Ask anyone… Climate change is for REAL.
October is usually considered the best time to trek in Nepal. However, this year, incessant rains in the first week of October triggered landslides damaging trekking trails. And snowfall in the high regions meant that many mountain passes were un-crossable. The south-western region of Nepal experienced the most damage with 33 casualties. Post-monsoon storms have been occurring for many years and it is high time we in Nepal take it seriously.
Impact of the post-monsoon rains in the higher Manaslu region
The trekking region that was most affected by this year’s post-monsoon rains was the Manaslu region. This year, a record number of 404 permits were issued to mountaineers vying to climb the “easy” mountain. Most climbers attempt Manaslu as a first 8,000’er experience before they go on to climb other more difficult mountains. The rapid increase in the mountaineers applying to climb Manaslu was probably inspired by Mingma G’s first ascent of the true summit in 2021. However, because of excessive snow and avalanche danger, only 10-15% summitted Manaslu this year. Usually, 70-80% of those attempting Manaslu summit the mountain. Several rescues and evacuations were conducted on the mountain. Also, excessive snow on the Larkya la pass meant that in early October many trekking groups were unable to cross the pass and had to return to Soti Khola. Trekking groups were only able to cross the pass after the second week of October. See photos of our group ascending, on the pass and descending from the pass in snow which is quite unusual for the third week of October.
Impact of the post-monsoon rains in the lower Manaslu region
Many sections on the trekking trail along the lower areas on the Manaslu Circuit trail from Soti-Khola to Namrung were badly damaged. See photos. Locals quickly rebuilt the trails as tourism is important for most of the house-holds in the region. However, the trail to Tsum Valley was blocked around Lokpa after a big landslide blocked a large portion of the trail. Lokpa is near the gateway to the Tsum-valley. It was impossible to trek to Tsum Valley for most of October. The jeep track and trekking trails on the Annapurna Circuit too were damaged. It was only possible to drive from Tal onwards (though this has now been rebuilt).
Impact of the post-monsoon rains in other trekking regions of Nepal
Elsewhere in the country, flights to and from Lukla (the gateway to the Everest region) were disrupted for many days leaving trekkers going to Lukla and returning from Lukla stranded. Even helicopters were unable to operate for many days. Because of flight cancellations, many trekking groups changed their trek program and went to the Annapurna region instead of trekking in the Everest region. A couple trekking groups were stranded in the Far-Western region of Nepal: one in the Dolpo area and one in Humla. Note: At Crystal Mountain Treks we only run Upper Dolpo treks in the Summer and make every attempt to complete the trek by early October.
What lessons can be learned?
It is important to understand that our world will not meet the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade. And we must accept that freak storms, landslides and other natural calamities will occur in the future. We in the trekking industry of Nepal must adapt and try to mitigate these issues as much as we can. So from now onwards, would it be better to plan a high-altitude trek (especially the Manaslu Circuit Trek) to begin only after the second week of October? (That said, we did have a trek to Annapurna Base Camp in the last week of September which was not disrupted because of the rains although the views were not always great. Typically mountains are clear and views are spectacular in October.) Also, after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the landscape around Gorkha district (the Manaslu region) have been weakened perhaps making the region more susceptible to landslides.
Secondly, would it be better to heed weather forecasts more carefully?! Usually, free weather forecasts on the internet correctly predict rains and freak storms at least two-three days before they occur. The freak-storm in the Annapurna region in 2014 that claimed many lives had been brewing in the Bay of Bengal a week ago. Much of the fatalities could have been avoided as the storm information was available to many as internet service is now available in many mountain regions of Nepal. In the future, trekking groups must stay informed and decide whether to proceed over high passes or stay put based on weather information. In some cases, they must be flexible and decide to change trek routes and even trek areas.
Thirdly, would it be a good idea to be prepared and carry gaiters and micro-spikes such as Yak Trax on treks that involve crossing a high pass? This also means that trekking porters and staff should be provided with good hiking boots and gaiters.