The monsoon hasn't ended yet, but the autumn season for trekking and mountaineering is off to a busy start.
Traffic is already picking up on the trails around the Annapurnas, Manang has seen early arrivals and hikers are striking out to Dolpo, Rara and even the Saipal slopes in far western Nepal. Lukla was just starting to look busy, but flights have been cancelled for the 10th straight day because of poor visibility. Trekkers and mountaineers heading for the Khumbu have been stranded at the airport for the past week.
Meanwhile, hundreds of mountaineers have begun arriving in Kathmandu for the 2008 post-monsoon season. Chinese restrictions on Tibet continue to affect expeditions using Kathmandu as a jumping-off point. Numerous groups trying to climb Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest mountain, via its Chinese northwest route were disappointed this season.
"Tibet's loss is Nepal's gain," said British expedition leader, Phil Crampton, whose expedition is among many that have switched from Cho Oyu to Manaslu.
Cho Oyu's northern route is relatively easy, and the mountain is regarded as a training peak for Chomolungma climbers. Says Ang Tshering Sherpa of Asian Trekking: "If the success rate is high this year, expeditions will probably be back on Manaslu next season." Upto 2007, there had about 300 ascents of lied Manaslu since it was first climbed by the Jaqanese in 1956, compared to more than 2,669 on Cho Oyu.
Among the climbers on Manaslu will be Spanish female climber Edurne Pasaban and Italian Nives Meroi who have both scaled 10 of the world's 8,000m peaks. They will be racing to make Manaslu their 11th peak. If they do so, they will be on par with Austrian climber, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who is currently leading the pack to become the first woman to summit all 8,000m peaks.
Autumn will also be the season for extreme skiers. Swede Frederik Ericsson and Norwegian J?rgen Aamot will be trying to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga and ski down. They will be following the tracks of Italian extreme mountaineer, Hans Kammerlander, who skied down the southwest face from 7,600m in 1998.
Another first could be a traverse of Lhotse Shar by Italian mountaineer Diego Fregona, who will attempt to solo climb Lhotse' s southeast ridge and descend the west face.