From Darbang to Marpha

From 4 till 19 October 2013

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Our objective:

This trek is in mind since 2001, when I was coming  down from Jomsom to Gorepani to go up for the first time towards the sanctuary of Annapurna. 12 years ago, the impressive mass of Dhaulagiri facing the indented profiles of Annapurna, spaced out by the world’s deepest valley, gave a great desire for escapade: get off these beaten tracks, already well occupied.

This trek is an interesting technical range because it requires a bigger autonomy than that lived during the precedent treks  (Milam in October, 2012 and unfinished Makalu in April, 2013), bivouacs over 5000m and the necessity of warming the water with another fuel than wood.

We plan to trek solo around the Dhaulagiri from the terminal point of the road, Darbang,and, then acclimatized to the heights, to join on the other side of the valley, the lake Tilicho – the « highest » lake of the world, by the Mesokanto pass.

Preparation:

After the adversities of April in the Makalu region (snowbound passes), we took the resolution to trek in autumn to benefit from the most clement weather conditions: the summer monsoon must have passed and the wintry cold at high altitude have to come.

Route:

We prepare the route and the stages with the attentive reading of the 3 years old logbook of Sébastien and Fabienne, (http: // http://www.blankpage.fr/voyages-et-treks/tour-du- dhaulagiri/)
We put back their route on Google Earth and their way points will be the basic datas for our GPS.

Situation:

Situation

Backpacks:

We plan 7 days of autonomy for food, 7 in 8 kg consisted of dry ham, sausage, semolina, Wasa type bread, Comté, muesli, dehydrated milk, chocolate, dried fruits, cereal bars, butter Brittanny biscuits. The spirulina makes its entry to be tested (500g: we are always lacking vitamins at high altitude and we are quickly in lack of fruits. We shall see if the cure fills this lack.

Shoes: LOWA – Tibet pro gtx
Backpacks: Osprey exbone 58, Gregory Wander 70
Tent: Vaudé Power Lizard SUL 2 places
Stove: MSR XGK EX with 900ml of petrol bought in Pokhara
Mattress: Thermarest Néoair XLIT
Sleeping bags: Valandré Bloody mary
We also take 2 panchos which will be used the one to cover the backpacks which remain outside at night and the other to protect the ground of the light but fragile tent.
I carry18kg, including the petrol and the water and Sylvie approximately 14kg.

Access:

We took a Malaysian flight , the cheapest at the time of the purchase but which makes a detour by Kuala Lumpur. It is a good company but the journey is a little bit long, even in A380.

J1: In Kathmandu, we take easily our TIMS and entrance fees for the park of Annapurna.
J2: Tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara (because lack of booking, we were squeezed, close to the driver). In Pokhara, the sudden and magic appearance of sacred Macchapucchare is not to reassure us. The monsoon is still anchored on the Himalaya from where it must have fainted for several weeks.
J3: bus from Pokhara to Beni at 7 am in the morning then bus from Beni to Darbang. The road is collapsed towards Bablyachaur, requiring a change of vehicle.

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Agenda :

agenda

Height at the stage:

altitude à l'étape

Height function of  distance:

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The trek from day to day:

  • 1st day  : From  Darbang to Dharapani in 3 hours

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We erased tire from the journey with a good night. The sky is grey in the early morning and a drizzle hides the streets of Darbang. I lost my Kway in the last bus yesterday afternoon and the police promised me to make everything to get it back while the bus had already restarted. After a copious breakfast (milk tea, chapatis, omelet), the police announces us that the Kway was found! it will be very useful,even precious to us in the days which follow …

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It is a small stage to warm up. Bags are heavy and we are afraid of a lumbago … The rain dries up before we went out Darbang at 10am. It is necessary to follow the left bank of Lyagdi khola. We shall follow this river up to its spring. The weather is temperate with a little more of 20°C, and we walk without any trouble on a well drawn path  with sometimes already some masses of fallen rocks.

We arrive at about 1 pm and the welcome is warm to Dharapani. We take advantage of the afternoon sun  for the toilet and the washing amid the villagers. We walk in this beautiful village where big bundles of cannabise grow in the gardens.

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  • 2d day  : From Dharapani to Muri in 7 hours

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The weather remains grey but not raining. After a first ascent until 1868m, we come down in rice fields by muddy paths to avoid the bend by Phaliyagaon. After the crossing of a tributary, we go to a waterfall where we take a relaxing shower. The path continues to rise on the new hillside to give onto Muri at a height identical to the peak of the day.

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We look for a guesting house while the rain begins to fall. After some hesitations, the villagers open us a basic but clean room and bring back a bed out of nowhere. We are the curiosity of the children and we take advantage of it to make some photos. The traditional dalbath  will be served to us in the evening. We pay 1000Rs the room, dinner and breakfast (chapatis, milk tea and omelets)

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  • 3th day: From Muri to Boghara in 9 hours

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We walk with our rhythm, that is very slowly. Dhaulagiri came to light this morning as to motivate us.

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The weather remains soft and we continue to walk in rice fields. The path sometimes completely disappears and we go to a wrong direction. The GPS indicates a gap with regard to the route but we do not find the good way. A farmer indicates us a bridge far and down in the valley … We join it by cutting through fields. It is sometimes necessary to jump carefully low walls separating terraces. The journey wrongly begins with such a mistake in a populated region… What would it have been at 5000m? It worries us.

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We cross small hamlets until Naura. We lunch in a welcoming farm after 4 hours for walking. The sun is always present at intervals. It is said that we need 3 hours to join Boghara.
We shall put 5 on a magnificent and vertiginous path. The ascent is rough with a 600m elevation. The weather is sunnier than yesterday but we see a beautiful rainbow on the opposite hillside.

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Boghara is a beautiful village nested in rice fields at 2000m. The first house offers us the hospitality. A laying hen is installed with us and defends its territory. We fight with a cow which does not want to give its place in the only water source to have a wash.
The numerous children in the house do homework before the dinner.

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  • 4th day : from Boghara to Dobang in 9 hours

We negotiate friendly with the owner who asks us 1750Rs of which 600Rs for the room (how much for the hen?), as expensive as in Kathmandu. It is the proof that it is always necessary to ask for the prices before settling down …

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But the sky is totally blue this morning and it is good for the morale.
Ascents and descents exhaust us and we are happy to arrive at Phylankos kharka, a hut where a woman with a big kindness prepares Chinese noodles that she cooks with delicious herbs picked in her garden.

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An old man who lives with her indicates us that 2.5 hours are needed  to reach Dobang. We shall put only 3. Not so bad!

But we begin to get tired in the muddy and tropical rainforest. Dobang is a clearing without visible agricultural activity. A room is proposed at the same price as the location of the tent (400Rs). We choose the room to gain the time of the dismantling tomorrow morning. The dalbath is 300Rs, moderate price at this height. We spend a good evening with locals a little bit tipsy with local alcohol.

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  • 5th day : from Dobang to Chauribang in 6h30 

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It is a day to walk in the mud and in the tepid and warm rainforest. The difficult passages multiply. We go carefully to avoid falling. We have plenty of time. We stop at 1:40 pm at Chauribang which marks the end of the forest while we had planned to rise up to the camp of the Italians. It remains in theory 3 hours and we are otherwise afraid of arriving there at dark night.
We settle down next to a hut where it will be prepared for us the eternal dalbath. So, we save our reserves. It is possible to settle down under a roof and on the straw but we prefer to test our equipments before being in more difficult conditions, in particular the stove. It works perfectly.

Toilet is made in a torrent loaded with mud because we find spring water (at the entrance of the site nevertheless) to late and after some wanderings.

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  • 6th day : from Chauribang to Italian Camp in 4 hours

It rained a large part of the night but the sky is blue in the awakening. It is what matters! We tidy up the wet tent and the wet sleeping bags.

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I begin the cure of spirulina this morning (3 soup spoons with the tea). Dalbath at dinner and chapati with orange marmalade for the breakfast! Royal! 1300Rs for the location, the dinner and the breakfast.
We were right to stop at Chauribang! The path becomes chaotic at the exit of the forest and on the moraine. In fact, there is not soon a path anymore because it has been taken by an avalanche on several hundred meters. (Two months ago as it will be told us on the Italian Camp). The progression is similar to climbing in certain places. We even have to dig holes in the ice to raise us in a difficult passage.
We meet the  first trekkers since Dharapani. They arrive from the other sens while we look for a passage to cross a strong torrent. They had good weather at the top and it reassures us.

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We get lost little in the masses of fallen rocks of the avalanche before finding the extremity of the path. An old pair of shorts abandoned on the ground was supposed to give the direction to take …
Dhaulagiri confides majestically on the side. We got closer to it since the last time we perceived it from Muri. That gives us enough courage to continue the ascent!
By arriving at the Italian Camp, a light migraine settled down. I take of ineffective Dafalgan then some more effective Ibuprofen. We are surprised by finding two groups of trekkers with their guides and carriers there. They walk in the same sense as us and nevertheless we didn’t see them. Mystery…as they walk necessarily faster than us.
The bath in the torrent next to the camp and the sun drying are a real moment of happiness.
The manager of the camp propose a varied menu with in particular excellent spaghetti, coincidence or willingness to honor the name of the place? It is another economy for our reserves and we take advantage of it shamelessly!

The fog falls with night and we hear numerous avalanches which put us in the mood of the high mountain. There is so much that we could believe that a thunderstorm develops above us.

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  • 7th day : acclimatization day at Italian Camp 

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Weather is fine, 8°C between both roofs of the tent in the awakening at about 6 am. The sky is pure and the panorama magnificent around the camp. We are really at the foot of Dhaulagiri. It is the first time we get so close to such a monster.
The groups left towards the camp of the Japanese when we come back from the washing. I take advantage of it to install a table and two armchairs for our comfort before the arrival of possible new groups …

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During a recognition walk, we see them as a colony of ants in a single file going up an enormous moraine. Sylvie worries about the difficulty. It is true that this portion of the trek is considered as difficult and dangerous.

Four New Zealanders and their carriers and guide as well as two young autonomous Czechs arrive in the afternoon.
The sky covers itself gradually in the evening and the rain begins falling at night.

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  • 8th day : Forced acclimatization day at Italian Camp

The drizzle always falls at the awakening. We have breakfast in 6:30h as we had ordered it the day before with the aim of a departure towards 7:30h. But it continues to rain and the sky is totally blocked. The manager disadvises us to leave. The New Zealanders decide, them, to try their luck. We stay with the Czech. The day slowly passes in the rain. Parties of Rummy* in the tent make spend the time.

*Sylvie created a game of cubic Rummy (Okey in Turkish, because it is there that we discovered it) with small squares of paper which line up preciously in a box of Tictacs. We called it, probably with good reason ,  » the smallest rummy of the world « . Quietly, it serves with success  for its 3rd trek.

  • 9th day : from Italian Camp to Japanese Camp in 6:30h

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The temperature fell outside this night to 0°C. The sky got free at the same time. We pay 7700Rs for our 2.5 days. We find our way which comes down brutally towards the glacier then we attack the ascent on the other side, so steep. However, we do not feel at any moment in danger.

The landscapes are splendid and we discover them ceaselessly different by progressing on steep paths at the foot of the vertical walls. We overtake a padlocked shed that we had taken, by far, for the Japanese camp . It is more probably the abandoned French camp.

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By leaving the narrow and windy corridor which gives onto the Italian camp, we go up on the glacier whom we shall leave only after the Dhaulagiri base camp. We arrive at the new Japanese camp towards 13:45. New because it does not correspond to the location suggested by maps. We find the Czechs and a young guard of a tent « hotel ». He proposes a rustic accommodation since two years from September till November. As well as in Dhaulagiri CB, as long as there is somebody on the spot (to be checked at Italian camp).

After the installation of the camp, we are going to take a tea (100Rs*2). The location costs 300Rs. We prepare our first meals.

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  • 10th day  : from Japanese Camp to approx. Dhaulagiri BC in 7h30

We roam in the distribution of the works bound to the autonomy. While Sylvie tidies up the tent, I prepare the breakfast (muesli + milk + cappuccino). But we leave only at 8 am. The walking is alert and we take advantage of spectacular landscapes.

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The path is rather visible but we do not find the camp indicated by Sébastien (28°44 ‘ 44.65″ N – 83°27 ‘ 50.95″ E). The gaps between the path and the GPS have to find explanation by the movement of the glacier. We perceive a camp (colored plastics on stone walls), from an overhang on the glacier, which we interpret as Dhaulagiri CB. Shortly after, at about 11 am, we lose the path and we meet with our Czechs who left earlier than us this morning. They are lost as us.

It seems impossible to join the very visible camp but on the right bank of the glacier while we are now on its left bank. Czechs tried to cross it in several places unsuccessfully. I suggest them following strictly my GPS points. It turns out that these points allow us to cross the glacier in a totally secure path. It turns out as well as the camp seen before, is not Dhaulagiri CB indicated by the GPS, more upstream to approximately 1km. We find moreover the fragments of the former camp.

Our Czech friends prefer to come down to the new camp. We settle down near the former camp in a location which seems secure.
While we install our camp and while I fetch some water in an crevice of the glacier, the sky covers itself with a very low cloudy layer. We are afraid of the snow.

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The night falls and we feel very alone in this environment becoming lugubrious with the crackles of the glacier and the ceaseless avalanches. We shut away ourselves in the small tent where we hold hardly sat for a comforting dinner. The snow begins falling.

  • 11th day : Forced acclimatization day at approx. Dhaulagiri CB

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It snowed all night long and it continues even more in the early hours. The snow accumulates on the roof. The contacts of the roof with the sub-roof provoke a very unpleasant condensation. We do not hurry up to get up because we know that we cannot leave and that the day will be long.
The tent is quickly warm, up to 18°C while it’s a soft  7°C outside. The snow stands firm on the ground nevertheless. Sleeping bags, wet on their outside coat with the condensation of the night, dry fast. It is an excellent news.

We wait in the good mood but not without apprehension. The crackles of the glacier(ice-cream maker) and the thunder of avalanches is almost continuous. To be totally alone in this mineral and hostile universe gives the feeling to be very small. It is good the atmosphere that we looked, we are not going to complain!
We take advantage from calm weather for making a recognition by means of the GPS. We discover aligned cairns  near the camp. We are near the path or near a recently abandoned path. We progress towards the upstream in agreement with the GPS on near 1km. We are very probably on the good way.

The snow begins again to fall and we shut away ourselves in the tent. The day ends one more time with Rummy’s endless parties in which I lose ceaselessly.

  • 12th day : Second day at approx. Dhaulagiri CB 

The snow continues to fall. Everything is now covered with a thick white layer. It is hardly cold outside: 0°C. The water condensed into the tent but we manage to mop it without any trouble. We do not want to venture on an uncertain path, without visibility and in the snow.
The temperature rises fast until 20°C in the tent. It is almost too hot.
The wind gets up by gusts in the afternoon and the snow and the fine hail double. We acclimatize very well in any case and it is not any more question of headache even if it is difficult  to achieve prolonged efforts.
We have enough food to hold another 5 days at least but boredom is arriving at the end of the second day of wait. It was not possible to plan one also bad weather in October while the monsoon should be ended since almost one month.
In these circumstances, we envisage as less and less likely the future of the loop to Tilicho lake .

  • 13th day : from approx. Dhaulagiri BC to Deleval camp  in 9 h

It does not snow any more this morning but the fog surrounds our camp, preventing us from seeing mountainous walls nearby.
We get ready to leave when we see getting closer two silhouettes by the downstream. It is guides which explore the possibility of leaving for a group stuck to the lower camp  1km below. They announce us that the weather has to be better today. They had a communication bysatellite telephone . Good news but we had decided to leave, in any case, the waiting becoming intolerable.

We follow cairns and GPS. Our tracks of the day before yesterday are completely erased. We arrive at the end of the valley which parts in two. We find no more cairn and we try to join the next GPS point by following the left brook.

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The group, led by our two guides of this morning, joins us while we look for our way. They indicate us the direction: it goes on the crest separating both valleys. The group consists of German met in the camp of the Italians. They are surprised as much as us to meet in a so abandoned place  …

Low and grey sky is always above us when we decide to stop. We cannot pass through the French pass today. The best solution is to find a safe place to spend the night. I come down in the left valley to find a surface more or less flat and a little more protected from the wind, unsuccessfully. Exhausting and running out of air, I have difficulty going back up. We decide to stay next to the path by removing and by compressing the snow to plant the tent there.
I melt the snow with the stove to make some tea. We dehydrated today because the water was available only in the form of snow which we ate in insufficient quantity.
We are installed at 17 30 and we have 4°C in the tent. We were not able to take advantage of the views on the mountain today but we are on the right track and we keep all our chances for a surprise tomorrow. Our installation at 5100m in the snow hardens us and this experience delights us.

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  • 14th day : from Deleval Camp to Hidden Valley in 4:20h

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We get up at dawn and the sky is crystal clear this morning! An extraordinary environment surrounds us. It dazzles us especially as we saw nothing yesterday. It makes-11°C outside and-4°C in the tent. The breakfast will wait, we take advantage at first and without restraint of the overwhelming panorama. The sun illuminates gradually the tops of Dhaulagiri glaciers at its foot. The light shifts from the yellow gilded to the pure white.

The efforts of the last days justify themselves all at once and the doubts disappear. Here, the imagination is overtaken by the reality.

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Clouds arrive fast and I perceive far off, in front of us, the group of our German friends in single file attacking the French Pass (5362m). We leave at about 9 am and we try to walk on the snow without breaking the thin ice sheet to avoid pushing feet up to ankles. The exercise is uneasy and the ascent tires us. When we arrive towards 10:20, the fog surrounds us. An ice-cold wind slaps us the face.

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Hidden Valley wears correctly its name: it is necessary to begin the descent to glimpse a dry, flat and surprising landscape at this height. The wind always blows and we do not find a location a little protected to bivouac. A small torrent flows nearby. You will not  melting snow will not be necessary today to prepare dinner.
The weather gets up in the evening and allows us to appreciate this magic place. We imagine a next frosty night. It will not be the case!

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  • 15th day : from Hidden Valley to Yak kharka in 8h30

We get up too late at 6h20 and the sky is already loaded with low clouds which partially hide high mountains around us. We only see the Dhaulagiri’s summit. The night was not cold enough  to free the sky:-5°C outside.

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We leave at about 9 am without hurrying up because we foresee to stop at an intermediate camp indicated on our map. The ascent towards Dhampus Pass (5270m) is long. The weather deteriorates before 11 am. We are taken in an ice-cold fog at first. The snow begins falling by more and more violent gusts. The path quickly fades completely and we would be lost without the GPS. The reading is made difficult. We meet two carriers who hesitate as much as us.

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We do not find the intermediate camp. It would have been very difficult in any case to plant the tent in such conditions. Only while arriving in front of the valley of Kali Gandaki the weather gets clearer  to make us glimpse the massif of Annapurna in a very perturbed sky.
The deepest valley of the world opens in front of us.

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We arrive tired to Yak kharka and we are happy to find a nice Nepalese young person who offers us some tea and a memorable soup of fresh tomatoes .

At least, this evening, it does not snow for planting the tent.

  • 16th day : from Yak kharka to Marpha in 3h30

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The wind and the ice of yesterday scarified our badly protected faces. Our lips doubled in volume. It’s with the swollen face that we wake up.
It rained once again all night. Big blows of wind shake the tent. Some bright periods allow us to appreciate the close presence of Annapurna. The point of view here is even more exceptional than that of the more distant, lower and crowded Poon hill.
The descent of yesterday was important (1080m). This one of today surpasses it: 1500m. The weather becomes milder with the descent but our feet suffer; I try to progress backwards to avoid the repeated crushing of my toes. During these precarious exercises, Sylvie walks like a crab.

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We arrive in Marpha by following the property of a big monastery then by diving into alleys to find us in an  artificially civilized world create for the tourists. The shock is rough, especially as our faces burn by the lack of protection of yesterday. Feet and knees ask for grace. But it’s all right because a wide selection of restaurants stand in front of us and our sense of smell.

Our odyssey stops in this luxury debauchery, in the Apple’s country and under a drizzle which comes back again: the bad weather will not abandon us like that.

As there is no means of transportation in the beginning of after noon for Beni, we do not have more than to choose a guest house and to begin parties of rummy which will give us the reputation of the Frenchs with small papers in the dinning room … Small papers which saved us from nervous breakdown at 5000m, when the snow and the wind persecuted our small tent.

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Return

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We leave the next day at 7h30 by bus for Beni and it’s not an comfortable party! The rain ravaged the track which, in certain places, looks like more to a torrent of mud or to big fathomless puddles in which it is necessary to throw numerous stony blocks to be able to pass with the bus.

At a specially precarious moment, all passengers rush in a single movement outside the bus by stepping over any sorts of parcel and jerricans when the vehicle in full acceleration skates and slides dangerously towards the mountainous wall. We are luckier than a jeep which will crash 500m below, the same day, causing the death of its eight occupants.
We take a taxi in Beni for Pokhara and it is a big relief to find our guest house and its nice owners.

Teachings:

A standard list seems inescapable to avoid forgetting so elementary items  as the sun cream!

The tent isn’t heavy, 1 kg, but a more than 5 days stay is hard for the morale, especially in difficult weather conditions. Look for a bigger volume tent with some hundred grams more for similar duration or longer treks.

We took too much food because we bring back about 2 kilos. We can thus recalculate the necessary quantity to 750g / 2 persons.day. Also by limiting the spirulina, the effect of which was not demonstrated, to 20g / j.person for a future and longer term experiment of . It is not possible to consider spirulina as a food because of its taste and of its consistency (small dry flakes)

The quantity of petrol does not exceed 350ml for 7 days of autonomy because we bring back 550ml approximately. We can thus count 50ml / 2 persons.day plus a security for the next treks.

Shoes were perfect concerning the comfort and the waterproofness in very difficult conditions (several days in the water and the mud then the snow). The big descent of Dampus pass to Marpha left our toes in poor condition. The handicap would have been important for continuing towards the Tilicho lake with its ascent and especially its abrupt descent from 5200 in 2700 m. Open sandals could be a solution?

The ascent towards the Tilicho lake was cancelled. It will be an opportunity for a new adventure, probably by the inverse route and by coupling the trek with other passages off the beaten track because the path following the road of Marpha to Tatopani dramatically changed since 2001. To walk with or to go alongside to all kinds motor vehicles is not really captivating …

The trek around of Dhaulagiri is metamorphosing: it is likely that refuges will soon be settled all along the route, during the high season from September till November. The only break at present is situated in Hidden Valley. The offer is very limited on Italians Camp , Japanese Camps , the Dhaulagiri BC and Yak Kharka but exists. The possible margins on the meals are very important and the market exists. The spirit will be modified but there will be still large place to feel the wind of adventure.

We are ready to face longer periods of autonomy (up to 10 days). In the meantime, we shall return on the trek of Makalu in May, 2014 for a visit to our friends of Khandbari, Seduwa and Chyaksa danda and the East pass to tickle 6000m.

Annex :  GPS waypoints placed on GE from the real track

To reach the GPS coordinates  in Google Earth, you have to open the Excel page below: GPS pour article Dhaulagiri

You have just to copy  both coordinates ( North and  East) of a point and stick them in Google Earth.

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