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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Trip report for Mera Peak (Nepal) led by Roland Hunter in November 2012

Photo: Chris on Mera Peak summit!
This year is the seventh expedition I have led to Mera Peak since 2005 and as ever I was looking forward to this trip to the highest trekking peak in Nepal with I think one of the best views anywhere in Himalaya. I was hoping the weather would be better than last year's Mera Peak trip [see TMC Mera Peak 2011 Trip Report] and luckily this year we had stable and settled weather throughout the expedition. This is the normal weather conditions expected in Nepal during November when usually a blocking high pressure sits over the Himalaya resulting in sunny conditions. Whereas last year's weather was rather unusual as a cyclonic system drifted into the Himalaya causing a lot of rain and cloudy weather.

There were thirteen people in our Mera Peak group from a number of countries UK, USA, Canada, UK and Ireland including three repeat trekkers who joined our Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan last year.  I led this trip along with Sirdar Domi Sherpa and climbing sherpas Karna Tamang (double Everest summiteer), Sonam and Dorje. We had our regular cook, Saila Tamang, and his amazing kitchen crew along with us, as ever we were given very tasty food throughout. The meal in Khare Base Camp of pizza and apple pie was particularly memorable and certainly went down very well with the group before heading up the mountain for the summit push. There is certainly alot of truth in the saying that an army marches on its stomach…

Photo: Sirdar Domi Sherpa and climbing Sherpa Karna Tamang
We flew to Lukla on November 5th arriving around 10.30am and after a cup of tea in Numbur Lodge we started trekking to Puiyan village where we spent our first night. Everyone enjoyed the walk in to Mera Peak via Pangom village to Nashing Dingma, Chalem Kharka, Chunbu Kharka. The big change I noticed compared to two years ago (we did not pass this way last year due to poor weather as we walked from Shibuche village direct to Kote on east side of Hinku river) was the improvement in trail from Chunbu Kharka to Kote. This trail has been widened and constructed so is now far easier to follow for the group and crew, it is good to see that proceeds from our permit to enter Makalu Barun National Park are being well invested in upgrading the trails.

On November 12th we walked up to Tagnag at 4,350m and as usual the group enjoyed this day as for first time one feels approaching the mountains close up rather than getting more distant views like earlier from Pangom La. The views of Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru on this section of the trail are superb. It was good to be back in Tagnag and as usual we stayed at Mera Peak Guesthouse owned by the friendly and hospitable Lhakpa Gyalgen Sherpa and his wife Pema. I have got to know Lhakpa over the years so it was good to see him again and catch up. He has made some improvements to his lodge by extending the dining room so I certainly think this is best place to stay in Tagnag.

As per our itinerary we have a spare summit day and after discussion with the group we decided to use this by having an extra night in Tagnag so we stayed here for three nights, from experience this is well worth doing as aids acclimatisation and really helps people higher up on the mountain (whereas most other groups spend only one or two nights in Tagnag). On November 13th we went for a day walk up the grassy ridge behind Tagnag where we reached a high point of 5,100m, this is great for acclimatising following the rule of “climb high, sleep low”.

On next day 14th we had a training day where we showed people how to ascend and descend multiple anchor fixed ropes using jumars and abseil/ rappel devices which is a skill required for the steeper last section to climb to Central summit of Mera Peak. In the evening we had a visit from a group of villagers from lower down the valley celebrating the festival of Tihar [for more information on Tihar], after giving kata scarves to the group they started dancing to celebrate the festival and encouraged us to join them.

On 15th we trekked up to Khare Base Camp and then on 16th we walked up to glacier for more training on using crampons and ice axe.  This year the conditions were dryer with the snowline much higher than usual, last year we did our mountaineering training above the teashop at 5,200m (now abandoned) whereas this year we had to walk up to below the glacier.

While we were on our way to this point we heard the dreaded sound of rockfall and luckily we were far enough away not to be directly affected however we saw a lot of rock fall down onto the standard glacial route to Mera La just above Japanese Camp (see photo below). On closer inspection I noticed this section of glacier was covered in rock debris so there must have been a large rockfall event since last year that has destabilised the whole ridge above. I decided it would not be safe to follow the old route so myself and the Sherpas had a discussion and it quickly became apparent the only safe option was the route below Japanese camp onto the glacier that leads directly to the Mera La.

Photo: previous standard route to Mera La with high risk of rockfall
While the group did their mountaineering training with Domi I headed off with the climbing Sherpas to take a look at this new route, I had noticed in previous years there were some tracks on this glacier however I had never seen or heard of any groups using this way in the past so I was not sure if was viable. From Japanese Camp there is a 150m descent on loose scree and rock to the glacier and then a moderate angled snow slope to Mera La.

This route is objectively quite safe as the route keeps to left side of the glacier avoiding the crevasses so I am not really sure why has not been used in the past. I am pretty certain this will now be the new standard route on Mera Peak and there is no doubt we will send TMC groups this way in the future. It is worth pointing out that it is essential for all of the trek crew including porters to have crampons on this section of the glacier because if they slipped there are several large crevasses located below the trail.

Photo: new route to Mera La (much safer)
Photo: close up of new route
It was great to meet several alpinists along the way, in Tagnag we met two Japanese climbers who had just climbed a route on Kyashar, I have just tried to google their names to find out more information about their climb however unfortunately could not find anything in english so could not provide any further details. In Khare Base Camp I met British climbers Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman who had just come back from Chamlang, please take a look at their blogs for more information- Nick's blog and Andy's blog

On the next day the group and crew walked up to Mera La without any issues using the new route although this section was very hot being on a sunny day however once on Mera La it was nice to get some breeze and it felt much cooler. After a night at Mera La we walked up to High Camp in good time and when up there everyone was feeling excited for the summit attempt staring in early hours of the morning.

Photo: Crispin and Roland at Mera La (Mt Chamlang to left)
For the summit push we left High Camp at 2am on a clear starry and very beautiful night, it was quite windy and cold which are pretty normal conditions on Mera Peak and the three rope groups made steady progress upwards. Soon after leaving High Camp I was quite surprised about the number of open crevasses this year with the trail winding around them. Then about half up the “whale back” feature there is now a large crevasse splitting this slope which is new compared to last year although can be crossed by a reasonable looking snow bridge. Although if this crevasses opens up further it might be necessary in the future to use ladders to cross over, lets wait to see what it looks like next year...

Photo: Domi's rope group on summit day
After this large crevasse one approaches a section of the slope exposed to the wind where we were buffeted by strong gusts. By this point two rope groups had moved ahead making good progress towards the summit (we had arranged in advance for Domi and Karna to leader these faster groups) and in the end everyone successfully climbed to Central summit of Mera Peak. At this point I dropped back to assist the slower rope group who made steady progress and reached the Col below the Central summit- due to the time and high winds we decided to make this their high point for the day. The views throughout our summit day were sensational and the skies were completely clear apart from the chateracteristic plume coming off Everest summit and sometimes a lenticular cloud off Makalu.

Photo: Kiwi Andy climbing the ropes to the summit of Mera Peak
Congratulations to this group with everyone making high camp at 5,800m thereby setting their own altitude records and nine of us went on to summit Mera Peak.

I would like to thank our Nepali trek crew who as ever did a great job from our Sirdar Domi down to all the porters who worked hard throughout the trek, and of course thanks to Saila and his team for the excellent food.

I have copied below several testimonials from the group with their feedback and comments on their experiences:

"I have been on three treks with the Mountain Company in the last four years, including the “Snowman” in Bhutan in 2011, and Mera Peak in 2012. These last two trips were also done with Roland as the trip leader.

As a leader, Roland is extremely well organized, and tireless in his day to day management. I have seen Roland deal with several difficult situations, and even more difficult people. I have been impressed by his enthusiasm, and have never seen him raise his voice, or even speak badly of someone.

His enthusiasm is probably his only significant flaw. Mere mortals need to have him be clear about what he means by a “rest day”. Truthfully, I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another Mountain Company trip, and have great faith in Roland himself." Dan Gray (Canada)


"If you are considering a first time mountaineering expedition to Mera Peak, there is no better company to help you reach your goal than Roland Hunter and his Mountain Company. From start to finish, the entire trip ran flawlessly, thanks to Roland's enthusiasm, professionalism and attention to every detail, no matter how personal or seemingly intricate.

I have trekked in Asia for several decades now, and I can attest to the fact that Roland Hunter's Mountain Company is the most professional and capable among all others - and that includes trekking companies twice the size. Roland truly cares about your personal well-being and your dreams of summiting, while taking your capabilities and yes, limitations, into consideration. I have never received such personal attention from an expedition leader, and always with gentle encouragement, ability to listen, accommodate, compromise and also making sure that all trip members are safe, happy and moving toward their intended goal.

Roland is a master of motivation, a diplomat and a powerhouse climber, all rolled into one kind, funny and patient individual. His leadership and management of the entire team dedicated to helping us participants "get to the top" are simply perfection. If you go, you won't just have a great time - you will experience a real expedition and what mountaineering in Nepal is all about. Thank you Roland - you and your amazing dream team made ascending Mera Peak into a beautiful reality" Christine Milrod (USA)

In 2013 we are planning on organising two expeditions to climb Mera Peak, first one in April and second trip in November led by Chris Horobin. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Trip Report for Lunana Snowman (Bhutan) led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2012

Photo: Mount Jitchu Drake

This is the fourth time The Mountain Company has successfully organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. This year we had twelve trekkers signed up and like last year this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Italy and Germany. Our 2012 Snowman group was led by Almas Khan who is originally from India now living with his wife in Tasmania, Australia; Almas knows Bhutan very well and in particularly Lunana region having led groups here many times over the past 13 years.

Photo: steam near Dur Taschu
Overall our Snowman 2012 trek went very well with far better weather than our 2011 Snowman trek. This year the monsoon wound down ending early so when group arrived to Paro on September 24th they experienced sunny weather including their morning walk to Taktsang (Tiger’s Next) monastery plus on first days of trek which are often rainy and rather muddy at this time of year.  After 10 days walking the group arrived to Laya on schedule where they met up with our Sirdar Dawa’s wife who had come in from Punakha with ponies for the resupply of food and provisions as planned.

Photo: view from Saga La
On October 9th and 10th once the group had crossed the Karchung La pass into Lunana there was some rain during the day and night. When the group arrived to Thanza village it became clear that our yaks from Bumthang had not yet arrived and the news was they were unable to cross Gophu La into Lunana due to snow blocking this pass. However Almas spoke to our Laya horseman about the possibility of them continuing the trek with their animals and after some discussions agreed to continue as long as we provided road transport for their animals back from Bumthang to Punakha for walk into Laya.

Photo: Yak herder's camp
Almas decided to forsake the rest day in Thanza and to continue next day onto Danje campsite, this was certainly a good call to keep the group moving and to ensure the Laya horseman did not change their minds about continuing! With the unknown conditions on Karchung La it was wise to keep this extra day in hand in case of any delays however in the end conditions were fine on all passes as the new snow quickly melted off the trail. There were several other smaller groups around in Lunana valley however they all decided to take the shorter exit trail down to Nikka Chu valley rather than the more interesting and beautiful trail out to Bumthang following the “Complete Snowman” trek. Therefore The Mountain Company’s Snowman group was one of few (and possibly only group?) that completed the entire Snowman from Paro to Bumthang in Autumn 2012.

Shortly after Danje campsite there is the turn off trail for Nikka Chu and our group saw a spectacular sight of over 200 yaks making their way out of Lunana, this was the village’s annual shopping trip out of the valley to purchase supplies for the winter.  The walk to Tshorim was on a  sunny day with spectacular views of the fluted mountains surrounding this beautiful lake, this is certainly one of the best campsite locations anywhere in the Himalaya (and a place one misses if takes quick exit via Nikka Chu).

Photo: Tshorim Lake camp
On Day 27 of the trip they arrived to Dur Tsachu where there are hot springs, this is a lovely place where the group and crew can relax and as there was extra days in hand at this stage Almas decided to spend two nights here which was a popular move so everyone had a chance to relax and wash in the hot springs. To use up the second rest day in hand Almas also decided to split the walk to Tsochenen into two days as otherwise this is a very long day crossing two passes Gongto La (4,327m) and Djule La (4,551m).

To get a further feel and understanding how our Snowman trek went I have copied below several testimonials from some members of this group which helps explains their experiences in more detail, we really appreciate receiving positive feedback like this and make all of the hard work getting this trek off the ground well worth while!

“I wanted to write and thank you for a truly spectacular trip on the Snowman Trek. I can honestly say this trek was one of the best organised, most efficient, well thought out treks that I have been on. Every staff member spoke very highly of your company, as did the guides and the many repeat guests for the Mountain Company that I met on the trek.

Almas is a fantastic team leader - I would follow him anywhere he went - he leads with authority, he is fair, hospitable, kind and generous to all, and his knowledge of the mountains and search and rescue means that guests can feel safe with him, no matter where they are. I cannot recommend him highly enough - without a doubt the best team leader that I have met on my treks so far - and I would go so far as to say that I would want him on any trek that I went on.

You must know that each and every one of the Bhutanese crew was a joy to work with. Every single one. Best crew ever. And if you pass messages on to Kinley, then Nima my guide for after the trek is a consummate gentleman and professional and made my trip to Bhutan a magical and enchanted experience.

I wanted to thank you for everything. From the outset, you have been extremely efficient and professional and your company has provided me with a once in a lifetime experience.” Alexis Fosler (Hong Kong)

“Robert and I had an amazing experience in Bhutan and we had the best trekking holiday walking the Snowman Trek. Thanks for all the pre-trip advice and support! We admired The Mountain Company for having the itinerary that includes extra days for acclimatisation rather than others who are more concern about commerce gained.

Special thanks to Almas! Almas is the best trek leader and we will travel anywhere with him. He shown great leadership and planning skills and ensured that horses, staffs and trekkers were all well cared for during the trek. He has great experience of this trek, he planned and modified the daily plan according to weather condition and to ensure that the group had enough time in the beautiful places/pass.

The trek was well organised, I can see that The Mountain Company has great experience in this trek and has planned and tested the daily routines to the highest level. We were well cared for - from setting up camp, food to having a shower! All trekkers in our group had commented that this is the best-organised trek and the best food trek.

We like to thank Tashi Snr, Dawa and Tanzin (and our drivers)! They are excellent in what they do! Thanks to everyone who is working behind the scene to make this a great trip. Looking forward to trek with The Mountain Company and hearing from you.” Robert and Cindy Sim (Australia)

“I would like to acknowledge you and for congratulate for the excellency of the services received.  Also your pre departure e-mails before departure had been valuable indeed. In my more than 15 years experience in trekking, this is the first time that everything in the organisation was perfect and really well managed. Even more than my best expectations! Almas was a great leader and he cared of everything carefully. He solved very well also the problem of the not-coming yaks caravan in Tanza! 

The Snowman trek was in my dreams since years, the Group was one the very few that successfully crossed every Pass this year. The weather had been good and better than the previous year, so the mountain views were extraordinary.

Also the bus journey of the last few days was very well managed and enabled me to enjoy many spots of Cultural Bhutan. I especially appreciated the most high Camps, the high Passes, the organisation (that in my opinion was perfect); at the end also the Swiss Guest house and the Cultural Bhutan. To be mentioned, also the Group of people never met before has been a nice surprise: everyone was  really enjoyable! 

So the choice to choose "The Mountain Company" proved to be a great one, to be continued in the future... thank you a lot again, Mr. Roland and I wish for you a very nice trip in Nepal.!" Marco Morello (Italy)

As ever I would like to thank very much everyone involved in organising this trek from Kinley and Wangmo in the office in Thimphu; the trek crew including Dawa (Sirdar), Tenzing (cook), Tashi Wangdi (senior trekking guide) and of course Almas for doing a great job leading this group!

The Mountain Company is organising Lunana Snowman again in 2013 and this group will be led by Paul Burditt (leader of our successful Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2012), we already have quite a lot of interest so if you are considering joining this trek please get in touch soon.

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit (Nepal) led by Paul Burditt in October 2012

Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp

Our October Dhaulagiri Circuit group arrived back to Kathmandu last week after a successful trek around Mount Dhaulagiri where they crossed both French and Dhampus passes out to Jomsom in Kali Gandaki valley. The western leader for this trek was Paul Burditt who worked with Nepalese sirdar Jire Rai who has done this trek seven times so knows the route pretty well by now! The cook was Saila Rai who is our regular for camping treks as we always get great feedback on his food, luckily Saila is also coming as cook on my Mera Peak Expedition starting later this week....

I met up with this Dhaulagiri Circuit group on their return to Kathmandu at the ever popular K Too steakhouse where after much discussion we concluded these are definitely the best steaks in town! I also heard about the trek and obtain their feedback, it sounds like everyone had an enjoyable time with good weather and superb views from the days crossing the high passes. This year the coldest camp was at Glacier Camp where there was some snow on the ground however as explained in our Trip Dossier it is essential to stay here for at least one night (better two nights) in order to help the acclimatisation process. It seems other groups are still ascending too fast up to main Dhaulagiri Base Camp and others are camping at Swiss Camp in the Chonbarden gorge, this is incredibly dangerous place to stay as there is a high risk of rockfall (whereas once you get to Glacier camp this is a wider valley so rockfall would not affect the camp).

From what I heard the highlights of the trip was as usual the spectacular day crossing Dhampus Pass and in fact this group made really good time arriving to Yak Kharka camp by mid-afternoon. I gather one of the other highlights was watching Paul dance in Boghara at a culture show put on by the locals…if anyone in the group has any video or photos please email to me, thanks!!  In the end the group decided to spend one night in Hidden Valley and cross Dhampus Pass a day early then spent the extra day in the beautiful village of Marpha. There were rumours that one member of the group still felt energetic on this rest day and walked back up the hill to Yak Kharka, this is a 1,000m ascent! Whereas the others in the group had a somewhat more gentle day walking around the village then visited the Tibetan monastery followed by sampling the locally made apple brandy. Then on the next day the group walked short distance to Jomsom where I gather Paul organised a honeymoon suite in lodge for Simon and Vicky recently married- what a great trip for a honeymoon!!

Unfortunately on October 24th when this group planned to fly back from Jomsom to Pokhara and onto Kathmandu their flights were cancelled due to high winds at the airport so the decision was made to drive down Kali Gandaki  valley back to Beni. As this was during Dashain festival there were not many buses and many people wanting to travel so after changing from jeeps to an overcrowded bus everyone felt it would be better (and safer) to walk in the end they got to Tatopani (hot springs) that evening. A jeep was organised to pick them up early next morning for the drive to Beni where on arrival they took our crew bus to Pokhara and luckily managed to get flights in the afternoon back to Kathmandu.

There is no doubt this was a challenging end to the trip especially tough after a long trek when I am sure everyone was looking forward to spending some time in Kathmandu. However from what I heard everyone accepted the change in itinerary in good spirits so thanks you to everyone's patience and understanding and after all this is adventure travel in a developing country so flexibility and sense of humour is a must in these situations! This is of course the reason we include two nights in Kathmandu at the end of this itinerary to act as a buffer day in case of any delays so reduce the risk of people missing their flights back home.

I would like to thank Paul very much for his help in leading this trek especially with the challenges as explained above with organising the group's transport down Kali Gandaki after their flight was cancelled from Jomsom.  And of course a huge thanks to Jire and Saila plus the Sherpas and rest of the crew who worked incredibly hard throughout the trek.

The Mountain Company is organising two Dhaulagiri Circuit treks in 2013, our first departure is in April with second departure in October,  please get in touch with us soon if you are interested in joining one of these treks.

Roland Hunter

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Trip Report for K2 & Gondogoro La led by Chris Horobin in August '12

Photo: K2 and Broad Peak from Concordia

Our K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro la group flew back home last weekend after a successful trip led by Chris Horobin and our local Pakistan guide Hassan. From speaking to Chris on the phone on his return to UK it sounds like the trip went well and his group were lucky to fly both ways Islamabad to Skardu at start of the trip and back again to Islamabad after the trek rather than tackle the two day bus ride on Karakoram Highway (KKH). In fact there was a sad incident on KKH while our group were on trek where twenty five Shia muslims were killed in a sectarian attack, for more information take a look at BBC website. While this incident was not directly targeting foreigners it raised the overall risk levels of driving KKH so we pushed PIA hard to get our group to fly back to Islamabad.

As the group flew to Skardu at start of the trip on August 5th they had two nights staying at K2 Motel before starting the trek so everyone had some time to explore Skardu as well as relax in the gardens of the hotel overlooking Indus river. After an exciting (!) jeep ride to Askole the group were ready to start walking. I gather the weather for most of the trek was sunny and fine apart from one cloudy day on arrival to Concordia however the day to K2 Base Camp was completely clear revealing spectacular views of K2 the second highest mountain in the world. Some of the group decided to make Broad Base Camp their final objective as in fact the best views of K2 are from here and then the rest of the group continued onto K2 Base Camp.

At Concordia one member of the group decided he would prefer to walk back down Baltoro rather than cross Gondogoro la, this was organised for him and by the sounds of it his walk out went well while the rest carried onto Ali Camp. In fact this year the group stayed at Ali Camp 2 located higher than original Ali Camp and has advantages as closer to Gondogoro La and avoids the tricky walk over moraine in early hours when dark. Also Ali Camp 2 is cleaner and less dirty than Ali Camp so we would certainly consider staying here again in future years.

This year there were more groups undertaking K2 trek compared to previous years, this is really encouraging for tourism in Pakistan with more people are travelling to this amazing and hospitable country. However for us it meant there were two other groups crossing Gondogoro La at same time as ours and as a result had to wait for an hour or so at top of pass for other groups to descend and clear the ropes. There is a high risk of rockfall while crossing Gondogoro La and this risk increases later in the morning when sun warms the rock face above descent line. This is the reason for leaving Ali Camp in the early hours of morning to cross the pass before frequent rockfall and mudslides are released by the warmer temperatures. In spite of a few close calls our group crossed the pass without incident and reached the lovely campsite at Khuspang, please note a climbing helmet is essential kit to safely cross this pass!!

The feedback I have received from this group is how challenging they found the crossing of Gondogoro La and for most people trickier than they expected. I am well aware of how tough crossing of Gondogoro La can be as I have taken our groups over four times in the past (2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010). There is no doubt the risk of rockfall was increased this year due to their wait at top of the pass however even if one starts descent of ropes at first light around 5.30am there will always be some rock falling down onto the descent route. In fact what many people do not realise beforehand is that probably the trickiest part of the descent is after the ropes have finished as there is a very vague trail over loose rock and moraine with several gulleys to cross before descending to glacier level where there is proper trail to follow down to the campsite at Khuspang.

The other factor that makes descent of Gondogoro La quite risky is the poor state of the fixed ropes supposedly maintained by the "Hushe Rescue Team". Everyone crossing the pass will pay a toll to this local team and in return they are meant to fix the ascent and descent of Gondogoro La as well as escorting trekkers over and provide assistance if required. The ropes have been damaged by constant rockfall so are in a poor state however I am disappointed that 400m of rope donated by The Mountain Company in previous years has never been used instead probably for sale in Skardu Bazaar? After every trek and expedition in Pakistan the leader attends a debriefing at Alpine Club of Pakistan and each time we at The Mountain Company have discussed the issue surrounding the poor state of fixed ropes however unfortunately there have been no improvements over last few years...in fact we now bring 400m of extra fixed rope to refix sections where required however we do not have time or resources to fix the whole pass for our groups.

After one night in Khuspang the group continued down to Shaisho where they spent two nights as at this point they had one day in hand within their itinerary. On meeting jeeps at Hushe village everyone enjoyed the ride through the villages of this spectacular valley and then stopped for lunch in the newly restored Khaplu Palace operated by Serena Hotels, for more information on this lovely boutique hotelAfter lunch the group continued their jeep ride back to K2 Motel in Skardu then next day as mentioned above they were fortunate in being able to fly back to Islamabad by PIA scheduled flight. Most of the group decided to reschedule their flights to fly home a day earlier however I understand they enjoyed a good meal at the legendary Kabul Restaurant in Jinnah Market before leaving to go their separates ways back to USA, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and UK.

At The Mountain Company we try our best to provide detailed and accurate advice to our trekkers about crossing Gondogoro La on people's initial enquiries and as well as providing tips and advice with the run up to departure. It is worth pointing out that this trek is far more challenging on many levels than the classic treks in Nepal or Bhutan. This starts from uncertainty in terms of itinerary i.e flying or driving KKH to Skardu, lack of security and overall risk level of visiting Pakistan, the lower level of facilities and infrastructure while on trek (for example you are very likely to have to cross rivers as many have no bridges). Also the trail itself is tough especially for first three days on Baltoro Glacier from Paiju to Goro Two with moraine and loose rocks as well as significant amount of ascent and descent on the ice ridges.

Having said this if you are prepared for this trek there is no doubt K2 is simply one of the best treks in the world. If you are considering completing K2 Base Camp and Gondogoro La then at a minimum you should have done one previous high altitude trek in Himalaya or Karakoram, have a high fitness level and preferably have some mountaineering experience (although our western leader will also provide some mountaineering and rope training on the trek itself it is better if this is a refresher/ reminder on techniques). I suggest if you are interested in this trek then you get in touch with us, we will send our Pre Trip questionnaire for you to complete. Then once we receive your replies we will let you know if this trek is a suitable objective for you or we will provide advice on how to increase your fitness and experience level to be in a position to join this trek in the future. Or you could consider walking to Concordia and K2 Base Camp then retracing trail back down to Baltoro avoiding the Gondogoro La pass.

I would like to thank Chris Horobin and Hassan for doing a great job leading this group and also of course the rest of our amazing Pakistan crew. I suggest you take a look at the trip report on Chris's blog about leading K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La and visiting Pakistan for the first time.

And lastly you might be interested to read the blog written by Helen Chorlton (Head of Communications at British High Commission in Islambad) who also trekked to K2 Base Camp this summer. This is very refreshing to see diplomats travelling and getting out to see remote places like K2 and reporting back in a honest and informative fashion, well done Helen!

The Mountain Company is organising K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La trek in August 2013 so please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join this group.

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Friday, 13 July 2012

Book review for Everest The Old Way- a bright remembering by David Peckett, John Driskell and Les Simms with Foreword by Sir Chris Bonnington


Photo: Everest The Old Way

This is a wonderful book describing a trek to Everest Base Camp undertaken by a group of five teachers in 1967 followed by a revisit to the area 43 years later in 2010. In 1967 these friends decided to undertake this trip together after meeting on their teacher training course in Sheffield where they all made a pact to save £10 a month (at the time over a quarter of their income) for two years in order to finance the trip.

Their journey was inspired by the words of climbing legend Geoffrey Winthrop Young “Live life to the full, blend dream with the deed” and also by the ethos of Sixties which was full of optimism and opportunities. Their trek was the highlight of a two year trip driving a Landrover from Barnsley through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India to Nepal and back again to UK after visiting Everest Base Camp.

Their story is a fascinating insight into how the Everest region has changed since trekking became popular in this part of the Himalaya. In 1967 there were no commercial trek lodges in Nepal so the group stayed with local families often only paying a small charge covering firewood used for cooking their meals. They started the trek on February 19th from Dolaghat rather than flying into Lukla airport (like most people these days) and it took them sixteen days to reach Kalapatar and Gorakshep (original Base Camp for Everest expeditions). Then twenty seven days later on March 16th they returned back to Kathmandu and they managed to only spend £33 between them for the whole trek!

In 1967 there was only one trekking company in Nepal called Mountain Travel set up by Jimmy Roberts who was known as "the father of trekking in Nepal". However this group decided to organise this trek themselves on a shoestring budget by employing one Sherpa guide in Kathmandu called LP and also one porter called Kaman. This group were pioneers of independent trekking in Himalaya and since this time a large adventure travel industry has developed in Nepal with hundreds of tour operators, an extensive network of lodges and an upgraded runway at Lukla.

This book is made up of diaries written by David, John and Less as well as photos from 1967 and 2010 plus maps and some letters written home. I am sure this book will be of huge interest to people who have recently trekked to Everest Base Camp who will be able to compare their experience to David, John and Les’s story from an earlier trek in Khumbu before the commercialisation effects of modern adventure tourism.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book please click on this link to our Amazon bookstore

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Friday, 22 June 2012

Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp: Section 1 of The Great Himalaya Trail


Photo: north side of Mount Kanchenjunga
In October 2013 The Mountain Company is organising Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp trek along Section 1 of The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT"). This is an epic 35 day trek from Kanchenjunga Base Camp passing through a remote region on border with Tibet to Makalu Base Camp. Mount Kanchenjunga at an altitude of 8,586m is the third highest mountain in the world and Mount Makalu at 8,481m is the fifth highest mountain.

If this trek is too long take a look at the shorter version at 23 days where you visit Kanchenjunga Base Camp and then walk out to Tumlingtar airstrip. Both of these treks follow the first section of The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT") where very few other trekking groups have completed this adventurous mountain journey.

After visiting Kanchenjunga Base Camp (North) we will cross Nango La pass at 4,820m into the remote Yangma valley and to the small hamlet of Olangchunngola. From here we cross Lumba Sumba at 5,160m and walk out to Chyantang. At Chyantang village our group will split with the people booked onto shorter Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Tumlingtar trek walking south to this airstrip whereas the Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp walkers will continue traversing westwards towards Makalu. After visiting Makalu Base Camp we will descend the Barun Valley then cross Shipton la at 4,125m followed by the walk out to Tumlingtar airstrip for flight back to Kathmandu.

Roland Hunter, the owner and founder of the Mountain Company, will lead our Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp trek along with a team of experienced Sherpa guides. Please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join this trek.

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit (Nepal) led by Jill Lawson in April 2012

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit in April/May 2012 was the sixth time The Mountain Company has organised this trek.  Our western leader for our Spring 2012 trek was Jill Lawson for more information on her background and experience. Jill was working with our Nepalese sirdar Jire Rai who has done this trek fives times with our groups and also Sherpa guides Sonam and Lanka. The cook was Saila Rai who always does a fantastic job and certainly his food was appreciated and enjoyed by this group- see their testimonials at bottom of this Trip Report.

It was great to see that over half of this group were repeat trekkers with us with some having already walked to Everest Base Camp and for Paul it was his fourth trek having previously done K2 Base Camp (Pakistan) in July 2007, Manaslu Circuit in April 2008 and Stok Kangri (August 2010). We really appreciate it when people show their support and come back for more than trip with The Mountain Company, it shows we are doing something right!


Chonbarden Gorge
This group arrived to Kathmandu on April 22nd, and met up with Jill at Hotel Tibet in the afternoon for a detailed briefing on the trek and kit check. We carefully selected the date of the trek for Spring season as by end of April and into May the temperatures tend to be warmer and usually there is less snow on French and Dhampus passes so should increase the chances of successfully crossing over to Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki valley. However this Spring the conditions experienced by this group were rather different to normal with far more precipitation in the afternoons and evenings plus a lower snowline down to Italian Base camp. 

On Day 10 of the itinerary when the group was meant to walk up Chonbarden gorge to Glacier Camp there was quite a lot of overnight snow so wisely Jill and Jire made a good call to hold for a day to let the snow melt in order to minimise the risk of rockfall in the gorge. This worked well and everyone safely made it to Glacier camp and for the rest of the trek weather was more stable with sunny weather. In fact this often happens on Dhaulagiri Circuit as main Base Camp and Hidden Valley are protected to some degree by rain shadow effect of Dhaulagiri. 

The most challenging day of Dhaulagiri Circuit trek is crossing Dhampus Pass over to Yak Kharka camp (or Alu Bari camp lower down). The group experienced deep snow on the traverse from summit of Dhampus pass to the descent down to camp however there was a trail blazed by the porters for everyone to follow. On arriving to Jomsom at the end of the trek I gather there was a good party where the group and crew enjoyed drinking some of the local apple brandy together. Later on in the evening the group generously handed out tips to the Nepalese crew as a thank you for all of their hard work during the trek.


Descending French Pass into Hidden Valley


Traverse after Dhampus Pass
I would like to thank Jill very much for all of her help leading this trek, the feedback from the group on her leadership and organisation skills has been excellent- please some of their testimonials copied below. I would also like to thank Tom, Jill’s husband, who also helped out on this trek supporting Jill and I gather his discussions on the "Rock of the Day" collected along the trail was very popular (Tom is a geologist!). Thanks also to Simon one of the members of the group who being a doctor helped out several times with crew and the group, this shows really good teamwork where members with various skills are happy to pitch in and help out when required.

As ever our Nepalese crew worked hard throughout the trek and did a great job of course without porters, Sherpa guides, cooks and helpers and Sirdar this trip would not be possible for the group. This is one of the advantages of having organised Dhaulagiri Circuit a number of times over last five years as we have built up a regular and reliable crew with good knowledge of the trail, expected conditions and the best campsites along the way

I have copied below some testimonials received so far from this group:

“I had a fantastic time I have so many brilliant memories and photos of the Dhaulagiri Circuit. The trek was challenging but the support of your team was fantastic, and Jill was a brilliant leader. She was thoughtful, caring and supportive. I had confidence in Jill, and she was a good teacher. I feel I have learnt so much this trek. The Nepal crew were great. Jire was an excellent sirdar, and Sonam was a very hard worker, and deserves special mention. Saila and his team deserve a medal for the quality and variety of food they turned out of that cook tent, I've never tasted such good pizza! I have already been looking at The Mountain Company website and dreaming of my next trek...” Jenny Fifield (UK)

“Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in April was awesome, had a fantastic time! The porters were amazing and the food the cooks prepared was great especially under such challenging conditions for the crew. Jill's leadership was great as well. She had great tips and was very thoughtful regarding people's health and safety.  Thank you for such a great opportunity” Jim Carmichael (USA)

The Mountain Company is organising our next Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2012, this trek will be led by Paul Burditt for more information on his background and experience. This departure is now confirmed so please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Two new treks for The Mountain Company: Kopra Ridge and Rara Lake in Nepal


We have recently added two new treks to The Mountain Company’s portfolio in Nepal. Both of these treks have been selected by us as travel through quieter areas of Nepal with fewer other trekkers around compared to some of the busier trails in Everest and Annapurna regions.

Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri from Bayeli lodge
Our first new trek is Kopra Ridge, I walked this trail in December 2011 and I think 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. Click here to read Trip Report on our blog from Kopra ridge trek in December 2011.

The mountain views from Kopra Ridge are superb and include Mount Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Fang and Nilgiri and also from Ghandruk one can see Mount Machhapuchhre (also known as Fishtail) and Mount Hiunchuli. For four nights of Kopra Ridge itinerary you stay in community lodges set up local villagers. The concept behind the community lodges at Bayeli Kharka, Upper Chistibung, Kopra and Swanta is that ownership of these lodges belongs to a village rather than individuals with profits contributing to community projects such as funding local schools.

Photo: Rara Lake in west Nepal
Our second new trek is Rara Lake and Kingdom of Khasa in a remote region of western Nepal. Alan Ward will lead this group in May 2013, click herefor more information on his background and experience
You start the trip by flying into the mountain airstrip at Simikot and trek to the stunning Rara Lake and then walk out to Jumla to fly out of another mountain airstrip back to Nepalganj. 

The Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) Upper and Lower routes pass along the shores of Rara Lake, Nepal’s largest body of water. It’s a beautiful, calm place surrounded by rugged hills forested with ancient blue pine, spruce and cedar, with the snowy peaks reflected in the still waters. This area is really off the beaten track with only 170 foreigners visiting Rara Lake in 2010.

If you are interested in joining one of these treks then please download the detailed Trip Dossiers from our website with day by itinerary and other practical information such as kit list in the Appendix. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or require further information.

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek: Top 10 Wilderness treks by Trek & Mountain magazine

I just read an article in magazine Trek & Mountain's April edition recommending The Mountain Company's Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek as one of their 10 Best Wilderness treks. Thanks Trek & Mountain and what a great magazine!


Extract from Trek & Mountain April edition:

1. Upper Dolpo, Nepal
One of Nepal's most remote and least inhabited regions.

Go with: The Mountain Company
When to go: Apr-May
How long: 29 days
Level: Strenuous
More info: www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Dolpo is the most remote and least inhabited region of Nepal, and the area has only been accessible to trekkers in the last 20 years. Upper Dolpo has been referred to as the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture, with the landscape, culture and Buddhist religion of the region more like Tibet in pre-Chinese times than the rest of Nepal. Situated between the Tibetan plateau and the Dhaulagiri Himalayan range, this region has a vast and rugged landscape inhabited by a hardy, enterprising folk who live in some of the highest villages of the world. The region is rich in wildlife and you might spot herds of blue sheep, musk deer, Himalayan fox, eagles, lammergeier and of course, the elusive snow leopard.

The Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek, as run by The Mountain Company, forms part of the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) and takes a route through a remote area very close to the Tibet border before walking out on the challenging trail to Jomsom in Mustang region. Highlights of the trek include crossing a number of high passes and enjoying the stunningly blue waters of Phoksumdo Lake, with the surrounding snow peaks of Kanjirowa Himalayan range all around.


Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek led by Gary Pfisterer starting on April 29th 2012 is now guaranteed to run and there is currently availability, please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join this group.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hindu festival of Holi celebrated in Nepal and India

Photo: enjoying Holi festival on Annapurna Circuit trek

The annual Hindu festival of Holi will be celebrate in Nepal and Northern India on March 8th 2012. Holi is also known as festival of colours and is celebrated by people throwing coloured powder and coloured water at each other. Be careful to wear old clothes tomorrow especially if you are walking around Thamel in Kathmandu as well aimed water bombs are likely fall from the roof tops!

Hindus celebrate Holi as the end of winter and to welcome the new colours arriving at the start of Spring season. Holi is a Hindu festival linked to their religion and mythology however is celebrated throughout Nepal as a national festival with many people entering festivities regardless of their religion.

Happy Holi!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Mountain Company's Western led treks in 2012


Photo: view from Kesha La on Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan
So far in 2012 we have had a busy few months organising and marketing our western led treks, for your information I have listed below our trips that are now guaranteed and currently have availability:

April: Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal (leader: Jill Lawson)
April/ May: Upper Dolpo to Jomsom in Nepal (leader: Gary Pfisterer)
August: K2 & Gondogoro La in Pakistan ((leader: Chris Horobin)
September/ October: Lunana Snowman in Bhutan (leader: Almas Khan)
October: Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal (leader: Paul Burditt)
November: Mera Peak Expedition in Nepal (leader: Roland Hunter)
November/ December: Everest Base Camp in Nepal (leader: Georgina Hobbs)
November/ December: Everest Base camp with Love Hope Strength Foundation (leaders: Adrian Summers and Andrew Peacock)

We have received significant interest in the following treks and require a few more people in order to confirm these departures:

August: Nubra and Shyok Valley in Ladakh, India (leader: Alan Ward)
October: Lemosho Route on Kilimanjaro (Alan Ward)
November: Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal (Alan Ward)

Please get in touch soon if you would like to join any of these trips, or give us a call if you would like to discuss them in more detail.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Mountain Company joins GHT Alliance

I am glad to announce that The Mountain Company has recently joined the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) Alliance as an accredited trek operator. GHT Alliance is a group of organisations and individuals who voluntarily adopt their Codes of Conduct, one Code has been developed for visitors and another for operators organising treks in the Himalaya. For more information on Codes of Conduct please take a look at Great Himalaya Trail website.

GHT is a trekking route that crosses Himalaya from Burma to Pakistan taking the highest feasible route along the spine of this mountain range, the trail involves very challenging trekking as well as several mountaineering sections over technical passes (eg Sherpani Col near Makalu in Nepal).

GHT Alliance has been set up by several people who have spent a lot of time exploring the Himalaya and believe it is important to give something back. The organisers of GHT Alliance work on a voluntary basis and over heads for GHT Alliance at a very low level.

The main objective of GHT Alliance is to promote local, sustainable and responsible tourism to remote areas of Himalaya that in the past may not have benefitted from trekkers. GHT Alliance is a transnational project covering Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan and the hope is that this project will enhance sharing of skills and experience between the existing trekking industry in these countries.

GHT Alliance supports two GHT-related development goals: first, to promote vocational training programs, especially for porters and kitchen crew and second to initiate livelihood programs for villages along the trekking routes. GHT Alliance do not plan projects, rather registered NGOs apply for funding through GHT Alliance partners and then match them up.

Now that The Mountain Company is an accredited GHT Alliance trek operator we have agreed to adhere to Operator Code of Practice and also to encourage our clients who have signed up for one of our GHT labelled trek to donate £80 (US$120) to GHT Alliance.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Trip report for Open Charity Challenge to Everest Base Camp (Nepal) led by Alan Ward in November/ December 2011

Photo: TMC group at Everest Base Camp in December 2011

On November 29th our Open Charity Challenge group trekking to Everest Base Camp arrived to Kathmandu. Alan Ward was the western leader for this team of fifteen which also included four visually impaired (“VI”) people with one person having no sight.

One of the VIs, David, had already joined two of our treks both led by Alan, in 2007 he trekked to Upper Mustang in Nepal and in 2010 attempted to climb Stok Kangri in Ladakh. David got in touch with us at end of last year with the idea of planning a trek to Everest Base Camp to coincide with his 60th birthday. Of course we were delighted to be able to help him and he also recruited several friends from his walking group Milton Mountaineers and Vitalise Holidays.

In September Alan organised a training weekend for this group in Brecons, this worked well so that the team could get to know each other. From feedback received I gather everyone found Alan’s various presentations and discussions over the course of the weekend very helpful and aided their preparations for the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Based on our experience with organising David’s previous treks in the Himalayas we realised that each VI would require a sighted helper from UK as well as one Sherpa guide to escort them at all times along the trail. After discussing this set-up on their return I understand worked well with Sherpa guides taking the lead during the day due to their knowledge of the route while also being supported by UK helpers. Then on arrival to lodge in the afternoon UK helper would take over showing VIs around the lodge such as dining room, bedroom and washing facilities.

I enjoyed meeting this group on their return to Kathmandu and hearing about how the trek went for them. They experienced good weather with sun every day and also everyone acclimatised well to the altitude (as a result of our tried and tested 14 day trek itinerary!). The feedback I received was they enjoyed staying at the lodges we had carefully selected for them and I gather Zamling in Namche and Mother Earth were their favourites.

Great news that all VIs and helpers plus the rest of the group (apart from one) made it all the way to Everest Base Camp and/ or Kalapatar. This is a fantastic achievement for everyone in the group and is truly inspirational. When they got back in Kathmandu there was a lot of interest by Nepalese media and VIs had interviews with Kantipur TV,several radio stations and also articles/ photos in several newspapers including Republica (see photo below).

Photo: VIs in Kathmandu published in Republica

This is a photo of David, Jimmy, Leigh and Terry in Kathmandu a few days ago after successfully completing Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal, it is a really special achievement for them as they are all visually impaired with one person having no sight.

I would like thank Alan Ward their western leader and UK helpers (Diana, Rob, Meg and Emma) as well as the rest of the group who supported VIs throughout their trek. A huge thanks to our Nepalese sirdar, Buddhi Rai, plus the Sherpas (Tenzing, Purna, Mangal, Prem, Kulungman and Uttar) as well as the porters who did a superb job making it possible for everyone to achieve their objective of walking to Everest Base Camp.

Thanks also to Rohan Designs Limited who kindly donated over 20kg of clothing for KEEP’s porters lending bank, Alan brought this gear out with him and shortly after arriving to Nepal visited their office in Kathmandu to hand these items over to them.

The Mountain Company is organising two Open Charity Challenge treks in Nepal for 2012, we have a western led Everest Base Camp group in November and Alan is coming back again to lead our Annapurna Base Camp trek also in November. Please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company