Nepal Expedition - Monday 1 October 2012 to Friday 2 November 2012 (33 days)

You all read Carol’s pack of lies last issue, now I’ll bore you with the true story. Eight good keen ATC members descended on Kathmandu at the beginning of October and after 2 days of checking and hiring gear, signing permits, (my life on the line!) meeting our Sherpa team, we were on the road to Jagat, the start of the Annapurna Trail.

The first 2 days took us up the Marsyangdi River valley as far as Koto, camping the first night at Dharapani. Leaving the Annapurna Trail at Koto we entered the "Lost Valleys" of Naar and Phu, on a narrow winding trail often climbing high above the gorge of the Naar River, at one point behind a waterfall. A final steep climb brought us to camp at Methang, 3560m, quite a full on day from Koto at 2600m. Methang has sure changed in the 3 years since I was last there, 4 new lodges or tea houses have been built, where there were only old ruins. Two days up the Phu valley is the village of Phu, we passed through old settlements of Chyaku and camped 1 night at Kyang, another semi abandoned village. Phu is at 4000m, so a couple of days stay to explore the local area, allow the body to acclimatise, and absorb some local culture was welcome.

Moving on from Phu we would not see civilisation again for several days. Before leaving Phu I thought to try out the porters load, with help staggered to my feet and lumbered a few metres around the camp! Whew! That must weigh close to 40 kgs!

The valley forks again, the right turn being the upper Phu River leading to the peaks of Himlung and RatnaChuli. Ours was the left turn leading us up the Layju valley, camping 2 nights at Nagoru, a now disused summer growing and grazing area. The nice trail soon deteriorated into moraine rock, bringing many complaints about the rough going to Saribung Basecamp at 5100m.

Altitude effects were starting to be felt by some, and the place is swept by a cold wind, still cozy in the tents. We had our first peep at Saribung Pass, can’t see the peak yet. A short day next to interim camp, more rough going, and moving of rocks to form tent sites.Sherpas performed a puja ceremony here, asking the Goddess of the mountain to bless the party and give permission to climb the mountain. Really moving up now, we took it slow for about 4 hours to high camp, into the snow at last, more smoothing of tent sites among the moraine and we established high camp at 5800m. We have a great view of Saribung Pass and peak, looks pretty straight forward.

Away from camp at 4.30 am, a short way up the moraine and then on with the crampons for the climb to the pass at 6020m. 9.30 am at the pass, and who is for the summit? Carol and Russell chose not to make the attempt but to carry on down to the next camp. Half way up the peak Stephen and Hideo turned back.

Lee, Allen, Brent, Jim on Mt Saribung Summit

SUMMIT!! At midday Lee, Allen, Brent, Jim and sherpasSonam and Nima stepped on to Saribung Peak at 6328m. Congratulations all round and many photos taken, the ATC flag proudly shown.

Fabulous views all around, the Tibetan Plateau visible to the north.I gazed across at Mt Himlung with fond memories of our pioneering the north side in 2009. There was still a way to go, down from the peak to the pass and a walk down the Khumjungar Glacier to camp at about 5800m, making a 12 hour day. These high camps before and after the pass were on the cool side, just a mild minus 15c in the mornings, making all appreciative of our thick down jackets.

CrossingSaribung Passmeans we have officially entered Upper Mustang, the once forbidden kingdom, opened in recent times to restricted numbers of visitors. Mustang is a spectacular but barren looking place, could almost be described as inhospitable. This kingdom north of the Himalayas , was once part of Tibet, taken by Nepal after a war in the 1700s. The people of Mustang still respect their king, although he has no political standing, the monarchy being abolished along with that of Nepal in 2008.

Three days trekking and 3 high passes brought us to habitation once more in Yara village. Along the way we camped 1 night at DamodarKunda, a Hindu pilgrimage site. Snow overnight here. Over another pass, we stopped briefly here for a special puja ceremony for Hideo to leave his late sister’s ashes as she had requested. Prayers said by the Sherpas and not a dry eye anywhere.

That night camp was made in the deep canyon of the BachaKhola. Over 2 more passes next day and a very long descent to Yara village for 2 nights. Nice to have a rest day, wash some clothes, not to mention self!

Now to see what Mustang has to offer, we crossed the Kaligandaki River, climbed a trail leading up through a fascinating steep canyon to the ridge top and trekked north to the ancient walled village of Lo Mantang, the home of the king. Something a bit different next day was a horse ride up valley to view the cave monastery at Garphu, only about 10 km from the Tibet border. There are old meditation caves all through Mustang, but the Garphu caves are extensive, excavated over 2000 years ago.

Leaving Lo Mantang we headed down the Kaligandaki valley to Jomsom, camping in several villages along the way, crossing several passes, sometimes on roads, sometimes on precariously high trails, (no OSH regulations here) and seeing the longest mani wall in Mustang. A mani wall is a wall of prayer stones, carved and placed on the wall over who knows how many years. Jomsom was the end of our trekking, one night here at the Hotel Majesty, a hair-raising 12 hour road trip (is it really a road?) to Pokhara, next day flight to Kathmandu and official end of trip. Wow! What an amazing 29 days with no rain, just snow a couple of nights, but gone by morning.

Thanks to all participants, the sherpas, the porter team, and the camp cooks.

Scribe: Jim Morrow

With: Russell Allen; Hideo Yoshihama; Carol Exton; Allen Small; Stephen and Lee Fowler; Brent Rose