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Langtang Trek Report and Safety Inspection Including Gosainkund and Helambu

Posted on: May 4th, 2016 by Lost Earth Adventures

This is the summary of a safety inspection and evaluation of trails, accommodation and bridges conducted in April 2016 exactly one year after the April 2015 earthquake.

Langtang-Trek
The Langtang trek was the first commercial trek Lost Earth Adventures offered. But it’s not the only reason why this region is so dear to my heart. It was here that I proposed to Sarah, on the summit of Kianjin Ri, on a blue bird day in May. It was here that I bought an engagement ring from an aging, endearing Tibetan man as we passed through Langtang Village. And it was here that I had spent many hours chatting over cups of yak butter tea with the lodge owners and residents. That had over the years become our friends.

Tibetan-Husband-and-Wife
News of the earthquake had emerged in drips and drabs and it was a devastating shock to discover Langtang Village wiped out by a colossal landslide. We lost many friends, including our Tibetan jeweller, whom most certainly can be forgiven for lying about the quality of his wares. It was a bargain at three quid (it’s the thought that counts) and Sarah says she’s forgiven me for turning her finger green! We also had friends at the Peaceful Guest House, whom over 8 years we’d been enjoying their hospitality. They will be missed by the countless trekkers and guides that called this place their home, if only for one night.

If there are any lessons to be learned and good to come of this tragedy, then it is the opportunity to learn what types of buildings suffered the most and how best to locate new homes and buildings.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had lifted its travel advisory against visiting Langtang and Manaslu in February. The Langtang was the last of the regions I was able to visit, and you can read a report on all of the other trekking regions by reading our other blog posts.

I had stripped down to the bare essentials for the trip into the Langtang. In Kathmandu I rationed my toothpaste and underpants, whittling down my gear to a rucksack that weighed a mere 5kg. The itinerary was loosely set to run up the Langtang Valley, over the Gosainkunda Pass, down into Helambu while attempting a new trekking route on yak trails to Sikha Besi, two valleys north of Kathmandu. If time permitted we’d take a cheeky side trip to the 5150m summit of Surya Peak.

I had nine days to do it.

Nepali-Trekking-Guide
I was joined by one of our porters Binod, who had recently passed his Guide’s Exam. Being a Gurkha he his fit and strong and shows a passion for the mountains. The last two trips I've led he's worked with me as a porter and has always had a large interest in the western style of leading expeditions. Binod lacks much spoken English, although he can write it very quickly and his English is improving every day. I thought I’d take this opportunity to show Binod the new trails enabling him to describe to all our local staff the areas to visit and avoid as well as conduct a risk assessment.

Imagine Binod’s surprise when after trekking for twelve days around Manaslu, I wanted a lie in and didn’t mind missing the only bus from Kathmandu to the trailhead.

“But boss, how will we get there, sir?”

“We’ll hitchhike.”

Unsurprisingly I received a call later that evening from KP, our Operations Manager in Kathmandu, expressing Binod’s worry that we didn’t have any bus tickets or organised transport arranged.

But where’s the adventure in catching the bus?

Langtang-Lirung
I relayed the game plan to KP. We’d stand on the roadside heading out of town with our thumbs struck and a smile on our faces. We’d have the pick of the lot, getting to choose the most luxurious of vehicles. Well, perhaps we weren’t in for the most luxurious, but certainly we were in for an interesting experience.

The next morning I arranged to meet Binod at 7am for breakfast at the Himalayan Java Coffee Shop, emphasizing to Binod to pack light. Both were dubious to my plan, but neither had been able to experience travel through Nepal like I have. With my different clothes and exotic, bright face towering a foot higher than anyone else, I’ve never had to wait to long for a lift. There’s an air of excitement for the driver picking me up. More often than not, they don’t want money, but instead to take pictures of me and to chat cricket (which I know nothing about)!

Well time had passed and there wasn’t a vehicle in site. I had been starting to regret my decision boasting for an hour over breakfast over how easy it’d be. Cockiness waning, the first of five vehicles we’d take trundled along. A large lorry pumping out diesel fumes covered in Hindu symbols and struggling up a hill at about 10mph. The trucks air brakes came on and I got the usual reception. The two men sharing the same passenger seat were hanging out the window wondering what I was doing and where I want to go. Soon there were three of them sharing the seat and in typical Nepali hospitality I was given the most comfortable place, a metal box with the gear stick between my legs.

Langtang-Valley
Four more vehicles and four equally comparable and absurd journeys later we stopped to enjoy the fabulous butter chicken curry at our regular haunt in Dunche, The Langtang View. Nourished and full we continued on, walking the three hours to Syabru Besi. Binod was as happy as I was to shun the bus, opting to walk to the trailhead for the pure love of walking. I was in good company.

After seeking local advice we thought we'd begin by heading up the Langtang Valley. There are 2 ways to enter the valley. One is in good condition. The other needs work.

The New Route, Langtang Valley the High Way

The new route into the Langtang is via Sherpa Gaon, and is actually an improvement on the traditional trail. This is also the route Sarah and I originally took when I wooed her with a £3 engagement ring! The trail follows high along the mountainside, offering much better views.

Langtang-Upper-Route-Sherpa-Goan
Originally we had declined to take commercial groups this route because it used to have a rather harsh start. There were 1000m of very steep ascent, on the first morning of the first day of the trek. We prefer to break our clients into a long trek gently!
Langtang-Upper-Route
Positively though, we discovered a new dirt road, accessible by jeep that allows us to get ¾’s of the way to the top of this hill. This development ensures a fairly leisurely 5-hour trek to the village of Sherpa Gaon.

The trails along this route are in perfectly good condition, lodges are intact and the villages have not seen any damage.

Langtang-Upper-Route
There is one path which is quite exposed for two 25m sections, where there are big drops. The path is 1.5m wide and easy to walk on, but it’s worth mentioning. Donkey trains carrying cargo and goods walk along these paths day in and day out over these sections, so it’s certainly not mountaineering or scrambling. I have put a photo to the left with Binod needing no encouragement to peer over the edge!
On the second day of trekking the lower trail is joined early on at Rimche after avoiding all the issues described below. Rimche and all of the subsequent villages until you reach Thangsap are in good condition and nice for a bit of a wander and explore.

The Old Traditional Route

Langtang-Valley-Landslides
With clients we normally enter into the valley by following the path directly next to the left hand side of the Langtang River and so this is where we set off. The path was in good condition, all the way past Dovan until we got to Pairo.

From here we had to cross a cluster of large landslides where at one stage the path was set onto an overhanging section of mud. You can see the two pictures to the left showing this.

Langtang-Valley-Landslide
The paths have lasted six months since the monsoon and have had heavy testing from trains of donkeys but I would definitely not like to get stuck between the landslides in heavy rain or when wildlife are moving above. The langur monkeys and goats can knock rocks down and with a snowball effect can bring down bigger rocks.
Langtang-Valley
The lodges in Bamboo were open, however the bridge to cross the river to Rimche is severely damaged and is certainly not useable at the moment. There is a huge mound of concrete built to support half of the bridge. Weighing several hundred tonnes, this has been pushed by a landslide about 10 feet, causing huge strain on the cables and bending the turrets into a dangerous position.

We had watched as a train of donkeys crossed the bridge, figuring it would hold us too. However, we’ve made the decision that bringing a commercial group over this bridge would be entirely irresponsible.

The bridge is damaged beyond repair and is dealing with forces and angles that it was never intended for.

What this means for future treks, is that we’ll need to access the Langtang Valley along the higher route via Sherpa Gaon. We’ll continue to do so until this bridge has been replaced. Going forward I also want to see the condition of the trails after another monsoon season.

Langtang Village

When the earthquake happened, the vertical 7200m high southwest face of Langtang Lirung shed the majority of its glacier hanging from it.

Whilst avalanches are a daily occurrence on Langtang Lirung they don't fall anywhere near villages as they are sensibly placed far away. This was a freak occurrence. Normally entire glaciers don't fall off mountains.

To put this into perspective, an estimated 40,000,000 tonnes of snow, ice and rocks caused a pressure wave equivalent to half the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

This pressure wave destroyed the houses in the nearby hamlets of Thangsyap and Langtang Gompa but fortunately didn't head east and unbelievably the village of Mundu 15-minutes walk past Langtang remained unscathed.

The two lodges in Mundu are still open and the Tip Top lodge is still serving fresh coffee. There is also a new guesthouse now open in Langtang Village, two in Thangsyap and one was being built in Langtang Gompa as we passed through it.

Kianjin-Gompa-Post-Earthquake
Kianjin Gompa did see some damage, but was not too badly affected. Around ten buildings had been damaged but most had been repaired and there were at least ten lodges open. There were also about fifty foreign trekkers at Kianjin and many men constructing buildings. See the picture to the left.
In summation of the upper route into the Langtang Valley: the trails and bridges are open and safe and there is ample safe lodging for the whole route. You will see some fallen down buildings around the Langtang Village area, but there are many workers out in force clearing up.

They are ready to accept visitors, are keen for tourist money to stimulate the area and the mountains are as beautiful as always. Now is the time to come before the tourists return. We surveyed the guesthouses for safety and have listed the safest ones along with their telephone numbers for all our guides to use when booking.

Langtang Village One Year Later

Continuing our trail run we arrived in one what remains of Langtang Village for a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. We had met two friends, Pema from the Buddha Lodge in Kianjin and Lhakpa from Dorje Bakery, which is still selling the best coffee and cakes in Nepal.

It was a sombre and emotional experience as both of them lost family in Langtang Village. Our charity Share the Load Foundation is about to send a team of workers to help give the construction a solid push before the monsoon season.

We continued further to Thulo Syafru, using the trail from Syrafru Besi and not from Pairo, which was in perfect condition. There is about ten open lodges in Thulo Syrafru, including our favourite, Peaceful Lodge.

Heading up the hill we went to Chandanbari (Shin Gompa). The Yak and Nak, the best lodge in the national park was undamaged and even let us make cheese fondu in their kitchen! The rest of the village was in good shape with only one wall that had fallen down. The cheese factory and other lodges were open.

Summit-Surya-Peak
Lucky enough time was on our side and on one of our final mornings we woke up at 4:50am (to a fresh covering of snow) at Gosainkunda Lakes for a pop at Surya Peak. Kitted out with limited gear in nothing but trail running kit enabled us to move light and fast, though presented its own challenges when presented with steep, snow covered rocks.
We had definitely underestimated Surya Peak. Steep walls protect the summit and it took several long attempts at navigating exposed ledges and ramps, including having to backtrack 200m in altitude before finding a weakness to the summit.

Both with packs less than five kilos it was a real pleasure to move so quickly at this altitude enabling us to rapidly explore the different routes. From the top we were totally surrounded by snow-capped mountains and could see ranges far into Tibet. Clouds were building quickly so after the obligatory handshake and summit selfie we were skipping rocks back down the ridge.

Helambu

Moving quickly was important but equally was not hurting ourselves as with minimal kit, total remoteness and no chance of rescue we had to be careful. 7 hours later we stopped for egg and chips at one of the two undamaged lodges in Phedi before running to Gopte in 1hr 20m.

Chisopani-Trek
Our aim was to head west at some point to get to Sikha Besi. Our charity the Share the Load Foundation has just built a school there and the school lies at the bottom of a spectacular valley below Gosainkunda Lakes. We asked local advice and checked options on the map. Unfortunately the sides of the valley are very steep and after an hour of descending a faint trail through dense forest we were thwarted by a landslide stripping our exit to Sikha Besi. Unfortunately we had to turn and retreat the 800m of altitude we lost up the steep hillside. We continued on to Kutumsung, Chisopani and through Shiva Puri National Park.
Nine days after leaving Kathmandu we were back in the enchanting madness, feeling fit, strong and exhilarated. It was a tough push for both of us and we were happy with our achievement. We were even happier to see that all the villages we've enjoyed so many times before had quickly moved on from the earthquakes, had suffered minimal damage outside of the Langtang Village area and the local people are more than ready to accept trekkers.

We’re leading treks to the Langtang, Helambu and Gosaikunda Lakes regions this autumn. We’ll see you on the trail!

Read more about our Langtang trek, Gosainkund Lakes trek or Helambu trek.

Post Earthquake Manaslu Circuit Trekking Trail Update

Posted on: May 3rd, 2016 by Lost Earth Adventures

Current Conditions and Trail Assessment of the Manaslu Circuit – April 2016

Manaslu-Circuit
Richard Goodey has just come back from recceing the Manaslu Circuit in Nepal. This is his first hand summary and assessment of a safety inspection and evaluation of trails, accommodation and bridges conducted in April 2016 exactly 1 year after the April 2015 earthquake.

Yak-Manaslu-Circuit
Relying on trip reports from other people can be daunting. I had heard back from our local guides as well as other sources about the conditions of the Manaslu Circuit but to put my mind at rest I really wanted to see for myself. Most of what I had heard was positive and fortunately I got the opportunity to lead this trek to see what the situation is and conduct a solid risk assessment.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had lifted the advisory against visiting Manaslu and Langtang in February and none other than Prince Harry was trekking part of the Manaslu Circuit, so things were looking good so far. Prior to the recce I’d also been in touch with the Nepal Tourism Board and the Himalayan Rescue Association whom advise the FCO and both organisations stated they were encouraging visitors to visit the Langtang and Manaslu regions. As of December 2015, over 1200 trekkers had completed these routes.

Nepali-Lady-Washing
In October 2015 I personally recced all of routes we offer, with the exception of the Langtang. You can read more in-depth reports on the blog posts below. Fortunately, after completing the Manaslu Circuit I was able to visit the Langtang, Helambu and Gosainkunda and a comprehensive trail assessment will follow this one shortly.
Farmer-Nepal
Foreign trekkers bring money, boost the economy and provide employment within Nepal’s trekking areas. One year on from the earthquakes, it is evident that a tremendous effort has gone into repairing trails and restoring the infrastructure in these areas. Based on previous visits to the region, it’s apparent that the trails aren’t just ‘back to normal’, they’re better, safer and improved from before the earthquake struck.
Whilst trekking I specifically looked at and inspected: the trails, the lodges, bridges and evidence of landslides. John Cambridge, a former client whom had visited the Manaslu region 18 months before had joined me as well. John is an architect from Manchester, and whilst not working in an official capacity, was able to provide insight and expertise into what damage to look for in the buildings we came across.

Bridges

  • A visual inspection of all bridges and their materials along the trail
  • Inspected the cables and concrete for cracks or deformation

100% of all bridges encountered and crossed were in great condition, safe to cross and continue to use.

Guesthouses

  • Inspected every guesthouse on the circuit for damage
  • Made an assessment (of the method) of the construction of the building
  • Graded buildings based on what type of method would be most earthquake resistant
  • Listed and graded all buildings in order of overall safety, so that we have an accurate list for future expeditions.
  • Assessed their positioning within the landscape: specifically looking for risk of rock fall and landslips. Fortunately Nepali’s know where landslides most likely will occur and build lodges away from these areas.
  • Overall the majority of buildings that did see damage have been repaired and there is little evidence of the earthquake.

    Tea-House-Manaslu-Circuit
    None of the guesthouses that Lost Earth Adventures normally use were damaged in the earthquake. We favour smaller lodges not beneath steep or rocky slopes or near drainages and ones made from wood or brick with concrete reinforcement. As all the tea houses we use were undamaged in the earthquake they have been pretty well tested. Fortunately there are many wooden, one story lodges such as these beautiful little cottages at Bimtang (pictured left) on the route.
    The Trail

    Most of the damage occurring throughout the region was from falling rocks. Landslides are a common occurrence during the monsoon months of June to early September where huge rainfall dislodges rocks and saturates the land causing it to slide. This is why we do not recommend trekking in this region during the monsoon.

    Gurung-Lady-Manaslu-Circuit
    Since the earthquake we had 4 months of monsoon rains cleaning the cliffs of any remaining unstable debris. The locals are living life as normal and the earthquake or 'bagumpa' in Nepalese is now a distant memory. You are certainly not walking through devastated villages and piles of rubble.

    As previously mentioned above, extensive trail maintenance and repairs have taken place over the past year. The Nepalese Army, hundreds of locals as well as outside NGO’s have made the trails safer, wider and better than before the earthquakes.

    Footpath-Manaslu-Circuit-Trek
    Conclusion

    Historically, Nepal has suffered from major earthquakes every 80-100 years. Statistically now is a very good time to go. The locals haven't felt an aftershock in months so now the risk would be comparable to a tsunami hitting the beaches of Thailand. With the new wider paths, cleaned hillsides and with few tourists right now, I'd say this is the best time ever to explore this region.

    The lodges on the Manaslu Circuit have significantly improved in recent years and I have collated all their contact numbers so that we can be sure to book the best ones in advance.

    Trail-Manaslu-Circuit-Trek
    The Manaslu Circuit is a very adventurous trek that is off the main tourist routes. It is trekking for 6-9 hours a day in a very remote setting with footpaths and bridges that are 100's of feet high. The lodges are quite basic but you will be hard pushed to find a trek as culturally stimulating whilst surrounded amongst such spectacular mountains. For those of you that are prepared to put in the effort you will be rewarded highly.
    Prince-Harry-Nepal
    We had the good fortune of meeting Prince Harry on day two of the trek. He was in the area assisting with the rebuilding of a school in the area and we were able to pause for a moment to shake his hand and thank him for his help in Nepal. If it’s good enough for Prince Harry than it’s good enough for us!
    After a thorough trail assessment we are pleased to be running all trips to the Manaslu Circuit as normal for 2016 and 2017.

    Read another blog post here or for more details about joining us for this trek visit the Manaslu Circuit Trek’s page.

Manaslu Circuit Trip Report

Posted on: May 1st, 2016 by Lost Earth Adventures

Larkya-Pass-Manaslu-Circuit-Trek
It had come out of the blue, a request I wasn’t expecting, but was undoubtedly happy to fulfil.

David Lim, a mountaineer whom had a led an Everest expedition in 1998 was searching for a man, his Sidar and five time Everest summiteer, Man Bahadur. The Sidar is one of the most important members of a Himalayan team, managing all of the staff and crew during an expedition. David reached out to Lost Earth Adventures, as we were one of the few commercial outfitters leading a trek through the Manaslu Circuit this season.

Nepalese-Child-Baby
Equipped with a letter and the name of a village (Namrung) in the remote Buri Ghandaki Valley without internet, electricity and a four day walk from the nearest road, we set off on our trek with an added incentive, to track down Man Bahadur. David Lim was planning another expedition and was seeking the assistance of his friend and former Sidar.

Joining us on the trek was past client John Cambridge, whose aim was to complete the Circuit after his first attempt was unfortunately cut short in 2014 following a family emergency. The trail started at Soti Khola, an exciting 10-hour drive along twisting mountain roads from the nation’s capital. For John, this meant repeating the first few days of the trek, but as he said, “that was no hardship and I really enjoyed re-visiting the locations that at the time I did not expect to see again.”

Read John's review of this Trek

Four days later we arrived in Namrung. Man Bahadur's caste is Tamang and Namrung is a village of Gurung people. Upon our arrival we made some initial enquiries before settling down in a teahouse for the afternoon. Drinking warming cups of Tibetan tea, a man was hurriedly rushed into the room, followed by the scurry of excited villagers wanting to know why Man Bahadur was being sought.

Nepalese-Woman-Cooking
Man Bahadur was very excited to hear from David and invited us to his house where he lives with his wife. He had met her on an expedition to climb Manaslu. Namrung is on the trail to the base of the mountain and she was employed en-route as a porter to carry expedition equipment. Man Bahadur later returned to marry her, settling in the shadow of the world's eighth highest mountain.
Nepalese-People-Home
The following morning we were invited back to their home. His house is traditional: wooden, small and tarred black by smoke from the fire. It was 9am and we started with coffee and biscuits before being given homemade beer. He eagerly showed us his many certificates from high altitude expeditions where he's built a reputation as a man who can be relied upon to manage a team in the death zone.
Pungyen-Gompa-Trek
We bid adieu to Man Bahadur and his wife, keen to set the pace for another brilliant day on the trail. We had a side trip planned to a remote monastery 4500m high directly under the East Face of Manaslu. Not many people venture here and it is one of the best mountain panoramas you will ever see, but it is not without its challenges.

Not only would we be facing a 700m ascent we’d be living off a diet of cabbage and potatoes! Life is tough in the mountains, food is difficult to grow and the variety available at lower elevations simply cannot thrive at these heights.

Ganesh-Himal
We had stopped for lunch in a brand new teahouse, so new in fact there wasn’t any food! They failed to mention this to us until after we had ordered. After being declined all of my menu choices I was told I could have Sherpa stew. A delicious mountain treat of dumplings and vegetables in a tasty broth. It suspiciously looked like cabbage soup. I ventured into the kitchen and encountered a young boy, the ‘chef’ reading the book, How to Cook. A chef he was not. The boy had gestured to the empty pantry and simply said there wasn’t any food, just bread and cabbage.

Dissatisfied by our afternoon meal, we later met a man barbecuing a yak’s head on the side of the trail. His delicacy looked decidedly appetising after my disappointment with the cabbage soup! I held off though, looking forward to tucking into a hearty meal at our evening stop.

We arrived in the village of Shayla, not usually a main stop on the circuit but en-route to Punguen Gompa. Man Bahadur told us there was one place we could secure a bed for the night. In the whole village there were only two female monks and one of their mothers. The others had left for lower elevations until their return in May. Shayla was a ghost town.

Monk-Manaslu-Circuit-Trek
One of the monks was brewing Rakshi a rice wine similar to Saki and the other was managing the only open teahouse in the village. I enquired as to what food was available and she pointed to a room full of cabbages and said 'we have cabbages and potatoes'. I said, “Is there anything else?” She said “no and that she's not a chef.” Regretting not buying the yak head I went for a walk to see if I could catch a chicken or anything that wasn't a cabbage. A nearly fruitless search, but I mustered up a single tin of tuna, cheese and eggs.

The monk let me take over the kitchen and I cooked us omelette and chips. An omelette had never tasted better! This of course was washed down with rakshi that the other monk had made and we had a fun evening around the fire communicating in Nepali, Gurung and English. We never really understood what each other said but we clinked our glasses together and laughed every time we made eye contact.

Monk-Making-Tea
Hiking to the Gompa, we drank tea from the sole resident, a monk who’s called this remote haven home for the past 9 months, and probably hasn’t had a shower in just as long! We made our way back to the main trail and finally treated ourselves to some well-earned pizza at a fully stocked teahouse. The pass, the Larkye La was now within our grasp.

Walking becomes challenging as the air gets thinner, but is made quite bearable when seeing interesting things like a black leopard backing down after being charged by two resilient yaks and seeing a marmot standing on his hind legs squeaking at us.

Himalayan-Marmot
The night before the pass was spent in Dharamsala. A large scruffy teahouse in a fairly hostile environment built next to a huge glacier and surrounded by piles of moraine and 8000m peaks. The atmosphere was full of excitement as trekkers from around the world swapped stories of peculiarities met along the trail. Amusingly the room was divided into three equal parts of German, English and French speakers.
Cottages-Bimthang
A 4am breakfast was easily accomplished with a clear sky full of stars and the Milky Way in full splendour. The nearest town was over 100km away and there was not a cloud in the sky. Surrounded by silhouettes of the world's tallest mountains we set off. Within four hours we'd reached 5100m and it was then downhill all the way to Bimtang.
Nadi-Peak
We planned to all have a bit of a celebration but we were in bed by 8pm so the party was postponed until the following night. I bought two chickens that were freely roaming outside and cooked a curry for everybody including the staff of the teahouse.
Tea-House-Dinner
This was a great end to the trek, we made some great new friends and I'm looking forward to treating many more people to this fantastic experience in October - see you on the trail!

Read more about the Manaslu Circuit Trek

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