk platforms. A “tiger” arrived overnight….
Thursday 15 September 2022: Trek day 4 – Vegabaño (1432m) to Soto de Valdeón (850m) (Photos)
Better weather today – we could see the mountains we’d missed yesterday. No rain! Our first DRY day!
After breakfast, a lovely gentle walk up through woodland and out onto moorland, including a spot of mindful walking amidst the beech tree trunks, ferns, fungi and hellebores.
A long descent from the moorland ridge (Puerto de Dobres), through the forest and emerging back out into fields and rejoining a road that eventually brought us to lovely Soto de Valdeón.
We ate a late lunch at El Pino, where our host rustled up a smashing spread.
Then on to La Casa Vieja en Valdeón, occupied by Red Bull sponsored American climbers and, temporarily, by a German walking group. Rach and I shared a triple room – plenty of space to spread out. And A SHOWER. What a treat.
Dinner at Begoña Restaurante in Posada de Valdeón. They offer a set menu, 15E, and very speedy service.
Back along the lane to Soto de Valdeón and to bed.
Friday 16 September 2022: Trek day 5 – Soto de Valdeón (850m) to Collado Jermoso (2064m) (Photos)
I woke to the sound of owl hoots and cow bells. And clouds.
Breakfast in the bar at La Casa Vieja en Valdeón, then back on the road to Posada de Valdeón for supplies (bread & cheese), and on to Cordiñanes. Here we left the road and embarked upon the trail (PNPE 16) that would lead us to lovely Collado Jermoso, high up in the Central Massif.
It was an ‘exciting’ route: straightforward at first, and then the trail (La Rienda) narrowed and hugged the cliff face, chains providing secure hand holds as the path wound up and down and up, eventually levelling off (relatively) and entering woodland (Hayedo de la Sotín). Spiders webs glistened in the cloud dew, but today the sun was getting the better of the clouds, burning them off the mountainsides as we watched.
The woods gave way to a high valley (Vega Sotín) and at the compass-point boulder we turned left and embarked upon a zig zag climb up to the narrow ridge (Collado Solano) where we lunched, and Manu’s free climbing gave us heart failure.
The afternoon provided a whole other level of ‘excitement’: a narrow trail (Traviesa de Congosto) over exposed scree slopes, long drops thankfully hidden in cloud, culminating in a Grade 3 scramble up Argallo Congosto. “Difficulty High” did not lie, but we all emerged out of the final gully and onto Collado Jermoso’s gentle grasslands on a high.
We treated ourselves to beers and crisps to celebrate, sat at one of the refugio’s picnic tables soaking up the views and the late afternoon sunshine while Alfonso and Manu headed off for some proper climbing, thoughtfully keeping out of sight.
Fab dinner inside the warm, snug and busy refugio – my favourite one by a long way – then out for a technicolour sunset looking out over the Picos, and a stunning cloud inversion.
Saturday 17 September 2022: Trek day 6 – Collado Jermoso (2064m) to Urriellu (1950m) (Photos)
A sunny day. A hard day.
More narrow trail over high slopes, the moonscape horseshoe to Refugio Cabaña Verónica with a roped up chimney descent en route.
At the Collado Horcados Rojos pass (2344m), Alfonso rejected the via ferrata option for the new route down into the valley – a steep, narrow trail over exposed scree slopes – very Dolpo – followed by a long, long, walk to the refugio. We arrived at 8.20pm, just as the last of the light faded. Manu had run on ahead to let them know we’d be arriving late and to keep back some food for us.
Refugio Vega de Urriellu is very big, very busy. Lots of climbers.
Sunday 18 September 2022: Trek day 7 – Urriellu (1950m) to Cabrones (2034m) (Photos)
Another sunny day. Another hard day – but this time only half a day.
A slow start – we were all tired after yesterday’s marathon – out over rolling grassland, then up to a rocky ridge requiring a steep ascent culminating in a via ferrata ladder up a chimney (aka Paso la Corona del Raso).
We continued on over exposed rocky “hillsides” surrounded by even higher ridges and peaks (Corona el Rasu), stopping at Horcada L’Arenera pass where Manu left us to climb some of the peaks, and we followed the trail down to Cabrones, lunching en route.
A relaxing afternoon – in spite of all the flies – at the tiny Refugio Jou de Los Cabrones. A spot of stretching, a beer, chats with the four french ladies. Alfonso headed off in search of Manu, and more mountains.
Steffi, Rach and I walked up to the Collada del Agua pass for sunset. So peaceful. Beautiful views. Leaping chamois.
Various chaps from the refugio arrived, and then Alfonso and Manu. We left them all there, knowing we’d take a lot longer to descend than they would.
Wednesday 21 September 2022: Llanes – Bilbao – London (Photos)
Caves Coast Bilbao Beer
Breakfast at the same cafe terrasse as yesterday, then checked out of the hotel and Alfonso started the day’s drive east. We stopped for a few hours at Playa de Cobijero, to explore the cave, rock bridge and salt water pool, and for lunch in the gardens at El Horno de Buelna.
Then the final drive back to Bilbao where it was time to say our heartfelt thanks, fond farewells, and See you Agains! to Alfonso.
Good flight back to London Gatwick, courtesy of Vueling, then we all started our journeys home – Rache headed for Reading and H, S and I catching the train back to CJ where Thai takeaway was rejected in favour of bread, cheese and bits. And wine.
Thursday 22 September 2022: London – Hereford (No Photos)
Overnight: my own bed
As I said in my previous Picos post, I don’t think we quite realised what we were letting ourselves in for when we asked Alfonso to take us on El Anillo de Picos – it turned out to be Extrem by name and extreme by nature, but it was totally, totally fab. I loved every minute of it.
Admin on Tuesday morning – including placing a winning bid on a RAB Ascent jacket to take to Nepal. Val’s not sure how well the stuff I usually borrow will have survived 3 years in storage in KTM.
Then walked Duffryn – Cockyard – Quarrells Green, picking blackberries on the last leg.
Usual work week, with LED Trustee Zoom after work on Tuesday, VWW on Weds and Family Zoom on Thurs. T called round with L and her parents on Thursday afternoon, handily when I had time to take a break from work. Lovely.
Busy day Friday – into Hereford for my COVID booster (I think all the fuss over my sodium levels put me on the “vulnerable” list). In and out in 5 mins. They were powering through. Then B&Q for kitchens and tree labels (we came away empty handed), Wren Kitchens (just mooching), DFS (on a whim, but I think we may have a winner on our conservatory sofa quest), Charity Shop Drop Off, Sainsbury’s (mainly for P to pick up a purchase from Argos, but a couple of jam doughnuts fell into the trolley too….), Tescos for Petrol, Home.
We were lunching al fresco when S & R-the-collie-pup materialised. Nice chat over coffee. R very cute, interested in everything, at the chewing everything stage – including the paint peeling off the patio table.
Did what I hope will be the final mow of the year, although leaf collection may require another. That said, not sure I’ll be able to fit that in before I head off to Nepal. Snipped some brambles out of the front hedge, pulled out some nettles by the old railway track, retied the regrowing wisteria, weed-killered the drive and ditch.
Caught up with Tom, then adjourned to the telly room – pizza for dinner. Yum.
Didn’t have a great night’s sleep – red wine or COVID jab, who’s to say – so rejigged plans for Saturday and made Damson jam in the morning (BBC Good Food recipe) and pottered in the afternoon. Rain first thing, then sunshine, then sunshine&showers (some v heavy) in the afternoon. This is when I really want a sofa to snooze on in the conservatory!
Took things easy on Sunday as well. Another gorgeous day. Strolled Cockyard – Kerrys Gate, four buzzards on the long field down on Stone Street, more blackberries.
Tried to find a good spot to move the rhododendron to: I’m not sure the far end of the front lawn is a good spot – too exposed overground and too rocky/rubbly underground. After trying to dig holes by the pruned shrub and the willow tree stump, I finally settled on the old garden railway line, where one of the small conifers has died due to the summer’s drought – I think the tree at the back of the garage is a goner too. Didn’t actually move the rhododendron as clearing the ivy and digging the hole took a while.
After lunch, a zoom with the BJH folks, set up the trickle charger on the ride on mower, did a bit of joint admin with Phil then read for the rest of the afternoon before making Meera Sodha’s potato, chard and coconut curry for dinner.
Spent Monday mainly in Hereford with some local friends. Lovely! And another gorgeous sunny day.
Have spotted ripples in the small pond, and seen thrushes flying to/from it – so I think Phil’s repairing, refilling and rewilding the concrete pond is working.
Over by the bird feeders and bird bath we’ve seen the occasional long tailed tit and goldfinches, as well as the usual great tits, blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches, robins, wrens and dunnocks. There’s a red woodpecker every now and again – plus a young female pheasant and a young male pheasant, although never together.
Lilac cyclamen flourishing down by the rose garden and willow stump. Winter crocus on the wane by the bird feeders.