Spring Climbing And Trekking Season Begins In Nepal

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 – The World’s Toughest Mountain

Yesterday the mountaineering community lost a legend when French climber Maurice Herzog passed away at the age of 93. Herzog is best remembered as the first man to summit an 8000-meter (26,600-foot) peak when he, along with climbing partner Louis Lachenal, successfully summited Annapurna back in 1950, an accomplishment that wouldn’t be replicated for another 20 years.

The ascent was not an easy one and the men struggled to climb without using supplemental oxygen. Near the summit, Herzog lost his gloves, which would later prove to be a costly mistake. On the descent, he, Lachenal and two other teammates were forced to camp over night without shelter and only one sleeping bag between them. Huddled in a crevasse, they managed to survive and complete their descent the following day. But severe frostbite in their fingers and toes forced the expedition doctor to perform emergency amputations, removing most of Herzog’s digits.

The following year, the Frenchman would publish a book about the climb entitled “Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8000-Meter Peak,” which would go on to sell more than 11 million copies in 40 different languages, making it the best selling mountaineering book of all time. Some of Herzog’s account of events on the climb have proven to be controversial over the years, but his book has served to inspire generations of mountaineers that followed.All told, there are just 14 mountains that rise above 8000 meters on our planet and of those, Annapurna is the tenth tallest. It is probably the hardest of all of those peaks to climb, however, claiming more lives per successful summit than any other. It is well known for having terrible weather, tough technical challenges and a predisposition for avalanches, all of which can make it a nightmare to climb. For comparison sake, Mt. Everest, has seen around 5000 successful summits over the years, while Annapurna has been climbed less than 200 times.

In honor of the passing of Maurice Herzog, here is a video of a recent expedition to scale the mountain, which provides some context on its challenges. After watching the short film, consider what it must have been like for Herzog and his team more than 60 years ago.

[Photo Credit: Wolfgang Beyer]

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.

Korean climbers missing on Himalayan peak

Three Korean climbers have gone missing on a remote Himalayan peak that has a reputation for being amongst the most deadly in the world. The men had hoped to reach the summit along a new route yesterday, but search and rescue were initiated when there had been no word from them in nearly three days.

Park Young-seok, Kang Ki-seok and Shin Dong-min left Base Camp on Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, earlier in the week with designs on reaching the summit yesterday. On Tuesday however, they radioed their support team in BC to let them know that they were aborting their climb due to dangerous conditions on the mountain. That was the last that anyone has heard from the team.

Realizing the climbers were overdue, the Base Camp team called for help in Kathmandu on Thursday, and a high altitude SAR team was dispatched, along with a helicopter, to search for the missing men. They discovered a rope that they believe was used by the team, but so far they have found no trace of the climbers themselves. It is feared that they may have fallen into a crevasse or been swept away by an avalanche.

Annapurna stands 26,545 feet (8091 meters) in height and has been called the deadliest mountain in the world. The massive peak has a fatality rate of 38%, meaning that for every three climbers who summit, one doesn’t make it back alive. That is the highest death rate on any of the 14 mountains that reach 8000 meters in height or higher.

[Photo credit: Wolfgang Beyer via WikiMedia]