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Kelsie DiPerna | 02.19.2018

In the first 10 days of our grand adventure, we had climbed up from the lush lowlands of Nepal up to the border of Tibet, high in the Himalayas, through a restricted area named Tsum Valley. This area had a pervasive Tibetan Buddhist culture and was populated with monasteries that were tucked into the mountain landscape. Perfect and untouched natural scenes unfolded along the way. The story continues as we progressed into the Manaslu Circuit and on toward the eighth highest mountain in the world.

Day 11: Chumling (2,386 meters) to Pewa (1,860 meters)

5 hours | 19.5-kilometer trekking distance | 526-meter net elevation loss

Heading downhill out of Chumling and out of Tsum Valley, I was restored with energy as the altitude decreased and excitement mounted to begin the route toward Mount Manaslu. We ran into trouble in the afternoon when Ally took a wrong trail up to Nyak instead of continuing on the river route. We all worried for her safety as our guide, Ram, headed uphill to chase her down, and we were overjoyed when they rejoined the crew in the late afternoon.  She told us how the people in the village above were shocked to see her as it had been weeks since a trekker had made their way up there. I was happy to have her back! We enjoyed a pot of lemon ginger honey tea in a wooden tea house along the icy blue river running through the narrow gorge on either side of us. It was nice to feel warm(er) temperatures again at this low altitude in Pewa.

Day 12: Pewa (1,860 meters) to Prok (2,397 meters)

6 hours | 16-kilometer trekking distance | 537-meter net elevation gain

Last night I had enjoyed a pizza to celebrate Ally's return, and I paid the price! I woke up with food poisoning and learned the hard way that dal baht is the only safe thing to eat on the trails. Really, do resist the urge to eat that pizza or burger or anything else that tickles your fancy. I was well behind the group for the first half of the day. Walk, puke, repeat. Once we all met back up in Bihi Phedi for lunch, I took a nap and felt a bit better. We all ascended the trail up to Prok together in the middle of a lush forest and explored some ice cold waterfalls on the side of the trail. We celebrated Rajat's birthday, and he seemed happy as a clam to be spending it in the place that he loves most: the mountains of the Himalayas!

Day 13: Rest day in Prok

When met with the decision to climb over 1,200-meter up to Kal Tal (Death Lake) in a loop from the village of Prok, Ally and I decided to take the day off and relax. This was definitely the right decision for me after feeling so ill from the food poisoning the previous day. We ate plates of momos, did some laundry by hand, chatted, and enjoyed the best dal baht of our entire trip.  We were happy to hear that the boys had a fun trip up to Kal Tal, and we finally felt re-energized to begin the climb up back up toward higher altitudes and the illustrious Larky-La Pass.

Day 14: Prok (2,397 meters) to Lho (3,180 meters)

8 hours | 23-kilometer trekking distance | 783-meter net elevation gain

We climbed down from Prok for three hours to the riverside village of Namrung, where we ran into the first source of Wi-Fi in the two weeks we had been trekking. To be quite honest, it was great to be able to check in with loved ones, but it didn't feel natural to be able to contact the outside world on an adventure such as this. After this distracted lunch hour, we continued again along the Buddhi Gandaki River through lush foliage and massive Indiana Jones-esque boulders, and we again climbed upward. The ensuing five hours took us up through mountain villages where Buddah eyes painted onto stupas followed us as we trekked on through. 

As the daylight began to recede we crossed through a forest of orange and green pines, and Mount Manaslu came into view right in front of our eyes. The village of Lho appeared like a fairy tale as the massive mountain seemed to smoke in the background. Clouds whipped around the peak and turned shades of pink and purple as the sun set, and again I was humbled that such beauty can exist in this world. It was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen in my life. We even enjoyed a perfectly clear night, so Jimee, Shalom, and I watched the Milky Way fly around Manaslu.

Day 15: Lho (3,180 meters) to Samagaun (3,520 meters)

3.5 hours | 10.6-kilometer trekking distance | 340-meter net elevation gain

We had a nice meandering walk along an icy river to the village of Shayla with glacial mountains surrounding us. The scenery was breathtaking. We arrived to Samagaun within a few hours and had the afternoon to relax and explore the gompa situated just above the town. It was wild to have Mount Manaslu just above us, and we dreamed of reaching the base camp and climbing ever higher to its peak. There were even people flown up in a helicopter to skydive down from its heights back down to Samagaun. Wild.

Day 16: Samagaun (3,520 meters) to Samdo (3,875 meters)

4 hours | 14.2-kilometer trekking distance | 355-meter net elevation gain

In the morning we ventured to Birendra Tal just beside Samagaun with an insane view of Mount Manaslu above. This lake's beauty was beyond any I've ever witnessed, and we could hear the cracking of avalanches on the glacier on the far side of the lake. We stacked rocks and skipped rocks across the icy blue water. 

We walked for three hours toward Samdo and watched the trees change colors as we went. We passed above the tree line and were greeted with light snowfall once we reached Samdo. This was a higher elevation than anywhere we went inside Tsum Valley, and we were greeted with true bone-chilling cold. We stayed by the fire as snow fell outside our lodge outside and discussed the logistics of climbing to the tent camp of Dharamsala and on to Larky-La Pass and back down. We had 1,300 meters to climb within the next 36 hours alone!

Day 17: Samdo (3,875 meters) to Dharamsala (4,460 meters)

2.75 hours | 8.2-kilometer trekking distance | 585-meter net elevation gain

The snowfall from the previous night washed the landscape with white. We climbed to Dharamsala, a tent camp at 4,400 meters in the midst of snowy mountains and glaciers. The air was noticeably thin and the path was snowy and slippery, which made the walk rather challenging. The views around were remarkable; I especially loved seeing the happy yaks in the snow. I felt the effects of our altitude quite a bit as we reached the high camp, so I hung out around the camp for the day watching the blue sheep eat trash and then walked to the river to watch the snow fall. We tried to stay warm in our small tents and prepared for a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call the next morning.

Day 18: Dharamsala (4,460 meters) to Larky-La (5,100 meters) to Bimthang (3,590 meters)

8.5 hours | 22.9-kilometer trekking distance | 870-meter net elevation loss

The coldest and most anticipation-filled night of my life was ended by the welcome interruption of our alarms ringing at 2:30 a.m.  Ally and I exited our tent to peer at one of the brightest starry skies I've ever seen. We ate our chapati omelettes rather quickly in anticipation of beginning our long and arduous journey up to Larky-La Pass at 5,100 meters, about a 700-meter elevation gain from Dharamsala.  We left at 4:00 a.m. under the blanket and guidance of the stars above. The weather was perfect; all wind had subsided the night before, giving us clear skies and the sun to warm our frozen bones.  The air became thinner as we ascended, and I could only move at a snail's pace along the rocky pass. Upon reaching a tea shop about two hours into the walk, we enjoyed a warm cup of tea and continued even higher. 

The glaciers flanking our left side cracked with massive avalanches falling from above. The rocky pathway and frozen lakes on our right were slippery under our feet and difficult to traverse. Around 8:00 a.m. we ascended a rocky hill that was illuminated with mazes of colorful prayer flags, and I screamed aloud in excitement that we had finally made it! We were 5,106 meters into the sky; around 17,000 feet! I couldn't believe that 18 days after our journey had begun, we had finally made it. We stopped to take photos and lay a few more flags with the rest. The feeling of gratitude and sheer joy increased as more trekkers ascended to join us.

After some time Ally began to feel the effects of the altitude, so we began the long walk down to Bimthang through a massive, slippery rock fall area. The descent itself was very difficult, and everyone in our group fell at least once or twice. Once we got past the rock fall area, we all collapsed at a tea stand and took a well deserved tea and cookie break. I felt so grateful to be back at low altitude and breathing well again. It had been one of the most physically challenging mornings of my life! In the late afternoon we finished our long, long day in the town of Bimthang with a few beers. The mood was light as we reminisced on the past three weeks of adventures and felt a bit sad that our adventure was soon coming to a close.

Day 19: Bimthang (3,590 meters) to Dharapani (1,963 meters)

8.5 hours | 26.4-kilometer trekking distance | 1,627-meter net elevation loss

The crew set out of Bimthang slowly as if to savor our last morning of this grand adventure. We watched the sun rise from behind the snow-capped mountains and we reached the intersection of the Annapurna mountain range. As we descended further and further, color came back into the trees in bright oranges and reds as the last colors of fall fell from the trees. We walked all day and watched the landscape change, and we finally made it to Dharapani late in the afternoon. At the end of our trekking journey we settled into this major town that serves as a major hub for those about to begin the Annapurna Circuit. We felt relieved and exhausted, and we enjoyed a cold beer before finally drifting off to sleep.

Days 20 and 21: Dharapani to Besisahar to Kathmandu

This was sad day for our group, because climbing into the jeep to start our drive out meant that our days filled with trekking through the mountains were over. The road from Dharapani to Besisahar was treacherous and bumpy as hell, but there were many waterfalls to enjoy as we looked out the window. We chuckled at the rather winded trekkers with huge backpacks heading up to begin the Annapurna Circuit out of Dharapani, and we reminisced on our first days on the trail. After we passed the final checkpoint into Besisahar, we settled into our hotel for the evening and celebrated with our first warm showers in three weeks. Just glorious. We enjoyed some celebratory whiskey and laughs with the crew and started to mentally prepare for our return to chaotic Kathmandu the following morning.

The next day we assembled in a large van with all of our gear and drove the eight hours back to Kathmandu feeling so sad to leave the Himalayas. We all spoke about potentially hopping out and starting up on the Annapurna Circuit to prolong our return to the real world.  As the dust and the busy streets of Kathmandu came into sight, we were excited to eat something other than dal baht and have contact with the outside world again, but a feeling of unease settled like a weight upon my chest. The wind in my hair, the crunch of the trail beneath my feet, and the feeling of the crisp morning air against my skin had become the norm. My heart fluttered as I longed to return to the elements and be under the sky once again. I thought, no matter where I go, no matter what I do, the mountains will forever feel like home. And the mountains have called ever since.

 

To learn about the first portion of this journey, be sure to read Nepal Undiscovered, Part 1: Tsum Valley Trek.

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