Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

2018 AITO Project PROTECT


Association of Independent Tour Operators’ (AITO) Project PROTECT recognises 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 through a Testimonial at the end of the year on how they got along.

The Mountain Company's 2018 Pledge is as follows:

"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 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 2018, we will ask each trekker booked onto a trip with us to pick up one kilogram of rubbish. During 2018 we will have approximately 200 trekkers travelling with one of our groups in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India and we will therefore pick up at least 200kg of litter."


The Mountain Company's 2018 Testimonial sent to AITO Project Protect reporting on how we got along with our Pledge is as follows:

"In 2018 the Mountain Company’s groups removed 320kg (average 1.6kg per person) of rubbish from the Himalaya. We have also incorporated rubbish collection and disposal into our standard operating procedures for our destinations of Nepal and Bhutan.

In 2018 we decided to build upon our 2017 pledge by collecting more rubbish from the trekking trails and campsites of the Himalayan countries. Our groups removed 320kg of rubbish from the Himalaya and this works out at an average of 1.6kg per person booked onto trips with us in 2018. We have also looked into better methods of extracting our own rubbish from the mountains and this year for our Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan we used ponies to pack out 65kg of our waste to the road head. 

We also wanted to reinforce the importance of rubbish collection and disposal to our trek guides and crews by incorporating this approach into our operating procedures so this will be standard practice for The Mountain Company groups in future years. I have noticed a change in attitude to rubbish collection among our trek crew from guides through to porters. The trek crew have picked up a large proportion of the rubbish collected this year and have set a great example to our trekkers. Our guides and cooks have frequently walked around the campsites to collect the rubbish scattered around and discard along with the waste generated by our group.

The feedback from most of our groups during debrief meetings in Kathmandu has been very positive and they enjoy being part of this project to help keep the mountains clean. Here is an extract from one of our AITO reviews: “Great! Five-stars! The Mountain Company is an amazing tour operator. Environmental friendly by participating in cleaning up the trails and promote environmental friendly practices.” by SnoMo, 5 Dec 2018

Over the last two years we have been pleased to notice an improvement in the environment on the Himalayan treks. We also seen more focus and attention on this issue from organisations based in these countries such as the Bhutan Tourism Council and the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee in Everest region of Nepal having both organised clean up expeditions. However with increasing numbers of visitors to these remote places there is still much to be done to improve the environment."



Thanks for everyone's help and support with our AITO Project Protect in 2018 and 2017.

Roland Hunter

Monday, 26 November 2018

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit in Nepal led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and Raj Tamang (Nepal) in late October 2018

Photo: Natalie with assistant guides Bal and Sagar (credit: Natalie Wilson)
In late October 2018, The Mountain Company (UK) organised our ninth trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal, you can read Trip Reports from our previous treks around Kanchenjunga Circuit

This group was led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and this was her fourth time leading this classic trek around the world’s third highest mountain. The Nepali sirdar for this group was Raj Tamang from Taplejung, he also worked as sirdar for our April 2018 trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit. The assistant guides were Bal, Jon and Sagar. The cook was Sangram Lama who has worked with us for many years and always produces high quality and tasty food for our groups.

For our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit group we had ten trekkers coming from UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Photo: Kanchenjunga northside (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Photo: Mount Jannu (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Natalie has summarised her experience leading this trek as follows: 

“The trip was really successful - most of the group made it to either Pang Pema, Oktang or both base camps and we experienced excellent weather throughout - no rain, light winds and a lovely sprinkling of snow overnight at Selele before the three passes. The food was excellent, the crew organised, hard working and friendly and the group got on really well together. People loved the variety of terrain we passed through - from quiet villages, cardamon plantations through to the high ground with it’s cold nights, stark rock and snow capped mountains. We saw eagles, blue sheep and other wildlife.

The food was excellent and varied. Sangram and crew did a fantastic job and the group were very impressed. Many of the group commented that they hadn’t expected such stunning scenery all the way and they were impressed with all the crew and how the logistics of the trip work."


Photo: Oktang with view of south side of Kanchenjunga (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at www.everestweather.com and this information was sent through to Nat on her satellite phone for days before approaching Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp and before crossing the Mirgin La. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. 

We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit trek

I have copied below feedback received from one member of Kanchenjunga Circuit November 2018 group now published on AITO review site:

"A long three week trek in a remote part of Nepal visiting Kanchenjunga North and South base camps. A very well organised camping trek with the group supported by a hard working team of guides, cooking staff and porters. A mix of climates from temperate forests to cold high altitude tundra surrounding Himalayan mountains. Spectacular scenery. A special place. The Mountain Company is a well organised and highly professional tour operator specialising in trekking holidays in the Himalayas. They pay special attention to ensure the safety and welfare of the trekkers. Highly recommended."

You can read all of our AITO reviews received over the years for Kanchenjunga Circuit

Thanks very much to Natalie and Raj and the rest of the team for their hard work leading and organising this trek.

Our next departure for Kanchenjunga Circuit is in April 2019 and followed by late October 2019. There is currently availability if you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch with us soon.

Roland Hunter

Friday, 23 November 2018

Trip report for Lunana Snowman in Bhutan led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2018

Photo: Gophu La pass on exit from Lunana
This is the tenth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan. Our Snowman 2018 group successfully made the full traverse from Paro through Lunana out to Bumthang. The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging 28 day trek through the remote Bhutanese Himalaya.

This year we had eleven trekkers signed up for Lunana Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

For 2018 Snowman our international leader, Almas Khan, worked with our regular Bhutanese guides Tashi and Tsering Dorje. Nawang worked as our third guide and he has learnt a lot from working with our regular crew so we hope to work with him again on Snowman next year.

The cook, Tandim Sonam, and his kitchen helpers did a superb job and we have received positive feedback from the group on the quality and quantity of food. We have worked hard over last few years increasing the food provisions for Snowman. In Summer 2017 we imported a food dehydrator machine from USA into Bhutan and this has help increase the quantity of vegetables supplied whilst on a long and remote trek like the Snowman trek.

Photo: view from Karchung La on entry to Lunana
Almas summarises how Snowman 2019 went from his perspective as the leader of the group:

“This was another fantastic Lunana Snowman trek. Overall the trip went well, with all of the group completing the complete journey in good health. All loved the food on the trek catered for by cook Tandim Sonam. After we reached Lingshi till Narethang we experienced some cloudy days which limited our views but we were fortunate to experience overall much less precipitation this year. The day crossing Karchung La we had sterling clear views and this continued for the rest of the trip out to Bumthang. Overall the weather was very good compared to my previous nine Snowman treks. The Bhutanese staff did a super job and the training is paying off. Having the opportunity to work with the same crew on all of my Snowman treks has made it possible to bring about positive change to the service we offer to our clients on trek in Bhutan.”

As Almas says overall the weather and conditions for Snowman 2018 were favourable. The timing of this trek is very important in order to increase the chances of successfully completing the full traverse from Paro to Bumthang. From organising Snowman trek ten times since 2008 we have developed a good understanding for the optimal time to start the trek. By the last week of September the monsoon should be winding down and this places the group in Lunana around mid-October hopefully before the winter snows block the exit passes out to Bumthang.

Throughout our Lunana Snowman trek we receive 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.


We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our Lunana Snowman 2018 trek .

We made one change to the logistics for this year’s Snowman trek by changing our horses at Laya whereas last year we took horses from Paro all the way through to Bumthang. Almas told me that the horsemen from Laya have strong, healthy horses and in the years we took horses from Laya all the way we noticed the horses got tired by the end of the trek.

Photo: view from Kesha La
I have copied below feedback received from one member of Snowman 2018 group now published on AITO review site:

“Well organised with great attention to detail, pre, during and post trek. The crew were top notch. A month of trekking in remote parts - no one got sick or injured, everyone completed the trek. The Mountain Company were efficient and thorough, operating with integrity and responsibility.” 

You can read all of our AITO reviews received over the years for Lunana Snowman

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Nawang, Tandim Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work organising and leading another successful Snowman trek.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2019 on TMC website and this departure is now already guaranteed to run. Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Snowman 2019 group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Trip report for Saribung Expedition Recce led by Jo Clark and Galden Sherpa in October 2018



Saribung Peak (6328m)
After leading the Naar to Upper Mustang trek in October 2018 I left the group in Lo Mantang and turned back, towards Saribung Pass and down to the village of Phu.  Galden Sherpa and I were going out to check the trails and best camping locations with a small support crew.  Most companies run this trek starting from Lo Mantang over to Phu. We wanted to see if it is possible to acclimatise better doing this expedition in the opposite direction by crossing the pass from the Phu side and finishing in Lo Mantang.

One reason for wanting to run the trip from the Phu side is that assuming we could find good campsites in gradually ascending locations, it allows for a slow ascent with a rapid, safe exit if necessary.  Whereas approaching Saribung from Lo Mantang entails crossing three passes of around 5,000m early in the trek.  This means ascending too high, too fast with risk of altitude sickness for both group and crew. If there is bad weather it raises the risk of not even getting near Saribung if the passes are blocked with snow.
Valley of Phu
Village of Phu
Another reason for looking at this option is to be able to spend time in the beautiful Valley of Phu. While Naar and Phu have become more popular and teahouses are being built to accommodate this, very few trekkers explore the valley north of Phu.  Most of those that walk these trails are heading down the valley having already crossed Saribung pass and therefore spend little time in the area.

Our first day from Lo Mantang took us back to Yara Gaon - a trail we know from the Naar to Upper Mustang trek. After that we were in new territory. The three passes to cross between Saribung La and Yara take you away from the Upper Mustang region with its colourful arid terrain in varying formations and towards the high plateaus.  The views from the three passes (4,950m, 5,300m and 5,400m) are as varied as the land you are trekking through, with Upper Mustang stretching out below, the majestic Dhaulagiri, the Tibetan plateau and the peaks of Damodar Himal.
Ghuma Thanti with Upper Mustang in the distance
Trekking the plateau
Dhaulagiri from Kyumu Pass (5300m)
The trail over these passes is very clear and regularly repaired and improved because it is highly frequented by Hindu Pilgrims in order to reach Damodar Kunda.  It is popular to carry out the Pilgrimage to this holy lake close to the Nepal Tibet border in August and Lord Krishna has said that he who pays a visit to and takes a deep-bath will be free from all sin.

Beyond this we find the glacier and the pass.  There is significant glacial moraine to walk across - more on the Phu side than the Mustang side.  For this reason and in order to acclimatise safely, I identified a number of camping options on the glacier.  We will camp at three locations on the glacier - Bhrikuti Base Camp (5,070m) which is right at the beginning of moraine, Moraine Camp (5,339m) which is part way up - there are a number of locations which have been flattened out and are suitable for camping here and finally Saribung High Camp (5,684m) which will put us in position to cross the pass safely.  On the Mustang side the section of moraine is shorter and we have decided to descend to Japanese base camp after crossing the pass.

We have the exact locations of these camps as throughout the recce, I was sending regular GPS checkins back to Roland from the satellite phone.  He uploaded each location I sent him onto Google Maps set up for Saribung Expedition and we used these waypoints to help finalise our itinerary decisions.
Views from the pass

Glacial moraine - looking towards Japanese Base Camp
The pass itself is crevassed and all of the crew and I went over with crampons and fully roped up.  A lot of the crew are unfamiliar with these techniques and we will work with them lower down the valley to ensure everyone is safe and confident in the crevassed areas.

On this recce, after crossing the pass we descended to Bhrikuti Base Camp which is a long way down.  From here I wanted to explore a small pass that looked like it could easily take us over to the next valley and Pokharkang Base Camp. The pass was easy to cross and the valley leading to Pokharkang Base Camp is beautiful and very peaceful.
Pokharkang Base Camp from the pass
In this quiet rarely visited valley we saw big herd of blue sheep and not much else.  It is a great place to acclimatise with good options for higher walks.  In order to make the jump from Nagoru (4,442m) to Pkharkang Base Camp (5,030m) more safely, I found a spot part way up the valley which had obviously been used for camping before.  This camp, which we have called Pokharkang low camp is at 4,840m and will give us the gradual ascent we want towards the pass.

From here, Galden and I joined back with the main trail just above Nagoru.  This abandoned village has plenty of large flat areas and is a beautiful camping spot.  If you look carefully there are caves above the village and we saw a herd of over twenty blue sheep grazing on the hill above the village. Despite being uninhabited, this remains the first village until Yara on the other side and it feels like civilisation.

Between Nagoru and Meta there are a few village like this and we will stay at Kyang on the way up to Phu as part of our acclimatisation process.  As Kyang is down the valley from Phu, there are a number of trekkers wanting to stay and although the village is abandoned, teahouses are slowly being built.

Finally, many people come to this Valley just to visit Phu and it is worth a visit in itself.  The medieval Tibetan village is perched on the hillside with narrow alleys twisting and winding between houses which were built closely together.  I am looking forward to spending an acclimatisation day here when I return in the Spring as I didn't have time to visit the Tashi La Kong Gompa or do any of the numerous acclimatisation walks possible.

We are running small recce for up to six clients in the Spring 2019.  Here is more information and a full itinerary which has been put together based on this recce.

Jo Clark
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Jo Clark and Gopal Tamang in October 2018

Photo: Approach to Teri La pass (credit: Jo Clark)
In October, we organised our third Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in Nepal. This trek was led by Jo Clark and Gopal Tamang with assistant guides Galden Sherpa and Jon Lama. Gopal was also the Sirdar for our November 2015 and 2017 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks so he has now developed good knowledge of this trek. The cook was Suk Bahadur Rai known for his excellent trek food, including freshly baked pastries.

Jo filmed during the trek and has produced a video of Naar to Upper Mustang GHT on The Mountain Company's channel on YouTube. She has summarised her experience of this trek as follows:

“The weather was characterised by beautiful sunny clear mornings and windy afternoons with some cloud. Overall it was perfect to enable us to reach our objective of reaching Lo Mantang via the Teri La. As the group mentioned a number of times, it’s the trek that keeps on giving. Each time we finished one section of the trek, there was always a new surprise around the corner.

First, we were lucky enough to see a few days of the Annapurna circuit with the colour and the crowds and then we made our way towards the Naar-Phu valley which is quiet and undeveloped in comparison. Naar was a surprise and a delight as we caught the last few days of the barley splitting week where the entire village was out beating barley to separate the grain from the husk in a rhythmic fashion from before dawn until dusk.

Above Naar trail became even quieter and the deep valleys began to open up, preparing us for a perfect pass day with clear views and warm weather. And just as the group began to think they had seen everything they came for, the views changed at every turn as the breathtaking scenery of arid lands and white capped mountains changed as we walked through each valley..

Finally the descent into LoMantang was as surprising as ever with the outskirts a modern collection of tea houses and the magnificent walled city hidden over the ridge before heading back down towards Jomson and the flight to Kathmandu and home.”


Photo: Views from the Teri La (Credit: Jo Clark)

You can view Jo's video of beating barley in Naar village on The Mountain Company's channel on YouTube. Every year in the Autumn the villagers spend a few days beating the barley ready for winter in Naar village. They start before dawn when the barley is frozen as it separates more easily, and work through until dusk.

One of the trekkers in Jo's group has sent in an AITO review and I have copied below:

“This camping trek is a stunning trek through the different landscapes of Nepal. It really is a trek that keeps on giving. Many treks can lose interest after the high pass crossing however with this trek the interest stayed right until the final day walking - significant scenery and cultural changes every few days: deep river gorges, then glacial valleys, the wind eroded and arid landscapes of Mustang, then views of big mountains, and the rolling plains of the plateau.
We have travelled on a number of occasions with the Mountain Company and even as they have grown the personal level of service and the attention to detail has been maintained.”

You can read our AITO reviews for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT

During this expedition I was based in Kathmandu and one of my jobs to support our groups in the field is to check weather forecasts on a daily basis and then send through to Jo’s satellite phone to keep her updated. We also get a paid weather forecast from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com received for this trek on October 12th when the group was in Naar village and several days before crossing Teri La pass. Having professional weather forecasts are essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

Photo: Jo Clark on the plateau in Upper Mustang

We have made several improvements with our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT itinerary for 2019. After the pass we have added an extra day as Tangga to Yara Gaon is a long day for both group and porters so we now walk from Tangga to Dhey and then next day to Yara Gaon. Also the feedback received from the group was that they would have preferred not to have a full day in Lo Manthang as after seeing the beautiful villages of Naar, Tangga and Yara Gaon they felt that an afternoon exploring Lo Manthang was sufficient, especially now there are new concrete hotels being constructed here. The descent from Lo Manthang to Jomsom now takes two days as we walk from Lo Manthang to Ghemi on a lovely trail, and from there, on the second day, we take the jeep down to Jomsom.

Photo: Upper Mustang (Credit: Jo Clark)
We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our October 2018 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek

As planned the group flew back from Jomsom to Pokhara to Kathmandu on October 26th. In the evening we all went for a meal at KToo steakhouse and I enjoyed hearing all about the trek and the group’s feedback.

Thanks very much to Jo, Gopal and the rest of the team for their hard work leading this trek. The group have all given very positive feedback on the food so well done to Suk!

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks in May and October 2019, please get in touch soon if you like to join these groups.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

#myTMCbuff now available to purchase!


Photo: #myTMCBuff (credit: The Mountain Company)
Who doesn’t need a brightly colored Buff - to keep your head warm, shelter you from the sun or just to look cool?  We worked directly with Buff to create a Prayer Flag inspired design, fine tuned in Spain and had them blessed at a Buddhist religious ceremony called a Puja while in Nepal. 

Photo: Puja ceremony to bless #myTMCBuff (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
Now these are available for sale (£20 or US$30) with all proceeds to benefit the The Mountain Company's social fund for use as a hardship fund for our guides and local Nepal charity organisations that are most in need. 

If you are coming out to Nepal on one of our treks this Autumn/ Fall season then you can purchase #myTMCBuff from one of our team at your briefing and debriefing meetings in Kathmandu. 

If you are not coming to Nepal this year and would like to purchase #myTMCBuff you can order one now by sending a message through our website. Please note that these will be dispatched by post in late November and if you ordering from overseas there is an additional US$5 charge for postage (total is US$30 + US$5= US$35).

Our first shipment of Buffs went out to the 28 attendees at our inaugural TMC training session in Kathmandu - including the guides, chefs and cook boys who were all in attendance.

If you check out hashtag #myTMCbuff on Instagram or Facebook you will be seeing them in action already. Once you get yours then please feel free to post a photo of you wearing the Buff under #myTMCbuff.

Roland Hunter


Sunday, 16 September 2018

Trip report for Ladakh Sky Trail GHT led by Almas Khan in August/ September 2018

Photo: Tsomoriri lake from our view point on last day (credit: Almas Khan)
In August/ September 2018 we operated our 5th Ladakh Sky Trail GHT in northern India. Almas Khan is the leader and organiser for this trek and this year we had an international mix of 11 trekkers coming from New Zealand, Australia, USA and UK.

As mentioned in previous trip reports our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT is a unique itinerary designed by Almas and travels 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 our local Ladakhi guides. If you like to really get off the beaten track and explore a very remote region of the Himalaya away from other trekking groups then this would be a great trek for you to consider.

Photo: the monastery at Lamaruyu at start of trek (credit: Almas Khan)
Our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT group arrived to Leh on August 14th and on 17th drove to Lamayuru (3,500m) and 18th they started the trek. Overall the trek went well, they kept to the itinerary arriving to Tso Moriri as planned and drove back to Leh on September 8th.

As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can view the Google Maps for our 2018 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT

Photo: Google Maps for Ladakh Sky Trail GHT in August 2018
Almas sums up his experience leading this group as follows:

“It was good to have a larger group this year. The temperatures on our trek this year were about 5 degrees Celsius warmer when compared to last 3 years. The water level for river crossings was about six inches higher but not very cold - it made the river crossings more enjoyable. All group members acclimatised very well and we did not have any problems with altitude sickness, having three nights in Leh before the trek starts is definitely working. It was also good to hear from the clients that the trek was very beautiful and the food was great.”

As for all or our treks in the Himalayas we received bespoke weather forecast from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com. The weather for our 2018 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT trek was fine with mainly sunny weather and there was only light precipitation after Tshokar lake till they reached Tsomoriri  Lake but most of it happened at night and made the walks less dusty.

Almas explains in his trip report to us that "the high altitude camps towards the end of trek were warmer compared to previous years and the temperatures barely got to freezing. The condition of the trail was good as it did not snow much in Ladakh and Zanskar last winters."

Photo: Skui Pata village (credit: Almas Khan)
The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 200kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2018. Our 2018 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT collected 7kg of rubbish from the trails and around campsites and this is less than our target of 1kg per trekker however this is mainly because there is a lack of rubbish on this rarely visited region of Ladakh.

Almas explains in his trip report to us that "most campsites at are clean as it’s a less used trek. Towards the end of the trek in Rupshu valley you see a bit of rubbish and most of it from the nomadic shepherds."
Photo: Hanimal village (credit: Almas Khan)

We have received excellent feedback from the group on the quality of Ladakh Sky Trail GHT itinerary and our organisation, I have copied one AITO review received below:

"22 day trek. Fantastic landscapes and culture. Very rewarding. Excellent food and organisation. Highly recommended. The Mountain Company and trekking guide Almas Khan are top operators and can be trusted. They know the region and were very responsive both before and during the trek. Without question we'd use TMC again as our preferred trekking company for the Himalayas." By Stu, Ladakh Sky Trail GHT 2018

I would like to thank Almas and all of the Ladakhi team including guides, cooks, kitchen helpers and horsemen for doing a fantastic job helping on another successful Ladakh Sky Trail GHT. Almas will be back in Ladakh again next summer leading our 2019 Ladakh Sky Trail and please get in touch if you are interested in joining him.

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 30 August 2018

What does your next adventure look like?

The first time I was trekking in the Everest Region in the Himalayas, I asked how far to the next village. Two hours was the answer. When I asked specifically for me, it became two and half hours. When trekking at altitude, time has traditionally been the way to explain how far there is to go.

With GPS watches now very common, data and digital mapping has increasingly become something all of us are more interested in to help us select a new adventure and record our recent outings. At The Mountain Company have been focused on two areas to improve our provision of data.

Firstly, Roland has been creating maps of the routes that our treks follow, adding in as much detail as he can, such as the detailed route, lodges and places of interest. We decided to use google maps as the satellite view shows contour lines and topography best. As the maps are created, they are posted directly onto the trip page for each trek and you can access by clicking on the "View Map" . Here is the map for our Dhaulagiri Circuit Trek in Nepal which is next running in October.

Photo: Google Earth for Upper Dolpo
Secondly, we have also begun working with Suunto Ambit3 Vertical watches to record more in depth data on our treks. These provide detailed mapping as well as ascent and descent profiles, altitude and distance. We have begun collating this and will add to our trip dossiers as available.

Photo: Sunnto Ambit3 Vertical
Whilst leading our K2 Base Camp and Gondogoro La Trek in Pakistan this summer, I used my watch every day to collect the relevant data and am currently inputting that data into an updated trip dossier. The data from the pass crossing from Ali Camp to Khuspang shows our 10 km of travel over 10 hours as we went up 860m and down 1090m, reaching a maximum altitude at the top of the pass of 5606 metres.

Photo: Suunto data for day crossing Gondogoro La

Photo: Suunto data for day crossing Gondogoro La

A video of the Gondogoro La pass crossing can be seen here.

Jo Clark
Nepal Operations Manager

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Nepal Guides training in Kathmandu- August 2018


Photo: training on PAC bags on The Mountain Company course August 2018 (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
August is quiet in Nepal and not a lot of trekking is happening this time of year. As most of our local guides weren’t leading treks and I was passing through Kathmandu after my recent K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La trek in Pakistan, we decided it was the perfect time to run a training session for them.

The session lasted 2 days and took place at the Outdoor Training Centre in Kathmandu. This community initiative is a relatively new training facility dedicated to bringing information, education and recreation together. Their belief is that through sharing knowledge and business ideas, adventure sports and their social benefits can be encouraged within the community. It is the ideal location for this kind of training as there is a classroom, a large open training area for more active sessions - and they provide a fantastic lunch.

Photo: group presentations on scenario planning (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
It was great to see such a wide range of attendees with guides, assistant guides, cooks and office staff - 28 in total. The range of English language abilities meant that everyone was helping each other out and each individual was an expert at something. 

The first day of the session used a variety of collaborative teaching methods to teach and reinforce The Mountain Company’s policies on communication, health and hygiene and medical issues. Everyone had the opportunity to send their GPS location using a SAT phone, communicate with the radios and practice using the Personal Altitude Chambers bags.

Photo: familiarisation with medical kits (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
Day 2 started with an online refresher quiz and then moved on to look in more detail at the comprehensive medical kits we carry on all trips. We have recently reorganised these bags with labelled compartments, making it faster and easier for both local and western guides to find the medication they need quickly and efficiently.

Photo: attendees on The Mountain Company course in August 2018 with #myTMCBuff (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
Photo: Tulsi and Chandra receiving completion certificates from Jo (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)
The two days finished with a special puja service for our new TMC Buffs. These have colourful prayer flags all over them and as a result we wanted to ensure cultural sensitivity. The Lama who performed the puja was happy with the buffs but cautioned that they should not be placed in anyone's back pocket.

Photo: puja ceremony to bless #myTMCBuff (Credit: Robert Mads Anderson)

Photo: #myTMCBuff (Credit: The Mountain Company)
Everyone took away a newly blessed buff from the course (including the Lama) and these will be available for purchase as part of our social fund. We will give proceeds of the sales to our social fund for use as a hardship fund for guides and charitable contributions. TMC will pay for the Buffs, so 100% of the proceeds will be paid into our social fund. The cost of a social buff will be GBP20 or US$25 and the social media hashtag is #myTMCBuff. We want to see how many locations #myTMCBuff can get to whilst walking in the mountains!

Jo Clark
Nepal Operations Manager
www.themountaincompany.co.uk


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Trip report for K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro in Pakistan during July/ August 2018

Photo: Mount K2 (credit Jo Clark)
In July we organised our 10th trek to K2 Base Camp in Pakistan and out of these departures six groups have successfully crossed the Gondogoro La high pass over to Hushe. For this Summer's trek we ran two treks to K2 Base Camp in Pakistan at the same time: our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and our K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La.

Our leaders for our July 2018 K2 Base Camp treks were Jo Clark (UK), Zahid (Pakistan), Amine (Pakistan), Khalil (Pakistan) and Nasim (Pakistan). This was Jo’s first time trekking in Pakistan and as many of you know she is now working full time for us as our Nepal Operations Manager. We had eight people in our Gondogoro La group and seven people in our K2 Base Camp group. Like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

The group arrived to Islamabad on July 21st and in the afternoon Jo gave her group briefing at Hotel Hillview. The next day they flew up to Skardu on the Pakistan International Airlines (“PIA”) flight. As discussed in our Trip report for our 2016 K2 Base Camp the flights to Skardu have become more reliable over last few years due to operational changes at PIA. If the Skardu flight is cancelled then the group would have to drive for two days up the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”).

Photo: Lunch on the way to Ali Camp (credit Jo Clark)
As the group flew to Skardu they had two nights in this small town on the banks of the Indus river. It is an interesting place for the group to explore, like visiting the Skardu fort and the local bazaar. Our K2 Base Camp groups have flown both ways Islamabad – Skardu – Islamabad in 2016, 2017 and 2018 therefore these days the chance of driving KKH is much lower. However this is always a possibility, so people have to be prepared for this drive if the flight is cancelled.

On July 24th they drove from Skardu to Askole village, they made good time and on arrival to Askole met the rest of the trek crew and camped in fields of the village for the first night of the trek. I have copied below Jo’s summary of how the trek went in her own words:

“For the first week of the trek, the mountains were often hidden by clouds. As we made our way up the glacier we had glimpses of Trango Towers, Cathedral and Masherbrum but never saw the entire mountains. At Urdukas the weather was pleasant with some clouds in the sky and the acclimatisation walk was enjoyed - sitting in the grass, taking pictures, videos and enjoying the best views we had been offered so far.

As the team arrived in Concordia, the skies cleared and there wasn’t another cloud for the next 5 days. This provided the most beautiful clear views of K2, Broad Peak and all of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, making the tough trek up the Baltoro glacier well worth it. Everyone in the team was excited to trek on to Broad Peak Base Camp where the views improved along with the weather.

At Concordia, half the group returned down the Baltoro glacier and the other half headed towards Ali Camp to prepare for the Gondogoro La pass. The trek to the bottom of the pass started at midnight and as the slope steepened, the crampons went on and fixed ropes became necessary. Dawn was breaking in beautiful colours as everyone arrived at the top of the pass at 5am. Then we started down the precarious and challenging descent on ropes to the other side. The weather held for a few more days for a relaxing trip down the beautiful Hushe valley took us back to the jeeps and civilization.”



Photo: Camp at Concordia (credit Jo Clark)
This group experienced excellent weather and conditions for the days crossing the Gondogoro La pass on August 5th. Selecting the best time of year to trek is important in Pakistan and last year we changed our dates to 10 days earlier. This worked well for both our 2018 and 2017 groups, crossing Gondogoro La on clear, sunny days with perfect views of the Karakoram mountain range.

Photo: On Gondogoro La (credit Jo Clark)
Many groups trekking into K2 Base Camp earlier in the Summer find there is too much snow and three weeks before our trek there were several other groups that were unable to proceed beyond Urdukas due to too much snow on the trail. Later in the season into late August the weather tends to be cloudier and there is a higher chance of precipitation. Of course the weather changes year to year however from our cumulative experience of trekking and climbing in Pakistan since 2004 we have found these are the optimal dates for K2 Base Camp trek.

Photo: Walking on Baltoro Glacier (credit Jo Clark)
Well done to both groups for achieving their objectives with the Gondogoro La group successfully crossing this technical high pass 5,500m+ and for K2 Base Camp group for walking up to Gilkey memorial and to the Base Camp for second highest mountain in the world. Both of our K2 Base Camp groups arrived safely back to Skardu on August 9th and then flew back together to Islamabad on August 10th.

Photo: Khuspang Camp after crossing Gondogoro La (credit Jo Clark)
We track all of our groups in the field with SPOT gps units and this year we have started using Google Maps to track their progress in real time so friends and families can follow their progress --> you can see the Google Maps for K2 Base Camp.

We have received three AITO reviews from members of this group, you can view the full reviews for K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La and K2 Base Camp & Concordia. I have copied sections of these reviews below:

“The Mountain Company provide great logistics and excellent food making for a very comfortable trip. They employ good guides and provide a sensible itinerary. This is all backed up by excellent support from their base in the UK before, during and after the trip. Highly recommended, particularly for treks in trickier places!”

“The Mountain Company have a very detailed and methodical approach that ensures everything is well planned. The logistics on arrival in Pakistan, flights to Skardu, jeeps to Askole and the return journey went without problem. Their relationship with the local operator was excellent. Their approach to safety was the best I’ve seen with satellite phones, GPS plotter and an extremely comprehensive medical kit + Gammow Bag ( for emergency AMS ). I’d highly recommend The Mountain Company for future treks.”

“Both the Western Leader (Jo) and the local leader (Zahid) were exceptional with a strong focus on quality and safety ..... and having great time! They were well supported by amazing local men. The Mountain Company is the most organised trekking company I have been with. Pre-trek communication is excellent, all questions are answered promptly, service and facilities during the trek are exemplary and safety is a high priority including satellite phones, comprehensive medical kits, a Gamow bag, clear leadership and good support from the UK when out on the trek. The ability of the family at home to track our trek was also really positive.”


Thanks very much to Jo, Zahid, Amine, Khalil and Nasim plus the rest of the hard working team in Pakistan for their help and making it possible for our trekkers to experience this beautiful trek to K2.

The Mountain Company is promoting both our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La for July 2019.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions on K2 Base Camp trek and if you would like to discuss your suitability or additional training required to join this trek in the future.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company