Magic and Mystery of Manaslu, Nepal

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15570A, International

Highlights

  • Trek expedition-style around the eighth-highest mountain in the world
  • Cross 16,700-foot Larkya Pass near the Tibet border
  • Experience peak spring rhododendron bloom

Includes

  • Guides, cooks, porters, and all equipment for the trek         
  • Kathmandu hotel, airport transfers, and trek transportation
  • All meals except two lunches in Kathmandu

Details

DatesApr 5–29, 2015
Price$3,845 (12–15)
$4,295 (or fewer)
Deposit$200
Capacity15
StaffMelinda Goodwater

Trip Overview

The Trip

East of the Annapurnas lie the equally majestic, but less famous and less traveled, Manaslu Himal. Rising to 26,750 feet, Mt. Manaslu is the eighth-highest peak in the world. Closed to trekking until 1992, this area offers a more authentic Himalayan experience, circling the Manaslu massif on a challenging route without hordes of other trekkers. Discover Nepal's wide diversity of landscapes and cultures from the Hindu villages of the subtropical lowlands, through the steep canyons of the Buri Gandaki River, to the high and dry Buddhist settlements near the Tibetan border. Traveling self-contained expedition-style allows us to immerse ourselves more easily into traditional local customs. While you hike with only a daypack, our cheerful Nepali staff carries your gear, cooks our meals, and sets up and takes down our tents, leaving you free to contemplate and enjoy this magical area.

Kathmandu extends a shocking welcome to new arrivals with its crowded, narrow, medieval streets and plethora of temples and colorful shops. After a dawn walk to Swayambunath (the Monkey Temple), guided exploration of Patan and Bhaktapu (the two other ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley) shows off a time when Nepal was the most advanced in architecture and wood carving.

The rest of Nepal enjoys a quiet, rural existence we'll appreciate as we start our trek in the foothill village of Arughat. Climbing through jungle and terraced hillsides, we'll be in the area of the Honey Hunters of Nepal made famous by Eric and Diane Valli with National Geographic in the 1980s. Following the steep river canyon of the Buri Gandaki, we'll descend and cross many side canyons on dramatic suspension bridges. In some areas there is no place to put the trail, but to carve it into the cliff walls. As we gain altitude leaving the lush jungles behind, the villages and people change character as well. Entering the area of Tibetan influence above Philim, flat-roofed pueblo-style houses adorned with prayer flags replace thatched-roof mud homes as mani walls, stones with Buddhist prayers carved in them, line our path.  Where the Buri Gandaki curves to parallel the Tibet border, we skirt the foot of glaciers flowing down Manaslu. Visiting a local monastery, with its copious and intricate artwork, aids our acclimatization for the push to the spectacular high pass, 16,700-foot Larkya La. Descending the other side into the Marsyangdi watershed, we join the Annapurna Circuit route to finish in Besisahar.

While most people come to Nepal to trek on the roof of the world, they are surprised to learn that the cultures of its many ethnic groups are at least as interesting. Nepal's true treasure is the warmth and hospitality of its people and this trek offers the opportunity to bond with our staff and experience their homeland more as a local than a tourist. The sirdar, or head guide and trek organizer, is the leader's husband of 19 years, so with their staff of extended family and villagers, the expedition feels more like one large traveling family. Indeed this is the trip of a lifetime, but the joy and friendliness of the Nepalese people will beckon you to return again and again!

Itinerary

Travel in Nepal is still truly adventurous. Although we will try to adhere to a daily itinerary, please embrace any changes that may have to be made due to weather, trail conditions, ability of the group, or the serendipity of the unexpected. This is what makes adventure travel fun and enhances your experience.

Day 1: (Arrive Kathmandu) Transfer to our hotel. We'll have an orientation about the trip, then the afternoon is free to explore the neighborhood of Thamel. Enjoy a welcome dinner of traditional Nepali fare.

Day 2: (Kathmandu) To recover from jet lag, we'll take a dawn warm-up walk up 300 feet of stairs to see Hindu and Buddhist temples and to hear beautiful Newari singing at Swayambunath, the Monkey Temple. After breakfast, we’ll have a guided tour of Patan, one of the ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley.  Its temples and Durbar Square show off Patan’s kings’ offerings to their gods and its museum is well worth visiting. Return with time to pack for the trek.  Dinner at a fine Indian restaurant.

Day 3: (Kathmandu-Arughat) We board our chartered bus with our staff and gear for an exhilarating ride through the bucolic countryside to begin our trek. We may see rafters far below us on the Trisuli River and a panorama of Himalayan peaks above us.  Twenty miles of dirt road from the paved road gets us into Arughat at mid-afternoon. After unloading the bus, we may camp here or hike an hour or so to our first camp. This is our first night in tents (2,000 feet).

Day 4: (Arughat-Soti Khola) We begin our trek up the Buri Gandaki River past fields of rice and millet and through forests full of monkeys.  The first views of Sringi Himal (23,573 feet) are up the valley.  After crossing our first suspension bridge, the trail gets steeper while climbing up to a 2,700 foot ridge.  Descend to camp by the Soti Khola (river) (2,330 feet).  Waterfalls and Magar and Gurung villages characterize this area where honey is harvested as in the Honey Hunters of Nepal.  Ascend 700 feet and descend 400 feet in seven hours.

Day 5: (Soti Khola-Machha Khola) We cross another bridge and trek through beautiful sal forests.  We climb above huge rapids on the Buri Gandaki on trail blasted out of vertical rock walls.  The trail clings to the side of a cliff, passing tropical waterfalls on the way to camp at Machha Khola (2,890 feet).  Ascend 600 feet in six hours.

Day 6: (Machha Khola-Thulo Dhunga) This is a day of typical Himalayan trekking with many ups and downs over ridges, across streams, along meandering gravel bars and up steep valleys.  Lunch at Tatopani (3,050 feet) features a hot spring near a stone shrine with several spouts of hot water. Ascend 1,350 feet to camp at Thulo Dhunga (4,250 feet) (meaning big rock) in seven hours.

Day 7: (Thulo Dhunga-Jagat) We cross the Buri Gandaki twice today on suspension bridges. The trail improves as we climb on Gurung-built stone staircases.  We'll alternate walking among gravel bars on serene sections of the river with climbing ridges to reach camp at the compact village of Jagat (4,625 feet).  A police post and Annapurna Conservation Area Project office is here.  Beyond this point we'll be passing into the restricted area that we need special permits for.  We’ll reach camp by lunchtime, ascending 400 feet in three hours.

Day 8: (Jagat-Philim) Views of Sringi Himal improve as we get closer to it and the river valley widens.  We cross the river again and climb up to camp at Philim (5,200 feet), headquarters of the Manaslu Conservation Area Project, where we'll be able to visit their information center and learn about their projects for sustainable development. We've now entered the area of Tibetan influence marked by mani walls along the trail. Ascend 600 feet in four hours.

Day 9: (Philim-Deng) The route now enters a steep, uninhabited gorge with grassy slopes dotted with pine trees.  We are beneficiaries of a fine new trail built by German volunteers, which hangs on a cliff then descends to the river. The valley finally widens as it goes through bamboo forests to our camp at Deng (5,900 feet).  Ascend 700 feet in five hours.

Day 10: (Deng-Ghap) From Deng we enter the area of Nupri, inhabited by Buddhist Gurungs rather than the Hindu Gurungs lower down. The Buri Gandaki begins its north-south to east-west turn as it parallels the Tibet border.  We have crossed the main Himalayan range, where forests become sparse in the rain shadow of Manaslu.  We will also have more serious elevation gains climbing above vertical rock walls that confine the river and undulating through forests to reach the entrance kani at Ghap (6,900 feet). Chortens, Buddhist shrines, will dot the landscape now, with village entrance gates called kani decorated with paintingsCamp is at the river. Ascend 1,000 feet in five hours.

Day 11: (Ghap-Namrung) We travel west now just a little over three miles from the Tibet border. The peaks to our north are the border between Nepal and Tibet.  Hiking through a forest of big firs alive with birds, we may see the colorful danphe, or impeyan pheasant, the national bird of Nepal.  We cross the Buri Gandaki on wooden bridges spanning the river-carved rock. Passing waterfalls, we may be watched by langur monkeys as we climb through bamboo and brightly blooming rhododendron forests before arriving at camp at Namrung (8,725 feet). A police post here controls access to Tibet, as there is still local trade between the two countries.  Arrive by lunchtime, ascending 1,800 feet in four hours.

Day 12: (Namrung-Lho) The views get spectacular as Manaslu (26,750 feet), Manaslu North (23,475 feet), and Naike Peak (18,090 feet) appear at the head of the valley.  Stone houses here are clustered together, sharing a common roof and the people dress in Tibetan chubas; thick, woolen wraparound robes. As we climb higher we'll pass a big prayer wheel right in the middle of the trail. Our camp at Lho (10,430 feet) is a village large enough to have its own gompa, or monastery. Ascend 1,700 feet in six hours. 

Day 13: Lho-Samagaon: We continue to climb up onto a plateau with wide views of Himalchuli (25,890 feet), Ngadi Chuli (25,840 feet), and Manaslu. Lunch and camp is in the village of Samagaon (11,600 feet). Nestled in the valley, the only crops grown here are potatoes and barley. We will also see herds of yaks, a few horses, and playful marmots. The big occupation here is weaving and we'll see women on looms working at their craft. This will be camp for two nights. Ascend 1,200 feet in five hours.

Day 14: (Samagaon) We will spend an acclimatizing day here to adjust to the altitude. Acclimatizing is best done by being active so we will hike to Birendra Tal, a glacial lake at 11,300 feet with breathtaking views of Ngadi Chuli, Himalchuli, and Manaslu, and stop to visit a local monastery on the return.

Day 15: (Samagaon-Samdo) The next two days will be short hiking days to aid in acclimatization before tackling the Larkya La.  The Buri Gandaki turns north again on its way to its source at the Tibet border. A steep climb takes us to camp at Samdo (12,660 feet). A major trade route from Samdo heads to Tibet, only a day's walk away. Ascend 1,100 feet in four hours. 

Day 16: (Samdo-Larkya Rest House) We descend from Samdo for our final crossing of the now small Buri Gandaki River.  It continues north as we head west, following a fine, old mani wall toward our pass, the Larkya La. Climbing through tundra and juniper opposite the Larkya Glacier, we may hear and see avalanches roar down this peak safely away from our path. The climb gets steeper going in and out of a huge gorge until we reach the last shelter before the pass -- the Larkya Rest House (14,700 feet), camp for the night. Ascend 2,000 feet in six hours.

Day 17: (Larkya Rest House-Bimtang) This is the big day when we reach the high point of the trek -- the crossing of the Larkya La pass (16,728 feet). The pass will surely have snow so we will start at 3:00 a.m. to make the five- to six-hour climb in safety. Gaiters, layers of fleece and down, glove liners, wool mittens, and Gore-tex outer mits will keep you comfortable in the early morning sub-freezing temperatures.  Views at the top are well worth the effort as we get our first glimpse of peaks in the Annapurna Massif - Himlung Himal (23,373 feet), Cheo Himal (22,370 feet), Gyaji Kung (23,060 feet), Kang Guru (22,900 feet), and Annapurna II (26,033 feet). The descent from the top starts out steep, gradually getting easier the more it goes down. It will be a long day before we arrive at camp in Bimtang (12,200 feet). Ascend 2,000 feet and descend 4,500 feet in 10-12 hours.

Day 18: (Bimtang) Today is a planned contingency day in case of bad weather or more acclimatizing keeps us from the pass. Otherwise, it's a rest day to explore Bimtang's earlier prominence as a trading post and as a Khampa guerilla staging area in the 1970s to fight the Chinese in Tibet. This is why Manaslu was restricted until the 1990s. The huge, scenic valley is surrounded by high peaks.

Day 19: (Bimtang-Karche) We continue descending along glacial streams through beautiful pine and blooming rhododendron forest. We'll cross fields, climb, and descend a ridge to camp at Karche (8,900 feet).  High peaks are still visible from this lush and scenic campsite, including part of Lamjung's peak above the Marsyangdi Valley.  Descend 3,300 feet in eight hours.

Day 20: (Karche-Tal) Our progress should be fast now that we're acclimatized and well-conditioned as we continue down the Dudh Khola, which separates the Manaslu and Annapurna Himals.  We meet the Annapurna Circuit after crossing the Marsyangdi River in Dharapani, where we'll need to present ourselves at the checkpost there.  After completing the formalities, we continue now on the apple pie trail to camp at scenic Tal (5,600 feet). Although this is one of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal, we will be going the opposite direction of the other trekkers going to Manang and Thorung La on the Annapurna Circuit.  Descend 3,300 feet in eight hours. 

Days 21-22: (Tal-Besisahar) We'll be on a fast track -- generally downhill -- on our last two trekking days. Waterfalls and soaring peaks still give us pause as we return to the balmy, lush, subtropical jungle. Besisahar (2,700 feet) is our last camp in tents where we'll celebrate our success with our hardworking staff and porters, honoring them with a party.  Descend 3,000 feet over two days.

Day 23: (Besisahar-Kathmandu) Once again we board our chartered bus for the drive back to Kathmandu. After three weeks of pastoral bliss, the noisy, chaotic return to Kathmandu is bittersweet. Mid-afternoon arrival at our hotel gives us time to shower and do a little shopping before dinner.

Day 24: (Kathmandu) After breakfast we'll have a guided tour of the ancient city of Bhaktapur, which had its own kings, temples, and Durbar Square to show off their offerings to their gods. With no cars allowed in the Durbar Square, the peace and quiet in old Bhaktapur is like going back in time. Return in time for last-minute shopping. We'll honor our trekking staff again at our farewell dinner at a favorite Thamel restaurant.

Day 25: (Depart Kathmandu) We'll decompress over breakfast at a restaurant serving American favorites before transferring to the airport for our flights home.

Photos

Details

Getting There

You will need to make your own flight arrangements to and from Nepal. The leader will provide contact information for a recommended travel agent who can arrange flights from your home city.

Your passport should be valid for at least six months after entry into Nepal and a Nepal visa is required. Details for acquiring this will be given in a future bulletin.  

Accommodations and Food

Double-occupancy rooms in Kathmandu are included with the trip. Our hotel features rooms with private baths and hot showers.  It's centrally located within walking distance of many temples and shops, plus it is staffed by friendly, English-speaking folks.  Although not fancy, it is clean with lovely gardens to relax in. 

On trek, two people will share four-person Eureka Outfitter tents offering plenty of room for folks and their duffels.  Porters will carry them and sherpas will set them up and take them down at each camp. A small amount of hot water is provided each morning for washing and a toilet tent will be set up at each camp for privacy. Boiled water and tea will be available at all meals and water purification will be provided for treating your drinking water. Buying bottled water is discouraged as the bottles are rarely recycled and end up along the trails.

Meals in Kathmandu will be in restaurants catering to Western tastes and hygiene. On trek our kitchen staff prepares hot breakfasts, dinners, AND lunches. Meals feature Nepali, Tibetan, and American specialties. Nepal has a wide variety of food having every growing climate so fresh foods may be resupplied en route. Vegetarians are easy to accommodate since dal bhat (lentils and rice) is the Nepali staple and prepared at every meal. Any other food restrictions should be indicated to the leader as far in advance as possible. Our staff is well trained in preparing meals according to Western standards of hygiene.       

Trip Difficulty

Any Himalayan trek should be considered moderately strenuous, meaning mostly moderate hiking with a few strenuous days.  Manaslu is considered one of Nepal's more difficult treks because of the many climbs and descents into and out of steep canyons and exposure of the trail along vertical cliffs. Daily elevation gains and losses could be as much as 3,500 feet. The highest mandatory altitude is 16,728 feet at Larkya La and the highest camp is 14,700 feet.  Several camps will be above 10,000 feet.  All nights will be in tents on this trek. The day climbing the Larkya La is a strenuous 10- to 12-hour day, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain and 4,500 feet of descent. You should be in excellent physical condition with recent hiking experience above 10,000 feet. Recommendations for an adequate conditioning regime will be provided in a future bulletin to approved trip members.

April is the ideal time to trek in Nepal with longer, warmer days. Mornings are typically clear, with an occasional thunderstorm developing in the afternoon. However, mountains create their own weather; rain, snow, or a surprise storm can happen unexpectedly anytime. Daytime temperatures of 50-75 degrees can be expected, depending on elevation, and nighttime temperatures may go down to the 20s at our high camps. Ultra-violet rays from the sun are especially strong above 10,000 feet so long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and high-value spf sunscreen and lip balm are essential.

Although porters will carry most of your gear, you will need to carry what you need for the day in a daypack weighing up to 15 pounds.  You are encouraged to hike at your own pace, stopping when you wish for photography or other interests. We will have English-speaking sherpa guides hiking with us to keep us from getting separated from the group. You should be comfortable hiking 3-4 hours in the morning and 2-3 hours in the afternoon after about an hour and a half break for lunch.  Because of the rough nature and steepness of the trails, hiking poles are strongly recommended.

As important as your physical conditioning is your mental preparation. The more you familiarize yourself with Nepal before the trip, the more you will be able to absorb and enjoy once you get there. The books in the reference section would be a good starting point.  Also, flexibility, patience, and a spirit of adventure are necessary. You should be comfortable traveling in close proximity with a group of people and be able to adapt easily to changing conditions. This trip will be especially enjoyable for those who have an open mind and embrace new cultures and experiences.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent to approved trip participants.  Your personal gear should be packed in a soft duffel bag, no hard-frame packs or suitcases with wheels.  Duffel weight is limited to 25 pounds since each porter will carry three of these.  What you carry in your daypack is not counted in your duffel weight. Tents and other trekking equipment and food is carried separately and not counted in your allotment.

References

Books:

The following books should give you a feel for what the trek will be like. Your local library is also a good resource.

  • Mayhew, Bradley and Joe Bindloss, Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, (9th edition), Lonely Planet Publications.
  • Mayhew, Bradley, Lindsay Brown, and Trent Holden, Nepal, (9th edition), Lonely Planet Publications.
  • Jones, Sian Pritchard, Bob Gibbons, and Himalayan Map House, A Trekking Guide to Manaslu and Tsum Valley: Lower Manaslu and Ganesh Himal.
  • Nepal, (6th edition), Insight Guides.
  • Valli, Eric, and Diane Summers, Honey Hunters of Nepal, Harry N. Abrams Publisher, 1988.

Maps:

  • Maps of our trekking area will be distributed in Nepal.  Nelles Maps' Nepal is a good map of the whole country.

Conservation

Ninety-six percent of Nepal's fuel energy comes from wood. Since Nepal first opened her doors to tourism, massive deforestation has occurred, resulting in the loss of half of the national forest reserves. The rapidly expanding population also demands more and more space to grow food, and these two factors have resulted in a serious problem. It is said that Nepal's biggest export is the soil carried down its rivers to India each year. In certain areas the environment is being taxed to the limit, and we will have an opportunity to observe this problem firsthand.

Sierra Club outings to Nepal are doing their best not to contribute to this problem. In Kathmandu, our hotel uses solar energy to heat water, and on the trek we use small kerosene stoves to cook on. Do not expect an evening campfire. We try to lessen our impact in other ways as well. Our practice of not bringing unnecessary gear and not burning kerosene to heat luxurious amounts of washing water cuts down drastically on the number of porters needed -- while still keeping individual porter loads to a reasonable weight limit. Other well-known trekking companies sometimes employ literally three times the number of porters we do, a practice that has negative impacts on the remote areas we'll visit.

The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) was founded to work with the people who live in the area. The conservation area practices a multiple land-use method of resource management to combine environmental protection with sustainable community development. Traditional subsistence activities are woven into a framework of sound resource management, supplemented by small-scale conservation and alternative energy projects to minimize the impact of tourists and upgrade the local standard of living.  With the success of ACAP, the Manaslu Conservation Area Project was initiated in 1999. We will be visiting their headquarters on trek to see firsthand how responsible tourism and resource management is improving the quality of life for the local people as well as the environment.

Besides observing deforestation, over-grazing, and the pollution in Kathmandu, you will also hike through pristine countryside and breathe clean air. The people you meet on the trek are feeding themselves without the use of herbicides and pesticides. The Nepalese people have a positive spirit and attitude, and are learning to cope with the problems of the 21st century -- and to understand the successes and failures of the modern world. It will become painfully clear how luxurious our own lifestyle really is compared to that of the overwhelming majority of the world's people, bringing into question our inequitable consumption of the world's precious resources.

Your Western viewpoint will force you to question some of what you see, while your experience in Nepal will be close enough to the land and people that, if you are perceptive and wise, you will learn much beyond your formal education. People from first- and third-world countries have much to learn from one another. Hopefully, these experiences will make us better world citizens and involve us actively in the search for a balanced, equitable, and sustainable way of life for all of us on this planet.

Staff

Leader:

Melinda Goodwater went on her first trek to Nepal in 1990 and loved it so much she returned five months later. She began leading treks there with her future Nepalese husband in 1992 and lived there through much of the 1990s. She has also led over 100 Sierra Club Outings everywhere from Alaska, the Sierra and the Rockies to the desert Southwest. Timesharing between the U.S. and her Nepalese family gives Melinda an insight into the people and culture of Nepal not easily gleaned otherwise. Along with years of experience leading trips in remote and high-altitude situations, Melinda is also a Wilderness First Responder with 80 hours of first aid training. She welcomes you to join her Nepalese trekking family.

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