There is a palpable air of excitement among team members as we make our final preparations for the expedition to Saipal Himal in western Nepal. Bajura District has scarcely been visited by botanists, and none have ever reached our objective, the eastern flanks of Saipal Himal. This represents a gap in the knowledge of plant distributions in Nepal which our work will help fill. Human impact is relatively low here, and we hope to see rich alpine ecosystems at the higher elevations. Access to this area is very difficult, and we will have to fly to the lowlands and then take a bus to the start of the trek. The bus journey will last at least 12 hours, but it is likely to be much longer because of landslides blocking our route. It is now the height of the monsoon, and whilst this is the ideal time to collect plants it is the worst time to travel.
The six team members come from the UK, Nepal, Japan and Russia, and encompass a wide range of expertise. The expedition will be trekking far beyond the region’s highest villages, so it has to be completely self-sufficient, and we will have a support team of about 50 porters, field assistants and kitchen staff, as well as a team of mules.
It is one thing to plan fieldwork poring over maps in the office at RBGE, but the realities on the ground can turn out to be very different. Google Earth helps with locating trails across open hillsides, but it is of little use in forested areas. Our initial plan was to follow the Kuwadi river up to its source and then trek over a high pass to the airport at Simikot before flying back to Kathmandu. Dawa Sherpa, who is managing the trek for us, has discovered that this route is impossible for a large group like ours, so after spending a couple of nights botanizing around the Nunekhara Glacier we will be retracing our steps all the way back to the bus. With luck the monsoon will be nearing its end and there might be fewer landslides to delay our return.
Colin Pendry, Expedition Leader
Tibet Guest House, Kathmandu, 5 August 2017