May 20, 2001

Dear Family and Friends,

On April 22, the Whatcom County Manaslu Expedition set out from the ancient town of Gorkha, birthplace of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, to circumnavigate 8156 meter Manaslu. After receiving the blessing of Hanuman the monkey god, Cindy and Russ Pheiffer-Hoyt, North and Chris Moench, and the Van Zandt Yaks set off on a 23 day journey that would find us sleeping in our green tents in such places as Ksorsanitar, Bihi, Lho, Samagaun, Samdo, Bimtang, and Bahundanda. Last year 458 trekkers got permits for this restricted area, 42 of them Americans.

Under the guidance of Kami Sherpa and his incredible crew, we followed the Buri Gandiki River for 17 days over steep trails cut into the walls of the valley and over bridges that defied gravity. We ascended from tropical forests of sal and banana trees through successive climatic zones of chestnuts, oaks, pine, spruce, hemlock, true fir, birch, and finally into the alpine zone. We hiked from summer to winter and back to summer again, and from Hindus to Buddhists to Hindus again. The changes in climate were matched by the diversity of ethnic groups we met. Most fascinating were the medieval stone villages on the north side of Manaslu, a day's walk from Tibet. It is said that with the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhist culture is better preserved here than in Tibet. In dress and customs, in economy and religion, little has changed here in hundreds of years. Rather than walking through zones of climate and ethnicity, here we walked back in time. For most of the trek, the views of stupendous mountains, valleys, and glaciers were omnipresent. Finally, we saw a herd of blue sheep, something Kami had not seen in 23 years as a trekking and climbing guide.

On the 18th day, we set out at 3:00 a.m. to cross 17,200 foot snowy Larkya Pass and begin our descent through blooming rhododendron forests back into summer, Hinduism, and the 20th century; at least as it is known in Nepal. The scenery, the villages, the people, the culture, the weather, the flowers, and our companions on the Whatcom county Manaslu Expedition 2001 combined to make this a near perfect trek. These pictures can only give a glimpse of a trek that the Lonely Planet describes as geographically spectacular and culturally fascinating; and that Kami says is the best in Nepal. Hopefully, they will whet your appetite for a slide show to which you are invited.

We plan to return home in the first week of July, and until then, send our love to all of you.

Rand and Dana

Photo A. Whatcom County Manaslu Expedition 2001 consults Hanuman for guidance and protection as we depart Gorkha.
Photo B. A pot smoking sadhu visits our camp in search of food
Photo C. Men sawing boards for house construction
Photo D. A Tamang woman with her baby in basket north or Arughat
Photo E. Pounding rice beside the trail to separate the grain from the husk
Photo F. Man with kukhri, traditional curved knife worn frequently in the hills of Nepal
Photo G. Cindy showing finger puppets to villagers near Ksorsanitar
Photo H. North's guitar was continual proof that music transcends international boundaries
Photo I. For two days we encountered the chicken man carrying two (barely) live chickens stuffed into the top of a bag of rice
Photo J. Women going to safe childbirth class
Photo K. We received a royal welcome when we followed a group of young nuns to their small gomba an hour above the main trail in the hills east of Bihi
Photo L. This shy woman was eager to have her picture taken but the act itself was almost more than she could bear
Photo M. The ancient stone village of Bihi
Photo N. Mother and child in traditional dress worn by nearly everyone in these remote villages
Photo O. Women in Prok dressed for a formal presentation of traditional dance
Photo P. Masked lama dancing in Prok
Photo Q. Man gathering nettles for dinner
Photo R. Old man with silver prayer wheel
Photo S. Classroom in Samagaun, a typical rural government school. We sang the Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round and did the Hokey Poky to everyone's mutual delight
Photo T. Our camp at Samagaun with Manaslu on the left
Photo U. Whatcom County Yaks at 17,200-foot Larkya Pass, one wearing his special custom made golden dragon pass crossing trekking suit.