Travel

Ukraine - Kiev


After I returned from Chernobyl, I spent a few days looking around Kiev.

The best selection of Kiev Metro maps I found were the Kiev Metro Plan 2020 (which I think includes future lines to be constructed between now and 2020, overlaid onto a city map) and this more diagrammatic Kiev Metro map with station names in Cryllic - which you’ll need when looking at station signs! More info on the Kiev Metro website.

My recommendations on things to do are first to take a free tour (facebook, @FreeToursKyiv) from Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square (aka Indepdence Sq) at either 12am or 4pm. Just turn up and look for someone with a blue Free Tours flag.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral is a World Heritage site, built over nine centuries by Prince Yaroslav the Wise who was laid to rest inside. It was named after the famous St Sophia’s Cathedral in Constantinople. The bell tower is 76m high, and was completed in 1752. It costs 2 Hr to enter the grounds, with tickets available from the kiosk around the corner from the bell tower entrance. Entrance to the bell tower costs an additional 5 Hr.  Open 10:00-17:00 except on Wed when it closes at 16:00. Closest metro is Zoloti Vorota. Links: In Your Pocket - St Sophia’s Cathedral, Google Maps - St Sophia’s Cathedral

The Caves Monastery or Pecherska Lavra was created by monks in 1051, and is the most holy place in Kiev. It is hard to find as you have to pass through one of two church compounds, then find the road down the hill, and descend to the entrance to the caves. The actual caves are really narrow tunnels - which were VERY packed when I visited - so don’t even think about visiting if you’re even a little claustrophobic. There’s no lighting, so take advantage of the candles on offer at the entrance. Closest metro is Arsenalna. Google Maps Percherska Lavra.

St. Michael’s Cathedral looks old, but is actually pretty recent!  In 1936 the Soviets blew up the original (which was constructed in middle-ages) to build something new, but didn’t get round to it, and used the land for sports. It was re-built by the new Ukraine and completed in 1999. Entrance is free, but you can’t take photographs inside.

St Andrew’s Church is a Baroque church at the top of Andriivs‘kyi uzviz. Built in 1754, it‘s one of the rare buildings in Kyiv that has managed to avoid serious damage or reconstruction. The ticket window is near the base of the steps, and English tours are available. Open 10:00 - 18:00, closed on Wed.  Closest Metro: Poshtova Ploscha. In Your Pocket - St Andrew’s Church

The Great Patriotic War Museum and complex, which opened in 1981 is an interesting place to look around outside, or visit the exhibits, and also the home for the 62m titanium statue of a woman (Rodina Mat or Motherland) holding a 12-ton sword and a shield. The museum is full of interesting relics to see, and not understanding Russian isn’t a big issue. You can see a more traditional version of the above image on my 360cities page for the Great Patriotic War memorial. Admission is 4Hr.

I didn’t visit the Chernobyl Museum although I did hear good comments about it.  Metro station Kontraktovaya. Open 10:00-17:45. Sat closes at 16:45. Closed on Sunday and last Monday of the month. Admission 5 Hr

The above image was a bandstand in Park Volodimirski close to St Michel’s Cathedral. I created a 360x180 panoramic shot using a touch of HDR, and then distorted it using a little-planet technique.

Food & Drinks

My restaurant recommendation would be Pervak - which is has a 19th centuary Ukrainian theme. Closest Metro: Lev Tolstovo. Tel: +380 44 235 0952. Links: Pervak on Foursquare.

Wato is a good bar that’s also pretty central - with their own locally-brewed beers on tap and food available.  Links: Wato on Foursquare

If you want something a little more up-market, the Budda Bar has a chilled coctail bar atmosphere. Links: Buddha Bar on Foursquare, Buddha Bar on Qype.

Hotel

I stayed at the Sherborne Hotel, which did the job, was close enough to all of the main attractions within the city and was pretty reasonably priced. You can find my review on Qype.

Airport

Kiev Airport is Boryspil, which is miles from anywhere; about 40 kms out of town. As soon as you emerge into the arrivals hall the customary Ukrainian greeting of “Foreigners, let’s rip them off” is cried out. So burrow your way through hordes where the only word you need is Nyet! (there are 2 ATMs in the arrivals hall that you can use to get your grvynias (UAH). When I arrived there, there was a lady sitting under a TAXI sign - who, it turned out represented the ‘official’ taxis. I could probably have gone outside to haggle, but wasn’t in the mood - so just paid up for the official service.

Photographs

You can see the highlights of my Kiev and Chernobyl photos in my image gallery, or checkout the slide-show below, or view them in-situ on the Google map below that. You can also view the images, key waypoints and photos in a full screen preview, or download the KMZ file yourself for use in Google Earth on your desktop.

Ukraine - Chernobyl

Some may consider visiting the scene of a nuclear accident to be a strange way to spend a few days off but I felt the need to visit, take photographs, and to tell the story. I’ve always been interested holidays that take me off the beaten track, and so when I discovered that you could take an organized trips to see the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and that I could use up some AirFrance miles to get to Kiev, I booked a trip.

After a pickup in Kiev, we drove in a minibus around 120km north from the city to the edge of the exclusion zone.

On the way though the zone we paused to take a look at the source of the Russian Woodpecker - a massive antenna known as Duga-3 that transmitted a mysterious signal on short-wave radio between 1976 and 1983. We weren’t able to get close - so I had to enlarge this image quite substantially to be able to see it clearly.

The accident

25 years ago, on 26th April, 1986 at 01:23 am Reactor Number 4 exploded, launching 9 tonnes of radioactive material into the atmosphere, which then drifted over much of Western USSR and Europe.

It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima I nuclear incident, which is considered far less serious). The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy

As I understand it, the accident was initiated as a sudden surge occurred during a systems test. The operators attempted to initiate an emergency shutdown which only served to increase the power spike rupturing the reactor vessel and triggering a series of explosions. This exposed the graphite moderator to the air causing it to ignite, which sent a plume of radioactive smoke into the atmosphere.

One of the major concerns after the initial explosion was that of a subsequent steam explosion. Beneath the floor of the reactor were a series of water reservoirs that comprised part of the cooling system. In addition to this water, a large amounts of water had collected from the fire-fighting efforts. The smoldering graphite, fuel and other material from the core, now at more than 1200 °C started burning through the reactor floor mixing with molten concrete from the reactor lining, creating corium, a radioactive semi-liquid material comparable to lava.  If this had melted through the floor into the water below, it could have created a massive steam explosion that would have ejected more radioactive material from the reactor.

The pool was drained by a couple of selfless volunteers in diving suits who managed to open the sluice gates from within the pool, and allowed the water to be pumped out.

Even after this, there was still concern that the molten core would reach the water table below the reactor - so they initiated a plan to freeze the earth below the reactor with the injection of liquid nitrogen. After determining they would need 25 metric tons of this to keep the soil frozen at −100 °C, they scrapped this idea and filled the bottom room with concrete instead.

The clean up

Much of the radioactive debris surrounding the facility was collected by liquidators wearing heavy protective gear. Even with this gear they could only spend a maximum of 40 seconds at a time working on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings because of the extremely high doses of radiation given off by the blocks of graphite and other debris. To prevent further release of radioactive material a large concrete sarcophagus was erected to seal off the reactor and its contents.

Many of the vehicles used in the clean-up are still highly radioactive and have been buried on the site. A few of the less radioactive were left above ground in this exhibition area for visitors to see.

The roof of the sarcophagus was hastily constructed at the time, due to the need to prevent further leaks - and as such it was built resting on one of the walls of the reactor. Since then a vast frame of supports was constructed (2006/2007) that have taken the weight of the roof off the wall of the building.

On the day we visited, the radiation level at this point was 1.87 uSv/h, which is only around 20x normal background radiation and only twice as much as you would receive using a CRT monitor for a year! You can see this in context on a great radiation dose chart created by the team at xkcd.com

Even with the new supports, the sarcophagus still needs to be replaced - and the Ukraine are presently looking to find 740 million euros to create a large convex tunnel 100m high that can be slid over the existing reactor to allow them to start dismantling the existing sarcophagus. In April, they announced that the EU had committed another €110 million towards this project.

This new shelter should protect the site for around another 100 years, by which time they hope to have developed the technology required to make the site safe.

Why?

Why did the accident happen? Well, from my reading of the wikipedia content it seems that it was a combination of an old design which wasn’t completely fail-safe, and user/process mistakes that allowed the reaction to get out of hand.

You have to remember that the Chernobyl reactor was commissioned in 1977, and developed in the 1950s, so this design hasn’t been used for a while. The Fukushima plants are second-generation, built in the 1960s, and aren’t being deployed today either. Today’s 3rd generation plants are a lot safer; and if you listen to Bill Gates, the upcoming 4th generation  of travelling wave reactor (TWR) will easily be able to avoid most of Fukushima’s problems. This is primarily because they have better ways of dealing with the after heat that results after a nuclear reactor is shut down.

Nuclear power in 2011

Bill Gates is an investor in TerraPower -  a company he discussed in his 2010 TED Talk - Innovating to zero!. They have created a prototype nuclear reactor that supposedly runs for 50 years without refuelling.  At the recent Wired Business Conference, he pointed out that  “If you compare [nuclear] to the amount [of people] that coal has killed per kilowatt hour it is way, way less.” The problem, Gates believes, is that deaths for which nuclear power plants are deemed responsible are concentrated around specific events and times. “Coal kills fewer people at one time, which is highly preferred by politicians,” he said.

Even better - the TWR runs on waste uranium, a byproduct of current reactors.  A small amount of enriched uranium is required by the reactor to get started, but it then runs on the waste, making and consuming its own fuel. The benefit of this design is that the reactor doesn’t require constant refueling and waste removal. It can run — it is thought — for decades without refueling. This, the companies currently working on a TWR design insist, makes nuclear power safer and cheaper.

Bob Cringely also makes mention of a Toshiba 4S reactor design that is built on a construction line, transported to site then installed 30 meters under ground. Each unit puts out 10 MW of electricity (suitable for 2000 homes) for 20 years, and is then returned for refulling. They are ‘pretty darned impossible to melt-down’ - and if compromised automatically shut down and sit there.

I buy Bill’s pitch that nuclear is the only real solution to the problem of the greenhouse effect, and believe that with suitable design and engineering that we can develop fail-safe nuclear power with no dependence on humans in the system.

Prypiat

Prypiat was constructed in 1970 less than 3km from the reactors to house the workers for the facility, but it wasn’t evacuated until a few days later. It took until the night of the 26th for the decision to be made to evacuate, and until 14:00 on the 27th before the evacuation began. 53,000 people were evacuated to various villages around the region.

Residents were told to bring only what was necessary, as the authorities had said it would only last approximately three days. As a result, most of the residents left their personal belongings, which are still there today.

We visited a number of the buildings within Prypiat, including the cultural center (above), the hotel, an apartment block, and the swimming pool. In most places the buildings were in ruins, having been looted of anything valuable over the years; and the trees that are omni-present throughout the city are beginning to reclaim the area. 

Within the school there was plenty of abandoned books scattered across the floor. I even spotted one about Dimitri Mendeleev - the creater of the periodic table of elements. The photograph of the gas masks above was also from the school - as preparation for a cold-war US nuclear attack. 

Only once radiation alarms were triggered at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden on Monday 28th April, over one thousand kilometers from the Chernobyl Plant, did the Soviet Union admit that an accident had occurred, however the, authorities continued to attempted to conceal the scale of the disaster.

After the Chernobyl trip, we returned to Kiev where I spent another few days looking around the city, taking photos

Photographs

You can see the highlights of my Kiev and Chernobyl photos in my image gallery, or checkout the slide-show below, or view them in-situ on the Google map below that. You can also view the images, key waypoints and photos in a full screen preview, or download the KMZ file yourself for use in Google Earth on your desktop.

Manaslu Circuit - Nepal

I had been yearning for a trek in Nepal for a couple of years - principally after hearing from a number of trekkers that Nepal is the place to go to find the best trekking. I can’t say that I would rate Nepal as the world’s #1 trekking destination myself after this particular trip - but I can see the attraction. The mountains are big… really, really big, and the people friendly.

I was originally planning to do the Annapurna circuit (map), but came to the conclusion that really I was at least 3 years too late given the new road, and ever increasing commercialisation of the circuit. You can read a little more about the road in this NY times travel article, or look for the latest reports about the Annapurna Circuit on the Thorn Tree forums. I tried looking around for an organized trip that would allow me to start at Besishar, walk round over the pass, then fly out from Jomsom bypassing the bulk of the road on the western side of the circuit, but none of the main companies I found offered this as an option. 

The Manaslu Circuit

Whilst doing research into the Annapurna region, I discovered several mentions of the Manaslu circuit just to the east of Annapurna - another long-distance trek, circuiting Manaslu - the eighth highest mountain at 8,156 m. According to wikipedia the trail is 177km, takes around 3 weeks to hike, and was only opened to trekking in 1991. It starts at around 500m altitude, climbing to the highest point on the trail the Larkya La pass at 5,235m.

Challenge-wise this trek appeared similar to the Annapurna circuit, however offered one significant benefit - in that at the moment it is a lot less developed than the Annapurna circuit. The lack of development means fewer trekkers, fewer lodges and hence most trekkers do the circuit under canvas. This appealed to me because when camping - you’re either cooking for yourself, or you’re travelling with your own cooking crew and kitchen staff - so the chances of getting good, healthy food are significantly higher. I have no first-hand experience of lodge based trekking in Nepal - but I’ve read reports suggesting that lodge owners might not pay the utmost attention to food hygine - because the guests that dine in their lodges will be many miles away before any lapses become apparent. This isn’t the case if you’re travelling with your own chef!

I looked around for a reputable travel company - and whilst I found a few Nepal based options, decided to book again with Exodus - as the prices seemed quite reasonable, and they haven’t sent me on a bad trip yet.

Planning

I did some research on when to go - and found that whilst the main season runs from September to November or December; September and October are the busiest months, the skies are most likely to be clear in November/December, however in December the chance of having to turn back at the pass starts to become a concern (not a good prospect). I choose November. Before I set off, I checked the weather for Arughat Bazaar (the start of the trek), Samba (4,000m 2/3rds of the way up), and Larkya Pass (the highest point at 5,188m).

As this route passed well over 3,000m altitude sickness was a concern, however the rate at which you climb over the first 2 weeks means that problems are unlikely. I found that the BaseCampMD site provided the most comprehensive, and informative info on AMS. I decided not to take any extra medicines along with me on the trip after reading the information on this site, and didn’t miss them.

I had a hard time finding any route-maps for the circuit online, but that won’t be a concern for you - as I’ve published my track-logs below on a Google Earth map. Maps of the route are available in Thamel for 500 NPR, called the “Around Manaslu Trekking Map”, with an ISBN of 978-9937-8062-7-5. When we arrived we discovered that our thoughtful tour guide had a stack of maps waiting for us, so we didn’t need to go map shopping. 

I wanted a smaller camera system for this trip - so had swapped my Canon EOS 500D and Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 for a Panasonic Lumix G2 and Olympus 9-18mm Lens. I swapped my rucksack camera strap solution over from the Canon to the new system - and it worked well (although I did need to use a smaller Zing Cover). In addition to my camera gear, I also took my Chiruca Boa boots, North Face Duffel Bag, Dueter ACT Lite 40+10 Rucksack, Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus, Mountain Equipment Dreamcatcher Sleeping Bag, amongst other stuff.

Travel

As I had a few Star-Alliance air-miles to spend, I decided to take a flight from France to Mumbai on miles (on business!), then to buy a return from Mumbai to Katmandu. At first I was worried about getting through Mumbai without an Indian transit visa because I was travelling on two separate tickets, but I shouldn’t have been. If you’re connecting via Mumbai, the airline that brings you in is responsible for transferring your luggage and checking you in for the next flight. Just make sure to talk to someone from the ground crew at your arrival gate - rather than rushing directly to the “transit lounge”. I posted some more detailed info on Mumbai transfers to the ThornTree forum.

Visas are available on arrival in Nepal, for which you need 2 passport photos, a pen and $40 (for a 30 day visa) or equivalent in some other major currency. It is best not to change too much currency at the airport - because cash machines or kiosks in Katmandu will provide a better rate (and our hotel wasn’t that bad either). Don’t change too much into NPR though - as you will only be able to change back 15% of what you changed on your return - and you will need receipts to prove it.

Just before you leave the airport building - there’s a pre-paid taxi service, offering tickets into the city for 450 NPR - which may be a little more than the going rate, but it certainly saves any hassle over haggling.

Shopping in Katmandu

On arrival in Katmandu, I went shopping… Thamel is full of trekking gear shops containing a selection of knock-off gear as well as some authentic kit. You can easily tell the difference from the price - with shops willing to haggle on the knock-offs, but rarely on the true gear. If you really want the genuine article - then North Face, Lowe Alpine, Mountain Hardware and Patagonia all have branded shops in the area (and I’ve marked a few on the map below)

I was keen to pickup a good pair of genuine hiking poles after reading a story about a chap with cheap twist-lock poles finding that one gave way, causing him to tumble down a mountain. I ended up with a pair of flip-lock Black Diamond Trekking Poles, and sold one to a fellow trekker. I can highly recommend the flip-lock variety over the twist-lock as they’re easy to adjust the length as you’re changing from up to down on the trail. Even with the lack of bartering - they were still around 30-40% less than I would have been able to buy them in the UK - although it did take some work to find them.

Thamel is also a good place to find a pharmacy, if you’re looking to stock up on some broad spectrum antibiotics. Some do, but I didn’t bother - and thankfully I didn’t regret it. If I was travelling through Nepal again, I would consider picking up some ciprofloxacin, just in case.

Katmandu

Finally… after all of the preparation and travel - we set off to see the sights of the city, visiting first the Panch Deval temple and funeral pyres, then up to get a view of the whole Pashupatinath complex. Watching the fires smoldering from across the river was a sobering experience.

We then moved on to Boudhanath Stupa - which is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the city, and one of the largest spherical Stupas anywhere. It is certainly ancient, said to date from around 464-797 BC (or should I say CE?). Despite appearing to host a row of windows around the circumference the Stupa is in-fact solid, but may contain religious relics. Either way - there’s no way of getting inside. Surrounding the Stupa were a number of shops both sell, and creating the a selection of Mandalas.

After lunch overlooking the Boudhanath Stupa we continues onwards to one more - the Swayambhunath Stupa on the top of a hill populated by monkeys, giving rise to its other name The Monkey Temple. Surrounding the Stupa is a Buddhist monastery, a variety of shrines and temples along with a museum and library and selection of shops.

This was also our first sighting of the massive prayer wheels - almost the size of a person, and often found in the monasteries across Nepal.

Arghat Bazaar

The following day - we hit the road towards Arughat Bazaar - our first camp - and by hit the road - I mean we hit the road. The main road from Katmandu along the Trisuli river was fine, but once we turned north the road deteriorated  into a long, dusty, bumpy track, sending everyone in the coach skyward on every bump. This journey was one of the only 2 things I really didn’t appreciate on the trek, but other than getting out and walking for another week - there really is no alternative.

From Arughat Bazaar we started walking North, through many small villages full of people going about their daily tasks. This young chap was out collecting ferns and foliage, probably to feed his cattle.

The walking was fairly easy for most of the first week and a half - covering 10-15 km per day, and ascending around 700 m. Most of the time we were trekking alongside the Budi Gandaki Nadi river, climbing as it did up to the glaciers on the side of Manaslu. If you look through the full set of my photos, you’ll see plenty of valley photographs - as we were climbing in the valley for around the first 8 days.

Camping was generally on small camping areas, either built as such or converted from fields. One of our early camps was on a long-thin terrace, which had obviously previously been used for farming, and converted for tourism within the last few years. Most of the time the sites were in small hamlets, or villages - with the locals children usually happy to see us and pose for photos (with permission). 

Getting closer to Tibet

As we climbed higher, and got closer to Tibetan territory, the number of Buddhist religious constructions increased - both the Mani stone walls at the entrance to each village, and the occasional Stupa. 

Crossing the many suspension bridges became a daily occurrence, and while most were in good repair we did encounter a few that required a little caution when crossing (mostly to hang onto the trekking poles and camera kit). We didn’t see any that were quite as dramatic as this one in Parbat. 

After what seemed like an age of walking, we finally made it clear of the of the valley, and were able to get our first good view of the mountains. The panorama below was shot hand-held in Shyla (or Syalagaon) as the river valley widens and you climb out of the steep V-shape valleys that we’d been in for the majority of the trek. You can get an impression of this from looking at the photo location on the Picasa version of the image below.

We were still surrounded by people, their animals and villages as we continued to climb. This chap seemed to insist on having his photo taken several times as we were walking, and followed me for about 10 minutes. I stopped and managed to get this photo of him and his buddy taking a good considerate look at me. 

By this point we were climbing past 3500m, and it was beginning to get colder in the evenings, but still perfectly comfortable for walking during the day. The shorts had been relegated to the bottom of my pack though…

In Samagaon we learned that the weather was beginning to look unsettled in the coming days, and that there was another large group on the circuit from Korea. Our guide and the trip Sirdar made the call that to be sure of getting a good camp at Larke Bazaar and to ensure that we’d get over the pass (and not have to turn back), that we would skip the  acclimatization day we were supposed to take at Samagaon and head over the pass a day early.

The prospect of having to backtrack and retrace our steps at double speed, then take the bouncy bus back to Katmandu wasn’t worth contemplating - and I jokingly suggested we split the $1,500 helicopter fee for the trip back.

Walking in to Samdo at 3690m I managed to grab this pano showing the village and campsite in the background, and tail end of one of the Syacha glaciers to the left. At this point I did have a splitting headache, but the guide assured me that it was likely due to the cold - and that if I could still walk and talk that it wasn’t AMS. I took a couple of painkillers, and the ache subsided (which I understand wouldn’t have been the case if it had been more serious). 

After a short break we walked up the hill to the right behind Samdo to improve our acclimatization, and got a good look at the Samdo glacier on the right in the distance. We learned that Samdo was the last permanent settlement before the pass.

The following day, we walked up the valley in the centre of the panorama image above towards Dharmashala. The shot to the left shows the view back down the valley to Samdo.

Dharmashala was an encampment on the side of the valley at 4470m, consisting of a couple of recently built stone huts and a camping areas. From here we had a good view onto the Larke glacier - the right side of which we would be climbing up the following morning. 

The campsite itself was unfortunately surrounded by trash and other camp detritus. We were using boiled water rather than bottled throughout the whole trip for our own drinking water - however it was obvious that not all trekkers were quite as careful.

The next morning we were awoken early (probably around 2am) to make the final push to the pass. I think I remember reaching out of my Sleeping Bag and checking my thermometer to discovering that the temperature was around 4 below zero - so proceeded to put on every warm layer I had (3 layers of Icebreaker, fleece, Rab Neutrino Vest, and goretex), and donned a warm hat with my head-torch sporting fresh batteries.

From then it was a long, slow slog up the side of the moraine in the darkness until we began to see the sun rising behind us. 

We made it to the top at around 9:30am, and took the usual selection of photos, pausing just long enough to wait for most of the rest group to arrive. As it was still pretty cold up the top, and didn’t want to take the descent down the other side in the high-winds that were predicted, most of the group didn’t wait for the last two to make it to the top (sorry guys!). As I hate going down-hill, and the route down could have been icy, I was keen to give myself as much time as possible on the route down.

From the pass, we trekked for probably another 1 km along the plateau, and then started the descent. We had been told that the year before this path was iced up - and the group were roped up for the descent, however this year it was mostly clear. I donned my Kahtoola MICROspikes for some of the route down - and they certainly helped improve my traction, but the path wasn’t snowy & icy for long.

The down section on this day was the second of the two worst bits of the trip (the first being the bouncy coach) - with plenty of steep scree sections causing most of the hikers to slip at some time or another. We made it down eventually though, after stopping for a packed lunch in the sun and admiring the mountains surrounding the Bimtang glacier.

We thought we were getting to the bottom as we got close to the glacier and turned south; however the clouds came in and plunged us into a low, cold mist, hiding our destination from view. It felt like we must be close to the camp, but it turned out that we had to walk another 3.5km to Bimthang, arriving at about 3pm taking the day’s total to 14km trekked with around 800m of ascent and 1500m descent. This was certainly the toughest day on the trek, and the longest one (given the early start). 

We spent the next day wondering around Bimthang as we had a day to spare from missing our acclimatization day before the pass. I spent it trying to get some interesting HDR shots down by the stream, and the others set off to explore the lake to the north (Ponkar Tal I think), the mountains close to camp or the foot of the Bhimdang glacier. The couple that went down to the foot of the glacier found a set of paw-print from the rare Himalayan snow leopard. I just found some yak tracks…

The next few days were long down-days, both in descent and km as we traced the route of the Dudh Khola river on its route from the glacier we had just passed down to the Annapurna circuit. We joined the Annapurna circuit at Dharapani, instantly exchanging our own mountain trails for one full of yaks transporting goods, and clean looking tourists starting their trip northwards.

Overall it was a good 3 weeks of walking, taking me higher than I’ve ever been before with no real altitude issues. I hinted in the intro that it wasn’t my favourite long-distance hike - which I think I’d still have to consider the Tour de Mont Blanc for the variety - but it was certainly a great experience.

Photographs, route and altitude

I’ve embedded a selection of my photos from the trip below - which you can view within this page, within Picasa itself, or embedded within the map below. You can also view the highlights in my Nepal album. All images were shot with my Panasonic Lumix G2 and mostly with my Olympus 9-18mm Lens

You can see the route we took, along with the photos and some key points in this Google maps viewer, or to see it full-screen use the full screen preview of my Manaslu Circuit tracklog, or download the KMZ file for use in Google Earth on your desktop.

This chart shows the approximate altitude profile of the walk, as measured by my Garmin Oregon 300 for the main sections of the route (and one acclimatization walk). I’ve excluded the short evening walks as they didn’t add much distance.

You can see that we gained around 4650m total from start to the highest point, over 130km, although this doesn’t count all of the ups and downs that we had to do on the way. To understand the scope of those - scroll down to the next chart.

This table shows the total distance covered each day, and elapsed time (including breaks) between starting and stopping each day (approximately). As you can see here the total vertical ascent was over 10,000m - or more than 10km up, and the total route took us in a circuit of around 210km.