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Monday, 10 November 2014

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Tom Lawson in October 2014

Photo: view to Dhaulagiri from Muri village
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2014 was led by Tom Lawson and Chandra Rai. Tom helped lead our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek with his wife Jill Lawson for us back in April 2012 (read Trip Report). For Autumn 2014 season Jill led our Ama Dablam Base Camp in October and Tom led Dhaulagiri Circuit and now both of them are now currently in the field leading our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek.

The Dhaulagiri Circuit group had all arrived to Kathmandu by October 5th and in the afternoon Tom gave his trek briefing at Hotel Ganjong also attended by myself and Jill. By October in this Autumn season the weather was fine and settled as the rainy weather from monsoon had wound down by the last week of September. On 5th I checked the weather forecast for the Dhaulagiri region, this predicted sun for the next four days whereas Everest region still had some cloud and precipitation forecast for the short term. Therefore at this point it looked like central Nepal would have better weather conditions than other parts of the Himalaya....however this situation was to change dramatically later on during this trek!

On evening of 5th we had four TMC groups in Kathmandu (Dhaulagiri Circuit, Manaslu Circuit, Annapurna Circuit and Mardi Himal) so we decided to organise a big group meal for everyone at Rumdoodles restaurant in Thamel. I think everyone enjoyed the evening and there seemed to be excitement all around as people chatted about their upcoming treks.

On October 6th our Dhaulagiri Circuit group flew to Pokhara and drove by bus to Beni to start their trek, they arrived to their first camp in late afternoon. For the next week they trekked through the villages and up through the forest staying at Dobang and Sallaghari camps. They reached Italian Base Camp on October 12th. I gather this part of the trek went well, the group enjoyed seeing the views and visiting the villages along the way. As ever the first few days from Beni are hot and humid and I think for many people the weather was hotter than they expected. This is worth bearing in mind if you plan to join one of our October treks in the future and it is important to drink lots of water, wear a sun hat, sun cream etc and also having an umbrella for shade is a good idea too.

On October 12th, I was on trek in the Makalu region and I received weather forecast from our office in London with an extreme weather warning as Cyclone Hudhud was tracking towards the Himalaya. A this stage Cyclone Hudhud was predicted to severely impact central Nepal especially Dhaulagiri region. I immediately contacted Tom via satellite phone to pass on this forecast and to warn him about venturing further beyond Italian Base Camp until the storm had passed through. The forecast was predicting 109cm of snow for Dhaulagiri region.

On October 13th the group went for a acclimatisation walk around Italian Base Camp and in the afternoon when everyone was back in camp the skies became cloudy and it started to rain. The next day on 14th the weather deteriorated as predicted and there was snow at Italian Base Camp and precipitation continued for 30 hours until 15th. As Italian Base Camp is at an altitude of 3,660m this was not too far above the snowline so there was less accumulation of snow however it was clear there was going to be a large amount settling on the ground higher up towards Dhaulagiri Base Camp and on French and Dhampus passes. 

During the storm the group held at Italian Base Camp as this is located in a safe protected place. Whereas in the Chonbarden gorge on the way to main Dhaulagiri Base Camp there were many avalanches releasing the fresh snow that fell throughout this period. By the 17th, Tom and Chandra decided it was safe for the group to go for a foray to see if possible to move up to Glacier Camp however everyone was stopped from proceeding further due to the depth of the snow (up to chest level!). The group turned back and retraced their steps back to Italian Base Camp.

I spoke to Tom via satellite phone on evening of 17th and we both decided it would not be possible to safely move further up so the group and crew would have to turn back to Beni. After the storm there were many helicopters flying up to Dhaulagiri Base Camp and it came out in the news later on that there had been a huge avalanche off Dhaulagiri hitting several tents from an expedition. Sadly two Slovakians and three Nepalese were killed in this avalanche, for more information please read article on Explorersweb

For more information on Cyclone Hudhud I suggest you read The Mountain Company statement on Cyclone Hudhud and its impact on trekking in the Himalaya (October 2014)

On October 18th our Dhaulagiri Circuit group retreated from Italian Base Camp and started their trek back out to Beni. They decided to take an alternative trail compared to the way in, this route is on the other side of Myagdi Khola and is rarely trekked by groups however I gather was well worth doing. On the way back from Darbang to Beni the group decided to avoid the road and crossed the bridge over Myagdi Khola and enjoyed visiting these villages off the main trekking trail. After spending one night at a very basic lodge in Beni the group drove back to Pokhara on October 21st,  everyone enjoyed one night here before flying back to Kathmandu on 22nd.

I was in Kathmandu on their return and I enjoyed going for a meal with them at KToo Restaurant (best steaks in Kathmandu!) to hear all about the trek. Clearly there was some lingering disappointment however of course at the same time everyone realised there is always an element of unpredictability of the weather in the mountains. The group was grateful for the good decisions made by Tom and Chandra and for the fact that everyone came back safe and sound. At least by venturing into Chonbarden gorge they understood how much snow had fallen and how it would have been impossible to break trail to higher elevations. Clearly with this amount of snow there would also have been extreme avalanche risk on the passes too especially Dhampus pass.

We have organised Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October for the last four years, these groups had experienced pretty good conditions and all successfully crossed the passes to Jomsom. It really is bad luck about the timing of Cyclone HudHud as October is usually one of the best times of year to complete treks over high passes in Nepal. Having said that, there is always a risk of getting cyclones in the Himalayas and last year there was Cyclone Phailin although this impacted east Nepal into Bhutan so our Dhaulagiri Circuit group led by Almas Khan managed to cross the passes only a few days afterwards. Read Trip Report for Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2013

The Mountain Company is planning to organise Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in April and October 2015 so please get in touch with us if you would like join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter

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