Latest news from the Himalaya and Mount Kilimanjaro

Latest news from the Himalaya and Mount Kilimanjaro

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Mountain Company sends a Thuraya satellite phone on all of our treks in Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan

We have recently introduced a company policy of sending Thuraya satellite phone with our guides on all treks in Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan.

The question to ask is whether a satellite phone is really needed for a trek in Nepal, Pakistan or Bhutan? The answer is yes that having reliable communications in the field via a satellite phone such as Thuraya is critical for group safety, risk management and contingency planning in an emergency situation.

Please see photo below of four Thuraya satellite phones delivered today and this means The Mountain Company now has a total of twelve satellite phones for use on our 2016 Autumn treks in Nepal and Bhutan.

Photo: some of The Mountain Company's Thuraya satellite phones
The Mountain Company sends a Thuraya satellite phone and also three fully charged batteries with each group. This means there will be sufficient battery power for extended treks and our groups do not have to rely on solar panels (as these do not work if cloudy) or unreliable power from local villages or lodges.

However just giving a satellite phone to our guides is not sufficient as we need to ensure they check messages sent and keep in regular contact. For example The Mountain Company receives weather forecasts from throughout the trekking seasons in Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan and we will send SMS texts with the forecast summary to direct to the group's satellite phones. If the leader does not turn the satellite phone on to check for messages or call into The Mountain Company operation centre then they will not be aware if there is cyclone or large storm coming their way!

The Mountain Company has developed a communications policy for both our Western and Nepali leaders and this has been designed to enhance the safety for both crew and trekking group. Our communications policy means we can keep in touch with our leaders and groups in the field by monitoring their progress and provide support when required. A summary of The Mountain Company's communications policy is as follows:
  • Group leader must switch their Thuraya satellite phone on every day after 6pm to check for incoming SMS text messages.
  • Group leader must call The Mountain Company at a minimum every four days to give an update on their progress.
  • Group leader must call The Mountain Company on the day before crossing any high pass over 4,500m to receive an update on weather forecast and conditions. They should also phone to confirm when the group and crew have all crossed the pass safely.
  • Group leader must call The Mountain Company for approval before making any significant changes to the itinerary.
  • Group leader must call The Mountain Company if any member of the group or crew is sick or injured.
  • Group leader to call The Mountain Company at any time if they need any advice, help or support while leading a group.
Having led many treks throughout the Himalaya over the years I am frequently surprised how many groups met along the way do not have access to satellite communications in the field. If you are looking to join a group trek in the Himalaya I suggest you ask the operator during your enquiry (and before booking!) if your trek leader will have a satellite phone. Please do not assume if you are booking with a European or American trek operator that a satellite phone will be always be sent with your group!

Following the Nepal earthquakes in Spring 2015 we found that having direct communications with our leaders through their satellite phones was critical in finding out the status of our groups (luckily they were all fine) and deciding on their plans for rest of their trip. In the past we relied upon the cell phone system in Everest and Annapurna region however this is not reliable especially as many of cell phone towers are powered by solar panels. 

During our contingency planning at The Mountain Company we have considered the worst case situation of an extreme event such as a high magnitude earthquake that could destroy the entire cell phone system of one of our destination countries of Nepal, Pakistan or Bhutan. If this happened then having reliable satellite phone communications would be critical for contacting our groups in the field and organising their emergency evacuation. Unfortunately earthquakes and cyclones will certainly happen again in the Himalaya and Karakoram (hopefully not in our life time) however we need to be prepared for this and have robust contingency plans in place.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Mountain Company has been nominated for the Best Escorted Adventure Holiday Company category in the 2016 British Travel Awards

We are delighted to report that The Mountain Company has been nominated for the Best Escorted Adventure Holiday Company category in the prestigious 2016 British Travel Awards (BTAs).

The winners will be determined by the consumer, who has until 30 September to cast their vote, with the successful companies announced at the BTA Gala Awards Dinner, being held in London on 23 November 2016.

The Mountain Company is London based adventure travel company organising remote treks, expeditions and tours to the Himalayan region from Burma, India, Nepal, Bhutan to Pakistan.

British Travel Awards’ chief executive Lorraine Barnes Burton said: “This year there are nearly seven hundred nominations listed against 83 Award categories and competition to win a British Travel Awards will be fierce. In 2015 more than a million votes were cast by the consumer to decide the winners, making the BTAs easily the largest awards programme in the UK. Voting in the 2016 Awards is now open and nominated companies have until 30th September to lobby their happy customers for votes – good luck to The Mountain Company.

The British Travel Awards are considered the benchmark for excellence when it comes to finding out who really is the best in the travel industry. The British Travel Awards is a proudly independent organisation, verified by leading global business practitioners, Deloitte.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Hemis festival in Ladakh (Northern India)

Photo: Hemis Monastery
Hemis Festival in Ladakh in northern India is held every year however every 12 years during Tibetan Year of the Monkey this festival is very auspicious as they celebrate the life of Guru Padamasambhava and Naropa. The birth of Lord Padmasambhava also known Guru Rimpoche is the spiritual leader who introduced Buddhism in the Himalayan Kingdom in early 8th Century.

During this special festival held every twelve year the monks at Hemis monastery unfurl a 12 metre high Thangka and display the holy 6 bones ornament from Naropa. There are dances and plays by masked Lamas representing the good prevailing over evil. The participants of the spellbinding performance are dressed in vibrant costumes and bright masks.

In the court yard of the monastery there is a raised platform with cushioned seats and a finely painted Tibetan table with the ceremonial items such as cups of holy water, rice, tormas made of dough and butter and incense. Musicians play with cymbals, drums, small trumpets and next to them the lamas sit and pray.

Photo: Hemis Monastery
At Hemis Festival 2016 will be a large gathering of Drukpa teachers. Drukpa is a lineage or school of Tibetan Buddhism often called “red-hat-sect”. The Drukpa lineage is prominent in Kham (eastern Tibet), Ladakh and Bhutan. Drukpa in Bhutan has a great significance as it is the dominant school and state religion. Outside the monastery there will be many stalls selling food and handicrafts with many travellers enjoying the festivities.

Please note the date of Hemis Festival in 2016 has been delayed from July 14th to September in order to avoid a clash of dates with the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Ladakh over the summer.

The Mountain Company is organising our classic Ladakh Sky Trail GHT trek in mid August led by Almas Khan, please get in touch if you would like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Trip Report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek led by Ade Summers and Chandra Rai in May 2016

Photo: view from Muri La
In May we organised our third Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek along The Great Himalaya Trail. Unfortunately we had to cancel our 2015 trek due to the earthquake in Nepal and it was good to see three of the group from last year re-booked again for 2016. We had twelve trekkers in the group and there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from Australia, UK, USA, New Zealand and Canada.

This trek was led by Ade Summers and Chandra Rai supported by four assistant guides called Hebi, Bhim, Bal Bahadur and we engaged a local guide from Dunai called Narendra. The cook was Ram Pratap Rai with six kitchen helpers. Ade and Chandra have worked together leading our Upper Dolpo group on our two previous treks in 2014 and 2010 so they know this region very well. To find out how Ade and Chandra got along with their 2014 Upper Dolpo trek please take a look at Trip Report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in May 2014.

Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom itinerary visits a very remote region of Nepal and instead of following the more popular Upper Dolpo Circuit we head further north to an area very close to the Tibet border. Upper Dolpo has been referred to as the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture with the landscape and Buddhist & Bonpo religion of this region more like Tibet in pre Chinese times than of the rest of Nepal.

Photo: crossing Kang La to Shey
Very few foreigners visit Upper Dolpo and this is mainly due to the remoteness and the expense of getting there. To access this region requires complicated logistics to support a trekking party as it is not possible to purchase food in Upper Dolpo apart from a few potatoes so everything has to be brought in from Kathmandu. Also North of Phoksumdo Lake is a restricted area for tourists and this requires a special permit and for this itinerary costs US$810 per person. However for those people who make the effort to visit Upper Dolpo you will see a beautiful place with traditional villages that has not been significantly impacted by the outside world.

At the start of the trek we chartered a Twin Otter plane from Tara Air for the flight from Pokhara to Juphal rather than relying on schedule flights from Nepalganj further to the west. Transiting through Nepalganj is prone to delays due to lack of aircraft and the temperatures are very hot at this time of year. As anyone who has trekked in Nepal will be aware the flights to STOL (short takeoff and landing) airstrips in the hills are prone to delays and cancellation. If there is poor weather and delays then Pokhara is a far more pleasant place to stay with good hotels and restaurants compared to the sticky, humid climate at Nepalganj.

Luckily for our 2016 Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT group their Twin Otter flight from Pokhara operated on time and they landed safely to Juphal on May 9th. After meeting Chandra and the rest of the guides the group walked for a few hours to Dunai where they camped for the first night. For the next three days the trail follows the Suli Gad River flowing down from Phoksumdo Lake. On May 13th the group walked through Ringmo village and onto their campsite on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Phoksumdo Lake. The next day was a rest day where the group enjoyed visited the nearby Bönpo Buddhist monastery and explored the traditional village of Ringmo. 

Photo: Phoksumdo Lake near Ringmo village
On May 15th the group followed the western side of Phoksumdo Lake along a narrow cliff trail, this is the ‘Devil’s trail’ followed by Thinle in Eric Valli’s film “Himalaya”. The narrow path ascends to a ridge with spectacular views over the turquoise lake to Ringmo village and the peaks of Kanjiroba (6,612m), Norbung Kang (6,085) and Jhyarko Dingla (5,892m). There is a gradual descent through stands of birch trees to the northern shore of Phoksumdo Lake to the camp for the night. All foreigners are required to have the restricted area permit as discussed above when they travel north of Phoksumdo Lake.

From Phoksumdo Lake North Camp the group starts the two and half day ascent to the first high pass of the trek called Kang La. This pass is known as the crux of Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT as there is often snow blocking the pass. We organise our Dolpo trek to maximise the chances of crossing this pass by selecting the optimal time of year when the snowline is receding as the temperatures warm up in mid-May. However the key to crossing this pass is to use only porters rather than ponies or yaks that will stuck in the deep snow. It is for this reason we send porters from Kathmandu with this group rather than rely on local animal transport. This year there was some snow on the slopes to Kang La however the guides did a good job breaking trail the day before the group's crossing. On May 17th the whole group and crew successfully crossed Kang La over to Shey Gompa.

On May 18th the group had a well-deserved rest day at Shey as they still had two spare days in hand within our itinerary as so far had experienced no delays along the way. On the rest day I heard most people went for a walk down the valley from Shey for an hour to an old monastery and had salt butter tea with the caretaker.

On May 19th the group took the trail ascending Saldang La and the view from this pass was spectacular to the north into Tibet, east to Mustang and west to Crystal Mountain and Kanjiroba. It is on today’s walk one enters typical Upper Dolpo landscape resembling the arid Tibetan plateau with folded rock strata in hues of yellow, orange and purple. 

Photo: crossing Sangda La in Upper Dolpo
Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we send these onto Ade by text to his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field. Michael’s forecast on May 14th informed us of a tropical disturbance located in the Bay of Bengal and this was later named as Cyclone Roanu. Michael gave us frequent updates as he tracked the path of this cyclone and luckily there was no direct impact to the Himalaya. There was heavy precipitation in the east of Nepal and also in Everest region (where several of Everest Base Camp groups experienced heavy rain) however our Upper Dolpo group were located north of the clouds so got off lightly with only several cloudy days. For the rest of the trek this group had excellent weather with clear and sunny conditions.

Photo: aerial photo of Cyclone Roanu
We used a GPS spot tracker for this group and 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 way points overlaid onto a map for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT

As you can see from the map above our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom group GHT made good progress and successfully completed the full traverse from Juphal to Jomsom crossing. This itinerary travels through some of the most remote and rarely trekked areas of Nepal as they head north into Upper Dolpo on border with Tibet then start the traverse eastwards crossing five high passes over 5,000m along the Great Himalaya Trail to Jomsom. Congratulations and well done to this group!

One of the highlights of this trek was the exciting news that the group saw two snow leopards along the way. The first one was seen by Ken near Mischagaon village and the second one was seen by most of the group on way from Tinje to Rapka. I gather there was some debate whether it was a wolf or snow leopard however most of the guides were pretty sure it was the elusive snow leopard. From feedback received from the group the other highpoint of the trek was the visit to a gompa/ monastery for the celebrations and pujas for Buddha Jayanti known as Buddha's birthday.

Photo: snow leopard
The one change to the trek since 2014 is the construction of a jeep track to Sandga village so on last day of the trek to Kagbeni one follows the road. However there was no traffic apart from one or two motorbikes and one can cut a few corners off to save time. We have not heard any negative feedback from the group about this as it is more like walking on a wide trail however one wonders when the road will reach into Upper Dolpo?

The group flew out of Jomsom as planned on June 3rd and after a change in planes in Pokhara arrived to Kathmandu in afternoon to check into Hotel Tibet. One of the risks of organising a trek at this time of year is the chance of more clouds as monsoon advances north across India causing delays to internal flights in Nepal. However this group was fortunate for both flights into Juphal and out of Jomsom and if the flight from Jomsom is cancelled the Plan B is to drive to Pokhara although this is a long and bumpy road where we have to rely on local vehicles. This is the reason we include two nights in Kathmandu at the end of the trip to allow some buffer time to allow for this drive if Jomsom flight is cancelled.

Thanks very much to Ade and Chandra for leading this trek, to the Sherpas guides, Ram the cook, his kitchen helpers and of course the porters for all of their hard work. It is a tradition to thank the local crew on last night of the trek and to hand out tips, I heard this group were generous also purchasing a special meal for the porters too.

The Mountain Company is planning to organise our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in May/ June 2017, we already have enough people to guarantee to run this departure so we expect this group to fill quite soon. As mentioned above we had a full group in 2016 and the numbers are limited to twelve people due to the capacity on the private charter flight to Juphal.

Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in May/ June 2017.

Roland Hunter

Monday, 13 June 2016

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit trek led by Ade Summers and Jhire Rai in April 2016

Photo: trail to Pangpema
In April, we organised our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in eastern Nepal and this trek was led by Ade Summers (UK) and Jhire Rai (Nepal). Ade has led this trek three times before and Jhire has done this trek many times. Our assistant guide was Raj who comes from Taplejung and this works well for organisation to have a local in the leadership team. The cook was Sangram who has also completed this trek many times before.

For our April 2016 Kanchenjunga Circuit group there were five trekkers coming from New Zealand and USA. The first day of the trip was April 12th and next morning Ade gave his trek briefing and I also attended. On April 14th the group flew to Bhadrapur in east of Nepal and in afternoon drove up to Ilam for the night. This group stuck to the itinerary walking up as planned to Pangpema at Kanchenjunga northside Base Camp on April 25th and then returned to Ghunsa on the next day. The group decided not to have a rest day at Gunsa and on 26th head up to High Camp before Mirgin La. They successfully crossed over Mirgin La on April 27th arriving to Tseram village in late afternoon.

On April 28th the group walked up to Oktang for the impressive viewpoint of the south west face of Kanchenjunga and descending to camp at Ramche. From here there is a long walk out and on May 5th arrived to Suketar (near Taplejung). They drove back down through Ilam down to the plains to stay the night at a hotel in Birtamod before flying back to Kathmandu on May 7th.

On their return I met up with the group at Hotel Tibet for debrief on the trek and to hear their feedback. Overall the feedback received has been positive as this group had good weather throughout the trip and they successfully completed the trek by crossing Mirgin La.

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

Throughout the course of Kanchenjunga Circuit trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information is sent through to Ade on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

Thanks very much to Ade, Jhire, Raj and Sangram and the rest of the team for their hard work on this trek.

The Mountain Company is promoting Kanchenjunga Circuit trek for November 2016 and April 2017. Our November departure is nearly guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Roland Hunter

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Almas Khan and Domi Sherpa in April 2016

Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri seen from French Pass
In April we organised our 12th group trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit and this was also our 2nd expedition to climb Dhampus Peak. On their return to Kathmandu I caught up with most of the group for a debrief at KToo steakhouse in Kathmandu for their feedback on the trip.

We had six people in this group and out of these one person decided to pay for the extra cost to climb Dhampus Peak. This surcharge covers the permit fee US$250 and per permit rules the costs to provide equipment to the climbing guide of US$350 and insurance fees for helicopter rescue. Therefore the cost of this surcharge depends on the number of people opting for Dhampus Peak and with a larger group the cost per person will decrease i.e in Autumn season for six people this works out at US$595 per person.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on April 17th and as usual with our teams there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from UK, Australia, India, USA and Germany. The leaders for our Dhaulagiri Circuit with Dhampus trip were Almas Khan (Australia) and Domi Sherpa (Nepal). The Sherpa guide supporting the group was Sonam and the cook was Saila Tamang.

After the pre-trip briefing given by Almas and Domi on April 17th the group flew to Pokhara on 18th and took the bus to Beni then after lunch walked to their first camp at Tatopani. The weather in Nepal this Spring has been been dry with virtually no rain however there was an afternoon rain storm on evening of first day trekking. This precipitation cleared the air as the views at lower level had been obscured for several weeks by haze caused by forest fires throughout Nepal. I gather the group were lucky to get good views of the Himalayas including Mt Dhaulagiri over next two days as they walked through the villages. As ever the days lower down on Dhaulagiri Circuit are always hot and humid as first night camp at Tatopani is only at an altitude of 870 metres.

After Boghara village on Day 5 the trail enters sub-tropical forest and then on Day 8 rises out of tree line to reach Italian Base Camp. We have carefully designed our Dhaulagiri Circuit 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.

As reported in Trip Report for Dhaulagiri Circuit in October 2015 there was a change in the trail from Italian Base Camp to Glacier Camp as previously one approached the glacier on left side of Chonbarden gorge however the glacier has melted back and now there is no longer a gentle ramp to access the glacier. In October our group had to cross the glacial river however luckily for our April’s group were able to cross on a snow bridge.

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 in SPOT Adventure website

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we sent these onto Almas by text to his satellite phone. Overall the weather for this trek was good with sunny and stable conditions and had sunny day on crossing French Pass and Dhampus Pass. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

On May 1st most of the group went for exploration walks around Hidden Valley following the ridge walk as described in my blog article “Photos of day walk in Hidden Valley on Dhaulagiri Circuit trek”. The feedback from the group was enjoyed this day and is a good alternative to climbing Dhampus Peak in order to save money on paying for peak fees and other costs as explained above. The views are wonderful views over to Annapurnas and Nilgiri to the east and over to Dolpo to the west and also to Mount Dhaulagiri.

One member of the group plus Almas and Domi left the camp in Hidden Valley early in the morning to ascend to Dhampus pass. In the end they reached nearly 6,000m however was turned around as was not moving fast enough and was running out of time to get back to Hidden Valley before dark. It is worth bearing in mind if considering the climb of Dhampus Peak that the ascent is 1,000m from
camp in Hidden Valley. This is a big day at altitude!

I have copied one members feedback from website below:

"I trekked around Dhaulagiri, crossing the French (5,380m) and Dhampus (5,250m) passes, with an attempt on Dhampus peak (6,030 m) where I got to 5,800 m on the summit ridge. The trek was excellent and we were very lucky to have near perfect weather. The trek was very well organized, with the group well prepared for the inclement weather and trail conditions frequently experience on this route. This was a very well organized trek, with excellent leadership by Almas Khan, and sirdar Domi Sherpa. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would have no hesitation in choosing The Mountain Company organized future trek." 

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit! I would like thank Almas, Domi, Sonam and Saila plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work in making this trip work so well.

The Mountain Company organise our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek and Dhampus Peak expedition twice a year in April and October, please get in touch if you like to join one of these departures. By the way our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in October 2016 is already guaranteed to run and the group is filling.

Roland Hunter

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Punakha Drubchen and Tsechu festivals in Bhutan during February 2016

Photo: Punakha dzong in Bhutan

Punakha’s Drubchen and Tsechu festivals are the fourth most popular festivals in Bhutan behind Paro Tsechu, Thimphu Tsechu and Jambay Lhakang in Bumthang. The 2016 dates for Punakha Drubchen is February 13th to 16th and for Punakha Tsechu is February 17th to 19th.

Photo: Cham dance at Tsechue
Punakha Drubchen festival is dedicated to the legendary figures of Yeshe Gonpo and Palden Lhamo known as the two main protective deities of Drukpas or Bhutanese people. This is a unique festival as it features a recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and re-enact the ancient battle scene. On the second day of the festival on February 14th a thongdrol is unfurled. A thongdrol is a large thanka and this one is made of applique on silk brocade taking fifty-one artists two years to finish.

In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The colourful religious dances of the Punakha tsechu festival commemorate Guru Rinpoche responsible for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Many of the dances were first started by Shabdrung, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, who unified Bhutan in 1634. The dances are performed by monks as well as lay people and will bring blessings to the onlookers as well as instructing them about the Buddhist Dharma.

Please get in touch with us if you like to visit Bhutan during one of their Tsechu festivals, for more information take a look at our Cultural Tours of Bhutan

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company