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Manaslu Circuit trek....Best trekking route ever?

Updated: Feb 20

I seem to have picked up a habit over recent years of popping aboard and finding myself on the fringes of something that I didn’t really want to be near… a rather large earthquake and a fairly significant avalanche dropped onto this years trip to Nepal! Luckily we were a ‘village’ above where the quake was felt the furthest from the epicentre, it left us without comms for a few days, we actually knew nothing about the quake and thought the lack of comms was just because of our location, we were enjoying the solitude. Eventually we connected with the big world again and were a little startled at the volume of messages asking us if we were ok, then the penny dropped! Even our guides and porters were unaware of it and then their inboxes suddenly went a little nuts! As to the avalanche, it was very early, in the shade and came off the side of a 7000m mountain with the airborne debris crossing our path higher up, an hour later and we would have been doing our Casper the Ghost impressions!

Manaslu Circuit trek

All mildly exciting and when mixed with folk cartwheeling down stairs, reverse somersaulting when going for a pee and free falling through holes in the floor (photographing waterfalls is blooming dangerous!) it made for an exhilarating trip, but also one of the best treks I’ve ever done!

Before I travelled to Nepal way back in 2022, a client asked me if I’d consider running a Manaslu Circuit trek, ‘let me have a look at it and I’ll get back to you’. Little did I realise 15 months later how much of an impact this trip would have on me.

I do get excited by guidebooks, maps, researching routes, working out distances, altitude profiles and so on and after a few brews pondering over it, it was clear the Manaslu circuit had everything going for it.

Firstly the altitude profile heading into a 5000m+ pass was ideal, but what really attracted me to the area was the promise of an authentic ‘teahouse trek’ experience, something the Khumbu has rapidly gone past.

I love watching the nose camera on the airplane as we start to descend and aim for the narrow raised strip on the hill over Kathmandu, however it does seem a little short in that perspective! On arrival and after a long day of travelling, Kathmandu airport always make me chuckle, how it functions, I’ve still no idea (sure I said something similar last year!), somehow we leave it with all our gear and our lift awaits to Kathmandu Guest House. This place has changed considerably over the years I’ve been coming here, they used to have cheap rooms, even dormitories for backpackers, now it’s a little luxury before and after a trek. Coming from a cold, wet, windy North Wales, sitting in the garden in a T-shirt sipping a cold Gorkha beer in November wass highly prized, someone took me for cocktails though…beer is just fine in future thanks!

Manaslu Circuit trek

We spent a long day driving to the 1st village, 4x4’s were needed for most of the route, to be fair it’s probably the best choice of vehicle for driving in Nepal anyway - if you moan about a pothole down your road then trust me, you’ve nothing to moan about! Nepalis call 4x4 travel - a free massage, all I know is that you need a very expensive one to put it all back together afterwards. There were lots of firsts for some of the team and our lunch spot was a grand one to start with, a ‘service station’ it wasn’t, more a tin shack literally in the middle of nowhere serving dahl baht - 2 firsts for some in a matter of minutes, welcome to adventure travel was all I could think of to say!

Squat toilets nearly broke the limit of firsts on day 1! As relationships grew, squat toilet usage became more graphic, 2 things we all agreed on though, 1 - handles would be helpful for tired thighs and secondly don’t take anything with you in the middle of the night for risk of dropping it into something you would never try to retrieve it from! As someone discovered, small hot water bottles fit quite well!

Manaslu Circuit trek

We’d known the first four days were the longest of the trek with some good height gained over that period and so each day the next corner in the valley appeared and then the next and then the next….What we travelled through was truly stunning, sometimes a deep gorge with towering sides, narrow trails, a raging river below us, other moments, a wide open valley in the blazing sun. We walked over 80km in those few days, we climbed a lot and descended a lot, when I asked Bishnu - one of our guides - what the terrain was for that day, he responded by saying ‘undulating’. Now that is a posh word for hilly and the last one one I thought he was going to use, it did make me laugh though as he was spot on!  Updulating should be a new word to describe what we also experienced in those days!

There was one day where we seemed to go from t-shirt to thermal and lush green vegetation to white capped 6000m+ mountains, it was fabulous, it really felt like we had earned the right to be there.

Manaslu Circuit trek

The distances became a lot shorter, daily walking was 3-5 hours, we had a couple of rest days in 2 different villages to a allow our bodies to adjust to the higher altitudes - although there is no such thing as a rest day in the Himalaya - it just means we spend 2 nights in 1 place, but still ascend during the days. It also allows a little bit of down time, do some washing and sit and watch the world go by.

Manaslu Circuit trek

It was around this time some folk were talking about refunds! I’d pretty much guaranteed that weight loss would happen, up to a half a stone I said… how wrong was I! I have never eaten so well on any Nepal trek, with increasing height you often expect the portions to get smaller and more expensive, not here, we feasted like champions! At 4500m we agreed to order the same thing, so 10 large plates of chips and fried eggs rocked up, supplemented by sachets of mayo & tommy k that someone had brought with them, “unbelievable Geoff” echoed around the plastic shed we were eating in - you had to be there to understand that one! Honestly though I did lose an ounce on the trip….so I was right!

Manaslu Circuit trek

The circular route high point is Larke Pass at 5100m and up to a few years ago, camping was the only option at the last ‘village - which is probably why I’ve never looked at this route before as I’ve got issues with camping! There’s this weird combo of large canvas tents, some stone buildings and these plastic ‘portacabins’ that exist there, we ended up in the plastic sheds, but hey they were very warm! It was five persons squeezed onto 4 mattresses and were actually quite comfy.

We had a significant logistical problem at this point, someone who liked sleeping on their back whilst playing untuneful melodies through their nose. I’d warned everyone that quite often sleep is a little disturbed at this height, it become a night to remember for us 5 in that plastic shack, the hilarious part was in the morning when said snorer went ‘didn’t sleep a wink last night’!! I do love a little bit of experiential learning - top tip is when you’re in a plastic shed at 4500m then use of a sleeping bag is highly advised, ignore that advice and you’re heading for a Rhod Gilbert moment!

Manaslu Circuit trek

The 0330 start was another of those firsts for some, by then there had been so many folk were just rolling with it. The day was just epic, in every sense, there just aren’t enough adjectives to describe what we saw and how we felt, it was the culmination of a long journey and here we stood on top of the Pass.

For me time stands still at these points, even more so this year, the make up of the group made it an emotional half hour, the individual drive just incredible to watch. Your own space is needed up there for a few minutes to try to compute what has just happened, what you’ve achieved. It’s a memory for a lifetime.

It was only halfway, the other half of the day was still to come and that was even more emotional! I forget how much height we lost that day, but it was a lot, firstly down snowy slopes, then a huge moraine slope and then another corner and another corner….but the views of the Annapurna region were just stupendous!

It was a long day….

Manaslu Circuit trek

We still had 2 days to descend and we woke up to an overcast day with snow falling by mid morning - we had lucked the Pass as anyone going over it that day would have seen nothing.

Everyone had tired legs by then, hardly surprising after 160km, something like 8000m ascended and some hideously similar figure in descent and 37 litres of sweat (or perspiration if you’d prefer) left behind! It was a monster on all levels, but a bloody good one!

The last couple of nights in the hills were relaxing and our admiration of the Nepali guides and what the porters had done for us was shown in many ways, Khurki rum I find is always a good way to start! Without Tilak, Bishnu, Rupesh, Bishal, Karma, Mingmar and Takkumar we would never have been able to do what we did. As always they went above and beyond in so many ways, the team were blown away by their work ethic, it’s truly incredible to witness. These guys never knew each other before the trek, but from day 1 seemed like they had been best buddies all their life, everything was shared, they were always joking around, they were always looking out for each other, it was clear, they were happy.

Manaslu Circuit trek

Throughout this region, everyone made us feel very welcome, smiles and laughter in every village, everyone just wanted to help us. Money makes the world go around, but happiness clearly out trumps cash in this area.

This was a trip of chuckles, never a dull moment, I took a book to read, that was a pointless thing to carry around for a few weeks, this was an old school trip - we chatted, we laughed, we cried and there was plenty of harmless ribbing too. Trips are memorable for many reasons, but people are pivotal to creating those memories and these few weeks of my life I’ve spent with a pretty awesome group of folk!

I’ve trekked in loads of mountainous regions in the World, spent weeks in jungles and walked across a lot deserts, but this was an incredible stroll in the Himalayas, it’s going to be hard to beat this!

Maybe Langtang region next year will……

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