Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Trip report for Mera Peak Expedition in November 2017 led by Almas Khan and Pema Sherpa

Photo: Almas, Sona and Domenico on central summit of Mera Peak
Our Mera Peak Expedition in November 2017 was led by Almas Khan and our Nepali Sirdar was Pema Sherpa. The climbing Sherpas were Sonam and Lakpa and the cook was Sangram.

In this group we had four climbers coming from UK and USA. The first day of the trip was November 4th and everyone met up on morning of November 5th for the trip briefing from Almas. I also attending the briefing. On morning of 6th the group took the flight into Lukla and after lunch started the walk to Puiyan where they stayed the first night of the trek. The ten day trek to Mera Peak went well with sunny & dry post monsoon weather.

On November 15th the group arrived as planned to Mera Peak Base Camp at Khare at an altitude of 5,000m. For acclimatisation to the high altitude we include two nights at Khare as well as two nights at Tagnag at an altitude of 4,360m. The guides organised rope training in the morning and the group got all of their own climbing gear set up then had a demonstration and practice session on ascending and descending a fixed rope. These mountaineering skills are required for the steep final summit slopes on Mera Peak where fixed rope is placed by the Sherpas to protect this section of the climb.

On November 17th the group left Mera Peak Base Camp and made good progress up to Mera La at 5,415m. Of interest the trail to Mera La now follows the alternative route that I helped find with Domi Sherpa back in November 2012, this has less objective danger from rockfall from ridge above the old route. You can read more about this route to Mera La on our Trip Report from November 2012

On November 18th Almas, Sonam and Domenico arrived to High Camp and then in early morning of 19th set off for the summit. The group made good progress and summited the central summit of Mera Peak at 6,461m with excellent views of the Himalaya including five 8,000m peaks of Mt Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Cho Oyu. Almas explains in his own words his experience on summit day as follows:

“The best part of the trip was the summit of Mera Peak, it’s a great expedition I would love to go back again. The itinerary is very good with enough time and rest days to acclimatise for high camps and Mera Peak.”

And as for the weather, Almas reports:

“The weather forecasts from everestweather.com sent through to my satellite phone were accurate and very helpful. The weather on the trip was good as it did not rain at all and was typical autumn weather. It did get quite windy as we got to the higher camps and on the day we summited the peak. Overall the weather and views were great.”



Photo: summit day on Mera Peak

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we sent these onto Almas by text to his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety on a summit day of 6,000m+ mountain in the Himalaya and for decision making in the field.


For Mera Peak Expeditions in Nepal we use Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents owned by The Mountain Company. These are three person domed tents where there is plenty of space for two people sharing a tent plus gear. More importantly these tents are incredibly strong and are designed for use on expeditions to the highest mountains. I have used Trango 3.1s on expeditions to Everest, Makalu, Broad Peak and Kanchenjunga. As long as these tents are well anchored they will survive almost any storm.


I enjoyed meeting Almas and the members of this expedition on their return to Kathmandu and heard their feedback about the trip. Several people made comments how they liked our organisation especially as we sent our cooks and food whereas others groups they met were getting food from the lodges. By bringing our own kitchen means the food is better and also we have more control over the hygiene and cleanliness of food preparation.

This group had a day in hand as they had not used up their spare summit day so the decision was made to walk to Lukla one day early and we were lucky as were able to change their tickets to fly to Kathmandu on November 23rd.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Mera Peak Expedition

The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017. Our 2017 Mera Peak Expedition trek has collected 103kg of rubbish and Almas's words:

"We brought back 13 kgs of rubbish from the two camps above Khare back to Khare village and Sona did a great job of collecting at least 90 Kgs of rubbish from the trails and bringing it back to rubbish disposal places at various camp sites and villages". Well done to Almas and Sona, crew and group for an exceptional contribution to our pledge, thank you!


I would like to thank Almas and Pema for their leadership of this group and Sonam and Lhakpa and the rest of the Nepalese crew who as ever worked exceptionally hard throughout this expedition.

Our next expedition to Mera Peak will be in April 2018 and this trip is nearly guaranteed to run. We are also planning an expedition in November 2018, please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter


Monday, 6 November 2017

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Ade Summers and Gopal Tamang in October 2017

Photo: Naar village
In October, we organised our second Naar to Upper Mustang trek along The Great Himalaya Trail (“GHT”) in Nepal. This trek was led by Ade Summers and Gopal Tamang with assistant guides Khumbu and Nima. Ade led this trek six years ago successfully crossing the Teri La and Gopal had also crossed Teri La on a recce trek for us in Summer 2015. Gopal was also the Sirdar of our November 2015 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led with Tom Lawson.

In November 2015 our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT group were unable to cross Teri La as a result of too much snow on the rocky slabs on approach to the pass. Instead they diverted over Kang La to Manang followed by Tilicho La over to Jomsom -----> you can read our Trip Report. Therefore when we decided to organise this trek again we changed the dates to start in first week of October to allow for optimal conditions on crossing the pass. The drawback of starting at this time of year is the heat & humidity for first few days however as one starts approach to Naar village the temperature starts to cool off making for more pleasant walking conditions.

Our October 2017 group had fine weather with clear and sunny conditions, for some days there was afternoon cloud however there was no significant precipitation. We will keep the same dates for future treks as this is the optimal time of year to cross Teri La.  Ade describes the weather and conditions as follows:  “Perfect weather could not have been better. No snow on the pass or anywhere really. Great conditions.”
Photo: approach to Teri La
Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we send these onto Ade by text to the satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


This year for our Naar to Mustang GHT there were six trekkers in the group coming from USA, UK and Canada. The group arrived in Kathmandu on October 5th and next day Ade gave his trek briefing to the group on the lovely roof top at Hotel Tibet and I also attended. With this itinerary we have the second day of the trip in Kathmandu for briefings and kit checks, we also use this time to obtain all of the trekking permits required for the trek.

On October 7th the group drove to Ngadi to start the trek and this took 10 hours from Kathmandu. From this village it takes three days to walk to Koto where this trail diverts off the more popular Annapurna Circuit trek. Feedback received from this group (and Annapurna Circuit too) was that they did not enjoy walking on the section of road to Jagat  as there are fewer options available to walk on New Annapurna Trails (NATs) away from the road.

As a result we have updated this itinerary for future groups, we will change vehicles at Ngadi from our bus to local jeeps then continue the drive to Srichaur. From Srichaur the walk takes about one hour to the village of Jagat where we stay the first night of the trek. Therefore by using a combination of bus, jeep and walking it should be possible to arrive to Dharapani two days after leaving Kathmandu.

Also at the end of the trek on the way out from Lo Manthang we walk the first day to Ghemi and second day to Samar as these days are well worth walking through the spectacular Upper Mustang landscape with visits to interesting monasteries. The next day we take a jeep from Samar to Jomsom (changing vehicle in Chusang). With more roads encroaching in Nepal Himalaya it now makes sense to use jeeps to drive further into and out of the mountains to maximise the time spent up high in the beautiful and remote areas.

On October 11th the fourth day of the trek this itinerary heads north up the deep gorge of the Naar Phu Khola (river). After one night at Meta camp in the pine and bamboo forests at an altitude of 3,250m they walked up to Naar village at 4,100m where they spent two nights for acclimatisation. On October 13th the group left Naar village to start the approach to Teri La pass by following the Lapse Khola (river) valley, staying the first night at a Yak Kharka camp at an altitude of 4,400m. This section of the trail is narrow and steep but everyone made good progress to camp.

On October 14th they continued to a higher camp in the Lapse Khola valley at an altitude of 4,600m, then the next day to walked up to High Camp below the Teri La pass at an altitude of 5,200m. Their day for crossing the pass was fine weather with excellent views and luckily the forecasted high winds did not happen. The conditions on the pass were dry with no snow and they followed the long trail down to their camp at Pasphu Khola camp (4,750m). 

The group commented there were several exposed sections on the descent from Teri La pass so it is necessary for anyone joining this trek to have accurate foot placement while walking and confidence in walking on rocky terrain without a defined trail. There was also a fresh landslide area with larger rocks and boulders to cross and it is likely this may have been caused by the 2015 earthquake.

The feedback received from the leaders and the group was that the days approaching the pass were too long and our altitude of High Camp was lower than the actual height (the correct altitude is 5,200m). Therefore for future Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks we have added one more camp before the pass at Teri La Base Camp at 4,900m to help with acclimatisation to high altitude and to shorten the days. This is a beautiful valley and having more time in afternoon around camp to explore would be a good option before crossing the pass over to Upper Mustang.

As the crew and group were tired after several long days before and after Teri La pass, Ade decided to have two shorter days walking to Lo Manthang. As the group requested to have two nights in this village to explore north on the way back to Jomsom people took a jeep along the road for some sections.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Ade checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress ----> click here to see the GPS map for Naar to Mustang GHT

As planned the group flew back from Jomsom to Pokhara to Kathmandu on October 27th. I met them on their arrival to Hotel Tibet and we had a very useful debrief meeting, I appreciate the feedback received and we will incorporate this into the planning and organisation for future treks. As mentioned in this Trip Report we have already made changes to Naar to Upper Mustang GHT itinerary for 2018 ----> take a look at TMC website. The trip length is 25 days from Kathmandu. As we take jeeps further up the road on way in and on way out to Jomsom this maximises the time spent up high in the beautiful & remote areas as well as shortening the long days before Teri La to enhance acclimatisation too.

Overall the opinion from Ade and the group was the trail on Naar to Upper Mustang GHT was a beautiful trek passing through a remote area of Nepal and with very few other trekkers around, they saw only one small group of two people after Naar village until arriving to Lo Manthang. It is refreshing to hear that there are still trails in Nepal during the peak month of October that are not too busy with other trekkers like the more popular Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal.

Thanks very much to Ade and Gopal for their hard work in leading this trek and to the assistant guides, Khumbu and Nima and the cook, Suk Bahadur Rai. The group have all given positive feedback on the food so well done to Suk and his team!

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in October 2018, please get in touch soon if you like to join this trek.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk


Friday, 3 November 2017

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Natalie Wilson and Pema Sherpa in October 2017

Photo: Dhaulagiri Base Camp
In October we organised our 15th trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal and out of these 13 groups successfully & safely crossed the passes over to Jomsom. The two years where our groups had to turn back was after Cyclone HudHud in October 2014 and the earthquake in April 2015 ----> you can read all of our Trip Reports for Dhaulagiri Circuit

Our leaders for our October 2017 Dhaulagiri Circuit trek were Natalie, known as Nat, Wilson (UK) and Pema Sherpa (Nepal) and the asssistant guides supporting the group were Sona, Bale and Kancha. We had thirteen people in this group and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and Denmark.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 8th, in the afternoon Nat gave her group briefing in the garden of Hotel Manaslu and I attended too. On the next day 9th they flew to Pokhara where they spent one night. Nat organised a group meal at Road House restaurant on Lakeside in the evening and I heard everyone enjoyed their time in Pokhara before starting the trek. On morning of 10th they drove by bus to the road head at Beni where they met the crew then walked to their first camp at Babichaur.

The trek went well and the group arrived to Italian Base Camp as planned on October 16th. On October 22nd the group crossed French Col into Hidden Valley. I think probably the weather and conditions experienced by this group was the best on any of our previous October treks. Nat sums up below:

"The weather was absolutely fantastic. An hour or so of rain at Sallaghiri, some cold winds and a little snow up high but settled mornings, great views, bit of cloud build up in afternoon."

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we sent these onto Nat by text to her satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


We have carefully designed our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek for acclimatisation and our groups have two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m followed by two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m then a further two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. Only with this ascent profile will you have enough time for your body to adapt to the high altitude for safe crossing of the high passes and for sleeping in Hidden Valley at 5,050m.

Photo: Mt Dhaulagiri seen from French Pass
As with all of TMC camping treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins -----> see the map of this trek in SPOT Adventure website

Within our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary after crossing the high  passes we fly out from Jomsom to Pokhara and then change planes for the flight back to Kathmandu. During the trek we were informed by Goma Air that they had decided to cancel our confirmed booking for this flight from Jomsom. As this is peak season we tried to rebook onto another airlines however Tara Airlines was full so it looked likely at one stage this group would have to drive from Jomsom to Pokhara down the rough jeep road along Kali Gandaki river. Luckily a few days before the group arrived to Pokhara we managed to book a charter plane from Tara Airlines directly back to Kathmandu. This is the reality of travelling in Nepal and confirmed bookings are not always honoured so it is worth bearing this in mind if you are considering a trip to Nepal! This is adventure travel...

Nat summarises her experience leading this group as follows:

"In my opinion Dhaulagiri Circuit is an incredible trip and we were particularly lucky to have better than expected weather every day. We only saw a couple of other groups and had the high camps all to ourselves. I think the group enjoyed it a lot and there were no fitness issues or excessive fatigue or struggle and for the main everyone stayed in good health. We experienced wonderful views and had a good crew with a nice atmosphere. The food was excellent – Sangram and his team did an excellent job. Lots of carbs but balanced out with plenty of veggies, lots of variety. His cakes, chicken curry and chop suey on the last night was absolutely the best yet!"

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit. I would like thank Nat, Pema and Sangram plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work.

The Mountain Company organises our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek twice a year in April and October. Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in April 2018 is nearly guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Trip report for Lunana Snowman in Bhutan led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2017

Photo: Tshorim Lake before Gophu La pass
This is the ninth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. Our Snowman 2017 went well and this group successfully made the full traverse 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 fourteen trekkers signed up for Lunana Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Australia, Singapore, Belgium and Denmark. Our 2017 Snowman group was led by Almas Khan and he has now completed this trek nine times too!

For our 2017 Snowman we had a strong and experienced local crew who have worked with us for many years. The two regular guides are Tashi and Tsering Dorje, I remember leading the first TMC Snowman trek with these two back in 2008! It has been wonderful to see both Tashi and Tsering develop as guides over the years coached by Almas and also we have invested in their training by sending them to Kathmandu for their Wilderness Medical Training at KEEP. Thanks Tashi and Tsering for all of your help over the years!

The cook, Sonam, and his kitchen helpers were new for last year's Snowman and as they did such a great job we requested their services again this year. I have heard from both Almas and group that the food was very good and has certainly improved since Sonam came on board. I have copied Almas’s comments on the food below:

“The quality of the food was very good and most of the clients commented they loved it. Hygiene standards by the entire kitchen crew were up to our standards. Quantity of food was adequate too.”


Photo: view from Karchung La
Overall the weather and conditions were favourable compared to previous years although this group had some rain & cloud crossing Karchung La into Lunana however they got lucky with stable & sunny weather on the exit passes over Gophu La and Saga La. We received weather forecasts of over 1m of snow for the day this group crossed the last passes over to Tso Chenchen as there was a low pressure system coming off the Bay of Bengal. However luckily this group was spared the extreme weather as the system tracked away from Bhutan at last minute! I have copied Almas’s assessment of weather and conditions below:

“The weather on the trip was very kind to us. Most of the time it only rained after we reached the camp. Not the best views at times. Rained and snowed on us while we walked on the day we walked over Karchung La to Tarina. Had excellent weather at the Tshorim lake and over the Gophu La. It was not as cold as I had expected. The lowest temperatures experienced were at Tshorim and Michigang -12. 8 Celsius at night outside and about -5 Celsius inside the tent in the coldest hour before dawn. Some group members found the trails a bit muddy - personally I have seen them worse on some previous treks."


Throughout our Lunana Snowman trek we receive bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com 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.


Our Snowman 2017 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. This year Almas decided to have two nights at Thanza to allow the group and crew to rest as the weather forecast was showing stable weather for a week allowing adequate time to cross Gophu La and Saga La.

Photo: Gophu La pass
Of interest on the day crossing Gophu La out of Lunana one of the cook boys saw a snow leopard while having a rest sitting on a rock near Geche Woma camp. Almas told me how this person was so startled that he dropped his chocolate bar (!) on the ground. Two members of the group also saw the snow leopard from afar as the cat quickly moved away. On further inspection of this area there were print mark seen in the sand that looked like snow leopard so we will take this is a confirmed snow leopard sighting! Blue sheep were also seen around Chomolhari Base Camp.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group and each night Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress --->  see the way points overlaid onto a map for Lunana Snowman

The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017. Our 2017 Lunana Snowman trek has collected 40kg of rubbish from the trails and around campsites and was carried out to the road head by the ponies during resupply at Laya and out to the end of the trek at Minchugang. Well done to Almas, crew and group!

Photo: Tsering weighing the rubbish collected on Snowman

Photo: baskets of rubbish collected


I have copied below feedback received from one member of the group now published on AITO review site:

"The Lunana Snowman trek is a major logistical challenge for the leader to organise horses and food over such a long remote trek. On this trip everything worked really smoothly. TMC offer the Bumthang exit to the trek which is much less frequently visited and we had a real sense of being in a quite different world in Lunana. The scenery is fantastic, the walk is long but most days are quite straightforward. There is a bit of a sting in the tail going over the last few passes but by then we were all pretty fit and acclimatized. The Mountain Company was very efficient. Potential trekkers are screened for suitability so the risk of being held up by someone unfit is minimised. From personal experience I can confirm this is important!"

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Tsering, Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work with organising and leading another successful Snowman trek. Thanks also to Kinley and Dawa in the office in Thimphu who have provided an excellent service with their logistics and planning for this long and remote trek.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2018 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. We have already received strong interest and this group is likely to fill fast as Snowman 2017 was fully booked with fourteen trekkers by April over six months before departure date.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Trip report for Ladakh Sky Trail GHT led by Almas Khan in August/ September 2017

Photo: Tso Moriri lake at finish of LST
In August/ September 2017 we organised our 4th Ladakh Sky Trail GHT in northern India. Almas Khan is the leader and organiser for this trek and this year we had an international mix with people coming from Australia, USA and UK.

As mentioned in previous trip reports our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT is a unique itinerary designed by Almas and travels through the best of the three areas of this region: Ladakh, Zanskar and Changthang/ Rupshu. For most of Ladakh Sky Trail GHT we follow rarely trekked trails and this is only possible due to the local knowledge of Almas and our local Ladakhi guides.

These days in most areas of the Himalaya there are more and more trekking groups around and with increasing construction of roads means that more places are accessible. With many years experience of running treks in the Himalaya The Mountain Company specialises in searching out and organising the most remote treks with fewer other groups around. If you are looking to get truly off the beaten track then Ladakh Sky Trail is a good choice for India, Lunana Snowman for Bhutan and Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT for Nepal.

Our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT group arrived to Leh on August 15th and on 18th drove to Lamayuru (3,500m) and 19th they started the trek. One of the changes we implemented for this year was to have three nights in Leh whereas in previous years we only had two nights. As Leh is located at 3,500m the more time one has here to adjust to this high altitude the better before heading off on trek and ascending high passes.

The feedback from this group has been positive with no reported issues relating to altitude sickness and Almas feels that having an extra night in Leh helps everyone feel stronger during the first week on the trek. There are lots of interesting places to see in and around Leh so this extra time is used well to get a feel for the scenery, culture and pace of life in Ladakh.

Photo: river crossings during LST
As for all or our treks in the Himalayas we received bespoke weather forecast from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com. Fortunately the weather was good for our 2017 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT trek and for your information I have copied Almas’s words from his trip report:

“The weather on the trip was good. The days were hot in the beginning of the trek till we reached Zangla. It rained only one day while we were in the gorge. That day we camped short at Tilat Sumdo instead of Kumarasumdo. Next day the weather cleared up and we easily covered up the hour and a half we lost the previous day. The weather got cold after Tshokar lake and got light dusting of snow on some nights. Overall the weather for LST 2017 was really good and I think we run this trip at the optimal time of year.”

As mentioned in previous year’s Trip Reports we have carefully selected the time of year to run this trek, by starting in late August into September much of the snow in the mountains has already melted over the summer so river levels should be lower at this time of year. As Almas explains above this trek is in the shoulder season so expect the weather to cool off during the trek as the conditions become more Autumnal towards the end of the trip.

Photo: peaks around Tso Moriri lake
As the weather and conditions were favourable the group made good progress and followed the itinerary as planned. The group arrived to end of the trek at Tsomoriri lake on September 9th and then on 10th drove back to Leh. As with all of TMC western led treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins, you can see the map of this trek on SPOT Adventure website

We have made one change on the kit list for our 2018 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT based on feedback from this group and from Almas. In previous years we recommended fully enclosed sandals for the river crossings however this year Almas used a water shoe called Merrell Waterpro Maipo and this provided more protection during the three days walking in the gorge. I have copied Almas's comments below:

"I have tried several styles of shoes for river crossing shoes over the last three LSTs - I feel water shoes without any Velcro work the best - laces are more efficient than Velcro which gets clogged with sediment and stops working. The mesh foot coverage prevents small pebbles getting in and also they were comfortable to walk in between river crossings. We should update the kit list to include water shoes as there are more than 130 river crossings over three days and a lot walking in between. Also can double for camp / travel shoes"

Photo: peaks around Tso Moriri lake

The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017. Our 2017 Ladakh Sky Trail GHT has collected 10kg of rubbish from the trails and around campsites and this is more than our target of 4kg per group so well done to Almas, crew and group!


Photo; photo of rubbish collected on LST 2017

As ever I would like to thanks Almas and the very hardworking Ladakhi team for doing a great job on another successful Ladakh Sky Trail GHT. Almas will be back in Ladakh again next summer leading our 2018 Ladakh Sky Trail and this trek is now already guaranteed to run.

Please get in touch soon if you are interested in joining our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT or if you have any questions on this trek.

Roland Hunter

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Trip report for K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro in Pakistan during July/ August 2017

Photo: K2, second highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan
Like in 2016, this year we also decided to run two treks to K2 Base Camp in Pakistan at the same time: our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and our K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La. The plan was for both groups to walk together to K2 Base Camp then one group would return back down Baltoro and the second group from Concordia would follow Vigne glacier and ascend over the Gondogoro La pass to Hushe village. After the trek both groups were scheduled to meet back up again in Skardu then travel together back to Islamabad. These K2 Base Camp treks were led by Chris Horobin and supported by Pakistan guides Zahid and Manzoor.

In 2017 we started our K2 Base Camp treks 10 days earlier than in 2016 as we felt the weather tends to be better in July given the poor conditions experienced by our 2016 group. Clearly the weather in Karakoram varies year to year however our 2017 K2 Base Camp groups were lucky to experience excellent weather with fine views of the mountains and good conditions for crossing Gondogoro la high pass. Chris summarised the weather in his post trip report as follows “Excellent, hot, generally sunny (a couple of overcast days), no rain. Could not have been better really.”

Our K2 Base Camp groups arrived to Islamabad on July 22nd and took the Pakistan International Airways ("PIA") flight as scheduled to Skardu on 23rd. In the past the PIA flight to Skardu has been unreliable and if cancelled then the group has to undertake a two day bus drive along the Karakoram Highway (“KKH”). However as mentioned in our trip report for 2016 K2 Base Camp treks the flight to Skardu has become more reliable over last few years as there are more planes flying the route from Islamabad to Skardu so the chances of having to drive KKH are reduced (although of course still possible).

Photo: Gilkey memorial near K2 Base Camp
The other advantage of flying to Skardu rather than driving KKH is that the group has two nights at the hotel in Skardu before the drive to Askole where the trek starts from. This means the group had the day of July 24th to relax and explore Skardu town, this also gives time for our leaders to do last minute checks and organisation before heading off.

For 2017 we made changes with the hotels used for our K2 Base Camp treks, in Islamabad we now use Hotel Hillview as this is higher standard than Chancery Guesthouse used in previous years. In Skardu we have been using K2 Motel for many years in fact since my first visit to Pakistan in 2005 when I organised an expedition to climb Broad Peak. Over the last few years we received some poor feedback on K2 Motel and so for 2017 we switched to Concordia Motel. The feedback from the group on both Hotel Hillview and Concordia Motel has so far been positive so we plan to use again for 2018 treks.

On July 25th the group drove in local jeeps along the rough and exposed jeep track to the roadhead at the village of Askole. On July 26th they started their trek following the fast flowing Braldu river. We have carefully designed our K2 Base Camp itinerary for gradual acclimatisation and unlike most other companies we decide not have two nights in Paiju (3,383m) as this is too low to benefit from acclimatisation. Instead we continue onto Urdukas camp (4,130m) where we have two nights as this more beneficial at this altitude and also the views from this camp over to Trango Towers are spectacular!

Photo: Choire's tent with view of K2 (credit: Choire Horobin)
At The Mountain Company we have a procedure where we carefully vet and screen all applications to ensure the trip is an appropriate objective for that person and we are especially careful for treks in Pakistan. There are a number of factors that make treks in Pakistan more challenging than in other Himalayan trekking destinations such as Nepal or Bhutan including the very hot weather conditions, a very rough jeep ride along an exposed track between Skardu and Askole, rugged trails along loose & rocky moraine while on Baltoro glacier, the risk of rockfall and landslides, no villages with facilities after Askole and river crossings as often there are no bridges etc etc.

The other consideration is the difficulty of getting helicopters for medical evacuation. It is worth pointing out that unlike Nepal there are no commercial helicopter operators in Pakistan instead we have to rely on the use of army helicopters. Many people have got used in Nepal to having quick and efficient evacuations by helicopter. Whereas in Pakistan for serious medical situations it is possible to arrange helicopter evacuations however this process takes longer, it is not straightforward and also depends on availability of helicopters. For example if helicopters are busy on training exercises or other military commitments then it may take longer to arrange and the protocol in Pakistan is for helicopters to always fly in pairs. Therefore if this is a non urgent medical evacuation the most likely mode of extraction is by horse and this is not a very comfortable ride!

Our leader Chris comments on his group’s experience for K2 Base Camp trek as follows:

“Overall I would sum it up by advising that of this group most thoroughly “enjoyed” it but thought it was the hardest thing they had ever done. K2 Base Camp remains a very challenging expedition and whilst no one advised that they had been ill advised prior to the expedition it is important that the Mountain Company keep its vigorous vetting procedure as to previous experience and fitness levels required. It is a mix of heat, difficult terrain, dirt and dust, altitude that wears people down and this should not be underestimated. Whilst the Gondogoro La section of the trip has now been equipped with new ropes the decent is still dangerous, steep and loose and requires a mix of rope skills to be safely undertaken.”



Photo: climbing up Gondogoro La
On August 3rd the group successfully walked up to K2 Base Camp and Gilkey memorial then after sleeping a night at Broad Peak Base Camp on evening of 3rd they awoke to glorious views of the majestic K2 mountain. After breakfast the group walked back down to Concordia and after group discussions the decision was made by Chris for the Gondogoro La group to head to Ali Camp towards the pass. As planned on August these two groups split with Chris and Zahid leading their group over Gondogoro La and Manzoor leading the K2 Base Camp group back down the Baltoro glacier to Askole.

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 10th and then flew back to Islamabad on 11th.

It is important that people who sign up for K2 Base Camp trek understand the risks involved and are prepared and ready to accept these uncertainties. For many people who have successfully trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal they will find K2 Base Camp a far more challenging objective. Having said this the feedback from the seven K2 Base Camp groups organised by The Mountain Company since 2008 has been very positive. I think this trek is rightly included in Lonely Planet's article The 10 Best Treks in the World.

The mountain scenery on K2 Base Camp trek has no doubt some of the best views anywhere in the world with a series of impressive mountains getting progressively larger as one ascends Baltoro and Godwin Austen glaciers towards K2 Base Camp. The crossing of Gondogoro La is a classic high pass with views of Leila Peak from the top and a challenging ascent down loose scree to the lovely grassy camp at Khuspang. The advantage of crossing Gondogoro La pass is that this completes a circuit trek and once over the pass you walk down a new valley to Hushe village.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Chris checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress ---> K2 Base Camp GPS map

Thanks very much to Chris, Zahid and Manzoor plus the rest of the Pakistan team for their hard work in leading this trek.

The Mountain Company is promoting both our K2 Base Camp & Concordia and K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La for July 2018.

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
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Mountain Company pledge for AITO Project PROTECT


Earlier this year Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) launched Project PROTECT in recognition of the important role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. The aim of this project is to encourage sustainable tourism and to nurture the destinations for tomorrow's travellers. The PROTECT acronym stands for People / Resources / Outreach / Tourism / Environment / Conservation / Tomorrow.

This project is led by Professor Xavier Font of the University of Surrey and each AITO member has to publish an annual pledge and report back at the end of the year on how they got along. For more information take a look at ----> AITO Press release

The Mountain Company pledge is as follows: Collecting at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This is part of the Leave No Trace philosophy encouraging people to minimise their environmental impact when exploring the great outdoors. At The Mountain Company we want to go further by picking up rubbish/ trash found along the trekking trails and around the campsites. We have received client feedback that rubbish is a big problem and this unsightly mess has detracted from their holiday experience. By picking up litter this activity will make the environment cleaner and will help to maintain the natural beauty of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains.

In 2017, we will ask each of our groups to pick up at least four sacks of rubbish during their Himalayan trek. Each sack will weigh approximately 1kg so each group will have a target of 4kg of rubbish to collect. During 2017 our thirty groups travelling to Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India will therefore pick up a total of at least 120kg of litter.

Our guides and trekkers will work together to collect rubbish and this will develop camaderie and teamwork. The group will feel good about helping to make a difference. Our groups will talk to others to explain what they are doing aiming to inspire more trekkers to pick up rubbish too. By working together with our customers The Mountain Company wants to improve the environment of our destinations to help more people to enjoy these places in the future.


Photo: Pasang Sherpa collecting rubbish in Everest region
We will be in touch with our clients in due course to explain how we plan to go about meeting our pledge and how they can help if they would like to do so. 

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company