Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

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

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