story and photos by Bob Box
In July I was invited by an old climbing friend, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years, to join him and one other guy for a three-person 23 day circuit of Nepal's Manaslu, Ganesh Himal and Tsum Valley. The invitation came only a few weeks after a complete knee replacement at VSO so I was hesitant. The October start would be less than 5 months after the knife!
Going For It!
But with encouragement from Dr. Cafferky, Dr. Janes and the VSO surgical team I decided to go for it. As soon as the staples came out June 1, I set up my bike trainer in the spare bedroom and started spinning daily. I was out on the road bike not too long after that, and with the constant support, guidance and workouts from HRRMC physical training specialist Allie Hammond in Buena Vista, I worked my way into long Colorado backcountry hikes and a wild card fourteener. I was ready.
A Remote and Challenging Trek
The Manaslu circuit is one of the most challenging and remote treks of the Himalayas. Its distance, topography and trail conditions are much more physically demanding than the more widely known Annapurna circuit or the popular Everest Base Camp treks. It typically has less than 10% of the trekkers than either of those routes. The trails wind their way through countless gorges, valleys, and passes, steadily climbing from sub-tropical jungle to high, cold, barren passes.
In the Tsum Valley, a spur north of the main circuit, a special permit is required because of its 3K proximity to Tibet, but the Tsum is a journey back in time. Paths along glacial remnants connect trade routes to Tibet, where active trading can still be seen daily loaded on long trains of yaks.
A Birthday Journey
Much of the trail and many of the villages were partial or completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes, evident in leveled buildings and massive landslides. Villages are still being rebuilt, one stone at a time by faithful Buddhist families and patient villagers. On the trail a lot had been repaired, rerouted, or was still undergoing reconstruction.
Nonetheless, at times only a fragment of the trail remained — ten inches wide above a one thousand foot drop into a churning river that would spit out nothing of your remains. As every skier and cyclist knows, focus on where you want to go, not where you don't!
I had my 71st birthday on day two of the trek. A dozen lovely Machhakhola villagers, most of whom could not speak English, joined us at dinner and sang a chorus of happy birthday as they draped me with Nepali blessing scarves conveying “welcome” and “safe journey."
All the Way Back to Kathmandu
The 23 days were not completely without setbacks and pain but in the final stretch I knew my knees would make it. One was getting a bit too old, one still a bit too new, but with the aid of a few blessing scarves they worked it out and kept me upright all the way back to Kathmandu.
Thank you Vail Summit Orthopaedics. It was a grand adventure.
Thank you Bob for sharing your incredible journey with us!
"Combining newer techniques with rapid recovery post-operative protocols are also allowing patients to return to a normal life faster. Exciting advances in newer technologies, such as computer navigation and robotic surgery, are also making their way into joint replacement surgery. Plus, the implant companies are creating better artificial joints than ever before. With a better understanding of bio materials and bearing surfaces, implants are now likely to last much longer too."