During the nineties when a "Dhaulagiri circuit" has been marketed by the Nepali trekking agencies it has become trekked quite frequently. With a different trekking regime in Nepal it would be an important centre for alpinism as it is surrounded by several easily scaled peaks. It would also be a splendid gateway to Dolpho and other trekking areas. However, at the time of writing the people of Dolpho has been banned from developing tourism and trekking.
A trek in 1996
We came to the Hidden valley by chance. Our original plan was to trek in Tibet, south of the Lhasa - Kathmandu road. However, all foreigners were banned from individual travel in Tibet by the Chinese. We were not even allowed to buy bus tickets to Shigatse. When we tried they sent us to the CITS a gigantic bureaucratic Chinese government tour operator, renowned for high prices and lousy service. That was the straw. The same day we bought flight tickets to Kathmandu. We flew out the next day, took a bus to Pokhara, and got on a flight to Jomosom. At least we were reasonably acclimatised.
First we went to Marpha and spent a day hiking up the southern slopes of the Pongkyu Khola. Then we started our ascent to the Hidden Valley, at first we went too low after Alu Bari, and spent two days on the northern slopes of Yamkim Khola. The path became increasingly difficult. By the time we decided to turn around we were clambering on exposed slopes, and felt it was far too demanding as we were carrying more than 25 kg each. So we returned to Alu Bari just in time to meet a party of Austrians with a sardar and a lot of porters who had started two days before us. They had been on same flight and had set off immediately for a long trek into Dolpho. They explained that the path was broken so they had turned back. Later we realised that it was probably their too rapid ascent rather than the path that had made them turn back. The news were discouraging. Nevertheless, we decided to head upwards and reached a Yak Kharka where we camped and got instructions from the herdsmen. The next morning we set off holding much higher and then when we reached a spur, that comes off the ridge that ultimately comes from Dhampus Peak. We followed a trail that sick sacked up this spur. Here we met two persons, an English guy who had been teaching in the village school in Tukshe and his Nepalli friend. They were going to camp high and make a scramble and then run down. We made company for a day and camped at the same spot.
The next day we crossed Dhampus Pass and pitched our tent on the western slopes, a few hundred metres beyond a crashed plane that a Swiss expedition had used to fly in supplies in 1960. We found a flat spot nearby and camped there for a week, taking walks around the upper part of the valley and hiking on the surrounding hills.
Then, we moved on towards the French Col, camped below it, and went up the next morning to have a look. This time we were unlucky. The clouds were so dense that we could barely distinguish, much less see, the north face of Dhaulagiri. The next day we made an early start and made it as far as Alu Bari and reached Marpha the following day. Although it was in the monsoon season in late August the trek out was dal bhat, to use the nepalese expression for the commonplace, with exception for the taxi we took from the road head. The driver proved to be drunk and had forgotten to fill up the tank with petrol. Fortunately, a friend of his on motor bike that passed could siphon over enough from the motorbike to get us to Pokhara.
Album from the Trek to the Hidden Valley 1996
The trek to the Hidden valley should only be undertaken
by well equipped and experienced parties. It is absolutely essential to
have camping gear and clothes that allows camping and living in severe
conditions. Note that this applies to all members of the party.
A significant number of insufficiently equipped Nepalese who have been
used as beasts of burden have DIED of exposure in the Hidden Valley. In
terms of difficulties the trek from Marpha to the French Col., through
the Hidden Valley is considerably easier than a traverse of the Meso Kanto
La to Jomosom from Manang. However, this only applies as far as the French
Col. The route ahead down the Myagdi gorges from Dhaulagiri Base Camp is
strenuous even in good conditions, and no attempt has been made to make
it monsoon proof. A trek down the gorge during the monsoon may be extremely
hazardous, due to swollen tributaries, washed away bridges, lose slopes
and slippery paths. — Nepalli red clay is more slippery than ice. There
may also be a lot of leeches, and unlike on good broad well maintained
paths it may be impossible to avoid them. The only time the Hidden valley
may be green and friendly is during the monsoon months. Then, there may
be warm clear days and fresh snow tend to thaw away quickly. However, from
September to May conditions are arctic.
Turn up towards the mountain on a small street in the centre of Marpha. Exit the village heading south-west on a good path ascending the gravel slopes of the basin the village is situated in. Reach a crest, cairns, and turn upwards, head for a forested gully with a fresh stream. Ascend through the forest on switch-backs and reach another corner. Here the path goes continues on an slightly exposed rock ledge on the south face of a spur.
Head into a a shallow valley and reach Alu Bari (lit., potato on land without irrigation), which consists of a few roofed stone houses in a gully. A path takes off south, traversing the slopes. The correct path, however, continues straight up in the gully, ascending several hundred metres, and then turns left (S) to reach a Yak Kharka. Kharkas move according to the pasture. At times there may be a large herd of yak, and delicacies like fresh yak curd available (add a pinch tsampa and a few grains of sugar and it surpasses even Italian ice-cream), though most of the year there will only be unroofed stone walls and flat spots that have been carved out for the yaks to rest, ruminate and sleep. Here are camp sites and water can be fetched from the stream.
Continue in a south-westerly direction gaining altitude. There is a profusion of cattle paths. Reach an obvious ridge that forms a corner, from its shoulder new vistas into the valley of Yamkim Khola opens. Turn right and follow the ridge line on an obvious path in a north-western direction. It may seem counter-intuitive as the Dhampus pass is at the end of the Yamkim Khola valley. However, the northern slopes of the Yamkim Khola are steep and lose. The correct route makes a steep ascent to approximately 4600 metres and then levels out to a gradually rising traverse far above the lose steep slopes.
Reach some rocky knolls, hold to the left (W) side of them entering the valley leaving the ridge line. Now the path is excellent winding its way in a high traverse. Pass an obvious camp ground, that seems to function as a kharka at times, but in August there was no visible water available. Continue on the long traverse gaining altitude only gradually. After two, three kilometres on the traverse water may be found in some gullies. Near some gullies are camp places, i.e., flat spots close to water.
Continue gaining height slowly. Now there are occasional streams. Approximately 7 kilometres beyond the point where one left the ridge the path turns a corner and enters a wide basin with boulders. Cairns mark the correct route. There are some possible camp grounds in this area too. Reach the latå of Dhampus Pass (5212). The pass is wide and open with several cairns. On the other side one may either hold left and make a high traverse of the southern slopes to the valley floor, there are faint paths, or one may aim straight for the valley. Below a crashed plane, left by the Swiss 1960 Dhaulagiri expedition, are some camp grounds.
Once the valley floor has been reached the route ahead to the French Col is rather uncomplicated, although the altitude hardly drops below 5000 metres. Just keep on the left (SE) side of the valley floor on obvious paths. Cross a brook that comes down from one of Tukshe Peak´s glaciers. Beyond one rounds a corner and comes to a point where one ascends a small knoll. In July and August there may be kharka: i.e., one or two men who tend a herd of some thirty yak, producing butter and yak cheese. Continue to the foot of the French Col. There are several camping places in the area. As the part of the valley you have entered is so high the French col is an easy ascent. Follow cairns over scree, boulders and snow fields and reach the watershed (5360). It is possible to descend to the Dhaulagiri Base Camp. However, the route ahead down the valley to Jeldung is difficult and distinctly dangerous during the monsoon.
There are alternative routes. A lovely path goes up the
Yamkim Khola from Tukshe. Cross a shoulder on the left (N) bank of
the Yamkim Khola where it comes out north of Tukshe, and follow an obivous
path through forest and meadows. Eventually the valley becomes so narrow
that it is not possible to follow the stream longer. The French 1950 expedition
recognisance team turned left (W) and found a way to the pass. There is
no path from where one leaves the stream and the ascent up to the normal
route may be very strenuous. It also seems possible to follow the middle
path from Alu Bari. However, it would be much more difficult than the normal
route. These routes should be chosen in descent only
if one has come up by the same way as there are perpendicular cliff walls
and very steep scree slopes in some places. If one comes down in the wrong
place one may have to back track far.
Yak Kharkas are denoted as they were situated in August 1996, i.e.,
they may be in other places at other times.
When is the best time?
Is it a difficult trek?
Is the trail difficult?
Is it possible to tea house trek to the Hidden Valley?
Can I reach Dhampus Pass and return down in one day from Marpha?
Can I make a short version of this trek?
Is it a suitable side trip to the Annapurna Circuit?
What do I need?
Can I rent the gear I need in Marpha?
Can I get food supplies in Marpha?
Do I need a guide?
Can I go with porters?
Can I go on an arranged trek to the Hidden Valley?
What is most important if I go on an arranged trek?
Which is the best way to go around Dhaulagiri: clock-wise or anti-clock-wise?
If I feel the Hidden Valley is too much for me are there any alternative day trips?
The best time for treks the Hidden Valley is from May to September.
One practical difficulty is that you have to camp and be totally self sufficient with food and fuel. Another difficulty is that you have to be well acclimatised. A third difficulty may be the cold at the great elevation.
The trail´s difficulty varies with the season. During the monsoon months there are no technical difficulties. Whereas in other seasons it may be necessary to brake the trail through snow. Then it is difficult if you are the first to go after snow fall. In winter it may be very strenuous and there may be considerable avalanche risk. A second difficulty may be route finding. There is a maze of trails made by the livestock around and above Alu Bari. In heavy mist orientation may also be demanding the last kilometre to the saddle of Dhampus Pass, because the terrain is so full of rocks and boulders that it easy to lose the trail.
No: There are no tea-houses. One has to be totallly self
No, for most people it is impossible. However, if one
is acclimatised one should be able to reach the yak kharka from Marpha
and even the beginning of the high traverse and return in the same day.
In clear weather it would be a very rewarding excursion.
Can I make a short version of this trek?
Yes: A less demanding option is to camp high on the Thak
Khola side of the watershed, hike up for the day to Dhampus Pass and take
in the views without crossing the pass.
Yes: you will be adequately fit and sufficiently acclimatised.
However, there is a catch. You have to be equipped for camping at high
You need tent and clothing suitable for camping at high
altitude and enough food to be self sufficient.
Yes there is plenty of dehydrated stuff (soups, Maggie
Noodles, etc), some canned foods (mostly sweet though), biscuits, peanut
butter, cheese, etc. The best is if you learn to love tsampa. It can be
mixed to into almost anything to stretch it and is amazingly powerful food.
If you can find some one who has previously been on Dhapus
Pass it may be helpful. If you don´t the person you hire will just
ask local people for instructions. He will at best get approximately the
information you get here. Then, the outcome may depend on how much of the
instructions he can remember.
No! And Yes! A crossing Thorung La is a serious undertaking
and nepalese porters generally don´t have the equippment that is
demanded to trek into the Hidden Valley safely. Many have died of exposure.
Read Jamie MacGuiness article Appalled
Around Dhaulagiri. Unfortunately, it is not a single occurrence, but
has been reported several times. In the spring of the year we trekked to
the Hidden Valley I corresponded with a French person who had encountered
five dead porters on the Marpha side.
Yes: it is part of what has become known as the Around
Dhaulagiri trek. However, be aware!!! The treks are
not run by local people. In fact often the people who are ultimately responsible
and earn most from that you go on an arranged trek reside in Kathmandu
and have little or no personal experience of the trek. Hence, some expedition
treks have been terribly organised and the people that have been in charge
has made misstakes that would have rendered them prison sentences in the
US or Europe.
To make you sure you don´t risk the life of poor
nepalese people. The Hidden Valley is an alpine dessert where arctic conditions
reign most of the year, a considerable number of porters have died there
due to the incompetence of some trekking agencies. So you should personally
ascertain that each porter has the equipment that is needed, good shoes
that are suitable for sustained walking in snow, access to tent, sleeping
bag, protective clothes, down-jacket or goretex and fleece in layers.
A trek around Dhaulagiri is a lot more strenuous than
the Annapurna Circuit. Going around the Annapurna one only has to spend
a few hours above 5000 metres. Going around the Dhaulagiri one must spend
a lot more time on that altitude. Most parties have to camp at least once
on 5000 metres altitude. Hence, aclimatisation is extremely important,
i.e., time on high altitude. Unless you are going to have a splitting head
ache (and possible worse) when you cross the passes of the Hidden Valley
you will have to spend considerable time around the Dhaulagiri Base Camp
before you cross the French Col if you are going clockwise. The same is
valid if you start from Marpha. The best is to ascend to the Hidden valley
late in a trek: e.g., after first going around the Annapurna. Have a look
Trekking‘s e-guide it is the currently the most informative site on-line
about the Dhaulagiri Circuit. Another good one, with
an account of the trek done clock-wise, is Alan Ingram´s Dhaulagiri
Circuit - Hidden Valley and Thapa Peak.
Yes: there are many possibilities. Threre are very beautiful side valleys above Tukshe, Marpha and Jomosom. Above Tukshe is the Yamkim Khola. It can easily be followed on a fine path through forests and meadows quite high. North of Marpha one can either head up along the sothern slopes of the Pongkyu Khola. One passes the ruins of Old Marpha and ascends through forests till the path path ends where there are steep cliff walls. Following the valley floor next to the Pongkyu Khola is also a possibility. At its very end is a possible pass to the Hidden Valley. High in the Syang Khola valley above Jomosom is a kharka. All of these valleys are more green than the main valley that is quite arid. The difference is that the clouds tend to pass, be blown on by the wind to Tibet, in the main valley, whereas a lot of them get stuck in the side valleys dropping their moisture there.
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