Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2011 was the fifth time The Mountain Company had organised this trek, I led our first one in May 2008 then Gary Pfisterer led in October 2009, myself again in October 2010 and followed by Lee Farmer in April 2011. This time the leader for our Dhaulagiri Circuit group was Dom Rudd (International Mountain Leader) for more information on his background and experience.
The advantage of having organised this trek several times before is that we have developed cumulative experience and knowledge that our new leaders can tap into. They will have access to all previous trip reports sent to us by each leader after completion of the trek as well as the detailed Trek Leader’s notes written by us with information for each day such as timings, points of interest and any risks to be aware of along the way. Please click here to view all of our Dhaulagiri Circuit trip reports published on TMC blog.
The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 8th, from our experience running this trek it is best to start after the first week of October to allow time for monsoon to wind down as Myagdi Valley is particularly wet place due to its north-south orientation. Clouds travel up from the south on plains of India and then at end of valley are blocked and forced to rise by Dhaulagiri resulting in high levels of precipitation. This timing worked well as on this trek there was very little rain during this trek as they approached Italian Base Camp.
Our acclimatisation schedule for Dhaulagiri Circuit is conservative with two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m, two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m and two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. This itinerary worked well for the group and felt well acclimatised to safely cross French Pass into Hidden Valley. Some snow fell at Dhaulagiri Base Camp during evening of October 20th however the day for walking to Hidden Valley on 22nd dawned clear, crisp and cold. Dom was up early this morning to check the weather and conditions and made the decision to proceed as planned.
There was fresh snow on the trail slowing progress although the weather was good with bright sunshine and the view from the approach to French Pass back to Dhaulagiri was spectacular. Just after crossing French Pass the cloud rolled in and wind picked up causing snow to drift across the path filling footprints with soft windblown snow. The first group arrived to camp in Hidden Valley at 4pm and second group only 40 minutes behind, everyone was glad to see that camp was set up with all tents erected and a cup of tea served shortly after their arrival!
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary has two nights in Hidden Valley whereas most other operators only have one night here as they are not properly acclimatised so need to get down in altitude as soon as possible. Feedback from most people in our groups is that they like having a spare day in Hidden Valley as is one of the highlights of this trek. This is not only so that they can they have a well-deserved lie in after a long day crossing French Pass and wait for the sun to warm up before having breakfast but also give them a chance to explore and enjoy this beautiful valley. Some of the group attended an ecole de glace organised by Dom showing them the basic techniques for using crampons and ice axe for self arrest.
Everyone enjoyed their rest day in Hidden Valley and felt rested for the final leg of the trek crossing Dhampus Pass and descending into Kali Gandaki Valley. On October 24th the group left camp at 7.40am on a very cold morning, it took the group two hours to reach the summit of Dhampus walking on snow in good condition with no ice. There was very little snow coming down from the pass and then everyone made good progress on the snowy traverse taking four hours before making the descent to Yak Kharka and down to Alu Bari camp. This year crampons were not required for this day’s walk from Hidden Valley however it is essential to bring in day pack as sometimes there are sections of ice. In fact the traverse tends to be icier in May as our groups have always needed to use crampons at this time of year whereas in October it is usually fine without crampons. This group made good time with last members arrived to Alu Bari at 3.15pm.
On the next day the walk down to Marpha village was spectacular and on arrival the group visited the monastery and after a glass of apple juice continued to Jomsom. After handing out tips to the crew the group had a special dinner of fresh chicken, roasted potatoes and a tasty cake cooked by Saila to celebrate the end of the trek. The next day the flight to Pokhara flew on schedule at 9.15am with spectacular views over to Dhaulagiri and down the Kali Gandaki gorge, then on arrival to Pokhara the group flew back to Kathmandu.
The group had a final dinner at Kilroy’s restaurant in Kathmandu and by chance I was around as just got back from my Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan so I came along too, it was great to meet everyone and hear how the trek went and get feedback from the group.
I would like to thank Dom for doing a superb job leading this group. The local crew worked hard throughout this challenging trek so thanks to Lhakpa Rita Sherpa (Sirdar), Saila Tamang (cook) and Sherpas: Prem, Sangram and Sonam as well as of course all of the porters.
The Mountain Company is organising two Dhaulagiri Circuit treks in 2012, the first one in April will be led by Jill Lawson and second trek will be in October. Please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join one of these groups.
Friday, 23 December 2011
In December I went for a short trek along Mardi Himal ridge as I heard that recently new lodges had been built now making it possible to do this as a teahouse trek rather than camping. I started walking from Phedi a short taxi ride from Pokhara and then walked up to Dhampus following the standard Annapurna Sanctuary trail up to Pitam Deurali where one turns off this main trail to Mardi Himal.
From Pitam Deurali the trail continues through forest and is very quiet compared to the busier trail from Phedi in fact I only saw one other trekker during the whole of my time on Mardi Himal. At Forest Camp (2,600m) there are three small lodges I stayed in one near the camping ground. The rooms are quite basic and there is no dining room so I had my meals in kitchen, so in some ways this is more like a homestay and very enjoyable to get to know this friendly family from Siding village.
From Forest Camp to Low Camp the trail continues through the forest and at Low Camp there are two basic lodges one with a basic dining room with open fire. The view from Low Camp is superb with Mount Machhapuchhre visible up the valley. An hour or so above Low Camp along trail to High Camp one breaks out above tree line and towards the west there is a good view to Annapurna South and Hiunchuli. The trail continues along the Mardi Himal ridge mainly on grass with some isolated rhododendron bushes along the way. Look out for colourful Danphe pheasant on this section of the trek.
The lodge at High Camp is larger than lodges at Low Camp and Forest Camp, this one has eight rooms and a separate dining room with heater. The view from the lodge is superb to Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail). My plan for next day was to get up early for sunrise view of the mountains then walk up the ridge towards Mardi Himal.
The following morning was cold and clear with a heavy frost on the ground and after a quick breakfast I started walking up the ridge. There is a reasonably well established trail through the grass with a few steeper sections however overall not too challenging. Look out for the dzos (yak/ cow crossbreds) grazing up here as well as many more Danphe pheasant. In the summer the sheep and goats from lower villages are brought up to graze I passed a number of herders huts along the way however at this time of year unused as too cold.
After three hours I reached Upper View point at 4,200m this is where one can look into the Annapurna Sanctuary unfortunately at this stage the clouds rolled in so I decided not to proceed any further to Mardi Himal Base Camp as it was getting quite cold. From speaking to the lodge owner at High Camp he told me Base Camp was a further hour or so along the ridge from Upper View point therefore it should be possible to do this in a day trip however a long day and no doubt you would feel the effects of altitude at Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4,400m.
On the way back down I decided to go take the trail down to Siding Village rather than follow Mardi Himal ridge back to Pitam Deurali, this is a better option for a circuit trek and so that you can see these traditional villages in Mardi Himal valley. The owner of lodge at Low Camp has a homestay in Siding so I stayed there for the night. This was very enjoyable as the couple speak good English and interesting to see village life and talk with the family. The owners have a buffalo behind their house so at breakfast I had fresh milk which was very tasty!
From Siding I walked out to the road head at Lumre, on the way from Siding I passed the villages of Kalimati and Ghalel. I gather Kalimati is mainly a Brahmin village with Ghalel and Siding mixed Brahmin and Gurung. From Lumre there is a shared jeep departing ever hour or so however this is a very crowded so better to organise a jeep from Pokhara in advance.
Overall I enjoyed this trek and in some ways this is similar to Kopra Ridge, both of these treks would be a good choice if you are looking for a short trip away from the busy trails of Annapurna Sanctuary however still getting superb mountain views. Mardi Himal trek has a good variety of scenery from forest lower down on the ridge to grassy slopes higher up with views of the big mountains followed by visiting several traditional villages on the walk out.The Mountain Company plans to start organising treks on Mardi Himal Ridge from Spring 2012, shortly we will have a trek webpage set up for Mardi Himal with Trip Dossier on our website however in the meantime please get in touch if you are interested in joining this trek.