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.
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.