Jamie McGuinness Bali - Bal Bahadur Lopchan, star guide and organizer

 

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"Snow Leopard Lake" under moonlight - Jamie McGuinness

Expedition thoughts

"We are going dreamily into a lunar landscape. ... the rocks take on unreal colors and shapes, and glitter with strange lights like pallid images in a dream. Now we leave the Kali Gandaki valley and climb the flanks of the mountains, following a difficult and winding path; in places where the earth and rock do not provide a foothold, little bridges have been suspended over the void."

- G. Tucci (1969), Journey to Mustang

Why this trek-climb? The trek itself is incredibly scenic and cultural, and a great way to start the acclimatization process. In 2011 we were graciously given permission to traverse the area, the very first group to EVER. Seriously. There is a trick that I won't mention here. We discovered an amazing area that has long valleys and many, many straightforward peaks, and these need some more exploring, documentation while having a wonderful experience.

With Mera Peak there is a higher chance of delayed flights and face it, it is a teahouse trek now. None of that glorious wilderness camping, and that real traditional, so photogenic culture?

Map

Check out this map of Arniko Chuli (top right corner) on the GHT website, go to the second map and and do click on the lower right most control to go full screen. The area shows well in Google Earth too, and the Panaramio photos are all Carsten Nebel's who took them in 2011 with us...

Glorious Upper Mustang

- Jamie

Gear

It is critical to bring the right gear. Most importantly do bring sturdy trekking boots. These must be almost new tough fabric and leather trekking boots, and slightly tougher than the lightest available, or be all-leather trekking boots. As an example, Scarpa make the Mistral GTX, which is their lightest, but the Kailash GTX is a bit tougher, but still light. The all leather boot alternative should be tough with real ankle support, such as the New SL M3.

For the climb you can optionally bring tough leather boots that take crampons, or if you are really serious about getting to the summit, then bring insulated boots that take crampons, just in case it is cold on summit day. Do discuss directly!

To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).

Detailed Itinerary

We have trekked this route previously and so can't call it truly exploratory; however we are still the only group that has been up here other than Paulo Grobel, and we will check out a few more passes and hills that we spied last time.

Most of the itinerary is fixed, to get there, and back, however we do have plenty of exploration time in the high country and will adapt the itinerary to the ambitions of who has booked, and to conditions.

We trek in the pleasant standard route in to Lo Manthang and avoid the four wheel drive track as much as possible. You may notice we get to altitude quickly but then stay at the 3800m level for a number days before heading higher, where we have two acclimatization camps.

Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu - 1350m

Our staff meet you at the airport, look for a sign with your name on it and Jamie will meet you at the hotel and introduce you to Thamel, if you are not already familiar with the place. We have a trip briefing starting 6pm this evening and head out to dinner together. We collect the passports for the office to finish the final paperwork.

2 - Fly Pokhara 827m

In the morning we have a briefing with the Ministry of Tourism as part of the expedition permit process for Arniko Chuli then sometime after lunch fly to Pokhara and relax in the warmth near the lake.

3 - Fly Jomsom, Trek Kagbeni ~2800m

It is an early morning flight to Jomsom, to beat the later morning winds, and after meeting the crew (who came in overland), we stretch the legs with the less than three hour walk to Kagbeni, a delightful village well worth exploring. We are trekking up the massive Kali Gandaki valley with Dhaulagiri and Annapurna towering behind us unseen. It is said that the Kali Gandaki is the deepest gorge in the world, with these 8000 metre peaks beside.

4 - Trek Chele 3050m

We leave the busy Annapurna region for the more exclusive area of Upper Mustang.

- Jamie

5 - Trek Syangboche 3850m

... lunch in shady Samar. We have a choice, the easier road route or the more adventurous via Ranchung cave gompa. We get a view of this bridge below but don't cross it.

Spectacular - Jamie

6 - Trek Dhakmar 3820m

Today is perhaps the most colorful and scenic day of what is one of the delightfully scenic treks there is.

The gorgeous colours and formations - Jamie

7 - Trek Lo Manthang 3800m

The last functioning walled city in the world...

8 - Lo Manthang

Those gompas!

- Jamie

9 - stay Lo Manthang 3800m

In addition to exploring the village, there are plenty of other options. People often take a jeep or horses up valley to Chosar. We will discuss options while there.

10 - trek grassy camp 4300m

It is only half a day to our first wilderness camp as we climb 500m in altitude, a prudent gain considering how many nights we have already spent at around 3800m. There is a very special longer route to the camp that we will probably take, and will share it's secrets only on the trail.

11 - rest-explore grassy camp 4300m

This is a somewhat optional rest and acclimatization day, let's see how everyone is feeling.

12 - trek 4850m camp

Heading further up, the water and grass thin, and we camp at the last water source, in a pleasant camp with wonderful views across the valley to Tibet to the north, and across to the Saribung region and where we have previously explored.

Our delightful camp - Jamie

13 - rest-explore 4850m camp

This is a necessary acclimatization day, even if everyone is feeling good as tomorrow we cross a seriously high pass. From this camp we have previously scrambled a couple of "hills" and there is also a valley that makes tempting exploration, or just relax wash and read.

14 - cross Lakyep La ~5600, Ghyung Khola ~5000m

Also called the Kakyep La, we crawl up the stony pass, traversing around and up, and feel the altitude. The panorama is breathtaking for other reasons though, with much of the Annapurna range another peaks piercing the skyline.

The descent down the other side is steep and relentless, and basically we aim simply to get down to the bottom of the valley to a good camp site. The stream we are camping by cannot be climbed up, hence our pass.

Dawa and Da'Kusang discuss the route over the pass; Annapurna I in the background - Jamie

15 - trek Arniko Chuli BC ~5400m

The terrain opens out as we gently gain altitude in the valley. Let's see how far up the valley we get, but probably we camp by a glacial lake.

Kiang, the wild ass of Tibet in our area - Jamie

16 - rest-exploration Arniko Chuli BC ~5400m

There are peaks and passes everywhere here. First we have to work out which peak is the real Arniko Chuli!

17 - rest-exploration Arniko Chuli BC ~5400m

We have another day of exploring, or resting and reading, and preparing for the climb tomorrow.

This is not Arniko Chuli but is indicative of what we might be climbing - Jamie

18 - climb Arniko Chuli 6039m

The route is probably over rubble first, then onto the snow where with a bit of luck there are no crevasses meaning we can get away without harness; let's see.

19 - trek snow leopard lake 5370m

Retracing our path, we turn up the other main valley to camp by a delightful lake.

20 - cross 5760m pass to camp 5500m

This is a high region and our pass bears this out, stony and without a real trail but the reward is a a descent that opens into a pleasant valley and we camp where ever we reach.

21 - Ghermi La base camp

Let's have a look around. The Ghermi La is a pass that leads to Ghermi Village and in 2011 part of our team descended this rough and wild route, but the last section has fallen away and so it isn't recommended.

22 - explore Ghermi La

What a wonderful area, littered with lakes and mountains; what will we find? We can also use this time in other ways, let's see what suits the team.

23 - trek Sipte camp

Heading down valley again, we finally meet the main Jomsom-Dolpo route and camp somewhere scenic.

24 - trek Niwas La base camp ~5000m

This is a broad grassy tussock valley and we trek up as far as we can camp for the passes tomorrow.

25 - cross Niwas La, Jungben La 5550m to Khola camp

This is either a two pass day, or perhaps even a three pass day, let's see how we do. In 2008 a storm dumped snow while we were between passes and we ended up sleeping in the dining tent.

 

26 - trek Sangta / face camp

This is a rough valley with a tale to tell... We have a few overnight options for where we stay on the way out, either staying at the village, or free camping.

Sangta village - Jamie

27 - trek face camp

We climb up to that glorious traversing trail and camp somewhere convenient for tomorrow. Essentially this is an optional spare day to break up what would otherwise be a long trek.

28 - trek double passes to Phalyak

Rounding the high ridge are glorious, inspiring views of Upper Mustang. We trek either to the village of Phalyak, or camp en route.

Rounding the Bhima Lojun La with a stunning panorama to Upper Mustang - Jamie

29 - trek Jomsom

Descending, suddenly we are back to cafe and lodge country, and telephone and internet.

30 - fly Jomsom-Pokhara-Kathmandu

We start with a morning flight then perhaps lunch in Pokhara and afternoon flight back to noisy and polluted Kathmandu, redeemed by a good meal and some celebratory drinks.

31 - depart

You are free to leave Kathmandu today, however it is probably worth planning an evening flight as just occasionally the Jomsom-Pokhara flight is delayed, perhaps a couple of times a month, and so this allows for a delay. Alternatively stay an extra night for some shopping...

Photo galleries of the 2011 trip

We had a classic exploratory adventure, check out Jamie's public Flickr sets.

 

Jamie's Flickr photo sets

Jamie's Flickr sets

The 2011 GHT Mustang and the 2011 GHT to Dolpo are the relevant galleries; the others - eye candy!

Carsten Nebel, an itinerate trekker and one of the 2011 explorers also has a Flicker Nepal Mustang 2011 set.

For more info on the region also check out Paulo Grobel's explorations, his Araniko Chuli page, in particular, and the translated version. Sometimes it feels like I have followed in Paulo's footsteps, across Saribung, and this Arniko Chuli area, and in ideas, such as exploring about Simikot. He is a great explorer; however we have done more than our share of exploring in the east of Nepal too.