Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Saturday, 31 January 2009

New Trailblazer guidebooks

Trailblazer Publications have recently published two new or updated guidebooks to the Himalaya region: the 5th edition of the Trekking in the Everest region by Jamie McGuinness and also the 1st edition of Himalaya by Bike by Laura Stone.

I have just read Jamie’s Trekking in the Everest region and can recommend it as the best trekking guidebook to the Khumbu. I like the Trailblazer approach of covering a region rather than an entire country resulting in a more comprehensive and informative read. Trailblazer also publish trekking guidebooks to the Annapurna and Ladakh regions.

I have used all three of these guidebooks while trekking in the Himalayas. One reason I find them so useful is due to their superb maps, not only are they very easy to follow but also include accurate walking times. Therefore, you can decide where to stop for the night whereas other guidebooks tend to include “day by day” itineraries which results in everyone staying in the same campsite or lodge each night.

Laura’s book Himalaya by Bike covers the classic rides of the Himalayas: Karakoram Highway, Manali to Leh, Leh to Srinagar, Spiti and Kinnaur, Bhutan, Sikkim and Friendship Highway between Tibet and Nepal.

This guidebook is clearly a labour of love; over the last three years Laura has cycled all of these areas while researching the book. As in all Trailblazer books, the author’s passion for travel comes through in her guidebook and no doubt will provide inspiration for many to start cycling in the Himalayas. For more information take a look at (currently being updated).

To find out more about Trailblazer Publications take a look at their website at

Roland Hunter

If you would like to purchase these two guidebooks please click on the images below:

Friday, 23 January 2009

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit May '08 led by Roland Hunter

Roland led a reconnaissance trek around the Dhaulagiri Circuit in late April 2008. We wrote briefly about this trek in our Blog post TMC pre-monsoon ‘08, however since then we have received a lot of interest with people asking for more information. Therefore, we are now writing a full Trip Report that hopefully will answer some of these questions about the Dhaulagiri Circuit trek.

This trek has the reputation for being one of the most difficult in Nepal, I suggest you take a look at these external links for further background on the challenges involved:

Project Himalaya e Guide for the Dhaulagiri Circuit trek
Project Himalaya Appalled by the trek around Dhaulagiri

Photo: terraced fields near Muri village

Having completed the Dhaulagiri Circuit with a group last year I thought that it was one of the best that I have done in the Himalayas.

This trek visits a remote area where there are few other trekkers, this is becoming increasingly rare in Nepal these days. At the beginning of the trek the trail passes through beautiful Gurung villages with views of the Dhaulagiri massif, then above these villages it follows a rough trail to the Italian BC.

Above Italian BC the trek is a an alpine experience walking along moraine covered glaciers to the main Dhaulalgiri BC then over the French pass to the beautiful Hidden Valley. The toughest day is crossing the Dhampus pass, with a long traverse on icy slopes before finally descending to Marpha and the busy trails of the Annapurna Circuit.

Photo: villagers threshing wheat

Photo: Chonbarden gorge

I have discussed the main challenges of the Dhaulagiri Circuit and the ways we organise this trek to minimise these risks:

1) Lack of sufficient acclimatisation as a result of a rapid ascent between Italian BC (3,660m) and Dhaulagiri BC (4,700m) and from there to Hidden Valley (5,050m). Most trekking groups on “standard” itineraries go from Italian BC to Dhaulagiri BC in one day, this is a 1000m increase in altitude is significantly more than the recommended increase in altitude gain per day of 300 to 500m!

The Mountain Company has developed our itinerary to include two extra nights between Italian and Dhaulagiri BC. First of all we spend two nights at Italian BC then move up to spend the night at French BC at 3,870m (placement of the camp is important as there is some risk of rockfall). The next day we move to Glacier camp and spend the night at 4,200m, then continue to the main Dhaulagiri BC the following day.

In the Hidden Valley one camps at over 5,000m, if anyone gets altitude sickness you are in a potentially serious situation because you can only get to a lower altitude by climbing up over high passes.

To minimise the risk of altitude sickness in the Hidden Valley we recommend groups spend three nights at Dhaulagiri BC, this combined with the cumulative benefits of trekking slowly from Italian BC means people should be well acclimatised for the Hidden Valley. However, it is important that the leader carefully monitors the trekkers and crew and to turn people back if not sufficiently acclimatised.

2) Sadly there are still porters and crew working on the Dhaulagiri Circuit.trek with inadequate equipment. On many other treks in Nepal the crew can find shelter along the way so can survive without the right gear (of course still not right), however on the Dhaulagiri Circuit there are no porter shelters above Italian BC.

It is essential they are provided with porter tents, walking boots, sunglasses, down (insulated) jackets, wind & waterproof jackets & trousers, gloves, hats etc. This is the regular gear recommended by the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) in their five guidelines for all treks, take a look at their website at

In addition to this equipment it is critical for all porters to be issued with crampons. After the descent from Dhampus pass there is a long traverse for over 3 hours on snow and ice slopes. From previous experience the Nepalese made crampons are not sufficient so at The Mountain Company we provide Edelrid 6 point crampons to all of our trek crew

Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri

Photo: Hidden Valley

Photo: approaching Dhampus pass

3) There is a risk of the French or Dhampus pass being blocked by snow and impassable for a trekking party. You can minimise this risk by selecting the optimal time of year to undertake this trek. In my view there are two times of year when you have a reasonable chance of completing this trek: late April and mid October.

There are advantages & disadvantage of both of these dates, during the pre monsoon season the temperatures are warmer meaning the night in the Hidden Valley will be more comfortable for trekkers & crew. More importantly it means that the snowline is higher and with the ground temperature warmer any fresh snow is likely to melt off quite fast. In post monsoon season, by the time you cross the passes in/out of Hidden Valley the temperatures will be dropping as winter approaches. If there are early storms the snows will most likely block the passes for a while.

The main advantage of post monsoon is that the weather tends to be more stable with better views of the mountains and normally settled sunny conditions. In the pre monsoon season there is often haze lower down and at higher altitudes clouds usually build up each day followed by afternoon convective precipitation. However the clouds usually clear over night to reveal blue skies by the morning.

Also there are likely to be more groups undertaking this trek in the post monsoon season so there will be other trekkers around, however it will be much quieter than most of the other trekking destinations in Nepal. In May ’08 during the whole trek we only met one other group of 5 or so people along the way and then a few expeditions at BC.

4) If you have only been trekking in the Everest or Annapurna regions with their well constructed trails and bridges then you will find the Dhaulagiri Circuit trail far more challenging! There is one section before Boghara village where the trail is very exposed with rope to pull yourself up a rock slab! However, it is possible to walk around this difficult section by taking a high route on a spur above but even here the trail is exposed and could be slippery on a wet day.

After Italian BC there is a very steep section down the lateral moraine onto the glacier. It is best to fix some rope at this point to secure the descent especially for the porters. There are a number of other sections where the trail crosses landslide zones. Due to the low numbers of trekkers and locals walking the trail it is unlikely repairs would be made very quickly after a fresh slide. You should be prepared for adventurous scrambling as well as having a rope handy just in case required! From Boghara village the bridges are of a basic construction often a just tree trunk over a river.

In summary.... without doubt Dhaulagiri Circuit is one of the great Himalayan treks. Hopefully this trip report explains the main challenges involved and the way The Mountain Company organises the planning and logistics to increase the chance of safely completing the trek.

George, one of the members of our trek last year, summarises his experience on the Dhaulalgiri Circuit:

"Dhaulagiri was great. The days from arrival at base camp, over Hidden Valley, and down to Marpha were outstanding and I will always remember them. Thanks very much for arranging it. It was all quite an adventure." George Muir, Dhaulagiri Circuit May 2008

The Mountain Company is planning to organise Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2010 with Roland leading the trek again. Please get in touch with us if you are interested in joining this trek or if you have any questions.

Roland Hunter

Bhutan government cancel planned daily rate increase for 2009

The Bhutanese government has recently decided not to go head with its planned increase in the daily rate for 2009 from US$200 per night to US$250. Furthermore, they have introduced a US$20 per night discount for visits longer than 8 days.

The Mountain Company will be reducing all our Bhutan holidays to reflect the new daily rates. Why not take advantage of these discounts to join our epic Lunana Snowman trek in September/ October 2009?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Everest Rocks DVD documentary

In October 2007 The Mountain Company organised the Everest Rocks trek for the Love Hope Strength Foundation. To find out more about this trek take a look at the Everest Rocks website

At the end of 2008 the Love Hope Strength Foundation released a superb DVD documenting their trek, I have just got around to watching the DVD and can highly recommend it. I have copied the description of the Everest Rocks DVD below from the Love Hope Strength Foundation site:

"Two times cancer survivor and musician mike peters (the alarm) along with fellow musicians (glenn tillbrook of squeeze, slim jim phantom of the stray cats, cy curnin and jamie west-oram of the fixx, and nick harper) , cancer survivors, everest summiteers and trekkers go on a once in a lifetime journey to Mt Everest. They are on a quest to raise money for a local cancer hospital in Nepal and set the Guinness Book of World records for the highest concert on land. Proceeds from Everest Rocks purchased the first mammography machine and first internal radiation machines for the country of Nepal." Love Hope Strength Foundation

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Trip report for Manaslu Circuit led by Mike Farris in October '08

Mike Farris led a group for The Mountain Company on the Manaslu Circuit in October '08. This was the third time that we have organised this trek, previous groups successfully completed the Manaslu Circuit trek in October '07 and April '08.

One advantage of running the same a trek a number of times is that we build up cumulative knowledge and experience that can be used for planning future treks. For all western led treks we have written day by day Trek Leader Notes so that a leader who has not previously done the trek can tap into our cumulative experience. After a trek each western leader will submit their Trip Report to The Mountain Company, after reading this we will update the Trek Leader's Notes for any lessons learnt or changes in the route etc.

Roland met up with the Manaslu group on their return to Kathmandu and by all accounts the trek was very enjoyable with everyone successfully crossing the Larkya La pass. One point forward for future groups on the Manaslu Circuit is that there are some noisy dogs at night in Lho, Samagaon and Samdo so bring along ear plugs! Although this was not an issue for the Manaslu Circuit group in April....

You might be interested to hear that Mike Farris has recently finished writing his book about altitude & acclimatisation called The Altitude Experience. I recently read this book and can highly recommend it if you are thinking of trekking or climbing at altitude. Mike combines his knowledge of climbing to extreme altitude on expeditions to K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum 2 with being a Professor or Biology to produce a highly informative and enjoyable book. Check out The Altitude Experience website.

The Mountain Company is planning to run the Manaslu Circuit trek in October '09, please get in touch if you are interested in joining the group.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Mountain Company