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.”

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Manaslu/Tsum Valley Updates May 5 2018

A South Col team trekked Manaslu and Tsum valley in April - May 2018. Some updates from this trek which are useful for fellow trekkers in the next season:

Trail Updates
Due to the construction of a new road all the way from Soti Khola up the Tsum Valley to Tibet the existing trails between Lapu Besi and Tatopani which is the approach for both the Manaslu and Tsum Valley treks are in a precarious condition.

The existing road upto Soti Khola from Arughat which now has small buses plying on it has been extended to Lapubesi. However private vehicles have permission to drive only to Hawa Danda which is 30 minutes walk from Lapubesi.

From Lapubesi due to the road construction on the old trail, a newer trail has been made along the river. However due to the blasting of rocks above, parts of this newer trail is only rocks and boulders and walking on this trail is difficult but compared to the trail conditions further up it can somehow be managed.
Short section of trail around 2 minutes between Maccha Khola and Lapubesi
From Machha Khola to Khorlabesi the old trail along the river is totally devastated. The road building along parts of this trail is on in full swing and there is a possibility of rock fall rendering this trail unsafe. We did not find most locals, trekkers and mule caravans using this old trail. There is now a new trail across the river which climbs around 400 metres from Maccha Khola reaches a high point above Khorla Besi and then plummets around 300 metres to the valley to reach Khorla Besi in 2.5 to 3.5 hours depending on your walking speed. This is against the normal 1 hour 15 min which it used to take between Machha Khola and Khorla Besi on the old trail.  It is likely that this new trail will continue to be used even for the upcoming October- November season as the monsoon rains will wreak more havoc on the road construction during June to September 2018.

Road timings Khorlabesi to Tatopani
From Khorlabesi to Tatopani the road construction is taking place on the old trail and the Nepal Army only allows the trail to open between 11 am and 12 noon and again between 5 pm in the evening and 7 am in the morning.  Even when the trail is open due to blasting of rocks and debris all over the trail it is difficult to cross many sections where now no trail exists.

Logistically the longer route between Machha Khola and Khorlabesi and the trail open timings between Khorlabasi and Tatopani need to be considered when drawing up an itinerary for this trek. It is now possible to reach Soti Khola on the same day from Kathmandu and stay the night in Soti Khola. If you are in a private vehicle you can drive past Soti Khola to Hawa Danda and reach Lapubesi on the same day from Kathmandu which is what we did. The Hotel Laxmi is a good stop in Lapubesi far better than the lodges of Soti Khola. From Lapubesi it is possible to reach Khorlabesi by around 2 pm but the trail only opens at 5 pm so either you stop in Khorlabesi for the night or hit Tatopani around 6 pm where there are very basic lodges. Continuing on to Dobhan, where there are better lodges, in the dark is not a very good option.
If you are walking from Soti Khola then Khorlabesi on the first day is a hard walk considering the additional climb of 400 metres up and 300 metres down which would be quite exhausting in the mid day sun at this low altitude.
This is the current trail situation – it is possible that timings and routes will change for the autumn season 2018 so try to get local information from the trekking companies in Kathmandu and the lodges en route before planning the trek itinerary.

Mules on the trail

I was quite amazed to see the increase in mule traffic on this trail since my last visit a year ago. The only reason I could find for this increased traffic is the building of new lodges all along the trail and the building materials being carried up by the mules. We also found many houses which had been damaged by the earthquake being rebuilt and this could also be one of the reasons. I estimated around 300 to 400 mules on one day between Tatopani and Jagat and it would be the same or nearabouts on most days. The mules are a constant danger to trekkers – arriving unannounced around a cliff and often at a fast pace. They don’t usually stop so you have to wedge yourself between a rock and the trail to somehow avoid them.  On narrow sections this if often quite difficult. One of our trekkers was kicked by a mule as there was no space for her to get away from the trail.  Mule jams are also not uncommon especially across bridges where sometimes fifty to sixty mules crossing over can cause long delays.  You may need to add forty five minutes to an hour to your trekking day to consider these delays.

Trekking Numbers

We found fewer trekkers in the region this spring compared to the earlier year. Our findings were borne out at the Manaslu Conservation Area Project in Jagat where the officer  in charge informed us that only 2000 or so trekkers had come in so far in 2018 ( upto May 2nd 2018). This is a far cry from the Everest and Annapurna treks where 20,000 to 30,000 trekkers visit each season. One of the reasons for this could well be the poor road condition Dhading Besi/Gorkha to Arughat coupled with this new road building exercise along the trail.

For detailed information on the Manaslu Circuit Trek route do  visit

Friday, May 4, 2018

Soednam Zinghka - Heritage Farm House | Bhutan | Haa

One of the finest properties which I have stayed in recently in the Himalayas must be the Soednam Zingkha Heritage Farm House in the remote Haa valley in Western Bhutan. My group was on a trek to the Nob Tshona Pata lake and on the way we stopped for a night at Haa.

This beautiful homestay has been carefully restored keeping in mind the ethnic architecture and designs of Bhutan.

It has all the conveniences - temperature controlled heated rooms,  abundant hot water in the showers, spotless toilets, excellent wi-fi and cosy rooms with lovely views across the valley.

It is family run with with the son of the house, Penjor, having studied hotel management in India and he has been able to put his management experience to good use in this property.

The meals are to die for and are personalised service with a smile is the hallmark of this heritage home.

I wish there were more such properties across the Himalaya.

Some photographs from my visit are below:

View from the farmhouse

The prayer room

The entrance

The courtyard

The drawing room area
Soednam Zingkha
Haa Valley
+975 17170507 / 77170507

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bhutan | Nub Tshona Pata Trek

March 26th to March 31st 2018
A South Col team trekked for five days in the valleys south west of Haa. What started as a spring outing changed into wintry conditions from the second day evening. Here is a short description of the route.

Day 1 March 26th 2018 Paro to Haa 3 hours drive
We left Paro around 3 30 pm after lunch and a trek to Tigers Nest in the morning. The weather began to break around 400 metres below the Chele la and soon we were in a furious snowstorm. We reached the pass around 5 pm in a blizzard - the prayer flags at the top were bent over in the snow and wind. We left the pass and drove down – we were very lucky to see a number of different Khaleej pheasants male and female, a barking deer which sped across the road and the ever popular yellow billed blue magpies flitting from bush to bush. We reached Haa around 6 pm in the fading light - the rain and snow had stopped and Haa was dry. We checked into the fabulous Soednam Zingkha heritage lodge with beautiful heated rooms, plenty of hot water and a great dinner with excellent wifi connection to boost.  It was really a beautiful spot to spend the night before our trek.

Day 2 Haa to Bjanadingkha Monastery by vehicle 45 min and then trek to Tshebjo 3965 metres
 We  left the lodge around 8 am and drove through Kajena village and  started climbing  for the monastery. It took around 45 minutes. We met our ponies and support crew at the monastery. We started out from the monastery at 9. 20 am and started walking in a southerly direction. Within 20 minutes we came to an open pasture with pink primulas denticulata in full bloom. The trail then started climbing gently through the forest and in another 40 minutes reached a clearing which made a good first stop.  The clearing was at 3500 metres. From the clearing there is a broad path to the left which we followed and the trail soon started climbing steeply through the rhododendron and pine forest. In around two hours we crested a hill top above the tree line at 3895 metres where we stopped for lunch. Below us was the valley of Ha which we had seen on our walk up and to the north west were the peaks of Chomalhari and Jitsu Drake clearly visible. It was a bonus to see these 7000 metre peaks on the first day itself. After a 45 minute lunch stop we headed on a fairly level trail which skirted the hillside to the west and following a series of undulating ups and downs we came to our camp site at Tshebjo near a stream at 3900 metres. It was 75 minutes from our lunch stop to Tshebjo. We could see the Tshebjo la  Pass above us which we would cross tomorrow. It had been a satisfying day in good weather.

Paro 2332 m 27 26 14N 89 22 49E  Ha 2937m  27 25 11N 89 13 10E Monastery 3273m 27 23 41N 89 15 11E Tsebjo 3965m 27 21 56N 89 13 47E
Monastery to first stop clearing 1 hour Clearing to meadow for lunch 2 hrs meadow to Tshebjo camp site 1 hr 30 min

Day 3 March 28th 2018 Tshebjo 3965m to Womji 3716m to Gochula 4194m to Chhosolumpa camp 3966m
The day dawned clear and sunny though the night was very cold - the water in the stream had frozen and the night temperatures would have been around 5 to 6 degrees below zero. We left the camp around 8.20 am after a good breakfast and climbed gradually in a southern direction towards the Tsebjo La pass. The trail was not very distinct but we saw a stone cairn on top of the ridge and climbed gently skirting the hill and reached the top in 45 minutes. There was a great view from the pass behind us - the way we had come-  we could see Chomolhari once again and towards the south were the hills covered in fresh snow. We took a fairly obvious right hand  southerly  trail from the pass which skirted the hill side on a level trail for around 15 minutes. It then came to a fork the trail left plunged down to the forest - that was the correct trail  (not the trail going straight ahead and level) which went down to the clearing of Womji.

Descending to Womji
 We could see a small white hut in the clearing below - that was our destination.  The trail dropped steeply for an hour through rhododendron and pine forest until it reached a small stream which was bridged by a single log - we crossed the stream and in around 20 minutes reached the clearing of Womji which would make a good camp site.  We rested for 10 minutes and then started the 400 metre climb to the Gochula pass. In around 15 minutes from Womji the trail crossed a log bridge and then started to climb through the rhododendron forest - none of the flowers were in bloom in late March but would probably be spectacular in May. Snow lay on the ground and across the path in the shadows. In around 2 hours we crested 4000 metres and stopped for lunch in a sunny clearing just below the tree line. After lunch the trail climbed steeply through some snow patches and suddenly we could see the prayer flags of the pass in front of us. From this point it still took 30 minutes to reach the top 4194 metres. From the pass there is a sharp trail to the right - do not take the trail which plunges down into the valley. The correct trail skirts the hillside in a westerly direction and in about 20 minutes descends to some black rocks on a dry river bed. Cross the rocks and proceed up the hill along a narrow trail from where you can see below a broad flat clearing which is the camp site of Chhosolumpa. This is a long day of around 7 to 8 hours in total with breaks. 

Our breakfast table in the sun
 Tsebjo 3965m 27 21 56N 89 13 47E Tsebjo La 4117m 27 21 42N 89 13 24E Womji 3716m 27 21 44N 89 12 0E Gochula Pass 4194m  27 20 57N 89 11 3E Chhosolumpa Camp site 3966m 27 20 50N 89 10 13E

Top of Gochula Pass
Tsebjo to top of Tsebjo  La 45 min to 1 hr Tsebjo La to Womji 1 hr 45 min to 2 hrs Womji to top of Gochula pass 2 hr 45 min to 3 hrs Gochula to camp site 45 min to 1 hour.

Day 4 March 29th 2018 Plan to cross Tshejela Pass and stop at Tshona Pata
After dinner it started to snow. The weather soon changed to gale force winds and shook the tent all night. The snow kept falling continuously and eased up only around 5 am in the morning. A watery sunrise greeted a white world. All trails had been obliterated. We toyed with the idea of not going ahead to Nob Tshona Pata but after discussions decided to give it a try. We left around 8 45 am and started climbing the out of the meadow through the forest. There was no trail and we were sinking knee deep in the soft powder snow. We came to the top of the ridge in around 40 minutes. Ahead we could see the trail skirting the hillside - we started up the trail but in places the trail disappeared and there were steep drops into the valley. In some places steps had to be cut in the snow to make the trail. Ominous clouds were rushing in as well and we could see that it had started snowing to the east of the pass. I took a decision at that point around 4125 metres to turn around. Even if we had crossed the pass we would have encountered very heavy going through deep snow on the descent - inclement weather would have further added to our miseries. We headed down and reached our camp site in 30 minutes. The sun was now out and we rested for a while and then started out to climb the Gochula pass once again at 10 45 am. The climb went quite well and by 12 noon we were on top. The weather had packed up and it started snowing as we left the pass - the temperature must have been close to zero degrees Celsius . We followed the trail to Womji for about 15 minutes and then took a higher trail climbing above the main trail.  From the top we could see the tents of our camp situated in the far side of the valley below. This trail skirted the hillside once again and climbed steeply before descending through dwarf rhododendron bushes to a broad meadow where we stopped for lunch for thirty minutes. We walked in a northwesterly direction to pick up a trail which eventually led to our camp side above a stream at Tsang (pronounced Chong)  in another 30 minutes. .
Chhosolumpa campsite to top of Gochula pass 1 hour;  Gochula  Pass to our lunch stop 1 hr 15 min Lunch stop to camp 30 min.
Tsang Campsite 4077m 27 21 59N 89 11 1E

Day 5 March 30 2018 Tsang campsite to Tshokham
It started snowing again in the night though much less than the previous night. There were strong gusts of wind at periodic intervals which rocked the tents. The morning dawned sunny with a layer of clouds towards the Tshejela pass which we had not crossed yesterday. We started out at 8 45 am and followed a trail to the northeast which would skirt the mountain range and take us across the range of the Tsebjo La which we had crossed through another divide on Day 3 above. From here we would have to descend to the camp at Tshokham above Haa monastery.  By 11 am it started to snow and soon the conditions turned almost blizzard like. We crossed the pass 4151 metres  at around 12 30 pm with the snow easing off. Across the valley the mountains very covered in the fresh snow backed by an angry grey sky.  Across to the north west we could see Chomolhari emerging through the clouds encrusted in fresh snow. It was a wild landscape – angry and threatening.  We started descending into the valley - the snow had stopped by then and the trail was also visible.  Suddenly below us to the west  we saw the gilded roof of the  monastery where we had started our trek and our destination for tomorrow. The trail then skirted around a hillside and began to drop into the forest. Snow lay on the ground making the going difficult and slippery. This was mainly a rhododendron forest and some of  the varieties were coming into bud - flowering would probably start in late April and continue into June.  The track continued to drop steeply for around 500 metres from the pass until it came to a broad sunny clearing besides the forest - the meadow of Tsokham which was our campsite for the last night  We reached the campsite at Tshokam around 2 30 pm.

Tshokham 3606 metres 27 22 55N 89 14 31E
Tsang campsite to range of Tsebjo la pass crossing 3 hours; Pass down to Tshokham campsite 2 hours

Day 6 March 31 2018  Tshokam to Monastery  - this day can also be combined with Day 5 saving a day and staying the night in Ha.
It was the last day of our trek and spirits were high. We had a late and leisurely breakfast the low altitude and warm sunshine had lulled us into a delayed start. We set off eventually around 9 am and found that we were just an hour above the monastery. Our path down was the way we had come up and within 40 minutes we found ourselves at the clearing which had been our first day’s first stop. Instead of taking the right fork down we took the broad flat trail this time and passed several clumps of primulas. It was a sunny pleasant morning with a lot of birdsong in the forest. We could see Haa valley below us with the houses. In about another 20 minutes we descended through a steep downhill path and found the roof of the monastery and the nearby buildings below us. Our bus was waiting for us as we had left it parked five days ago. We drove down to Paro in time for a late lunch. 

Tshokam to Monastery 1 hour.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Cost of an Everest Base Camp Trek

There has recently been  a flurry of articles on the internet and also in print medium on the cost of climbing Mount Everest as part of a guided group with full support.

But, more often that not, I am asked the question" how much does it cost to trek to Everest Base Camp?"

So this post attempts to answer that question given the many options available! I have assumed that the trekker will fly in and out of Lukla as that is the route majority of trekkers would take. In case you walk in and out of Jiri you would save your air fare but spend another ten days or so on lodge accommodation, food and porters/guides!

1 Luxury Trek with  an  International Trekking Company
These treks are usually run by leading  international companies and provide you with all the frills:
  • Five star accommodation in Kathmandu
  • Best lodges in Namche often with plush attached toilets, abundant hot showers for free and heated electric blankets!
  • Best possible lodges on the trail many with attached bathrooms and nice sunny rooms
  •  Knowledgeable English speaking guides from overseas, many of whom have done the Everest route many times and once in a while you may get an Everest summiteer guiding you!
  • Special food, snacks, freshly ground coffee from overseas to supplement the lodge meals - once in Gokyo I found that cognac was also being served after dinner!
  • Boiled or filtered water would be provided every day to the group!
The cost of one of these treks could range between US $ 3000 to 4000 depending on the facilities!

Kwangde from the airstrip of Shyanboche

2 Trek with Local Nepal Trekking Company
These treks are usually run by Kathmandu based trekking companies. They could be fixed departure treks where you sign on to an existing trek or they could be customised for your group only provided you have a decent number - four is usually acceptable.
You would usually get:
  • Three star hotels in Kathmandu usually located in Thamel.
  • Reasonable lodges on the route, some with attached bathrooms in Namche and Lukla usually.
  • A local Nepali guide who would lead the team along with the porters to carry your bags - he would speak some English!
  • Meals would be usually at the lodges and would be fixed in some manner. 
  • Flights in and out to Lukla, airport transfers, permits etc would all be covered.
The cost of one of these treks would be between US $ 1500 to 2500 depending on the company concerned!

3 Do it Yourself Trek hiring a Guide/Porter as you need
You could decide to do your own trek to EBC and work out your own cost as under:
  • Sagarmatha Permits and TIMS-  US $35 for foreigners and US $15 for SAARC citizens; TIMS US $20 for independent foreign trekkers and US $10 for SAARC citizens.
  • Flight to and fro Lukla return - US $356 for foreign passports holders and USD $212 for  Indian citizens presently.
  • Room at lodges - can vary from US $ 5 to 35 per night depending on where you stay - this excludes the top end lodges like Yeti Mountain Home, Summit Lodges etc. In Namche good lodges like Hotel Namche would charge between $25 to $35 for rooms with attached bathrooms, hot showers etc.
  • Food at lodges - You can budget US $ 25-30 per day on an average, This does not include cokes, beer, apple pies and yak steaks! It includes three good meals, tea, coffee, hot water etc.
  • Guide - the cost of a guide with his meals and stay included would be between US $ 25 to 30 per day. A guide would not carry your load.
  • Porters - The cost of a porter would be US $ 18 to 20 per day with meals and stay.
So if two trekkers are doing a fifteen day Kathmandu to Kathmandu trek with one guide and one porter and sharing an ordinary  room,  the cost should be around US $ 1300-1400 per head or so per person. For Indian/Nepali  trekkers you can budget US $ 1100-1200 per head. Hotels in Kathmandu are not covered in this cost. If you take the guide from Kathmandu then you have to add his Lukla return fare as well!

4 Do it Yourself Trek carrying your own Backpack
You could eliminate the cost of the guide/porter from No 3 above- for two persons it would be US $ 900-1000 per  person  and for  Indian/Nepali citizens US $ 800-900 per person due to the differential in the Lukla air fare.

View from Luza - Thamserku
5 Speciality Photography Treks and Workshops 
  • These treks to the Everest region are often conducted by companies who specialize in photography tours, treks and workshops. They are sometimes conducted by individual photographers who have vast experience in the Himalayas in general and Everest in particular. Like the luxury treks these treks are top end as they provide for fifteen days, the services of a dedicated top notch photographer on the trail who mentors and assists the team of trekkers. Other than the photography leader, the  team would have a Nepali guide and porters who would look after local logistics, loads, lodges, meals and other creature comforts for the team! The photography leader would know the best spots for photographs, the time of the day, off the beaten track locations, local colour, interaction with the local population, monastery interiors, night photography etc.
These photo treks would be around US $ 3000 to 4500 per person including hotels in Kathmandu on the way in and out and would include most of the luxuries of No 1 above maybe with the cognac left out!

So which of the options is for you?
South Col Expeditions runs treks and photo workshops in the Everest region every year personally led by Sujoy Das. Our next Everest trek is November 11th to 24th 2018.   For more details do visit

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Everest Region in Black and White

The Everest season is here again and trekkers and climbers have started making their way to Base Camp. Though the view of Everest itself is not very spectacular as you walk through the Khumbu region, there are other so called "lesser peaks"that are tantalizingly beautiful. This essay looks at the Khumbu in monochrome.

Ama Dablam and Kangtega on the trail from Dingboche to Dugla

Thamserku from Luza on the Gokyo trail

Setting moon behind Kwangde, Namche Bazar

Pumori and Kala Pattar


Thamserku on the Gokyo trail

The Scott Fischer memorial above Dugla

Kangtega and Thamserku last light from the lodges of Kyanjuma
For more information on our treks in Everest and the Himalaya do visit

Monday, April 2, 2018

Moods of Macchapuchhare

One the trekking trail near the village of Dhampus

The Fishtail Mountain of Nepal Macchapuchhare has not been climbed. Attempted in 1962 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts,  the climbers failed to make the summit. Soon after the Nepal Government put the mountain "out of bounds" and no further expeditions were permitted.

I first saw the mountains of the Nepal Himalaya from the lawns of the Crystal Hotel in Pokhara. It was December 1978 and in the grey light of a chilly dawn with my first and new SLR camera, I attempted to take some photographs. The garden was full of red poinsettia blossoms but in the pre-dawn light they looked dark crimson, almost black. And then behind them in that half light, there was the Fishtail mountain, Machhapuchhare, her razor sharp ridges slicing the inky blue sky.  Next  to her impossibly high were the Annapurnas and to the west peeking over the lower hills was Dhaulagiri. I have seen variations of this Himalayan vision in different incarnations all through the years, and it never fails to arouse a feeling of awe and amazement each and every time.

This essay shows the some of the moods of this iconic mountain:

Winter sunset Pothana

Unexpected spring snowfall Annapurna Base Camp

Telephoto close up near Doban on the ABC trek

On the trail between Upper Sinuwa and Bamboo

Dusk Annapurna Base Camp
Dhampus village

Poon Hill winter evening

Moon rise Macchpaucchare base camp

 For treks in Nepal and other regions of the Himalay please do visit for more information.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Manaslu Circuit Trek : April 22nd to May 5th 2018

feature Image
On the trail from Samagaon to Samdo
The circuit of  Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world, is what the Annapurna circuit was thirty years ago! Few trekkers, traditional villages, outstanding views, mountain culture, a high pass to cross and a final finish along the old Annapurna circuit approach! South Col had a confirmed departure for this trek with four confirmed trekkers. Do  the trek now before it becomes too crowded and commercialized.

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 (with some longer days i.e. across Larkya La  pass of upto ten hours) with some rest days included.
2) Altitude: up to 5,160  m at Larkya La
3) Terrain: for some of the time following well-travelled trails although also likely to encounter rough and rocky conditions. There is a steep ascent and descent over the Larkya La  pass which could be snow covered.
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.

The last push to Larke La - Himlung in the background

This the condensed itinerary. The detailed daywise time wise itinerary is included in the pdf on request.

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Arughat by vehicle and then on the Soti Khola by jeep 7 to 8 hours by road
Day 2 – Soti Khola to Maccha Khola 6 – 7 hours
Day 3 – Macchakhola to Jagat 8 -9 hours
Day 4 Jagat to Pewa 7 to 8 hours
Day 5 – Pewa to Ghap 5 to 6 hours
Day 6 Ghap to Lho 8 to 9 hours
Day 7 – Lho to Samagaon 4 hours
Day 8 – Acclimatisation day Samagaon
Day 9 Samagaon to Samdo 4 hours
Day 10 Samdo to Dharamsala ( Base Camp) 4 hours
Day 11 Dharamsala to Larkya La to Bimthang 4 to 5 hours to the top and 4 hours down – long day
Day 12 Bimthang to Gowa 6 to 7 hours
Day 13 Gowa to Dharapani and jeep to Besisahar 3 hours trek and 6 hours drive very bad road
Day 14 Micro Bus pick up to Kathmandu 6 hours

The lodges of Bimthng across the pass 
April 22nd to May 5th 2018  Kathmandu to Kathmandu.  You need to reach Kathmandu on April 21st 2018 and can leave Kathmandu on May 6th 2018.

 INR 90,000 for Indian Citizens and  US$ 1500 for foreign passport holders ( Meals not included). Please budget an additional USD 25-30 for meals, hot water in flasks, battery charging, wi fi charges, gas showers  in lodges for fourteen  days trekking.

Campsite at Deng
The cost is per person for Kathmandu to Kathmandu (14 days) as per the itinerary given above.
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 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 two nights on the way in and one night on the way out is covered in a good 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

Bharal (blue sheep) at Dharamsala - the last camp below Larke La
For more information please visit our web site or email


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