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Saturday, 16 June 2018

Trip report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT (Nepal) in May 2018 led by Almas Khan (Aus) and Chandra Rai (Nepal)

Photo: Phoksumdo Lake
Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT Trek in May 2018 was led by Almas Khan and our Nepali Sirdar was Chandra Rai. Our cook was Sangram.

We have run this trip at the end of the spring season (May) since 2010. This is the optimal time of year to complete the traverse as the window between the end of the winter snows melting on the passes and the onset of monsoon is quite short. Now five of our groups have successfully completed the traverse since 2010. To see how our previous Upper Dolpo treks did please take a look at Trip Reports for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT.

This group had ten trekkers: from New Zealand, UK and Canada. The first day was May 6th and they met in the morning for the trip briefing from Almas. In the afternoon they took the flight to Nepalgunj and stayed the night at the Soaltee Westend Hotel. The following morning they flew on a twin otter plane to Juphal. This was a change in itinerary from last year when we chartered a plane from Phokhara to Juphal. The runway at Juphal was blacktopped in June 2017 making scheduled flights from Nepalgunj more reliable as a result. Upon arrival in Juphal and after sorting their bags and porters the team trekked to Dunai for their first night of camping.

The trip went well and all clients completed the itinerary with spare days for resting and that also allowed for bad weather. After reaching Dunai on the first night of the trek the group heard on the grapevine there was considerable snow on the passes and it was still snowing. The following day it snowed down to 2700m. For the first five days of the trek it rained or snowed at night, though luckily the weather was good while walking during the day. This weather pattern took them to Phoksumdo Lake and after a rest day there, they were ready to make their way towards the first high pass of the trek - The Kang La.

Photo: Lar Tsa Camp before Kang La
As they went up to the higher camps, the group discovered the left hand side of the valleys had significantly less snow on it due to the sun melting what snow had fallen on that side. Moving up the valley, after the Lar Tsa Camp they went up to the high camp (Snowfields) from the left side of the valley instead of the right hand side and encountered no snow. This high camp was the coldest the group experienced during the trip, with temperatures down to about -5°C.

As this is the fifth time we have run the Upper Dolpo to Jomson trip, we are developing very good knowledge and understanding of the various routes across the passes and their alternatives. Crossing the Kang La to Shey Gompa is the crux of the trek and last year when the team reached Snowfields Camp there was too much snow to cross this Pass. As a result we descended back into the valley and camped, before heading towards another route over Pass B.

In the knowledge that there was a lot of snow this year as well, the team still headed up towards Snowfields knowing that they might have to retreat to Pass B. This decision was made because camping at Snowfields allows for better acclimatization than going directly for Pass B. This time there was snow on the Kang La but the guides found if they stuck to the left of the pass, there was an alternative route with only a small amount of shallow snow on each side of the trail. This gives us three options for crossing this pass, which has in the past been problematic under snowy conditions.

After successfully crossing the Kang La pass the weather improved and they had little precipitation but strong winds. The group arrived at Shey Gompa where they spent two nights. They had the opportunity to explore the area, visit the Gompa and enjoy views of the sacred Crystal Mountain.

This far into the Upper Dolpo trek, it is very remote and arid and there is no fresh food to resupply along the way. On the early treks to this region our groups found a deficiency in fruit and vegetables in their diet, which can have health consequences due to a lack of vitamins and moral consequences due to uninspiring food. For this reason we bought a dehydrator last year and have started dehydrating fresh fruit and vegetables in Kathmandu to take on trek. This provides a wide variety of lightweight food which are rehydrated by the chef. It has become an important element of food provision on treks like this one in Upper Dolpo and we have received good feedback from both the group and crew on the taste and quality.

The windy, arid climate in this area can cause some problems along the way. We use Mountain Hardware tents as they are very sturdy and can withstand most things they could encounter. On this trip however, dust was a particular problem, causing issues with some of the zips. We send a ‘leader kit’ of repair items on all our trips which include items such as duct tape, tent repair kit and zip lube. We are currently looking at new options for better types of zip lube as despite constant reapplying, the dust still crept into the zips and caused problems. We hope to have a better solution for next year.

Photo: Upper Dolpo on trail to Shimen
With a day in hand the group were planning to rest at Chharka Village. However, with a weather forecast from Michael Fagin (everest weather.com) which was sent by text to Almas’ satellite phone they decided that they should keep moving to avoid some incoming bad weather on the Sangda La. Having professional weather forecasts like this is essential for safety on this remote trek with numerous high passes. The second coldest camp was the camp between the two Sangda passes - mainly because of the wind chill. The temperatures went down to about -3 at night.

Having crossed the two passes the group were on their final few days towards Jomson. They decided to spend their extra day in Kagbeni relaxing before arriving in Jomson on May 31st as planned. They enjoyed having the opportunity to spend an extra day exploring Kagbeni near the end of the trek. They were lucky enough to have this time as the group experienced no delays earlier in the trip either on flights or passes. However it is important to have these buffer days in the itinerary in case of delays such as flying in to Juphar or weather and allowing for porter time.

We currently send a SPOT on all of our remote treks and as you can see from this SPOT Adventure track which was recorded whilst were in the mountains, Upper Dolpo to Jomson is one of the most remote regions in Nepal. It is logistically challenging to support and we use the SPOT along with satellite phones to monitor the progress and safety of the team.

Photo: Bonpo monastery near Phoksumdo
It is these logistical challenges that we are continually working to overcome to improve our service. Next year we are considering a plan to change our logistics to resupply in Tinje (Day 17 of the trek) so that the food does not need to be carried over all of the passes before that. This would also give us the opportunity to send out our collected rubbish from this point.

This year we have continued with the collection of rubbish as part of our AITO project. In addition to carrying out our own rubbish, 3kg of additional rubbish was collected on this trek. The guides reported that there was not too much rubbish on the trail and around campgrounds and most of this was from local herders.

Photo: Ringmo village near Phoksumdo Lake
The Mountain Company would like to thank Almas, Chandra and the other guides for their leadership of this group and Sangram and the rest of the Nepalese crew, who as ever worked exceptionally hard throughout this expedition.

Below is a review we received from a member of this trek. For more AITO reviews on our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek, check out the AITO website.

“Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek in a seldom visited part of Nepal close to the China/Tibet border. A 25 day trek camping near remote villages in astonishing scenery and seeing a very different way of life.

Their pre-trip information was excellent-both accurate and detailed. All my advance enquiries were answered fully and promptly. The trek itself was very well organised and every effort was made to ensure our group (10 in number) got the maximum enjoyment from the trip (in sometimes very difficult conditions both in terms of remoteness and climate).”

Our next treks to Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT will be in October 2018 and then May 2019 and both of these departures are nearly guaranteed to run. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Jo Clark
Nepal Operations Manager

The Mountain Company