Trekking the Manaslu Circuit

The name of the game on the Manaslu Circuit is acclimatization: getting your flatlander body conditioned to survive in the low-oxygen environs at the top of 5160m Larke La pass.  Staying healthy, uninjured, warm and dry also count for a lot.  After leaving the Tsum Valley we started a six day climb along the Budhi Gandaki from 1800m to 4460m at Larke Phedi with the pass, and the dangers associated with it, always in mind.

Up we went, counter-clockwise around the Manaslu Himal with the towering centerpiece, Mt. Manaslu (at 8163m the 8th highest and 4th most deadly mountain in the world), and Manaslu North (7157m) often visible to our left and a variety of lesser peaks on all sides.  In order to start pushing our bodies’ limits and to avoid sleep-induced respiratory problems, we hiked high during the day and slept low at night.

Manaslu from Samagaon
Manaslu from Samagaon
Competing with donkey trains on narrow paths, Manaslu Circuit
Competing with donkey trains on narrow paths, Manaslu Circuit
Father and son carrying fodder for the livestock, Manaslu Circuit
Father and son carrying fodder for the livestock, Manaslu Circuit
Strange man with trekking poles and high-end rain gear, Manaslu Circuit
Strange man with trekking poles and high-end rain gear, Manaslu Circuit
Up we go
Up we go
Following the Budhi Gandaki on ancient footpaths, Manaslu Circuit
Following the Budhi Gandaki on ancient footpaths, Manaslu Circuit
Water-powered corn mill, below Bihi Phedi
Water-powered corn mill, below Bihi Phedi
Buddha images begin to appear on the mani walls, Manaslu Circuit
Buddha images begin to appear on the mani walls, Manaslu Circuit
Braxton and the children of Lihi
Braxton and the children of Lihi
Strolling through the village of Sho
Strolling through the village of Sho
Rolling into the village of Lho
Rolling into the village of Lho
Village gate, Shyala
Village gate, Shyala
Ceiling of village gate, Shyala
Ceiling of village gate, Shyala
Digging potatoes out of their winter storage pit, Samagaon
Digging potatoes out of their winter storage pit, Samagaon
Yak team plowing fields for the next potato crop, Samagaon
Yak team plowing fields for the next potato crop, Samagaon
Braxton turning the dharma wheels, Samagaon
Braxton turning the dharma wheels, Samagaon

During a rest day in Samagaon (3520m) we hiked along the Manaslu Glacier to 4200m on the Manaslu basecamp trail.  As we rested at our high point we listened and watched as pieces of the glacier broke apart to plummet down toward the turquoise blue Birendra Tal below.  The sound of a groaning, cracking glacier as it warmed in the eastern morning sun was only surpassed by the booming crash of these periodic avalanches.

Overlooking Birendra Tal, Samagaon
Overlooking Birendra Tal, Samagaon
Jaya (our guide) and the boys, Manaslu Glacier
Jaya (our guide) and the boys, Manaslu Glacier
Family shot, Manaslu Glacier
Family shot, Manaslu Glacier

The next day, after reaching Samdo (3875m), we hiked straight up the nearby hill through low-lying, fragrant juniper to an altitude of 4500m.  As was the case on most days, clouds started to roll in and the wind picked up significantly by the early afternoon whipping the ubiquitous prayer flags into a frenzy.  Before climbing down we were able to get our first glimpse of the pass, a formidable jumble of loose rock and drifted snow in a landscape formed by glaciers long ago.

Team with the children of Samdo
Team with the children of Samdo
Day hike turns windy, above Samdo
Day hike turns windy, above Samdo
A first look at the pass, from above Samdo
A first look at the pass, from above Samdo
Public fountain, Samdo
Public fountain, Samdo

The last stop before the pass was the stone huts of Larke Phedi, an outpost with no other purpose than as a launch pad for crossing Larke La.  The afternoon in Larke Phedi was spent with another steep climb, this time to 4800m.  The views to the pass were partially obscured by cloud and mist adding to the ominous sense that we were heading into a place where mistakes could be quite costly.  That evening Braxton was stricken with a bout of food poisoning and the next day’s pass attempt looked uncertain.  Nonetheless, we set the alarms for 3:30am, and, Braxton having miraculously recovered, awoke from fitful sleeps to pack, sip some tea, gag down a chapati and boiled egg and head into the pre-dawn darkness on a slow but steady pace toward Larke La.

A beautiful morning hike to Larke Phedi
A beautiful morning hike to Larke Phedi
Old stones, on the way to Larke Phedi
Old stones, on the way to Larke Phedi
More old stones as browns start to enter the slate color palette, on the way to Larke Phedi
More old stones as browns start to enter the slate color palette, on the way to Larke Phedi
Mother and sons with Manaslu North looming in background
Mother and sons with Manaslu North looming in background
Pulling in to Larke Phedi
Pulling in to Larke Phedi
Mountains come out of the sky above the roofs of Larke Phedi on a cold, cloudy afternoon
Mountains come out of the sky above the roofs of Larke Phedi on a cold, cloudy afternoon

Within three hours we’d reached the pass and by 8:15am, having taken the requisite photos, we started a treacherous descent down the west side.  Ice-covered rocks, drifted snow, and loose gravel contributed to many a stumble mostly landing on our backsides and none of them serious.  We avoided turning ankles or breaking bones during the four hour downhill run and pulled into Bimthang (3590m) just after noon ready for a hot meal and our first hot shower in over a week.

4:00am breakfast on pass day, Larke Phedi
4:00am breakfast on pass day, Larke Phedi
Approaching the pass, below Larke La
Approaching the pass, below Larke La
Getting closer, below Larke La
Getting closer, below Larke La
Not another family shot?!?! Yes, the obligatory group photo atop Larke La
Not another family shot?!?! Yes, the obligatory group photo atop Larke La
Braxton with rasta monkey hat, Larke La
Braxton with rasta monkey hat, Larke La
Henry triumphant, Larke La
Henry triumphant, Larke La
Jaya and Tara, Larke La
Jaya and Tara, Larke La
Prayer flags and white mountains, Larke La
Prayer flags and white mountains, Larke La

The final day of walking took us on a relatively gradual descent through stunning forest scenery to the trail head at Dharapani from which we made our way by road back to Kathmandu the next day.

Setting out from Bimthang on our last day of trekking
Setting out from Bimthang on our last day of trekking
Rickety bridge over the Dood Khola (Milk River)
Rickety bridge over the Dood Khola (Milk River)
Eight shades of rhododendron
Some of the eight shades of rhododendron, below Bimthang

IMG_2458IMG_2459IMG_2465

Yellow flowers, below Bimthang
Yellow flowers, below Bimthang

IMG_2462IMG_2457IMG_2297

Purple flowers, below Bimthang
Purple flowers, below Bimthang

IMG_2475

Strange flowers, below Bimthang
Strange flowers, below Bimthang
One mistake, game over.  Jeep road from Dharapani to Besisahar
“One mistake, game over” jeep road from Dharapani to Besi Sahar

Crossing Larke La — a literal high point in the trip — gave us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but it was, at the same time, anti-climactic and felt like a milestone marking the final stages of the trip we’ve been on since mid-January.  Oddly, the ease with which we crossed the pass was almost disappointing: the much-feared disasters did not materialize and no stories of derring-do or perseverance in the face of tough odds emerged from the experience.  Yes, thankfully!  But the notion that the trip would be all downhill from here (back to the flush toilets and varied menu of Kathmandu, back to the wired world, back towards home via the clean, organized countries of Europe, back to our own beds, a car, a refrigerator) brought with it a feeling of loss; specifically, the loss of a sense of adventure that comes with entering the unknown.

Resigned to the fact that now we are heading toward the known, we are really looking forward to getting there!

Safe arrival in Besi Sahar
Safe arrival in Besi Sahar

(We should add that a guide is required for the Manaslu Circuit, and we were accompanied by a great one, Jaya Bhandari, and a strong porter, Tara.  These guys were a tremendous help and the trip would not have been as successful or enjoyable without them.  They were both great with the boys.  Jaya is also a naturalist, birder, yoga instructor, and reiki healer, all of which came in handy throughout the trek.  If you are considering a trek in Nepal, get in touch with these guys through http://www.thirdpoletreks.com or directly with Jaya at bjayan24@hotmail.com)

6 thoughts on “Trekking the Manaslu Circuit

  1. Another great entry, Coalter. Yet another excellent adventure in this trip to end all family trips. Here I am sweating a trip to Weeki Wachee, Florida for the family reunion and you, Amy, and the boys have just trekked through Larke La. All four of you are amazing! Glad to see everyone doing well and that trip is everything you hoped it would be. Chappell

  2. Such a totally incredible journey for a family to take. Life altering for sure. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. It has been fun traveling with you…even if it was from my couch with envy here in Lincoln Vt.
    Much love to you all and safe travels home
    Pat

  3. Encroyable! These pix are incredible. Are you guys gonna be satisfied just hangin’ in Asheville after such an unbelievable journey? Tell the guys to stick some noodles up their noses, will ya?

  4. How fortunate we are to have opportunities like this for adventure, and sharing it. Thank you for your commitment to telling your story along-the-way, and thereby bringing us with you. May you have continued safe travels homeward! D. Dow

  5. As a participant with that great spirit and adventurous family , I would like to express some words here. braxton incredibly completed his journey through out the killer mountain zone with out any challenging . two boys were great so I salute them and their great parent as well. wishing your successive life coming days ahead

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