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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Photos and trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit led by Jhire Rai in November 2011

We had five members signed up for Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in November 2011. As our minimum group size for a western led trek is six people we decided to ran this group with Jhire Rai as Nepalese Sirdar.

For two members of this group, Neil and Roger, this was their third trek with The Mountain Company as they had also trekked Manaslu Circuit in October 2007 and again with Jhire on Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2009. We are very grateful to get repeat bookings from people and really appreciate their loyalty in coming back for another trek, at least it shows we are doing something right! I would like to thank Neil very much for allowing us to use his beautiful photos of his trek around Kanchenjunga on TMC blog and website.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on November 2nd and on 3rd flew to Bhadrapur in east Nepal. Normally for Kanchenjunga Circuit one flies to Biratnagar and then onto Suketar however this year the mountain airstrip at Suketar is being reconstructed so instead the group had to fly to Bhadrapur then had a long bus ride to Taplejung (near Suketar). I gather Suketar airstrip should be open by Spring 2012 trekking season.

This November the weather was rather unsettled in Nepal as my group had experienced on Mera Peak, I gather our Kanchenjunga Circuit group had some days with rain in the afternoon for first week. Higher up above Ghunsa the mornings were clear and fine then by afternoon some clouds would bubble up. However overall the conditions were pretty good and this group were lucky to get superb views of both north and south face of Mount Kanchenjunga.

I met our Kanchenjunga Circuit group on their return to Kathmandu after the trek at end of November, we went for a meal together at K Too steakhouse to hear more about how the trek went for them. The feedback I received was overall they had a very good trek and enjoyed the wide variety of landscape and seeing the culture of the villages they passed along the way. Compared to Neil and Roger's two previous treks with us (Manaslu Circuit and Dhaulagiri Circuit) they found Kanchenjunga Circuit physically more demanding with longer walking days and also thought that the trail was rougher in places. In fact some of the paths had been damaged by the earthquake that hit this area in mid September however these were passable with some extra care and attention!

I have uploaded several of Neil's photographs below to give you an idea of the landscape and scenery of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek.

Photo: terraced fields near Chirwa

Photo: Local woman at water tap

Photo: Jhire Rai (Sirdar) with school children

Photo: Lhonak camp

Photo: walking near Lhonak

Photo: glacier near Pangpema

Photo; north face of Mount Kanchenjunga

Photo: TMC group at Oktang

Photo: south face of Mount Kanchenjunga

Photo: Ramche camp with Mount Jannu left

Photo: farmhouses near Yamphudin village

Photo: farmhouse

Photo: looking south to middle hills

I would like to thank the trek crew for looking after everyone so well on our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek especially thanks to Sirdar Jhire Rai and Sherpa guide Prem as well as Sangram their cook.

The Mountain Company is planning to organise Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in November 2012 and 2013 so please get in touch with us if you are interested in joining one of these groups.

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit (Nepal) led by Dom Rudd in October 2011

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2011 was the fifth time The Mountain Company had organised this trek, I led our first one in May 2008 then Gary Pfisterer led in October 2009, myself again in October 2010 and followed by Lee Farmer in April 2011. This time the leader for our Dhaulagiri Circuit group was Dom Rudd (International Mountain Leader) for more information on his background and experience.

The advantage of having organised this trek several times before is that we have developed cumulative experience and knowledge that our new leaders can tap into. They will have access to all previous trip reports sent to us by each leader after completion of the trek as well as the detailed Trek Leader’s notes written by us with information for each day such as timings, points of interest and any risks to be aware of along the way. Please click here to view all of our Dhaulagiri Circuit trip reports published on TMC blog.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 8th, from our experience running this trek it is best to start after the first week of October to allow time for monsoon to wind down as Myagdi Valley is particularly wet place due to its north-south orientation. Clouds travel up from the south on plains of India and then at end of valley are blocked and forced to rise by Dhaulagiri resulting in high levels of precipitation. This timing worked well as on this trek there was very little rain during this trek as they approached Italian Base Camp.

Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri 7th highest in world at 8,167m

Our acclimatisation schedule for Dhaulagiri Circuit is conservative with two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m, two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m and two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. This itinerary worked well for the group and felt well acclimatised to safely cross French Pass into Hidden Valley. Some snow fell at Dhaulagiri Base Camp during evening of October 20th however the day for walking to Hidden Valley on 22nd dawned clear, crisp and cold. Dom was up early this morning to check the weather and conditions and made the decision to proceed as planned.

There was fresh snow on the trail slowing progress although the weather was good with bright sunshine and the view from the approach to French Pass back to Dhaulagiri was spectacular. Just after crossing French Pass the cloud rolled in and wind picked up causing snow to drift across the path filling footprints with soft windblown snow. The first group arrived to camp in Hidden Valley at 4pm and second group only 40 minutes behind, everyone was glad to see that camp was set up with all tents erected and a cup of tea served shortly after their arrival!

Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary has two nights in Hidden Valley whereas most other operators only have one night here as they are not properly acclimatised so need to get down in altitude as soon as possible. Feedback from most people in our groups is that they like having a spare day in Hidden Valley as is one of the highlights of this trek. This is not only so that they can they have a well-deserved lie in after a long day crossing French Pass and wait for the sun to warm up before having breakfast but also give them a chance to explore and enjoy this beautiful valley. Some of the group attended an ecole de glace organised by Dom showing them the basic techniques for using crampons and ice axe for self arrest.

Everyone enjoyed their rest day in Hidden Valley and felt rested for the final leg of the trek crossing Dhampus Pass and descending into Kali Gandaki Valley. On October 24th the group left camp at 7.40am on a very cold morning, it took the group two hours to reach the summit of Dhampus walking on snow in good condition with no ice. There was very little snow coming down from the pass and then everyone made good progress on the snowy traverse taking four hours before making the descent to Yak Kharka and down to Alu Bari camp. This year crampons were not required for this day’s walk from Hidden Valley however it is essential to bring in day pack as sometimes there are sections of ice. In fact the traverse tends to be icier in May as our groups have always needed to use crampons at this time of year whereas in October it is usually fine without crampons. This group made good time with last members arrived to Alu Bari at 3.15pm.

On the next day the walk down to Marpha village was spectacular and on arrival the group visited the monastery and after a glass of apple juice continued to Jomsom. After handing out tips to the crew the group had a special dinner of fresh chicken, roasted potatoes and a tasty cake cooked by Saila to celebrate the end of the trek. The next day the flight to Pokhara flew on schedule at 9.15am with spectacular views over to Dhaulagiri and down the Kali Gandaki gorge, then on arrival to Pokhara the group flew back to Kathmandu.

Photo: Chonbarden gorge

The group had a final dinner at Kilroy’s restaurant in Kathmandu and by chance I was around as just got back from my Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan so I came along too, it was great to meet everyone and hear how the trek went and get feedback from the group.

I would like to thank Dom for doing a superb job leading this group. The local crew worked hard throughout this challenging trek so thanks to Lhakpa Rita Sherpa (Sirdar), Saila Tamang (cook) and Sherpas: Prem, Sangram and Sonam as well as of course all of the porters.

The Mountain Company is organising two Dhaulagiri Circuit treks in 2012, the first one in April will be led by Jill Lawson and second trek will be in October. Please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Photos and trip report for recce trek to Mardi Himal Ridge (Nepal)

In December I went for a short trek along Mardi Himal ridge as I heard that recently new lodges had been built now making it possible to do this as a teahouse trek rather than camping. I started walking from Phedi a short taxi ride from Pokhara and then walked up to Dhampus following the standard Annapurna Sanctuary trail up to Pitam Deurali where one turns off this main trail to Mardi Himal.

Photo: Mardi Himal map from ACAP

Photo: Dhampus village with Mount Machhapuchhre behind

Photo: sign for Forest Camp (Kokar)

Photo: trail in forest

From Pitam Deurali the trail continues through forest and is very quiet compared to the busier trail from Phedi in fact I only saw one other trekker during the whole of my time on Mardi Himal. At Forest Camp (2,600m) there are three small lodges I stayed in one near the camping ground. The rooms are quite basic and there is no dining room so I had my meals in kitchen, so in some ways this is more like a homestay and very enjoyable to get to know this friendly family from Siding village.

Photo: lodges at Forest Camp

Photo: Mardi Himal ridge

Photo: sign for Low Camp (Humal)

Photo: Danphe pheasant in cloud

From Forest Camp to Low Camp the trail continues through the forest and at Low Camp there are two basic lodges one with a basic dining room with open fire. The view from Low Camp is superb with Mount Machhapuchhre visible up the valley. An hour or so above Low Camp along trail to High Camp one breaks out above tree line and towards the west there is a good view to Annapurna South and Hiunchuli. The trail continues along the Mardi Himal ridge mainly on grass with some isolated rhododendron bushes along the way. Look out for colourful Danphe pheasant on this section of the trek.

Photo: lodge at High Camp

The lodge at High Camp is larger than lodges at Low Camp and Forest Camp, this one has eight rooms and a separate dining room with heater. The view from the lodge is superb to Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail). My plan for next day was to get up early for sunrise view of the mountains then walk up the ridge towards Mardi Himal.

Photo: dining room with heater at High Camp

The following morning was cold and clear with a heavy frost on the ground and after a quick breakfast I started walking up the ridge. There is a reasonably well established trail through the grass with a few steeper sections however overall not too challenging. Look out for the dzos (yak/ cow crossbreds) grazing up here as well as many more Danphe pheasant. In the summer the sheep and goats from lower villages are brought up to graze I passed a number of herders huts along the way however at this time of year unused as too cold.

Photo: view of Mount Machhapuchhre

Photo: view of Annapurna South and Hiunchuli

Photo: Mardi Himal ridge

Photo: Mount Machhapuchhre

After three hours I reached Upper View point at 4,200m this is where one can look into the Annapurna Sanctuary unfortunately at this stage the clouds rolled in so I decided not to proceed any further to Mardi Himal Base Camp as it was getting quite cold. From speaking to the lodge owner at High Camp he told me Base Camp was a further hour or so along the ridge from Upper View point therefore it should be possible to do this in a day trip however a long day and no doubt you would feel the effects of altitude at Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4,400m.

Photo: Upper view point at 4,200m

Photo: view into Annapurna Sanctuary

On the way back down I decided to go take the trail down to Siding Village rather than follow Mardi Himal ridge back to Pitam Deurali, this is a better option for a circuit trek and so that you can see these traditional villages in Mardi Himal valley. The owner of lodge at Low Camp has a homestay in Siding so I stayed there for the night. This was very enjoyable as the couple speak good English and interesting to see village life and talk with the family. The owners have a buffalo behind their house so at breakfast I had fresh milk which was very tasty!

Photo: homestay in Siding village

Photo: buffalo at homestay

From Siding I walked out to the road head at Lumre, on the way from Siding I passed the villages of Kalimati and Ghalel. I gather Kalimati is mainly a Brahmin village with Ghalel and Siding mixed Brahmin and Gurung. From Lumre there is a shared jeep departing ever hour or so however this is a very crowded so better to organise a jeep from Pokhara in advance.

Photo: children walking to school from Kalimati village

Photo: farmhouse near Kalimati village

Overall I enjoyed this trek and in some ways this is similar to Kopra Ridge, both of these treks would be a good choice if you are looking for a short trip away from the busy trails of Annapurna Sanctuary however still getting superb mountain views. Mardi Himal trek has a good variety of scenery from forest lower down on the ridge to grassy slopes higher up with views of the big mountains followed by visiting several traditional villages on the walk out.

The Mountain Company plans to start organising treks on Mardi Himal Ridge from Spring 2012, shortly we will have a trek webpage set up for Mardi Himal with Trip Dossier on our website however in the meantime please get in touch if you are interested in joining this trek.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Trip report for recce trek to Kopra Ridge (Nepal) using community lodges

By chance when I was leading our Mera Peak Expedition in November I met Mick Chapman at Khare, in fact we also nearly met in Spring as he was also leading a group on Makalu Base Camp to Everest only a few days behind my group. Over a cup of tea in Khare Mick asked what my plans were after Mera Peak and I replied was interested in having a look at some community lodges in the Annapurna I had vaguely heard about. Mick quickly explained that he had helped set up these community lodges so I was speaking to the right person!

The concept behind the community lodges is the ownership of each lodge belongs to a village rather than individuals with profits contributing to community projects such as funding local schools. This pioneering project was started by Mahabir Pun a social worker from this area as well as Nima Lama and Mick Chapman from UK. Funds to build these lodges were raised by local villages, donations from businesses in Kathmandu and friends of Nepal from overseas. A training program has been provided to the local villagers who run each lodge covering food preparation and lodge management.

In Kathmandu earlier this year I met several people who had recently done Kopra Ridge trek and after seeing their photos I decided this was a trek I would like to do. From these photos and hearing about Kopra Ridge I had no doubt our clients at The Mountain Company would be interested in walking this trail in the future. The mountain views from Kopra Ridge include Mount Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Fang and Nilgiri and also from Ghandruk one can see Mount Machhapuchhre (also known as Fishtail) and Mount Hiunchuli. I heard that the best part of the Kopra Ridge trek experience is how quiet the trail is with few other trekkers around as this network of community lodges is quite new (completed March '09) so at least for the moment it is not very well known.

Photo: Ghandruk village

Photo: traditional house in Ghandruk

After my Mera Peak group left Kathmandu I took the bus to Pokhara and on November 29th took a taxi to Nayapool to reach the roadhead. On my first day I followed Modi Khola river and walked up to Ghandruk village (2,012m). Ghandruk is a mountain village inhabited mainly by the ethnic caste of Gurungs, this village is famous for being a major recruiting source of Ghurka soldiers for both British and Indian army. There are several Victoria Cross holders still living here. Most of the houses are of traditional design however there are now a few newer concrete buildings being constructed these days. There are fine views of Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchhre and Hiunchuli from the village.

Photo: Common Langur monkey near Tadapani

The next day I walked for three hours or so to Tadapani following the main trail although at the junction I turned off and took the quieter trail to Kopra Ridge rather than continuing to Ghorepani. In fact as soon as we left Tadapani, Tekar my guide pointed out a Common Langur monkey swinging in the trees and then shortly after leopard pugmark and scraping. This section is a lovely walk through rhododendron and oak forest and follows a trail originally used by villagers from Ghandruk to take their buffaloes, sheep and goats to the higher pastures in the summer months.

Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri from Bayeli Community lodge

The trail starts to ascend above the tree line and follows a ridge to Deurali (small pass) and then continues up to Bayeli Kharka (3,420m) where the first community lodge is located. From the lodge the view to west is dominated by Mount Dhaulagiri and at 8,167m is the seventh highest mountain in the world. Several places along the way we saw the colourful Danphe pheasant the national bird of Nepal.

Photo: dzo near Kopra Community lodge

In the morning I walked a short way above the lodge for sunrise, this was well worth doing to see the colours change on the south west face of Dhaulagiri and then back to the lodge for a cup of tea before having breakfast. Shortly after leaving the lodge we saw a Himalayan tahr standing high up on the grassy ridge above us looking down as we walked by. This section of the trail is on a grassy slope and traverses through pasture with a number of herders huts and near Kopra lodge we saw a herd of dzo (crossbred cow and yak).

On approaching Kopra Ridge one sees the tip of Annapurna South however it is only on arrival at Kopra Community lodge the full panorama is revealed: Mount Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Fang and Annapurna South can all be seen from the lodge. After lunch we went for a short walk down Kopra Ridge to a viewpoint overlooking Kali Gandaki river far below in this deep valley.

Photo: view of Dhaulagiri from Kopra Ridge

Photo: view of Annapurna South from Kopra Ridge

Photo: sunrise view of Dhaulagiri and Kopra Community lodge

The plan for next day was to walk to Ghorepani, after an hour of descent we reached Upper Chistibung community lodge and after a cup of tea we carried on down to Swanta village for lunch. Along the way we got more great views of Dhaulagiri with this mountain providing a lovely backdrop to the terraced fields and traditional houses in the nearby villages. At Swanta village we had lunch at the Swanta Community lodge and then visited Swanta Primary school. There are two teachers in this school funded by the profits from community lodges. In the afternoon after an hour or so walking we joined the main trail to Ghorepani where there are of course far more others trekkers making one appreciate the quieter days walking on Kopra Ridge.

Photo: Upper Chistibung Community lodge

Photo: dining room at Upper Chistibung Community lodge

Photo: Mount Dhaulgiri and Swanta village

Photo: Swanta Community lodge

Photo: Swanta Primary School

After having now walked the Kopra Ridge there is no doubt in my mind this is one of the best short treks in Nepal. This trek contains all of the elements of a classic Nepal trekking experience including villages, wildlife, panoramic mountain views and range of landscape from forest to high alpine. And of course at the same time you are contributing to the local community and supporting the various projects funded by profits from these community lodges.

The Mountain Company plans to start organising treks on Kopra Ridge from Spring 2012, shortly we will have a trek webpage set up for Kopra Ridge with Trip Dossier on our website however in the meantime please get in touch if you are interested in joining this trek.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Selected photos of Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan (September 2011)

I have added below a selection of photos from The Mountain Company's 2011 Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan:

Photo: Taktsang (Tiger's nest) monastery near Paro

Photo: Mount Chomolhari

Photo: Mount Jitchu Drake

Photo: herd of blue sheep

Photo: approach to Ngele La

Photo: Lingshi camp

Photo: Lingshi dzong (damaged from recent earthquake)

Photo: camp below Tiger mountain

Photo: Laya village

Photo: women dancing in Laya village

Photo: view from Karchung La (entry into Lunana)

Photo: summit of Karchung La at 5.240m

Photo: valley near Tarina

Photo: lake near Kesha La

Photo: camp near Lhedi village

Photo: view of Lunana valley

Photo: farmhouse in Thanza village

Photo: wall paintings in Thanza

Photo: cordyceps sinesis (caterpillar fungus)

Photo: Lunap woman

Photo: camp near Tshorim lake

Photo: yaks near Tshorim lake

Photo: valley near Gwechewoma

Photo: view from Phorang La to Mischugang camp

Photo: Worithang camp

Photo: yaks carrying our gear

Photo: forest and waterfally near Dur Tsachu

Photo: our wonderful crew at the end of the trek

The Mountain Company