Manaslu Trek – Part Two of the Trilogy
Day 6 – Hike from Lho to Samagon, the Last Trading Outpost Before the Big Push through the Pass
April 7th, 2023 – Shyalla Tea Break on the way to Samagon (3,500m (11,500ft))
Starting to see snow on the trail as we wind around river paths, colorful Tibetan women with their sun kissed skin carrying whicker woven baskets on their backs. Yesterday, the other three went to the monastery while I stayed behind in the warm cozy lodge.
Like temples in Bali or cathedrals in Rome, when you’ve seen one monastery, you’ve seen them all [not quite true looking back on it but hey, sharing with you what I wrote at the time, and what I was writing was justification for my own laziness]. I’m a bit less prickly about it [the monastery] this time because the communities here have an influx of money with new cabins being built and a hopefulness in the air that some of the villages in the EBC lacked.*
Had an early night last night after a few games of uno and thankfully shared with Rachel. What a difference in morale and warmth! We had a backdoor where I hung some clothes to try on during the day and we just scooted our butts out to pee [at night] and stay warm which reduced misery levels.
The other two ladies in the [other] group shared some soap with me which was a relief because having fresh underwear is one less thing I have to worry about.
On we went to Samagon, which Paban described as a large village which acted as a crossroads to many smaller villages in the area. It was bigger than quite a few of the other places we had seen, with an interesting mix of old stone structures and newly built lodges with cows, dzho [a combination of a yak and cow, similar to a mule], and yaks fenced in and some left to roam with large bells on them. Mana walls lined the roads and another monastery was in the hills just above us. We were to spend two nights here to acclimatize and one could choose to either make the trek to Manaslu base camp here or go see the lake, which the Manaslu glacier fed.
* I had been annoyed on the EBC trek when I’d see communities in abject poverty send their very limited resources and children to the Buddhist monasteries for the promise of a better future in the next life when there was still so much that could be done to improve their current life. But I don’t know the full story or reasonings so there’s probably more to the situation than met my foreign eye.
Day 7 – Acclimitization Day in Samagon, We Visit the Lake and Hear the Creaking of the Glacier
April 8th, 2023 – Samagon (3,500m)
Today was ideal in every way with hikes, a beautiful lake, glacier, mini avalanches, hot chocolate over an open fire, Christmas music, and great friends. Everyone else woke up at 5:30am to see the sun rising above this small trading hub while I laid in bed catching a few more snoozes with my morning reads playlist.
Late breakfast before heading to the lake near the town. It was an easy trail on the rock-strewn path before we went off the donkey-beaten path over ridges and hills in the blissfully warm midday sun. We climbed over the final ledge to the vast beautiful panorama of Manaslu glacier in its glacial tumble to the turquoise blue water of the placid still lake. The mountains’ snowy white edifices loomed over us and cairns dotted the landscape. I made one for coco-bear who passed away recently and took a picture so Charlotte would know that she was honored.
There was a note of apprehension in the air in our group since three out of eight of us total trekkers had left for Manaslu base camp which was past the glacier and up in the blankets of snow at around 4,700m (15,000ft). The glacier creaked and groaned as rocks and ice tumbled down and the mind couldn’t help but think of the fragility of the lives above crossing the behemoth.
I took my time stripping down to base layers for the hike back so I wouldn’t overheat. It was fun walking back with Paban as we lost our way because of our chatting and giggling about gossip and the mindset of Western people vs Nepalese.
Spent the rest of the day exploring more of the town – Laura, Rachel, and I went to the café next door where this lovely lady served us hot chocolate in her cabin with an open flame/oven in the center of the room. I put on Christmas music and with the company, the rare warmth of the room, and the clean tidiness yet bustling of our host, it was a perfect winter moment.
Walking out with a warmed morale and belly lifted our moods dramatically and it was almost a culture shock re-entering into the agricultural subsistence town of Samagon with tis stone hewn structures and wandering yakow.
I laid down with the children of our lodge owners and we built little snowmen with Paban and their father as their mother worked the wooden loom beside us, creating a colorful scarf. The kids giggled with their new toys, and I looked curiously into their faces because all the kids seem to have frost bitten cheeks from over exposure, having truly apple red cheeks on their tan faces. I wonder if it’s the way of things with such proximity to a harsh sun or if they’re purposefully exposed young to help the skin build up resistance.
I’m also curious about the vaccination scheme. I couldn’t help but notice a rusty nail by us as we played in the snowy dirt and it just makes me wonder about basic healthcare for tetanus, childbirth, etc. Is child mortality higher but people are healthier than in a place like Miami? Or does exposure and the cold whittle away at one’s immune/cardiovascular system and diminish ones’ health over time?
There’s scientific consensus that people who have a history of living in the Himalayas have a genetic predisposition to do well in these mountains ranges in ways that us Westerners do not. Larger lung capacities, more red blood cells to name a few. From my point of view, life here seems brutal tough regardless. This region didn’t open until 1991 so 32 years post isolation and I am seeing people still using wooden yolks on yaks to plow the land and wooden looms to make clothing for themselves and tourists alike. The hot chocolate lady and her second story cabin was such an anomaly for its appearance with cans and supplies lining the walls like an old fashion fur trapping shop, and her slightly different appearance to the other villagers made us debate if she was a seasonal Nepalese worker who lived elsewhere and has seen other kinds of establishments and had brought it back to Samagon. If she is a seasonal worker, then she is probably one of the first wave of many to come as tourism increases in the region.
That evening we enjoyed birthday celebrations, a warm furnace, and some good rum.
Day 8 – Trek to Samdo, a Village Just a Few Hours from the Tibetan Border. Snow Flurries Set the Scene for the Days to Come
April 9th, 2023 Samdon (3,885m/12,700ft)
Today’s been a great day on my list of things conquered – first time going above 4,000m (13,000ft) without a breakdown, in fact, I even had a smile on my face!
Last night we hung around the fire/furnace where I met a girl who was taking her gap year teaching English in the village and traveling to Thailand afterwards. She was sweet and earnest about it all and I wondered if I was so bright-eyed and bushy tailed at her age as well.
It was Gorkha’s birthday, so Paban and the others got him a cake, some Nepalese scarves, and rum as we all sang happy birthday. Nepalese music played and we danced a bit before subsiding around the furnace and I played my sudoku. So far, there has been no statistically significant decrease in sudoku cognition with altitude – in fact I’ve been getting personal records in speed and points. I’ve also flunked out of a few games so I’m thinking my inhibition is lowered with the altitude. Everyone else among the trekkers went to bed but I stayed up a bit with the porters and guides. I enjoy their chatter as I lay curled around the warmth of the furnace. The lodge owner had his daughter in his lap (she’s maybe 3 years old) and she slowly nodded off as he watched her fondly while listening to one of the porters tell an animated story. I sipped a bit of rum, and they teased me in Nepalese which I’ve been learning at quickly enough. Paban and I had an arm wrestle after he said he could carry me over [Larke] Pass and I told him I was too ‘motti’ (fat) and he was too weak. We both laid on the floor and were circled by the others while a referee got in place. With two hands I won easily but he casually defeated me one arm on one to the cheers of the audience.
This morning we had a late start for a very short hike to the next settlement. I took it veerryyyy slow, often in the back with my little walking sticks and Paban by my side ushering me along or grabbing my pack when I veered off the road like the lazy slow pack animal that I am. We’re usually in companiable silence but other times he tells me the history or names of the peaks or continues to teach me Nepalese – often with a strong refrain on using back language (such as ‘muji’ which I found out when last night I parroted the word and everyone roared with laughter). Before I would’ve wanted to always be first but these days I love being last. I know I struggle in altitude, so I want to take everything easy and really, truly, see the beauty of the Himalayas around me. Stop and see the women who walk along separate trails in the woods, their dress seemingly a hairy to me, harking to times long past, or the donkey shepherds taking breaks in the sun and laughing and teasing each other, or the guides secretly handing out sweets to the village kids who sometimes come running out with their apple cheeks.
Every day offers another treat to see and another terrain to experience. Today was pastureland as we go above the treeline ahead of the snow clouds which chased close behind. Wandering horses tossed their manes on the steep inclines, their shaggy hair protecting them from the increasingly cold winds.
This town is the most barren and harshest so far and it’s a miracle that humans have made a life here, somehow eking it out of the land.
We had lunch before heading up a nearby hill to try to get our bodies up to a higher altitude to adjust before coming back down again. I had a bit of trepidation because I always seem to break at 4km. but as the snow began to flurry and blur the landscape, I kept on steady and slow up the steep incline, a grin on my face as I relished in the new weather challenge. Up we all went, the village falling below us to blue tin roof specs. Up and up and I continued to feel fine before we, as a group, decided to head down. It was steep and a bit hairy – following what looked like mountain goat trails and switchbacks with narrow footings but I made it down without a single slip – the trust in my shoes is increasing.
I went to the room to check on Rachel who’s the main person of our group suffering from the altitude with low appetite and headaches. One of [the other members] gave her some Diamox which will hopefully righten things out because having suffered altitude sickness before, its no joke.
We were aiming to cross the crescendo of our trek the day after next, on April the 11th, through Larke Pass, the third most dangerous pass in the Himalayas. The death toll is mostly due to changes in weather conditions and landslides which lock people into its snowy depths and misguides trekkers down steep crevasses. We were to go early in the morning, while everything was still frozen to prevent the potential avalanche or landslide and to go before the afternoon storms blow through.