Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Trip report for Upper Mustang trek led by Alan Ward in September '08

Photo: Upper Mustang

In September '08 Alan Ward led a group for The Mountain Company to Upper Mustang in Nepal. I have copied Alan's description of this fascinating region below:

"The Kingdom of Mustang is located at the northern end of the Kali Ghandaki Valley, the world’s deepest gorge which, at it’s southern end lies between the spectacular peaks of the Niligiri Range (7,055m – 7,134m) and Dhaulagiri (8,167m). At an average altitude of 4,000m the Kingdom is geologically and culturally part of the Tibetan Plateau and has an arid and dry landscape with colourful rock formations containing thousands of long abandoned cave dwellings.

Trekking groups were first allowed into this restricted area in 1992 with the government charging for special area permits. In recent years, only about 1,000 visitors reach Lo Manthang, the capital and this has resulted in the Tibetan culture being largely undisturbed. The trekking routes were used by salt caravans crossing from Tibet into Nepal and settlements are few and far between. Mustang became an independent kingdom in 1380 and the current royal family can trace their lineage back to this date. During the 1960’s, the Tibetan Khampa guerillas, trained and funded by the CIA, used Mustang as their stronghold against Chinese oppression in Tibet."

The highlight of the trek is visiting Lo Manthang, the capital of Upper Mustang, as described below by Alan:

"Everyone was looking forward to reaching Lo Manthang, capital of Mustang, the last forbidden kingdom. Crossing a level plain to the last climb up to the Lho La (3,950m) was a relief to all as we finally saw Lo Manthang beyond the cairn and prayer flags at the pass. Before long we were enjoying lunch at the Hotel Mystique, our lodge and camp site for two nights.

Our camp site was just in front of the lodge and looked eastwards towards the colourful Thakla Danda and Rijopuwa Danda mountain ranges. Our tour didn't take too long as Lo Manthang isn't a large settlement but we found two gompas and the teaching school interesting. During the afternoon we were granted a royal audience with the King of Mustang.

Being in Lo Manthnag was like going back in time. The only water supply seemed to be in the main square where women were washing clothese and men were filling water containers before disappearing down narrow alleyways to houses beyond the square.

The afternoon was spent at leisure with some of the group relaxing in camp whilst others continued wandering around the walled city."

The Mountain Company is planning on organising another Upper Mustang trek in September '09, please get in touch if you are interested in joining the group. For more information please take a look at the Upper Mustang webpage

Monday, 15 December 2008

Everest Base Camp!!

Photo: Islamic Relief group at Everest BC

Congratulations to the team from the Islamic Relief who successfully trekked to Everest BC and Kalapathar on December 1st. They raised a large amount of money for water projects in developing countries, so well done to everyone involved!

With increasing numbers of trekker visiting the Khumbu during the peak trekking month of October, my top tip is to go later in the year at the end of November and into December . The weather is normally stable at this time of year with sunny days and there are far fewer trekkers around. In fact from speaking to The Mountain Company's October Everest BC group I am convinced that it was colder in Gorakshep in October than late November....

If you are interested in joining an Islamic Relief Challenge in 2009, then please take a look at their website or join the Facebook group for Islamic Relief Challenges

Friday, 21 November 2008

Mera Peak summit! Trip report for expedition led by Roland in November '08

Photo: Mera Peak summit November 2008

Congratulations to the Mera Peak team who summitted on November 16th '08! We used the same itinerary as last year following the trail south of Lukla through the interesting villages of the Solu Khumbu and over the passes via the Panch Pokhari (five holy lakes) before joining the traditional Zatra La route at Kote.

This itinerary is longer than walking in via the Zatra La, however this gives everyone the opportunity to increase their fitness levels and gain better acclimatisation before attempting Mera Peak at over 6,400m. It is for this reason that The Mountain Company has one of the best summit records.

We also believe that November is the optimum time of year to climb Mera Peak, the weather is usually stable with sun and blue skies. Also there are far fewer groups tackling Mera Peak in November compared to October. This is especially important at High Camp where there is limited space.

Roland will be leading the Mera Peak expedition in November 2009, so please get in touch soon if you are interested in joining him.

For further information please take a look at the Mera Peak page on our website, you can also download the Trip Dossier and view our photo gallery from there.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Trip report for Lunana Snowman led by Roland in October '08

The Lunana Snowman group arrived back to Thimphu yesterday afternoon after successfully completing this epic trek across northern Bhutan. The Snowman trek is known as one of the most challenging in the Himalayas crossing over 14 high mountain passes and covering 400km over 28 days of trekking.

Photo: beautiful farmhouse with Mt Jitchu Drake in background

The Mountain Company only organises the complete Lunana Snowman trek from Paro to Bumthang. Some of the shorter versions of the "Snowman" trek start in Punakha and others Lunana via the Nikka Chu valley. My feeling is that if you are going to do the Snowman it is worth doing the complete traverse rather than smaller sections of it. We found the quietest & most remote part of the trek was from Thanza to Bumthang where we only saw two trekkers in 10 days! This is very unusual in the Himalayas these days during the peak season of October.
Photo: archery competition near Laya
Photo: view from Karchung La (entrance to Lunana)

Photo: approach to Gophu La
As you can see from the photos we experienced good weather and excellent conditions on the passes. The timing of this trek is very important in order to increase the chances of successfully completing the journey as well as getting good views along the way! The optimal time to start the trek is at the end of September when the monsoon should be winding down which places the group in Lunana around mid October hopefully before the winter snows block the exit passes.

Photo: Gophu La (exit from Lunana)

The Lunana Snowman is a very special trek passing through a beautiful and unsploilt region of the Himalayas. The area is still heavily forested and this year's group saw the following animals & birds along the trek: Blue sheep, marmots, Himalayan black bear & cub, blood pheasant, lammergeier and birds of prey among others.

The Mountain Company is planning on organising the Lunana Snowman trek for September/ October 2009 so please get in touch if you are interested. For further information on this trek please see our Lunana Snowman trek page.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A few days in Kolkata

I arrived to Kolkata a few days ago in advance of my Lunana Snowman (Bhutan) group coming in on September 25th. This is my first visit to the city that I have heard so much about, since my first trip to India in 1992 I have got to know theother “Metro” cities of Delhi and Mumbai quite well but never made it to Kolkata.

I have had an enjoyable stay so far here, the people are very friendly and there seems to be less hassle from street hawkers than some of the ther large cities in India. From the airport my taxi driver delivered me directly to my hotel without trying to persuade to stay somewhere else, this must be a first during my time in India!

On my first day I went to the Victoria Memorial, this impressive building was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1901 Diamond Jubilee although was finally completed 20 years after she died. Next to the memorial is a beautiful park called the Maidan over 5km long right and right in the centre of busy Kolkata.

Photo: Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

On the way to the memorial I saw a large street procession with horse drawn carriages decorated with flowers and brass bands. This might have been something to do with the Durga Puja starting in a weeks time. This annual festival celebrates worship of Hindu goddess Durga throughout West Bengal where it is a five day annual holiday and the biggest event of the year.

Photo: street procession

Walking around the city is interesting seeing the old Colonial buildings mixed with new shopping malls and offices. There is certainly no problem getting transport with many yellow Ambassador taxis around (constantly honking their horns!) and also the infamous human powered rickshaws. I have not used taxis or rickshaws to get around yet as I prefer to walk with most places pretty close to my hotel on Sudder Street.

Photo: human powered rickshaw

Photo: ubiquitous yellow Ambassador taxi

I will be offline while in Bhutan, I fly to Kathmandu on October 29th and will then write a post to the blog letting you know how we got along on the Snowman trek!

Roland Hunter

www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Friday, 5 September 2008

Best dressed porters on the Baltoro!

Photo: our well equipped porters at Concordia

At The Mountain Company we believe in providing the right equipment to our porters especially when climbing a high pass such as the Gondogoro La at 5,600m. In line with our ethical approach to porter protection we invested over USD$5,000 purchasing porter equipment in Pakistan this summer.

All of our porters crossing the Gondogoro La were lent the following items: wind jackets and trousers, good quality walking boots, sunglasses, socks and gloves. We also paid the porters their equipment money as per government regulations.

The handout of gear was captured on video by Alistair who has posted it onto YouTube, the link is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRBK-Yyjm2E

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Trip report for K2 & Gondogoro La led by Roland in August '08

Photo: K2 as seen from Concordia

The August '08 K2 & Gondogoro La group have just returned from Pakistan. This year we certainly had our share of good luck with no landslides blocking the Karakoram Highway (KKH) or Skardu to Askole road as well as having great weather for most of the trek.

To top it off we flew back to Islamabad from Skardu at the end of the trek. This flight is notoriously unreliable and is often cancelled due to poor weather or lack of available planes. Flying back at the end of the trip saves a two day bus ride on the KKH and means having two nights at our hotel in Islamabad and a chance to do some sightseeing and shopping.

Photo: Climbing up Gondogoro La

This year the Gondogoro La was in a good condition and all of the group successfully crossed the pass. This was especially good news after last summer when a large crevasse blocked the route up the Gondogoro La. Having spoken to the Hushe Rescue Team, who are responsible for maintaining the fixed rope on the pass, there was a large serac fall during the winter that luckily plugged this crevasse.

Roland did a recce of the Gondogoro La the day before the group arrived to Ali Camp (on their rest day after the long day to K2 BC and Gilkey memorial) in order to check the quality of the ropes and anchors. Generally the ropes were in a reasonable condition, however we put in 200m of extra rope secured by icescrews and snowstakes to protect our passage. The Mountain Company donated this equipment to the Hushe Rescue Team (as well as paying the toll to cross the pass) so hopefully will be used in the future to increase the security of other groups going over the pass.

Photo: Gilkey memorial near K2 BC
Roland is planning to return to Pakistan next summer to lead the Snow Lake Biafo and Hispar trek in July and K2 & Gondogoro La trek in August. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining him, his email address is roland@themountaincompany.co.uk

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Update on tourist visa applications for Nepal and India

India visas
The Indian High Commisson in London has recently updated the procedure for obtaining tourist visas. The decision on whether to grant a visa has been retained by the High Commission, however the application and collection process has been outsourced to VFS Global.

All applications have to be made online at http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/. You still have to apply online if you are submitting your application by post or using a visa agency. Walk-in applicants also need to fill out the online form before visiting VFS's office.

It should take 2 to 3 days to process your visa from submission although many people have experienced delays so please allow longer than this. Postal applications might take up to 15 days plus postage time.

We suggest you carefully read the VFS website taking particular care in calculating the fee payable and also the rules for acceptable passport photos in order to avoid further delays.

Nepal visa applications in UK
Nepal has introduced new visa rules effective from July 16. The cost and duration of the multiple entry visas have changed, they are now:

15 days USD$25 or equivalent convertible currency
30 days USD$40 or equivalent convertible currency
90 days USD$100 or equivalent convertible currency

You can apply for your visa at the Nepal Embassy in London before departure or on arrival in Nepal at the airport or at a border crossing.

The visa extension fee for 15 days or less is USD$30 or equivalent convertible currency and fee for more than 15 days is USD$2 per day. A tourist visa can be extended for a maximum period of 150 days in a year running from January to December.

Of note it is no longer possible to get a free visa for visits to Nepal for less than three days. Therefore, if you are transiting through Nepal for a Bhutan or Tibet tour then you will have to obtain a multiple entry visa.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Tibet opens to tourists again

The latest news is that Tibet is now open again for tourists. It has been confirmed that normal tour groups will be allowed to visit Tibet from the end of June, however it is not yet known when trekking and mountaineering expeditions will be allowed to enter.

There is a good article on explorersweb.com summarising the current situation, the link is at: http://www.mounteverest.net/news.php?id=17375

The Mountain Company is hopeful about running an Everest North Col expediton in April 2009, however we will have to carefully follow the events in Tibet before confirming the departure. For more information on our Everest North Col expedition.

Photo: Everest Base Camp (Tibet)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

National Geographic Lunana Snowman article

I have just read a very good article about the Lunana Snowman trek on the National Geographic Adventure website, the link is at:

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventure-travel/asia/bhutan-kira-salak.html

Roland is leading the Snowman trek for The Mountain Company in September/October 2008. This trip is guaranteed to run and there is still currently availability, for more information on the Snowman

Monday, 16 June 2008

Nepal palace becomes a museum

Perhaps shortly we will add the ex Royal Palace onto our Kathmandu sightseeing tour! Take a look at this article on BBC News:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7456101.stm

TMC pre-monsoon '08

Roland recently got back to the UK after spending three months in Nepal during the pre-monsoon trekking season. We had a busy season in Nepal including groups summitting Island Peak & nearly Naya Kanga (100m from the summit!), several successful Everest Base Camp treks and a trek around the Manaslu Circuit followed by Dhaulagiri Circuit.

The season started in early March with a private group going to Poon Hill and Ghorepani where some continued to the Sanctuary and Annapurna Base Camp and others coming back to Pokhara via Ghandrung village.

At the same time our Everest Base Camp and Island Peak group set off for their expedition led by Pemba Tamang. Pemba joined Roland last October as the Sirdar on his Mera Peak expedition. Pemba is an experienced climbing Sherpa having summitted both Everest and Manaslu twice. This group successfully reached Kalapathar, Everest bc and the summit of Island Peak.

In the second week of March five members of Everest Base Camp trek trek flew into Lukla. Having spoken to them on their return to Kathmandu overall they had good weather with great views of the mountains. The whole group got to Base Camp so well done everyone!

Throughout March and April, we organised a number of private treks to the Khumbu using the Everest luxury lodges, as ever they seem to be very popular way of seeing the spectacular Everest region while staying in comfortable lodges each night.

In early April the Naya Kanga expedition set off trekking through Helambu and over the Laurebina La before heading up the Langtang valley to Kianjin Gompa. From there they put in two camps on Naya Kanga before their summit attempt. On summit day the team reached just below the summit although had to make the hard call to turn around due to unstable snow on the final slope.

Following the team's debrief on their return to Kathmandu it was clear they made the right decision, however they had a great time and would highly recommend this trip to others. The trek passes through an area where there are fewer trekkers compared to the busier Everest and Annapurna region and the climb is technically interesting with superb views.

On April 7th the Manaslu Circuit group led by Roland set off for the roadhead at Arughat. The trek went well and as usual our Sirdar, Jhire, did a great job looking after the crew and clients. I would highly recommend this trek which explores a remote area of Nepal passing through a culturally and scenically diverse region of Nepal.

The trek starts at a low altitude (800m) where you will walk through rice paddies with mainly Gurung & Magar villages and then enters the Tibetan Buddhist region over 3000m. The Manaslu Circuit crosses over a high pass called Larkya La which is similar in difficulty to the Thorong La on the AC. This is a spectacular day with incredible views, it is challenging but a good objective for most fit walkers.


Photo: Larkya La on Manaslu Circuit

After a quick turnaround after the Manaslu Circuit, Roland set off for his next trek on the Dhaulagiri Circuit on April 26th. This was a reconnaisance trek to work out the best itinerary, as some of you have probably read this has a reputation as one of the toughest treks in Nepal!

This also means it is essential to equip the porters and crew well. At The Mountain Company we provide porters with walking boots, crampons, wind & waterproof jacket and trousers, down jacket, down sleeping bags, mats, gloves, warm hat, sunglasses and tents. In fact, I notice that some of them had better gear than I had!

The biggest challenge to successfully completing this trek is to spending enough to acclimatise to the altitude. Most groups push from Italian Base Camp at 3,660m to main Base Camp at 4,700m in one day!! In fact there was one other trekking party who followed this itinerary when we were there and the next day one client got severe AMS and was forced to descend and finish her trek.


On The Mountain Company itinerary we have included two nights in our itinerary from Italian Base Camp to main Base Camp, one at French Base Camp at 3,870m and the other on the Chonbarden Glacer at 4,700m. We also have three nights at main Base Camp to ensure good acclimatisation for clients and the crew before crossing the French Pass and camping in the Hidden Valley at 5,100m. These extra days can also be used as buffer days in case of delays from poor weather or landslides etc.


Overall, I highly recommend the Dhaulagiri Circuit as a challenging trek in a remote and rarely visited part of the Nepal Himalayas.


Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp 4,700m

Sunday, 15 June 2008

When is the best time of year to trek in the Himalayas?

This is probably the most commonly asked question we get at The Mountain Company. There is no definitive answer as there are pros and cons for each month and the answer, of course, depends on your objective and interests. However, there are reasonably predictable patterns to the weather in the Himalayas and Karakoram which can help you determine the best month to time your visit.

In the Himalayas there are two main trekking seasons, pre-monsoon & post-monsoon.

Pre-monsoon season
The pre-monsoon season starts around the end of February and continues until the end of May. In late February it is still the tail end of winter so temperatures are colder especially at higher altitudes. Early March is a good time to visit places at a lower elevation (between 800m and 2000m) , such as the Annapurna middle hills north of Pokhara, because it is pleasant walking conditions in cool temperatures

As one gets into April and May it will be very hot & sweaty at these lower altitudes and the views will be poor with a haze blocking out the Himalayan peaks. The haze comes from dust & pollution from Northern India as well as smoke from villages in the Himalayas.

The advantage of trekking in the Annapurnas during March & April is that the rhododendrons will be in bloom (and other places of same similar aspect & elevation). In mid March the rhodendrons flower lower down and will ripple upwards in altitude as the season progresses.

If you are looking to trek high passes over 5000m like Cho La, Larkya La or Dhampus Pass it is better to leave it until April & May. If you attempt passes in March you will normally find that they are still blocked with winter snows, whereas by April and into May much of this snow has melted.

For example Roland crossed the Larkya La on the Manaslu Circuit on April 19 this year. This is a good time to cross during the pre-monsoon season because by that stage alot of the snow has melted and crucially the ground warmed by the sun means any fresh snow does not stay too long. We experienced quite heavy snowfall when we were at Samdo (3,850m), however after a day most of this had melted away.

After returning to Kathmandu from Manaslu Circuit, Roland then set off on April 26 with another group to lead the Dhaulagiri Circuit . We crossed the French and Dhampus pass around mid May which again worked well with limited snow on these passes. Dhaulagiri Circuit is better later in the season into May because the temperatures are warmer especially for the night in Hidden Valley at 5100m!

A typical characteristic of pre-monsoon weather is to get clear blue skies in the morning with clouding building during the day. Often there is precipitation in the afternoon and then the skies clear off again in the evenings.

One of the main advantages of trekking in the pre-monsoon season is that there are fewer other trekkers around compared to October & November. Importantly, this also means that it is easier & cheaper to get flights to Kathmandu at this time of year.

Post-monsoon season
October is the most popular trekking month in the Nepal Himalayas. This is because the weather is generally stable with clear blue skies and, unlike the pre-monsoon season, it is often clear for the whole day with no afternoon cloud blocking the sun.

The beginning of the post-monsoon trekking season starts at a different date each year as it depends on when the monsoon finishes. Sometimes the stable weather can start in early to mid September whereas other years it can go into October. In October 2007 there was still heavy rain into the first week of October causing the flights to Lukla to be cancelled for 5 days!

By mid October the weather should have settled, this is the best time to view the Himalayan peaks and for photography because the monsoon has cleared the dust and other impurities from the air. As the season progresses into November the weather becomes more stable and predictable with most days having sun and blue skies. The temperature begins to cool off especially in the evenings once the sun has gone down, for this reason you should make sure you have a warm sleeping bag!

It is also possible to trek during December although of course the temperatures are colder at night. This is one of my favourite times of year to visit more popular places like the Khumbu because there are far fewer people around compared to October and November. It often feels warmer during the day because one feels the sun's heat whereas in pre-monsoon the sun is usually blocked by cloud later in the day.

It is possible to get snowfall at this time of year and if it does snow it is likely to settle at a relatively low altitude and could stay on the frozen ground for a long time. However, over the last few years there have been dry winters in the Himalayas so has been a great time to trek.

Summer season
For most of the Himalayas this is not a good time to visit due to the heavy rains associated with the monsoon. The timing and severity of the monsoon depends year on year, normally the rains start in July and carry on through to early September. The heavy rain causes landslides on many trekking routes, avalanches on the high peaks and lower down there is likely to be leeches.

However, there are a few areas located in the Trans Himalaya which are in the rain shadow of the main himalayan range. In Nepal, it is possible to trek in Upper Mustang; in India Ladakh and in Pakistan Baltistan and K2.

Winter season
For most people it is too cold to trek at this time of year although it is definitely still possible if you are well prepared. There is a trek called Zanskar river trek (Chadar) in Ladakh that is only possible at this time of year! During the winter the Zanskar region of Ladakh is cut off from the outside world and can only be visited in by following the old trade route across the frozen Zanskar river.

Good luck on K2!

This summer Mike Farris is leading a private expedition to climb K2 via the Abruzzi spur. Mike is a Mountain Company trek leader along with another member of the team, Paul Walters. Paul was on expedition with Roland to Kanchenjunga (2003) and Broad Peak (2004). Mike was also climbing on Broad Peak in 2004.

The expedition has recently arrived in Pakistan and will be starting their trek to K2 Base Camp shortly. They plan to send back regular updates, you can follow their progress at The Altitude Experience blog. If their expedition is still at Base Camp in August then Roland's K2 & Gondogoro La trek will no doubt drop in a for a cuppa!

After Mike's return from this K2 expedition he will be heading back to the Himalayas in October to lead The Mountain Company's Manaslu Circuit trek, for further information

Good luck guys and climb safely!

Our new blog!

Welcome to the new Mountain Company blog! We intend to use this to post updates from our travels and communicate anything else that might be of interest to you. We also plan to use it is a forum to answer some frequently asked questions about trekking and travelling and hopefully over time this will become a useful resource people planning on visiting these areas.

There is already lots of general information on trekking in the Himalayas, Karakoram and Kilimanjaro published on our website at http://www.themountaincompany.co.uk/


“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” Michael Palin

The Mountain Company