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Thursday, 22 November 2018

Trip report for Saribung Expedition Recce led by Jo Clark and Galden Sherpa in October 2018

Saribung Peak (6328m)
After leading the Naar to Upper Mustang trek in October 2018 I left the group in Lo Mantang and turned back, towards Saribung Pass and down to the village of Phu.  Galden Sherpa and I were going out to check the trails and best camping locations with a small support crew.  Most companies run this trek starting from Lo Mantang over to Phu. We wanted to see if it is possible to acclimatise better doing this expedition in the opposite direction by crossing the pass from the Phu side and finishing in Lo Mantang.

One reason for wanting to run the trip from the Phu side is that assuming we could find good campsites in gradually ascending locations, it allows for a slow ascent with a rapid, safe exit if necessary.  Whereas approaching Saribung from Lo Mantang entails crossing three passes of around 5,000m early in the trek.  This means ascending too high, too fast with risk of altitude sickness for both group and crew. If there is bad weather it raises the risk of not even getting near Saribung if the passes are blocked with snow.
Valley of Phu
Village of Phu
Another reason for looking at this option is to be able to spend time in the beautiful Valley of Phu. While Naar and Phu have become more popular and teahouses are being built to accommodate this, very few trekkers explore the valley north of Phu.  Most of those that walk these trails are heading down the valley having already crossed Saribung pass and therefore spend little time in the area.

Our first day from Lo Mantang took us back to Yara Gaon - a trail we know from the Naar to Upper Mustang trek. After that we were in new territory. The three passes to cross between Saribung La and Yara take you away from the Upper Mustang region with its colourful arid terrain in varying formations and towards the high plateaus.  The views from the three passes (4,950m, 5,300m and 5,400m) are as varied as the land you are trekking through, with Upper Mustang stretching out below, the majestic Dhaulagiri, the Tibetan plateau and the peaks of Damodar Himal.
Ghuma Thanti with Upper Mustang in the distance
Trekking the plateau
Dhaulagiri from Kyumu Pass (5300m)
The trail over these passes is very clear and regularly repaired and improved because it is highly frequented by Hindu Pilgrims in order to reach Damodar Kunda.  It is popular to carry out the Pilgrimage to this holy lake close to the Nepal Tibet border in August and Lord Krishna has said that he who pays a visit to and takes a deep-bath will be free from all sin.

Beyond this we find the glacier and the pass.  There is significant glacial moraine to walk across - more on the Phu side than the Mustang side.  For this reason and in order to acclimatise safely, I identified a number of camping options on the glacier.  We will camp at three locations on the glacier - Bhrikuti Base Camp (5,070m) which is right at the beginning of moraine, Moraine Camp (5,339m) which is part way up - there are a number of locations which have been flattened out and are suitable for camping here and finally Saribung High Camp (5,684m) which will put us in position to cross the pass safely.  On the Mustang side the section of moraine is shorter and we have decided to descend to Japanese base camp after crossing the pass.

We have the exact locations of these camps as throughout the recce, I was sending regular GPS checkins back to Roland from the satellite phone.  He uploaded each location I sent him onto Google Maps set up for Saribung Expedition and we used these waypoints to help finalise our itinerary decisions.
Views from the pass

Glacial moraine - looking towards Japanese Base Camp
The pass itself is crevassed and all of the crew and I went over with crampons and fully roped up.  A lot of the crew are unfamiliar with these techniques and we will work with them lower down the valley to ensure everyone is safe and confident in the crevassed areas.

On this recce, after crossing the pass we descended to Bhrikuti Base Camp which is a long way down.  From here I wanted to explore a small pass that looked like it could easily take us over to the next valley and Pokharkang Base Camp. The pass was easy to cross and the valley leading to Pokharkang Base Camp is beautiful and very peaceful.
Pokharkang Base Camp from the pass
In this quiet rarely visited valley we saw big herd of blue sheep and not much else.  It is a great place to acclimatise with good options for higher walks.  In order to make the jump from Nagoru (4,442m) to Pkharkang Base Camp (5,030m) more safely, I found a spot part way up the valley which had obviously been used for camping before.  This camp, which we have called Pokharkang low camp is at 4,840m and will give us the gradual ascent we want towards the pass.

From here, Galden and I joined back with the main trail just above Nagoru.  This abandoned village has plenty of large flat areas and is a beautiful camping spot.  If you look carefully there are caves above the village and we saw a herd of over twenty blue sheep grazing on the hill above the village. Despite being uninhabited, this remains the first village until Yara on the other side and it feels like civilisation.

Between Nagoru and Meta there are a few village like this and we will stay at Kyang on the way up to Phu as part of our acclimatisation process.  As Kyang is down the valley from Phu, there are a number of trekkers wanting to stay and although the village is abandoned, teahouses are slowly being built.

Finally, many people come to this Valley just to visit Phu and it is worth a visit in itself.  The medieval Tibetan village is perched on the hillside with narrow alleys twisting and winding between houses which were built closely together.  I am looking forward to spending an acclimatisation day here when I return in the Spring as I didn't have time to visit the Tashi La Kong Gompa or do any of the numerous acclimatisation walks possible.

We are running small recce for up to six clients in the Spring 2019.  Here is more information and a full itinerary which has been put together based on this recce.

Jo Clark

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