Climbing in Nepal can be straightforward when you choose a popular tourist region such as Khumbu, Langtang or Annapurna. We were thirsting however for something that would provide us with adventure, not only during the climb, but during the whole trip. After a couple hours spent on Google Earth we came up with an objective in Far West Nepal which is totally off the beaten track. Also we expected it to be fairly dry in late August / September as it lies in the orographic rain shadow of higher peaks further south. Or at least that’s what we thought.
And an adventurous trip is what we got! With the intention to save some money we chose to make the first leg of the journey Kathamandu – Simikot by bus to Nepalganj, then continue by plane. This ended up in a mad 20 hour bus ride rush as we missed the direct connection from Kathmandu. So we had to change buses multiple times, cross a river on foot as the bridge was washed away and had to charter a bus just for the two of us to make it in time to the airport in Nepalganj. Of course, after all that the flight to Simikot was delayed for half a day anyway.
After landing in Simikot it proved difficult to stick to our original plan. Our lodge owner / fixer / guide immediately told us that there would be no way that we will be able to spend a significant amount of time at our desired location. He suggested that we should rather do the normal Limi valley trek. Whereas in other places in Nepal you’re fine without a guide, in Far West Nepal, with nearly no existing touristic infrastructure such as lodges or shops, you’re completely dependent on your guide. Luckily things were not as grim as first reported and somehow we managed to extend our permits which would allow us to spend 12 days at base camp. We never managed to figure out how the whole permit issue was solved or to whom the additional money went. One thing’s for sure: It’s an expensive, non-transparent process. So finally we could start arranging our actual expedition and soon we ended up with three mules plus their owner (Pemba Lama) and a guide (Konjok Lama) for the trip. Finally after three days in Simikot the mules were packed and we were ready to head up to the mountains.
The five day hike to base camp was then a real pleasure. We passed some rural villages, but soon left these behind and were just surrounded by wonderful landscapes without a road or a single building for miles. Our pace was rather slow, as we only had one working stove and cooking three times a day took its time. The four of us got along really well and we had many laughs around the fire and on the trek. It came as a surprise to us that the higher valleys were not as lonesome as we expected them to be. Quite to the contrary, they were heavily crowded over the summer months with hundreds of families camping up there. Although, they were grazing their livestock, they were mainly there to harvest a root which then was directly exported to China. Funny enough no one knew what the root was supposed to be good for, they only referred to it as “Chinese Medicine”. This source of income has created a rush in the valley, with people coming from far away villages to spend their whole summer there. The valley even had a temporary local committee which enforced some basic rules. So again we had to negotiate our permit fees, even though we already had a permit for the area. At least this time it was much cheaper and the money went directly to the people and did not disappear somewhere in Kathmandu.
We reached base camp and spent another desperate night struggling with the rain, as we’d generously given the nice tent to Konjok and Pemba. The next day as we watched them depart, leaving us alone in the valley, we hoped they would be back in ten days, as we’d agreed.
What we’d already feared on our approach, that the weather was by far not as stable and dry as expected, clearly turned out to be true. There wasn’t a single day without precipitation. Combined with the warms temps, this meant that we had a lot of rain. The snow line was always between 5000 and 6000m, the exact level moving up and down with the time of the day.
Nevertheless we had to get acclimatized. So with the limited time we had, we only spent one full day at base camp before we headed up to breath some thinner air. In order to see more than one mountain we decided to not acclimatize on the main peak we planned to climb, but further up the valley. Walking around and exploring is always exciting in the mountains, and especially in the Himalaya, and even more so if you think you might be on virgin terrain. We guess this is the case for most peaks in the range. Who would put in so much effort for an expedition in Nepal and then only climb some 5000er peaks? But who knows and in the end it doesn’t matter anyway. On the acclimatization trip we managed to climb a mountain of approximately 5600m. As we reached the summit in a total whiteout we can not say much about its prominence. All the other objectives in the area looked much harder, so after one more day relaxing we went back to base camp.
Now it was time to refuel and fill up our batteries for a shot at our main objective. Unfortunately, we both we’re dealing with some health issues. Philipp had caught a blood infection on the way in, which he couldn’t seem to shake off completely and I had a notorious cold. As our days until we had to return were limited, we decided to give it a go anyway and see how we’d get on. After a pre-dawn start from base camp we made good progress and soon found ourself on the glacier where the terrain was steepening up. We decided to take a direct, but slightly steeper route up to the col which provided us with some nice pitches of ice. The closer we got to our planned bivi site, the more I was struggling and felt weaker and weaker. To make matters even worse we also had to deal with some avalanche prone snow slopes. With those worries in the back of our minds we settled in for the night. The next morning dawned with some clouds, so we decided to sleep in and see what the weather does. We were in no rush with plenty of gas and food which would have allowed us to wait with the summit push for the next day. And indeed the weather got better and better, but at the same rate our concerns of avalanches were growing. Deep fresh snow from the last days and even some old avalanche crowns visible made us finally assess the situation as too dangerous. Reluctantly we took down the tent and started our way back. As hard as it was to bail on a route which I’m sure we were capable of, we both knew that it was the only reasonable decision to make. I personally also felt feverish and had a hard time to just get down to the camp. As we had hoped, Konjok and Pemba with the mules we’re already awaiting us at base camp. Thus we could fully relax and enjoy the dhal bhat they immediately started to prepare.
Was it worth all the effort and money spent to get to that remote part of Nepal? Maybe not so much from a mountaineering perspective but surely for the adventure. There really is nothing like being out alone for weeks in some amazing mountains!