Manaslu & Tsum: Photos & Notes

I wrote up my first(ish) impressions of last November’s four week trek into Tsum and on around the Manaslu Circuit in my Manaslu & Tsum: We’re back blogpost.

This blogpost has the day by day account, with links to photos from the day. Scroll down to the end for Charles’ schematic map of our route, and for some of the useful resources I’ve used in this write up.

If you just want to take a look at my photos, you’ll find them, plus some lovely ones from Charles, Doug and Steffi, in my Nepal, November 2018 Flickr album.

The first and last sections of this trek involved retreading routes previously taken. I first trekked in the Tsum Valley with Hazel back in 2015 and my blogposts on our Tsum Valley trek with Val Pitkethly have all the details. Further back, in 2009,  Hazel and I spent three weeks trekking the Annapurna Circuit with Mountain Kingdoms. It was our first big trek and you can read about the trip in my Annapurna Circuit blogposts. A lot has changed in the intervening 3 / 9 years, as you’ll see from my Manaslu & Tsum: We’re back blogpost.

Here’s what I did on Val Pitkethly’s Manaslu and Tsum trek in November 2018, in the excellent company of Anne, Charles, Doug and Steffi.

Wednesday 31 October / Thursday 1 November 2018: London – Delhi – Kathmandu (photos)

LHR – DEL overnight flight on Air India AI 112.

DEL – KTM on Air India AI 215.

Overnight at the Hotel Marshyandi, Thamel.

Friday 2 November 2018: Kathmandu – Sotikhola (597 m) – Lapubesi (880 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 1

Drive Kathmandu / काठमाडौं – Sotikhola / सोती खोला (597 m).

Route: Trek to Laupubensi / Lapubesi / लापुबेसी (880 m).

Camp: Laxshmi’s Lodge.

Saturday 3 November 2018: Lapubesi (880 m) – Yaruphant (1170 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 2

Route: Laupubensi / Lapubesi / लापुबेसी (880 m) – Machhakhola / Machha Khola / मछाखोला (930 m) – Khorlabesi / Khorlabeshi / खोर्लाबेसी (970 m) – Tatopani / तातोपानी (990 m) – Dobhan / दोभान (1050 m) – Yaruphant / लापुबेसी (1170 m).

Camp: Between Yaru village and its bridge.

First (alleged) sighting of poisonous snakes. One of this trek’s recurring themes.

Sunday 4 November 2018: Yaruphant (1170 m) – Chisapani (1620 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 3

Route: Yaruphant / लापुबेसी (1170 m) – Jagat / जगत (1340 m) – Sirdibas / सिर्दिबास (1420 m) – Philim / Phillim / फिलिम (1570 m) – Chisapani / चिसापानी (1620 m).

Camp: Mountain View Lodge.

We had a cup of tea to pass the time while Chhering dealt with the paperwork at the Manaslu Conservation Area Checkpoint on the way out of Jagat. And Welsh Whisky at Chisapani!

Monday 5 November 2018: Chisapani (1620 m) – Chumling (2385 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 4 / Tsum Valley Day 1

Route: Chisapani / चिसापानी (1620 m) – Gampul (1626 m) – Lokpa / Lhokpa / लोक्पा (2240 m) – Sarli Khola Bridge & Gorge (1825 m) – Gadhi Khola Bridge – Chumling / चुम्लिंग (2385 m).

Camp: Chumling School.

Gampul is where the trail into the Tsum Valley splits off from the Manaslu Circuit. We spent the next week in Tsum.

Tuesday 6 November 2018: Chumling (2385 m) – Chhokang Paro (3030 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 2

Route: Chumling / चुम्लिंग (2385 m) – Domje / Tumje / तुम्जे (2460 m) – Gho (2510 m) – Chauri Kharka (2950 m) – Chhekampar / Chhekam / Chhaikampar / Chhokang Paro / छैकम्पार (3030 m).

Camp: Namgyl’s Bio-Hotel Khamsangbo.

Fab views of Peak 5698, Baudha Himal / Boudha Himal (6672 m) and Himal Chuli / Himalchuli East (7893 m) from the viewpoint on the approach to Chhokang Paro.

Cham Festival at Jhong / Dzong Gompa.

THE NIGHT OF THE WIND CHIMES.

Wednesday 7 November 2018: Chhokang Paro (3030 m) – Chule (3350 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 3

Route: Chhekampar / Chekampar / Chhaikampar / Chhokang Paro / छैकम्पार (3030 m) – Ngakyu-Leru – Lamagaon / Lamabagar / लामाबगर – Phurbe (3251 m) – Pangdun (3258 m) – Chule / छुले (3350 m).

Camp: Ani Ayurvedic Clinic.

Distributed LED* Solar Lights at Leru. Tea at Pangdun. The Afternoon of the Missing Mules. Chhule Gompa (Gonhgye Gompa) views and circling birds of prey….

Thursday 8 November 2018: Chule (3350 m) – Mu Gompa (3700 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 4

Route: Chule / छुले (3350 m) – Mu Gompa (3700 m).

Camp: below Mu Gompa.

Trail runners (French race) at Mu. Dhephu Doma Ani Gompa. High climb above camp with Val for views of the trail to Tibet.

The road building around Mu Gompa broke my heart.

Friday 9 November 2018 : Mu Gompa (3700 m) – Chhokang Paro (3030 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 5

Route: Mu Gompa (3700 m) – Chule / छुले (3350 m) – Chhokang Paro / Chhekampar / Chekampar / Chhaikampar / छैकम्पार (3030 m).

Camp: Namgyl’s Bio-Hotel Khamsangbo.

In Chule, Chhering, Steffi and I ran the first LED eye clinic of the trek, using Pat Booth’s excellent guide and two boxes of donated glasses. Val and Anne also distributed school supplies and Val ran a mobile medical clinic.

Saturday 10 November 2018: Chhokang Paro (3030 m) – Gumba Lungdung / Gompa Lungdang (3200 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 6

Route: Chhekampar / Chekampar / Chhaikampar / Chhokang Paro / छैकम्पार (3030 m) – Domje / Tumje / तुम्जे (2460 m) – Gumba Lungdung / Gompa Lungdang (3200 m).

Camp: Terraces below old Ani houses.

Coffee at the Tsum Valley Cafe!

Beautiful wooden bridge crossing – turquoise water, red virginia creeper vines – en route to Domje, where Val and Chhering did some LED solar light distribution.

Long climb up into the valley of the Langdang Khola, through forest high above the river. Beautiful moss hanging from the trees. Steep drops down. On the trail to Ganesh Himal Base Camp. The trail from Domje onwards was new to me.

Cloud.

Sunday 11 November 2018: Gumba Lungdung / Gompa Lungdang (3200 m) – Ripchet (2470 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 7

Route: Gumba Lungdung / Gompa Lungdang (3200 m) – Domje / Tumje / तुम्जे (2460 m) – Ripchet (2470 m).

Camp: Ripchet School.

Early morning call courtesy of Doug for the glorious mountain view sunrise:

  • East – Himal Chuli / Himalchuli East (7893 m), Ngadi Chuli / Peak 29 (7871 m) and our first sighting of mighty Manaslu (just) (8156 m)
  • West – Ganesh I / Yangra Kangri (7422 m), Ganesh II (7118 m) and the Lumbo Himal.

LED solar light distribution and eye clinic / glasses distribution with the Anis (nuns).

Back down the trail clinging to hillsides high above the Langdang Khola and through the forests to Domje’s modern bridge and LED solar light distribution on the Ripchet side of the Tsum Chu.

En route to Ripchet: ravines, small bright yellow birds and monkeys in trees.

Sunny afternoon opportunity for clothes washing.

Leopard killing monkey screams overnight (which I slept through).

Monday 12 November 2018: Ripchet (2470 m) – Deng (1870 m) (photos)

Tsum Valley Day 8 / Manaslu Circuit Day 5

Route: Ripchet (2470 m) – Gadhi Khola Bridge – Lokpa / Lhokpa (लोक्पा) (2240 m) – Gampul (1626 m) – Nyak Phedi (1625 m) – Deng / Dyang / डेङ (1870 m).

Camp: Deng Shop.

At Gampul we crossed the Budhi Gandaki river to rejoin the main Manaslu Circuit. Lots more trekkers and mules. Hot this low down!

Overcast all the way to Deng. Not that inspiring.

Tuesday 13 November 2018: Deng (1870 m) – Prok (2397 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 6

Route: Deng / Dyang / डेङ (1870 m) – Rana (1970 m) – Bihi Phedi / बिहि फेदी (1985 m) – Bhijam (2020 m) – Prok / प्रोक (2397 m).

Camp: “Outer Prok”.

Deng to Bihi Phedi was dull, bar an impromptu mini medical clinic by Val in Rana. Too many trekkers (in too few clothes).

Things improved once we crossed the river and left the main trail. A lovely walk up through thick forest, passing DIY saw mills and water powered flour mills en route to Prok. Not another trekker to be seen. Bliss.

A stiff climb up to Prok’s plateau, and Prok proved to be a big place. Lots of land for farming, lots of homes. Fences. A (new-looking) gompa perched above the main village, which I didn’t make it to. I liked Prok.

We camped on the far side of the village. Dali bought fresh greens from the family whose land we camped on. We lunched late on paratha.

Wednesday 14 November 2018: Prok (2397 m) – Lihi (2900 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 7

Route: Prok / प्रोक (2397 m) – Ghap / घप (2660 m) – Lunga Chhyuda (2375 m) – Suksum – Namrung / नाम्रुङ (2660 m) – Bhanjam / बन्जाम (2650 m) – Lihi / Lhi / लिही (2900 m).

Overnight: Lihi Teahouse (rooms due to rain).

We paused in Ghap to distribute LED solar lights to Chak and Tsak villagers before leaving Steffi and Val to do a medical clinic.

A lovely autumn walk through the forest and alongside the Budhi Gandaki river, crossing some splendid water carved corkscrew channels at Lunga Chhyuda.

We sheltered from the rain over a leisurely lunch in Bhanjam, waiting for Steffi and Val to catch up. Meanwhile back in Namrung, a surprisingly smart spot to pass through in this part of the world, they were enjoying a proper coffee at fancy Four Seasons Lodge!

A damp stretch on to Lihi. The rain meant rooms overnight in Lihi tea house, v basic but it gave us all the chance to dry off, and Lihi was a lovely serene spot.

Pasty, pumpkin and chips for dinner!

Thursday 15 November 2018: Lihi (2900 m) – Hinang Gompa (3200 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 8

Route: Lihi / Lhi / लिही (2900 m) – Hinang Gompa (3200 m) – Hinang Glacier (3700 m) – Hinang Gompa (3200 m).

Camp: Hinang Gompa.

My Manaslu Circuit mood lifted at Lihi. We woke to blue skies, and a cold brisk morning. Val got us off early, and at a fast pace so that we could get to Hinang Gompa with enough time to continue up the valley to Hinang Glacier (3700 m) for lunch. Superb Himal Chuli views through drifting cloud, and a picnic lunch of chapattis, cheese and chutney.

Lots of photos, and a lovely stroll back through the woods to the gompas.

There are two: the large gompa in whose grounds we were camped is the monastery, the one perched on a rock near by is the nunnery, which also provides an old people’s home.

We coincided with trail runners at this gompa too (as at Mu). Brits this time, and it turned out that Val knew the organisers.

After soup and chips pick me up in one of the gompa classrooms, we ran another LED eye, glasses & medical clinic for the nearby nuns, monks and elderly. And then polished off the Penderyn Gold….

A fantastic day.

Friday 16 November 2018: Hinang Gompa (3200 m) – Sama Gaon / Samagaun (3500 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 9

Route: Hinang Gompa (3200 m) – Sho / शो – Lho / ल्हो (3180 m) – Shyala / श्याला (3520 m) – Sama Gaon / Samagaun / सामागाउ (3500 m).

Camp: Mr Norbu’s Sama Goan Lodge.

Before saying a fond farewell to Hinang, we paid a morning visit to the Ani Gompa, which as a parting gift provided perfect views of Himal Chuli (7893 m) against clear blue skies.

A contented morning’s walk back on the main trail, lured ever onwards by the superb views of Manaslu towering above lowly Lho, and its gompa.

Coffee at Lho, lunch at Shyala, after a walk through the woods, where autumn had turned the leaves to bronze and gold.

We lunched al fresco, sat on the roof terrace of the Shanti Guesthouse surrounded by a panorama of mountains – Simnang Himal (6251 m), Ngadi Chuli / Peak 29 (7871 m), Manaslu (8156 m) and Manaslu North (6994 m) on either side of their huge glacier, and Naike Peak (6211 m).

A final stretch brought us to Sama, which sprawls in a wide river valley at the base of Manaslu and Naike Peak.

Another lovely day.

Guenter Seyfferth’s page on Manaslu Himal is invaluable for reminding me what we saw on this part of our trek.

Saturday 17 November 2018: Sama Gaon / Samagaun (3500 m): Day hike to Phuyang / Pung Gyen Gompa (3870 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 10

Route: Sama Gaon / Samagaun / सामागाउ (3500 m) – Punggyen / Phuyang / Pung Gyen Gompa (3870 m) – Sama Gaon / Samagaun / सामागाउ (3500 m).

Camp: Mr Norbu’s Sama Gaon Lodge.

Fantastic morning walking up to Punggyen Gompa, which nestles at the foot of Manaslu (8163 m) within the wide valley carved out by the Punggyen Glacier. From the twin peaks of Manaslu the mountain vista continues on round to Ngadi Chuli Ngadi Chuli / Peak 29 (7871 m), Simnang Himal (6251 m) and the Taninga Danda, and across the Budhi Gandaki valley to the Pang Phuchi Himal and the Kutang Himal.

The tiny gompa is accompanied by small stone roofed buildings, some of which huddle into the gulley leading up to Manaslu, and strings of prayer flags arc in the breeze like streamers stretching up towards the snowline.

A fabulous, fabulous spot.

And our visit to the gompa coincided with a puja by some of the local ladies from Sama. We shared our picnic goodies and they brewed up some raksi for us. Magic.

Back in Sama, we accompanied Val visiting a friend in town who provided mugs of lovely milky coffee for us, and later on back at the lodge Steffi, Chhering, Val and I ran another LED eye glasses clinic. Our (beautifully organised) stock of donated specs in Pat Booth’s shoe boxes was rapidly dwindling.

Sunday 18 November 2018: Sama Gaon / Samagaun (3500 m) – Samdo (3860 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 11

Route: Sama Gaon / Samagaun / सामागाउँ (3500 m) – Birendra Tal / बिरेन्द्र ताल (3460 m) – Samdo / संदो (3860 m).

Camp: Chez Karsang Lodge.

After swinging Sama’s cheekiest little monkey to school, we made a side trip to Birendra Tal, following the path that leads to Manaslu Base Camp and dropping down to the lake from the moraine wall, quite a steep path in places.

Down at the shore line we added our own stone towers and took lots of photos of the turquoise lake with Manaslu and Naike Peak towering above.

As the clouds gathered we followed the Budhi Gandaki up the valley to Samdo, letting the ungrateful trail runners overtake.

Chez Karsang Lodge was our Samdo base and after sorting out our tents and lunching in the lodge we had the (cloudy) afternoon free. Samdo’s a small place, but growing fast, and it was full of trekkers and trail runners.

After a stroll around “town”, Steffi and I decided to walk up the side valley that shelters the village, climbing up to a dry lake and getting good views back down into Samdo. This is the older side of the village, not on the trail to the Larke La, and from the hillside we looked down on the clusters of stone built houses with byres below, livestock pens outside and crops drying on the roof. Lovely.

Just time before dinner to head out with Val to deliver an LED solar light and to arrange further distribution of lights and school supples once we’re back from the Yak Kharka.

Monday 19 November 2018: Samdo (3860 m) – Yak Kharka above Samdo (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 12

Route: Samdo / संदो (3860 m) – Mayol Khola / Samdo Glacier valley – Yak Kharka above Samdo (4400 m).

Camp: Yak Kharka above Samdo.

We retraced the route Steffi and I had taken yesterday afternoon, continuing up the valley of Mayol Khola with the Samdo Glacier on our right. The trail leads to the Larjyang La / Lajyung Bhanjyang and Tibet, but we were only going to Val’s Yak Kharka a couple of hours hike from Samdo.

Fab views back over to Naike Peak and the Manaslu massif, and Samdo Peak / Pangpoche and the Samdo Himal to the south east.

A peaceful morning with the birds – chatty Choughs, Himalayan Red Kite, Himalayan Griffon Vultures and Lammergaier.

Afternoon stroll further up our bit of the valley for more great views: the Pana Danda roughly to the north, Sonam / Samdo Himal to the south, with the Mayol valley travelling east between them, and to the west our first sighting of the Larke peaks, the glacier and the pass…

I’ve lots of photos with the following sweep of peaks: Manaslu (8163 m, in cloud), Naike Peak (6211 m), the “No Name Pointy Peaks”, Larkya Peak (6416 m, square topped), P 5888, Larkya North (6246 m, snow topped), the Larkya La (5135 m) and some more snow covered peaks to the north of the pass.

The cloud came down for an atmospheric afternoon. At the yak kharka, the side stream between our tents and the dining tent was covered in a thick sheet of ice….

Tuesday 20 November 2018: Yak Kharka above Samdo (4400 m) – Samdo (3860 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 13

Route: Yak Kharka above Samdo (4400 m) – “Samdo Ri” (5150 m) – Yak Kharka (4400 m) – Samdo / संदो (3860 m).

Camp: Chez Karsang Lodge.

Morning hike up what I’m calling Samdo Ri – it’s the viewpoint peak in the Pana Danda above Samdo, a couple of hours straight up from our Yak Kharka camp. Hard work, especially at Gori pace, but oh so worth it – clear blue skies brought The Best Views of the Trip. I think they even beat those from the Larkya La.

We had the same sweep of peaks as yesterday, plus Ngadi Chuli and Himal Chuli, and glaciers galore – Manaslu, Syacha and Larkya – all much, much clearer than yesterday, and from much higher up. Plus, tearing our gaze away from the Manaslu Massif, to the north and east the ridge from the Ri became the Pana Danda, leading into the Lajyung / Mayol Himal that form the border with Tibet. Snow capped mountains to the north (Nysing Himal ?) and to the west, across the Laryke La.

The vista list(a): Rani Peak (6693 m), Simnang Himal (6251 m), Himalchuli (7893 m), Ngadi Chuli / Peak 29 (7871 m), Manaslu (8163 m) and Manaslu North (6991 m), Naike Peak (6211 m), the “No Name Pointy Peaks”, Larkya Peak (6416 m, square topped), P 5888, Larkya North (6246 m, snow topped), the Larkya La (5135 m) plus all those snow covered peaks to the north and west of the pass. On the Mayol Khola side of the ridge, we could see clear across to Pangpoche (6400m) which I was calling Samdo Peak in yesterday’s write up and up to the Lajyung Pass and into Tibet.

Plus Himalayan Griffon Vulture and/or Lammergeier and Blue Sheep in the Mayol Valley uplands, where Val, Anne and Charles were hiking.

A steep descent brought us back to the Yak Kharka for a bowl of noodle soup, our packed lunch and a super cute politely pleading pooch, then back down the Mayol Khola valley trail to Samdo for a leisurely afternoon.

Dali did us proud for dinner:

  • Soup with popcorn
  • Pumpkin curry, iscus (the green things) and aubergine curry, peas, chips, cheese …. and PIZZA!
  • Apple Pie Fritters – YUMMY!!

Wednesday 21 November 2018: Samdo (3860 m) – Dharmasala (4460 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 14

Route: Samdo / संदो (3860 m) – Dharmasala / Dharamshala धर्मशाला (4460 m).

Camp: Dharmasala.

Steffi and I spent a couple of hours LED-ing in Samdo with Val, distributing lights, clothes and school supplies, drinking butter tea and tucking into tsampa, before walking the easy trail to Dharmasala, getting there in time for lunch. The trail turns west at Samdo, still following the Budhi Gandaki river – more of a large stream now – and we had super views back to Pangpoche, the Mayol Khola valley and the Samdo Glacier. To the south, clear views of and up the Syacha Glacier to Manaslu North and Manaslu Main. Wonderful.

Afternoon acclimatisation walk up the ridge above camp. Dharmasala is a pretty unprepossessing place – it only really exists as a final overnight stop for trekkers before they (we) cross the Larkya La. As a result, it was busy with trekking groups, not all of whom were well acclimatised. We’d heard a lot of helicopter activity since Sama.

Apprehensive, as always, before a big day with an early start (4am), I don’t think anyone slept well. The mule bells and constant movement didn’t help. More about that “tomorrow”…

Thursday 22 November 2018: Dharmasala (4460 m) – Larkya La pass (5135 m) – Bhimtang (3720 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 15

Route: Dharmasala / Dharamshala / धर्मशाला (4460 m) – Larkya La pass (5135 m) – Bhimtang / Bimthang / Bhimthang / बिम्थंग (3720 m).

Camp: Shushma’s Lodge.

After 4am bed tea and breakfast, we set off in the predawn dark on the trail tracking below the glacial moraine ridge, dawn rays hitting Pangpoche, Larkya North and Manaslu.

Gradually we left the grass and soil behind, moving onto stony stretches that become bouldered. You pick out the route by the poles set up to guide winter traders through the deep, deep snow.

Hot lemon and great views from the Larke Tea Shop at 4850 m then on over the boulder field. The final approach to the pass skirted shallow lakes frozen solid, before a final climb to the prayer flags at the pass. Once there, we added our prayer flags then celebrated with “Bombay” mix and Green & Blacks mini bars of chocolate, and enjoyed a last look at the views east. Farewell Gorkha District. Hello Manang District.

The Larkya La descent was gentle to start – which was good because the views west are stupendous: Lamjung Himal (6983 m), Annapurna II (7937 m), Kang Guru (6981 m) and Chombi (6704 m) with P6780 and P6805 in between, P6479, Kechakyu Himal (5542 m) and Gyaji Kang (7074 m), then Nemjung (7140 m), Himjung (7092 m) and Himlung (7126 m) and, closest to the pass, Panbari (6905 m).

But soon the path became steeper, still rocky, and we were zig zagging down into the valley towards the weird solid blue waters of Ponkar Tal, which disappeared as we got closer to the moraine walls and turned southwards – the trail follows the route of the Salpudanda Glacier which merges with the Ponkar Glacier and Kechahyu Khola Glacier a little north of Bhimtang. You get clear views of all three glaciers on the descent.

Gradually rocks and silence gave way to grass, shrubs and bushes; birds reappeared.

Revitalising veg noodle soup at Dangboche Kharka, then the final downhill stretch to Bhimtang and its surreal sunshine yellow chalets.

Our tents were on the edge of one of Bimthang’s wooden fenced corals with fine views of the north western flank of Manaslu.

Teatime segued into rakshi time, dinner, then bed. A long day, but a great one.

Plenty of people here too – we were already heading back to the mainstream. From here on in we’d find ourselves in busier places, as we drew closer to and eventually joined the Annapurna Circuit.

Friday 23 November 2018: Bhimtang (3720 m) – Tilche (2300 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 16

Route: Bhimtang / Bimthang / Bhimthang / बिम्थंग (3720 m) – Habu (3400 m) – Chauli Kharka / Yak Kharka (3030 m) – Gho – Gowa / गोवा (2470 m) – Kharche / खर्चे – Tilje / Tilche (2300 m).

Camp: Apple Garden Lodge.

Glorious morning views back up the valley towards Bimthang to Nemjung (7140 m) and Panbari (6905 m), then into the forest for a lovely morning walk following the Dudh Khola, stopping off for final views of Mighty Manaslu and at Chauli Kharka for tea with Val’s friends who run the Purti Himalayan Hotel.

Lunch sat at the picnic tables of the The Seven Sister Lodge in Gho, then on through first farmland, and then the road, to Tilche,

Our last night under canvas. I didn’t take to Tilche.

Saturday 24 November 2018: Tilche (2300 m) – Chamje (1430 m) (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 17 / Annapurna Circuit Day 1

Route: Tilje / Tilche (2300 m) – Dharapani / धारापानी (1960 m) – Tal (1700 m) – Chamje / Chyamche / चामे (1430 m).

Hotel: Hotel Lhasa Tibet.

We joined the Annapurna Circuit at Dharapani, and an even bigger road. We’d had to negotiate the bulky remains of landslides on the bulldozered road from Tilje, the road from Dharapani still has the three streams flowing across what had been the unexpectedly epic section of the Annapurna Circuit back in 2009.

Lunch in Tal, preceded by waterfalls and rainbows, and back on an older trail after crossing the Marshyangdi after Dharapani.

On the trail on to Chamje we caught sight of monkeys playing in the large waterfall on the other side of the river, and Chamje itself brought rooms and showers – the first since leaving KTM 23 days earlier – at the Hotel Lhasa Tibet, then an evening celebrating the end of a great trek with thank yous, tips and the traditional song and dance.

Sunday 25 November 2018: Chamje to Pokhara (photos)

Manaslu Circuit Day 18 / Annapurna Circuit 2

Route: Drive to Pokhara / पोखरा (830 m) via Besi Sahar.

Hotel: Siddhartha Garden Hotel, near Peace Stupa.

A giant spider materialised in our room as we were packing up, which got the adrenaline pumping first thing. There then followed a long day in jeeps.

We changed jeeps in Besi, where we said our final goodbyes to crew who were returning to KTM by private bus, Val and Chhering excepted.

Lovely to return to the Siddhartha Garden Hotel, its tranquil gardens and fabulous Pokhara views. And wifi.

Monday 26 November 2018: Pokhara (photos)

A relaxing day in Pokhara, starting with dawn views out over Phewa Lake to the Annapurnas (and more) beyond, and a tranquil tour of the Peace Stupa.

After breakfast, we all walked down from the Peace Stupa to the lake, where Chhering organised boats to ferry us to Lakeside for shopping followed by coffee (with brandy) in the Bamboo Garden Hotel garden. “Refreshed”, we walked further on around the lake to Devi Falls for a lovely lunch with Tenzi and Jetsen at Tseten’s.

Overnight: Siddhartha Garden Hotel.

Tuesday 27 November 2018: Pokhara (photos)

Another relaxing day in Pokhara: Walk down to Devi Falls to catch buses to the Himalayan Mountaineering Museum. After that, buses to Lakeside for lunch.

Steffi & I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping before catching a taxi back to the Peace Stupa car park for our last night all together, and our final all members meal on the terrace of the Siddhartha Garden.

Overnight: Siddhartha Garden Hotel.

Wednesday 28 November 2018: Pokhara to Kathmandu (photos)

Farewell to Charles and Val, then into our private jeep with Chhering for the 5 hour drive from Pokhara / पोखरा (830 m) to Kathmandu / काठमाडौं (1400 m), arriving back in the city at rush hour.

We managed to find Charles’ Best Falafel in KTM! And the Mandap’s courtyard cafe for coffee after epic felt-focused shopping.

After repacking and showering (can’t have too much of a good thing now the water is on tap), we met for beers in the Marshyangdi courtyard and returned to the Mandap restaurant for the traditional last night meal courtesy of Kang Kora Treks and Travels, with Mingmi and her mum, together with Chhering.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel.

Thursday 29 November 2018: KTM – DEL – LHR (photos)

Air India flight AI 21 to Delhi, an easy change (and outrageously expensive coffees) then Air India AI 111 on to London.

Wholemeal breadmaker bread with cheese and red wine for supper. Steffi and I had been dreaming of it for days….


Charles’ schematic map of our route

Manaslu Trek Schematic Map 2018


Useful resources

Guenter Seyfferth’s Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya) is always invaluable in identifying peaks in Nepal. His site had mountain maps and a whole host of annotated photos taken from a variety of perspectives, including satellite. His page on Ganesh Himal + Shringi Himal covers the first part of our route, including the Tsum Valley. For the Manaslu Circuit, I used his pages on Manaslu Himal and Larkya La.

For altitudes and coordinates (and maps), Sherpana’s pages on the Manaslu Region (including Tsum) and the Annapurna Region are good.

Magical Nepal’s website has an excellent online Manaslu Tsum Valley Trek Map provided by Himalayan Map House.

I also enjoyed the geological details in Arjayempee’s Flickr Album: 2016 Nepal.


* LED – Light Education Development

You can read more about Light Education Development (aka LED) on the website – it’s Val’s charity, I’m a trustee.

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Gear Update

The LED fundraising weekend in the North Lakes last month was a prompt to sort out a few more pieces of November’s Nepal Plan, principally BOOTS!

We did have a chance to go through Val’s “6000m Gear List” with her, the main outcome of which is that I’m borrowing her down jacket from last year, and a sleeping bag (but not the one from last year). She also recommended taking some of the disposable self-heating hand and foot warmers for the summit days (pre-dawn starts). Bim in KTM can provide most of the technical gear, and we arranged another trip to the North Lakes for some training with ropes etc in September.

Boots surfaced as Nicola was heading to Adventure Peaks to try on the boots she’s hiring from them, and Steffi decided to go with her to get a boot fitting, and as it transpired, to hire a pair of Boreal G1s…. in a size 44, as advised by the thorough chap in Snow & Rock when we made an initial fact finding foray into Covent Garden a few months back.

After an abortive attempt to hire from Adventure Peaks (very, very busy), I focused on the La Sportiva G2 and the Scarpa Phantom 6000 and learned the following:

  • Boreal boots are a wide fit, so not a good option for me
  • La Sportiva are warmer and a narrower boot, Scarpa have a more durable sole
  • with a long, slim foot and a long big toe, I can wear shoes / boots “shorter”
  • trying out boots, especially with narrow feet, there will be some “slip” but provided this is the inner boot slipping against the outer you’re OK
  • it can be impossible to find boots that are a good fit according to all the rules, and padding / heel lifts  insoles can help.

Having decided that I needed La Sportiva G2 in a size 42, I emailed Expedition Kit Hire who I’d earmarked earlier on. Same day reply from Stuart, confirming they had a pair available for my dates and attaching the hire form. A couple of exchanges and less than 24 hours later, I’d hired the boots plus goggles and balaclava and bought 5 pairs each of hand and foot warmers. All paid up, delivery due the week before we go, and the hire includes prepaid return. Very efficient, very friendly. I can see why The Mountain Company recommend them.

(As an aside, what was interesting about doing the foot outlines was realising that my feet are pretty much the same length, but my left foot is slightly wider at the ball. And shoes / boots are always tighter on that foot. I’d always thought it was because it was longer, but no – wider!)

So that just leaves travel insurance that will cover me to 6,500m and using ropes, crampons and ice axes, which I think means it will be the BMC. The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) standard AWS policy doesn’t cover you above 6,000m and the Alpenverein Premium Single Trip Cover you have to get then is a lot more expensive. I’ve yet to find a ‘normal’ policy that covers you above 6,000m, (although Nicola’s just flagged that Trailfinders’ goes up to 7,000m).

And last, but not least, Nicola has managed to wangle 4 weeks off work, so she’s coming for the whole thing.

But for now M-ALP-I is on the back burner – our week in Picos de Europa is only a month away!

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Imja Tse: Update

Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry….

Being my usual super organised self, I sorted out flights for November’s four week extravaganza way back in January. We got a fantastic price with Jet Airways (£430), flying out via Mumbai and back via Delhi.

In early April, a chance chat at work flagged up that Jet were experiencing financial problems…. and I’d booked direct, and on my debit card. Uh-oh.

Then, on my birthday I got a cryptic email from Steffi: Flight cancellation?

A quick Google and email check revealed all – Jet Airways had suspended operations, “temporarily”, as of 17 April. Here’s the first couple of paras of the BBC’s article:

Troubled Indian airline Jet Airways has temporarily suspended all its domestic and international flights after failing to find fresh funding.

The airline said its last flight would operate on Wednesday as it was not able to pay for fuel and other critical services.

So I spent a good hour or so working through the Jet Airways Flight Cancellation emails and refund claim process – a separate claim per flight, per person. That made 8 in total.

Since then, I’ve had various confirmation emails, all automated, but as yet no refund.  I’ve got the CAA’s Advice to UK consumers impacted by Jet Airways suspending operations tucked away, just in case.

Once I’d recovered from that little “Birthday treat”, I dug out my dusty credit card and scoured Kayak for replacement flights. The algorithms must have been in overdrive, factoring in all the Jet passengers suddenly swamping the flight search. Hey ho.

We’ve ended up with a not-too-bad option flying out with Emirates / FlyDubai and back with Qatar. Handily, given that we’re flying out at the end of a work day for me, our outbound flight leaves from Stansted so we’ll be getting the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street, which is (a) 5 mins walk from work, (b) a more reliable journey than the Piccadilly line out to LHR, and (c) much, much easier for those wielding heavy luggage. VIP that last point as we have 30kg baggage allowance both ways.

I’ve been in to “manage my booking” for the new flights today, primarily to check that we do actually have tickets (paranoia!), and was able to book seats, set meal preferences, provide emergency contacts and print e-tickets. So that’s a good job done.

Let’s just hope that Jet Airways refund does eventually materialise….

In other news, it’s the LED Fundraising Challenge up in the Lake District next weekend, which will provide an opportunity for Steffi and I to meet Nicola, who’s doing the Mera Peak section. We’ve already emailed a bit, mainly about boot hire and training. Now I’m worried I’m not doing as much as Val seems to think I am!  We’ll also be able to talk through the 6000m gear list Val sent through, working out what we might be able to borrow or hire either from Bim’s in KTM or the UK in the case of insulated boots.

Five months to go. Better get working on those weedy arms…..


13 May 2019 – Update

Jet Airways refund came through today.

Phew.

Manaslu & Tsum: We’re back

(And yes, we’ve been back for some time….)

Here’s Charles’ schematic map of what we did:

Manaslu Trek Schematic Map 2018

Over the past few years / trips, I’ve found I often don’t want to write a “we’re back” blogpost immediately on my return, particularly after a big trip. I suspect there’s a bit about being worn out, and a bit about the need to process everything that happens on a 4 week trek. I’m often quite grumpy by the end – tiredness again and my reserves of bonhomie reduced to near zero. It’s quite telling that the last big trip where I did want email / blog about the trip straight away was Ladakh. Shorter trips – like Walking in Northern Albania – are easier; all the more so when they’re doing something novel, like snow shoeing.

The delay is’t entirely due to emotional fatigue though – we did a huge amount in Manaslu and Tsum, not just trekking but LED* solar light distribution, and – a first for me – running eye clinics to distribute glasses courtesy of Pat Booth’s super guide and two shoe boxes of donated spectacles. Chhering’s experience of doing eye tests, both with Pat and without her, in remote communities where older people in particular can’t always read, and aren’t familiar with the Roman alphabet, was invaluable.

Steffi and Anchering.  L.E.D eye glass clinic at Chule

Chhering and Steffi. L.E.D. eye glass clinic at Chhule. Photo courtesy of Charles Ng

But more than that, the first 10 days were a return to Tsum for the first time since April 2015 when Hazel, Anthony and I trekked to Mu Gompa and back with Val. (Hard to believe that it was our first Nepal trek with Val and Sirdar Chhering.) The April 2015 Nepal earthquake struck a couple of weeks after we’d left, the Gorkha epicentre only miles away, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would villages we’d passed through and stayed in still be there? What about the homes we’d visited and the families we’d met? Who’d died? Who’d been injured? Who’d lost their homes and their livelihoods? Who’d left? Who’d be left?

It turned out that the biggest changes in Tsum and indeed all along the trail from Sotikhola weren’t earthquake related, they were changes wrought by government economic policies on tourism, development and infrastructure – lodge and tea house accommodation had been approved for Tsum just before we’d gone there in 2015, but we were too early to see much evidence of building although we did see some in Chhokang Paro. Three and a half years later there were lodges galore, and the tourists to match. We still camped, dining in a mixture of homes of folks Val knows (always a highlight), in school rooms and in the dining tent.

The bigger, more dramatic and less happy changes were in infrastructure – the road has been blasted past lovely Laxshmi’s lodge in Lapubesi in anticipation of flooding the valley for the Budi Gandaki HEP scheme. The road building reaches far into Tsum, and this was the hardest to see. The trail that Hazel and I had taken to Mu Gompa, crossing old wooden bridges, scrambling over glacially tumbled rocks and boulders, passing (aways keeping to the left) lines of stone chortens and long, long mani walls…. Obliterated. In its place, a blasted road, reaching far beyond Mu Gompa up to the Tibetan border. The magical morning walk Val, Chhering and I did north of Mu, high above the river ravine, over pristine crisp white snow …. It’s gone forever. Now the same chortens perch precariously at the roadside edges, Chinese JCBs parked in rough camps nearby. Devastating.

The spirituality has gone – not that I am a religious person at all, but Mu was special.

But, if you’d never been there before, you just wouldn’t realise how different the place was.

Thankfully, Dhephu Doma, the small Ani Gompa that perches in a side valley a few hundred metres above Mu, and the path up to it, were unscathed. As you climb the new road falls out of sight leaving you with almost the same, beautiful view of Shringi, Ganesh, the Upper Tsum valley and the twin villages of Chhule and Nile. And this time I did it under gorgeous blue skies.

At the end of the whole trek, after crossing the Larkya La, the Manaslu Circuit joins the Annapurna, and the final two days were retracing in reverse the route Hazel and I had done as our first long trek – the Annapurna Circuit in 2009. I was ready for this to be changed by the road building, I’d read enough about how the road reaches all the way up to Manang and beyond and I’d seen how much Jomsom had changed between 2009 and my return there in 2017 at the end of our Dolpo trek.

The changes are wholesale – I struggled to recognise anywhere. Walking down the gravelled road from Dharapani, waterfalls on our left and right, water coursing across the road to reach the river down below, I suddenly realised that we were on the section where the Mountain Kingdoms crew had manhandled us across rain swollen steams after we’d holed up for the previous half a day in Tal after an exceedingly wet few days. Later that same day 2018 time, we were on the east side of the Marshyangdi Khola, walking on a path cut into the rock and over the sandy flats down at the river side. The mud/scree landslide we scurried over in 2009 has been absorbed back into the landscape, and the village of Tal now stretches further north and south along the trail.

Amazingly for lunch we stopped at the same place that the MK group had taken refuge in back in 2009. The basic one-large-shared-bed-platform rooms we’d stayed in then, and the outside loo with the head-whackingly low roof beam, were no more however. In their place a 2 storey lodge houses twin rooms with en suites. The dining room was still there though, and the outside picnic tables set in the garden.

The following day brought us to the end of the trek, and our final night farewell to the crew took place in another familiar lodge – Chamje’s Hotel Tibet Lhasa. The village itself transformed by the road that’s replaced the gentle trail. Tractors, lorries and jeeps now pass beneath the low wooden balustrades of the lodge’s first floor rooms. One of the charms of the Hotel Tibet Lhasa is that everything is still wood – the walls, floors, ceilings. Even the kitchen sink.

S0, the new bit – Manaslu. First few days, from Gampul to Prok were gloomy and overcast, and the narrow valley made for enclosed views. But once past Ghap the weather and the views improved. Our early morning arrival at Hinang Gompa and the walk up the valley to the glacier were magical, as was the trail through Lihi, Sho and Lho. Samagoan was a veritable metropolis (but in a good way), and the day trip from there up to Phuyang / Pung Gyen Gompa was stunning. The tiny gompa is nestled amidst the foothills of mighty Manaslu ( मनास्लु) (8163 m), set in the vast glacial valley that is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges and more high peaks including Ngadi Chuli (Peak 29) (7871 m – the 20th highest peak in the world) and Himalchuli (7893 m – the 18th). We picnicked with local ladies and anis, sharing boiled eggs, chapatis and cheese, and being treated to a small glass or two of local rakshi.

Val’s Yak Kharka above Samdo was a treat too, with Gori leading Doug, Steffi and I up to the top of what we called “Samdo Ri” for stunning panoramic views of Ngadi Chuli, Manaslu, Naike Peak, Larkya Peak and Larkya North to the west; Nyasin Himal and the valley to the pass at Lajyung Bhanjyang, and Tibet, to the east.

The Larkya La was a bit of a let down after that – well, an anticlimax, let’s say – in the sense that the pass itself doesn’t come with much of a view. The day of the crossing does have fabulous vistas though and ever changing terrain: starting off in the predawn dark on the trail tracking below the glacial moraine ridge, dawn rays hitting Manaslu, getting yet another perspective to add to those from Lho, Shyala and Phuyang, Sama, Samdo and Dharamsala. Yes, I guess that’s why it’s called the Manaslu Circuit. We’d see another side of Manaslu at Bimthang and a few final, fleeting glimpses through the trees on the trail down to the twin tea houses at Yak Kharka / Chauli Kharka.

Gradually you leave the grass and soil behind, moving onto stony stretches that grow to become bouldered. You pick out the route by the poles set up to guide winter traders through the deep, deep snow. A last tea house provides welcome hot lemon. And great views. As you approach the pass you skirt shallow lakes frozen solid, and catch sight of the prayer flags at the pass. Once there, we celebrated with “Bombay” mix and Green & Blacks mini bars of chocolate – YUM. A breather.

And then the descent. Gentle to start – which is good because the views are stupendous: Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II, Kang Guru, Kechakyu Himal, Gyaji Kang, Nemjung, Himjung, Himlung, Panbari peaks, with the Thoche / Ponkar Glacier and Ponkar Lake below.

View west from Larkya Pass (5106m).  High Point of Trek

Larkya La descent. Charles’ panorama of the westward view. 

But soon the path steepens, and you’re zig zagging down into the valley, the weird solid blue waters of Ponkar Tal disappearing as you near the moraine walls. Grass reappears. Shrubs and bushes. Birds. Things you didn’t realise had gone. And then you see Bimthang. The surreal sunshine yellow chalets, the blue roofs, the wooden fenced corrals, the people. You’re back to the mainstream.

Other memories – wind chimes at Chokkang Paro. Hairy walkways, some metal, some natural, high above the river in Tsum. Watching lammergeier, himalayan griffon vultures, hawks and choughs on a quiet afternoon above the Yak Kharka. Our first glasses clinic in the courtyard of a house in Chhule, another at Hinang Gompa – inside this time, with a Welsh Whisky Chaser. The side trip to Gumba Lungdang and the stately sunrise over Himal Chuli and Ngadi Chuli, and clear, clear views of Ganesh I, which had stayed resolutely hidden in cloud during the previous day’s 1200m ascent through the forest. Cheeky nuns. VTOs! Old ladies back chatting one another. Distributing lights in Leru in another family house courtyard. Trail runners at Mu and Hinang.

Mary.  View of Himal Chuli

Charles’ photo of me on the trail to Sama

Being in Nepal in November – for the first time since 2011’s Three High Passes trek – seeing the harvest in full swing, literally, hand scything and sickle-ing the barley and amaranth was lovely. The colours of the Autumn berries and leaves. The harvest festival at Dzong with everyone coming from the surrounding villages of Upper Tsum to watch the dancing and ceremony, all in their best festival-going outfits. Fabulous fresh food every day courtesy of autumn crops from market gardens and summer stores, another world from the Dolpo menu. Rakshi rakshi rakshi – in Pung Gyen and Chhokang Paro, Samdo and Bimthang, and elsewhere.

Charles and his drone. Steffi and the spider in Chamje. Doug’s dawn call at Gumba Lungdung. The Girls getting to know one another, chilling out in Chhule as we shared a tent and waited for Gori, the mules and our kit to arrive, chatting about life, sharing reading recommendations, laughing. Chhering, Gori, Pemba. Dali and his lovely smile and super food. Learning that smiley Mossum had died, falling 300m to his death on a client-demanded descent from Dhaulagiri.

Steffi, Anne and Mary.  Tea House Lunch stop.  On trail to Dyang

Charles’ photo of Steffi, Anne and me at Nyak Phedi. A favourite.

Four cards from Phil. Twenty one nights under canvas. One more in a small tea house in Lihi to dry out after our only day with rain. Our favourite tent. Disliking – intensely, but irrationally (perhaps) – Tilche and our final campsite at the Apple Garden Lodge. Seeing that the rooms Hazel and I stayed in at Jagat had been washed away by the river (after the earthquake? I don’t know).

The group we met at Dharamsala with the girl with severe AMS and the British gent who was trying to find someone with more expertise/confidence than their guide. Soaking up the sun at Chhule Gompa, gazing at the views back down the valley and watching a big group of birds circling something high above. Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, sung by Sama’s liveliest little monkey. First time frisbee in a field at Domje – who knew it would be such a novelty in Nepal?

Relaxing, showered, hair washed, with a beer, at Siddhartha Garden Hotel in Pokhara – serenity with super views and great hosts.

Finding the best falafel in KTM (thanks Charles!).

But most of all, a big thank you to Val.

Chhering, Val and Manaslu. On the trail to Dharamsala.
Chhering, Val and Manaslu. On the trail to Dharamsala.

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So, what did prompt this write up? Getting photos from Doug, Steffi and Charles.

If you’ve made it this far, watch Charles’ trek montage:

Manaslu and Tsum Valley Trek 2018

Charles’ montage: Manaslu and Tsum Valley Trek 2018

Plus this November’s Nepal trek is going to need some more blogposts soon. I’m going up a step, to tackle two Trekking Peaks with a very high pass in between. I hope I’ve not bitten off more than I can chew. Or, more accurately, more than my weedy arms can manage in terms of jumar-ing up, abseiling down. I take comfort in Val’s confidence in me. Mera Peak, Amphu Lapsta, Imja Tse – here I come.

I feel ready now to look through my 2210 photos and videos and to get selected ones up onto Flickr. And to make a start on Photos and Notes.

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* You can read more about Light Education Development (aka LED) on their website – it’s Val’s charity, I’m a trustee.

Where next: Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Imja Tse

I’ve been talking to Val about my main 2019 trek since the summer and settled the dates shortly after getting back from Manaslu & Tsum*. It’s always a question of juggling my LW working pattern and vacation days to “optimise the optics”, but Val’s managed to schedule the 29 days to fit into four weeks off.

I need to come up with a good name for the trip. “Two Trekking Peaks and a Tricky Pass” doesn’t tell you where it is or what the peaks and pass are. For now, let’s make do with the relevant names…

As is so often the case, it’s not “next”, but it is the main trip for 2019.

Destination: Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse / Island Peak, Nepal.

When: November 2019.

What: Back to Nepal for another November trip, this time tackling two 6000 m trekking peaks with a 5800 m pass in between. It will be my first time going that high, and will be more technical than anything I’ve done before requiring ropes, jumar and ice axe, insulated boots and crampons. There will be glacier walking and abseiling. It’ll be cold. And we’ll need to do some winter skills training before we go.

Steffi is coming, Charles is a possible (probable?). Hazel is pondering joining for the first section together with two other ladies Val’s talking to. Plus there are Three Chaps Unknown for the full route.

How: With Val Pitkethly and Sirdar Chhiring. So we will be in safe hands.

Why: The usual – to do more high altitude trekking in the Himalaya – but with a step up from a straightforward trek, in terms of both altitude and technical difficulty. Don’t be misled by the term “trekking peak“.

Itinerary: Waiting for details, but the outline plan is to drive to Phaplu, then gradual acclimatisation in Solukhumbu en route to Mera Peak (6476 m / 21250 ft) followed by 5 nights over 5000 m in the Hongu Valley to reach the Amphu Lapsta Pass (5845 m / 19177 ft). From there I think we drop into the Imja Khola valley en route to Imja Tse / Island Peak (6189 m / 20310 ft). There is the inevitable flight back from horrible Lukla.

* And I know I’ve not written my “We’re back!” post for Manaslu & Tsum yet!