Spring Climbing And Trekking Season Begins In Nepal

The Nepal Trekking and Climbing Seasons are about to begin!The streets of Kathmandu are bustling with traffic today as the spring climbing and trekking seasons get underway in the Himalaya. Over the next few days, hundreds of mountaineers and backpackers will descend on the capital of Nepal before setting out for the country’s legendary hiking trails and unmatched alpine settings. For many, this will be a trip of a lifetime, taking them on a grand adventure into the very heart of the Himalaya. And for a select few, it is the chance to stand on top of some of the highest mountains on the planet.

For most of these visitors, the first stop on their journey is to the Thamel District of Kathmandu. This popular tourist destination is home to most of the city’s hotels and it is a great place to grab that last piece of gear you need before heading out into the mountains. Gear shops line the streets in this crowded and noisy part of town but not all of them are completely honest about the products they sell. In fact, if the deal on that North Face jacket or sleeping bag that you’ve had your eye on seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is actually a cheap knockoff. Sure, it may survive the trip but don’t expect it to perform well or hold up over time.

After a day or two in Kathmandu, its time to head out to the Himalaya themselves. For those traveling to Everest, that mans a short flight to the mountain village of Lukla and the infamous Tenzing-Hillary Airport, named after the two men who first successfully summited the world’s tallest peak. Others will depart KTM for Pokhara, a city that grants access to the Annapurna Trekking Circuit and three of the highest mountains in the world – Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna itself.Most trekkers will spend a couple of weeks hiking through the Himalaya, spending their days on breathtakingly beautiful trails and nights in local teahouses. Those quaint inns offer comfortable accommodations, tasty food and shelter from the frequently changing weather. A trek to Everest Base Camp takes roughly 10-12 days to complete depending on the selected route and speed. The entire journey is a blend of adventure, culture and Buddhist spirituality that also just so happens to take place in one of the most spectacular settings on the planet.

For the climbers the journey is a much more difficult and demanding one. Their arrival at Base Camp is just the start of their adventure and over the following six weeks or so, they’ll spend most of their time acclimatizing to the altitude, honing their mountaineering skills and moving up and down the mountain. They’ll push themselves to the absolute physical limit, all the while keeping their eyes on the weather, just to get the chance to stand on the summit for a few brief – but glorious – minutes.

Traditionally, the climbing and trekking seasons begin as the snows of winter recede and end with the arrival of the Monsoon in early June. During those few brief months, the various teahouses and base camps will be crowded with mountaineers and adventure travelers who share the camaraderie of the trail. It is an experience unlike any other and one worth taking for those who enjoy their travels to be off the beaten path and bit more active.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Video: Trekking The Annapurna Circuit In Nepal

Widely considered to be one of the best trekking routes in the entire world, the Annapurna Circuit wanders through the Himalaya, deftly mixing cultural experiences with breathtaking views. The trail ranges in length between 100-145 miles depending on which route a hiker takes, meandering through numerous tiny mountain villages along the way. Passing by the Annapurna Massif, the trail rises to a height of more than 17,700 feet as snow capped peaks tower overhead.

Recently, filmmaker Gerardo Sergovia sent five weeks walking the trail with a group of friends capturing more than a terabyte of video footage in the process. He has managed to distill all of that footage down to this one four and a half minute clip that does an amazing job of capturing the splendor of the Himalaya so well. If you love the mountains, you won’t want to miss this video. It may even inspire you to want to make the trek yourself.


Video: Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal


In 1994, I hiked to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was one of the high points of a yearlong trip across the Middle East and Asia and my memories of that trek are still vivid today.

The Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp treks were popular even back then and although I walked alone, I met several other hikers along the way. There were few guesthouses though, and mostly I stayed in spare rooms in local villages. Now I’ve heard that there are Internet cafes along the way. I haven’t confirmed this; I don’t want to know. I love adventure travel because it takes me away from my day-to-day life. The last thing I want to do while trekking in the Himalayas is to check Facebook.

Two memories stick out the strongest. The first happened three or four days into the hike. I was at a high altitude, puffing along with a forty-pound pack and all bundled up to stave of the bitter cold. I made steady but rather slow progress thanks to the high altitude. Then a Sherpa passes me wearing only thin trousers, a shirt and flip-flops. He was carrying a roof beam over his back, secured into place with a harness and forehead strap. The Nepalese are a tough people!

I got to the base camp and stayed in a stone hut that night. The next morning I went exploring. Pretty soon I came across some mysterious tracks in the snow. They looked for all the world like the footprints of a barefoot man, except very large and strangely rounded. I followed them for a few hundred feet until I reached a part of the slope shielded from the sun by an outcropping of rock. This part of the slope hadn’t received any sunlight, and so the snow hadn’t melted at all. The tracks suddenly became much smaller and were obviously animal in origin. To me they looked like a fox’s, although I can’t say for sure.

The explanation is simple: the sun warmed the snow on the exposed part of the trail and the tracks partially melted, becoming wider and rounder. The claws became “toes” and the pads of the feet joined into one oval mass. So. . .no yeti sighting for me!

Still, that did not dampen my excitement and awe of being at the breathtaking location surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Put this video on full screen, sit back, and enjoy.

Mountain bike the Himalayas

Mountain bike the Himalayas in 2012!Mention the Himalayas to most adventure travelers, and they will immediately think about the multitude of great mountain treks that are available there or even the unparalleled mountaineering opportunities. What most people don’t know however is that there are some fantastic opportunities to mountain bike through the region as well, and adventure travel company Ace the Himalaya offers some epic itineraries to do just that.

Starting in March of 2012, Ace the Himalaya will offer four different cycling itineraries ranging in length from 12 to 21 days. Those options include the classic Annapurna Circuit, a long distance ride from Lhasa, Tibet to the city of Kathmandu, a roll along the Kathmandu Valley Rim, and a scenic journey from Muktinath to Pokhara. Riders will have the opportunity to explore seldom used trails, while taking in the dramatic landscapes of the tallest mountains on the planet. They’ll visit remote villages and soak up the local culture, while spending the night in traditional tea houses.

Travelers who choose to join one of these adventures will definitely want to be prepared for the altitude however. On the Annapurna Circuit they’ll be riding at an average altitude of more than 17,700 feet and the Lhasa to Kathmandu itinerary averages 17,125 feet. For a bit less altitude, the Kathmandu Valley only averages around 7100 feet, while the ride to Pokhara is a modest 12,170 feet. No matter which option you go with however, the air is going to be thin, and acclimatization could take a few days.

Having trekked through Nepal in the past, I can attest to how beautiful and magical the place is. But I’m intrigued by these opportunities to mountain bike through the country as well. It seems like a really interesting, albeit physically demanding, way to explore the region.

Himalayan High: guided vs independent trekking

For many adventure travelers, the Himalaya represent the ultimate destination. A visit to those mountains combines physical challenges, stunning landscapes, and spectacular cultural experiences. But whether you’re making a trek to Everest Base Camp, hiking the Annapurna Circuit, or simply strolling to Namche Bazaar, you’ll have to make an important choice before you go – whether to hire a guide or travel independently.

If you have never gone on a trek of this nature before, the choice is a simple one. You should definitely hire a guide for your first long distance hike. But if you have even a moderate level of experience backpacking, then you should consider the choices quite carefully, as both have their advantages and drawbacks, which can have a direct impact on a number of aspects of your trip.

The first element of your journey that will be impacted by this choice is the cost. Going independently will certainly be a cheaper option, as you won’t be paying for a guide and possibly porters as well. While on a day-to-day basis, a guide doesn’t seem all that expensive, his fees can add up quickly over the course of a trek that can last anywhere from 10-30 days. But even this isn’t necessarily so cut and dried either, as a guide might also work closely with some of the teaouses and restaurants that you’ll visit along the way, earning you discounted rates. Those discounts could end up saving you a substantial amount of money, although certainly not enough to make up the difference in price for hiring the guide.
Speaking of accommodations, that is another area that will be directly impacted by your choice of going guided or independently. On the one hand, if you travel on your own, you can bring a tent, and camp out in specified areas. This will, of course, save you more cash, but be sure that that the tent is a warm one, and that you also bring a very warm 4-season sleeping bag. Even during the warmer months, it can get quite cold at altitude. Teahouses are always available as an option of course, even when traveling independently, but during the busier seasons they fill up quite quickly and you could end up paying a premium. When traveling with a guide, you’ll likely have reservations for the lodges in advance, and you won’t have no wonder whether or not you’ll have a comfortable bed, with a roof over your head, on any given night.

Traveling independently also allows you to go at your own pace, which means that if you’re not feeling well or want to spend an extra rest day in one of the villages along the way, you can. You’ll also be able to pick your own route, and there are multiple paths for reaching Everest Base Camp for instance. On the other hand, the guides usually have a planned out itinerary designed to get you to and from your destination in the time that you have allotted. They also have built in rest days to make sure you’re acclimatizing properly, but they want to see you up and back down the mountain on an orderly schedule, which helps them to run more treks, and gets you back in Kathmandu in time for your flight home. There are times when a well regulated schedule does prove to be handy.

Having a guide along with you does provide a measure of safety however, as they generally know what to watch out for in terms of altitude sickness. They also know the best routes to take through the mountains, and can provide information on the surrounding peaks, the villages you pass through, and various other sites that you’ll come across along the way. Your guide will probably also come with a porter or two, who will carry your larger backpack, freeing you up to travel lightly with just a day pack. if you’re not use to carrying a heavy pack over uneven and demanding terrain, this alone can be worth the added expense of hiring a guide.

On my recent Himalayan trek I joined a guided trekking group in Kathmandu, and I personally feel it was the best decision for myself. I did indeed have a limited time in the country and I wanted to take advantage of that time to the best of my ability. Having a guide helped greatly in that department. It didn’t hurt that our guide was also very knowledgeable, had a great personality, and was fun to be around either. Going in a guided group also meant that I was meeting new people and sharing the experience with others. In this case, we had members of the group from all over the globe, making it a multicultural affair.

There were a variety of times when I was very happy to be a part of that group. For instance, just getting a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla could have been tricky on my own. The weather was less than stellar the day we were making that trip, and we were forced to wait in the airport until the skies cleared. But being part of an organized, guided trek, meant that we already had our tickets and reservations, before we even arrived at the airport. Had I gone independently, there is a good chance I’d have gotten bumped, throwing my schedule off completely.

Later in the trek, while we were descending, there was a sign in one of the teahoues that we were staying in that said that they were booked for the next four nights. We had reservations to stay for the night that we were there, but that “no vacancy” sign made me very happy that I wasn’t arriving in the village, at the end of a long day on the trail, hoping that I could find a place to stay.

After a few days in the Himalaya, I did notice how easy it would be to make the trek independently. The infrastructure is in place to make it as simple as possible. The trails are well marked and easy to follow on your own and there are villages every hour or two along the way. For experienced trekkers and backpackers, the option is there and it is an attractive one. By going independently, you’ll certainly save some cash and have some freedom to explore the mountains at your own pace. But should you elect to go with a guide, you’ll find that the benefits likely outweigh the costs, and you’ll find plenty of reasons that it is a good option as well.

Both options are viable and it is important to pick the one that bests fits your style of travel.

Next: Preparing for the Trek