TREADING LIGHTLY AROUND THE MANASLU CIRCUIT
Our group of eight assembled in Kathmandu in late October 2007 in eager anticipation of our 15 day trek around the world’s 7th highest mountain, MANASLU HIMAL 8163m. Information about the trek route was limited to a few internet and published accounts as well as maps printed in Nepal. We were primarily dependent on our knowledgeable Sherpa guides and the peerless Tashi Sherpa, our local organizer and mentor.
In Kathmandu we climbed into our bus and rumbled off to the trailhead, an estimated 7 hours away. Little did we know of the challenges that lay ahead. The road trip evolved into a marathon 28 hour journey over very steep terrain and a one-lane muddy road. It quickly became clear; if we were to complete our circuit of Manaslu, 'treading lightly' was essential; that is, paying respect to local culture and customs. We call it 'luck'.
The circuit is about 200km in length starting at Arughat Bazar near Gorkha and ending at Khudi on the Annapurna Circuit. The route follows the Buri Gandaki river starting at 500m above sea level and crosses the Larkya La pass at 5200m. During the early days of the trek, we passed through a humid sub tropical landscape complete with monkeys and butterflies. The Hindu culture and low level villages are pleasantly natural and un-commercial. As we climbed higher and out of the dark gorge the landscape opened up and the culture quickly changed to Tibetan with richly carved mani walls, fluttering prayer flags and the scent of burning juniper from spiritual offerings.
This trek is not for the faint-of-heart. Days are long and trails are narrow. There are many suspension bridges, some of questionable safety. Trail exposure to steep drop-offs are constant. Relatively few people live in this region and hence the villages are often far apart. This is a restricted area for trekking and special permits are required. Only fully supported groups are permitted on the Circuit. Our Nepali staff consisted of 4 Sherpa guides, 3 kitchen staff and 21 porters. Their care and attention was impressive in all respects.
As a testament to our cook staff, our meals were varied, tasty and healthy. Our health blossomed. This quality is not an easy achievement in view of the spartan conditions in which they often worked.
Our typical day started at 6am when a wake up call with tea was followed by washing water. Breakfast was served at 7 and by 7:30 we were usually on our way. Our weather for the 10 days to the pass summit was superb – clear and sunny. The morning treks were best when the air was cool and the body strong. The kitchen staff would quickly walk ahead and meet us at a village or tea house with a hot lunch. By 1:30pm we were back on the trail and walked for a further 4 to 5 hrs. Above 3500 metres our pace slowed to three half days to prepare us for the thin air at the summit of the Larkya La pass. The change of pace allowed us to acclimatize superbly.
The crossing of the Larkya La was a major challenge. Our campsite below the pass was cold and inhospitable. When the sun disappeared at 4pm the temperature plummeted below freezing and we fled to our tents and sleeping bags to keep warm. We were up at 3am he following morning to begin our climb to the summit. There was an aura of excitement and anticipation as we moved about the campsite with headlamps in place and camp fires blazing. Breakfast was shared in a dimly lit dining tent where the temperature was –6c. Gloves were needed to handle the cutlery.
The telltale glow of the sunrise lifted our spirits as we climbed steadily along the moraine through barren boulder fields. Soon the heat of the morning sun was felt on our backs. - suddenly a feeling of relief and optimism. Each climb to a ridge was met with a further ridge. Where was the pass? Finally, by 11am we reached the tell-tale prayer flags and knew we had reached the summit. We were blessed with perfect weather – blue sky and no wind - unheard of on the Larkya La! We had climbed 600m with the final 2 hours through vast snow fields.
Now the descent lay before us. Looking beyond the pass, we could see that our work was cut out for us. This was not going to be a ‘walk in the park’. Ahead of us lay 12 kilometres and a descent of 1600m, the first 2 hours of which were over snow fields, some decidedly treacherous! As a group, we prevailed without a major incident and only one minor injury (bruised hip). The most healthy of our group reached camp by 4:30pm. Horst Klette, who was suffering from an upset stomach due to an antibiotic, was helped by Sherpas Rinzi and Krishna, and was last to arrive at 9:45pm - 17 hrs on the trail! Horst waged an epic battle and, calling on all his considerable inner resources, achieved his goal with a smile of his face! This was an endurance record for ETC. In hindsight, we recognized that perfect weather played a big part in the group’s successful crossing of the pass. The following day, a major weather change brought cloud, colder temperatures and snow in the high country.
We had truly dodged a bullet! Perhaps our determination to 'tread lightly' had paid off?
|Gord Konantz – leader||Vancouver|