Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 27 May 2013

60th anniversary of first ascent of Mount Everest to be held on May 29th 2013

Photo: Tenzing Norgay on summit of Everest on May 29th 1953 
This week on May 29th 2013 is the 60th anniversary of first ascent of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. In 1953 a British expedition led by John Hunt was launched to the Nepalese side of Everest following the South Col Route. Hillary, a New Zealander, and Norgay, a Nepali Sherpa living in Darjeeling, reached the summit at 11.30am local time on 29th May 1953. As it turned out this was wonderful timing as news of the expedition's success reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on 2nd June.

Photo: Hillary and Norgay after their Everest summit
There are a number of events planned for May 29th to celebrate the first ascent of Mount Everest. At the Royal Geographical Society (“RGS”) in London there is a special evening called “Crowning Achievement, Lasting Legacy” with lectures and slideshows by the great and good of the Everest world including Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Rebecca Stephens, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing (sons of the two who reached the top), Jan Morris (Times correspondent in 1953) and Stephen Venables. I am very lucky as I have a ticket for this event and I am very much looking forward to the evening.

If you are based in UK I would highly recommend you visit RGS’s photographic exhibition of 1951 and 1953 Everest expeditions. The prints shown within the exhibition represent some of the most historic and stunning moments of the team’s journey up the highest mountain in the world. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see some of the images taken on Everest by team members including John Hunt, Edmund Hillary, Alfred Gregory, George Lowe and George Band. The exhibition is being held at Oxo Gallery on South Bank in London from 23rd May 2013 to 9th June 2013, for more information please see RGS website

Photo: summit of Mount Everest
A frequently asked question is how many people in total have climbed to the summit of Mount Everest? Per Everest Chronicler, Alan Arnette, in 2011 the total number of people who have summited Mount Everest is around 5,652 by 3,425 different climbers meaning that 2,220 climbers have multiple summits. And sadly so far 223 people have died on Everest and during Spring 2013 season there were nine deaths plus one more on Lhotse.

Of course much has changed on Mount Everest over the last 60 years with the majority of these recent summits made by commercial expeditions rather than the national or private expeditions as seen in the early years. Stephen Venables recently wrote an article in the Telegraph explaining why in his view Everest has lost its allure now that climbing to the summit is part of the global adventure tourism circuit. Venables explains "real adventure is all about risk, uncertainty and self-determination – not buying a predictable, packaged commodity: you pay me £40,000 and I’ll make your dream come true." A possible solution he puts forward to reduce numbers on Everest each year is to ban the use of supplementary oxygen.....this is certainly an interesting idea although of course is unlikely to happen in practice [click here to read Stephen Venables' article on Telegraph website]

Photo: The Mountain Company's group at Everest Base Camp
The Everest climbing season in Spring 2013 was marked by a controversy widely reported in the media with the fight between European climbers and Nepalese mountain guides. Of course not being there it is tricky to lay blame for this fracas however it seems both sides were partially responsible although of course resorting to violence is inexcusable. For an in depth article discussing the changing nature of the Sherpa-climber social contract and more about the culture of Sherpas that helps put this fight into perspective take a look at Broughton Coburn's article published by National Geographic

On a brighter note there were lots of "firsts" this Spring season on Everest including the oldest person to reach the summit by Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura at 80 years old! Phurba Tashi from Himex summited for the 21st time equalling the current world record holder Apa Sherpa. Samina Baig became the first Pakistani woman, Raha Moharrak the first Saudi woman, Tashi and Nancy Malik from India the first twins and Rafiq Malik became the first Kashmiri to summit the Big E. British climber Kenton Cool made a record by summitting all three mountains along the Everest horseshoe (Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest) during a 10 day climb and also making his eleventh summit of Mount Everest.

The Mountain Company organises a wide range of treks in the Everest region including Everest Luxury Lodges and Everest Base Camp. We are promoting a special Everest 60th anniversary trek to Everest Base Camp in November 2013 led by one of our most experienced leaders Jill Lawson. For those of you who would like to trek to Everest Base Camp while staying in a higher standard lodges then you could consider our Luxury Everest Base Camp trek.

Roland Hunter

Monday, 20 May 2013

Humla trek to villages around Simikot in west Nepal organised by Great Himalaya Trail Development Program

In March I received an invitation from the Great Himalaya Trail Development Program (“GHTDP”) based in Kathmandu to join a familiarisation (i.e free, yay!) trek in Nepal, as I was already in the country I replied quickly asking to join the trek to far west Nepal as this is an area I had not been to before and was very interested to visit.

Photo: map of The Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal
Most people these days have heard of The Great Himalaya Trail (“GHT”) , this is a trekking route that crosses Nepal starting near Kanchenjunga in the East and continuing to Humla on the Tibetan border in the West. In fact there are two main trails along GHT, the Upper trail takes the highest feasible route along the spine of the Himalaya and involves very challenging trekking as well as several mountaineering sections over technical passes (eg Sherpani Col near Makalu). Whereas the Lower trail traverses the country of Nepal further to the south at a lower elevation and unlike Upper trail involves no mountaineering and one can stay in teahouse lodges for most of the way apart from the section through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.

GHTDP is a project supported by the Dutch Aid organisation SNV and also UKAid to help develop GHT as a new tourism product for Nepal . GHTDP sees the long term advantages of encouraging trekkers to visit more remote regions of Nepal other than main destinations of Annapurna, Everest and Langtang. By getting more trekkers away from the busier trails this will of course bring income and opportunities to more isolated communities.

The reason for GHTDP hosting a free trek to Humla for international trek operators and journalists was to promote this region and especially the homestays set up by GHTDP in conjunction with the Simikot based NGO called Nepal Trust. In our group there were representatives from tour operators based in Holland and Switzerland plus two Nepali journalists. We were also accompanied by Linda Bezemer who works as a Tourism Product Development Advisor for GHTDP.

Photo: Twin Otter plane at Simikot airport
Humla is located in far west Nepal and receives very few trekkers due to its remote location. Our group flew from Kathmandu to Nepalganj and then early next morning by Twin Otter to the mountain airstrip at Simikot. On arrival we had breakfast at the Nepal Trust office and guesthouse before starting our walk to the village of Buraunse. Our trekking guide, Janga Lama, is from this village so we were privileged to visit his house and meet his family who gave our group a wonderful traditional welcome. 

A custom in this region is to greet guests by smearing butter on their head and then followed by the offer of some tea or more often locally brewed chang made from barley.  After lunch we continued our walk down to the main part of Buraunse village where we were again welcomed by the locals dressed up in their traditional clothes with the men banging drums and offering kata scarves to us while the women smeared more butter on our heads. We followed the crowd to a flat roof top on one of the houses where both the men and women performed traditional Humli dances for us.

Photo: traditional Humli welcome at our guide Janga Lama parents' house
Photo:  welcome at Buraunse village
Photo: dancing at Buraunse village
One of the objectives of GHTDP is to build tourism capacity in more remote areas of Nepal where there has been only a small number of tourists visiting before. One of the reasons our trek visited Buraunse village was because GHTDP, working in conjunction with Nepal Trust, had already provided training, support and advice to develop a homestay program. So far five houses had been approved as homestays in Buraunse and we stayed in one of these during our visit, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Humlis way of life, customs and traditions.

All of the homestays provide bedrooms with clean bedding, newly constructed toilets and an endless supply of local food and of course chang! We ate with the host families so the food was traditional local fare and was all delicious, healthy and of course organic- for our meals we had dishes such as buckwheat pancakes with honey, tsampa (roasted barley), thukpa and momos. I certainly think that homestays are an effective way of local families earning extra income and benefiting from tourism while the guests receive a really special experience in return.

Photo: Buranse village
Photo: our hosts at Buranse homestay
Photo: comfortable and clean room at homestay
A highlight of the trek was a night camping near Raling gompa, this monastery is the most important in the area and is located at 4,000m under Crystal mountain.  The important Saga Dawa festival is held at Raling gompa each year on the full moon of the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar (in late May or early June).

Photo: Raling gompa
Photo: Raling gompa
After Raling gompa we stayed a night at Bargaon village and next day walked through the Hindu village of Tehe before spending our second night camping near Karpunath village at confluence of Karnali river. On the sixth day we walked back to Simikot for our flight back early next morning to Nepalganj and onto Kathmandu.

Photo:Thakuri woman
Photo: Shaman Hindu priest
Photo: beautiful wedding headdress
Overall I would highly recommend trekking in this area for a unique cultural experience, the short circuit we walked over six days is an easy trek where you have lots of time to learn about the Humli people and their way of life. If you are looking for a longer or more challenging trek then there are many options from Simikot such as to Mount Saipal Base Camp, Limi Valley or Mount Kailash however it would be also be worth spending a few days in the homestays around Buraunse village at the start of your trek especially if coinciding with Saga Dawa festival.

I would like to thank Linda at GHTDP for organising this trek as well as our excellent guide Janga Lama from Buraunse village who did a superb job explaining to us about the local culture and customs as well as his many entertaining stories along the way! For more information about this trek please take a look on The Great Himalaya trail website.

At the moment The Mountain Company organises the trek from Simikot to Mount Kailash every year in May however we plan to develop more treks in Humla in the near future, please get in touch with us if you would like more information about trekking in west Nepal.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company