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

Korean woman becomes first to climb all 8000 meter peaks

44 year-old Korean climber Oh Eun-Sun put her name in the record books last week, and joined very elite mountaineering company in the process. On Tuesday, she reached the summit of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world at 26,545 feet, and in doing so, became the first woman to climb all fourteen of the worlds mountains over 8000 meters (26,246 feet) in height.

For Oh, who climbed with a South Korean television crew in tow, the summit was the culmination of more than a decade of preparation, training, and climbing. In her home country, she was already a celebrity, and millions watched live on television as she made those final steps to the top of the mountain. Having completed her task, she is now likely to be one of the most famous athletes in South Korea.

Located in Nepal, Annapurna is widely considered to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, of the 8000 meter peaks to climb. While shorter in stature than its more famous cousin, Mt. Everest, it is far more technical to climb. Additionally, the mountain is notorious for its poor weather and avalanches are common on the steep upper slopes. Oh herself failed to summit Annapurna last fall, prompting a return trip this spring to give it another go.

Oh Eun-Sun’s claim to being the first woman to summit the world’s highest peaks is not without controversy however. Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban has called into question Oh’s summit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world at 28,169 feet. Pasaban cites a lack of photo evidence and interviews with Sherpas who say that the Korean climber didn’t reach the summit on that mountain. Pasaban has been in pursuit of the 8000 meters peaks herself, and is likely to summit her final mountain, the 26,289 foot Shisha Pangma, located in Tibet, this week.

Kathmandu busy as climbers and trekkers descend on the Himalaya

Late March and early April are always a very busy time in Kathmandu as spring finally arrives, granting mountaineers and trekkers access to the Himalaya at last. The city is generally crowded, colorful, and chaotic to begin with, but when the spring climbing and trekking seasons begin, that chaos is taken to another level. Most will only be in town for a brief stay, while they collect their required permits and gear and head out to their various mountain destinations in preparation for their adventures ahead.

Of course, Mt. Everest is one of the top draws for adventure travelers heading to both Nepal and Tibet this time of year. As of this writing, China has once again closed Tibet to visitors, although that is expected to change in the next few days. Once access to the region is restored, mountaineers will travel to Everest’s North Side, officially kicking off the climbing season there, which will run into early June, when the monsoon returns.

On the Nepali side of the mountain, it is business as usual, with regular flights to Lukla already in full swing. The mountain village serves as the gateway to the Khumbu Valley, which in turn gives access to Everest itself. Climbers who are taking on the mountain from the South Side must first make a ten day trek to Base Camp, where teams of Sherpas have been busy preparing for the their arrival for over a week now. Reportedly, poor weather prevented a number of flights from getting out of Kathmandu, over the weekend, but things have improved now, and the regular shuttles are back on schedule.

The route to BC is a popular one with trekkers as well, and although they’ll never stand on the summit of the 29,035 foot tall Everest themselves, they still enjoy the challenges of hiking through the Himalaya. Along the way, they’ll stay in rustic tea houses and experience Sherpa culture first hand, while basking in some of the most breathtaking (literally and figuratively) scenery found anywhere on the planet.

While Everest may be the most famous mountain in the Himalaya, it is hardly the only attraction that draws climbers and trekkers to Nepal. The Annapurna Circuit is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, trekking route in the world, and it attracts its fair share of backpackers as well. This trek runs around the amazing Annapurna Massif, which includes six major peaks, each of which is at least 7200 meters in height. The crown jewel of those peaks is Annapurna I, the 10th highest mountain in the world at 26,545 feet, and one of the toughest to climb as well.

The hustle and bustle of Kathmandu will continue for the next couple of months, with travelers coming and going. Most trekkers will hang around the region for two to three weeks, while the climbers will stay put for as much as two and a half months. Right now, more than any other place on the planet, adventure is in the air in the Himalaya and for travelers that make the trip, the rewards are endless.

Adventure destination: Chitwan National Park, Nepal

When travelers think about Nepal, the first thing that comes to mind is the towering peaks of the Himalaya and some of the best trekking on the planet. The tiny mountain kingdom is the home of Mt. Everest and the Annapurna Circuit, but many visitors are surprised to find that the country has a subtropical lowland area, and that there is an amazing national park there.

Chitwan National Park is found in the south central portion of Nepal and covers approximately 930 square kilometers of classic jungle. The park was founded in 1974 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site a decade later, thanks to its rich flora and fauna, much of which can no longer be found anywhere else on the planet. The park has large tracts of elephant grass broken up by a variety of deciduous trees that line the the Rapti, Reu and the Narayani Rivers all of which run through the region.
The big draw for visitors to Chitwan is the animal life however, and there are some amazing species on display. More than 40 types of mammals call the park home, with another 45 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 450 types of birds. Elephants, Indian rhinos, and sloth bears are amongst the favorites amongst the visitors, while predators such as tigers, leopards, and march crocs wander the jungle.

There are a number of unique ways to explore Chitwan. The most popular is an elephant safari, on which visitors explore the park on the back of a pachyderm. But with three fairly large rivers in crossing through the area, traversing Chitwan by canoe has also become one of the best ways to view the wildlife and the landscapes.

Most adventure travelers going to Nepal fly into Kathmandu and spend a few days exploring that ecclectic city before heading out on their treks or climbs. But anyone visiting the country should do themselves a favor and take a day trip to Chitwan for a safari experience that is as enjoyable as it is unexpected.

7 Eco-adventures that may be hazardous to your health

Many adventure travelers like to mix a sense of danger into their travels. It’s not enough to just go somewhere and experience the culture and explore the landscapes. For some, they have to feel the rush of adrenaline while they risk life and limb for their next great thrill. Fortunately, Treehugger has just the list of travel experiences for them, offering up 7 eco-adventures that could get you killed.

As you can probably guess, there are some wild suggestions on the list. For instance, they recommend volcano boarding in Nicaragua, something we wrote about awhile back. For an entirely different thrill, Treehugger recommends heading to Bolivia and taking a mountain bike for a spin down the Highway of Death, a particularly nasty stretch of road that we spotlighted back in March.

Some of the experiences are relatively quick, and over in a short time, like BASE jumping off of a Himalayan peak, while others demand much more of a commitment. For example, climbing Annapurna, a 26,545 foot mountain in Nepal, which would require weeks to climb, months to train for, and years to gain enough experience to even try.

The other suggestions on the list are equally intense and offer their own level of challenge and fear. But for someone looking to add new experiences to their life list, perhaps you’ll find something here that will inspire your next adventure.