Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Mountain Company pledge for AITO Project PROTECT

Earlier this year Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) launched Project PROTECT in recognition of 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 at the end of the year on how they got along. For more information take a look at ----> AITO Press release

The Mountain Company pledge is as follows: Collecting at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017

"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/ trash 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 2017, we will ask each of our groups to pick up at least four sacks of rubbish during their Himalayan trek. Each sack will weigh approximately 1kg so each group will have a target of 4kg of rubbish to collect. During 2017 our thirty groups travelling to Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India will therefore pick up a total of at least 120kg of litter.

Our guides and trekkers will work together to collect rubbish and this will develop camaderie and teamwork. The group will feel good about helping to make a difference. Our groups will talk to others to explain what they are doing aiming to inspire more trekkers to pick up rubbish too. By working together with our customers The Mountain Company wants to improve the environment of our destinations to help more people to enjoy these places in the future.

Photo: Pasang Sherpa collecting rubbish in Everest region
We will be in touch with our clients in due course to explain how we plan to go about meeting our pledge and how they can help if they would like to do so. 

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Trip report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT (Nepal) in May 2017 led by Jo Clark (UK) and Chandra Rai (Nepal)

Photo: crossing Sangda La pass (5,100m) into Kali Gandaki
In May 2017 we organised our fourth successful Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek along The Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal. This year we had twelve trekkers in the group and there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from Australia, UK, Germany, Denmark and Canada. This group was led by Jo Clark (UK), Chandra Rai (Nepal) and Bishwo Rai (Nepal).

Photo: our Upper Dolpo May 2017 group (credit: Paul Carroll)
To find out how our previous Upper Dolpo treks got along please take a look at Trip Reports for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT

Like in previous years, at the start of the trek we chartered a Twin Otter plane from Tara Air for the flight from Pokhara to Juphal rather than flying in from Nepalganj further to the west of Nepal. Luckily this group's flights operated on time and landed safely at Juphal STOL airstrip on May 8th and then walked to Dunai for the first night's camping. It is worth pointing out that Juphal STOL was a grass airstrip however currently (i.e June 2017) is having construction work to black top the runway and this should help improve the reliability & safety of operations at this airstrip in the future.

As a result of the improvements at Juphal airstrip and better hotels now available in Nepalganj such as Hotel Siddhartha (and Soaltee Western Premium opening in September 2017) we plan to fly via Nepalganj for our Dolpo treks in 2018. There are also more planes available in Nepalganj including L410 turbo prop aircraft, these are more powerful with higher carrying capacity of passengers. If we are able to use these planes in the future the key advantage for us is that we can also fly in some cargo including more fresh vegetables. The other consideration is the cost of a private charter plane from Pokhara to Juphal, this is very expensive and increased in 2018 by 10% to US$5,500.

It is worth pointing out that we introduced a new innovation in 2017 by bringing dehydrated vegetables for provisions on all of our camping treks in Nepal. There is a lack of fresh of vegetables to purchase locally in Upper Dolpo region especially during the Spring season and also for this itinerary we are unable to provide a food resupply during the trek. Therefore the only way to provide vegetables throughout the trek is by dehydrating beforehand in Kathmandu. In March 2017 we transported a US made vegetable dehydrator machine and vacuum sealer over to Kathmandu. After training our local office in Kathmandu on these methods we are now producing large quantities of carrots, beans, broccoli, courgette (zucchini), onions, mushrooms pumpkin etc to supply our camping treks.

Using dehydrated vegetables worked very well for our Upper Dolpo 2017 trek and we receive excellent feedback from the group on the quality of the food throughout this trek. The method of dehydrating food is also environmentally friendly as we do not need to bring canned vegetables. As far as we know The Mountain Company is the only operator in Nepal with our own production line for dehydrating vegetables. We are planning to roll this out to our office in Bhutan in July 2017 for the Autumn trekking season.

Photo: vegetable dehydrator machine with vacuum sealer
Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT group followed a trail near the Suli Gad River for the next three days flowing down from Phoksumdo Lake. On May 11th the group walked through Ringmo village and onto their campsite on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Phoksumdo Lake.

Photo: Phoksumdo Lake
On May 13th the group followed the western side of Phoksumdo Lake along a narrow cliff trail, this is the ‘Devil’s trail’ followed by Thinle in Eric Valli’s film “Himalaya”. The narrow path ascends to a ridge with spectacular views over the turquoise lake to Ringmo village and the peaks of Kanjiroba (6,612m), Norbung Kang (6,085) and Jhyarko Dingla (5,892m). From Phoksumdo Lake North Camp the group starts making the ascent to the first high pass of the trek called Kang La.

There is a lot of wildlife and birds in Upper Dolpo, in previous years our groups were very lucky and saw the elusive snow leopard on several occasions. This year they saw the scat of large cat and this was most likely from a snow leopard. Many herds of blue sheep were seen as these animals are their favourite prey this indicates there is sufficient food to maintain a healthy population of snow leopards in Upper Dolpo.

Photo: blue sheep in Upper Dolpo (credit: Neil Piercy)
Of interest this year was the Tibetan wolf seen on top of a ridge while the group were having lunch by a river after Shey----> for more information on Tibetan wolf have a look at Wikipedia page. Other animals seen include stone marten, marmots (lots!), foxes and a jackal.

Photo: Tibetan wolf in Upper Dolpo (credit: Paul Carroll)
We had some keen birders in our Upper Dolpo group this year and the list of birds seen is as follows: Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffin, hill pigeon, Yellow Billed Chough, Common Redstart, Tree Sparrow, Long Tailed Shrike, White Winged Grosbeak, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Orange Flanked Bush Robin, Robin Accentor and Cattle Egret.

Photo: White Winged Grosbeak (credit: Paul Carroll)
The weather in Nepal throughout this Spring season has been rather unstable with large amounts of precipitation due to a low pressure system impacting the Nepal Himalaya. Luckily our Dhaulagiri Circuit in April were in the early stages of their trek during the heaviest precipitation. As described in our Trip Report for our April 2017 Dhaulagiri Circuit group there was more snow than usual on the French and Dhampus Passes however this group was able to successfully make the full traverse to Jomsom. Therefore I was quite confident that our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT group would be able to cross the passes however we were expecting to encounter more snow than in previous years.

On May 14th our Upper Dolpo group walked up to Lar Tsa camp however on the next day they were unable to continue onto Snowfield’s Camp due to large amounts of snow on the trail. Luckily our guides have deep experience and knowledge of the Upper Dolpo region and knew about another pass we call “Pass B” known as Nando La that due to its aspect and topography tends to retain less snow than Kang La. Therefore the group descended back towards Phoksumdo Lake and followed a different valley to a high camp then successfully crossed the Nando La pass over to Shey on May 17th. On May 18th the group and crew had a well-deserved rest day exploring Shey and visiting the Bonpo monastery down the valley.

Photo: view from Nando La (credit: Neil Piercy)

Photo: lama at Shey gompa (credit: Neil Piercy)
Throughout the trek as this group traversed east through Upper Dolpo region there was very little snow and no issues were encountered on crossing the rest of the high passes. The highest pass Sangda La at 5,100m is known as the crux for groups doing this trek in Autumn season as this is the exit pass out to the Kali Gandaki valley. Sangda La can be snowy and icey however by the time our group arrived crossed on May 29th there was no snow on the summit of the pass so our group was able walked out Jomsom arriving as planned on June 1st.

Photo: crossing Saldang La

Photo: view from Muri La
The group flew out of Jomsom on June 2nd and after a second breakfast at one of the restaurants in Pokhara Lakeside they flew onwards to Kathmandu in early afternoon. That evening I heard everyone in the group enjoyed a meal at K Too steakhouse to celebrate completing this epic journey through one of the most remote regions of the Nepal Himalaya.

Overall this group had fine weather and only two or three days afternoons with cloud and trace precipitation. Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we sent these onto Jo on the satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for our leaders to make decisions in the field.

We used a GPS spot tracker for this group and for each night on trek Jo checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress ----> click here to see GPS map for our 2017 Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT

Congratulations and well done to this group for making the full traverse from Juphal to Jomsom along a section of The Great Himalaya. I would like to say a big thanks to Jo, Chandra, Bishwo and the rest of the crew for their hard work leading this trek.

We have received positive feedback from this group and please see AITO website for the reviews. I have copied Neil's feedback below:

"I have regularly trekked with The Mountain Company, the itineraries are very well planned, the treks are extremely well led both with Western Leadership and local Sirdar and Guides. This trek in particular there was an excellent relationship and engagement between all the crew and trekkers. It's great to see that as much care is taken regarding the health and well being of the crew on the trek as the clients. The trek leaders have access to high quality weather forecasts and satellite communication. Very well managed trek.

This was an amazing trek in the remote region of Upper Dolpo, trekking through an area strongly influenced with Tibetan culture. The scenery is spectacular trekking through beautiful gorges - never far from a pounding river, staying alongside wonderful villages e.g. Ringmo, Shey and Tinje and spending time alongside side the turquoise blue lake of Phoksumdo.  There is challenge too ... regularly crossing spectacular passes with mountain vistas. The schedule is well planned with additional days to acclimatise, plenty of good food to provide us with the energy to complete the trek and enjoy the area." Neil, Upper Dolpo May 2018

Due to high demand for our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek we have decided to organise two departures in 2018, first one will be in May/ June and second one in October. We already have enough people interested to guarantee to run our May departure and there is strong interest in October one too. I suggest you get in touch to register your interest soon if you are considering one of these treks in 2018.

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Ade Summers and Chandra Rai in April 2017

Photo: crossing French Pass with Mt Dhaulagiri behind
In April we organised our 14th group trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit. Our leaders were Ade Summers (UK & Australia) and Chandra Rai (Nepal) and the Sherpa guides supporting the group were Mhin and Bhim. We had six people in this group and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from Switzerland, USA and UK.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on April 16th and we organised the group briefing for late afternoon. We made one change with our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary compared to previous years  as we have extended by one day so the trip is now 21 days from arrival to Kathmandu. In previous years on Day 2 we flew from Kathmandu to Pokhara, drove to Beni and then trekked to first night's camp at Babuchur. This was too long especially if there were any delays in flying to Pokhara and quite often the group would arrive to Babuchur after dark therefore we now include one night in Pokhara before starting the trek. The feedback from the leaders and the group has been positive with this change in itinerary so we will keep this in place for our future Dhaulagiri Circuit groups.

The trek went well and the group arrived to Italian Base Camp as planned on April 24th. On April 30th the group crossed French Col into Hidden Valley. However the weather throughout the trek was quite rainy and there was deep snow higher up making the days crossing French and Dhampus passes more challenging for the group and crew. The weather this Spring throughout Nepal has been unsettled with more precipitation than in previous years. On May 2nd the group crossed Dhampus Pass with superb views of Annapurna South and Nilgiris and made good progress to camp at Alu Bari for the night.

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we sent these onto Ade by text to his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

We have carefully designed our Dhaulagiri Circuit for acclimatisation and our groups have two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m followed by two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m then a further two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. Only with this ascent profile will you have enough time for your body to adapt to the high altitude for safe crossing of the high passes and for sleeping in Hidden Valley at 5,050m.

As with all of TMC camping treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek in SPOT Adventure website

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit. I would like thank Ade and Chandra plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work.

The feedback from the group has been very positive and everyone had a good time. I have copied several member’s feedback from website below:

"I had an excellent experience with The Mountain Company---Top Notch" Melvin

"The Mountain Company organised everything to a tee. We never had to worry about anything as everything was taken care of giving us the time and space to enjoy Nepal."  Mat

"The whole trip was well planned,organised and executed by The Mountain Company. The Mountain Company works to very high standards and achieves them, whilst being sensitive to the fragile environment in which it operates and respectful of the local peoples. From the off, the level of communication and personal advice offered is detailed, considered and personally tailored. Very impressive personal service. It is pleasing that customer feedback is listened to, then, where appropriate, put into action to enhance the next treks experiences. Well done and I hope to trek with you again in the near future." Paula

The Mountain Company organises Dhaulagiri Circuit trek and Dhampus Peak expedition twice a year in April and October. Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in October 2017 is now guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Mountain Company 16 point difference | Why you should choose us to organise your holiday in the Himalaya or Karakoram in 2017

The Mountain Company is an award winning operator

With so many rival trekking operators out there to choose from, it is worth highlighting the main reasons why we think you should choose us to organise your holiday in the Himalaya or Karakoram in 2017.  The Mountain Company 16 point difference is as follows:

1. The Mountain Company (TMC) is an independently owned niche operator with a strong track record and deep experience of our destinations, whilst still being small enough to offer a good old fashioned friendly and personal service. The Mountain Company is proud to be a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (“AITO”).

2. TMC is an ATOL licenced operator located in the UK. We are fully insured with combined public and product liability and hold professional indemnity insurance with Camberford Law PLC.

3. We provide comprehensive pre trip information to help you prepare for your holiday. This advice will come from our team who has first-hand knowledge and experience of the trip you are interested in joining.

4. We organise treks to Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal, however we also enjoy organising treks to the most remote regions of the Himalaya. Many of these, such as Upper Dolpo to JomsomMakalu to Everest over Sherpani Pass and West ColLadakh Sky TrailRodung La with Merak and Sakten and Lunana Snowman, are along The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) where you are unlikely to see many other trekking groups.

5. Through our online pre-trip application, we carefully screen everyone applying to join our groups. By asking about your outdoor experience, fitness level and medical conditions we hope to ensure you have an enjoyable and successful trip suited to your ambitions and capabilities.

6. Our treks are tried and tested and since TMC was set up in 2004 our groups have had excellent success rates of completing their objectives, such as reaching Everest Base Camp or crossing high passes on the classic camping treks like Dhaulagiri Circuit and Kanchenjunga Circuit. We have 100% success rate in organising the full Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan traversing from Paro to Bumthang.

7. Our trek itineraries are designed for gradual ascent to allow time for your body to naturally adapt to the high altitude. We never compromise on the number of days within our itineraries in order to sell more holidays!

8. Our trips are organised with a high guide to trekker ratio to allow for a range of walking speeds within a group and also, for contingency planning in case a trekker has to turn back due to sickness or other reasons. In Nepal we provide one guide for a group size of two people, two guides for a group size of three people, and three guides for a group of more than six people.

9. We send a Thuraya satellite phone on all of our treks in Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan. We also send a SPOT GPS tracker on camping treks. It is critical for group safety, risk management and contingency planning in an emergency situation, to know the location of and to have reliable communications with our trekking groups in the field.

10. We monitor the weather forecasts throughout the season by getting bespoke weather forecasts from Having forecasts is important for safety before crossing a high pass or climbing to a summit such as Mera Peak or Dhampus Peak.

11. We work with some of the best mountain leaders and guides in the business, with deep knowledge and experience of the Himalaya and Karakoram. Unlike many other operators we still allocate appropriately trained international leaders for more remote and technical trips. Find out more about TMC leaders here

12. Within our detailed Trip Dossiers (downloadable from our website), we clearly define what is included in our packages so that you know exactly what to budget for. We go further to provide more within our packages. For example, our lodge based treks in Nepal include breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and biscuits plus two course dinner (soup and main meal) plus up to two cups of hot drinks per meal.

13. We have invested in high quality group equipment to support our camping groups in Nepal, such as Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents. On our camping trips we also provide portable high altitude chambers (known as PAC bags) for the emergency treatment of high altitude illnesses.

14. Given the current uncertain economic climate, you are assured that your money paid to us for your holiday is financially secure. Our UK clients will be issued an ATOL certificate backed by the British government. Our international clients will be covered by our financial protection insurance issued from International Passenger Protection.

15. We love what we do and are passionate about organising trips to the Himalaya and Karakoram! We focus on a small number of countries to ensure that we are the specialists for holidays in Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar).

16. TMC head office is based in London, however Roland, our Managing Director, spends up to five months each year based in our destination countries. During 2016, Roland was in Kathmandu, Nepal supporting our groups for two months in Spring and two months in Autumn. He then travelled around Burma for a month in November inspecting tourist destinations and hotels there. Read more about our bespoke trips to Burma here.

Lastly, do not just take our word for it but please have a look at what our clients say about us on the AITO review website. TMC won the bronze award for AITO Tour Operator of the Year in 2015 based on receiving excellent customer feedback.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to find out more about The Mountain Company difference.

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit trek led by Almas Khan and Jhire Rai in November 2016

Photo: northside of Mt Kanchenjunga
In November, we organised Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal and this was our second departure in 2016 -----> please click here to read our Trip Report for Kanchenjunga Circuit in April. Our November trek was led by Almas Khan and this was his third time leading this classic trek around the world’s third highest mountain. The Nepali sirdar for this group was Jhire Rai who knows Kanchenjunga region very well having completed this trek twelve times before!

Almas has had another busy year leading four treks for The Mountain Company; in April he led a group on Dhaulagiri Circuit; in August/ September he led Ladakh Sky Trail GHT; in September/ October to Bhutan for his seventh Lunana Snowman trek and then back to Nepal for Kanchenjunga Circuit. It looks like Almas will be busy again in 2017 with Rodung La with Merak & Sakten in Bhutan during April then Ladakh Sky Trail GHT; Lunana Snowman trek in September/ October and Kanchenjunga Circuit in November.

For our November 2016 Kanchenjunga Circuit group we had eight trekkers coming from Canada, Switzerland, Ireland Zealand and USA. The first day of the trip was November 1st and next morning Almas gave his trek briefing on the roof top restaurant at Hotel Tibet and I also attended. On November 3rd the group flew to Bhadrapur in east of Nepal and in afternoon drove up to Ilam for the night.

During the trek this group stuck to the scheduled itinerary walking up as planned to Pangpema at Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp on November 14th and then returned to Ghunsa on the next day. The group head up to High Camp before Mirgin La on 15th then successfully crossed over Mirgin La on 16th arriving to Tseram village in late afternoon.

The weather for this group was sunny throughout the trek and this is the normal pattern in Nepalese Himalaya where high pressure system tends to dominate after the monsoon has worked its way out. As discussed in Trip Report for our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October the monsoon finished late this year in mid October so having our Kanchenjunga Circuit in November works well in terms of weather and conditions. This group had sensational views of the north and southside of Mount Kanchenjunga as well wonderful vistas on crossing the high pass Mirgin La.

Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information was sent through to Almas on his 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.

I heard reports from another group trekking Kanchenjunga Circuit in October that the trail to Ghunsa had been damaged during the monsoons with a number of new landslides however in practice by November with the dryer weather these areas were fine with no active rocks falling. Almas mentioned also that one bridge had been swept away during the monsoon however the older bridge nearby survived so the group easily crossed over.

Over the years we have modified our itinerary for Kanchenjunga Circuit based on feedback from previous groups. We have carefully designed the day by day itinerary in order to allow time for acclimatisation to the high altitude and to maximise the chances of group successfully completing the trek. Almas confirmed in his debrief that our itinerary worked well and no further changes were required. As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek and follow their route on SPOT Adventure website

Thanks very much to Almas, Jhire, and Sangram and the rest of the team for their hard work leading and organising this trek.

The Mountain Company is promoting Kanchenjunga Circuit trek for April and November 2017. Our April departure is nearly guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Ade Summers and Chandra Rai in October 2016

Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp
In October we organised our 13th group trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit and this was also our 3rd expedition to climb Dhampus Peak. On their return to Kathmandu I caught up with most of the group for a debrief at Yak Bar on the roof terrace of Hotel Tibet in Kathmandu to get their feedback on the trip.

We had twelve people in this group and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from Australia, Switzerland, USA, Canada and UK. There were three people who decided to pay for the extra cost to climb Dhampus Peak. This surcharge covers the permit fee and per permit rules the costs to provide equipment to the climbing guide and insurance fees for helicopter rescue. Therefore the cost of this surcharge depends on the number of people opting for Dhampus Peak and with a larger group the cost per person will decrease.

The leaders for our Dhaulagiri Circuit with Dhampus trip were Ade Summers (UK & Australia) and Chandra Rai (Nepal). The climbing guide for Dhampus Peak was Dorje Sherpa and the Sherpa guides supporting the group was Hebi and Bhim. The cook was Kancha Tamang.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 9th and we organized group briefing for late afternoon. The group flew to Pokhara on 10th and took the bus to Beni. As it was already 3pm by the time the group had finished lunch Ade and Chandra decided it would be better to take a bus to the first camp as it was not possible to camp at Tatopani instead continued on to Babaychur camp.

There was a late monsoon in Nepal this Autumn and from checking weather forecasts the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri regions started to dry out with less precipitation by end of first week of October. We have carefully selected the first day of Dhaulagiri Circuit on October 9th as it is quite common for monsoon to continue into October. Luckily by the time our Dhaulagiri group started the trek there was settled and sunny post monsoon weather. I gather they were lucky to get good views of the Himalayas including Mt Dhaulagiri over the first two days as they walked through the villages. As ever the days lower down on Dhaulagiri Circuit are hot and humid as first night camp at Babaychur is only at an altitude of 870m.

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we sent these onto Ade by text to his satellite phone. Overall the weather for this trek was good with sunny and stable conditions and had clear days with superb views for crossing French Pass and Dhampus Pass. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

The trek went well with fine weather virtually no precipitation and the group arrived to Italian Base Camp as planned on October 16th. On October 22nd the group crossed French Col into Hidden Valley. As per our weather forecast from it was sunny however windy on the pass as the jet streams were low and high winds were mixing down to 5,000m.

On morning of October 23rd Ade got up at 3am and decided to abort the summit attempt on Dhampus Peak due to the strong wind. Three people who paid for the permit understood this decision and instead went for a good walk around Hidden Valley. This day in Hidden Valley is one of the highlights of the trip and during the day some people decided to relax and enjoy the views from camp while others explored Hidden Valley.

On October 24th the group crossed Dhampus Pass with superb views of Annapurna South and Nilgiris and made good progress to camp at Alu Bari for the night. The next day there is a steep and sustained descent to Marpha village and after a refreshing apple juice (this village is well known for its apple products including stronger versions of juice!) some of the group took a bus to Jomsom and others walked.

We have carefully designed our Dhaulagiri Circuit for acclimatisation and our groups have two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m followed by two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m then a further two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. Only with this ascent profile will you have enough time for your body to adapt to the high altitude for safe crossing of the high passes and for sleeping in Hidden Valley at 5,050m.

As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek in SPOT Adventure website

I heard the group and crew had a good celebration this evening and a cake was baked by Kancha to celebrate the end of the trek. The group handed out the tips during the evening and this was appreciate by the crew.

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit. I would like thank Ade, Chandra, Dorje, Hebi, Bhim, Kancha plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work.

The feedback from the group has been very positive and everyone had a good time. I have copied one member’s feedback from website below:

“It started with a warm and generous Nepali welcome at the airport and it continued for the next 20 days. A good bunch of people of varied ages, a fantastic Leader and support crew who could not do enough to ensure you had a great time. The views were superb, they seemed to get better each day and I loved every minute of the trip.

The itinerary was very well planned with rest days to assist with acclimatising. The tour company were extremely well organised, they communicated the plan for the day and were flexible in their attitude and generally appeared to care that everybody was well and enjoying themselves. There was always somebody not that far away on the trail if you had a question and to make sure the group stayed together. A truly professional tour group.” TE

It is worth pointing out we have decided to make one change to our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary for 2017. It is a long day on Day 2 to fly to Pokhara, drive to Beni, have lunch and then trek or drive to Babaychur camp (as it is no longer possible to camp at Tatopani). If there are delays in the flight to Pokhara or on the drive to Beni takes longer than expected then it is likely that the group will to arrive to camp in the dark. Therefore we decided to include one more day in the itinerary to have second night at hotel in Pokhara then on Day 3 driving to Beni and walking beyond Babaychur to Darbang (just before the bridge).

The Mountain Company organise our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek and Dhampus Peak expedition twice a year in April and October. Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in April 2017 is nearly guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Trip report for Lunana Snowman led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2016

Photo: Gophu La known as exit pass from Lunana
This is the eighth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. After another successful Snowman in September/ October 2016, The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging and long trek through the remote Bhutanese Himalaya.

This year we had ten trekkers signed up for the full Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from Australia, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and UK. Our 2016 Snowman group was led by our regular guide, Almas Khan. Almas has now completed Snowman trek eight times including both Bumthang and Nikka Chu exit trails from Lunana. We received superb feedback from the group on Almas organisation and leadership skills. I have copied some of their comments below:

"Almas is an experienced and very capable trek leader." JH

"Almas was absolutely amazing! The way he kept his calm and the way he handled the long period of wet weather in the beginning of the trip made me feel in good hands. This was the first time I'd been on a long trek and the first time I'd been in a non-Western country, so to me it was very reassuring to have a trek leader who seemed so secure in everything he did. His humor was quite infectious as well, which of course isn't a necessary leadership skill, but did make the evenings more fun after a long, hard day. I liked the way he communicated important information without necessarily telling us everything; over-information isn't always a good thing if it makes people worry, and Almas knew exactly how much to tell us and when." DP

For our 2016 Snowman we had several new crew members including the cook, Sonam, and his kitchen helpers. We have made some changes to our logistics and organisation for Snowman 2016 as the food on Snowman 2015 was disappointing. We have worked with our partners in Bhutan and Almas’s wife, Jayne Khan, flew out to Bhutan in August to help train Sonam and work on the supplies and provisioning for this long trek. This effort has paid off and we received positive feedback on the food from the group such as:

“The cook on the trek was great! Food was plentiful, well prepared and for the most part delicious” SS

“I had expected to lose appetite due to the altitude and the foreign food, but our cook, Sonam, was excellent at preparing meals so delicious I actually often kept eating even when I wasn't hungry anymore. I never lost my appetite and always looked forward to the next meal.” DP

Photo: Karchung La known as entry pass to Lunana
We were happy to have our regular Bhutanese guide, Tashi, on board and Tsering Dorje joined our group again this year. Tsering guided on two of our  previous Snowman treks however had a break for a few years as he was busy in Autumn season as a cultural tour guide. Our third Bhutanese guide was called Tsering too.

The big news in Himalaya this Autumn season was the late monsoon as this year finished raining much later than usual by mid-October. Normally the heavy rains are decreasing by end of September however the timing and intensity of monsoon varies year to year. Our Snowman 2016 was unlucky as when monsoon was winding down a low pressure system came off Bay of Bengal bringing in more heavy rain on October 12th and 13th.

Throughout the course of Snowman trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. Michael sent us advanced warning of this low pressure system and tracked its path so we could provide Almas with information a few days before its arrival to Bhutan.

Normally by the time group arrives to Chomolhari BC the weather improves however it is important to start this trek in September as a week or two later precipitation will fall as snow on the exit passes of Gophu La and Saga La. As mentioned in previous Snowman trip reports the number of days on Snowman is longer than the typical weather window available. The compromise is to start earlier in Autumn season when there is still a chance of precipitation however it means it is less likely for the exit passes of Lunana to be blocked by snow as the snowline is higher at this time of year. This strategy worked for Snowman 2016 as after the low pressure system discussed above passed through the snow was not too deep on the high passes and melted off quite fast. Therefore we had no issues with our pack animals and group crossing these passes.

Photo: Mount Jitchu Drake
For this year’s Snowman we modified our itinerary from Snowman 2015 as the group spent two nights in the less visited Haa valley before starting the trek. After the group's arrival to Paro they had one night at Olathang hotel and then next day the group walked up Tiger's Nest and then in afternoon drive over Chele La (3,780m) to Haa Valley. After two nights at Haa valley they drove back over Chele La and then drive on through Paro to Shana for the first night's camp of the trek.

In Haa valley the group enjoyed a lovely day walk and as this valley is at 2,712m this is 500m higher than Paro it is very effective for acclimatisation. In Haa valley the group enjoyed staying at a traditional farmhouse called Lechuna Heritage Lodge for more information please take a look at their website. The feedback from Snowman 2016 has been very positive about staying in Haa Valley before starting the trek and everyone was well acclimatized for the ascent up to Chomolhari Base Camp. We believe our modified 2016 Snowman trek should add in terms of interest and also increase our groups chances of safely completing the Snowman trek

Our Snowman 2016 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. As usual Almas decided to have only one night at Thanza and to keep moving in case a spare buffer day was required later on. In the end they arrived to the hot springs at Dur Tsachu one day early like previous year so they had two nights to relax in the hot tubs.

On October 19th we had one member of the group suffer from an allergic reaction so Almas decided this person should be evacuated by helicopter. It is not known what caused this reaction however it may have been a plant that caused a rash to spread and then proceed to swelling of lips. After a discussion with their insurance company through the satellite phone it was agreed the best course of action was to evacuate this person by helicopter.

In previous years there were no helicopters available in Bhutan so evacuations were organized by Indian Army however this process was slow and unreliable. Two years ago Bhutan government purchased two helicopters now stationed throughout the year in Thimphu and Paro to provide more effective service for rapid evacuation. After the approval had been received from insurance company our partner in Thimphu arranged for the helicopter rescue. One of the reasons our leaders on remote treks carry GPS Spot locator is so that we can provide latitude and longitude to the pilot for location of pick up.

Photo: helicopter evacuation from Worithang
The evacuation went well and this person was flown back to Thimphu for checkup and made a full recovery. This worked well as we were able to send in food and meat in the helicopter so the group enjoyed chicken dishes for a few nights! This was our first helicopter evacuation required on our eight Snowman treks however it is good to know this service is available in case required. For more information on helicopter service in Bhutan please take a look at Airbus Helicopter's website

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group and each night Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress. Click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Lunana Snowman

The feedback for Snowman 2016 has been positive and I have copied one below:

“The Mountain Company organised an excellent Snowman trek in Bhutan. The pre-trek information and advice was very helpful and the trek was expertly led in country by Almas Khan, a very experienced trek leader who has now completed numerous Snowman treks.

The 27 day Snowman Trek was a tough challenge, both physically and mentally. The terrain was remote and often spectacular. Sandwiched between the monsoon and the start of the winter snows it pays to be well equipped for all weather. The many ascents are not technical but are often long. The steep descents often require a lot of concentration. Paths vary from smooth and dry to mud and rocks.
The 3 day pre-trek acclimatisation process was well thought out and none of the group suffered any significant altitude sickness. The three day cross-country return to Paro gave a good insight to Bhutan life.” JH

For more testimonials on Snowman and our other trips please take a look at AITO review section of their website

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Tsering, Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work, great job again! Thanks to Jayne Khan for all of her help with training the cooks and her work on provisioning. Thanks also to Kinley and Dawa in the office in Thimphu who worked hard to improve their level of service and have responded well to our feedback from Snowman 2015.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2017 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. Almas Khan has confirmed his leadership for next year’s Snowman and we have already received confirmation from five people so I am confident our Snowman 2017 will be guaranteed soon. As soon as Druk Air starts to taking bookings for flights for dates of Snowman 2017 we will ask people to pay deposits if they like to go ahead to sign up.

If you have already done Lunana Snowman then you may be interested to hear Almas will also be heading back to Bhutan in April 2017 to lead our Rodung La with Sakten and Merak. This trek is an extension of the Lunana Snowman trek by starting in Bumthang and continuing east to Trashi Yangtse along The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT").

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company