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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit (Nepal) led by Almas Khan in October 2013

Photo: Hidden Valley (Almas Khan)
This is the eighth time The Mountain Company has organised the Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in Nepal. This year we had nine trekkers signed up and like previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Australia, Netherlands, Hungary and France. Our 2013 group was led by Almas Khan who led our Lunana Snowman trek in September/ October2012. We had our regular trek crew on board for this trek with Chandra Rai as Sirdar; the Sherpa guides were Bishu, Danak and Sonam; Saila Tamang was the cook.

The first day of the trip was on October 6th when Almas met and briefed the group. I was also in Kathmandu at the time so I enjoyed meetings several members too. The next day the group flew to Pokhara then drove by private bus to the starting point of the trek at a town called Beni. Here the kitchen crew had lunch ready and afterwards the group started the trek then arrived to Tatopani camp at 5.30pm.

Photo: farmhouse near Muri village (Almas Khan)
The trek went well for the next five days following the itinerary as planned. They arrived to Italian Base Camp on October 13th and, after lunch, the group went out for an acclimatisation walk. Today was Graeme’s birthday so Saila made a cake. What a great place to celebrate a birthday! On October 14th the group awoke to rain which unfortunately carried on for the whole day. The group did not want to get wet so they decided to spend the rest day relaxing in their tents rather than going for a walk. However the guides did a recce of the route to Glacier Camp along with some of the porters who carried up gear.

Photo: snowy Glacier camp (Almas Khan)
As discussed in our trip reports for Lunana Snowman and Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT treks the reason for this bad weather was due to Cyclone Phailin coming off the Bay of Bengal and unfortunately the Himalaya experienced poor conditions for a number of days. It is rare to get a cyclonic system affecting the Himalaya in October as usually there is a blocking high pressure resulting in fine weather: for further information read this article for the impact of Cyclone Phailin in the Himalaya.

On October 19th the group was scheduled to cross the French Col (5,360m) over to Hidden valley however they woke up to another cloudy morning. After much discussion between the leaders and the trek crew, the decision was made to move up to French Col after seeing a break in the weather. Almas and Chandra wisely kept the option open to retreat back to Italian Base Camp if the weather deteriorated later in the day. The group left camp at 9am with everybody including the porters walking together. During the day it snowed lightly so they did not get any views along the way, although there was sufficient visibility for the guides to find the route.

As expected, there was deep snow on the other side of the French Pass but very little snow on the ground when they descended down into Hidden Valley. Everybody had safely reached camp by 6pm after a long and tough day. That night was cold but the group was very happy to wake up the next morning to clear blue skies and fantastic views of Hidden Valley. They spent the day exploring around the valley and I gather everyone had an enjoyable time.

On October 21st they woke up to another clear and windless day. Today the plan was to cross over Dhampus Pass. This is the longest day on the Dhaulagiri Circuit trek and fortunately the weather stayed fine until the group arrived to camp in the afternoon. Due to the recent heavy snowfall there was deep snow for most of the day however the Sherpas did a great job in breaking trail and finding the best route over the pass.
Photo: ascending Dhampus pass (Almas Khan)
It took almost five hours to get to the end of the snowy traverse and from there they descended to Alu Bari camp. Luckily everyone arrived to camp during daylight hours with the last porters and trekkers getting in at 6pm. The next day the group walked out to Jomsom and in the evening, after celebrations, the trek crew was duly thanked and tipped for their hard work. The following morning on October 23rd the group flew back to Pokhara and Kathmandu.

Our 2013 Dhaulagiri Circuit group did very well to cross French Col and Dhampus Pass especially given the poor weather and conditions. I gather other groups at Dhaulagiri Base Camp decided not to cross the passes so had to retrace their steps back to the start point at Beni. One of the reasons it was possible for our group to safely complete this trek was due to our well thought out itinerary based on our experience of operating this trek over the years. We include more time at high altitude compared to most other itineraries i.e. two nights at Italian Base Camp (3,660m), two at Glacier Camp (4,200m), two at Dhaulagiri Base Camp(4,740m) and two nights at Hidden Valley (5,050m). As a result our trekkers, crew and porters should be well acclimatised and stronger at altitude; an advantage when faced with difficult conditions such as deep snow. Furthermore having days to spare within the itinerary allows for flexibility and changes if required.

I would like to thank Almas and Chandra very much for their help in leading this trek. Both of these leaders made a good call in continuing over the passes rather than turning back to Beni. Thanks also to Saila plus the Sherpas and rest of the crew who worked incredibly hard throughout the trek. In particular I would also like to thank the porters who did a superb job as carrying loads in snowy conditions is of course much harder work than usual.

We have received great feedback from the group. Please take a look below:

"Everything went smoothly (except the weather at times) and I think all of us had a blast. I have no doubt that this trek involves loads of organising and arrangements but all went very, very well. I have no concern recommending your company to my friends and in fact I have already done so. I came back to UK absolutely glowing and could not stop smiling for days:). I only have one advice, just look after your customers as you do now, even if you company will grow even bigger. Thank you again, hopefully I will have time to do another trip next year with your company" Suzy (Hungary & UK)

"I really enjoyed watching the slowly changing landscape and geology while hiking up and over the Dhaulagiri range. The Hidden Valley was amazing, particularly being a geologist, and I could easily have spent several days up there. So I was very happy that our guide team decided to move on even though the weather conditions weren't optimal when crossing the French Pass, and I feel sorry for the groups after us that decided to turn back and missed the spectacular views. We were very lucky to have brilliant weather on the long traverse, this section could be a problem in poor weather conditions. The itinerary of this trip was one of the reasons why I chose TMC and I think it worked well. I wouldn't have liked to miss the rest day in the Hidden Valley." Corine (Netherlands)

The Mountain Company is organising two Dhaulagiri Circuit treks in 2014, our first departure is in April with second departure in October, please get in touch with us soon if you are interested in joining one of these treks.

Roland Hunter

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