Monday, February 19, 2018

Tsum Valley Trek | South Col Expeditions April 22nd to May 6th 2018



The remote Tsum Valley  is a  trip  that should not be missed.  Tsum comes from the Tibetan work 'Tsombo', which means vivid and we can only agree. The people are not well off , since they have been bypassed by development for centuries, but this means their unique culture has remained intact.

However a road from China is already pegged out and will cause rapid change. Tsum is said to be a beyul, one of the hidden valleys which Padmasambhava blessed as refuges to be discovered when the planet is approaching destruction and the world becomes too corrupt for spiritual practice. They are valleys reminiscent of paradise, which can only be reached with enormous hardship often referred to as a "Garden of Eden".

Who should join this trek?
A good choice for regular hill walkers, high level of fitness required.
1) Walking times: average 5 to 8 hours walking per day
2) Altitude: up to 4500 metres - there is no pass to be crossed.
3) Terrain: for some of the time following well-travelled trails although also likely to encounter rough and rocky conditions. There are steps to be ascended and descended as in all Nepal treks.
4) Remoteness: the trek is in a remote mountain area and a long distance from the roadhead and the nearest cities.
5) High altitude insurance including emergency evacuation insurance by helicopter is compulsory for this trek.
6) Prior trekking experience is recommended for this trek.

BRIEF ITINERARY

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Arughat 495m by vehicle and then on the Soti Khola 606m
Day 2 – Soti Khola 606m to Maccha Khola 849m 6 – 7 hours
Day 3 – Macchakhola 849m to Jagat 1500 m 7 to 8 hours
Day 4 – Jagat to  Lokpa 2240m  7 to 8 hours
Day 5 – Lokpa 2240m to Chumling 2386m 4 to 5 hours
Day 6 – Chumling 2386m to Chokhang Paro 3031m 4 to 5 hours
Day 7 Chokhang Paro 3031m to Nile 3361m 3 to 4 hours
Day 8 – Nile 3361m to Mu Gompa 3700m 3 hours
Day 9 – Rest Day Mu Gompa
Day 10 – Mu Gompa 3700m to Rachen Gompa 3240m 5 to 6 hours
Day 11 - Rachen Gompa 3240m to Chumling 2386m 6 to 7 hours
Day 12 - Chumling 2386m to Philim 1570m 7 to 8 hours
Day 13 Philim 1570m to Dovan 1016m 5 to 6 hours
Day 14 Dovan 1016m to Lapubesi 823m 5 to 6 hours
Day 15 Lapu Besi 823m to Soti Khola 606m to Arughat 495m to Kathmandu.


COSTS
 USD 1300 for foreign passports and INR Rs 80,000 for Indian passports. (Meals not included). Please budget an additional USD 25-30 per day  for meals, hot water in flasks, battery charging, wi fi charges, gas showers  in lodges etc. 
The cost is per person for Kathmandu to Kathmandu  as per the itinerary given.
Costs given above are at current rates and may change without notice. Changes if any will be notified 2 months before the trek.

Costs include: 

  • Transport from Kathmandu to Arughat and Dharapani/Besisahar to Kathmandu in our own vehicle. 
  • All permits including Manaslu and Tsum  Restricted Area permit, ACAP and MCAP permits and TIMS as applicable. 
  • All accommodation on the trek on twin sharing basis. There are no luxury lodges on this route and accommodation will be basic without attached bathrooms.
  • Hotel accommodation in Kathmandu one night on the way in and one night on the way out is covered in a good mid range hotel with breakfast. 
  • Cost of porters/guides for the trek. Please note that porters will carry one duffel bag or backpack not exceeding 10 kgs in weight for each trekker comprising of personal items, clothing, sleeping bag etc. 


Costs not included

  • Meals in Kathmandu 
  • Breakfast lunch and dinner on the trek is not included. Desserts, drinks, and exotic items listed in the lodge menus are not included. Alcohol, cold drinks (coca cola, sprite, beer), juices, ice cream etc on the trek. Bottled drinks; boiled, filtered or bottled water; alcohol; snacks etc
  • Client travel and medical insurance of any kind. Emergency evacuation costs if needed. 
  • Hot showers (Rs 200-300 per shower); Personal clothing and equipment; sleeping bag; down/ goretek jacket, medicines for personal use etc. 
  • Air fare from residence country to Nepal and back
  • Tips to porters and guide at the end of trek. Please budget USD 50 per head as tips to the common pool


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ama Dablam | Mountain of Dreams

Ama Dablam from Khumjung - dawn
Ama Dablam (6856 metres) is possibly one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Located in the Khumbu region of Nepal it is it the "jewel in the crown"   for all trekkers to the Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar. The mountain was first climbed in 1961 by Mike Gill (NZ), Barry Bishop (USA), Mike Ward (UK) and Wally Romanes (NZ) via the Southwest Ridge. They were part of the Silver Hut expedition led by Edmung Hillary in 1960-61. 

I have been photographing Ama Dablam for more than twenty years now. 
Some photographs of the mountain taken over the years are in this post:

Ama Dablam from Dzongla below the Cho La Pass

Ama Dablam from Pheriche after a winter snow storm

Ama Dablam from Pangboche at dusk
Morning light at Kyanjuma near Namche Bazar

Ama Dablam from the climb to Chukung Ri in the Imja Khola valley

Lammergier floats towards the peak of Ama Dablam on the trail between Pangboche and Dingboche



Reflections in a lodge window - Sonam Lodge Pangboche

For more photographs of the Himalaya do visit www.sujoydas.com

Friday, February 2, 2018

Bhutan | Nub Tshona Pata Trek March 25th to April 1 2018

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The Nub Tshona Pata Trek is one of the off beat routes in Bhutan located in the Paro-Ha region. This five day walk is an ideal introduction to trekking in Bhutan before taking on the longer walks like the  24 days Snowman trek. The itinerary can be completed within a week with a rest day in Paro on the way in.  Few groups do this camping trek so in all likelihood in March we should have the trail to ourselves. There are some places available for this trek so do get in touch if interested.

Who should join this trek?

A good choice for regular hill walkers, good level of fitness required.  It is a camping trek using tents.
1) Walking times: average  6 to 7  hours walking per day  uphill and downhill.
2) Altitude: up to 4350 metres
3) Terrain: for some of the time following well-travelled trails although also likely to some rocky conditions near the pass .

This is a full support camping trek with kitchen crew, ponies, guide and tents. Mobile phones etc will not work on the trek but will function in Paro and Ha.



Day 1 Fly into Paro
The flight into Paro on the wings of the Dragon, finally lands after making a couple of acrobatic maneuvers while negotiating the high mountains surrounding the small air strip in the Paro valley. We spend the first day acclimatizing and maybe visiting the Paro Rinpung Dzong. Altitude 7330ft/ 2235m.

 Day 2 Excursion to Taksang (Tigers Nest) monastery in the morning and then drive to our hotel at Ha in the evening. 
We spend the morning hiking up to Taksang Monastery, the most famous monastery in Bhutan. Taksang means “Tiger’s Nest” so named because Guru Rimpoche reportedly flew to the site on the back of the flying tigress in the early 8th century. The monastery perches miraculously on a cliff nearly 2,700ft above Paro’s valley floor. Break along the way for tea and snacks in small tea house and after this drive in the evening to our first hotel in Ha. Alt: 9480ft / 2890m

Day 3/ Haa 2890m to Tshokam 3622m: From Kajena (2735m) we leave the car and start walking through the Kajena village. The village has preserved the beauty of its traditional lifestyle and architecture which is unexploited by most visitors. This is just the beginning of a great trekking experience. The trail climbs upward for 2 & ½ hrs through, pine forest and beautiful flowers until we reach the DradenTashiChhoelingShedra (also know as Bjanadingkha monastery). The monastery was built by Lam CholayShacha Tenzin in 1773, the founder of Sangchoko monastery in Paro. The monastery was handed over to the DratshangLhengtshog by the community, when the villagers migrated to Kajena village. At and around the monastery different types of butterflies flutter around while you have a spectacular view of the Haa valley from the monastery. Visit the monastery. Lunch can be served here. From here it’s a gradual up hill climb till you reach a serene meadow of Tshokam (3622m). On the way wild mushrooms grow in the season and one can find edible Rozitescaperata (Dungshishamu), Kato shamu, JichuKangro, waleyshamu and many other edible mushrooms.
Walking Time:Approx 6-7 hrs Difficulty: Moderate with gradual ascend
Highest Elevation: 3622m Campsite:Tshokam (3622m)

Day4. Tshokam 3622m to Womji 3600m: The Trek starts with the gentle climb to the Talela Pass: 3780m. The trail passes through the forest of Blue pine and rhododendron forest. The gradual ascent continues to the Yak Harders camp at Tshojo, climb further to Gochula pass (4350m) After the pass the trail follows a ridge and then descends gradually to your camp at Womji. Today’s trek is approximately 7 hrs. Overnight at camp.


Day5. Womji 3600m to Tshonapata 3850m : Today’s trek starts with a steep climb through Juniper forest and rhododendron forest to the Gochhila pass (4350m) you will have spectacular views of the whole Tshejala range. Continuing on to Tshejalum, you will pass several Yak herder’s camps , you will enjoy the alpine flowers. After crossing the Tshejalapass and to overnight at Tshonapata.

Day6.  Tshonapata 3850m to Tsojo 3780m:Today we will resume the same trail till the Gochhila pass and take a new trail through the rhododendron forest and scenic views of mountains. Drop down to the camp to the lake Tsojo to the new campsite at the meadow of Tsojo.Alt: (3780m) 6 to 7 hours

Day7..Tsojo – to Haa (trek ends ) drive to Paro . 4 hours walk and 2 hours by car
your trail descends gradually through the forest of Juniper and rhododendron till Talila pass, which you will cross to reenter the Haa valley , Your trek finishes here and you will drive  back to Paro for the night. Alt:2320m.

Day 8 - Fly from Paro to your home country.

Dates
March 25th 2018 to April 1st 2018

COSTS

The cost of the trek is Rs 65,000 for Indian passports including taxes.  The Government of Bhutan charges a fixed sum of US $ 250 per day from all foreign passports or $2000 for this trek. 
 The cost per person for Paro to Paro (8 days ) as per the itinerary given earlier 
Costs given above are at current rates of 2017 and may change without notice. Changes if any will be notified 3 months before the trek.
Costs include:
Pick up from the airport and drop at airport
All Bhutan entry permits and trek permits.
Bhutan visa fees ( for foreign nationals)
Government Royalty and taxes ( for foreign nationals )
Transport from Paro to roadhead and pick up at the end of the trek
Two nights accommodation and breakfast in Paro in good standard hotel on twin sharing basis.
One night accommodation at Ha with dinner and breakfast at the hotel on twin sharing basis.
All accommodation in tents on twin sharing basis  and meals on trek for three days as per itinerary; breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Cost of guides/cook/helper/ponyman and ponies as needed for the trek.

Costs not included
Flight Costs from home country to Paro and back.
Airport taxes if any.
Lunch and Dinner at Paro  and Ha
Client travel and medical insurance of any kind. Emergency evacuation costs if needed.
Bottled drinks; boiled, filtered or bottled water; alcohol; snacks etc
Personal clothing and equipment; sleeping bag; /down/ goretek jacket, medicines for personal use etc.
Tips to guides/cook/helper/ponyman at the end of trek.
There are fights by Druk Air and Bhutan Air from Delhi and Kolkata to Paro. You will have to connect to these flights from your home cities.

 For more details please contact Sujoy Das sujoyrdas@gmail.com or +919831054569
www.southcol.com


Friday, January 26, 2018

Farewell Elizabeth Hawley


Elizabeth Hawley ,94,  passed away in a Kathmandu hospital early this morning. For those who knew her the loss is irreplaceable. A chronicler of the Himalaya for more than four decades her contribution to Himalayan  mountaineering is immense.

A brief account of her life below from Wikipaedia -

"Elizabeth Hawley (born November 9, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American former journalist and chronicler of Himalayan expeditions. She travelled to Nepal in September 1960 and never left.

She was educated at the University of Michigan. She moved to Nepal after giving up her job as a researcher for Fortune magazine in New York and visiting Kathmandu on a round-the-world trip. Working briefly as a reporter, Hawley went back to San Francisco, returning to Nepal a few years later as journalist for Time.

She found work with the Reuters news agency covering mountaineering news, including the 1963 American expedition that was the first from the United States to traverse Mount Everest.

While she has never climbed a mountain herself, Hawley has been the best-known chronicler of Himalayan expeditions for over four decades. She is respected by the international mountaineering community because of her complete and accurate records, despite their unofficial status. Her records are summarized in a database  used in several analyses of success and death rates for climbers in the Nepal Himalaya

French ice climber Fran├žois Damilano (fr) named a peak in Nepal after Elizabeth Hawley. Damilano made a solo first ascent of Peak Hawley (6,182 meters) in the Dhaulagiri Group on 9 May 2008, after climbing 7,242-meter Putha Hiunchuli."

Today's obituary from The Himalayan Trust
http://himalayantrust.org/about-us/elizabeth-hawley-nov-9-1923-jan-26-2018/

Some links from interviews and press reports on Miss Hawley:

https://www.outsideonline.com/1825881/high-priestess-posterity

http://adventureblog.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/11/i-frighten-a-lot-of-people-everest-chronicler-elizabeth-hawley-92-tells-it-like-it-is/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-nepal-everest/elizabeth-hawley-worlds-everest-expert-idUSTRE7480XP20110509

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-10268549

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Himalayan Weather

Annapurna South, Huinchuli and Machhapuchhare from Dhampus
If you read any guide book on the Himalaya or on trekking in the Himalayan region, you will invariably be told that the post-monsoon season is the best time to trek in the mountains. Clear blue skies, superb mountain views, mild sunny days and crisp cold nights are all forecast for the trekker.  You will also be told that the pre monsoon season i.e. March to May is the second best time to be in the mountains with mild showers in the evening but clear morning and the weather getting warmer as you approach the monsoon. Further, according to the guide books, trekking in the monsoon is strictly a “no no” and if the heavy rains and landslides don’t make your trek a nightmare, the leeches will! And of course the winter is so cold that no sane individual would venture into the high altitude at that time!

So what is the real story on Himalayan weather?

The trail between Dingboche and Dugla, Everest region
I have trekked in the Himalayas in all seasons, including the winter (Everest 2003-04), the monsoon (Sikkim 2000) and numerous autumn and spring treks.

One October I remember visiting Kathmandu airport every morning for the flight to Lukla and returning to our hotel at lunchtime. It rained for three days incessantly and the Lukla flight could not take off. Finally on the fourth day it did take off  and made a hair raising landing at Lukla narrowly missing the hill in front of the airstrip. Surprisingly the very next day the weather cleared and we did not get any rain for the next two weeks during our trek.

Again, walking the Annapurna circuit in October I remember repeated day after day of afternoon rain up the Marsyandi valley. One downpour near the village of Chame was so heavy that we sheltered in a bamboo hut and managed to stay dry until the rain stopped.

In December 2009 I trekked with a South Col group to Poon Hill in the Annapurna region and surprisingly other than the morning at Ghorepani, the rest of the days had cold, cloudy weather very unusual for December.

Tso Moriri Ladakh

The rain shadow regions of the Himalaya like Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahoul and Spiti possibly get the best weather in the monsoon season July to September.

So in my opinion, good weather is a gamble. What with global warming, rapid deforestation and urbanization, the weather is no longer predictable. Every season has something special to offer so select your season and hope for some great views and weather!

For more information on our treks and photo workshops do visit www.southcol.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nikon 180-400 Super Zoom with TC 1.4 Teleconverter


Nikon introduces a 180-400 F4 superzoom with 1.4 teleconverter built in at $12,399.95!

The press release from the Nikon USA site says it all:
"Pros who spend time behind a super-telephoto lens know a hard truth: when you need a teleconverter, you often need it in a hurry. For these moments, Nikon proudly introduces the AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR, a super-telephoto zoom lens with a built-in 1.4X teleconverter. Capture sports, events and wildlife in lifelike brilliance from 180-400mm, then, without breaking shooting posture, engage the integrated teleconverter and increase your reach to 560mm f/5.6 (840mm equivalent on a DX body). Incorporating remarkable advancements in optical design, autofocus performance, Vibration Reduction and durability, this lens is bound to become the new standard for serious field photographers."

Features

  • Professional super-telephoto zoom with Nikon's first built-in selectable 1.4X teleconverter
  • Advanced optical design with 8 ED glass elements, a Fluorite element and Nano Crystal Coat produces unwavering image quality
  • Blazing fast subject acquisition and locked-on tracking, especially when used with Nikon's 153-point AF system
  • Lightweight, durable construction with advanced weather sealing, internal focus and Nikon's nonstick Fluorine coating
  • Next-generation Vibration Reduction (VR) system that starts immediately and includes three shooting modes
The immediate competition for this lens is the old workhorse 200-400 F4 used extensively by both wildlife and sports photographers and this will be the lens against which the new  180-400 will be compared. As prices go the older lens is around $6,996 street so there is a very significant difference between the two offerings.

We should wait for the test reviews of the new lens and it performance in the field.

In the meanwhile for more information do visit the following links:



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Annapurna Foothills Trek | The Photographs

Approaching Landrung
South Col Expeditions completed another Annapurna Foothills Trek from December 23-30 2017 amidst speactacular winter weather with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Some photographs from the trek are below:

Sunrise Ghorepani

The beautiful dining room of Gurung Cottage Ghandrung

Ferns in the forest near Tadapani

On the ridge between Deorali and Ghorepani with Dhaulagiri behind

Tadapani lodges with Annapurna South, Huinchuli and Machhapuchhare behind

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Everest Base Camp Trek | The Best Season ?




I am often asked which is the best time to trek in the Everest region? Is it April and October? Interestingly things have changed a lot including the weather so this post covers the seasons and the pros and cons of trekking in the Everest region.


January 
This is peak winter -  temperatures at Gorak Shep (5150 metres) would be around -20C at night - water would be frozen but in all likelihood the weather would be clear but snow is on the cards. You need good warm down  jackets and a -20C sleeping bag to be comfortable. There will be few trekkers so you would have the lodges to yourself.

February
From mid February the weather would begins to warm up marginally but it can be uncertain - rain and hail lower down and snow above 4000 metres. Some days can also be sunny and exceptionally clear with low humidity. Few trekkers again so the lodges would be free. Not a bad time to go if you want to avoid the crowds and don't mind the occasional snow storm!

March 
The trekking numbers would increase by early March. Warmer weather would see possibility of occasional rain and snow. By end March the trekking season would have picked up and flights would start to become busy. If you want to go in spring then mid to end March is a good start.


April
This is considered to be the second best season after October. It is spring and the rhododendrons and other flowers are in bloom creating a spectacular display of colour. The mornings are generally clear with clouds rushing in by noon and rain and snow possible in the afternoons. The weather is of course much warmer than February- March. This month sees the maximum number of trekkers after October.
May
The numbers of trekkers start going down as the monsoon approaches. There can be regular pre-monsoon showers in May and mountains can be cloudy and foggy especially in late May. Flights to and from Kathmandu to Lukla also can be cancelled due to weather conditions. However, the floral spectacle especially above Namche is spectacular so if you want to see flowers this is the time to go!


June to September
These are the monsoon months. Flights to Lukla will often be delayed or cancelled due to rains and fog. Mountain views are few as the clouds dominate the valleys and peaks. On some days if you are lucky the sun will break through and you can see a peak floating through the clouds. There will be hardly any trekkers so no crowds. It's very green in the Khumbu at this time and flowers in the high meadows.

October
This is the peak season for the Everest trek. Flights are packed and so are the lodges. However for the last few years, it has been raining until mid October due to the delayed monsoon and the first two weeks have seen bad weather and many cancellations of the Lukla flight. I would avoid October if you can both for the weather issues and the crowds. Once the monsoon retreats you can be assured of clear skies and sunny warm days.

November
November in fact is the new October with clear days low humidity few clouds and mountain views every day - this  is the typical post monsoon weather which remains until mid December. It would be the first choice for Everest trekkers - the stability in the weather ensures that the Lukla flight can fly until 11 am on most days. Night temperatures at Gorak Shep would be between -10C and -12C,


December
It would be colder than November but until mid December the clear weather would continue. Crowds would be thinning as most people would be returning - flights would also not be so busy and tickets easy to get. Temperatures in Gorak Shep would be -15C at night. Recommended with a good down jacket and a four season sleeping bag!

For our fixed 2018 departure for the Everest trek in November 2018  do visit http://www.southcol.com/treks-nepal/everest-base-camp-ebc-kala-pattar-october-22nd-november-4th-2017/

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