Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 Himlung with Mustang and Saribung expedition - Khumbu shift

Phakding, Solu Khumbu, Nepal | 21 October 2014 | 0619 | 2715m

Jump forward a week, we've since moved the entire expedition to the Marsyangdi gorge, approached Himlung base camp, experienced a massive storm that claimed more than 40 lives, retreated to Kathmandu, and then flown to the Everest region yesterday.
We're now on approach to Nirekha peak, a gem of a mountain sandwiched between the Gokyo, Khumbu, and Changri glacier complex. We'll approach via Namche Bazaar ("Nauche" in Sherpa/Tibetan), the cultural and economic center of the Everest region.
Namche itself is an interesting place, having grown into a monetary economy over the past 15 years due to a tourism boom. Locals no longer work their fields, and many no longer own livestock either. This is an anomaly in Nepal's mostly subsistence economy.
Tibetans come over the Nangpa La (a pass from China's Tibet into Nepal) to sell their wares in the market of Namche. The last time I was in town 700 yaks arrived fully loaded with their owners goods; including jackets, hats, pots, and a menagerie of other items.
The salesmen remained in Namche until all their goods were sold in adjoining valleys, with Namche used as the center for trade side trips.
The skies are clear here, and there is no sign of the catastrophic weather of a week past. Our spirits are high, and we're ready to move on up. -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides, luke@himalaya-alpine.com

Thangnag, Gokyo, Nepal | 24 October 2014 | 0806 | 4700m
We are at 4700m on the left lateral moraine of the Ngozumba glacier. We will move to Nirekha basecamp tomorrow morning. Right now the team is resting next to the wood stove and preparing for a nice dinner in the heated lodge. Everyone is fired up to climb, and we just received a favorable forecast through the 29th October. -Luke Smithwick, luke@himalaya-alpine.com

Gokyo 3rd Lake | 28 October 2014 | 0637 | 4800m
Checking in from Gokyo. We had a nice climb of Nirekha two days ago, turning back 200 meters from the summit in poor visibility. Some of us are out climbing Gokyo Ri, and I'm down here in lodge with a giant pot of coffee, talking other climbs with one of the guests. We will trek over the Renjo La tomorrow and check out new territory.
Approaching the climb near the real Cho La.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Himlung with Mustang and Saribung - post #3 - last until base camp

Tsarang, Mustang, Nepal | 5 Oct 2014| 0626 | 3615m

The weather always amazes me in Mustang, with the rest of Nepal
dealing with the ins and outs of valley systems and local cloud cover,
Mustang generally remains clear with a gentle breeze. We've had an
excellent few more days of approach, visiting the quaint village of
Dhakmar, and then moving to Tsarang, the old capital of Mustang,
evening past.
Dhakmar has a backdrop of giant orange sandstone cliffs, the cliffs
themselves pockmarked with ancient cave dwellings. Many of the locals
were down valley attending the visitation of the Sakya Rinpoche in
Jomsom, while the others were finishing the winnowing of the
buckwheat, whistling to call the wind as they sifted through the
reddish gold grains.
The village itself, being off the main road that now runs through
upper Mustang, felt much more unencumbered by tourism. Perhaps this
is due to less guest houses and trekkers themselves, many being on an
itinerant march to see the sites and then get back down valley.
Yesterday morning, we climbed up the red cliffs that are the namesake
of Dhakmar (Dhak=Cliff, Mar=Red), making our way on a trail that Karma
dubbed the "blue sheep" trail. Steep, it took us to the top of a mesa
of sorts, with views of Annapurna, Nilgiri I, and the Dhamodhar Himal.
Enroute to Tsarang, we spotted several more raptors, and at the
altitude they soar, it is a challenge to I.D. them with the naked eye.
Ah, I almost forgot, we spotted a flock of around 500 Tibetan
Black-Necked Crane migrating south yesterday. It was the second time
I've spotted them, the only passerine species to migrate across the
Himalaya, and they are always a welcome sight.
It's impossible for me to record all the moments that make a
mountain experience like this unique, and they come in flashes of
memory as time passes. I think this is the aspect of my work that I
enjoy the most, recalling events, and getting to share them with
guests. It's always little things. The way the wind moves through
the golden poplars in Autumn, the smell of dried juniper smoke on the
kitchen hearth in the morning, the unfiltered smile of a young Lopa
child as you pass by their home in late afternoon sun, the body worked
and tired from a days ascent. It goes on and on, and I can't wait to
see what is around the next corner. Over the next week we will
traverse the Dhamodhar Himal, climbing to 6000 meters, then to descend
into the Lost Valleys of Nar and Phu, and our main objective,7126m
Himlung, the mountain of winds. -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya
Alpine Guides

Luke Smithwick
Himalaya Alpine Guides : http://www.himalaya-alpine.com
email : luke@himalaya-alpine.com
skype : himalaya-alpine-guides

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Himlung with Mustang and Saribung - Lo Manthang update

Gheling, Mustang, Nepal | 3 Oct 2014 | 0655 | 3620m
It’s a crisp morning, with ice on the tent fly and the Dhamodhar Himal in its snow-covered contrast to the surrounding brown, orange, and ochre hills. We are in Mustang. Last night we swiftly made a change in our plans, the local office in Kathmandu reporting that it’s next to impossible to collect the requisite 11 mountain porters we’ll need during this Nepali holiday, wholly unrelated to the current spectacular weather.
The team, Brett and Charles, are adjusting nicely to the altitude and new environment. It always requires a “break-in” period of about a week to feel fully “here” after a trans-continental flight; what with the new air, altitude, diet, and daily routine of the trekking life. One has had a headache a few times, and the other has had a short bout of diarrhea, but both seem to now be finding an equilibrium.
Our approach thus far has seen big days, covering two days worth of ground in one, a testament to the teams fitness and endurance. Everyone reports sore legs, but enjoying the 5-7 hour days of walking, some on bits of double track, the other on the traditional trail.
We passed through the Syangboche gorge yesterday, visiting the Chungse cave monastery on the way. It was more lively than times passed, with Tibetan Buddhist locals arriving on their healthy ponies to light butter lamps and perform pujas to ask forgiveness for the widespread slaughter (“mar” in Nepali) of sacrificial animals today by Nepali Hindus.
The two days prior brought us in by flight to Jomsom and Kagbeni that night, and then on to Karma’s village of Samar the following day. The wind kicks up the Kali Gandaki river like clockwork, with a steady breeze coming to gusts by 1030 every morning.
The road from the Tibetan border through Msutang is now completely open, and locals use it get around by jeep. The Rinpoche (chief lama) of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism was arriving in a days time to Jomsom when we arrived, and there was hiatus of monks and locals descending from the dispersed Lopa villages of the region as we climbed up, many of them coming by jeep.
As with anywhere with a passable you can certainly drive through Mustang, but you will certainly miss seeing the numerous cave structures, scores of soaring exotic predatory birds, hearing the wind move through the ancient junipers and golden poplar, and watching locals work their time-honored pastoral existence, and simply Mustang, itself.
Mustang requires time, a knowledgeable local guide (like Karma) and the willingness to trek if you are to truly experience all its fascinating nooks and crannies.
Leaving Kagbeni as the monastery and villagers swept and poished for the Rinpoche's arrival, we walked north for about an hour before leaving the main track (read:road) and descending to the Kali Gandaki river. Off the trail, we began what we had come for on this section of our 45 day expedition, to explore off the beaten track and see what we could find. Jackpot! After about 20 minutes up the river we found a cave site complete with about 50 rooms, char marks and ashes from ancient fires, and also a spring that could have served the inhabitants with fresh clean water.
We continued upriver, inspired by our find and managing to also locate 7 saligrams on the rivers course, Brett finding the best specimen. After our ninth river crossing, with the final one up to our waist, we decided as a group to climb back up to the trail and make some mileage to the next village of Chele. Onwards up the gorge, we arrived in Karma's village in late afternoon with a cool breeze flowing down slope and bringing the sharp and distinct smell of juniper. I caught Charles exclamating silently with fists into the air from around a corner, we were extremely content on our first day in upper Mustang. Day one and we had already spotted blue sheep, found ancient fossils, and located an unmarked cave site.

That's all for now, my apologies for the run on sentences, awkard grammar, and spelling and spacing errors, trying to fire off an update before the power and connection goes. Onwards and upwards... -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides
-more tomorrow, and photos and video to be added in Kathmandu after 7 November-