NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2013

Newsletter #29 September 2013

"Sorry for the lack of newsletters, we do not have communications in Samagon so it is not until we get to Base Camp that we set up our satellite systems. We now have communications but in typical Russ style, I put my effort into getting Base Camp in order and progressing on the mountain. But fortunately, Caroline has been taking care of speaking to the local people and writing newsletters so now you have an influx of several at one time. I write this in haste as I have to now return to Samagon to attend a meeting with the village elders concerning the portering of loads to base camp." - Russell

Hyatt Hotel in KathmanduAt last, we fly off! We've spend the last few days in the fluffy cocoon of the Hyatt hotel, away from the pollution and the noisy world of Thamel. Life spanned between gear check, the 6pm briefing around a beer at the bar and a cheerful evening dinner together. Early morning meeting and we soon jump into the mini van for a short ride to the airport where the Simrik helicopters are waiting for us. Security check, bags weighed and a couple of hours later we are finally ready to leave Kathmandu. It is a bright sunny morning after days of rain, quite common during the late monsoon season. Simrik Helicopter over the Samagon valley

As we buckle up, the chopper leaves the ground and flies above the cluster of houses and factories that have made the reputation of Kathmandu, an organised chaos blessed by the Gods and modern pollution. It is a 45mn flight. The helicopter winds through spectacular mountain ranges covered by impressive lush vegetation where the shades of green contrast with the massive snow capped peaks towering the deep gorges. From the sky, the Bhot Khola river that flows down below looks like a gentle stream glittering under the morning sun.

On the Samagon Helipad, the Himalayan Experience team is already on its toes to unload the Heli before the monsoon clouds close in on us. The pilot gets out of his cockpit, shakes a few hands and takes off again. We are the first expedition team on site and quite happy to interact with the locals peacefully. We have set base in a large lodge facing an old Tibetan Chorten, a squared temple covered by a tired wood and rock roof. Electricity is still to be wired, the entrance porch to be completed and the courtyard to be cleared of the gravels. Despite the unfinished business, the lodge is the most completed of all. The other ones are still rock-wall buildings with no roof. At least, we are in dry rooms with proper beds to sleep in during the first days of acclimatisation.

Lodge construction in Samagon

From dawn to sunset the village resonates of the monotonous noise of hammers braking massive pieces of rock into slates and gravel. People from nearby villages come here to be part of this small hive of men and women carrying rocks and shifting wood. It is a constant movement that gives dizziness but that finally stops as darkness swallows the valley. Samagon is slowly changing. With the increasing number of expeditions heading to the valley, new activities are flourishing and a brand new village is raising up from the ground alongside the ancient settlement. Entire families have settled here and women carrying their loads to the next construction site followed by young children is part of the daily routine. New concerns are also arising. Setting up and maintaining better trails through the village up to Base Camp is one of the main concerns of the Samagon community. The government do not participate financially and the community has to rely on contributions to set trails in order to provide porters and yak caravans with better and easier paths through the jungle and the steep exposed slopes to base camp. The collection of rubbish has also become an increasing concern. Education remains the main way to increase awareness of the local population to protect the fragile valley natural environment. Rubbish is now collected, perishables are burnt in the village and other goods are taken back to Kathmandu. Japanese climbers that have long come in the valley to climb are today very much involved in the education of the young generation to help them to protect the endangered ecosystem and preserve the cultural history of the village.

Samagon community facilities

The Himalayan Experience mess tent has been erected on the local community camping site. The Samagon community has developed a specific camping space with facilities and kitchen buildings to allow trekking agencies to set their camp without disturbing the local life of the village. The infrastructure is basic but we all appreciate the comfort of the mess tent for our 3 meals per day. Today, the team has contributed to the renovation of the facilities installing tin roofs above the toilet buildings and reinforcing them with steal wires and heavy rocks that had been blown off by a wind storm. An appreciated work force contribution as the entire village is more preoccupied by the building of lodges, better water supply and everyday life occupations. As one of the main figures of the community is contemplating the work achieved, he emphasis that "providing a better life to the people that are settling in the valley is our main objective. The community is very reactive to any local problems and we try to respond efficiently to any complain that porters or local workers raise to us. We also make sure that everyone is following the rules. All is changing fast. We hope more financial concerns will be understood by expedition and trekking companies to help us develop our lifestyle and keeping our identity intact."