About 20 Days - Dhaulagiri and Annapurna Himal
2008. More and more of the Annapurna Circuit is opening to motorized travel, and trekkers seeking a throwback to earlier times find themselves drawn to the neighbors of the Annapurna massif - the Around Manaslu trek to the east, and the Around Dhaulagiri trek to the west.
The Around Dhaulagiri trek has a reputation for being dangerous and rough around the edges, but the same wheel of progress that turns the Kali Gandaki over to the Jeep is ironing out many of her rougher spots. New trail is being built above the Myagdi Khola, replacing hairball traverses on waxy, crappy looking ropes - pegged into the rock with sticks. Many new looking steel bridges span the river crossings.
Around Dhaulagiri is an expedition trek - a guide, sherpa, cook crew, and porters are hired. Trekkers live in tents, and are catered to by the staff. Usually camps are erected in village schoolyards or established basecamps.
Expedition treks are set up by Trekking Agencies in Nepal, a mandated middleman who can work for better or worse. The best agencies are ethical with client and crew alike, the worst put the squeeze on the guide and his boys, cutting their base rate to a tiny fraction of what the trekker is paying to the agency.
But I digress. The trek begins at the roadhead at Beni, accessible by taxi or bus from Pokhara. Although jeeps can now access as far west as Darbang, we covered this first section on foot.
At Darbang, the trail crosses over the Myagdi Khola, then turns north to follow the western bank. Remote yet ample sized villages cling to the steep hillsides. The narrow path winds among them, before recrossing the river, through a bamboo jungle, and finally climbing above treeline.
Puchar Basecamp is here, lying under the massive southwest face of Dhaulagiri I. Then a steep and loose moraine grants passage through a narrow gorge onto the Chonbarden Glacier. The glacier is squeezed between giant mountains, Dhaulagiri I to the East and Dhaulagiris II-V to the west. Avalanches roar down the faces in slow motion, accompanied by the percussion of falling rock.
Ascending north and east, one encounters the various basecamps used to attempt this side of Dhaulagiri I, including the Standard BC on the north side (4740m). The route then proceeds farther north over French Col (5360m), through the uninhabited Hidden Valley, and finally east over Dhampus La (5258m), emptying mind-blown trekkers into the Kali Gandaki Valley where they connect with the Jomsom Road at Marpha.
Then by foot (or jeep, or plane!) southward down the New Road, with the option of veering off eastward at Tatopani for the steep climb up Poon Hill.
Featured Peaks on this trek are Gurja Himal, Manapathi, Jirbang, Tsaurabong, Dhaulagiri I, II, III,IV, and V, Dhaulagiri Himal, Sita Chuchura, Tukuche, Dhampus Peak, the Nilgiris, and the distant Annapurna Himal.
Cruxes of the trek are exposure over the Myagdi Khola at times, and most importantly, proper acclimatization as one proceeds around to the north side of Dhaulagiri I. Uneven ground and rockfall danger are encountered during this gain in altitude, making campsites difficult to space out properly for acclimatization. Taking ones time going up is recommended, because once you are in the Hidden Valley(5100m), you must go up to get out.
Temps are reported to reach as low as -30 here, although for us (in May) it was not nearly that. Also to note is that crampons as well as careful routefinding are required over Dhampus La, on account of frequent whiteouts and the potential to be cliffed out.
I, for one, was blown away by the quality and ruggedness of the terrain on this trek, as well as the unparalleled level of trail-crafting practiced by the locals. Their friendly curiosity and indomitable spirit, combined with the fun-loving nature and loyalty of the crew, made for good times all around. The views certainly didn't suck either.
I sincerely hope that ACAP* or some similar organization will take responsibility for managing waste in this area as it grows in popularity. The many cool brothers and sisters of Myagdi Khola Valley deserve it!
In short, this trek completely rocked. 5 out of 5 stars for it's unbelievable-ness and adventurey-liciousness.
(*Annapurna Conservation Area Project does not currently operate in the Myagdi Khola Valley - 2008)
A must read for anyone considering this trek - and an important piece of Web-based Himalayan Literature.
Some information about the current affairs of the Annapurna Circuit.
AROUND DHAULAGIRI MAP (thanks to alpenkalb)
lastly, my flickr gallery of this trek