Winter crossing possible of Larkya La pass on the manaslu trek?
The following is intended got be an addendum to Alex Treadaway‘s piece on a Christmas trek, where he went over the Larkye La on Christmas Day. I tried it on 8th Jan 2015. My thanks for their input to Jamie McGuinness of Project-Himalaya.com and Richard Bull from this site as well as Alex’s own helpful emails. I trekked with ExpeditionHimalaya.com – you need an agency to organise the permits etc. They provided Pasang as a Guide – humbling to look at Manaslu with a guy who has actually climbed it and who points out the camps, never mind modestly mentioning that he has summitted Everest……The hard work of portering was done by Ngyma and Ghyendra.
I didn’t manage it. The idea was set off on 8th Jan and circumvent from East to West, we knew that Dharamsala/Lharya Phedi would be closed and were told that Bimthang would be as well. This would mean camping at both sites at least and possibly a couple of days more. We had proper equipment and supplies for winter camping. There was snow fall at the top of the valley and when we got to Jagat we heard that Samigaon and Same were closed – no villagers resident – and that no-one had gone over the pass recently at all. The mule trains were stopping at Lho because the trail was too snowy.
Weather conditions produce an unusual pattern here. Once past Ghat, the snow settles on the west side of the valley as you ascend; the east side, which gets the winter sun, is snow free but the west is covered. There is a trail on the east side, although I don’t know at what points the bridges cross it, and so an ascent would be possible, but there are no lodges at all there and you would still have to cross over to the east side to ascend to the pass, which if it is snow-covered presents the same difficulties as I faced, just postponing them.
The snow started at Sho, approx 6″ of cover on the flat, tramped down on the trail, slippery going up, I should have put on my micro spikes but didn’t bother. 2 trekking poles would be better than one.
There is always someone who breaks a trail, goes first over the pass and Sod’s Law will dictate that someone managed it soon after I did – but I doubt it, we could see bad weather up top as we were going down and snow was forecast. We turned back at Lho.
From the pictures of the Larkye La it appears a shallow slope for the most part and so attractive for an attempt in snow. The reservations I have are as follows. Most high Himalayan passes use a zigzag approach to ascend the final parts, this means that under snow cover you cannot see the path and so risk moving off it. You simply miss the zig zag point where it turns. This risks falling into a pothole or blundering into deep snow. Crossing the Kaksar La in Ladakh a few years ago we walked across a seemingly flat snow covered slope for a kilometre or so. Every time we moved a few paces off the guiding shepherd’s foot trail the horses blundered up to their bellies……..
To continue in these conditions is not explicitly dangerous but given you would be facing a 10 hours trek in ideal conditions to get from Dharamsala camp to below Bimthang, much slower in snow, I wouldn’t risk it. The possibility of an exhausted impromptu bivi is less romantic than it seems especially as most people would be banking on a getting over the top before the altitude kicked in. Alex counsels against doing it in snow and I agree -not unless you can call on comprehensive winter skills.
It is also sodding cold. It was zero at Lho and thats not 3000. Don’t want to think what 40000+ at night would be. When I got out at 7.30 to take the dawn at Manaslu pics the camera battery took one shot and died and my ungloved hands were too cold to take continuous shots without frequent warmups in my pockets. I have camped at 5200 in summer in Ladakh and it was minus 8. Anything other than a well equipped tent, down filled sleep mat and a 4 season bag would be foolish – never mind the stove etc etc. My usual thinking in such situations is that if the locals are not there, then there is a good reason for it.
The moral of the story is that winter trekking on this pass is possible but that you will never know if the pass is open until you are committed to the trek anyway, if its clear then provided you can stand the cold then it will be possible.
So, an update on the trail.
The Pritchard-Jones/Gibbons Guide is far from exhaustive, being in reality an account of one trek several years ago rather than an in-depth Lonely Planet version. Personally I prefer this – at least its honest and idiosyncratic rather than corporate. Its out of date, no fault of theirs, the locals have upgraded the trail magnificently. There are exposed bits where you look over a 100 meter drop but apart from a few metres here and there, at no point is it dangerous – the path is at least 1-1 1/2 metres wide. If you have genuine vertigo then avoid this trek, if just a bit wobbly on heights then you will be safe enough. The bad bits are on the first couple of days. Their times for the stages are accurate. No ropes needed.Spikes for the light snow, crampons for the farside descent, I am told
The lodges are for the most part grotty. Not actively insanitary but basic. Investment and foot-traffic have transformed the Khumbu and Annpurna, Manaslu is still in the adolescent stage. Thin foam mattresses do not insulate sufficiently at night, ask for and sleep on a spare blanket if you don’t have a designer sleep-mat.
Most bedrooms have plank walls with gaps, electric light is, ahem…. on-off……. Showers? Well, it helps to have a robust, British approach to hygiene.
Toilets are for the most part 10 metres away. None were actually frozen on my visit but they would be if we had got to Same.
Food varies from the awful to that delightful fulcrum when a good home cook sets to in order to feed guests, but has not yet succumbed to the twin constraints of 20 covers with just 2 ring burners and the tyranny of portion control. Its not always on the menu but nettle soup or pumpkin soup can usually be rustled up and beats packet stuff every time. They use a lot of ‘timur’ – what we call sichuan pepper. Some of the pickles are supposed to contain ganja seeds but my less than extensive knowledge could not detect any hint of it
The walk on the initial stages is somewhat dull. Maybe I am blasé about himalayan gorges but this one goes on a bit. Its narrow, mostly sunless at this time of year at least, and chilly. The sun dips over the mountains at 2.30 at Jagat and Deng so no afternoon sunbathing, drying socks etc etc. If you like a path through dense forest this is for you, there are some views of the peaks but nothing compared to Annapurna or Khumbu – its gets better after Ghat.
Wildlife? We saw blue sheep – as usual on the other side of the valley miles off- thar, langurs, something like a squirrel, a couple of hawks but we didn’t get high enough for lammergeiers or eagle.
This is well worth doing if you want something more that the sanitised spectaculars on the the standard tea-house treks but don’t do it as your first one. Its trekking before The Great Dumb Down of a few years back when ” This jacket looks just as good on the High Street as it does on the Hill” sort of advertising began to take hold image wise and inflated a stroll to a country pub to a 3 day winter hike, when Exodus was a book in the Bible rather than a Gap year rite of passage and the Hooray Henry ‘s and their Alicias and Tarquins were elsewhere, still ‘discovering’ Greek islands and I was the only the person in the himalayan valley.
The part I did would not be classified as strenuous in Himalayan terms, nothing you couldn’t practice for with a few proper weekends in the Yorkshire Dales or Scotland.
So thanks and credit to all. Nabin at Base was a slick organiser- I never knew who my ghost trekker was. A Well recommended outfit and cheery to boot. They have a website.
If anyone wants to pm me on this, use me on indiamike.com. “I post under “Captain Bruce”