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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Almas Khan in April 2015

Photo: terraced fields near Muri village
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in April 2015 was led by Almas Khan. Almas led our successful October 2013 trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit and I know he was looking forward to going back again (read October 2013 Trip Report). The Sirdar for this trek was Domi Sherpa one of our most experienced climbing guides and the assistant guides were Sonam and Khumbu. The cook was Saila Tamang.

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group arrived to Kathmandu on April 19th. During this Spring season the Nepal Himalayan region received high amounts of precipitation, this was much more than usually experienced at this time of year. However we carefully tracked the amount of snow that had fallen in Dhaulagiri region for the last month through our bespoke weather forecasts and hindcasts from everestweather.com. From this information we identified there was less snow in Dhaulagiri region compared to Annapurna. Therefore we were confident with our experienced crew led by Almas Khan that our group would have a good chance of safely crossing the high passes to Jomsom.

On 20th the group flew to Pokhara then drove by bus to Beni where they met the trek crew and then walked to their first camp at Tatopani. The trek progressed as planned and on 24th they arrived to Dobang camp. However this all changed at 11.56am on 25th as there was a 7.8 Richter earthquake in Nepal with epicentre located near Gorkha. I was in Kathmandu during the earthquake and shortly afterwards I called Almas on his satellite phone to find out if the group and crew were all ok. I heard from Almas there was some rockfall on the trail although there were luckily no injuries in our team as the tremors were not so strong in this area compared to other trekking regions of Nepal.

On 26th we decided to allow the group to walk up to Italian Base Camp as this is a wide, open area with low risk of rockfall or avalanche so would be a safe place for them to stay for a while. After further discussions with Almas on satellite phone we decided to abort the trek as we were concerned about the risk of rockfall in the narrow Chonbarden gorge leading to Glacier Camp. All of the other groups descended from Italian Base Camp however we decided to keep the group at Italian Base camp for a further four days. We felt this was the safest option as it would be risky walking down the narrow Myagdi valley if there were further aftershocks.

The other consideration was the severe congestion at Kathmandu airport with many people trying to leave the country when at the same time many international aid flights were arriving. Therefore we decided to stick to their original return date to Kathmandu of May 6th. The group descended Myagdi valley and slept the night of May 5th in Beni then drove to Pokhara staying that evening at New Pokhara Lodge. On May 6th they all returned to Kathmandu as planned and then flew home on May 8th. By this time the airport was far less busy and was back to operating normal schedules so there were no delays or flight cancellations like a week earlier.

I was in Kathmandu when this group returned and spoke to each member of the group for a debrief. Everyone was supportive of our decisions and I gather they enjoyed their time exploring around Italian Base Camp and overall had a positive experience. Please see some of their comments below:

“There is no doubt that Almas is extremely experienced and there was no time on the entire trek where I felt like I was in danger including the earthquake. I believe the handling of the situation was very professional and in the interest of everyone in the party.” Eva (USA)

“I was of course concerned about the impact of the earthquake on the local people and our team - but I never had any concern that anything other than the best decision had been taken for the immediate safety of the group (both staff and clients).” Martin (UK)

Martin also went on to say “The Mountain Company specialises in its area of expertise and this showed through at every level - ability to communicate useful info; answer questions; provide the best best team for the trek and then take the best decisions re the earthquake. I was very happy to have chosen The Mountain Company. In addition one of my concerns on my first trip to Nepal was to ensure I traveled with a company who recognise the safety of the team (in particular porters) is equally important to that of tourists - I was very happy with The Mountain Company's approach to this.”

Thanks very much to Almas, Domi, Sonam, Khumbu, Saila and the rest of the crew for their help in organising this trek. Great job!

The Mountain Company has a guaranteed departure for our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2015 led by Allan Gibbs, please get in touch with us soon if you would like join this group.

Roland Hunter

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