Wildlands Studies Trek to Manaslu Base Camp
We woke up to the crisp, dry mountain air that filled the Manaslu Valley. I unzipped our tent and the light fabric crackled like a bag of chips, as the frost that adhered to the material cracked. It was early, the sun was stuck deep behind a 8,000m peak, inching it’s tendrils of warm light towards the valley floor; it would take hours before this light warmed the frozen ground I stood on. The porters and cook staff that travelled with our group had been up long before me, preparing our meals for the day and warming up water for black tea. Today, a group of 14 American college students were going to hike up to the Manaslu Base camp in Nepal.
Our hike started off rather easy, it wound its way around a lake that was a deep milky blue, formed by the influx of element rich water running off of the mass of glaciers above us. This ease would quickly change, mountains in the Himalaya do not meander tenderly into the sky, instead they joust their peak upward, piercing the troposphere, creating a rigid, steep slope on the way. Luckily, our professor stopped us every few minutes to observe the flora and fauna changes as we continued climbing skyward.
About 2 hours into our hike we reached the snow line. At this point we were standing 13,000 feet (4,000m) above sea level, and we still had an additional 3,000 feet to climb to reach basecamp. Many of our group members hailed from coastal lowlands, such as students from UC Santa Barbara, or UC Los Angeles, were elevation gain is an anomaly. There were two of us from UW and even though we frequented the Cascades many times before this trip, hiking to 16,000 feet was uncharted territory for us as well.
Our progression as a group slowed, as we continued to bootpack up the snowed in path, we had to watch our footing so that we would not slide and crash into the person behind us, or tumble downslope. Our breathe became labored as the molecules of oxygen less frequently entered our lungs. We paused as a group and turned around to see a line of yaks, heading gingerly up the trail toward us. Yak are related to cattle, they are also massive creatures able to exert serious amounts of energy, except they exist only in high elevation environments that persist of snowy, cool temperatures. We slumped off trail and let the furry beasts pass. At this point we still had 2 more hours until we were to reach our destination. Some students began to question if they should continue or return back down to camp and enjoy a nice cup of hot black tea. This put our guides and professor in a predicament, they were unsure if they should split the group of students and allow some to continue or to all stick together due to liability and the limited number of experienced guides. A few of us were notably bummed but we decided that sticking together as a group would be best for all. It was one of those moments where your heart sinks at the effort you have already exerted to reach the point you are at, but it also lifts at the prospect of the struggle being over.
Just as we were lifting our packs onto our sweat laden backs, a chipper Scandinavian man came booming down the trail. His energy and excitement reverberated off of the space around him, and rejuvenated our saddened state. He could not believe we were ready to turn around after all the progress we had made to get to this point! He was right, we had not only managed to climb up to this elevation today, but we had spent the last 3 weeks trekking up the Manaslu Valley. He was so positive that we could make it the last 3,000 feet, that we all looked around at each other and at our guide and decided we were ready for the challenge.
Our pace seemed to quicken, and our stops became less frequent for 2,000 feet of climbing. Our Nepali guide warned us that we had 1,000 feet left to climb and it was going to feel like we had boulders attached to our hiking boots, it was imperative that we acclimated slowly at this point. I tucked my chin down into my coat and watched the feet of the Nepali guide in front of me. He would take 100 steps exactly and then pause to allow us to catch our breath….not that it was ever quite possible. Gradually, we snaked up the mountain, flowing along the endless switchbacks, step by step, breath by labored breath. A yellow object appeared ahead of us, it stuck out against the opaic backdrop of glacial fields, and snow wrapped peaks. Initially confused, we all came to realize that the yellow object was a cook tent similar to the one we frequented daily at our own camp. The yellow cook tent was stationed at our destination, Manaslu Base camp, located 16,000 feet up the 8th highest peak in the world.
We pushed onward for the last 100 yards and reached basecamp as a group. Each individual was brimming, and overjoyed to have reached a location on earth that few people are privileged enough to experience. I looked around at our group of students, teachers, guides, each individual carried the same emotion of gratitude and excitement. It was overwhelming to endure such a feat with my peers, to struggle, persist, and reach our destination.
Our professor gave a quick lecture about the glaciology in this region, and our Nepali guide spoke about the economic and cultural importance of expeditions for villages located at the remote bases of these colossal landforms throughout the Himalayan range. These lessons particularly resonated with us, since we were learning about our surroundings as we actively engaged in them, it was the most unique lecture I will ever experience.
Wildlands Studies is an environmentally focused study abroad program that emphasizes integrated learning experiences in the field. Their programs are located throughout the world but all carry the same goal, to enhance students knowledge on the environment and sustainability, while also assimilating fusions of local culture and experiences. My study abroad experience was everything but ordinary, it provided the opportunity for me to learn about different ecosystems throughout Nepal, the various flora and fauna that inhabit these environments, while immersing myself in the communities that depend on them. I grew academically and intrapersonally, a way that was not well defined on the course syllabus.My desire to learn did not cease when our Wildlands professor finished the prescribed daily curriculum , it carried on for the entire 6 week course.
To learn more about Wildlands Studies visit their website at https://www.wildlandsstudies.com
Come attend an information session on October 23rd at 4 p.m. in Anderson 22 to hear about upcoming programs, speak with a representative, or ask any additional questions!
Written by: Mikaela Balkind