Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tsum Valley Nepal Trek | Route and Timings | Part I

A South Col team trekked the Tsum Valley in April-May 2018. A detailed route description and timings are below in this two part post :

For an update of trail conditions in the Manslu/Tsum region please do visit

April 22nd 2018 Kathmandu to Arughat to Lapubesi
We left Kathmandu at 7 am for Arughat. It took around an hour to exit Kathmandu valley and then follow the Prithvi Highway to Pokhara for around 60 km. The road then crosses the river and starts the climb for Dhading.  Dhading Besi is reached in around 3 hours and then the road begins to climb to a ridge on a dirt track.  The progress is now very slow as the bus careered dangerously over the rutted potholes in the mud. After traversing the entire ridge the road then drops around 500 metres in the Arughat valley  crosses the river on a concrete bridge and enters the small town of Arughat by 2 20 pm.   After lunch you need to send your bus back to Kathmandu and arrange another vehicle to Soti Khola as the syndicate does not allow the same us to go to Soti Khola - we had arranged a bus to pick us up at Arughat and drive us now to a rock cliff called Hawa Danda which is now past Soti Khola - it took around 90 minutes to drive from Arughat to Hawa Danda on a very difficult rough road - from there we walked 30 minutes and reach the pretty Laxmi Lodge at Lapubesi. We had spent almost the whole day in buses on terrible roads. The temperatures at this low altitude around 500-600 metres is warm close to 30 - 32 Celsius in the day.  Cost index Dal Bhat 480 black tea 50. Both Nepal Telecom and Ncell phones are working here with low signals. 
Arughat 495m 28 2 18 N 84 48 40 E Lapubesi 606m 28 8 2 N 84 51 16E

April 23rd 2018 Lapubesi to Tatopani
We left Lapubesi at around 7.10 am following the new jeepable road which is under construction.  We spotted the snow peaks of Shiringi Himal also known as Chamar and Chamar South soon out of Lapubesi.

 Within 30 minutes we left the road and dropped down to the river initially on a steep short cut trail and then onto a broader trail which followed the river upstream sometimes over rocks and boulders. Within an hour and 15 min we could see the lodges of Khairabesi above us on the old trail which is now being blasted to make the new road. At around 9. 30 am we entered Maccha Khola and stopped for tea at the New Chum Guest House. The permits were also checked at the Police Station here.  We were then informed that due to blasting, the old trail to Khorlabesi which used to take one hour, could not be used and we would have to take a three hour detour. We waited for our group to come in and then left Maccha Khola at around 11 am. It was a relentless 400 metre climb in the hot scorching sun which took around 2 hours- the trail then dropped steeply for about 350 metres on stone steps many of them rubble and mud caked loose and slippery. 
The trail before Macha Khola along the river
We finally entered Khorlabasi around 2 pm and stopped for lunch. We were then informed that due to blasting once again the trail toTatopani would only open at 5 pm. We started out around 4 pm - the trail had been devastated in several places and it was really rough going - in some places it was extremely narrow and there was no trail at all due to the rocks and blasting - we finally entered Tatopani around 5.30 pm and decided to call it a day - we had been on the go for more than ten hours . Cost Index Dal Bhat 500 Black Tea 60 
Lapu Besi to Macha Khola 2 hr 30 min Macha Khola to Khorla Besi 1 hr normal trail 3 hours new detour across the river Khorlabesi to Tatopani 1 hr 30 min 
Lapubesi 606m 28 8 2 N 84 51 16E Macha Khola 834m 28 13 44 N 84 52 46E Khorlabesi 879m 28 15 14N 84 52 59E Tatopani 965m 28 17 42 N 84 54 15 E

April 24the 2018  Tatopani to Jagat
We left Tatopani by 7.20 am and within 15 minutes crossed the river on a suspension bridge - we then entered a landslide area which continued for about 20 minutes - the trail continued to climb and descend gently along the foaming Budhi Gandaki - in about an hour we could see the blue lodges of Dovan - the path then climbed steeply for about 15 minutes and then entered Dovan.  From Dovan the trail followed the valley and in around 30 minutes entered a landslide area which took around 15 minutes to cross - there were a continuous stream of ponies coming and going the whole morning and this delayed our progress. Within 5 minutes of crossing the landslide we entered Syuli Batti with one lodge New Mountain Hotel and Restaurant where we stopped for a cup of tea. I noticed that this lodge had rooms as well so in a crisis it would be possible to stay here.  We left Syuli Bhatti and the trail continued to climb and descend until it reached some houses where ponies were being loaded in about 30 minutes from Syuli. From here the trail started to climb steeply for around 40 minutes until it reached the top of the ridge where it passes the lone Yaru Guest House. The trail then dropped to the river and passed some lunch restaurants - the valley had opened up here in a broad plain and the river flowed gently through the plain.
The Budhi Gandaki at Yaru Bagar
 We stopped for a good dal Bhat lunch at a new lodge without any name at the end of the village and then crossed the river on a small suspension bridge. We were soon on the new cantilever walk away which had been constructed after the 2015 earthquake and then the trail started climbing steeply - in about 30 minutes we reached a bridge which had a sign Jagat 20 minutes ( don't believe it Jagat is at least 45  to 50 minutes from here). 
The new cantilever bridge at Yaru Bagar 

The trail again climbed steeply for about 10 minutes after this bridge and then dropped to the river. We passed two lodges of lower Jagat before making the last 10 minute climb to Jagat. Cost Index Dal Bhat 600 Black tea 60 Nepal Telecom  phones were working here not Ncell - permits are checked here both at the Manaslu Conservation Area Office and at the Police Checkpost.

 Tatopani to Dovan 1 hr 15 min Dovan to Syuli Bhatti 50 minutes Syuli Bhatti to Yaru Bagar 1 hr 40 min Yaru Bagar to Jagat 1 hr 50 min. 
Tatopani 965m 28 17 42 N 84 54 15 E Dovan 1016m 28 17 43N 84 54 14 E Jagat 1360m 28 21 3N 84 53 44E

April 25th 2018  Jagat to Philim
We had to make a short day to Philim due to a helicopter evacuation of one of our clients who had fallen on the first day and sustained ankle and head injuries. We left Jagat at 7. 20 am and within 15 minutes crossed another long suspension bridge with three beautiful waterfalls in front. The trail then hugged the side of the rock face with the foaming Budhi Gandaki just next to it and meandered around the valley. The village of Salleri is reached in around an hour and the trail then starts climbing steeply out of the valley reaches a high point and then descends to the village of Sirdibas in around two hours from Jagat. 
Entering the village of Sirdibas
 Just before reaching Sirdibas on a clear morning the fluted walls of  Shringi Himal also known as Chamar peak can be seen at the head of the valley. Sirdibas makes a good tea stop with a few lodges. The trail to Philim now follows the hillside and eventually in about thirty minutes comes below another suspension bridge which needs to be crossed before a 20 minute uphill climb to Philim. The lodges are built from the bottom to the top of the village with the New Philim Village Hotel  situated a short distance from the checkpost being the lodge of choice and also having wifi.  Neither Nepal Telecom nor Ncell phones were working - the locals use what is known as Sky phone which works but I found that the signals were very poor.  Dal Bhat 555 Black Tea 60 Veg Omelette 330
Jagat to Salleri 1 hour Salleri to Sirdibas 1 hour Sirdibas to Philim 1 hour
Jagat 1360m 28 21 3N 84 53 44E Salleri 1340m 28 21 35N 84 53 19E Philim 1570m 28 23 38N 84 53 46E

April 26th 2018  Philim to Lokpa to Chumling
Due to our short day yesterday because of the helicopter evacuation which eventually happened at 3.30 pm we needed to walk a long day today. We left Philim at  5 50 am hoping to have breakfast on the way. The trail traverses north out of Philim through some forest and views towards the narrowing gorge. It climbs gently in around  45 minutes reached the village of Chisopani with a number of lodges. We stopped there for a quick breakfast and then carried on to the trail junction of the Manaslu and Tsum valley treks.  The trail traversed high over a spectacular gorge with the Budhi Gandaki thundering through the gorge and in about an hour from Chisopani arrived at the junction known as Gum Pul with an information board.

 We started up on the right fork towards Lokpa. The trail started climbing steeply for the first 30 minutes. We then reached a newly constructed lodge with five rooms which could be useful on our return journey. Far below us we could see the Manaslu circuit trail and the road to Pewa and Deng. Our trail went through rhododendron and pine forests and then the climb eased up a bit and we passed a gateway before entering Lokpa with two lodges. 
Philim to Chisopani  50 minutes Chisopani to Gum Pul  junction 1 hr Gum Pul junction to new lodge 30 min New lodge to Lokpa 50 minutes. 

After a cup of tea we left Lokpa around 9 am. The trail started to descend and reached a suspension bridge in around 20 minutes. It then dropped further to the Siyar Khola and crossed another smaller bridge in another 15 minutes. The trail then started to climb - first on stone steps and then on newly constructed cantilever bridges like the one at Yaru Bagar - most probably constructed after the 2015 Nepal earthquake. The trail continued to climb relentlessly through the forest for about an hour - some of the red rhododendrons were in bloom and the trees were full of bird song. Far below us the Siyar Khola with emerald green waters rushed through the gorge. The climb then eased a bit but continued to gain altitude - from the last high point  known as Sardi Danda it descended for about 30 minutes to the trail junction of Chumling and Ripchet knows as Ghumlong and marked as Gadhikhola over the river. From here we crossed the last suspension bridge and climbed up to the lodges of Chumling in around 45 minutes. The right fork to Ripchet would be a steep climb of around 40 minutes.  The much advertised Ganesh Himal lodge which we did not stay in was supposedly 25 minutes from Ghumlong. 
The Tashi Delek lodge in Upper Chumling
We finally reached Chumling around 1-30 pm a 7 hour 30 minute day. Neither Ncell nor Nepal a Telecom phones were working here - the lodge Tashi Delek where we stayed had a  Nepal Telecom land line which was working.  There are three lodges in Chumling - the Ganesh Himal on the trail and the other two in upper Chumling. Dal Bhat Rs 550 Black Tea Rs 70 Vegetable Omelette 330
Lokpa to first bridge 20 minutes; First bridge to 2nd bridge 15 minutes 2nd Bridge to the top of the climb Sardi Danda 2 hours Sardi Danda top to Ghumlong 40 minutes down; Ghumlong to Chumling 45 minutes. 
Philim 1570m 28 23 38N 84 53 46E Gum Pul 1634m 28 23 33N 84 53 40E  Lokpa 1930m 28 26 32N 84 55 5E Ghumlong 2116m 28 27 58N 84 57 29E Chumling 2367m 28 28 24 N 84 57 45E

to be continued in Part II next week...

Friday, June 8, 2018

Mallory of Everest | 8th June 1924

 Members of the 1924 expedition - Standing from left Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Odell, Macdonald. In front: Shebbeare, Bruce, Somervell, Beetham. Members not in the photo : Noel, Hingston, Hazard.
"And yet as I gazed again another mood appeared to creep over her haunting features. There seemed to be something alluring in that towering presence. I was almost fascinated. I realized that no mere mountaineer alone could but be fascinated, that he who approaches close must ever be led on, and oblivious of all obstacles seek to reach that most sacred and highest place of all." 
Noel Odell gazing at the North Ridge of Everest June 1924 after Mallory and Irvine were lost.

Members of the 1921 Expedition - Standing: Wollaston, Howard-Bury, Heron, Raeburn.
Sitting: Mallory, Wheeler, Bullock, Morshead.  

"Higher in the sky than imagination had ventured to dream, the top of Everest itself appeared"

On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety four  years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

“It was a prodigious white fang, an excrescence from the jaw of the world.”
A  current day telephoto view of Everest from the Pang La  identifying the important features of the mountain - please click on the photo to enlarge.

Everest view from the Pang La pass in Tibet

Mallory and Irvine on the ship S S California  which brought them to India in 1924
Andrew Irvine working on oxygen cylinders

Norton and Somervell with their sherpas before their summit attempt

Norton and Somervell's climb - Norton reaches 28,000 feet without oxygen 

Norton set an altitude record  in 1924 without oxygen reaching 8570 metres which remained unchallenged until Messner and Habeler climbed Everest in 1978 without oxygen

"I cannot tell you how it possesses me"

Mallory and Irvine's climb

Mallory's watch found in  1999 by Conrad Anker and the team
Note from Mallory to Noel - the 8 pm in the note is obviously a mistake and should be 8 am!

Mallory's note to Odell which he found in Camp VI - the weather when they started out was good as Mallory mentions in the note - Perfect weather for the job!

"Again and for the last time we advance up the Rongbuk glacier for victory or final defeat "

Letter from George Mallory to his daughter

Memorial of the three Everest Expeditions 1921,1922 and 1924

1924 oxygen cylinders at the Planters Club Darjeeling

"...some day you will hear a different story..."

All photographs in this post are copyright ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY and the respective owners

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Everest May 29th 1953 | Sixty Five Years since the 1st Ascent

Hillary and Tenzing arriving at Advance Base Camp 30th May 1953 after the successful summit.  On the left is Charles Evans and to the left of Tenzing is Tom Bourdillon and George Band. 
Today is sixty five years since the first ascent of Everest.

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a Sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain   has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with clients paying between twenty five to sixty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” 

In order to make it possible for the clients to summit Everest, the entire mountain has fixed rope from bottom to top. This year 2018 the first ascent of the mountain was made by a team of  sherpas from different expeditions who fixed  the rope right to the summit and they were followed by the guided clients. 

 The summer of 2018 has been a record year on Everest. There has been 700+ summits till date from both the south and north side and for the first time there were eleven straight summit days when the weather was favourable for the climb.  Kami Rita Sherpa made his 22nd ascent of Everest - the highest number of Everest ascents till date. Lhakpa Sherpa climbed Everest from the north for the ninth time - the most Everest climbs by a woman. 

A Chinese double amputee Xiya Boyu made a successful ascent of Everest while astronaut Maurizio Cheli also successfully made the summit becoming the first man to have flown in space and climbed the highest mountain in the world.

There was also a major problem this year  with faulty oxygen bottle regulators on the Tibet north  route and some teams had to cancel  their summit attempts. 

However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.

Bourdillon and Evans on their return from the South Summit on May 26th 1953 - Bourdillon had wanted to make a push for the summit

Nawang Gombu crossing the icefall ladders - Gombu later became the first man to climb Everest twice in 1963 and 1965
The five men who helped  Hillary and Tenzing to carry to Camp 9  27,800 feet - John Hunt, Da Namgyal, Alf Gregory, Any Nyima and George Lowe - Photo George Lowe Collection

The map of the Khumbu icefall and the route followed by the 1953 expedition

From left: John Hunt, Ed Hillary, Tenzing, Ang Nyima,  Alfred Gregory and George Lowe after the ascent

The code which was later used in the telegram to send the news before the Queen's coronation

The telegram sent by John Hunt after the ascent

Hunt, Hillary and Tenzing in London

The full expedition team with the sherpas
Tenzing and his mother at Tengboche monastery after the climb
Tenzing and Hillary at Tengboche monastery after the successful climb
Sketch map drawn by Tenzing for his biographer James Ramsay Ullman 

The signed colour supplement of The Times

All photographs in this post are copyright the ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY and the respective owners.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Everest | The West Ridge 55 Years since the 1st Ascent | May 22nd 1963

Willi Unsoeld and Tom Horbein made history by ascending the West Ridge of Everest and descending by the South Col route
On 21st May 1963 at six o’clock in the evening two climbers reached 27,205 feet (8300 metres) to set up Camp 5W on the west ridge of Everest. Tom Horbein a US anasthetologist then 32 years old and Willi Unsoeld , a mountain guide then 36 years of age were poised for the final push to the summit of Everest by a new route.

It had not been easy for these two men. The 1963 American Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyrenfurth had squarely set its sights on a first American ascent by the South Col route. On May 1st 1963, Jim Whittaker accompanied by Sherpa Nawang Gombu, Tenzing’s nephew, made the first American ascent to become the fifth and six men to stand of the summit after the British in 1953 and Swiss in 1954.

Photo Courtesy -
But Horbein and Unsoeld had other ideas. Working doggedly with the meager resources including limited oxygen the duo set up camps on the virgin west ridge route.

On the day of their summit climb, Barry Bishop, a National Geographic photographer, and Lute Jerstad were also attempting the summit by the South Col route. Bishop and Jerstad reached the summit around 4 pm but did not find any evidence of the west ridge team who were still two hours below the top.

Horbein on the West Ridge- Photo Courtesy Willi Unsoeld
The West ridge pair  reached the summit at 6.15 pm on 22nd May 1963 and became the 11th and 12th men to climb Everest and the fifth and sixth of their expedition. But in the context of the history of Everest it was an enormous “first”:  a climb by the West Ridge for the first time and more was to follow.  They had been climbing for more than eleven hours since dawn.  They saw the boot prints of Whittaker and Gombu and fresh prints which they knew must be of Bishop and Jerstad.

Maynard Miller and Jimmy Roberts at Advance Base (around 23,500 feet) below had scanned the heights throughout the day and kept the radio open. Around 7 pm when it was almost dark and anxiety had risen, Willi Unsoeld’s voice came through the radio. They had just summitted Everest he said and were descending by the south east ridge in the dark on a route known to neither.

“Roger, Roger” Maynad called back through the crackle and wind.
  And then he heard Willi’s voice again faint and indistinct reciting:
“…. I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep,
And miles to go before we sleep….”

The “promises” were to Willi’s wife Joelene that Everest would be his last big mountain.

The west ridgers left the summit around two hours behind the south col team. With a flickering flashlight whose batteries were fast waning, the two climbers descended, following the boot prints and ice axe marks of Jerstad and Bishop. But soon the last light faded from the sky and night descended on the slopes of Everest. The climbers reduced the 150 feet rope into half so that they could remain closer to each other.

Jerstad and Bishop’s descent of the south east ridge earlier was also not without drama. The seventy mile gusts were dragging the climbers  towards the edge of the ridge and in Bishop’s words “ A section of the cornice at my chest gave way and I had a sudden hair raising view of the Kangshung glacier  10,000 feet below”.  Bishop unroped himself and managed to return to the trail.

Suddenly they began to hear voices in the wilderness “Helloo, Helloo” and thought it was a rescue party from Camp VI coming up in searching for them.  Then they realized that the voices were from above. The West ridge climbers had descended in record time and caught up with the South Col team!

The four climbers then descended together down the south east ridge. The torch which Unsoeld had finally gave way and in the glimmer of starlight the climbers stumbled down. Finally at 12.30 midnight it was not possible to continue any further and the four Everesters sat down for what would be the highest bivouac at that time.

In 1953 Herman Buhl on his descent from Nanga Parbat and in 1955 Walter Bonatti and his porter had also spent the night at around 26,000 feet on K2 and survived though not without loss.

But the bivouac of the Americans was around 28,000 feet. However, luck was on their side. It was one night in fifty that the jet stream winds were silent on Everest!

 In Everest- The West Ridge, Horbein wrote:
 "The night was overpoweringly empty. Stars shed cold, unshimmering light. The heat lightning dancing along the plains spoke of a world of warmth and flatness. The black silhouette of Lhotse lurked half-sensed, half-seen, still below. Only the ridge we were on rose higher, disappearing into the night, a last lonely outpost of the world."

Climbers on the West Ridge of Everest Photo:
Barry Bishop from Everest The West Ridge
Amazingly, despite all odds the climbers survived to greet the icy dawn.  National Geographic photographer Barry Bishop writes that it was one of finest mornings he had ever seen  but he  and his camera was too frozen to take a single photograph.

But the bivouac took a heavy toll. Unsoeld lost nine toes to frostbite and Bishop six. Jerstad and Horbein were extremely lucky to get away unscathed.

Since the first West Ridge climb in 1963, there have been about sixty attempts on the route with about half a dozen successful climbs including the West Ridge direct. The number of deaths and the number of summiteers on this route have been about the same making it one of the hardest routes on Everest.

In 2012  two teams from the USA  including crack climbers like Conrad Anker, Cory Richards, Jake Norton and David Morton  attempted the west ridge to commemorate the 1963 expedition. Unfavourable conditions forced both teams to give up the west ridge route.

In 1979 Unsoeld died on an avalanche on Mount Rainier - one of the peaks he used to guide. Horbein recollects that Unsoeld and he spoke each year on May 22nd, the anniversary of their west ridge climb. After Unsoeld’s death Horbein speaks to his widow Jolene on that day.

In the end, expedition leader Norman Dyrenfurth, though pushing for the South Col ascent gave the west ridge team full credit. Dyrenfurth said “For years it had been the dream of mountaineers to do a major Himalayan traverse. We were particularly happy and proud that this was not only the first Himalayan traverse but that it was on Everest.”


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