Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sleeping Bags for Backpacking : How to Choose

One of the most important items of equipment to consider before going on  a trek or a climb is  a sleeping bag. A good sleeping bag can make or mar a trek - if it is not warm enough, you will spend the whole night cold and shivering and will be tired the next morning for the day's walk. So how do we choose the right sleeping bag? Here are some pointers to be taken into consideration:

All good sleeping bags are temperature rated. The top of the line bags from companies like Marmot, Western Mountaineering, North Face etc. will also have the EN rating which is most accurate. Normally summer sleeping bags will be rated 0 to +10 Celsius, three season sleeping bags will be -10 to 0 Celsius, four season or winter bags will be -20 to -10 Celsius. The rating given by the company is supposed to be the lowest temperature which will keep an average sleeper warm. However, there are warm sleepers and cold sleepers so depending on the sort of sleeper you are, you may need to choose your bag. As a thumb rule, buy a sleeping bag five degrees Celsius below the lowest temperature you plan to encounter. So if you plan to be in -5 Celsius buy a -10 Celsius bag! A sleeping bag's temperature rating can be extended by using a liner inside but that would add to some additional weight to the bag.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of insulation - synthetic and down. Synthetic is usually cheaper and comes under a lot of names - Primaloft, Polaguard, Thinsulate etc. Down can also of various ratings like 600 fill, 700 fill, 800 fill etc. In a nutshell, a down bag will usually be lighter and pack smaller than a synthetic bag of the same rating.  It will also usually be more expensive than it's synthetic counterpart. However, down has a  major drawback, if the bag gets wet then it is useless - it loses its insulating properties. So if you are going on a trek and expect lots of rain and snow, down may not be the best choice. Recently, a new type of down has been introduced called  "Dri Down" which is supposed to insulate even when damp or wet!

Broadly speaking they would be rectangular and mummy. The rectangular bags would have more room inside to toss and turn but usually the mummy bags would be warmer for the same weight and are preferable for high altitude treks.There are also bags with full zips and half-zips. The half zip ones would be lighter, but may be difficult to get in and out of!

If you are carrying your own backpack, then weight is very important. The lighter sleeping bags will usually  be more expensive  than the heavier ones for the same temperature rating. I would suggest not to go beyond 3 lb in weight for a three season bag - in fact some of the good bags would range well below 3 lb.

Packed Size
Most sleeping bags will give you a packed size e.g. 7" x 13" and so on. The  larger sizes e.g. 13 " x 20" would be very bulky and difficult to pack in a backpack. On one of our South Col treks, I saw a client's sleeping bag which took almost half the space in a 50 litre duffel and left very little room for anything else! So check the packed size before you buy. Generally down bags will pack smaller than synthetic bags because they are easier to compress.

Some of the great sleeping bags which I have used in the last thirty years in the mountains:

 The North Face Blue Kazoo - almost a legendary bag, North Face has been manufacturing this bag for more than fifteen  years now  keeping the price and weigh more or less constant! It is often available on sale for less than US $ 200! Highly recommended for a good three season bag and if properly cared for can last a lifetime! 

The Marmot Pinnacle
I am presently using this bag for the last couple of years - excellent loft, warmth to weight ratio and super light and compressible - it is filled with 800 fill power down. A highly rated bag though a bit on the expensive side! Marmot have stopped production of this bag which is a pity! The Meteor looks like the replacement for the Pinnacle!

Generally for spring and autumn trekking in the Himalaya a three season bag is usually fine. If you are planning to trek in winter, e.g. Chadar trek, then you need to have a four season bag.

Sleeping Bag Resources
How to Care for a Sleeping Bag
Some top Sleeping Bags
Down vs Synthetic Sleeping Bags
How to wash a down sleeping bag in a washing machine?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flowers of the Yumthang-Yume Samdong Valley, North Sikkim

In June 2014, I returned to Sikkim after many years. The purpose of my visit was to make the preliminary arrangements for a  South Col trek to Green Lakes in October 2014,  but after that I spent three days in North Sikkim photographing the flora of the Lachung valley. It was mid June and the monsoon had just started. The lower valley from Lachung to Yumtang which is between 9,000 and 11,000 feet had completed flowering but the upper valley especially near the meadows of Yume Samdong were spectacular. Here are some images from this visit - I am not too sure of the names so if there are any botanists they can correct me if I am wrong!

Rhododendron campanulatum var - aeroginosum  

The scenic Yumthang valley

Rhododendron campylocarpum flowers near a stream

Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis Horridula

Meconopsis Regia?
Rhododendron campanulatum

Rhododendrons in bud

Primula Denticulata

For more photos of Sikkim flora please do visit 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tenzing Norgay Birth Centenary Commemorative Lecture with The Himalayan Club

On 27th June 2014 at the Rotary Sadan, Kolkata I delivered the Tenzing Norgay Birth Centenary Commemorative Lecture organised by The Himalayan Club - Kolkata Section. A review of the evening was given in The Telegraph Kolkata Metro edition on June 30th 2014.

Little-known facts about the humble man of the hills — who, with Edmund Hillary, was the first to set foot on the world’s highest peak — tumbled out at a presentation by freelance photojournalist Sujoy Das before the city’s climbing enthusiasts.

The presentation, which combined black-and-white pictures, maps and anecdotes to bring Tenzing’s epic journey back to life, was organised on Friday by The Himalayan Club to pay homage to the sherpa on his birth centenary.
Tenzing was born Namgyal Wangdi. The lama of Tibet’s Rongbuk Monastery, Dzadrul Rimpoche, said he was the reincarnate of a wealthy man and changed his name to Norgay, which means “fortunate” in Tibetan. Tenzing, part of the lama’s original name, was added to it.

Das’s presentation harped on a couple of key moments in Tenzing’s life. The first was an epidemic in Tibet, which killed all the yaks of Tenzing’s father Ghang La Mingma.

This necessitated a teenaged Tenzing and Dawa Thondup, seven years his senior and member of the historic 1953 Everest climb, to make a trip to Nepal’s Kumbhu region on foot and eventually to Darjeeling, where foreign expedition teams hired sherpas.

“Had it not been for the epidemic, Tenzing would probably have been happy tending to his father’s yaks and wouldn’t have made history,” said Das.

Tenzing was rejected many times as sherpa before his “grin rather than his experience” impressed British expedition leader Eric Shipton in 1935. The youth from Tibet set off “learning by looking” and soon made a name for himself.

By this time he had married his teenage sweetheart Dawa Phuti, the first of his three marriages. Phuti died at a young age leaving behind two daughters.

Das pointed out that European climbers, especially “class conscious” Britons finally accepted Tenzing as one of their own.

“After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the approach to Everest through the north closed down and a southern route was explored. It was found to be easier (than the northern route) if one could handle a tricky ice fall, which claimed the lives of 16 sherpas this April,” said Das.

By the early 1950s, it became evident that conquering Everest was a matter of time and Tenzing was caught in a tug-of-war between Swiss and British teams. 

Tenzing by then demanded that he be given the status of a climber rather than a sirdar — or leader of sherpas and manager of supplies — by a British team led by John Hunt and was granted his wish. A member of Hunt’s team was Edmund Hillary from New Zealand.

In fact, at their final camp at 27,640ft, a record at the time, Tenzing had spent an extremely cold night in the same camp as Hillary, sharing supplies.

The next morning, they made the first successful climb to the top of the world.

Funnily, when Tenzing went to meet his mother in Thami on the way down and told her of his feat, she was elated but only because “you will not have to climb mountains any more”.

After the expedition, Hillary and Hunt were knighted but Tenzing was conferred a much less prestigious George Medal. He, however, went to London and accepted it.

When the queen asked Ang Lahmu, his second wife, what she gifted Tenzing after he came down from Everest, she replied a “big tin of condensed milk”.

“He could use it. He was fatigued after the climb,” quipped Das.

Years later, when his son Jamling wanted to start Himalayan expeditions, Tenzing had put his foot down saying he had climbed himself so that his son would not have to. 

A slide showed the famous words of his father: “You can’t see the entire world from the top of Everest, Jamling”.
Jamling, however, could not ignore the call of the mountains and climbed Everest in 1996. He returned to Everest in 2002, but only till the base camp, when he and Hillary’s son Peter were invited to be part of an expedition to mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Treks with South Col Expeditions - December 2014

South Col Expeditions ( will be running two treks in Nepal this December! There are limited seats so all those who are interested should sign up soon! The details of the treks are below:

 The Langtang Valley Trek  Nov 30th to Dec 8th 2014 Kathmandu to Kathmandu
A very beautiful though undertrekked region the Langtang has a lot of offer - forests, bird life, swift rivers and of course high mountains. Join South Col on this trek and climb a peak at the end Tsergo Ri! Here are some photos from past treks

The Annapurna Foothills Trek December 21st to 28th 2014 Kathmandu to Kathmandu
A six day ramble  in the Annapurna foothills is an ideal first trek and suitable for families and children. Enjoy awesome views from Austrian Camp and Poon Hill. I call this the best bang for the buck trek - great mountains with minimum effort and lower altitudes. Here are some photos from past treks 

For testimonials from other south col trekkers please do visit

South Col is a member of  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tenzing Norgay: Centenary Presentation on 27th June 2014

Tenzing Norgay was born in Tibet in 1914. To commemorate his birth centenary, I am presenting a slide show on the life of this great mountaineer on June 27th 2014 at 6.30 pm in Kolkata. All mountain lovers are welcome!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Annapurna Sanctuary: An Essay in Black and White

South Col Expeditions trekked to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in April 2014. Despite being spring, the weather was more like winter and it snowed every evening above 3500 metres. This is a black and white essay of the region between Deorali and Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).

Icicles and Macchapuchare

Macchapuchare, the lodges of ABC and the Anatoli Boukreev memorial

Gandharva Chuli on the eastern rim of the Sanctuary

On the trail between Deorali and Machapuchare Base Camp

Trekkers descending from ABC

Annapurna I south face at dawn
For more images from the ABC trek please do visit

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mallory of Everest

Last photo of Mallory & Irvine by Odell

Exactly ninety years ago on this day George Mallory and Andrew Irvine vanished into the mists of Everest and were never seen again. Noel Odell, a climber from the expedition had the last sighting of the duo which is described below: 

“The entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled,” Odell wrote to the Times a week after Mallory and Irvine had disappeared. “My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black dot moved. Another black dot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The firs then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.”

 Mallory was a prolific writer and his letters from Everest to his wife Ruth make very interesting reading. In this post today I recall some of his best known quotes:

Ruth & George Mallory
What is the use of climbing Everest?
"It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.” 


“How to get the best of it all? One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end - to know there's no dream that mustn't be dared. . . Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We're not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished...Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No..and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction. . . fulfilled a destiny. . . To struggle and to understand - never this last without the other; such is the law. . .” 

Mallory & the sherpas  1922
“I suppose we go to Mount Everest, granted the opportunity, because—in a word—we can’t help it. Or, to state the matter rather differently, because we are mountaineers…. To refuse the adventure is to run the risk of drying up like a pea in its shell.”

Irvine & Mallory
  “For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.” 

Mallory & his daughter Claire

 Why climb Everest?  “Because it's there.” 

"We will stomp to the top with the wind in our teeth"

"I look back on tremendous efforts & exhaustion & dismal looking out of a tent door on to a dismal world of snow and vanishing hopes."

"The highest of the world's mountains, it seems, has to make but a single gesture of magnificence to be the lord of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated supremacy."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Approach to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek

With the construction of roads in the Annapurna foothills, there are now a number of alternative approaches to the ABC Trek. All these options can also be used as exit points as well. 

Phedi is a 40 minute drive from Pokhara along the Beni-Baglung road. This was the preferred approach to the ABC trek but there is a 550 metre ascent from Phedi to Dhampus on the very first day itself which is hard going! Many trekkers now take the alternatives routes given below, but this option may be a good one on the descent. (Phedi to Dhampus 3 hrs)

View from Dhampus above Phedi

Around thirty minutes further up from Phedi on the same road lies Kande. This approach is now gaining in popularity as  there is only a 200 metre climb to the ridge at Austrian Camp (wrongly marked as Australian Camp!) and then a half hour down to Pothana. The Austrian Camp is well worth a night stop and there are spectacular views from here. (Kande to Austrian Camp 1 hr 30 min)

Birethanti- Kimche
Beyond Kande, the road reaches Nayapul and then Birethanti. This used to be the approach for trekkers wanting to reach Ghandrung on the first day. But now it is possible to drive beyond Birethanti to Kimche and then walk for an hour and a half uphill to  Ghandrung -  both buses and jeeps ply on this road from Pokhara. It is possible to get a bus to Pokhara while descending from Ghandung from Kimche though the road is not very good.

The road near Birethanti
There is now a road upto Landrung and there is a jeep service (shared) from Pokhara to Landrung every morning. The jeep takes around 3 hours. The road is not good. I did not use the jeep service but found  jeeps at the Landrung jeep stand! This can shorten the ABC trek  by a day and a half!

The jeep stand at Landrung
Good luck for your trek! For more information on the full route please do visit and for photos please visit


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...