Everyone's trekking experience will be different; subject to the season, weather, companions, personal health, fitness and whatever happens along the trail. We have chosen to travel in Spring, as our travel research indicated that in April, Lakya Pass is usually clear of snow. We believe Spring will also be a quieter trekking season than the more popular autumn. Nev and I have previously trekked in April and found the mountain views clear in the morning but washed out by rain or haze in the afternoon. We are hoping for similar, or better conditions.
I've read many Internet commentaries, about the Manaslu Circuit, and the extensive details published in 'Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya' by Lonely Planet. There is a lot of information detailing where to go and how to get there, with accommodation options along the way. We understand Manaslu is now a circuit with tea houses catering to tourists, but we are not sure what to expect as, until recently camping was the only accommodation style. We have chosen a tea-house trek, rather than a camping one, as we want to contribute to the local communities instead of bringing with us an entourage of porters to carry the many items considered necessary for camping; that would also include a cook and food from Kathmandu. Our party of four is supported by three Nepalese, and as people who usually backpack independently (although we are happy not to be carrying 10kg each), this amount of support seems superfluous.
We are to be supported by one porter per couple, and led by the group guide (mandatory for the Manaslu permit). Two couples who have already shared one short period of hiking in New Zealand. We are in great health although the men suffer respectively from one sciatic back issue and one undiagnosed problematic knee. Our level of fitness would be classified as high for our ages; both men have recently nudged 60, and the woman are not far off that milestone. In 2012 Nev and I trekked for 22 days combining the Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary and Base Camp. Greg and Jo are experienced, having hiked extensively in Australia, but have never travelled to Nepal, and have never been 'at altitude'. For me I feel privileged to have the funds to travel, and to have a body that, so far, has always responded to the demands I request of it; allowing me to experience some amazing places and challenges. We have planned to trek for 16 days, Kathmandu - Manaslu Circuit – then get driven to Pokara. I am feeling prepared for this adventure; however who would have known that this was to be the snowiest spring for 40 years!
1st April 2015
Having experienced the chaos of passengers loaded sardine-like, along with piles of goods, on our previous trip two years ago, we have this time elected to travel to the trek starting point by 4WD. We are expecting to have a 5 hour drive to Arughat Bazaar.
The drive is harrowing, particularly because, although our drive out of Kathmandu is on a two lane highway of many twists and turns; the rule appears to be that a horn honk gives the right to overtake just because you have indicated this will be so; regardless of whether vehicles are coming head on, or corners are blind! The route is initially bumper to bumper with Tata lorries heading to, or on-coming as they return from India. These vehicles are larger and slower than ours, so we have numerous opportunities to draw in breath, as if it might make the squeeze of the overtaking manoeuvre more manageable.
Just after Gorkha we turn towards Arughat Bazar. The road deteriorates significantly as it has begun climbing and winding even tighter corners, on a surface that has been washed of seal, with potholes so deep, the bounce generates a bone-shaking thrust up and down on the bench seat. Not far from Arughat Bazar we are brought to a halt, as we face a steep rocky hill. Even though this vehicle is 4WD the driver has remained driving in slow, controlled 2WD, that is remarkable considering the state of the road. Our driver indicates he does not want to proceed. Although he has the gearing, it is apparent the vehicle will 'bottom out'. We are all feeling physically exhausted after hours of seated travel, and enthusiastic to start experiencing the peace of the outdoors, and to give our spines some reprieve. Thus the trek begins with an easy walk, following the swift flowing Budhi Gandaki river, for two hours to Soti Khola which means white water.
Having taken the jeep as far as possible, on arriving at Soti Khola we have already completed the first two days planned for walking.
KK, our guide explains there are three separate accommodations available in this small village. They all have the same price, with the same facilities and services. We stop at the first, and are shown to a room that represents the standard from now on. Single beds with a ten centimetre thick foam mattress covered in a thin cotton sheet, all nestled in a wooden frame, that is supported by strong wooden legs. Lying on the bed, my body tells me my shoulder blades are bruised from jostling in the car, and my hips could do with a bit more padding! The soft pillow offers a little comfort, however covered with my tee-shirt it is to me, a far more superior support for my head than the expensive inflatable Sea to Summit pillow that Nev insisted was a 'must have', purchase for this trip.
Over dinner we chat with a young British doctor who will be joining a French research team at the highest point in our trek, Lakya La (5105m). Medex 2015 will be researching the effects of altitude on the body. The team has already done tests in a lab at sea level, and now intend repeating them at altitude. It's comforting to know that at least if we run into difficulties crossing the pass, the pinnacle of this trek, there will be about forty doctors on hand.
Rain began to fall quite heavily as we ate, and continued into the night.