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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Trip Report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in May 2014

Photo: approaching Chharka La
Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT group arrived back to Kathmandu a week ago having successfully completed the traverse from Juphal through Upper Dolpo to Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki valley. This trek visits a very remote region of Nepal and as a result requires detailed logistical planning and organisation. It is not possible to purchase much food in this area due to the poor harvests so most of our supplies have to be brought in from Kathmandu. The road head is five days walk south of Juphal so the crew and porters walked in with all of the group kit and food before our group arrived by flight to Juphal airport.

The other challenge for trekking in Upper Dolpo is selecting the right time of year in order to get good weather and conditions for crossing the high passes. We organised our first trek to Upper Dolpo as a recce in late April 2010, this trip went well and our group arrived to Jomsom however our second group in May 2012 was unable to cross Kang La to Shey due to too much snow. As a result of our abortive trek in 2012 we decided to make a number of changes to our organisation to increase our chances of making the traverse in future years. We decided to bring only porters to carry group gear and no (or only very few) ponies as these pack animals will not be able to walk through deep snow or icey trails.

Photo: pass to Shey
We also decided to charter a Twin Otter plane from Pokhara to Juphal rather than relying on schedule flights from Nepalganj further to the west. There are various issues with transiting via Nepalganj airport including an overall lack of aircraft in west of the country making this connection rather unreliable. If there is poor weather and delays then Pokhara is a far nicer place to stay with good hotels compared to the sticky, humid climate at Nepalganj.

As there is always some risk of delays with flights to STOL airstrips like Juphal due to bad weather etc we decided to add one more buffer day into the itinerary so there are now two buffer days to cover possible delays waiting for the flight to Juphal. There are also three rest days and one buffer day included within the trek itinerary. The other change we made from 2012 is to delay the start date by two weeks to May 8th in order to increase the chances of snow melt on the passes.

Photo: crossing Saldang La
For our Upper Dolpo trek in 2014 we had on board a strong team of leaders and crew with good knowledge of this region having trekked here on several previous occasions. Ade Summers was the western leader, Chandra Rai was our Nepali Sirdar and Saila Tamang was cook and all of them had joined our recce with me back in 2010. We also decided to recruit a guide from Dolpo region as having this local knowledge would be invaluable as well as helping to co-ordinate with local villagers and explaining more about the Dolpo-pa culture to the group.

Photo: inside Shey gompa
In fact as it turned out there was deep snow on Kang La again in 2014 however the guides found an alternative pass and successfully arrived to Shey on schedule on May 19th. I have included feedback below from one of the group, Martin, with his comments about this crux section of the trek: “When we couldn't cross the Kang La because of snow, having a dynamic and committed leader, as well as a guide with local knowledge, made all the difference in finding alternative routes through and making the trip a success.”

Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek visits a remote region of Nepal and I gather our 2014 group only saw one other trekking group between Phoksumdo Lake and Jomsom. Instead of following Upper Dolpo Circuit we headed further north to an area very close to the Tibet border. This itinerary came out of our recce trek in 2010 where the plan was to traverse to Kali Gandaki valley however we had not finalise the route until we were on the ground and in the field. While on trek our cook Saila told us about the trail he followed several years back with Stan Armington (author of Lonely Planet guidebook to Nepal) so we decided to follow his advice and recommendations.

This remote trail heads north of Saldang village to Tora Sumna then south-east through Nisalgaon and Shimengaon villages and ending up to Tinjegaon. This trail follows the Panjyan river and is one of the most stunning beautiful valleys I have seen in Nepal with many blue sheep grazing on the slopes high above the valley floor (and no doubt snow leopards too). From our 2014 group Martin and Maria with extensive experience trekking in Himalaya and all around the world summed up their experience with Martin saying “The trip was culturally fascinating, very scenic, and remote” and Maria commenting that “the best part was the remoteness and variety of scenery.”

Photo: Panjyan valley
Photo: Tora Sumna
This group enjoyed excellent weather throughout most of the trek with only some precipitation in the afternoon at Chepka on first day trekking and later on after crossing of Sangda La pass when it started snowing on their arrival to camp. As mentioned earlier we carefully planned the start date of this trek in order to maximise our chances of success. On balance I think the dates we chose are optimal as by delaying later on into May there is a risk of more cloud delaying flights to Juphal and also more precipitation on the trek. We plan to keep the same dates for our Upper Dolpo trek in May 2015.

Photo: view from Muri La
I gather the flights from Jomsom via Pokhara to Kathmandu went with no delays and on evening of June 6th the group were eating steaks together at KToo steakhouse and having a celebratory beer (or two) in Sams bar. I would like to congratulate and say well done to the group for completing this trek along a section of The Great Himalaya Trail from Juphal to Jomsom.

Of course I would like to say a huge thanks to Ade Summers, Chandra Rai and Saila Tamang as well as our Sherpa guides, Bishu and Gopal, who all worked hard to make this trip a success. I have copied some comments received below from the group about the leaders and crew:

Ade worked hard to make everything run well.” and “Excellent crew, Chandra and his team were endlessly helpful and I don't know where Saila got all the fresh vegetables from in such a remote area. The man is a magician....”.

And Harry's summary of the trip was as follows: "Trip met and exceeded my expectations. Before the trip I knew Upper Dolpo was special but its more than that. The cook and his assistants were exceptional. Ade is a top guy, faultless. Worse part of the trip was leaving Dolpo, the best part was viewing Shey Gompa for the first time (gave me goosebumps), The Dolpo pa. Every day was great!"

The Mountain Company is organising Upper Dolpo trek next year with same leadership including Ade Summers so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

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