2018 Dhaulagiri Expedition

Dhaulagiri viewed from Muktinath

Nicholas Rice will depart Los Angeles for Kathmandu, Nepal on April 5th, 2018 for his 14th Himalayan expedition and his 17th major international expedition. Nick will be attempting to climb Dhaulagiri via the Northeast Ridge with Lina Quesada Castro (Spain) and Ryan Kushner (USA), and Christopher Manning (Canada). The climbing team will be joined with trekking members Jeremy Hoisak (Canada), Wendy Knowles (USA) and Simon Weaver (UK) who will trek to base camp as well as scale Thapa Peak (19,685ft or 6000 meters).

Dhaulagiri is 7th highest mountain in the world standing at an elevation of 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) above sea level. It was first climbed on May 13, 1960 by a Swiss/Austrian/Nepali expedition.

The mountain’s name is धौलागिरी (dhaulāgirī) in Nepali. This comes from Sanskrit where धवल (dhawala) means dazzling, white, beautiful and गिरि (giri) means mountain.

Dispatches will be posted live from base camp via satellite modem as the expedition progresses.

Dispatch 11: Trek from Khamla (4696ft/1431m) to Bagara (6824ft/2080m)

The view in the morning from Khamla.
The group at lunch in Bagara in a small hut.

Today, we woke up at 6:00am, packed up our very damp equipment, had breakfast at the tea house, and began the trek to Bagara in the cool morning hours. Not long after we crossed the Myagdi Khola (Khola means river), we stopped for a tea break. We resumed our trek after this in the hot mid-morning temperatures, and I eventually broke away from the group to go my own pace. A few hours later, we arrived to Bagara at 6824ft/2080m where we had lunch inside a small hut and continued down in light rain to the place where we were to establish our camp. Shortly after arriving, the rain intensified, then turned to hail. We felt awful for the porters who were stuck out in this weather and applauded when they finally arrived. We set up camp, had dinner in a small tea house, and went to sleep early to beautiful bird songs and the occasional rooster call (which at first was nice, but later became a nuisance).

Dispatch 10: Trek from Darbang (3609ft/1100m) to Khamla (4696ft/1431m)

The view up the valley of Dhaulagiri II, III, and V
Wendy crossing a bridge on the trek to Khamla

Today, we woke up early, packed up our things, and said farewell to Jeremy, as he doesn’t have time to trek to Dhaulagiri basecamp anymore thanks to the change in our plans. He decided instead to trek part of the Annapurna circuit via Poon Hill before heading home. We all already miss him and it hasn’t even been a day. We began trekking through Darbang and walked on a dirt road for the first few hours of the trek. We aren’t following the traditional trekking route, instead opting for a variant that is slightly shorter and meets up with the normal trekking route on day 2. We enjoyed the cool calm morning, and were gifted with views of Dhaulagiri II, III and V up the valley (we are climbing the highest, which is Dhaulagiri I). We eventually reached the end of the road, and the route became steep as we climbed up and down the face of the foothills surrounding the Myagdi Khola. As the cool temperatures of the morning gave way to extremely hot temperatures and high humidity, we did our best to stay cool and hydrated. We reached Kalleni, where we took a break for tea and made friends with a local toddler then continued for a few more hours until we reached Khamla. The plan had originally been to continue onto Jukepani, however, since we hadn’t seen our porters all day and saw no sign of them when we looked back, we decided to stop in Khamla for lunch and remain here for the night. The camp was located among terraced farmland, and we were surrounded with chickens, roosters, water buffalo, dogs, and horses. The location was absolutely stunning. We waited for a few hours, worried that we would experience the same disappointment we had at Yak Kharka. Thankfully, the porters followed through and all of our equipment made it to Khamla. We settled in for the evening, had a relaxed dinner in a tea house close to where we had our tents pitched, and went to bed.

Dispatch 9: Drive from Muktinath to Darbang

Badia and Nick in Darbang

Today, we woke up at 6:00am, packed up our equipment, had breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, and walked our bags down to the place just outside of town where our bus was waiting for us. The bus ride was even more turbulent than before, and we all hit our heads on something along the way. We found it strange how many people the bus stopped to pick up and drop off along the way, despite apparently being a bus hired just to take us down. We eventually made it to Beni, where we had a late lunch. We were met by another staff member from Prestige Adventure, who tried to order us the two cheapest things on the menu (rice and French fries, as if that’s a meal), insisting that we must only get one or at most two different dishes for the entire table. We pushed back and managed to get some protein into the meal. Afterwards, we carried on, completing the drive to Darbang. When we arrived, we had no hotel reservation (despite the tour operator having three days’ notice and a definite arrival date), and we waited around for awhile while our poor trekking guide worked to figure something out. After some time, we managed to snag four small rooms, and we spent the rest of the afternoon organizing gear, taking much-needed showers, and charging our electronics. We had a traditional Nepali dahl set meal and went to sleep early. Tomorrow, we will begin our trek to Dhaulagiri Base Camp.

Dispatch 8: Climb from Muktinath to Thorung La (17,769ft/5416m)

Nick with the sacred town of Muktinath in the background and Dhaulagiri visible as the dominant peak.
Nick on top of the Thorung La at 17,769ft/5416m
Jeremy Hoisak descending from Thorung La

Today, we woke up, had a quick breakfast, and walked through town, past the temple, toward Thorung La. The well-marked, steep route passes by a number of small guesthouses and shelters along the way. All of the climbers and one of the trekkers (Jeremy, who shattered his previous altitude record of 14,410ft) made it to the top, while all of the trekkers broke altitude records but turned back before reaching the pass. Overall, the day was a huge success and was a much-needed change from the logistical nightmare we have been dealing with so far on the expedition. We descended quickly, witnessing a beautiful sunset along the way, and had dinner in our hotel. Tomorrow, we will drive from Muktinath to Darbang, where we will begin the trek to Dhaulagiri base camp the following day.

Dispatch 7: Drive from Marpha to Muktinath (12,171ft/3710m)

The group in Muktinath

Today we had breakfast and awaited the arrival of our bags from the small shepherd’s hut. We packed up our things and the bus to Beni arrived in the late morning. After much deliberation and an argument with our tour operator, we finally decided to head in the opposite direction from Beni and drive to Muktinath at 12,171ft/3710m elevation. We weren’t confident that the porters would be ready to leave the following day from Darbang since the person who was to arrange them hadn’t even arrived in the city where they were to be sourced. We didn’t want to spend an extended amount of time at very low elevation and lose the acclimatization that we had gained from our hike to Yak Kharka and from sleeping in Marpha. Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists and the name means “place of liberation”. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition states that Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, had meditated at Muktinath on his way to Tibet. After arriving to this beautiful sacred town, we all felt liberated from our earlier troubles and more at peace. After checking into our hotel and having dinner, we were greeted with stunning views of Dhaulagiri as the sun fell behind the range, our first glimpse of our climbing objective since arriving to Nepal. The energy of our group shifted and we all had smiles on our faces. We plan on waking up early tomorrow to climb up to Thorong La, a high mountain pass with an elevation of 17,769 ft/5416m, returning in the early evening, and leaving Muktinath for Darbang the following day to begin our trek to Dhaulagiri Basecamp, working under the assumption that 3 full days should be sufficient time to ensure that we have porters ready upon our arrival.

Dispatch 6: Descent to Marpha; Plans Change

Nilgiri viewed from our camp at the shepherd's hut

Today, Ryan, Jeremy and I woke up at 6:30am to a beautiful view of Nilgiri. We waited for our tents to dry a bit, and after some time, our breakfast and water arrived from below (we went to sleep last night without water or food; only what we had left from the morning and the bars we had packed for the day). We ate, then began our descent to Marpha. We were told that the group gear (kitchen tent, cooking equipment, and tents) would be sent up from Alu Bari to Yak Kharka today so that when we leave Marpha tomorrow, we are assured to have a camp to arrive to. We arrived without incident to Marpha in the late morning and had lunch. While we were eating, our trekking guide informed us that the remaining porters had run away AGAIN; this time apparently due to the fact that a couple of trekkers and their porters had disappeared days before during bad weather on that same route. Having already changed our plans once due to the fiasco that had occurred just the day before, I told him I needed some time to think and decided to visit with a friend who was in Marpha. Jeremy and I spent the afternoon visiting with Eva Zarzuelo who was on K2 with me in 2016. We hiked up to a temple high above town and were joined by a very friendly temple dog, who followed us all over on our walk. After this, we returned to the hotel and had dinner and discussed a new plan that had been made to bring down our bags from the stone hut on donkeys and take a bus in the late morning back down to Beni to begin the trek via the longer, easier route that starts in Darbang. We discussed possible alternate plans at dinner and went to bed not knowing what to expect the following day.

Dispatch 5: Trek from Marpha to Yak Kharka; Porters Abandon Loads

Ryan and Nick at the start of the trek to Yak Kharka in Marpha
The view of Nilgiri from the trek to Yak Kharka
The very wet and cold mess tent that we huddled in before descending from Alu Bari

Today we woke up at 7:00am, ate a quick breakfast, and prepared our bags for the trek to Yak Kharka. We headed into town where the route began and headed up the foothills surrounding Marpha. What began as a relatively well-established trail turned into goat tracks. We worked our way up these steep slopes as the winds picked up. An ice ring began to form around the sun and we knew it wouldn’t be long before precipitation followed. We turned a corner at 11,750 ft (3581m) and rain began to fall, accelerated by the intense gusty winds. We stopped to put on our waterproof gear, and continued on to a small shelter, where we stopped to have some water. It was here where we realized that even the porters didn’t know the route. We continued as the rain turned to snow and crossed a gully to begin the climb up grassy slopes toward Yak Kharka. The storm intensified, at times causing whiteouts, and the staff that had accompanied us did not know the way. Ryan descended from Yak Kharka to see where the porters were and met us. Badia, Mauricio, their Sherpa, and Ryan had been waiting for an hour in the intense snow with no shelter and were beginning to get cold (fortunately Ryan had packed his small 1-man tent, which provided some limited shelter while things were sorted). Communication broke down between the porters and the staff and it became evident that continuing up the remaining 700ft to Yak Kharka would not be wise with no sign of the tents anywhere and all of us soaking wet thanks to the very wet snow that was falling. We made the decision to descend to Alu Bari (3900m/12,795ft), decreasing the distance that the porters with the tents and cooking equipment would have to go before reaching us. We took refuge from the storm inside a small stone shepherd’s hut with a fire burning inside (set by one of our porters) to warm up and waited for the rest of the porters to arrive. As the light began to fade and there was no sign of anyone coming up, it became clear that we needed to descend, as we didn’t have sleeping bags, tents, food or a stove and a few in our team were beginning to show signs of hypothermia. We began our descent in the dark at 7:00pm and arrived to another stone shelter where we discovered all of our equipment abandoned inside. We were told that two porters had been injured and the rest had run away. We discussed our plan, and decided that Ryan, Jeremy and I would stay there overnight while the others continued the descent to Marpha. We set up our personal tents on the roof of the stone structure and guarded the equipment with our cook. We ate a few bars and drank some of the remaining water we had from the morning and settled in for the night. The clouds parted, the winds died down and we were treated to stunning view of Nilgiri across the valley underneath billions of stars on a moonless night. Moments like these make all of my frustrations disappear, and despite all of the things that had gone wrong today, I felt lucky to be standing on that dirty rooftop with such humbling surroundings.

Dispatch 4: Drive from Beni to Marpha

Nick and Jeremy in Galeshwar with locals at the monastery.

Today, we woke up in Beni at 4:00am and left our hotel at 4:30am. We were told that we needed to walk down the street to where the bus was waiting, however, after more than an hour of walking, the bus was nowhere to be found. We waited awhile and made friends in Galeshwar (pictured above) while the staff tried to find the bus, and finally, it arrived. The drive took seven hours and the route had two roadblocks that could only be passed during short intervals, so after the delays of the morning, we rushed to make it in time to get past before they closed the road. Fortunately, we managed to get by these obstructions and arrived in the late afternoon to Marpha (8760 ft/2670m). The wind picked up significantly, so we settled into our modest accommodations, ate lunch, and ventured into town to explore this charming town. We visited the local Buddhist monastery and were invited in by one of the monks. We returned to our hotel in the late evening, as it began to rain, had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, and went to sleep. Tomorrow, we plan on waking up at 7:00am, eating breakfast, and beginning our trek to Yak Kharka.

Dispatch 3: Flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara; Drive from Pokhara to Beni

Badia, Ryan, Nick, Jeremy, Simon and Wendy in Kathmandu Airport for the flight to Pokhara.

Today, we woke up early, had a quick breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, and finished packing our bags for the porters. Once this was done, we headed to the airport, where we waited for hours for our delayed flight to board. Thankfully, despite a torrential downpour earlier in the morning, the flight departed, and we arrived to Pokhara in less than a half hour. We collected our bags, had a nice lunch by the lakeside, and continued our journey by road to Beni. The road was washed out in many places and was a lot rougher than I remember it being from the last time I was here (in 2010). We arrived after dark to Beni, found a hotel, ate a sparse dinner, and went to bed.

Dispatch 2: Day in Kathmandu; Briefing and Preparation of Porter Loads

Nick in the bustling streets of Thamel in Kathmandu.

Today, we spent the morning sorting equipment. Since our group plans on trekking using an accelerated schedule, we must send most of our equipment directly to Dhaulagiri Base Camp via the normal trekking route, and only bring crucial equipment for the trek with us on our accelerated trek. After this was finished, Lina, Javier, and her trekking group from Spain arrived to the hotel. We caught up with them, finalized details about our expedition with Parajuli, then went to La Dolce Vida in Thamel for lunch. I spent the remainder of the afternoon repacking my gear for the porters. After this was finished, we all went to the Third Eye restaurant with Lina’s group for a delicious local dinner.

Dispatch 1: Free Day in Abu Dhabi; Flight to Kathmandu

Nick at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Today, Simon, Wendy and I woke up at 5:30 am in Abu Dhabi, enjoyed an extensive breakfast buffet in our hotel, then ventured out into the city. We took a taxi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and toured the grounds all morning. The mosque, designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and covers an area of more than 30 acres. Designed to unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, the mosque takes inspiration from Persian, Mughal, Indo-Islamic and Alexandrian mosques. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish and its minarets classically Arab. I found this pluralism of influence to be a welcome change from the rhetoric that we find evermore present in the US media, as it acknowledges the enormous diversity within Islam, while American media lumps the entirety of the religion into a monolithic ideology. Afterwards, we headed back to check out and continued on to the airport. We flew again on Etihad airlines, which we will never do again, and arrived at 8pm to Kathmandu. We were greeted by Parajuli and his staff at the airport, headed to our hotel, and went to sleep.

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