In April 2015 Nepal suffered a massive earthquake killing almost 9000 people, injuring thousands more and destroying homes and centuries-old buildings and heritage sites. A year and a half later the evidence in Kathmandu is still there although life in general seems to have returned to normal. Having had a long association with the country I figured the best way to help Nepal was to visit.
In November 2016, fotoVUE director Stuart Holmes organised a month-long expedition for friends to attempt a previously unclimbed peak in the shadow of the third highest mountain in the world.
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Nangmari II Expedition
There are two seasons for trekking and climbing in Nepal: pre and post monsoon; spring and autumn. The most reliable for weather and clear skies is usually the autumn season and this autumn was no exception. With a group of six friends we visited the north east of the country with a view to climbing a previously un-climbed 6209m peak close to the Tibetan border and in the shadow of the world’s third highest mountain, Kanchenjunga.
Our trek started in Taplejung in the middle hills, an area characterised by steep-sided river valleys, rice and millet cultivated terraces, wildlife-rich forests and idyllic thatched farmsteads. In the lower hills the air is warm and scented with flowers, huge webs with colourful spiders span the gaps between trees, water buffalo gaze upwards like they are waiting for something, young children look after the very young whilst the women work in the fields and the men do some very important hanging about.
As you get higher in altitude the vegetation and scenery changes. The forested valley sides are too steep for agriculture but the valley bottoms widen as ‘v’ shaped river valleys turn into the ‘u’ shaped formerly glacier-filled valleys. Snowy peaks appear at the heads of valleys, waterfalls cascade down the slopes and we see our first yak, a definite sign that it is getting colder. Mountain people are predominantly Buddhist compared to the mainly Hindu lowlanders and there are regular reminders in the colourful prayer flags and carved Mani stones.
Our climbing objective was a remote peak in a side valley which required setting up a base camp and then one higher camp. Our progress was dictated by the altitude, if we went up too quickly there is a risk of altitude sickness which is unpleasant at best and deadly at worst. Our top camp was at an altitude of 5500m (18,050ft) where the air was incredibly clear and the night time celestial views amazing – I like to think of my tent as a five-thousand star hotel. The down side to sunset was that the temperature plummets from warm in the sun to instantly sub-zero.
After a 3am start we climbed through the night and managed to make it to within 50m of the summit before dangerous snow conditions forced our retreat. Needless to say the views were truly astounding; snowy peaks all around with some of the highest mountains on the planet in plain view: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Cho Oyu and so many more.
Rather than retracing our original route up our guides took us on a yak trail over three high and remote passes linking villages in adjacent valleys. This turned out to be a spectacular, wildly remote and strenuous route on tiny trails before hitting the main Kanchenjunga Valley and semi-civilisation once again. On arrival in the village of Ghunsa we had our first proper wash (bucket shower) in three weeks.
Back in Kathmandu, in between trying to replace our depleted reserves and satisfy our taste buds in the wide range of excellent restaurants, we did find time to wander around the maze of streets and to visit a couple of temples. There is no shortage of photographic interest in town, here modern life carries on in a seemingly chaotic way right amongst historic sites that in more developed countries would be cordoned off and labelled ‘ancient monument – tourist attraction.’ The past is very much part of the present.
Planning A Trip
There are many UK-based trekking companies that run exciting treks of all standards of difficulty to the mountains of Nepal. You could also get a flight to Kathmandu and visit one of the many travel offices in the town to arrange a trek on the spot. You could save money by doing this but you don’t really know what you are getting. The areas of both Everest and Annapurna have lots of accommodation meaning it is possible to go it alone; just trek a far as you like, show up at a ‘tea house’ and get a bed and food. To go anywhere off the beaten track you will need to be self sufficient which means hiring a fully equipped team of porters, guides and cook crew. Regardless of how or where you decide to go, the mountains and people of Nepal will not disappoint.
Suggested trekking companies:
UK – www.keadventure.com
NEPAL – www.himalayanguides.com