Extended Trip - Friday 19 October 2018 to Sunday 25 November 2018 (38 days)
From October 19th through November 25th seven ATC members were away on a trek in the North Eastern corner of Nepal, in search of views of some high Himalayan peaks, including Kanchenjunga (No 3 highest in the world), and to enjoy the sights and culture of a number of remote valleys, villages, rural areas and alpine areas.
And we certainly achieved that well, with great views especially of Januu / Kumbhakarna 7711m, Kanchenjunga 8586m and Makalu 8468m (No 5 highest in the world) - also many snowy mountains and glaciers.
An outline of the itinerary is
Flights from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur, then KL to Kathmandu
- Two nights in Kathmandu
- Flight to Bhadrapur in eastern Nepal
- Two nights in teahouses on the way to the start of the trek
- 28 days’ trekking, sleeping each night in our expedition tents
- One night in a hotel in Tumlingtar
- Flight to Kathmandu
- Two nights in Kathmandu
- Flights from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur, then KL to Auckland
Members of the party can fill you in on the detailed daily itinerary, but this report provides a more detailed view of Nepal trekking life. Perhaps this will encourage you to join in a future trek when you understand that it is a well-managed and catered environment where there is variety each day as part of a great team of Nepali sherpas, cooks and porters.
Even though we were getting close to the winter solstice, it was light in the morning between 5.30 - 6am. Breakfast was usually laid on at 7am, so before then it was time to pack up your gear into your duffel bag (guide weight 15kg) and your day pack. Time for the morning ¼ Diamox tablet to assist with the altitude, and time to ensure that on cooler mornings (a few were minus 10° C, also instances of minus 12° and 15°) your camera was transferred from its warm spot inside your sleeping bag to a warm pocket ready for the morning’s sights.
Duffel bags and the provided foam mats we left outside our tents, with our porters quickly grabbing them to get packed up for the day and off on their way. Also we soon got into the habit of helping the sherpas and others to dismantle the tents so that they too could head on their way to the next night’s camp.
The porters left as soon as they were packed up with their gear, with their breakfast stop not being until around 10am. The same porters carried our duffel bags each day - their daily load being two duffel bags, their own gear, and some other camp gear such as foam mats - all tied up tightly with rope, and then supported by a wide strap around their foreheads. Other porters, especially the cooking porters carried an assortment of gear in large wicker baskets, with the egg porter having an especially constructed frame for carrying boxes of eggs. They walked at their own pace, on many days arriving before us, although on the longer, more hilly days, some also arrived after us.
Breakfast was served to us either in the dining tent (we sat on mats on the ground), or if we were at a village, there was sometimes a room provided for us to have an indoor meal. Every few days once we were over 2500m, we would attach a little device to an end of finger to provide readings for blood oxygen levels and our pulse rate - Jim wrote these in a notebook - the important purpose being to ensure we were all coping with the altitude OK.
All of the meals were amazing - plenty of varied food, all provided for us by our cooking staff mostly in fairly basic conditions - using any local building or shelter, otherwise the cooking tent. A great testament to the care put into the meal preparation and hygiene was that none of us became ill from the meals provided for us throughout the entire trek. Cooking was done using kerosene stoves or an open fire.
Breakfast started with porridge, then followed by one of a variety of dishes such as muesli + fresh fruit, omelette or hard boiled eggs accompanied by chapatis, or pancakes or Tibetan bread or toast. Accompanied by jam, maple syrup, honey, coffee, drinking chocolate and a selection of teas. Milk lovers were catered for via milk powder.
The walking started usually at around 8am, once all the camp gear was packed up ready for the day’s trek. The party had 3 sherpas - Sangge, the overall organiser for the day to day details of the trek, and the two lads - Mingma and Kharma. The job especially for the two lads was to ensure that one stayed at the front of our group (to lead the way and ensure we didn’t try to walk too fast - not good at altitude) and one at the rear (to ensure that no one was lost along the way.
Our day’s walk ranged from a half day of 4-5 hours, more usually around 6-7 hours, and occasionally 8-9 hours (this meaning an arrival at our destination as dusk was approaching). We were carrying our day packs, including everything we decided we might need during the day, as we never had access to our duffel bags until the day’s destination was reached ... by us and our porters.
Most walking tracks were straightforward tramping tracks with not too many steep uphill sections. Quite rocky at times, a little bit of scree, and mostly quite dry underfoot. Streams and rivers were crossed by a variety of bridges, ranging from very solid wide metal swing bridges to some quite precarious looking timber constructions. For the precarious end of the spectrum, our sherpas were always at hand to assist with anyone who was feeling unsteady on it. There also was some easier boulder hopping required, including across some of the smaller streams. And some uphill or downhill tracks were well catered for with rocky steps made from layer upon layer of local flat rocks, looking as if they have been in place for centuries.
It was important to prevent boots from getting wet, since wet boots would likely freeze overnight. Unlike wet tramping in NZ, on this trek, because boots were not getting "washed" all the time, they ended up the most aromatic gear item after the four weeks using them!
The tracks are not used just for trekkers - they are the only route to most of the villages we walked through - for people and for animals (including mule trains and yak trains carrying goods to and from the villages). Sometimes we would look at a rough bit of track and wonder how the animals managed ... but then, four feet are better than two!
During the day we would have a break every couple of hours, and at key passes or viewpoints, but the pace was never rushed, with plenty of time for taking photos or just enjoying the surroundings. Being autumn, the valleys were often cloaked in warm autumn colours. The daytime temperatures were possibly around the mid teens, cooler if up higher catching a breeze. But also very dependent on whether we were catching the sun or not - until the sun reached you in the morning, it was cold, but as soon as the sun was out it warmed up quickly. And the reverse in the late afternoon - as soon as the sun went, temperatures dropped rapidly. After one half day walk to a high camp, once the sun left us by around 1pm it was already minus 10.
Lunch came in a variety of forms - either a cooked lunch of rice or pasta with some veg and meat, occasionally soup, with the usual selection of teas and coffee. The food was either cooked on the spot, or cooked at the start of the day and carried during the morning by one of our sherpas. A number of sauce bottles were provided, including tomato ketchup, chilli sauces and tabasco sauce. Lunch would usually be served outdoors on a large orange tarpaulin, or take advantage of any available local shelter.
On day trips, there and back, we would have a "picnic" lunch, consisting of a prepacked bag each containing items such as a boiled egg, some cheese, a chapatti or Tibetan bread, with biscuits and other snacks.
We had three rest days on the trek, staying in one place for two nights - typically before or after a longer day (for us and the porters), but also part of the acclimatisation process.
On reaching the day’s destination, the sherpas were always quick to get the tents erected. On these expeditions there is normally one double tent for each party member, but this time there were 5 such tents, then a larger tent that two of us each night took turns sharing - that could comfortably fit three people and their gear, so was very spacious, The expedition provided a foam full length sleeping pad for each person, on top of which we then placed our inflatable mattresses. There was plenty of room to spread and sort gear. Once the tents and duffel bags were available, the routine was to ensure everything was set up for the night time, since it became dark between 5-5.30pm, which was also around the time when dinner was served.
If we were at camp in enough time, an afternoon tea of teas, coffee and biscuits was provided. On longer days, either on reaching the camp, or within half an hour’s walk before camp, we were provided with a hot sweet juice drink - a good pick me up on a longer day or as the day was cooling down. We were always very grateful to meet one of the cooking staff with a kettle full of this drink coming towards us on the track.
Once away from Kathmandu, the toilets were Asian squat toilets in a little shed near our village campsite, or if not in a village, there was a blue toilet tent with a hole dug in the ground, and then covered up again once the party left. Sometimes the toilet tent was taken down as we had breakfast, requiring a bit of pre-planning.
Dinner was typically a three course affair, starting with a soup of varying degrees of spiciness accompanied by popcorn or poppadums or prawn crackers. The main course variations included rice, dal, pasta, stew or curry (vege, goat, yak or chicken), cooked green veges, potatoes. A couple of times were served a healthy slice of pizza. Dessert could be as simple as a couple of pieces of toblerone, tinned fruit, custard, a hearty cake, or on one occasion a hearty apple pie. And accompanied as usual by the teas and coffees - although at this point people were thinking about minimising the number of times they needed to get up during the night.....
At this time the sherpas would give us a briefing of what to expect on the next day and confirm the breakfast time - we had a small number of 6.30am breakfasts for longer days. Also our water bottles for the next day would be taken away to be filled with hot or cold water as required, with the hot ones also being used as an overnight hot water bottle.
Once dinner was over it was usually cold and time to hit the sleeping bag for reading, checking maps, writing diaries, etc and finishing preparations for the next day. Also time for the evening’s ¼ Diamox tablet. Into the sleeping bag went all electronics, toothpaste, water bottles, sun cream and anything else susceptible to freezing overnight. Before not too long it was lights out and sleeping time.
For Jim there were two diaries - his English one, and his Nepali one, as demanded by his Nepali teacher in Auckland.
On rest days or half days, there was time for local exploring, for relaxing and chatting, and the occasional washing routine. The cooking staff were always willing to provide a bowl of pleasantly hot water for body washing and / or washing a few essential items of clothing - although quite often that might take a few days to dry out enough due to lack of wind or direct sunlight from mid afternoon onwards.
The range of temperatures were quite manageable with the right gear - for me this was multiple layers of merino garments that I would wear for many days and nights at a time. I also hired a heavy down jacket and a thicker sleeping bag in Kathmandu, and from NZ I brought a thicker than usual sleeping bag liner and a variety of gloves and mittens - for most days I wore just a pair of wool/possum glittens underneath a pair of Warehouse gardening gloves that I often use these days as general hand protection when tramping. I also followed advice and took a good quantity of chemical hand warmers ... but did not use any of those at all.
Our weather was remarkably kind. On day 2 of the trek, after a hot sunny morning from mid afternoon it rained quite heavily for a couple of hours, a few days towards the end there was a little bit of drizzle at times, but otherwise it was fine. The first ¾ of the trek saw fine sunny days with not much cloud (often more cloudy towards evening), and then towards the end of the trek the atmosphere was quite hazy. One evening at a high camp it snowed a little, and then a couple of weeks later at a camp half way down a valley we had around 10cm snow in the evening - dry snow, so not as dampening compared to NZ.
The full party consisted of seven ATC members and 24 Nepalis - 3 sherpas, around 4 cooking staff (all but the head cook were porters for the kitchen gear), and the rest were porters. The full group was with us from when we came off the plane at Bhadrapur until when we caught our plane out at Tumlingtar.
The ATC members were Jim Morrow (leader and organiser), Barbara Fish, Camilla Lornie, David Holl, Judy Haslett, Margaret Law and Tony Walton (scribe)
Photos from David and Tony.