Long gap in posting…no good excuses other than “summer.” This starts with Ryan’s perspective as we have an acclimatization day in Sama Goan. And ends with my passage from the same day. One of our favorite times from the entire trip!
Ah, what a difference a day makes. Sarah woke up feeling much stronger. She had one and a half chapatti at breakfast and a bowl of soup at lunch. She felt strong enough to double down on today’s walking. We covered from Ghap to Lho with lunch in Namgung. 8 hours and 3300 feet gained.
The villages are markedly Tibetan with stupas, mani walls, and prayer wheels everywhere. We also saw our first yaks, Tibetan horses, and a cow/yak hybrid called a Ghokbe (jock-bae). Some of the villages up here are quite large as the valley widens higher up. There are vast barley fields that stand stark green amongst the peaks.
Some of the Rhododendrons have gone from red to pink and we passed through many forests filled with them. The weather was partly sunny which surely contributed to Sarah’s recovery. Very little rain as we pass above 10,000 feet and by the turn to Himal Chuli base camp, mountains still covered in clouds. Perhaps we will glimpse Manaslu in the morning.
One full week on the trail. Today is a rest and acclimatization day. We sleep in at our rather luxurious room in Lho after a broken night of sleep interrupted by dogs barking, some sort of 2 am drumming ceremony, and loud Russians(?) at 0630.
After my standard breakfast of garlic eggs and Chapatti, we tour a monastery atop a hill in Lho. The main building is beautifully decorated with Thankas and Mandalas. We met the English teacher, a monk from Bhutan. The monastery boards/educates about 160 local children and another 50 from Kathmandu for the Mandala school. There are only 4 teachers and some nuns.
After lunch, we enjoy a few rare hours of freedom to wander without the watchful eye of our Nepali chapperones. Jennifer, and especially Sarah, are rather irked by the meticulous way the guides plan and monitor our days. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, we apparently seem very fragile to them. With our free time, Sarah and I walked around the largest mani wall yet and tried to will the clouds off the peaks. I followed up with the first pushups since Kathmandu and a bit of reading.
The weather is more dour today; very socked in with intermittent rain. Our spirits ebb and flow with the changes in the weather, and today was rather glum. The prospects of crossing Larkya La are getting slim, and today we heard that the Manaslu expeditions are stuck in Samagaon, unable to go to base camp. Sarah is becoming dire, saying she now only wishes a glimpse of Manaslu and hints at disappointment in the trip. At least she feels well enough to experience this loss, as she would not have argued with evacuation only 2 days ago.
I remain optimistic, every day brings new wonders and no matter what does or does not happen ahead, I won’t feel the trip was wasted.
Rajbir and Sune on the patio in SamaGoan. Once the weather cleared!
Now that we’ve lived as a little family for about a week, I need to record some of my favorite sayings of our personable head guide:
“Would you like some kind of a beverage?” which I have heard since day one as “would you like some pineapple beverage?”
“Tomorrow trail is a gradual-flat. Not too much up, not too much down. Just nice gradual” –(Nepal has no such thing as gradual or flat).
“That is the problem…”
“Safety, always safety!”
Jennifer: “Rajbir, you need to let me walk behind sometimes. I feel like you’re the donkey master and I’m the last donkey.”
Rajbir: “donkeys…very stupid.”
Wow, the feelings and spirits rise and fall like the trails in Nepal. After going to sleep in a cold, damp rain, we were roused at 0530 by Rajbir knocking at the door. Grumpily, I followed him to the rooftop where might Manaslu towered above the monastery, bathed in alpenglow against a clear sky. Glowing as if it were the only mountain the sun would touch.
We packed hurriedly and started out under sunny skies. Manaslu never fully showed herself again, constantly shrouded in blowing cold smoke. Instead we reveled in the beauty of Manaslu North, Himal Chuli North, Nadi Chuli, Samdo, Tanji Himal, Larkya peak (I was totally mistaken at the time about this) and more. Most of them spent the whole morning fully exposed and I walked comfortably in a t-shirt, mouth agape.
Today’s hike was short: only taking about 3.5 hours from Lho to Samagaon. The change is stark, however. We left behind the deep gorge and are now following the Budhi Gandaki up a wide hanging glacial valley with vast pastures full of yaks, Tibetan horses, and Ghokbe.
Samagaon is a larger town with a large school and a health post (and a post office!) After lunch, Jennifer learned to weave on a Tibetan loom by a very friendly local woman. Meanwhile, Sarah and I took advantage of our first opportunity to fly our pocket kite.
After some crashes and failures, we got it up in the air and the childlike smile of absolute joy didn’t leave my face for a full 30 minutes. Flying a kite in a sunny yak field below 26,000 foot peaks in the sun! We were soon joined by a shy little girl and a rowdy herd of little boys, and after more than an hour I finally had to reel in the kite.
I followed this up with a painful, yet refreshing shave/wash in a creek with the yaks watching curiously the whole time.
We also heard news for the first time of other groups making it across Larkya La yesterday even through the snow.
Hard to believe today is yesterday’s tomorrow!
Acclimitization/play day in Samagaon. Today was the day I fantasized about when I thought of trekking in the Himalaya. After shaking off the night’s severe cold, the sun rose in a clear sky and we enjoyed a fantastic blue bird day.
Manaslu was fully exposed for the entirety of the day and we had ample opportunity to ogle up at its manta ray horned summit.
After breakfast we hiked to Birendri Tal, an iceberg filled glacial tarn just below the icefall of Manaslu Glacier. From the lake, we decided to hike/scramble up a small hill directly across from Manaslu base camp. The climb was as close to exploration as we’ve had so far as we bushwhacked and scrambled up to its south ridge which had a distinct, zig-zagging trail.
Although not too impressive to look at, vegetated and maybe only 2000 feet above the lake, the hill is likely the highest peak Sarah or I had ever summited (maybe 14000 ft) The view from the top was indescribable. I was struck dumb. Sarah cried. We were surrounded on all sides by 24-26,000 ft peaks glistening with fresh snow in the sun. There was no wind on top and we lingered for well over an hour. We saw a magnificent eagle fly below us, listened to and watched several avalanches, and observed six climbers hauling loads to a high camp on Manaslu.
We hear of more and more groups traversing the pass. Many we speak to are hastening their ascent to take advantage of the good weather. We will get an updated forecast tomorrow and already we are considering scratching the side trip to the Tibetan border as that pass is currently closed. This would have us crossing the pass on the 22nd. No one wants to have to retrace our steps!
April 19: Sama Goan Day #2 (Sarah)
One of the most glorious days in my life. We walked to a lake–glacier silt blue with icebergs–nestled directly under Manaslu. The lake looks like broken graham crackers from a distance. Behind the lake is massive Manaslu Glacier–hovering over the lake basin in shiny, icy, white grandness.
We sat quietly for a while at the lake before climbing a big “hill” under Naike Peak. The “hill” was just under 14,000 ft–so–the highest “mountain” & highest spot I’ve ever been! Manaslu North and main Manaslu peak in suburb sight. Blue sky–no clouds–just perfect. I kept looking at Manaslu to discover a blur of tears over my eyes.
Left to right: Khadga, Sarah, Padum, Rajbir, Sune. Front: Ryan and Jennifer.
We could also see a new peak to the south–one in the Himal Chuli Range for sure, but not sure if this is the main peak? The sun is scorching at 14,000 and there is surprisingly little wind. I busted out the umbrella and wore a tank top. Still–I have never been burnt so badly. My face is a beet, and my lips cracked.
We could see the main base camp of Manaslu from our “hill.” It was mostly covered in snow, minus a structure and some type of monument. Nobody is going to base camp due to snow, and evidence of a recent avalanche hitting the exact area. But we did see six climbers up high. Looked to be carrying quite the loads. One expedition group was apparently sitting and waiting in SamaGoan for 25 days before being able to climb this year.
We finally came down from our hill. Whew–could feel some altitude today climbing up that hill. Good practice. Then we had a meal on the roof with our usual giant thermos of tea. I washed some clothes, my hair, and even shaved my legs in the frigid creek behind the guest lodge. Magical. With yaks resting lazily in the background.
Monastery door in Samagoan. One of my favorite images from the trek.
We watched a helicopter drop off a group of people and gear–seems like cheating!
Dessert: Snickers Spring roll. That’s right. Deep fried snickers. You’d think this was a Texas state fair.
And at night–Orion directly over Manaslu!
Featured image: My umbrella with Manaslu from our hill.