Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Cory Jones and Arjun Tamang in October 2023

Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)
Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)Managing Director & Founder, The Mountain Company
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Our Nepalese trek team from Dhaulagiri Circuit in Octobe 2023. Legends!

In October 2023 we organised our 18th trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal. Our leaders for this group were Cory Jones (UK) and Arjun Tamang (Nepal). The assistant guides supporting the group were Bishal, Phinja, and Mingmar. The cook was Jagatman.

The group arrived in Kathmandu on October 8th. In the afternoon Cory and Arjun gave the group briefing in the gardens of Hotel Shanker (across the road from Hotel Ambassador). It is worth pointing out that we postponed the start date of this trek by one week compared to our October 2022 departure. Per our Trip Report for Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2022, this group was severely impacted by a cyclonic storm. For safety reasons, we had to abort the trek at Muri village and then return to Beni. The high passes of Dhaulagiri Circuit were closed for the entire Autumn 2022 season due to large amounts of snow.

In practice starting a week later in 2022 would have made no difference to last year’s outcome. However, going later should reduce the amount of precipitation for the first week but it is likely to be a bit colder up high as October progresses.

I have copied Cory’s summary of his experience leading the trek:

"The October 2023 Dhaulagiri Circuit trek was outstanding. An amazing trekking trip over French Pass (5,360 m) and Dhampus Pass (5,240 m) with a night in the Hidden Valley. Plenty of rest on the acclimatization days for the days over the big passes and very fine snowy capped peaks in the upper valleys. Good views of Dhaulagiri (7th highest mountain in the world), Tukuche, Nilgirils and Annapurnas. Everyone in the group found the route achievable but challenging and the circuit lived up to its reputation for being one of Nepal’s more testing treks. 

The weather was fine in the mornings and clouded in for the afternoons which meant our group never experienced much poor weather whilst walking. Having said this there was quite a bit of snow accumulation on the higher days of the trek. We witnessed several impressive avalanches on the higher slopes of the mountains.  

The first few days of the trip were through local villages and forests. Our team had some unexpected, but welcome, interactions with local villagers including an impromptu local dance hosted by one of the schools. Our Nepalese crew, led by Arjun, were very hard-working and amiable. All of our clients found the support of the guide team invaluable and food from Jagatman first class."

As Cory explains overall the weather and conditions were pretty good during the trek. That said, the weather pattern was a little unusual in the Autumn 2023 season. Clouds were building up in the afternoon often followed by a small amount of precipitation. Normally in Autumn once the monsoon has dissipated from the Himalayas settled weather brings clear and sunny weather throughout the day. During this trek, daily snowfall of several centimeters of snow accumulated over time. So this group had the deepest snow on the passes out of any of our Dhaulagiri Circuit groups in October.

As Cory mentions they only stayed one night at Hidden Valley and not two as per our itinerary. I was in Kathmandu throughout our Autumn season and one of my jobs is to review the weather forecasts. The forecast models were showing cloudy weather and snowfall on October 22nd. Dhampus Pass is well known as a place that sucks in clouds causing poor visibility and this can complicate route finding and group management. Given the forecast, we decided to cross the pass one day early. Even then later in the morning of the 21st, the clouds rolled in but fortunately, it did not snow. Besides, due to the deep snow in Hidden Valley, it would have been impossible to explore the ridge walk on the West side of the valley. 

I met most of the Dhaulagiri group for a debriefing meeting after their return to Kathmandu on October 25th. It was great to meet them and hear more about their experience. I also met the other trekkers who stayed in Pokhara for a debrief a few days later. The group’s feedback was positive and they had a great time in the trek. One comment was that the overnight temperatures in Hidden Valley were closer to -20 Celsius than -15 Celsius as per our Trip Dossier. It is possible that starting our October 2023 trek one week later could have contributed to the colder temperatures. Anyways, we have updated our pre-trip information as people must bring the right gear for the conditions.

One of the challenges of the Dhaulagiri Circuit is the large variation in temperatures experienced during the trek. Most groups come back saying it was hotter at the start of the trek and colder in Hidden Valley than they were expecting. This impacts what gear to bring and that is why the layering system is the best approach to keep to the weight limits for your main bag.

So far we have received AITO Traveller Reviews from several members of this group. I have copied one below, it is detailed although it is worth reading as it should be helpful if you are considering booking this trek with us. It is as follows:

“This was my 3rd trekking holiday with The Mountain Company, and once again it proved to be a wonderful experience. The Mount Dhaulagiri Circuit Trek is of 2 weeks duration, and certainly lived up to it's reputation of being physically demanding. We were blessed with excellent walking weather throughout, although it frequently snowed in the afternoon and evening. The terrain we encountered was scenic and rugged, starting with heavily forested foothills, then changing to bare, snow capped peaks as we gained altitude. We had some fantastic interactions with the local Nepalese people, culminating in a memorable concert which was put on in our honour, and which was attended by several hundred villagers. I highly recommend this trek to anyone seeking a remote and challenging trek, and which incorporates spectacular scenery.

I was always very impressed with the consummate professionalism of The Mountain Company. There is no weak link in the chain, and everything flows seamlessly. 

* TMC website is very informative, and any queries, requests for clarification are answered in detail and in a very timely fashion by Roland Hunter. 

* The pricing of the treks are very reasonable. 

* Hotel accommodation in Kathmandu and Pokhara was first rate. 

* Transport to and from airports, and internal flight connections ran smoothly, as far as they could be controlled. 

* Roland carefully vets prospective participants to ensure treks are suitable for their skill level. 

* TMC allocates 3 altitude rest days on this trek, to ensure the group safely acclimatises to the increase in altitude. Other trekking companies allow 2 spare days at most. 

* The quality, variety and quantity of the meals provided on the trek was first rate. Despite the trek being physically arduous, I did not lose any weight. 

* TMC places a lot of emphasis on the quality and expertise of their trek leaders. In that respect we were extremely fortunate to be led by Cory, ably assisted by his Nepalese counterpart, Arjun, and of course the wonderful Nepalese crew. Without them there is no trek. All trekkers well being was constantly monitored to ensure they weren't experiencing difficulties. Encouragement was frequently offered, and practical assistance provided where necessary, particularly if there was a difficult section of the trail to be negotiated. The safety of both trekkers, and the Nepalese crew was always given the highest priority. 

The Mountain Company have a longstanding and well deserved reputation for running excellent, affordable treks, and operating in an ethical manner. They are always my first port of call when I experience a yearning to undertake a trek.”

To find out more about the challenges of this trek take a look at our Blog article How hard is Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in Nepal?

Congratulations to the group for completing the Dhaulagiri Circuit in tough conditions. I would like to thank Cory, Arjun and the rest of the team for their help and hard work.

The Mountain Company organises our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek every year in April and October. Please get in touch soon if you like to join one of our departures in 2024.

Trek on!
Roland Hunter
The Mountain Company