Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Trip report for Saribung Expedition in Nepal led by Jo Clark (UK) in April 2019

Photo: on summit of Saribung Peak (6,328m) (credit: Shyam Krishnan)
In April 2019, The Mountain Company (UK) organised our first group Saribung Expedition to cross Saribung Pass (6,042m) and climb Saribung Peak (6,328m). These objectives are located in the remote and rarely visited Damodar Himal mountain range to east of Upper Mustang in Nepal. If you are looking for a traditional, full camping expedition away from the busier regions such as Everest and Annapurna then I suggest you take a look at Saribung Expedition.

This group was led by Jo Clark (UK) and the Nepali Sirdars for this group were Arjun Tamang and Galden Sherpa. The Sherpa guides were Chongba and Bhim. The cook was Suk who has worked with us for many years and always produces high quality and tasty food for our groups. Jo and Galden had already completed a reconnaissance trek in late October 2018, you can read her Trip report for Saribung Expedition Recce

Photo: on Saribung Pass (6,042m) (credit: Shyam Krishnan)
As Saribung is a classified as an expedition peak where there is a full climbing permit required to ascend to the summit whereas to cross the pass requires only a Restricted Area Permit. The group were given the choice after booking and an extra cost was charged for those wanting to attempt the summit. In practice the summit is only two hours ascent from the pass and the route follows moderate angled snow and ice that involves glacial travel as there are some crevasses on this section of the climb.

You can watch a video of the summit panorama taken by one of our climbers, Shyam, and uploaded onto our YouTube channel. Wow what a view, incredible!

Photo: view from summit of Saribung down to Japanese Camp (credit: Shyam Krishnan)
Jo has summarised her experience leading our Saribung Expedition as follows:

"The weather during the trip was consistently clear with blue skies and some small build-up of cloud in the afternoons. When we reached Upper Mustang, the weather held out but the winds picked up as is usual in this area.

The walk into Phu is one of the most magnificent and breathtaking of the himalaya. With the rock entrance, deep gorge ascent and finally the gates of Phu it really feels like you are entering another world. Above Phu the remote beauty continues to astound as the surrounding Peaks become bigger and the views greater. A tough few days on glacial moraine are rewarded by a spectacular pass day before descending into the remote Upper Mustang with diverse sandy colours and vast landscapes."


Throughout the course of Saribung Expedition we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at www.everestweather.com and this information was sent through to Jo on her satellite phone for the days before crossing Saribung La and climbing Saribung Peak. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. As it turned out the weather forecasts were accurate and the group enjoyed perfect weather conditions with blue sky and relatively low wind speeds on the pass.

Photo: view from summit of Saribung (credit: Shyam Krishnan)
We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and we use Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for Saribung Expedition in April 2019

I have copied below feedback received from two members of Saribung Expedition group now published on AITO review site:

"This was an exceptional trek up through Manang over the beautiful glacier Saribung and then through Upper Mustang to Lo Mantang before completing the trek in Jomsom. From Koto onward the trek steadily gets more and more remote with absolutely stunning mountain scenery. On route we stopped at the fascinating and ancient village of Phu before entering a period of 11 days where totally alone. The snow conditions provided a wonderful dimension leading up to the pass, down the glacier on the far side to then trek through the beautiful and arid scenery of Upper Mustang ending up in the interesting village of Lo Mantang. An outstanding expedition.

This is the seventh trek I have completed with The Mountain Company, which I think makes the point. The Mountain Company provide excellent quality treks, well managed, equiped and with highly skilled and experienced leaders and guides."



"I trekked from Jagat across Saribung La to Upper Mustang, while also ascending Saribung Peak (6,328 m). I also extended the trek to Manang on the Annapurna circuit.

The Mountain Company runs very well organized trips. This was my second trip with them and I was very pleased. Roland Hunter and the primary guide for the trip, Jo Clark were both very prompt in addressing queries and concerns before the trip. Jo and assistant guides Bhim Bahadur Sunuwar, Arjun Tamang, Chongba Sherpa and Galden Sherpa did an excellent job during the trip. Food prepared by Suk Bahadur and Gyaljin Sherpa was excellent. Porters also went above and beyond their call of duty by assisting clients on the hard days."


You can read all of our AITO reviews received on AITO website

As discussed in Trip report for Saribung Expedition Recce we have designed our itinerary for Saribung Expedition for gradual acclimatisation and this works best by approaching Saribung from Phu side rather than the more common approach from Lo Manthang side. Whereas approaching Saribung from Lo Mantang entails crossing three passes of around 5,000m early in the trek. This means ascending too high, too fast with risk of altitude sickness for both group and crew. The village of Phu  and the valley to north to Pokharang Base Camp is very beautiful and remote with very few trekkers exploring this region of the Himalayas.

Based on Jo's feedback we plan to make some changes to Saribung Expedition itinerary to make further improvements for future trips. The main changes are to have two nights at Pokharang Base Camp as this place is good for acclimatisating and there is also an interesting day walk to a nearby lake.

Also based on feedback from the group we will not visit Lo Manthang so for future groups we will take the trail from Yara village down the east bank of Kali Gandaki then drive by jeep to Jomsom. After seeing the beautiful and interesting village of Phu it seems that these days Lo Manthang is rather disappointing especially now that many of the older buildings have been destroyed and replaced by concrete structures. It sounds like after crossing Saribung pass and arriving to Yara everyone in the group was ready to get back to Kathmandu and not spend more time trekking up to Lo Manthang.

Thanks very much to Jo, Arjun and Galden and the rest of the team for their hard work leading and organising this trek.

Our next departure for Saribung Expedition is in October 2019 and followed by April 2020. There is currently availability if you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch with us soon.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

In Hillary’s Footsteps to Everest Base Camp led by Peter Hillary and Robert Anderson in April 2019

Photo: In Hillary's Footsteps team at Everest Base Camp
This unique trek to Everest Base Camp was led by Peter Hillary and Robert Anderson. Peter is a very accomplished mountaineer and is the son of the late Sir Edmund Hillary. Robert led the first ascent of a new route without oxygen on the Kangshung Face of Everest. Both Peter and Robert have summited Everest twice, walking along the same trail we will be taking.

Peter’s sons, George and Alexander Hillary, and daughter, Lily Hillary, as well as Robert’s daughter, Phoebe Anderson, joined the trek so it was a real family event. All of the Hillarys and Andersons were involved with the leadership by sharing their personal insights and history of the iconic first ascent of Mount Everest, as the group followed in Sir Edmund’s footsteps to Base Camp.

We customised our Everest Base Camp itinerary to reflect the Hillary legacy, meeting Sherpas and visiting unique places full of climbing and Nepalese history.

I have copied below a summary of how the trek went from Robert Anderson:

We were in Gorak Shep at 5,164 meters (16,942 feet) for the evening, with our grand finale, the trek to Everest Base Camp set for dawn the next day. It was snowing, blowing and a few were feeling just a bit of altitude. Two of us went out for tea and needed to battle our way back with headlamps through the blizzard, dodging snow covered Yaks and avoiding the inevitable lurking snow leopard.

At sunrise the day was clear, the wind had died, much of the snow had blown away and we rallied - with porridge and omelettes and chapatis inside us we set a brisk pace up the hill under a warming sun. We crested the glacial moraine and headed out onto the ice of Khumbu Icefall. With no less than 4 Hillary family members with us, we definitely had our choice of “In Hillary’s Footsteps” to follow. With 100% of our 18 strong team in attendance, it was a good moment to celebrate.

Base Camp was radiant and warm, we raised our ski sticks high, explored the base of the icefall and wandered back through the heart of Base Camp.

Our trek had treated us to one unique adventure after another, with plenty of good fortune along the way. From catching the last day of direct flights from Kathmandu-Lukla, to meeting up with long time friends of the Hillarys in Khumjung, to a daily inspirational quote from Sir Ed to move us forward through the days.

While our trek had followed much of the classic route, ascending the Kunde Ridge at dawn with Peter Hillary and his kids provided us a rare moment and a perfect start to a day with no other people around, in the shadow of Everest at the Hillary memorials. On the way down from EBC, we skirted Tengboche and went round the mountain on the spectacular and scenic trail to Phortse, sighting Himalayan Thar below us and Lammergeirs flying high above.

With a daily talk by Peter or ‘the kids’ we had an ongoing adventure with Hillary and Tenzings first ascent ever at the fore, from letters Ed had written home, to writings from the ‘53 team to words and photos of inspiration, to ponder on our trek to Everest Base Camp. Take a look on YouTube for Lily Hillary and Phoebe Anderson’s post dinner talk about their “Mountaineering Dads” when they took the stage in Dingboche to set the record straight.

At our final celebratory dinner in Kathmandu, many of us were plotting new challenges, and in the words of one of my favourite Hillary quotes from when Ed first stood atop Everest, ‘looking beyond’ to our own next adventure.


Photo: post trek celebration meal at Le Sherpa

I have copied below an AITO review received from one member of this group:

"Top people who know their business and know the terrain, the challenges, the many details of a long, complicated trip, and are able to adapt to the changing needs of the group and somehow manage to run a successful trip at great odds" 

Thanks very much to all of the guides and congratulations to the whole group  and I am delighted that everyone successfully walked to Everest Base Camp.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter


Sunday, 10 March 2019

* Stop Press * - New Trip Dossiers

This year we are working hard to update our trip dossiers. Our main objectives have been to make them clearer, easier to read and more streamlined. We have added live links so that information can be accessed more easily, directly from the document itself.

The layout of the dossiers is now updated and we think that information will be easier to find with images, coloured headings and a new format.

To take a look at our new Naar to Upper Mustang Trek Dossier.

What have we removed?
We have removed some information from the trip dossiers which is not trip specific. This information has been added to the country specific pre trip information documents which you receive once you have booked with us.


What have we added?

1. Trail descriptions
We want you to choose the most appropriate trek for your ability and interest and a lot of this will be based on the trail. The more information you have about the kind of trail you will be trekking, the more easily you can decide whether the trek is suitable for you.

For example, trekking to K2 Base Camp is Glacial Moraine - generally rocky under foot but with some icy patches. Significant up and down. Whereas trekking to Everest Base camp has more Gently undulating clear trails through forests villages or gorges.

We have created a classification system for the trails made up of 8 trail description categories and a visual way of representing it. To find out what the classification below really means, read our blog post “Picking the right trail for you” or look at one of our new trip dossiers.

Naar to Upper Mustang GHT Trail Overview

2. Distance, ascent and descent information
Last August we published the blog “what does your next adventure look like?” in which we shared our quest for more data. Some of that data is in and we have begun to add it to our dossiers. As we collate more of this data we will be able to add it to all our dossiers. Below is an example of the new easy to read format in which we are presenting the data.



3. Mapping
The maps Roland created last summer for our treks and linked to the website, are now also linked to in the trip dossiers.

4. Altitude Profile
We are including an altitude profile in all our new trek dossiers. These will give you an idea of our gradual acclimatisation profile as well as how many passes you will encounter along the way.

We would like to thank our clients (Mark, Neil and Bruce) who worked with us on the new Saribung Trip Dossier, providing valuable feedback as we improved these Trip Dossiers.

Jo Clark
Operations Manager


Sunday, 3 March 2019

Picking the right trail for you


We want you to choose the most appropriate trek for your ability and interest, and a lot of this will be based on the trail. Every trip organised by us has been given a grade based on the expected level of difficulty in order to help you select a suitable trip. We have six levels of grading for our trips: Easy, Gentle, Moderate, Demanding, Strenuous and Challenging.  More information on the grading of our treks is on our website.

This grading system is helpful but does not always provide the level of detail required to get an accurate portrayal of the trek. We have therefore set up a classification system for the trails made up of 8 description categories. This classification system is slowly being rolled out through our new Trip Dossiers.

We have split the trail sections into lower altitude (below 3,000m), higher altitude (above 3,000m) and high altitude passes (over 4,000m). The type of trail within each of these categories is then split further depending on type of trail, exposure and ascent/descent profile.

The descriptions are an indication of what you might encounter and it is important that you assess your personal capabilities based on the terrain you are comfortable trekking through.



Lower altitude (below 3000m)
Example
L1
Undulating clear trails through forests, villages or gorges.  There may be some bridge crossings and some short steeper sections.
L2
Longer steep sections (ascent or descent) on well defined trails.  There may be some exposed sections of trail.


Higher altitude (above 3000m)

H1
Gently undulating clear trails through forests villages or gorges.
H2
Long steep ascent or descent.  There may be some exposed sections of trail and rocky terrain with a less defined trail.
H3
Glacial Moraine - generally rocky under foot but with some icy patches.  Significant up and down.


High Altitude Pass (above 4000m)
Example
P1
This is a simple pass crossing with clear trails.   It may take up to 4 hours to get to the top of the pass.
P2
This is a more challenging pass with a steep ascent or descent.  There may be some exposed sections of trail and rocky terrain without a well defined trail.  There may be snow on the trail and microspikes could be required.
P3
This is a technical pass or climb.  Either crampons, ropes or technical skills will be required.


Examples of trail overviews
K2 Base Camp and Concordia Trail Overview

Naar to Upper Mustang GHT Trail Overview

Everest Base Camp Trail Overview

Upper Dolpo to Jomson Trail Overview

Where will your next trail take you?

Jo Clark
Operations Manager

Friday, 1 March 2019

AITO Tour Operator of the Year 2018


Photo: AITO Tour Operator of the Year 2018
We are absolutely delighted to report that we struck Gold by winning AITO Tour Operator of the Year 2018 on Wednesday at the AITO Annual General Meeting held at Royal Over-Seas League in London. We won the Bronze Award in 2015 so it is wonderful to scoop the top prize in 2018!

This means a lot to us as this award is based on our AITO Traveller's Reviews received during 2018 and we got more Excellent rated reviews than the other 122 members of AITO. For those of you who do not know of AITO, this stands for Association of Independent Tour Operators ("AITO") and is known as The Specialist Travel Association.

We always strive to organise the best holidays and it makes it all worthwhile when we receive positive feedback from happy clients. I would like to thank everyone who travelled with us last year and for those of you who sent in AITO Traveller's reviews. The Mountain Company became a member of AITO in 2014 so we are relatively new to this association however it has been one of the best decisions we made!

Photo: Roland at AITO AGM
Of course we would like thank everyone involved in our operations both in UK and in our destination countries of Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Myanmar for their hard work, dedication and professionalism to provide our clients with unique experiences in the Himalayas and Karakoram mountains.

We are certainly not resting on our laurels as we have plans for a number of major improvements to our service in 2019 following the changes we pushed through in 2018 such as uploading all of our treks onto Google Maps (see View Map link in each of our trip webpages such as Everest Base Camp). We will continue to develop and expand our portfolio of trips to visit some of the most remote places in the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges.

Photo: Our pooch, Thimphu, guarding our AITO certificates in the office
If you are interested in joining one of our groups in 2019 please get in touch by email, phone at +44 (0) 1647 433880 or come to visit us near Chagford (Devon) in the beautiful Dartmoor National Park.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

2018 AITO Project PROTECT


Association of Independent Tour Operators’ (AITO) Project PROTECT recognises the important role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. The aim of this project is to encourage sustainable tourism and to nurture the destinations for tomorrow's travellers. The PROTECT acronym stands for People / Resources / Outreach / Tourism / Environment / Conservation / Tomorrow. This project is led by Professor Xavier Font of the University of Surrey and each AITO member has to publish an annual pledge and report back through a Testimonial at the end of the year on how they got along.

The Mountain Company's 2018 Pledge is as follows:

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This is part of the Leave No Trace philosophy encouraging people to minimise their environmental impact when exploring the great outdoors. At The Mountain Company we want to go further by picking up rubbish found along the trekking trails and around the campsites. We have received client feedback that rubbish is a big problem and this unsightly mess has detracted from their holiday experience. By picking up litter this activity will make the environment cleaner and will help to maintain the natural beauty of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains.

In 2018, we will ask each trekker booked onto a trip with us to pick up one kilogram of rubbish. During 2018 we will have approximately 200 trekkers travelling with one of our groups in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India and we will therefore pick up at least 200kg of litter."


The Mountain Company's 2018 Testimonial sent to AITO Project Protect reporting on how we got along with our Pledge is as follows:

"In 2018 the Mountain Company’s groups removed 320kg (average 1.6kg per person) of rubbish from the Himalaya. We have also incorporated rubbish collection and disposal into our standard operating procedures for our destinations of Nepal and Bhutan.

In 2018 we decided to build upon our 2017 pledge by collecting more rubbish from the trekking trails and campsites of the Himalayan countries. Our groups removed 320kg of rubbish from the Himalaya and this works out at an average of 1.6kg per person booked onto trips with us in 2018. We have also looked into better methods of extracting our own rubbish from the mountains and this year for our Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan we used ponies to pack out 65kg of our waste to the road head. 

We also wanted to reinforce the importance of rubbish collection and disposal to our trek guides and crews by incorporating this approach into our operating procedures so this will be standard practice for The Mountain Company groups in future years. I have noticed a change in attitude to rubbish collection among our trek crew from guides through to porters. The trek crew have picked up a large proportion of the rubbish collected this year and have set a great example to our trekkers. Our guides and cooks have frequently walked around the campsites to collect the rubbish scattered around and discard along with the waste generated by our group.

The feedback from most of our groups during debrief meetings in Kathmandu has been very positive and they enjoy being part of this project to help keep the mountains clean. Here is an extract from one of our AITO reviews: “Great! Five-stars! The Mountain Company is an amazing tour operator. Environmental friendly by participating in cleaning up the trails and promote environmental friendly practices.” by SnoMo, 5 Dec 2018

Over the last two years we have been pleased to notice an improvement in the environment on the Himalayan treks. We also seen more focus and attention on this issue from organisations based in these countries such as the Bhutan Tourism Council and the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee in Everest region of Nepal having both organised clean up expeditions. However with increasing numbers of visitors to these remote places there is still much to be done to improve the environment."



Thanks for everyone's help and support with our AITO Project Protect in 2018 and 2017.

Roland Hunter

Monday, 26 November 2018

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit in Nepal led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and Raj Tamang (Nepal) in late October 2018

Photo: Natalie with assistant guides Bal and Sagar (credit: Natalie Wilson)
In late October 2018, The Mountain Company (UK) organised our ninth trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal, you can read Trip Reports from our previous treks around Kanchenjunga Circuit

This group was led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and this was her fourth time leading this classic trek around the world’s third highest mountain. The Nepali sirdar for this group was Raj Tamang from Taplejung, he also worked as sirdar for our April 2018 trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit. The assistant guides were Bal, Jon and Sagar. The cook was Sangram Lama who has worked with us for many years and always produces high quality and tasty food for our groups.

For our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit group we had ten trekkers coming from UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Photo: Kanchenjunga northside (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Photo: Mount Jannu (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Natalie has summarised her experience leading this trek as follows: 

“The trip was really successful - most of the group made it to either Pang Pema, Oktang or both base camps and we experienced excellent weather throughout - no rain, light winds and a lovely sprinkling of snow overnight at Selele before the three passes. The food was excellent, the crew organised, hard working and friendly and the group got on really well together. People loved the variety of terrain we passed through - from quiet villages, cardamon plantations through to the high ground with it’s cold nights, stark rock and snow capped mountains. We saw eagles, blue sheep and other wildlife.

The food was excellent and varied. Sangram and crew did a fantastic job and the group were very impressed. Many of the group commented that they hadn’t expected such stunning scenery all the way and they were impressed with all the crew and how the logistics of the trip work."


Photo: Oktang with view of south side of Kanchenjunga (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at www.everestweather.com and this information was sent through to Nat on her satellite phone for days before approaching Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp and before crossing the Mirgin La. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. 

We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit trek

I have copied below feedback received from one member of Kanchenjunga Circuit November 2018 group now published on AITO review site:

"A long three week trek in a remote part of Nepal visiting Kanchenjunga North and South base camps. A very well organised camping trek with the group supported by a hard working team of guides, cooking staff and porters. A mix of climates from temperate forests to cold high altitude tundra surrounding Himalayan mountains. Spectacular scenery. A special place. The Mountain Company is a well organised and highly professional tour operator specialising in trekking holidays in the Himalayas. They pay special attention to ensure the safety and welfare of the trekkers. Highly recommended."

You can read all of our AITO reviews received over the years for Kanchenjunga Circuit

Thanks very much to Natalie and Raj and the rest of the team for their hard work leading and organising this trek.

Our next departure for Kanchenjunga Circuit is in April 2019 and followed by late October 2019. There is currently availability if you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch with us soon.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company