Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Mountain Company pledge and testimonial for AITO Project PROTECT

Earlier this year Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) launched Project PROTECT in recognition of the important role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. The aim of this project is to encourage sustainable tourism and to nurture the destinations for tomorrow's travellers. The PROTECT acronym stands for People / Resources / Outreach / Tourism / Environment / Conservation / Tomorrow.

This project is led by Professor Xavier Font of the University of Surrey and each AITO member has to publish an annual pledge and report back at the end of the year on how they got along. For more information take a look at ----> AITO Press release

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

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This is part of the Leave No Trace philosophy encouraging people to minimise their environmental impact when exploring the great outdoors. At The Mountain Company we want to go further by picking up rubbish/ trash found along the trekking trails and around the campsites. We have received client feedback that rubbish is a big problem and this unsightly mess has detracted from their holiday experience. By picking up litter this activity will make the environment cleaner and will help to maintain the natural beauty of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains.

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

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

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

*Update January 2018* Our testimonial to explain how we got along and the final outcome of our 2017 Project Protect

The Mountain Company would like to thank our guides and trekkers for enthusiastically embracing our AITO Project Protect pledge to help make the environment in the Himalaya and Karakoram cleaner. Our local crew members believe that the mountains are the Abode of The Gods and therefore our efforts were aligned with their religion and culture. Our initial pledge was to remove 120kg of rubbish, and this was exceeded with over 350kg removed by 64 of our trekkers from trails and camp sites in Nepal, Bhutan and India during 2017.

We provided our groups with rubbish bags, gloves and tongs for picking up rubbish, and electronic scales to measure progress. The feedback from our trekkers was very positive; as one person commented “Love your green initiative and practices to ensure minimal impact on the environment.” As well as physically removing rubbish, our intention was to start the process of changing the attitude among other trekking groups and locals to encourage them to reduce their environmental impact too. Our actions initiated discussions among other trekking groups and some of them were inspired to follow our lead and pick up rubbish too. This multiplied the impact of our pledge.

A lot was learnt about collecting rubbish in our trek areas. For example, in comparison to other areas, Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park in Nepal has the best infrastructure for collection, with a network of bins organised and emptied regularly and an incinerator in Namche Bazaar. In spite of this, there was still a significant amount of rubbish strewn about in the park. Our Everest region groups picked up 98kg, 28% of the total collected. Further efforts are required to encourage people to use the bins provided.

In practice we made a relatively small step in the right direction however there is much more to be done to promote the philosophy of leaving no trace (“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints”) in the Himalaya and Karakoram. To address this problem and to make long term change will require further input from trekking operators, national parks, tourist boards and associations in these countries.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: crossing Saldang La

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company