Manaslu Circuit Trek - Autumn 2016 Update from kimkim Travelers

The autumn 2016 Manaslu trekking season is about halfway done, so it’s a good moment to share  detailed feedback about the trail conditions from a number of groups who booked their trek with kimkim. So far, everyone successfully completed the trek, despite the fact that conditions were challenging early in the season due to the monsoon extending well into September
The following trekkers shared their experience with us: Michael Freel (from Oregon, United States), Rohan Delhikan (Singapore), and Scott Brennan (Montana, United States). All of them completed the Manaslu Circuit Trek in September and October 2016.
 
The season saw a very wet start with the monsoon extending far into September, causing challenging conditions and landslides. The Tsum Valley extension has been closed all season due to a high river and a broken bridge. Our operators have provided the Nar Phu extenstion as an alternative at the end of the Manaslu Circuit Trek. The weather cleared in October, creating stable conditions that are common for this season and providing the amazing views this trek is well known for. Luckily, even the groups who completed their trek in September all had great views on the Larkya Pass. 
 
Below follow their detailed comments:

Challenging road conditions from Kathmandu to the trailhead in Sotikhola and Arughat

Michael: “We left Kathmandu at 7am. The monsoon was still in full force, with heavy rains. Around 1pm we got stuck shortly after we left the paved road. There were 3 feet deep holes in the road. So we started hiking, and then flagged down a jacked-up 4x4 suspension truck. It was lots of fun sharing the ride with locals. Had to jump in and out several times. Finally made it over to the trailhead by 8pm.” 
 
Rohan: “The road conditions were still quite bad to get to Arughat Bazaar, but it was an adventure.  Heavy rains that were unseasonably late had left the last part of the road, deep in mud.  Our jeep driver burned out his clutch trying to get through the mud and we eventually had to walk about 10km and then hire an old battered bus to get us to our destination (our guide was very effective and creative in resolving our transport issue).  It was a real adventure and my wife and I really enjoyed the bus ride, watching the young driver skilfully tackle the road while listening to their favourite music and picking up other trekkers and locals along the way.”
 
Monsoon Clouds near Arughat
Rain Clouds near Arughat - Photo by Scott Brennan - October 2016

The trek & trail conditions

Michael:
“The first 2 days in the jungle. It’s humid and hot. The trail goes up and down a lot. A lot more up and down than I thought it was going to be. Some days we climbed 2,000 meters, but becasue all the up and down we ended the day only a few hundred meters higher than we started. 
Crossing a suspension bridge on day 1 of the trek
Crossing a suspension bridge on day 1 of the trek - Photo by Scott Brennan - October 2016
 
The trek follows the river, you cross the river on some really awesome suspension bridges. Some bridges were washed away by the storm, and so you had to hike down all the way to river and work your way back up.
 
We saw several landslides. One morning somebody shouted “Landslide” and we saw a big hill crashing down. We had to cross that hill later in the day, which we did quickly, hopping over big boulders. The first few days of the trek also has some narrow paths, with a steep drop on one side, and a steep wall on the other side.
 
We had a lot of rain. It was a really heavy monsoon. Up in the higher elevation still got heavy rain. Got one really clear day, but still rain on most days.“
 
Clouds clearing above the Manaslu Range
Clouds clearing above the Manaslu Range - Photo by Michael Feel, September 2016
 
Rohan:
“The walk up was steaming due to the humidity from the rain.  The first couple of days were very sweaty, but the valleys were green and lush and the walks got us fitter without the altitude.  We didn’t have much rain, but the temperatures dropped a lot by the time we got above 3000 meters.  Thankfully the weather turned sunny once we got up to Dharamsala at 4,400 meters and we had a beautiful day, though with some pretty cold wind, when we crossed Larkya La.  Larkya La was hard work -  the pass seems long as I think you spend a bit of time traversing it at above 5000 meters, but I found it very beautiful with views of glaciers, small icy lakes and the surrounding mountains.  You also get an amazing view of the Annapurna range when you cross over.  I loved the Nar-Phu valley, the walks were long as the tea house infrastructure is just building, but wonderful locals, few trekkers and the deep valleys and then the dessert like areas as you approach Phu are amazing.  On our first day of walking from Koto to Meta, we saw about 5 local people and no other trekkers.
 
The pass was challenging, as I suspect they always are.  Very long day and with Larkya La, you spend quite a bit of time at high altitude.  The weather also makes a huge difference.  But saying that I really enjoyed Larkya La, while the scenery in Nar-Phu was amazing - huge granite rock faces, deep river valleys which then open out onto wider ancient glacial valleys like the one Phu village is in.  The forest coverage was amazing - in India most of the Himalaya woods, forests are gone, so this was wonderful to see in Nepal."
 
 
 
Larkya La crossing - October 2016
Snow-covered Larkya La crossing, looking back towards Dharamsala - October 2016 - Photo by Rohan Delhikan
 
 
Scott: "As for roads, the first day, Arughat to Soti Kola was a hot, boring three hour walk on the road from Arughat to Soti Kola while jeeps and buses were driving past us on that same road. The last two days of the trek itinerary were Tiilje to Tal (last half of this day was on a on jeep road) and the last day was Tal to Syange (nearly all on road). I think the best plan would be to walk from Soti Kola to Dharapani in 13 days or add a few layover, acclimatization, and/or exploration days between Lho and Dharamsala, while dropping the walking on the road days but keeping the overall trek at 16 day. They are working to extend the road above Tillje right now and have plans to go all the way to Bimthang which is a real shame."
 
1km above Tillje, chipping away at the trail toward Bimthang
1km above Tillje, chipping away at the trail toward Bimthang. Photo by Scott Brennan - October 2016

Tips for people who are preparing for the Manaslu Circuit Trek

Rohan:
I would take time on this trek and make sure you have flexibility around trekking passes (which alllow you into the restricted areas).  A number of our fellow trekkers were caught out because their guides did not alert them early on, that Tsum valley was closed, hence they could not get passes to places like Nar-Phu (only available back at Kathmandu) and had to revert back to the Annapurna circuit, which they wanted to avoid because its such a high traffic area.  One or two extra days of just hanging out in a nice village along the way is nice.  The tendency amongst trekkers and guides is to walk fast and stick to your timetable, and I understand that many people only have a short time and need to return back to work, but take time to stop and its well worthwhile when you find yourself in a particularly beautiful test house and village to hang with the locals around their cooking fires and wonder around the area, before moving on.
 
 Michael:
Bring a steripen to sterilize your water. It saves time because you don’t always have to wait for water to boil and cool down. 
Defintely bring a headlamp and a warm sleeping bag.  And bring quick drying clothes
 

Some more observations about experiencing in Nepal and choosing the right trek

Rohan Delhikan:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
 
I am on sabbatical at the moment, taking time out from my usual work in the financial services industry to travel around Asia.  By training, I am an economist, but have also worked as a banker and a journalist.  When not travelling I read extensively, particularly Asian history, study languages (Bahasa Indonesia at the moment) and practice Buddhist meditation.
 
 
What kind of travel experiences have you had prior to this trip?
I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, North America and Asia both for business and pleasure.  I have been trekking in India (Sikkim) and in Australia (Tasmania) and New Zealand (the South Island).
 
 
Was this your first visit to Nepal?
Yes, historically I’ve spent more time in India, but have found that over time, the environmental degradation and pollution in India (North India in particular) has reached levels that have made recent trips quite unpleasant.
 
 
With so many great treks in Nepal, how did you decide to choose the Manaslu Circuit Trek? What stood out to you most about this trek?  
I wanted to go on a less frequented trek and friends of mine had suggested the Tsum valley would be a great trek to do.  I am also a Buddhist and had a cultural and religious interest in going to Tsum.  As it turned out the Tsum valley was not accessible, so we did the Nar-Phu valley instead which was very beautiful and we were able to visit a monastery dedicated to the 16th Karmapa.  The Masnaslu trek had far fewer people on it than the Annapurna circuit, so much so that we made great friendships along the way with the small groups that were doing the Manaslu trek at the same time.  When we briefly hit parts of the Annapurna circuit I was shocked at how many people were walking there - it felt like a highway for walkers, and quite impersonal.  On the Manaslu circuit and the Nar-Phu valley in particular, we often walked for hours without seeing anyone else.
 
 
Please tell us about your preparations. What kind of prior hiking or trekking experience did you have?  Did you do any specific training?
My wife and I hadn’t been trekking for years, but now we had the time, we were keen to do  something special (longer)  We did try to increase the amount of walking in our day to day lives, but we didn’t do any specific training.  The first few days of the trek were hard work, but we got used to the distances, and I also walked as slowly as I wanted, allowing me to enjoy the incredible beauty of Nepal.
 
 
How was your experience arriving in Nepal? Tell us about your experience in Kathmandu? 
Kathmandu airport was chaotic with the return of many young Nepalese men back home with huge bundles of presents, flat screen TVs etc (probably for Diwali).  But despite the long delays, I couldn’t help enjoying their excitement at being home.  Despite the crowds and an airport luggage system that was completely overwhelmed, we managed to get through with smiles all around.  Kathmandu was bustling and had great markets and shopping and our hotel in Thamel was very welcoming.  I also found Nepal much cleaner all around than North India, though it has a bad dust problem, perhaps due to the post earthquake re-construction and poor road infrastructure.  We enjoyed exploring Thamel and walking around the city and finding quiet green spots.
  

Tips from spring 2016 trekkers

Several kimkim travelers completed the Manaslu Circuit Trek in March and April 2016. Here are some tips from Karyn Anderson (from New Zealand) and Louis Fiorello (California, USA):

* "I would recommend that trekkers bring spikes for the descent from the pass - I used kahtoola microspikes and those worked great"

* "Bring heavy thermals (it can be cold!)"  

* "Dried meat is nice, jerky or sausage, as you will be eating mostly veg for the two weeks"

* "It's cold! Bring a very good sleeping bag as blankets are for guides only not the trekkers in high season as there is not enough to go around"

* "Think of the trek in 3 sections: The first section of the trek (day 1 - 6) from Soti Khola to Loh: basically this is the section where the hiking days are relatively long, you are covering the most miles in a day and ascending 1000s of feet per day"

* "The second section, from Loh to the pass (day 7 - 11): there is definitely enough time here to acclimatize.  The hiking days are relatively short and there is plenty of time to drink hot tea and absorb the scenery of the high mountains (10,000 feet plus)."

* "From the pass to Dharapani, (day 12 - 14): the descent is fast and it is interesting to see the change in landscape and vegetation in 2 days, from the snow/ice/rock of the pass to the lush valley and rhododendrons near Goh"