Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 26 November 2018

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit in Nepal led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and Raj Tamang (Nepal) in late October 2018

Photo: Natalie with assistant guides Bal and Sagar (credit: Natalie Wilson)
In late October 2018, The Mountain Company (UK) organised our ninth trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal, you can read Trip Reports from our previous treks around Kanchenjunga Circuit

This group was led by Natalie Wilson (UK) and this was her fourth time leading this classic trek around the world’s third highest mountain. The Nepali sirdar for this group was Raj Tamang from Taplejung, he also worked as sirdar for our April 2018 trek around Kanchenjunga Circuit. The assistant guides were Bal, Jon and Sagar. The cook was Sangram Lama who has worked with us for many years and always produces high quality and tasty food for our groups.

For our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit group we had ten trekkers coming from UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Photo: Kanchenjunga northside (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Photo: Mount Jannu (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Natalie has summarised her experience leading this trek as follows: 

“The trip was really successful - most of the group made it to either Pang Pema, Oktang or both base camps and we experienced excellent weather throughout - no rain, light winds and a lovely sprinkling of snow overnight at Selele before the three passes. The food was excellent, the crew organised, hard working and friendly and the group got on really well together. People loved the variety of terrain we passed through - from quiet villages, cardamon plantations through to the high ground with it’s cold nights, stark rock and snow capped mountains. We saw eagles, blue sheep and other wildlife.

The food was excellent and varied. Sangram and crew did a fantastic job and the group were very impressed. Many of the group commented that they hadn’t expected such stunning scenery all the way and they were impressed with all the crew and how the logistics of the trip work."

Photo: Oktang with view of south side of Kanchenjunga (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information was sent through to Nat on her satellite phone for days before approaching Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp and before crossing the Mirgin La. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. 

We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our late October 2018 Kanchenjunga Circuit trek

I have copied below feedback received from one member of Kanchenjunga Circuit November 2018 group now published on AITO review site:

"A long three week trek in a remote part of Nepal visiting Kanchenjunga North and South base camps. A very well organised camping trek with the group supported by a hard working team of guides, cooking staff and porters. A mix of climates from temperate forests to cold high altitude tundra surrounding Himalayan mountains. Spectacular scenery. A special place. The Mountain Company is a well organised and highly professional tour operator specialising in trekking holidays in the Himalayas. They pay special attention to ensure the safety and welfare of the trekkers. Highly recommended."

You can read all of our AITO reviews received over the years for Kanchenjunga Circuit

Thanks very much to Natalie and Raj and the rest of the team for their hard work leading and organising this trek.

Our next departure for Kanchenjunga Circuit is in April 2019 and followed by late October 2019. There is currently availability if you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch with us soon.

Roland Hunter

Friday, 23 November 2018

Trip report for Lunana Snowman in Bhutan led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2018

Photo: Gophu La pass on exit from Lunana
This is the tenth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan. Our Snowman 2018 group successfully made the full traverse from Paro through Lunana out to Bumthang. The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging 28 day trek through the remote Bhutanese Himalaya.

This year we had eleven trekkers signed up for Lunana Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

For 2018 Snowman our international leader, Almas Khan, worked with our regular Bhutanese guides Tashi and Tsering Dorje. Nawang worked as our third guide and he has learnt a lot from working with our regular crew so we hope to work with him again on Snowman next year.

The cook, Tandim Sonam, and his kitchen helpers did a superb job and we have received positive feedback from the group on the quality and quantity of food. We have worked hard over last few years increasing the food provisions for Snowman. In Summer 2017 we imported a food dehydrator machine from USA into Bhutan and this has help increase the quantity of vegetables supplied whilst on a long and remote trek like the Snowman trek.

Photo: view from Karchung La on entry to Lunana
Almas summarises how Snowman 2019 went from his perspective as the leader of the group:

“This was another fantastic Lunana Snowman trek. Overall the trip went well, with all of the group completing the complete journey in good health. All loved the food on the trek catered for by cook Tandim Sonam. After we reached Lingshi till Narethang we experienced some cloudy days which limited our views but we were fortunate to experience overall much less precipitation this year. The day crossing Karchung La we had sterling clear views and this continued for the rest of the trip out to Bumthang. Overall the weather was very good compared to my previous nine Snowman treks. The Bhutanese staff did a super job and the training is paying off. Having the opportunity to work with the same crew on all of my Snowman treks has made it possible to bring about positive change to the service we offer to our clients on trek in Bhutan.”

As Almas says overall the weather and conditions for Snowman 2018 were favourable. The timing of this trek is very important in order to increase the chances of successfully completing the full traverse from Paro to Bumthang. From organising Snowman trek ten times since 2008 we have developed a good understanding for the optimal time to start the trek. By the last week of September the monsoon should be winding down and this places the group in Lunana around mid-October hopefully before the winter snows block the exit passes out to Bumthang.

Throughout our Lunana Snowman trek we receive bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our Lunana Snowman 2018 trek .

We made one change to the logistics for this year’s Snowman trek by changing our horses at Laya whereas last year we took horses from Paro all the way through to Bumthang. Almas told me that the horsemen from Laya have strong, healthy horses and in the years we took horses from Laya all the way we noticed the horses got tired by the end of the trek.

Photo: view from Kesha La
I have copied below feedback received from one member of Snowman 2018 group now published on AITO review site:

“Well organised with great attention to detail, pre, during and post trek. The crew were top notch. A month of trekking in remote parts - no one got sick or injured, everyone completed the trek. The Mountain Company were efficient and thorough, operating with integrity and responsibility.” 

You can read all of our AITO reviews received over the years for Lunana Snowman

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Nawang, Tandim Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work organising and leading another successful Snowman trek.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2019 on TMC website and this departure is now already guaranteed to run. Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Snowman 2019 group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Trip report for Saribung Expedition Recce led by Jo Clark and Galden Sherpa in October 2018

Saribung Peak (6328m)
After leading the Naar to Upper Mustang trek in October 2018 I left the group in Lo Mantang and turned back, towards Saribung Pass and down to the village of Phu.  Galden Sherpa and I were going out to check the trails and best camping locations with a small support crew.  Most companies run this trek starting from Lo Mantang over to Phu. We wanted to see if it is possible to acclimatise better doing this expedition in the opposite direction by crossing the pass from the Phu side and finishing in Lo Mantang.

One reason for wanting to run the trip from the Phu side is that assuming we could find good campsites in gradually ascending locations, it allows for a slow ascent with a rapid, safe exit if necessary.  Whereas approaching Saribung from Lo Mantang entails crossing three passes of around 5,000m early in the trek.  This means ascending too high, too fast with risk of altitude sickness for both group and crew. If there is bad weather it raises the risk of not even getting near Saribung if the passes are blocked with snow.
Valley of Phu
Village of Phu
Another reason for looking at this option is to be able to spend time in the beautiful Valley of Phu. While Naar and Phu have become more popular and teahouses are being built to accommodate this, very few trekkers explore the valley north of Phu.  Most of those that walk these trails are heading down the valley having already crossed Saribung pass and therefore spend little time in the area.

Our first day from Lo Mantang took us back to Yara Gaon - a trail we know from the Naar to Upper Mustang trek. After that we were in new territory. The three passes to cross between Saribung La and Yara take you away from the Upper Mustang region with its colourful arid terrain in varying formations and towards the high plateaus.  The views from the three passes (4,950m, 5,300m and 5,400m) are as varied as the land you are trekking through, with Upper Mustang stretching out below, the majestic Dhaulagiri, the Tibetan plateau and the peaks of Damodar Himal.
Ghuma Thanti with Upper Mustang in the distance
Trekking the plateau
Dhaulagiri from Kyumu Pass (5300m)
The trail over these passes is very clear and regularly repaired and improved because it is highly frequented by Hindu Pilgrims in order to reach Damodar Kunda.  It is popular to carry out the Pilgrimage to this holy lake close to the Nepal Tibet border in August and Lord Krishna has said that he who pays a visit to and takes a deep-bath will be free from all sin.

Beyond this we find the glacier and the pass.  There is significant glacial moraine to walk across - more on the Phu side than the Mustang side.  For this reason and in order to acclimatise safely, I identified a number of camping options on the glacier.  We will camp at three locations on the glacier - Bhrikuti Base Camp (5,070m) which is right at the beginning of moraine, Moraine Camp (5,339m) which is part way up - there are a number of locations which have been flattened out and are suitable for camping here and finally Saribung High Camp (5,684m) which will put us in position to cross the pass safely.  On the Mustang side the section of moraine is shorter and we have decided to descend to Japanese base camp after crossing the pass.

We have the exact locations of these camps as throughout the recce, I was sending regular GPS checkins back to Roland from the satellite phone.  He uploaded each location I sent him onto Google Maps set up for Saribung Expedition and we used these waypoints to help finalise our itinerary decisions.
Views from the pass

Glacial moraine - looking towards Japanese Base Camp
The pass itself is crevassed and all of the crew and I went over with crampons and fully roped up.  A lot of the crew are unfamiliar with these techniques and we will work with them lower down the valley to ensure everyone is safe and confident in the crevassed areas.

On this recce, after crossing the pass we descended to Bhrikuti Base Camp which is a long way down.  From here I wanted to explore a small pass that looked like it could easily take us over to the next valley and Pokharkang Base Camp. The pass was easy to cross and the valley leading to Pokharkang Base Camp is beautiful and very peaceful.
Pokharkang Base Camp from the pass
In this quiet rarely visited valley we saw big herd of blue sheep and not much else.  It is a great place to acclimatise with good options for higher walks.  In order to make the jump from Nagoru (4,442m) to Pkharkang Base Camp (5,030m) more safely, I found a spot part way up the valley which had obviously been used for camping before.  This camp, which we have called Pokharkang low camp is at 4,840m and will give us the gradual ascent we want towards the pass.

From here, Galden and I joined back with the main trail just above Nagoru.  This abandoned village has plenty of large flat areas and is a beautiful camping spot.  If you look carefully there are caves above the village and we saw a herd of over twenty blue sheep grazing on the hill above the village. Despite being uninhabited, this remains the first village until Yara on the other side and it feels like civilisation.

Between Nagoru and Meta there are a few village like this and we will stay at Kyang on the way up to Phu as part of our acclimatisation process.  As Kyang is down the valley from Phu, there are a number of trekkers wanting to stay and although the village is abandoned, teahouses are slowly being built.

Finally, many people come to this Valley just to visit Phu and it is worth a visit in itself.  The medieval Tibetan village is perched on the hillside with narrow alleys twisting and winding between houses which were built closely together.  I am looking forward to spending an acclimatisation day here when I return in the Spring as I didn't have time to visit the Tashi La Kong Gompa or do any of the numerous acclimatisation walks possible.

We are running small recce for up to six clients in the Spring 2019.  Here is more information and a full itinerary which has been put together based on this recce.

Jo Clark

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Jo Clark and Gopal Tamang in October 2018

Photo: Approach to Teri La pass (credit: Jo Clark)
In October, we organised our third Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in Nepal. This trek was led by Jo Clark and Gopal Tamang with assistant guides Galden Sherpa and Jon Lama. Gopal was also the Sirdar for our November 2015 and 2017 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks so he has now developed good knowledge of this trek. The cook was Suk Bahadur Rai known for his excellent trek food, including freshly baked pastries.

Jo has summarised her experience of leading this trek as follows:

“The weather was characterised by beautiful sunny clear mornings and windy afternoons with some cloud. Overall it was perfect to enable us to reach our objective of reaching Lo Mantang via the Teri La. As the group mentioned a number of times, it’s the trek that keeps on giving. Each time we finished one section of the trek, there was always a new surprise around the corner.

First, we were lucky enough to see a few days of the Annapurna circuit with the colour and the crowds and then we made our way towards the Naar-Phu valley which is quiet and undeveloped in comparison. Naar was a surprise and a delight as we caught the last few days of the barley splitting week where the entire village was out beating barley to separate the grain from the husk in a rhythmic fashion from before dawn until dusk.

Above Naar trail became even quieter and the deep valleys began to open up, preparing us for a perfect pass day with clear views and warm weather. And just as the group began to think they had seen everything they came for, the views changed at every turn as the breathtaking scenery of arid lands and white capped mountains changed as we walked through each valley..

Finally the descent into LoMantang was as surprising as ever with the outskirts a modern collection of tea houses and the magnificent walled city hidden over the ridge before heading back down towards Jomson and the flight to Kathmandu and home.”

Photo: Views from the Teri La (Credit: Jo Clark)

Jo took video during this trek, she has edited and uploaded to The Mountain Company's Channel on YouTube or click on the YouTube panel below:

You can view Jo's video of beating barley in Naar village on The Mountain Company's channel on YouTube. Every year in the Autumn the villagers spend a few days beating the barley ready for winter in Naar village. They start before dawn when the barley is frozen as it separates more easily, and work through until dusk.

One of the trekkers in Jo's group has sent in an AITO review and I have copied below:

“This camping trek is a stunning trek through the different landscapes of Nepal. It really is a trek that keeps on giving. Many treks can lose interest after the high pass crossing however with this trek the interest stayed right until the final day walking - significant scenery and cultural changes every few days: deep river gorges, then glacial valleys, the wind eroded and arid landscapes of Mustang, then views of big mountains, and the rolling plains of the plateau.
We have travelled on a number of occasions with the Mountain Company and even as they have grown the personal level of service and the attention to detail has been maintained.”

You can read our AITO reviews for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT

During this expedition I was based in Kathmandu and one of my jobs to support our groups in the field is to check weather forecasts on a daily basis and then send through to Jo’s satellite phone to keep her updated. We also get a paid weather forecast from Michael Fagin at received for this trek on October 12th when the group was in Naar village and several days before crossing Teri La pass. Having professional weather forecasts are essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

Photo: Jo Clark on the plateau in Upper Mustang

We have made several improvements with our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT itinerary for 2019. After the pass we have added an extra day as Tangga to Yara Gaon is a long day for both group and porters so we now walk from Tangga to Dhey and then next day to Yara Gaon. Also the feedback received from the group was that they would have preferred not to have a full day in Lo Manthang as after seeing the beautiful villages of Naar, Tangga and Yara Gaon they felt that an afternoon exploring Lo Manthang was sufficient, especially now there are new concrete hotels being constructed here. The descent from Lo Manthang to Jomsom now takes two days as we walk from Lo Manthang to Ghemi on a lovely trail, and from there, on the second day, we take the jeep down to Jomsom.

Photo: Upper Mustang (Credit: Jo Clark)
We track all of our groups in the field with GPS check ins from Thuraya satellite phone and this year we have started using Google Maps in real time so friends and families can follow their progress - you can see the Google Maps for our October 2018 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek

As planned the group flew back from Jomsom to Pokhara to Kathmandu on October 26th. In the evening we all went for a meal at KToo steakhouse and I enjoyed hearing all about the trek and the group’s feedback.

Thanks very much to Jo, Gopal and the rest of the team for their hard work leading this trek. The group have all given very positive feedback on the food so well done to Suk!

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks in May and October 2019, please get in touch soon if you like to join these groups.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company