Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 7 December 2015

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit trek led by Almas Khan and Jhire Rai in November 2015

Photo: Mt Kanchenjunga northside
In November, we organised our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal. This trek was led by Almas Khan and Jhire Rai. Almas has led this trek once before at the same time last year and Jhire has done this trek so many times I have lost count! The cook was Sangram and the Sherpas were Raj and Heavy.

Almas has had a busy year in 2015 leading four treks for The Mountain Company; in April he led a group on Dhaulagiri Circuit (during earthquake); in August/ September he was on Ladakh Sky Trail; in September/ October to Bhutan for his sixth Lunana Snowman trek and then back to Nepal for Kanchenjunga Circuit. We are lucky to work with capable and experienced group leaders like Almas, what a great year he has had!

For our November 2015 Kanchenjunga Circuit there were eight trekkers coming from UK, Canada, Australia and USA. The group arrived to Kathmandu on November 3rd and next morning Almas gave his trek briefing and I also attended. After the briefing people had time to walk into Thamel to purchase items from the trekking stores in Thamel and have lunch at one of the many eateries in town.

On November 5th the group flew to Bhadrapur in east of Nepal and in afternoon drove up to Ilam for the night. Ilam is the main centre for tea growing and over on the Indian side of the border are the famous tea plantations around Darjeeling.

Photo: camp at Lhonak
Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


With our past Kanchenjunga Circuit treks the weather has been settled and sunny in the dry post monsoon season. We always carefully select the dates to maximise the chance of successfully completing the trip and November has been consistently a good time of year to trek in this region. Almas reports back the following about the weather for Kanchenjunga Circuit November 2015:

“The weather conditions on the trek were very good. It did not rain at all while we were walking. Only cloudy afternoon was the day we walked to Ghunsa from Phole village. We had very clear days above 4,200m although the skies were hazy up to 2500m.The day we walked to Kanchenjunga North Base Camp (Pangpema) it got very windy with sand blasting and head winds on the way back. Apart from that was great, the day over the passes from high camp to Tsheram was still and clear. It was cold on the trek but not more than anticipated (as mentioned on trip notes). At Ramche the temperatures went down close to -8 inside the tent that was the coldest night of the trek.”

This group stuck to the itinerary walking up as planned to Pangpema at Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp on November 16th and then returned to Ghunsa on the next day. Almas decided to keep the group moving and not have a rest day at Ghunsa instead head up to High Camp before Mirgin La. This was a sensible plan as the weather forecasts were fine and sunny so everyone had wonderful views as crossed over Mirgin La on November 18th arriving to Tseram village around 4pm in the afternoon.

On November 20th the group walked up to Oktang for the viewpoint of the south west face of Kanchenjunga and descending to camp at Ramche. From here there is a long walk out and on November 26th this group arrived to Suketar (near Taplejung).

For all of our treks and expeditions in Nepal we use Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents owned by The Mountain Company. These are three person domed tents where there is plenty of space for two people sharing a tent plus gear. More importantly these tents are incredibly strong and are designed for use on expeditions to the highest mountains. I have used Trango 3.1s on expeditions to Everest, Makalu, Broad Peak and Kanchenjunga. As long as these tents are well anchored they will survive almost any storm.


On November 27th they drove back down through Ilam down to the plains to stay the night at a hotel in Birtamod before flying back to Kathmandu on 28th. On their return Helen and I met up with most of the group in Thamel for an enjoyable meal to hear about the trek and their feedback.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Kanchenjunga Circuit

Thanks very much to Almas, Jhire and the rest of the team for their hard work in leading this trek and to the Sherpas, Raj and Heavy, and the cook, Sangram.

The Mountain Company is promoting two Kanchenjunga Circuit treks for 2016 and our departure in April is already guaranteed to run. There is already some interest in our departure in November so I am confident this will run as planned.

Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in April or November 2016.

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Trip report for Mera Peak Expedition in Nepal led by Dom Rudd and Domi Sherpa in November 2015

Photo: summit day on Mera Peak
Our Mera Peak Expedition in November 2015 was led by Dom Rudd and our Nepali Sirdar Domi Sherpa. The climbing Sherpas were Sonam and Lakpa. Tenzing joined as a trekking guide and our cook was Parbat Rai.

In this group we had seven climbers coming from UK, Germany and Canada. The first day of the trip was October 31st and everyone met up on morning of November 1st for Dom’s trip briefing. I also enjoyed meeting the group and attending the briefing. On the afternoon most of the group spent time in Thamel buying last minute items and also picking up rental gear for the trip as well as taking some time to explore some of the good restaurants and coffee shops.

On morning of 2nd the group took the flight into Lukla and after lunch started the walk to Puiyan where they stayed the first night of the trek. For the first few days of the trip there was low level cloud however there was no precipitation so the group did not get wet while walking. The six day trek into Kothe went well and by the time the group got to Chunbu Kharka the weather cleared up and experienced mainly sunny weather with wonderful views for the rest of the expedition.

On November 9th the group arrived as planned to Tagnag at an altitude of 4,360m. We include two nights at this cluster of lodges for acclimatisation and also include rope training in the morning and then followed by an acclimatisation walk in the afternoon. Domi and Sonam set up a fixed rope on grass slopes behind Tagnag and the group got all of their own climbing gear set up then had a demonstration and practice session on ascending and descending a fixed rope. These mountaineering skills are required for the steep final summit slopes on Mera Peak where fixed rope is placed by the Sherpas to protect this section of the climb.

On November 10th the group moved up to Khare (Base Camp) and on the next day they walked up to the glacier for further mountaineering training. The feedback from the group after the trip was this was a tough and tiring day to walk up to glacier especially this year as snowline was so high. In previous years we were able to do this training lower down near the disused tea shop however this year the snow line was high so it was a long walk from Khare. With future trips we will take this into account as it should be possible to do mountaineering training on the day moving up to Mera La. Also many members of our Mera Peak groups already have these skills and an acclimatisation walk from Khare might well work better for them before the climb.

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we sent these onto Dom by text to his satellite phone and during our regular phone conversations. As mentioned earlier the weather was fine and sunny from Chunbu Kharka however on the forecast before their summit attempt we received a strong wind warning. I have copied an extract of Michael’s forecast weather below:

"The jet stream and strong winds in the upper levels will be near our region through Wednesday. Some of these strong winds will mix down to our summit level and bring some strong winds at times from Saturday through Tuesday. Then on Wednesday we start to have a decrease in winds. A tropical depression will be forming in the Bay of Bengal by Tuesday and Wednesday but not expecting any issues for our region."


It is essential for the group’s safety to have professional weather forecasts during an expedition to Mera Peak. It is also helpful for the leaders, Dom and Domi, to receive this information as can use to plan the timing of summit day. The forecasts were for stronger winds on November 16th compared to 15th so in their position it was not worth delaying their summit attempt by one day.

For all of our treks and expeditions in Nepal we use Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents owned by The Mountain Company. These are three person domed tents where there is plenty of space for two people sharing a tent plus gear. More importantly these tents are incredibly strong and are designed for use on expeditions to the highest mountains. I have used Trango 3.1s on expeditions to Everest, Makalu, Broad Peak and Kanchenjunga. As long as these tents are well anchored they will survive almost any storm.


Five members of the group set out from High Camp at 3am on November 15th and continued until about 6,000m when the decision was made to turn back due to high winds. Everyone in the group understood and supported this call as it was clearly too windy to proceed safely. After getting back to High Camp they continued down to Khare later that day.

This group had a day in hand as they had not used up their spare summit day so the decision was made to stay one extra night at Khare. I gather everyone had a good walk up the moraine ridge above Khare with wonderful views on a sunny day. However the winds were blasting the summit of Mera Peak with white plume visible certainly not a viable summit day!

From Khare the group descended to Kote for the night and then ascended up to Thuli Kharka. The next day crossed Zatra La pass where there was some snow at the top so fixed ropes were placed for the top sections. From speaking to the group, the feedback received was everyone really enjoyed the days walking back from Khare to Lukla and I gather were some of the highlights of the trip. This group had a positive attitude to this expedition and refreshingly were not only summit focused.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Dom checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Mera Peak Expedition

I would like to thank Dom and Domi for their leadership of this group and Sonam, Lhakpa and Tenzing and the rest of the Nepalese crew who as ever worked exceptionally hard throughout this expedition.

Our next expedition to Mera Peak will be in April 2016 and Dom has confirmed would like to lead our November 2016 departure. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Tom Lawson and Gopal Tamang in October/ November 2015

Photo: Naar village
In late October, we organised our Naar to Upper Mustang trek along The Great Himalaya Trail. This trek was led by Tom Lawson and Gopal Tamang. Over the years Tom and his wife Jill have both led several treks for The Mountain Company starting with Dhaulagiri Circuit in April 2012 and again in October 2014 then Kanchenjunga Circuit in November 2014. Jill has led our Ama Dablam Base Camp trek too in October 2014.

This year for Naar to Mustang there were six trekkers in the group and in fact all of them had been on trips in previous years with The Mountain Company. We appreciate everyone’s support coming back for multiple treks with us especially this Autumn as Nepal is still recovering from the earthquake in Spring. As usual with our bookings there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from Australia, UK and Canada.

Photo: trail to Yak Kharka above Naar village
The group arrived in Kathmandu on October 30th and next morning Tom gave his trek briefing to the group and I also attended. On November 1st the group drove to Bhulebule to start the trek. The weather was cloudy with some precipitation as the group ascended Marsyangdi valley following a quieter trail opposite the Annapurna Circuit jeep track. Over the last few years trails have been improved away from the road so Tom made sure the group took advantage of these whenever possible. Many trekking groups now take jeeps all the way to Dharapani, however the feedback from this group was they were happy to walk from Bhulebule as the trails away from the road are scenic and varied and are much better than a long, dusty and bumpy jeep ride. 

Photo: valley above Naar village following Lapsa Khola
On November 6th the fourth day of the trek this itinerary heads north up the deep gorge of the Naar Phu Khola (river) and away from the more popular Annapurna Circuit. After one night at Dharmasala camp in the pine and bamboo forests at an altitude of 3,250m they walked up to Naar village at 4,100m where they spent two nights for acclimatisation. During this day the weather cleared and was sunny for rest of the trip. On the spare day Tom and Gopal organised a day walk up in the valley leading to Kang La pass and the group got impressive views of Kangaru Peak and blue sheep. 

Photo: climbing up to Kang La pass
Photo: summit of Kang La pass
Photo: descending Kang La pass
On November 8th the group left Naar village to start the approach to Teri La pass by following the Lapse Khola (river) valley, staying the first night at a Yak Kharka camp at an altitude of 4,400m. This section of the trail is narrow and steep but everyone made good progress to camp.

On November 9th they continued to a higher camp in the Lapse Khola valley at an altitude of 4,600m, planning the next day to walk up to High Camp below the Teri La pass at an altitude of 4,900m. The trail ascends on northerly facing slopes and soft snow from storms a couple of weeks earlier made the trail difficult for group and crew. There was about 10cm of unconsolidated snow on scree slopes and Tom and Gopal decided it was too risky to continue. It was not possible to protect this section of the trail with fixed rope and the decision was made to turn back from crossing Teri La pass. At the highest point reached, Himalayan Griffon were seen circling in the valley and a trail of fresh snow leopard prints were spotted in the snow. 

Photo: Braga village and back onto Annapurna Circuit
On returning to camp Tom and Gopal discussed the options and explained these to the group; everyone was happy to divert the trek to cross the Kang La pass over to Manang and then continue to Tilicho Lake and cross Mesokantha La over to Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki valley.

On November 13th they had a sunny and clear day for crossing Kang La and walked down to the Ngawal village. On the next day they walked along the spectacular high trail then down into Braga village with wonderful views of the Annapurnas before going on to Manang village. 

On November 15th they walked through Khangsar village before camping for the night at Tilicho Base Camp. During the course of the trek we received weather forecasts from everestweather.com and we sent these through to Tom on his satellite phone. For 15th and 16th we received forecasts with warnings of strong winds for Annapurna and also affecting our group on Mera Peak as well.


The next day they ascended along the spectacular trail to Tilicho Lake and camped near the lake. Tom made sure our Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents were well anchored in the event of a windy night but the forecasts for winds to drop proved accurate and it was a calm night, although the temperature dropped to near minus 20 degrees Celsius during the night. 

Photo: Tilicho lake at 4,900m
On November 17th Tom and the group crossed the Mesokantha La and everyone safely arrived to another Yak Kharka camp above the Kali Gandaki valley. I heard from Tom this pass is very steep on descent and fixed rope was used as a handrail for group and crew. 

Photo: summit of Mesokantha La
We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Tom checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Naar to Mustang GHT

Photo: our amazing trek crew with Susan
The group flew back to Kathmandu on November 20th after a possible record-breaking 15 minute transfer in Pokhara. On their return I met up with Tom and some of the group in Thamel for an enjoyable meal to hear about the trek and their feedback. The group were happy with their trek and really enjoyed crossing Kang La and Mesokantha La passes on beautiful sunny days.

Thanks very much to Tom and Gopal for their hard work in leading this trek and to the Sherpas, Lal and Khumbu, and the cook, Ram.

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in late September 2016 as I think the conditions on Teri La should be less snowy at this time of year. For most treks it is possible to cross high passes in November however given the steep trail on rocky scree up to High Camp it would better to attempt this trek when temperatures are warmer and snowline higher. Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in September/ October 2016.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Monday, 23 November 2015

Trip report for Lunana Snowman led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2015

Photo: view from Karchung La
This is the seventh time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. After another successful Snowman in September/ October 2015, The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging trek.

This year we had eleven trekkers signed up for the full Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa, Canada and UK. Our 2015 Snowman group was led by TMC regular guide, Almas Khan. Almas has completed Snowman trek six times including both Bumthang and Nikka Chu exit trails from Lunana. For our 2015 Snowman we had our regular Bhutanese trek crew on board again with Dawa as the Sirdar; Tashi & Pema as guides and Tenzing as the cook. Also Airya was a new guide that joined our Snowman group for the first time this year.

Photo: view from Gophu La
For the first five days of Snowman it rained at night with heavy rains below 3,000m but luckily it did not rain during the day while walking. Once over Nyele La, the weather conditions stayed stable until they reached Thanza in Lunana then after that it snowed in the afternoon for next four days. The group pitched tents on snow at Danje, Tshorim lake and Tarina three days in a row and there was about 10 cms of snow at Tshorim lake at our highest camp. Luckily this Autumn there were no cyclones from Bay of Bengal impacting the Himalaya unlike 2014 with Cyclone Hudhud and in 2013 with Cyclone Phailin.

Throughout the course of Snowman trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


Overall the trail conditions were good for Snowman 2015 and not as muddy as previous years. For the last 50m on the climb to Saga La pass the trail was abit slippery but there was no snow on other side of the pass while descending. For our Snowman trek we include micro crampons on the kit list (Yak Tracks or Kahtoolas) and some of the group used these for the ascent of Saga La. Almas reported that the lowest temperature of the trek was -5.2 Celsius inside his tent in early hours before sunrise at the Tshorim lake.

For this year’s Snowman we made one change in the itinerary compared to 2014 by including three nights before trekking up to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4,080m. Unfortunately the standard itinerary used by most other trekking companies has only two nights before Chomolhari Base Camp and with this rapid ascent there is a risk of people getting altitude sickness. The ascent from Paro to Shana is an increase of 510m; to Soi ThangThangka is an increase in 720m and next day up to Chomolhari Base Camp is a further increase of 570m. This ascent profile breaches altitude guidelines. I have copied below an extract from UIAA MedCom Statement #2 Field managament of AMS, HAPE and HACE below:

"Above 2,500 to 3,000m the next night should not be planned more than 300 to 500m higher than the previous one. Have two nights at the same altitude for every 2 to 4 days of ascent. On this day you may climb higher but return to sleep".

At The Mountain Company we do everything we can do to increase the chances of our groups safely completing their trek. We have reviewed all of our itineraries to ensure adequate time is included for natural acclimatisation to the high altitude. We never yield to the commercial pressures of reducing the number of days to lower the trip cost and to make our treks more marketable.

Photo: Mt Jitchu Drake
Our Snowman 2015 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. As usual Almas decided to have only one night at Thanza and to keep moving in case a spare buffer day was required later on. In the end they arrived to the hot springs at Dur Tsachu one day early so they had two nights to relax in the wonderful hot tubs.

At the hot springs the group were very lucky as they saw a wild Thakin crossing the river near Dur Taschu camp. The Thakin is the national animal of Bhutan and is rarely seen in the wild. For more information on Takin please take a look at Wikipedia

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

Most of the feedback for Snowman 2015 has been positive and I have copied Neil’s comments below:

"This is now the 4th time I have trekked with The Mountain Company which I think helps to emphasise that I hold them in high regard. The treks are all extremely well planned, led by highly experienced leaders and supported by excellent guides, catering staff etc. As well as providing a wonderful trekking experience, the safety and well-being of clients and staff are always a high priority.

In summary an outstanding trek in a beautiful remote part of the world. I know that trekking in Bhutan is more expensive than some areas but this trek led by Almas Khan was exceptional, with stunning scenery, walking in some of the most remote areas of the Himalayas and enjoying so much of the local culture. Crossing so many passes between Drugyel Dzong all the way through to Bumthang provides so many moments as new vistas open up as you reach each pass, beautiful forests and the opportunity to see so much wildlife including blue sheep.”


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

Thanks to Almas, Tashi, Pema, Airya, Dawa and rest of the crew for all of their hard work, great job!

Modified Snowman itinerary for 2016

We had a further think about how to improve our Snowman itinerary to help acclimatisation before the ascent to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4.080m. I think it is such a shame to see other Snowman groups where members get altitude sickness at Chomolhari BC and have to turn back especially considering the cost of Snowman trek. Most other trekking operators ascend to Chomolhari Base Camp too rapidly. The “standard” ascent profile of two nights in Paro then one night in Shana followed by Soi Tangtanka then up to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4,080m is unsafe and breaks guidelines for gradual acclimatisation. In the past our groups had two nights at Soi Tangtanka at 3,510m whereas this was frankly a little boring as there were not many options for day walks from this camp.

For our Snowman 2016 we have come up with a modified itinerary heading to the less visited Haa valley before the trek. After the group's arrival to Paro we have one night at Olathang hotel (given
availability) and then next day the group will walk up Tiger's Nest and then in afternoon drive over Chele La (3,780m) to Haa Valley. After two nights at Haa valley we drive back over Chele La and then drive on through Paro to Shana for the first night's camp of the trek.

In Haa valley there are some beautiful day walks and as this valley is at 2,712m this is 500m higher than Paro so is very effective for acclimatisation. On the way back over Chele La the group will go for a walk up the ridge to nearly 4,000m and again great for helping your body adapt to the high altitude. In Haa valley we plan to stay at the wonderful Lechuna Heritage Lodge (given availability) for more information please take a look at their website

We believe our modified 2016 Snowman trek should add alot in terms of interest and also increase our groups chances of safely completing the Snowman trek. We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2016 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. Almas Khan has confirmed his leadership for next year’s Snowman and this will be his seventh time on Snowman! We have already received several deposits for Snowman 2016 so I am confident this trek will be guaranteed soon.

*Breaking news*....Almas will also be heading back to Bhutan in April 2016 to lead our Rodung La with Sakten and Merak. This trek is an extension of the Lunana Snowman trek by starting in Bumthang and continuing east to Trashi Yangtse along The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT").

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Friday, 23 October 2015

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Allan Gibbs and Domi Sherpa in October 2015

Photo: summit shot on Dhampus Peak of Domi, Sona and team (credit: Allan Gibbs)
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group arrived back to Kathmandu on October 21st and are flying home today. On their return I caught up for a debrief with the leaders, Allan Gibbs and Domi Sherpa, and then met the group at KToo steakhouse in Kathmandu for their feedback on the trip.

The Mountain Company has organised Dhaulagiri Circuit ten times since I went on our first recce trek back in May 2008. However for October 2015 we made a significant change to the itinerary as we included the option to climb Dhampus Peak (6,060m) from Hidden Valley. This addition makes a superb trip even better as not only does the group get the chance to complete one of the most challenging treks in Nepal crossing two high passes over 5,000m but also includes climbing a peak over 6,000m! We had eight people in this group and five people paid the supplement to cover the permit fees for Dhampus Peak.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 4th and as usual with our teams there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from UK, Ireland, Canada and Germany. The leaders for our Dhaulagiri Circuit with Dhampus trip were Allan Gibbs (UK) and Domi Sherpa (Nepal). The Sherpa guides supporting the group were Sonam and Tenzing and the cook was Parbat.

On 5th the group flew to Pokhara and took the bus to Beni then after lunch walked to their first camp at Tatopani. For the next three days the trail passes through attractive traditional villages (luckily no earthquake damage here) with views of Dhaulagiri and surrounding mountains to the north. These first few days of Dhaulagiri Circuit are always very hot and humid as Tatopani is at an altitude of only 870 metres.

After Boghara village on Day 5 the trail enters sub-tropical forest and as usual during this section of the trek there was some afternoon rain after the group had arrived to camp. The group reached Italian Base Camp as planned on October 11th and after an acclimatising day on 12th they walked up to Glacier camp on 13th. There was a change in the trail as previously one approached the glacier on left side of Chonbarden gorge however the glacier has melted back and now there is no longer a gentle ramp to access the glacier. Therefore the new trail crosses the river below the glacier to access the right hand side of the glacier. Domi and Sonam rigged a Tyrolean traverse over the river and the lighter members of the group were hauled across whereas the heavier members (no names!) crossed the river on foot.

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we sent these onto Allan by text to his satellite phone as well as discussed during our regular phone conversations. Overall the weather for this trek was excellent with sunny and stable conditions apart from one cloudy day walking up to Dhaulagiri Base Camp. This group was very lucky as had superb sunny day on crossing French Pass into Hidden Valley. This period of fine weather carried on until the end of the trip so the conditions for climbing Dhampus Peak and crossing Dhampus were very favourable- see photos below.

On October 18th three members of the group plus Allan left the camp in Hidden Valley at 5am to ascend to Dhampus pass, from there they started up lower scree slopes of Dhampus Peak. Above here the route joins the ridge and this is followed to the summit. I gather this year there was no snow on the pass and only a small amount towards the top of Dhampus.

Photo: summit ridge on Dhampus Peak (credit: Allan Gibbs) 
Photo: view from summit of Dhampus Peak (credit: Allan Gibbs)
It was a clear day with wonderful views from the summit of Dhampus Peak over to Annapurnas and Nilgiri to the east and over to Dolpo to the west. The climbers took a different way down from the top descending on Kali Gandaki side of the mountain and meeting the rest of the group at a camp over from Dhampus pass. The next day everyone descended all of the way down to Marpha instead of staying at Alu Bari camp, I think the draw of apple juice, apple pie (and apple schnaps?) was too tempting for everyone. Marpha is a traditional village and everyone enjoyed their time exploring the next morning before walking onto Jomsom.

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

After arriving to Jomsom that evening the group had a good party thanking the local crew and handing out their tips. On the next morning most of the group flew out from Jomsom back to Kathmandu via Pokhara however three of the group hired mountain bikes to cycle down the Kali Gandaki valley to Pokhara. I look forward to hearing how their cycling trip went on their return to Kathmandu in a few days time.

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit and well done to the climbers who summited Dhampus Peak! As mentioned this is the first summit of Dhampus Peak by a TMC group and hopefully not the last. I would like thank Allan, Domi, Sonam, Tenzing and Parbat plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work in making this trip work so well. Great job!

Photo: Sona and Allan Gibbs on summit of Dhampus Peak (credit Allan Gibbs)
The Mountain Company organise our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek and Dhampus Peak expedition twice a year in April and October, please get in touch if you like to join one of these departures. By the way our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in October 2016 is already guaranteed to run.

Roland Hunter

Trip report for Ladakh Sky Trail GHT led by Almas Khan in August/ September 2015

Photo: start of trek at Lamayuru
Our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT group arrived to Leh on August 19th and on 21st drove to Lamayuru (3,500m) and 22nd they started the trek. This year we had eight people in the group and as usual we had an international mix with people coming from UK, Ireland, South Africa and Germany.

As explained in Trip Report for 2014 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT, Almas Khan created this unique itinerary from years of leading groups in Ladakh. This is his dream trek travelling through the best of the three areas of this region: Ladakh, Zanskar and Changthang/ Rupshu. For most of Ladakh Sky Trail GHT we follow rarely trekked trails and this is only possible due to the local knowledge of Almas and the local Ladakhi guide Tsering Samphel.

As for all or our treks in the Himalayas we received bespoke weather forecast from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and as I was following these updates in London I was relieved to see the weather was settled and stable. Early in August there was heavy rain in Ladakh causing flash flooding that resulted in damage on trails and bridges on Markha Valley. See BBC article "British trekkers rescued amid flash flooding". This type of heavy precipitation is always a risk in Ladakh however this region is usually dry during the monsoon rains of July and August due to rain shadow effect of Himalayan peaks to the south. However every few years a strong pulse of monsoon pushes over these mountains causing heavy rain in Ladakh, as there is little vegetation to absorb the rainfall there is rapid flow of water off the mountains causing river levels to rise fast.

Fortunately the weather was good for our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT trek and I gather from Almas overall better than last year. There was a little light rain in the afternoon on the first three days then for the rest of the trek they had sunny days. As a result of clear skies at night the temperatures at night were a bit colder compared to last year with the minimum temperature experienced about -6 Celsius. There was more snow on the mountains above 5,800 meters but importantly for this trek the condition of the river crossings was good.

As mentioned in last year’s Trip Report we have carefully selected the time of year to run this trek, by starting in late August into September much of the snow in the mountains has already melted over the summer so river levels should be lower at this time of year.

There are three days of Ladakh Sky Trail where the group walked through deep gorges, this section of the trail involves many river crossings (around 120!). The feedback received from this group was that Teva sandals did not offer enough protection to their feet from rocks as most people were their sandals throughout the days for this section through the gorge. Therefore we have updated our kit list to include fully enclosed sandals to protect your feet rather than Teva type open sandals.

As the weather and conditions were favourable the group made good progress and followed the itinerary as planned. The whole group arrived to end of the trek at the stunningly beautiful Tsomoriri lake at 4,400m on September 11th and then on 12th drove back to Leh. As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek on SPOT Adventure website

Photo: Tsomoriri lake at end of the trek!

I would like to thank Almas, Tsering Samphel and the hardworking Ladakhi team for doing a great job organising and leading another successful Ladakh Sky Trail GHT. Almas will be back in Ladakh again next summer leading our 2016 Ladakh Sky Trail and we have already requested for the same local Ladakhi crew to join our group. Please get in touch soon if you are interested in joining our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT or if you have any questions on this trek.

Roland Hunter

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Key findings of The Mountain Co's post-earthquake recce trek to Everest region in September 2015

On September 15th I flew into Lukla with one of The Mountain Co guides, Pasang “Zarok” Sherpa, to carry out a post-earthquake recce trek in the Everest region of Nepal. As I am sure you aware on April 25th and May 12th 2015 there were two large earthquakes in Nepal and since then many aftershocks have caused damage in several trekking regions including Everest.

Photo: Roland at Everest Base Camp on September 24th
As part of our own internal risk assessment at The Mountain Co we decided to visually inspect the trail to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo and also the lodges before our groups arrive to Nepal for the Autumn season. I am writing this blog article to share my findings with anyone interested in coming to Nepal this Autumn season as there seems to be a lack of current information on the condition of Upper Khumbu/ Everest region. Hopefully our key findings in this article will be helpful and give confidence to trekkers considering coming out to Nepal to support the recovery of post earthquake tourism. During this recce trek I used social media to record our findings and to post photos, please take a look at The Mountain Company Facebook group.

Our comprehensive recce trek took 15 days and my route followed the classic Everest Base Camp trail through Namche Bazaar, Tengboche/ Deboche, Pangboche, Pheriche, Lobuche and up to Gorakshep for Everest Base Camp and Kalapatar. I also walked up to Thame from Namche Bazaar and up to Ama Dablam Base Camp from Pangboche. After Everest Base Camp we walked the low trail into Gokyo via Phortse and Na then climbed Gokyo Ri. After Gokyo we walked down valley through Machermo and Dole over Mong La to spend one night in Khumjung before walking back down to Lukla. To see our route please take a look at our GPS map on Spot Adventures website.

As a basis for planning this recce trek inspection I used the report from Miyamoto (earthquake and structural engineers) “Damage assessment of Everest region in Nepal” dated July 15th 2015. We decided to carry out this trek in late September as at this time of year the monsoon rains start to decrease. After an earthquake there will always be an increased risk of landslides especially during the monsoon due to the ground being loosened by the shaking and vibrations. By going on our recce trek in September we inspected the region for any further trail damage post publication of Miyamoto report and to check the condition before The Mountain Co groups arrive in early October.

Key findings: trail conditions
Overall the trail to Everest Base Camp and Gokyto was in pretty good shape and during our trek we had no issues with completing our itinerary. Where the trail had been damaged by the earthquake in most places had already been fixed or there were teams working hard to repair. In my view the objective risk has not increased significantly since the earthquake, there is always a risk of rockfall and landslides in the mountainous areas of Nepal especially during the rainy monsoon season from June through to September.

Photo: trail repairs are ongoing
Photo: crews working hard to get the trail repaired for Autumn season
As highlighted in Miyamoto report there are several sections of the trail with new rockfall or landslide risk as a result of the earthquake, these are as follows:

- near Tok Tok a section of the trail has been damaged by a landslide below the waterfall and this debris is now partially blocking the Dudh Khosi river. There always has been rockfall risk around Tok Tok and Bengkar as the valley is narrow here and there are cliffs high above these settlements. As you can see in photo below one house was destroyed by a large boulder falling from above. I heard some talk about relocating the trail onto other side of the valley in the near future however this has not yet been confirmed. We advise our groups walking through Tok Tok and Bengkar to keep moving and minimise breaks in this area and certainly not stop at lodge here for meals or sleep overnight.
Photo: landslide at Tok Tok into Dudh Khosi river
Photo: landslide at Tok Tok
Photo: local house in Bengkar destroyed by a large boulder
- above Namche on the low trail to Everest Base Camp, as you pass the Tenzing memorial there is an area with fractured rock zones above the trail. There is certainly rockfall risk here however if you are aware of this and do not stop below then the risk is quite low. Also the fractured rock is 200m+ above the trail so there should be time to move out the way if there is any rockfall.

Photo: rockfall area above Namche past Tenzing memorial
- there are several smaller sections on trail from Namche to Tashinga that have slipped however the trail is still passable and in one place just passed Sanasa has already been repaired. There is a large landslide newly formed during the monsoon directly below the trail shortly after Tenzing memorial however this is unlikely to affect the path.
Photo: there are a number of smaller landslides on Everest trail although still possible for trekking groups to pass 
- in my view the section of trail with highest risk is on the path to new bridge after Deboche, I gather the older bridge was damaged several years ago and new one was built 300m further upstream. On the approach to new bridge one passes under three landslides above the trail. These landslides are examples of natural hazards on Everest Base Camp trail that were in existence since before the earthquake in Spring.
Photo: trail to new bridge below Deboche
- trail from Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp has changed slightly in two places, firstly in moraine before Gorakshep the path now crosses a new bridge further 30 metres upstream. Secondly after Gorakshep in one place the trail follows below the lateral moraine for 200m whereas before was safer following on top of the moraine. 
Photo: walking to Everest Base Camp on lateral moraine
Key findings: lodges and guesthouses
During our Everest recce trek we inspected the lodges and guesthouses used by The Mountain Co and all of these places are now in suitable condition for use by our groups in Autumn season. Several of these lodges were badly damaged after the earthquake especially in Monjo, Thame, Tashinga, Phortse and Pheriche however the owners have worked hard to repair over the summer in order to be ready for Autumn season. The lodge owners and companies like Everest Summit Lodge have employed large number of workers from outside the Khumbu to help with the reconstruction.

Photo: having tea outside rebuilt Tashinga lodge owned by Everest Summit Lodge
Of course the focus has been on reconstruction of the lodges and guesthouses for Autumn season however there is still alot of work to be done to rebuild local houses. Due to the vast amount of rebuilding required workers are in short supply and their daily rates are increasing. 

It was encouraging to see throughout the Khumbu there were many solid, winterised tents provided by German Red Cross so everyone at least has shelter from the elements. I also saw in some villages "Relief houses" donated by Himalayan Trust, these are small houses made of corrugated steel and wood and look much better than living in tents. It is good to see relief supplies have been distributed throughout the Khumbu by charities and NGOs.

Photo: "relief house" donated by Himalayan Trust
Photo: "relief house" donated by Himalayan Trust
Photo: tents donated by German Red Cross
We noticed the construction methods are changing post earthquake with many of the rebuilt houses now made from corrugated steel and wood rather than stone blocks. Often the base of the house up to about half a metre is still in stone then the rest of the walls are in steel and wood. These houses should have higher earthquake resistance and be safer for people living inside compared to the traditional stone walls and roof.

Photo: reconstructed houses and lodges using more metal and wood materials
Overall conclusions
Sherpas of the Everest region have worked very hard over the summer to rebuild lodges and repair the walking trails to be ready for the Autumn season starting in early October. Yes there are sections of the trail to Everest Base Camp with risk of rockfall however I do not believe this is significantly higher post earthquake as there always has been objective risk of travelling in the high mountains. As discussed the section of trail to new bridge below Deboche built several years ago probably has highest risk of rockfall. As we move into the post monsoon season there should be lower amounts of precipitation and as a result the risk of further landslides and rockfall should decrease.

Following our recce trek to Everest, The Mountain Co has decided to go ahead with organising our Autumn treks to the Everest region. By taking sensible precautions and being aware of these riskier sections of the trail we feel it is the right time to start trekking again in the Khumbu. Of course there is a chance of further aftershocks and earthquakes in Nepal however it is ultimately up to each person to decide their level of acceptable risk.

Updated October 7th 2015: the British government through Foreign and Commonwealth Office ("FCO") currently have no travel restrictions in the mountains of Nepal apart from Langtang and Manaslu regions badly affected by the earthquakes. We suggest you carefully read FCO travel advice to Nepal.

If you decide to trek in the Everest region this Autumn season then we suggest take an experienced trekking guide with you, not only will this enhance your safety but will also provide valuable employment. The best way to support to Nepal is to come out and visit! If you are comfortable with accepting these risks then it is a great time to come as the trails are quieter than usual and the flights to Kathmandu are great value.

Please get in contact with us if you have any questions about trekking in Everest region. If you would like to join one of our groups, please click on this link to the list of trips now guaranteed to run

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Monday, 20 July 2015

Nepal is back in business! Support Nepal by visiting in Autumn 2015

Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp in Nepal
Nearly three months after The Big One(s!) there is no doubt Nepal is back in business. As discussed in our July newsletter, The Mountain Company is going ahead to run most of our Autumn trips in Nepal. Over the last few weeks we have seen an increase in bookings as people are now feeling more comfortable about the current risks with travelling in Nepal. 

On July 3rd, the day after our July newsletter went out, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (“FCO”) i.e British government downgraded their travel advice from only essential travel to the whole of Nepal to only essential travel to selected regions. These regions unfortunately include most of the mountainous areas in northern Nepal from western to eastern borders with India incorporating most of the trekking destinations.

We were rather disappointed with FCO as most of these areas were not badly affected by the earthquakes and we wonder why this level of advice finishes on border of India? Surely there is a risk in Indian Himalayas too plus Bhutan, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, USA etc etc! It seems like an arbitrary line on the map and unfortunately us Brits have a long history of causing problems with our mapping! Of course there has always been and always will be a risk of earthquakes in the Himalayas however the chance of this happening while you are on holiday is quite low. The next large magnitude earthquake could happen in Nepal tomorrow or in 15 years time....

We understand FCO will review their level of advice after the monsoon has ended in September/ October time when risk of further shocks and landslides has decreased. We suggest for a balanced understanding of the current risk of travelling in Nepal you read New Zealand and USA travel advisories as both of these countries have gone further with downgrading their levels of advice.

At The Mountain Company we have completed internal risk assessments for our trips in Nepal. This process has involved discussions with our guides and partners in Nepal; contacting lodge and hotel owners in towns, cities and trekking regions as well as sharing information with other operators in UK through our membership of AITO and through our contacts and connections in Nepal. We have also read the results from  the report "Damage Assessment of Everest Region" by engineering firm Miyamoto International.

Following this process we have decided to go ahead with treks to the following regions: Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Everest including Mera Peak, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Upper Mustang and Dolpo.

In September, I will travel to Nepal to walk the trail to Everest Base Camp in order to carry out a final assessment before our groups arrive in October. As usual I will be in Nepal throughout the peak Autumn season and will meet you on your arrival to Kathmandu for your briefing. We send Thuraya satellite phones with all of our groups in Nepal therefore I will be contactable in Kathmandu to support our groups throughout their stay in the country.

Fortunately, British Mountaineering Council ("BMC") has confirmed will provide insurance cover for the popular trekking destinations and climbing areas of Nepal for Autumn season. It is refreshing to see an insurance company like BMC delinking their insurance policy coverage from FCO advice and making decisions based on their own assessments.

After a serious event like an earthquake everyone tends to focus on this only and forgets about other risks of travelling in the high mountains such as the cyclones that have impacted Himalayas in October 2014 and 2013. We perform our risk assessments in order to plan our trips to reduce the impact of a number of different events however of course there is always a residual level of risk with travelling in the mountains. It is important for groups trekking in the Himlayas to have reliable communications (Thuraya satellite phones), GPS trackers, bespoke forecasts from Everestweather.com, PAC/ gamow bags, high quality tents (Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1s) and most importantly good Nepali and international leaders.

If you are interested in coming to Nepal in Autumn season, please take a look at our list of guaranteed trips.

We suggest you carefully research the current risks of travelling in Nepal and make your own informed decision based on your own level of acceptable risk. There is no doubt the best way to help Nepal recover and rebuild from the earthquake is to come out on holiday. By visiting Nepal you will bring much needed income and reduce their reliance on international aid. Trade is far better than aid. You are guaranteed to get a very warm welcome!

Please get in contact by phone, email or LiveChat through our website if you have any questions or require further information.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Current situation of trekking in Nepal post-earthquake and the impact on The Mountain Company’s Autumn treks

Photo: summit day on Mera Peak in Nepal
Following two earthquakes in Nepal on April 25th and May 12th we at The Mountain Company (“TMC”) have been assessing the current situation to determine the impact on our portfolio of Autumn treks.

We have been gathering information from various sources such as Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and directly from our trekking guides, NGOs/charities working on earthquake relief and lodge owners. I have also been following social media where have picked up useful information on current condition of these trekking regions through extensive contacts on Facebook. I was in Nepal throughout the Spring season and being on the ground was very useful in order to get the latest situation reports and updates.

As already published on TMC website fortunately following the earthquakes all of our groups, guides and staff are fine and accounted for. However sadly many of our guides and cooks lost their houses and we are helping to support them financially during these hard times. TMC had one group on Dhaulagiri Circuit during the earthquake and I was in daily contact with Almas Khan the leader of this group to determine the best course of action for them.

For more information on decisions we made for their safety and the group’s feedback on their experience please read Trip Report for Dhaulagiri Circuit in April 2015. TMC cancelled two treks (Upper Dolpo and Everest Base Camp) scheduled for arrival later in the Spring season as we felt there was a safety risk with further aftershocks and also felt it would be inappropriate to visit during the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

For Autumn 2015 season TMC has decided to organise most of our treks as planned except to areas badly affected by earthquake. The good news is that the following trekking areas should be open Autumn: Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Lower and Upper Mustang, Dolpo, Humla and Jumla.

Everest region has been affected both above and below Lukla however we have been in contact with lodge owners and most lodges used for our Everest Base Camp and Luxury Everest Base Camp treks have sustained only minor damage and should be repaired by Autumn season. Unfortunately the Everest Summit Lodge at Tashinga and Rivendell at Deboche have both been badly damaged so we will use alternative lodges at these locations.

I plan to go on a recce trek to Everest region during the month of September to check and inspect the condition of all our lodges. If I conclude these lodges are not safe then instead we will organise camping treks in the Khumbu. In the villages of Khumjung, Khunde and Thame there has been a lot of damage to the buildings so in these places we will use tented accommodation with meals provided by the tea houses.

The worst affected trekking regions in Nepal are Langtang, Gorkha, Rolwaling, Ganesh Himal (Ruby Valley), Manaslu and Tsum Valley. Unfortunately it will probably be not possible to trek in these areas until 2016 when they have had time to rebuild their houses, lodges and trails.

At The Mountain Company we have always taken the safety of our groups very seriously and during the next few weeks we will update our risk assessments for all trips and review for compliance with BS8848 ----> for more information on BS8848 and risk assessments. One of the issues encountered  by other trekking groups in Nepal after natural disasters like earthquakes and cyclones (i.e Cyclones Hudhud in October 2014 and Phailin in October 2013) is lack of communications as cell phones and land lines are often disrupted.

Please note for your safety The Mountain Company:
1) Sends Thuraya satellite phones with all of our trekking groups therefore we have direct communications with our leaders in the field.
2) Receives professional bespoke weather forecasts from everestweather.com for all of our treks in Nepal ----> for more information see blog article Weather forecasts for our Himalayan treks and expeditions during 2015

Following our initial review of risk assessments for Autumn we have identified increased risk of landslides, rockfalls and more exposure from damaged trails as well as possibility of further aftershocks. However our conclusion is that these risks should have stabilised by Autumn and it is likely the locals will have repaired trails and many of the lodges by October in time for the peak season. We will monitor the situation over the summer and my recce trek into the Everest region during September will help us make more accurate risk assessments before the start of Autumn season.

Earlier in the week I wrote a detailed article on TMC blog “Current condition of temples and buildings at World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley following April 2015 earthquake in Nepal”. I suggest you read this article as it explains how fortunately many of these structures at World Heritage sites have survived and in the future the destroyed temples will be rebuilt to regain their former glory.

Further good news is that the Kathmandu hotels used for TMC groups are still operational: these are Hotel Tibet, Hotel Manaslu, Hotel Ganjong and Hotel Shangri La. In Pokhara there was very little damage so all of the hotels in this city are operational too. Other places in Nepal that were unaffected by the earthquake also include Chitwan, Bardia, Lumbini, Tansen and Ilam.

The best way to help Nepal to recover from this devastating disaster is of course to come and visit on holiday later in the year. Not only will this help the economy bringing in much needed income but will also support the Nepalese people and give them a confidence boost during their post-earthquake rebuilding phase. TMC has a portfolio of treks now guaranteed to run including the following camping treks:

Dhaulagiri Circuit (Dates: October 4th to 23rd 2015)
Naar to Mustang GHT (Dates: October 30th to November 22nd 2015)
Mera Peak Expedition (Dates: October 31st to November 22nd 2015)
Kanchenjunga Circuit (Dates: November 4th to 29th 2015).

Please click here for TMC's full list list of treks guaranteed to run in 2015 and 2016

If you have already booked a trek with TMC for Autumn season then we will be in touch with you soon about the current status and any changes to the proposed itinerary. I am now back in UK so please get in contact if you need any further advice or information about trekking in Nepal.

Namaste and hopefully see you in Nepal!

Roland Hunter

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Almas Khan in April 2015

Photo: terraced fields near Muri village
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in April 2015 was led by Almas Khan. Almas led our successful October 2013 trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit and I know he was looking forward to going back again (read October 2013 Trip Report). The Sirdar for this trek was Domi Sherpa one of our most experienced climbing guides and the assistant guides were Sonam and Khumbu. The cook was Saila Tamang.

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group arrived to Kathmandu on April 19th. During this Spring season the Nepal Himalayan region received high amounts of precipitation, this was much more than usually experienced at this time of year. However we carefully tracked the amount of snow that had fallen in Dhaulagiri region for the last month through our bespoke weather forecasts and hindcasts from everestweather.com. From this information we identified there was less snow in Dhaulagiri region compared to Annapurna. Therefore we were confident with our experienced crew led by Almas Khan that our group would have a good chance of safely crossing the high passes to Jomsom.

On 20th the group flew to Pokhara then drove by bus to Beni where they met the trek crew and then walked to their first camp at Tatopani. The trek progressed as planned and on 24th they arrived to Dobang camp. However this all changed at 11.56am on 25th as there was a 7.8 Richter earthquake in Nepal with epicentre located near Gorkha. I was in Kathmandu during the earthquake and shortly afterwards I called Almas on his satellite phone to find out if the group and crew were all ok. I heard from Almas there was some rockfall on the trail although there were luckily no injuries in our team as the tremors were not so strong in this area compared to other trekking regions of Nepal.

On 26th we decided to allow the group to walk up to Italian Base Camp as this is a wide, open area with low risk of rockfall or avalanche so would be a safe place for them to stay for a while. After further discussions with Almas on satellite phone we decided to abort the trek as we were concerned about the risk of rockfall in the narrow Chonbarden gorge leading to Glacier Camp. All of the other groups descended from Italian Base Camp however we decided to keep the group at Italian Base camp for a further four days. We felt this was the safest option as it would be risky walking down the narrow Myagdi valley if there were further aftershocks.

The other consideration was the severe congestion at Kathmandu airport with many people trying to leave the country when at the same time many international aid flights were arriving. Therefore we decided to stick to their original return date to Kathmandu of May 6th. The group descended Myagdi valley and slept the night of May 5th in Beni then drove to Pokhara staying that evening at New Pokhara Lodge. On May 6th they all returned to Kathmandu as planned and then flew home on May 8th. By this time the airport was far less busy and was back to operating normal schedules so there were no delays or flight cancellations like a week earlier.

I was in Kathmandu when this group returned and spoke to each member of the group for a debrief. Everyone was supportive of our decisions and I gather they enjoyed their time exploring around Italian Base Camp and overall had a positive experience. Please see some of their comments below:

“There is no doubt that Almas is extremely experienced and there was no time on the entire trek where I felt like I was in danger including the earthquake. I believe the handling of the situation was very professional and in the interest of everyone in the party.” Eva (USA)

“I was of course concerned about the impact of the earthquake on the local people and our team - but I never had any concern that anything other than the best decision had been taken for the immediate safety of the group (both staff and clients).” Martin (UK)

Martin also went on to say “The Mountain Company specialises in its area of expertise and this showed through at every level - ability to communicate useful info; answer questions; provide the best best team for the trek and then take the best decisions re the earthquake. I was very happy to have chosen The Mountain Company. In addition one of my concerns on my first trip to Nepal was to ensure I traveled with a company who recognise the safety of the team (in particular porters) is equally important to that of tourists - I was very happy with The Mountain Company's approach to this.”

Thanks very much to Almas, Domi, Sonam, Khumbu, Saila and the rest of the crew for their help in organising this trek. Great job!

The Mountain Company has a guaranteed departure for our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2015 led by Allan Gibbs, please get in touch with us soon if you would like join this group.

Roland Hunter

Friday, 15 May 2015

Current condition of temples and buildings at World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley following April 2015 earthquake in Nepal


On April 25th 2015 there was 7.8 Richter scale earthquake in Nepal resulting in 9,000 fatalities and 19,000 injuries mainly in Gorkha, Dhading, Lamjung, Rasuwa (Langtang), Sindupalchok and Dolaka districts. Beyond the human cost, there was a huge amount of destruction to property resulting in over 500,000 houses being destroyed throughout the country and, as widely reported in the press, a lot of damage to the World heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley.

After the earthquake the media reports focused on the destruction at the World Heritage Sites however I was curious to find out which temples and buildings were still standing. As I was in Kathmandu I decided to inspect and to take photographs of these temples and historical buildings to find out their condition after the earthquake.

On May 12th and 13th I visited six out of the seven World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Swayambhunath Temple and Patan Durbar Square. I did not get the chance to have a look the seventh World Heritage site at Changu Narayan Temple.

It is incredibly sad to see many temples damaged and destroyed however I was surprised to also discover many were still standing and hardly affected by the earthquake. As my visit was more than two weeks after the main earthquake a lot of the debris had been cleared up by the army, police and many volunteer helpers.

From seeing these places after the earthquake I have come to the conclusion it is certainly still well worth visiting the World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley. Pashupatinath Temple was barely affected; in Patan and Bhaktapur most of the temples are still standing. I was very relieved to see both Boudhanath and Swayambhunath Buddhist stupas had survived too. It seems that Kathmandu Durbar Square was worst affected by the earthquake.

I have listed below the condition of World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley, please get in touch if you have any further information or changes since my visits.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

The good news is that Taleju temple known as tallest in Kathmandu survived, this is located at the north end of Durbar Square. In this area, the Jagannath Temple as well as the nearby Vishnu and Indrapur temples are also intact. The large stone image of Kala Bhairab, a manifestation of Shiva, known as God of wrath and terror is still standing.

Photo: Taleju temple after 2015 earthquake
Photo: entry to north side of Durbar Square

Over on the south side of Durbar Square the Kumari House sustained only minor damage, this is where a girl known as Kumar revered as the living goddess, lives.  Other surviving temples and buildings include Bimaheshwor Temple, Kabindradpur Sattal, House of the Priest, Mahhendreshwar Temple and Kabindra. The Shiva Parvati temple house where the Hindu gods Shiva and his consort Parvati take shelter has also survived.

Photo: Gaddi Durbar (heavily cracked) and empty plinth from destroyed Trailoka Narayan temple
Photo: rubble and debris from destroyed Kasthamandap temple 
Sadly the temples of Kasthamandap and nearby Biseshwori Mahadev as well as the tall pagoda style temples of Maju Dewal and Narayan that used to dominate Durbar Square all have completely collapsed. Trailoyka Narayan temple has been destroyed and and the large statue of Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu, has toppled. The nine-storey Basantapur tower overlooking Basantapur square has partially collapsed. The old royal palace at Hanuman Dhoka and also the large white palace at Gaddi Burbar has been badly damaged. The statue of King Pratap Malla in front of Hanuman Dhoka has toppled over.

Photo: Basantapur tower has partially collapsed after 2015 earthquake

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square is believed to be the oldest city in the valley dating back to Licchavi period 350 to 740 AD. The good news is that most of the temples survived however many of the older private houses collapsed around the main squares.  Fortunately the famous Pashupatinath, Nyatapola and Dattatraya temples all still standing. 

Photo: Chyasilin and Pashupatinath temples after 2015 earthquake
The Royal Palace, the magnificent Golden Gate and the palace of fifty- five windows all survived. The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla seen on a column facing the palace is still standing as well as the nearby Chyasilin Temple rebuild recently after 1936 earthquake.

Photo: Palace of 55 windows after earthquake
Photo: Nyatapola temple after 2015 earthquake
Vatsala Durga temple between Chyaslin and Pashupatinath collapsed and Siddhi Lakshmi shikara is damaged although still standing.

Patan Durbar Square

Luckily the magnificent Royal Palace survived the earthquake and its tall pagoda of Degutale. The main temples in Durbar Square Chyasin Dega, Krishna and Bhimsen survived too. However unfortunately Hari Shankar and Char Narain temples have completely collapsed. I heard Kwa Bahal monastery complex often know as Golden Temple and Machchhendranath Temple also are still standing. 

North of Durbar Square in Swotha Square the three-tiered pagoda temple dedicated to Radha-Krishna has collapsed (I climbed onto the stone plinth during the second earthquake on May 12th).

Photo: Royal Palace and Degutale pagoda
Photo: Krishna temple to left with Garuda on pillar facing temple
Photo: Bhimsen (merchant) temple

Photo: Vishwanath temple
Boudhanath stupa

The Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath has survived the earthquake intact, some of the golden sections at the top have been dislodged however these should be repairable. I noticed one one of the smaller stupas on north -east side has collapsed.

Photo: Boudhanath stupa after 2015 earthquake

Swayambunath stupa

The Buddhist stupa of Swayambunath has survived although many of the buildings, monasteries and temples around the main stupa have been damaged and collapsed. 

Photo: Syambunath stupa after 2015 earthquake
Photo: Harati temple (Hindu)
Photo: Anantapur shikhara temple destroyed in 2015 earhquake
Photo: Karmaraj Mahavihar monastery badly damaged

Pashupatinath

There has been very little damage at Pashupatinath temple complex located on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Sadly the ghats have been busy with cremations for the many people killed during 2015 earthquake. 

Photo: Pashupatinath temple
Photo: ghats with cremations on holy Bagmati river

The best way to help Nepal to recover from this devastating disaster is to come and visit later in the year. As you can see from these photos many of the temples and buildings of the World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley are still standing and not affected by the earthquake. There is no doubt Nepal with assistance from UNESCO and international community will rebuild many of the destroyed and damaged temples.

Please support Nepal by coming to visit for holiday this Autumn season. Most of the trekking areas in Nepal will be open apart from areas like Gorka and Langtang most severely affected, I will write an article on TMC blog with more information about where it is possible to trek once we have more information.

Please get in touch if you have any further information or updates on the current condition of these places or if you have any corrections on this blog. Thanks!

Roland Hunter


The Mountain Company