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Tom's brief Manaslu 2000 report
A special Jamie thrashing!
[Project Himalaya runs a Manaslu trip each year: see Our treks.]
[oh, and Tom isn't a typical client! But he was a laugh.]
by Tom Sewell, Whitefish, Montana, USA
Well, been there, done that! Now only 2 or 3 more big walks to do in my beloved Nepal, and a slew of little ones.
We all met in Kathmandu, most of the 6 other tourists just getting in. Being my ninth time in Nepal I was able to play guide on the 6 hour jeep ride to the end of the road/trailhead. We began our walk at barely 1000' elevation, in warm lowlands full of flowers, crops, and a zillion types of butterflies. Our first few days were easy walking, trying to break the legs in. One of our 30+- porters was a cute girl with no shoes so I bought her a pair of flipflops for $.50. The group was 7 tourists plus our guide: me, Dana and Dagmar, a 50ish couple from Boulder Colorado, John and Lizzie, a young lawyer and cute medical research wife from Nottingham, Carsten, a young bank computer guy from Zurich, and Traci, a 30ish teacher girl from Toronto. In addition we were required to have a government 'liaison officer', Manjol, a handsome young Nepali guy.
Jamie McGuinness was our guide, he's from New Zealand but lives here. Our crew consisted of a sherpa core group of guides, sirdars, and kitchen crew, plus as many porters as we needed day to day, hired mostly from local villages.
The valley of the Buri Ghandaki became a gorge on the 3rd day and soon the walls towered 1000's of feet above with waterfalls galore. The trail often clung to cliff faces and stone stairs reached to the heavens, carved out of vertical rock cliffs. This 1st week we had only brief glimpses of any of the big peaks as they were hidden high above.
We soon took a 5 day side trip up a seldom visited valley to see the Ganesh group of peaks, a cirque of 23,000' giants with a Buddhist gompa (temple) in a grand setting. The people here are of Tibetan origin and very primitive. many have never washed their hands and surely never had a bath! The beer was cheap, however, having been made in Beijing (Pabst Blue Ribbon!) trucked across China and Tibet, then carried a week on porters backs over the pass and down into Nepal's canyons to the local shops. Here in this particular village the people seemed inbred and a bit unfriendly. We even had our toilet tent stolen from under our noses in the nite! Our last day in the valley was an 8-12 hour epic along a high trail with death awaiting any slip of the feet. The slower members were benighted and forced to sleep out under a rock, while me and the faster ones made it to a rustic 'lodge' by headlight along the main trail where I had my nightly rinse in the dark. I hate to sleep all sweaty sticky if I don't have too.
A few more days walk up the main gorge and we emerged into the more open glacier carved valley and got our first real views of Manaslu, the world's 8th highest peak, and its awesome outliers. Here we also met our first other tourist groups, 2 French and a couple from Sun Valley. (isn't it funny how we all dislike the unfriendly French?) We visited many Gompa's and temples along the trails, their insides adorned with beautiful statues, carvings, thangka paintings, and old Tibetan/Buddhist manuscripts.
Jamie, Dana, and I took an afternoon climb/walk up a side valley to see the nearby pass into Tibet, 3000' above our camp. By now me and Jamie are the only white people who have not gotten sick yet. Though the crew tries to cook as clean as possible its pretty inevitable in these filthy conditions of Nepal. I cross my fingers with every fart. By the Larkya La, our main trail pass, a few days later, at over 16000' elevation we were all pretty fit but felt the altitude nevertheless. speedy Carsten beat me to the top by 45 minutes. I'm getting old I guess. The view was astounding, we could see west the peaks of the Annapurna range, many along the Tibet border, and of course the nearby giants of the Manaslu group. Our throats were all parched from the dry air and every porter I passed with their heavy basket loads asked for water as they foolishly carried none. The other side was very steep and a tricky descent. We all suffered from the intense sun and altitude which gave us a slight headache.
The 2 lodges of Bimtang were a welcome sight after a long hard day. as was the cute 'sahuni' or boss girl of one, all of 20 years old. She was of the Gurung caste and for the next few days we would trek thru their traditional lands. They are one of my favorite castes as the girls are very pretty, and they have also become famous as gurkha soldiers for the British army.
A few days later we hit the main Annapurna trail, with its stream of tourists and nice lodges stocked with long dreamed of candy bars, Pringles, etc.. unavailable along the remote trail we had just trekked. Here we heard our first news of the wierd election back home and again I crossed my fingers.
Soon we split the group. The girls wisely opted to stay low along the main trail sleeping in warmish lodges while we macho men turned north towards Tibet for a 4 day attempt on a 'small' 20,000 foot peak. Of course up at base camp at 16,000' we had our first rain/snow the entire trek, and since the next day was socked in we had an acclimatization day, tent bound. That night it was -1°F. Day 25, we pushed on up to 18,000' and the col (pass) with a reduced crew, where we pitched my highest camp ever. The views were unbelievable! It was my first time in many years to have to share a tent with another man and I now know why I like to have a private tent! Our odors mixed into a lethal brew and it was a squeeze just to roll over. To top it of sleep never came to me, I tossed and turned and checked my bloody watch every hour till dawn. I could hardly breathe at all. I love the high peaks but sleeping at altitude is just awful. the sun finally came and by 8:00 we were of to climb the peak, numb toes in clunky climbing boots. Though the peak seemed near, every step was a gasp for breath. Jamie fixed ropes for us at the steep sections and he climbed like a robot having no worries up here as he had been up an 8000 meter peak already this fall. By the summit ridge we climbers were 'shagged out' and the clouds came in in swirls. The top was a knife edge with certain death on both sides, but we all made it. My highest summit ever, Chulu Far East 6059 meters, 19,873 feet, #399 on my life list, (only 101 to go before I'm 50!?) and #23 this year. damn though, its 447' lower than Alaska's McKinley! Video and pix on top with quickly freezing fingers, then we began the descent. What took four hours up only took one down. I pushed on down ahead of the rest, having set my sights on the airstrip and warm lodges, 9000 feet and many knee jarring miles below. At the col I loaded my gear and had a quick cup of Nepali milk tea offered by the sherpas, then a 3000' plunge down to waterfall camp and the main trail just as darkness fell. I never got to the strip and clean that night having gotten lost in the dark but I did find a little lodge to sleep for $.50, where I could also get a beer and some rice and veggies (dal bhaat) to eat. The last day we all regrouped and relaxed doing showers/laundry and awaiting the 19 minute plane ride back down to warm, civilized Pokhara. The 'Around Manaslu Trek' was 202+- miles in 27 days.
What's next? Thailand and bikini beaches, of course!
Hey sowgee ("owner" in nepali), well back to weird expensive America. we're in Bend, Oregon now, en route south towards Dallas. Paisa derai siddio. Thailand was cool. so many sexy girls! but some aren't really girls at all! yuk! took scuba school. Sita wore her black thong topless on Phuket beach and lotsa guys were jealous. cold here. been ski skating some. soon Arizona deserts. good to see my dog Jed.