Nepal With Us
"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk; every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.. but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill... thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right."
So wrote Soren Kierkegaard in 1847
"Trekking is walking meditation" - Fabrizio Zangrili, 2013
Trekking is simply walking; it is not mountaineering or climbing. You walk mostly on reasonable trails and will only occasionally encounter snow. We trek to enjoy, so the walking days are not long and we stop frequently, most days involve 3-7 hours actual walking, so you don't need to be an athlete although you do need to start reasonably fit.
Fitness required varies from trek to trek but for standard departures you should be reasonably fit, used to some regular exercise. It is most important that you know you enjoy walking in the great outdoors but you certainly don't need to be an experienced hiker. For some people this is their first real trek. The older you are the more important prior fitness and training is.
Unlike an overnight hike at home you trek with a day pack with water, spare clothing, knickknacks and camera; porters or animals carry your sleeping bag and other gear you don't need during the day in a kitbag. So in theory your day pack will be light and you can skip along the trail - except that you are at altitude and this really does make a difference, and we are walking easy days but day after day they still build up so that you feel like you really are getting fit and really do have to push your body more than you might think.
The ultimate luxury... Especially if coming from North America, plan an extra day at the beginning to recover from the long flights and big time zone difference. Most of our trips are compact, but a day or two longer than comparable itineraries, and for a good reason. We are serious about following sound acclimatization programs, and we really do allow for an untimely day or two of bad weather.
Your crew and the leader are the most important people on the trek (second to you!). Our operation is small and personal, run by a handful of special people who enjoy taking care of people. Almost all of our trips are lead by western leaders because they are more experienced interfaces, can better relate to your expectations and have a more thorough medical background. They are backed up by our irreplaceable local staff, many of whom speak English and enjoy showing you around their cultures and country.
What you need - the basics
The major items you require are:
+ good wind/rain jacket
+ warm fleece jacket or jersey
+ good boots, either light-weight trekking boots or light full leather boots
+ good 3-5 season sleeping bag (which can be rented in Kathmandu)
+ A comfortable day pack, preferably with a waistband.
+ A can do, positive attitude - this is a holiday!
Accessible from the navigation bar are more detailed equipment discussions and upon booking we will discuss gear in more detail and the conditions we are likely to encounter.
We take acclimatization very seriously and plan plenty of time into all our itineraries.
The higher you go the less air there is. At 5500m (top of Kala Pattar and Thorung La) there is half the amount of oxygen (and nitrogen) compared to sea level. Your body takes days to adjust - time to acclimatize.
We care for our porters and staff
For our expedition-style treks we often rely on porters to carry sometimes heavy loads, and our staff work in sometimes challenging conditions but we truly care about them. We ensure that all porters going above the tree line are given wool socks, new shoes (usually given at the beginning of the trip), wool gloves, wool hat, jacket and pant set, sunglasses, have adequate shelter and all have access to our medical knowledge and supplies. Jamie was a representative of the International Porters Protection Group (IPPG) and runs this trek according to the letter and spirit of their guidelines. Sure, this costs a little more, but my - our - conscience is clear. We care.
A typical day
One of the great joys of trekking in Nepal is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax with the simple day to day routine of life on the trail.
Each morning after packing our bags and having a good breakfast, we set off on the day's walk. All we need to carry is a small day pack containing water bottle, camera, sun cream, hat, rain jacket and warm jacket, just in case. The porters will carry the rest of our gear for us.
After walking for 3-4 hours we stop for lunch at around midday. The afternoon's walk is generally shorter and we usually arrive at our destination in time for afternoon tea. The remainder of the afternoon can be spent exploring the village, doing a bit of washing or simply relaxing with a good book. On some days we will arrive at our destination by lunchtime and the entire afternoon will be free.
After dinner, the evening will often be spent playing cards and reliving the day's adventures, before heading off to bed for a well-earned sleep.
The expedition-style trekking routine
Luxury! Porters carry the supplies and the kitchen sink (!), sherpas put up the tents, and the kitchen crew serve 3 course meals. In fact if heading off the beaten track or even in the popular regions at peak season, this service isn't luxury - there is little alternative. It is a great way to trek and a good chance to get to know some of the local crew.
Food and routine
BYO marshmallows, caviar and champagne, we provide the rest. A Nepali cook accompanies us so we eat traditional dal bhaat occasionally - boiled rice and lentils with a mild veg/meat curry but mostly we have nutritious and substantial three course meals. We carry far too many tins, and use local produce where possible. The food is good, often superb, depending on the cook, but is cooked in a fairly basic manner, fried or boiled, as befitting cooking out in the wilderness. While the food isn't as good as you might expect at a good cheap restaurant at home, it certainly does the job and beats most gourmet dehy food.
Before breakfast expect bed tea to get you out of bed, and in the low country a bowl of water to have a quick wash, then you pack your kitbag, which is whisked away by a porter, and the tents are packed by the sherpas. Then it is breakfast time. We start with porridge, muesli, or occasionally rice pudding, then comes eggs (boiled, scrambled, fried) and a bread: toast, tibetan bread (a deep-fried chapatti), chapatti or pancake. To drink we have a choice of coffee, tea , chocolate and hot water for filling water bottles with drinking water for the day.
Walking and lunch
Generally we walk at a generally relaxed pace with plenty of time for photos and those important altitude breathers. Remember that the porters have 30kg loads and although they cope with them easily enough, it means that we don't walk very long distances - we have time to enjoy more than just exercise. The kitchen crew race off ahead, or at least keep up with us and around 11-12 stop and set up for lunch, which is mostly a 3 course meal. We begin with a drink, usually hot lemon or black tea and biscuits, ready as we stop, then relax until lunch proper is ready - one reason for not racing ahead while walking. This is usually some salad or boiled/stir-fried vegetables with potatoes, rice or bread and often some tinned meat or fish. There is plenty of food and more than enough for seconds, and even thirds. There is often a desert of fresh or tinned fruit. The crew also cook their own lunch, usually dal bhaat.
Arriving at camp
After the afternoon walk we arrive at camp usually between 3-5pm. The sherpas put up the tents, including the kitchen tent and the dining tent (although sometimes we use a lodge dining room instead), a hot drink and biscuits miraculously appear, and you have time to relax before dinner. Dinner is a 3 course affair with a light soup first (gotta get enough fluids) then a main course of vegetables with carbohydrate: potatoes (a sherpa favourite), noodles, rice, bread or similar, and often a meat dish, sometimes even fresh, when available. Desert is custard or fresh or tinned fruit, sometimes a cake if we can find a good excuse, followed by a choice of hot chocolate, tea, coffee and hot water (good for hot water bottles when cold!) We normally have a kero lantern or candles for light.
While you are welcome to read or play cards, chat etc, most people don't last too long before hitting the sack. The crew generally last longer than we do. The kitchen crew sleep in the kitchen tent, the porters under a rock, in a lodge or in the dining tent, the sherpas in the dining tent, and the sirdar usually has a tent of his own.
The tents we provide are spacious for two people and waterproof. Mostly we use dome tents from the North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Macpac etc, but sometimes we use the Nepali-made tents, which, with their cotton inners are warmer and don't generally frost up. We provide a sponge foam mattress and usually a closed cell foam mat too. You may want to bring your own Thermarest or similar.
All of the cooking for us and the main crew (sirdar, sherpas, kitchen staff) is done on large kerosene stoves, always.
Porters cook for themselves and when dead wood is plentiful prefer to use this; they are pyromaniacs who prefer to burn in hell than get cold and miserable. In the high country we reduce their numbers to the minimum and mostly we provide a kerosene stove for them, although often they can't be stopped from building hand-warming and small cooking fires. Wood is so natural to them; getting them to cook on anything other than wood is like saying to you use candles to light your house to save electricity.
We carry a toilet tent, sometimes two, with us. the sherpas dig a deep hole, and to 'flush' kick some dirt down. Occasionally when staying in villages we use the local lodge toilet.
For washing, in the warmer areas you are served a bowl of hot water in the morning, otherwise you can ask the sherpas any time at camp. For washing clothes they can also prepare some warm water, or indeed wash clothes for you.
Our trekkers say
... but more importantly for a fantastic trek. You deliver an amazing product, the best staff, truly memorable food and great accommodation.
Dallas Clark, Kanchen Gola Wild 2005
The reality of trekking
"On the map each day's march looked pitifully short. But in such country there is no monotony. Up to the ridge ahead or down to the next river there is always something to go for and something fresh to see. Let the saddle-sore cyclist caper joyfully across the flat, but for the man on foot, the more broken the country the better. He sees not whither he must go nor whence he has come; neither far enough ahead, nor behind, to modify his cheerful estimate of the distance run or to be done.
[But] however reasonable and true such ideas are to a man seated in a chair, they take on a different hue when the same man is 'bummelling' along the tracks of Nepal. Witness the notes made of one march: 'up a steep narrow track, like walking in a sewer, 500 stone steps up to Samri - no view - 2000 ft. down - hellish steep and rough track - porters slow - no view - no bananas - no raksi."
- HW Tilman from "Nepal Himalaya", available in Kathmandu, and is a great Nepal read.
The joy of trekking
For the first time trekker the prospect of trekking in the Himalaya can be daunting as well as thrilling. Compared to a week's backpacking in the Rockies or bush walking in Tasmania, trekking in Nepal is an altogether different experience. Rather than jumping into the wilderness to get away from it all, you walk into a countryside free from roads. Villages caught in a time warp abound, their terraced fields stacked up huge hillsides.
The paths are timeless pilgrimage routes, trails between villages or tracks to high grazing pastures. It is by no means wilderness, but it is an incredibly beautiful natural world. Only higher up in the alpine valleys are the villages left behind, to be replaced by herder's huts and higher still, the ice castles of the lofty Himalaya.
The practical aspects of trekking are surprisingly easy. In the villages and along the way are lodges and teahouses where meals are ordered from menus in English. Alternatively, on a trekking tour 3 course meals are served by your crew. Without the need to carry food and camping equipment backpacks are light and, if using a porter, you end up only with a daypack. So trekking is really little more than a pleasurable ramble through quaint villages, gazing in wonder at the terraced hillsides and wandering amid incredible mountain scenery.
The satisfaction of trekking is in the process. Following this most standard trekking days are not particularly long. There is time enough for spotting wildlife, photography, chatting along the way and relaxing over lunch or a reviving cup of tea.
But there are challenges; for the unwarned the first is the physical effort required. Accompanying the inspiring mountains are huge hills, some of which must be climbed. Although hopefully lightly laden, hill-climbing still means plenty of heavy breathing and sweat. Pleasure can be had from frequent rests; admiring the scenery which, even after a mere 10 minutes uphill battle, alters satisfyingly and often dramatically. Take comfort too in the frequent teahouses which are often strategically placed.
The second discomfort is sickness. This is Asia and no matter how careful you are, count on some usually minor bowel problems or even a day you wish to forget. Luckily, these seem trivial compared to the whole wonderful experience.
To enjoy the Himalaya you don't have to be the tough outdoorsy type. Like rucksacks and cameras, trekkers come in all shapes and sizes, and with widely differing aspirations. Trekking is physical but certainly not beyond the majority of people. Most important is knowing that you enjoy the concept. Bring along a traveller's curiosity and a sense of humour, and before you know it you will relish the thought of another trek.
The facilities in the hills may be better than in Tilman's time, but the trails are the same, and mostly we run very real treks. The following are adapted from trip diaries and emails, special thanks to Bob Rosenbaum who trekked the Kangchenjunga Magic 2000 and Stephen Kania who trekked the Christmas High Khumbu 2001. Although it is written for Nepal it applies equally for our India treks.
These excerpts are about the Kangchenjunga Magic trek:
"I had no idea it would be so difficult. If I'd known, I'd never have come. I'm really glad I didn't know, 'cause I'm really glad I came."
Wes, Kanchenjunga (60ish)
"Maybe I was overconfident or did not read everything... , but I thought trekking peaks were easier. Don't get me wrong, I loved the climb and felt very secure with you as guide. But trekking peaks are not afternoon walks."
Joel points out a landslide on the hill, across a defile, and says we'll be crossing it tomorrow morning. Since this involves dropping down a considerable ways, then contouring around a mountain (or "hill," as Dawa would call it), then going back up a considerable ways, I can't believe it. The map shows us going down to the river and following the river upstream; why don't we just drop down to the river and follow it? I will learn that:
a) Nepalese maps aren't accurate
b) you always go severely up, then down, then up, then around, then down, then up on trails in this area.
.. The kitchen crew clears and cleans for us - talk about luxury! - and it's time to pack up our daypacks and set off. Today we'll be losing around 3000 feet; on the map it looks like such a trivial, gradual descent that I anticipate it won't be enough of a hike. I still can't believe Joel is right, and that we'll be going up that mountain across the way. I am prepared, once we arrive at our camp, to argue we should go further, perhaps even an extra stage.
What I quickly discover is that the previous day was not an anomaly. After a very short traverse past farmhouses, we indeed head down through dense vegetation, and are soon hot and sweaty. After a bit we come to our first Nepalese bridge: wooden planks suspended from cables, with an occasional plank or two missing. Very picturesque as it bends and snakes from one side of the mini-gorge to the other; very surprising to find as you cross that it sways: not only side to side, but also up and down in a sinusoidal motion. Furthermore, if someone else steps on the bridge while you're crossing, their rhythm creates motion waves which interfere with yours, and you get interference effects. Keeping your footing takes a bit of a knack; once you have the knack, it's rather fun (and I'll soon be aping Dawa by running and stomping across the bridges and laughing). Initially, though, it's a bit disconcerting.
It's dark at the bottom of the mini-gorges, with bright blue sky and green hills above us. Pretty soon we start going steeply up - and up - and up. Yes, uphill on that mountain and across the bare avalanche chute (which is stable). Then around the hill, down and down, up and up. The trail is rough, with stones and slippery mud designed to twist ankles, and steep "steps" which climb and descend at ladder-like angles which have the virtue of being brutally direct and making you appreciate Sierra switchbacks. The rough "steps" are not deep enough for Western feet, and make going down in some ways more difficult than climbing up; we have to pick our way carefully to avoid slipping and falling.
You are definitely asking the right questions with regard to preparation. We met all kinds on the trail and ultimately, it seems possible for almost anyone to do the trek so long as they have a reasonable level of fitness. However, I also don't want you to think that it is trivial to do without being prepared. I'm a physician and definitely a "weekend warrior" at best when it comes to physical activity. I'm "40-ish", and my 2 travelling companions were varying degrees of "50-ish". I felt reasonably well prepared with what my companions and I did as lead up, although there is no doubt in my mind that the fitter you are the better - and we could/should have strived to have been a whole lot fitter.
Anyway we started planning for the trip over a year before we went. Our intention was to get out on a trail for at least a day hike every weekend. With that goal, the reality was that we probably managed an average of about 4 hours on a trail every other weekend. A couple times we managed to take a whole day and get up Mt. San Antonio (an elevation gain of about 6000ft to a summit at about 10,000 ft). In the last 3 months before the trip we also worked in 3 successful and 1 unsuccessful attempts at climbing some of the California "Fourteeners" - including a successful assault on Mt Whitney. I think that helped a lot (at least with confidence that we might be able to handle the altitude in the Everest region - although, of course, there is nothing in the lower 48 states to really compare). I wish we had done a lot more, but practically speaking that was really it. I'd also recommend something like that as pretty much the minimum. In addition, I'd be pretty adamant that working out in the gym is no replacement for getting on a trail (preferably one with at least a bit of altitude gain), with a pack on your back - not to mention the trail being more enjoyable... Getting on the trail as prep is also a great way to figure out what equipment works for you and what doesn't. Even better if you can get to somewhere cold to test out cold weather gear - because for sure you are going to be cold at some point in Nepal...
Stephen K, High Khumbu trek
Nepal trek seasons
Nepal has cool, clear winters, pleasant moist springs, hot wet summers and fantastic mostly clear autumns.
Spring - the rhododendron season - March-April-May
Spring dances ever higher, painting the rhododendron hillsides. The arriving warmth generates staggering cloud formations and the occasional pre-monsoon downpour (everyone dives into the nearest house to wait the squalls out over tea). Some days are staggeringly fine, others the views cloud in around lunchtime or in the afternoon, great for reading and relaxing and just when you begin to worry about tomorrow, mostly the evenings turn sparklingly clear. This is the second traditional trekking season, and definitely less crowded but still a great time to trek.
March and April are often drier than May, but May has the advantage of more alpine flowers.
The monsoon (summer) June-July-August-September
In late May and early June at low altitude the heat stifles. Clouds billow ever higher cumulating in crescendos of rain. The downpours are usually brief leaving plenty of time to admire more than just the forces of nature. Kathmandu is sticky, with rain as a relief and, in the Terai, elephants rather than jeeps are used for crossing the swollen rivers. The jungle is lush, vibrant and tropical. In the high rain-shadow areas it is surprisingly pleasant, balmy with only occasional showers. It is a time for wandering among the flower carpets and vivid colours while the locals are absorbed in the traditional cycles of agriculture. Tibet and Ladakh are barely affected by the monsoon.
The harvest - mid-September to mid-October
The monsoon dwindles in late September but a few tail-end clouds and showers (or short-lived snow at altitude) must be expected. Locals and trekkers simply take cover in the nearest teahouse and wait the afternoon shower out. There's also a chance that the monsoon may not quite have ended, staging a dramatic return for a few weeks. The middle hills are either hot and sweaty under the fierce sun or perpetually grey and cloudy, while higher up it's pleasant with cool but mostly frost-free nights. If you skip the lower country, this is a particularly pleasant and under-trekked season. At this time the whole country changes from a lush, verdant green into the harvest colours.
Autumn - perfect trekking - mid-October thru early December
This is classic trekking time, famed for clear skies and fantastic fine weather. Early October through to late November is also the busiest period with the teahouse regions brimming with trekkers. This is the season to head off the beaten track, to Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Around Dhaulagiri etc.
The long fine periods are occasionally broken for day or two by a front sweeping overhead causing high cloud or cloud banks that roll up the valleys, then usually clear at altitude with the sunset. The odd stronger front brings a spot of wet weather as well but it is impossible to tell (even the locals can't) whether a front contains rain. Barring unusual conditions during this trekking season perhaps two or three periods of showers and drizzle, or short-lived snow at altitude, can be expected. In an odd year there is perpetual high cloud and less than crystal clear skies.
In the low country evenings are balmy while in the middle hills they are pleasantly chilly. Above the tree line (4000m) nights are sharp and below freezing, early morning sun is particularly welcome.
Winter - white Christmas's
At an equivalent latitude to Brisbane or Miami, frost rarely graces Kathmandu. Fresh evenings and pleasant days characterize the capital and trekking in the foothills or travelling the Indian plains becomes pleasant.
While trekking although winter, the weather is at its finest and driest; great conditions. It is the nights that are cold. In the middle hills nights are a crisp cool and clear, the high country the air is tinkling sharp and the stars have that crystal twinkle. Temperatures drop below freezing every night. Higher up after a snowfall only the Solu-Khumbu (Mt Everest region) is reliably accessible and pleasant. Mostly fine, any light snow clears quickly while the deeper powder, yak-tracked, rarely slows us. Merry White Christmas.