Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mustang and Lo Manthang Trek | Photographs in Black and White

South Col Expeditions trekked to Mustang and Lo Manthang in April 2015. The account of our journey and return after the great Nepal earthquake is given in these two blog posts:



These are some photographs from that trek:

The village of Chusang

On the trail between Samar and Shyanbochen

The village of Ghilling

Entering Drakmar

Mani stones near Ghar Gompa

Rock inscription near Ghar Gompa

On the outskirts of Tsarang

Near the village of Drakmar

The Kali Gandaki near Kagbeni

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How to Choose a Day Pack

Typical day pack for trekking 

  On a recent South Col trek in  Ladakh, I noticed one of our trekkers struggling with the straps of his day pack. When I enquired, I learnt that the narrow waist band strap had broken and as a result all the pressure of the load was on his shoulders! The load was slowly pressing on the shoulders and causing this trekker a lot of pain and discomfort. I realised that the day pack  he had chosen was not suitable for trekking - it would have been fine for city commuting or carrying a laptop!

So this set me thinking - there are so many day packs out there but very few are suitable for the rigors of the trail for seven to eight hours  a  day with a load of around ten to fifteen pounds.

This post details with some of the features which make  a good day pack for trekking.

The ideal trekking day pack should be between 22 and 30 litres. This is more than adequate for all the items which we need to carry for a trek. Around 25 to 26 litres should be perfect. Very often a company has different models for men and women.

A number of pockets are useful especially to keep snacks and other items which can  be easily accessed without opening the pack. Some day packs have pockets on the waist strap which is a great feature! It is also useful to have a stretch pocket outside which can be used to put in a rain jacket or fleece when it is not needed without opening the pack.

This is most important in  a day pack. Do not buy a day pack without a waist support or a flimsy narrow support which will not be sufficient for a whole day's walking. The waist support shown on the left is broad enough to support the waist as well as it has a pocket to store essentials! The photo below shows a waist strap properly tightened and the trekking poles secured to the day pack so that they can be used as needed!

This is especially useful if you are using a hydration bladder like Platypus or any other similar one. The bladder filled with water in put into the sleeve and a tube comes out through the gap shown and can be fixed to the day pack straps and used for drinking. This allows you to reduce the number of stops for water on the trek.

This is also an essential day pack feature which surprisingly many companies omit. It helps to keep the load properly positioned and balanced. The position of the sternum strap can be properly adjusted up or down as needed. The photograph on the left shows the sternum strap and it also shows a ventilated back panel which is also useful as the pack does not stick to the shirt. Osprey one of the world leaders in packs calls this the "Airscape" back panel as air can pass and cool the trekker! Other companies have  variants to this as well.

Some of the international companies which make top of the line day packs are Osprey, Gregory, Deuter, The North Face etc. Do visit their web sites to see what is on offer.

Useful Links

How to choose a Day Pack

How to Pack for a Day Walk

Day Pack Buying Advice

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Everest South West Face | Forty Years since the First Ascent

Dougal Haston on the south west face of Everest 1975
On September 24th 1975 two climbers from Britain, Doug Scott and Dougal Haston reached the summit of Everest by the unclimbed South West Face after a bivouac near the South Summit of Everest.

The expedition led by Sir Chris Bonington also climbed the mountain by the South Col route when two climbers Peter Boardman and  Pertemba Sherpa summitted the peak. Sadly, the cameraman Mick Burke who was also with them was lost near the summit in bad weather.

The enormous south west face of Everest was one of the big wall challenges in the Himalaya.

In 1970, Chris Bonington's team had successfully climbed the huge south wall of Annapurna I from the south side, what is now popularly known as ABC (Annapurna Base Camp).

The south west face expedition laid siege on the mountain in the manner of the earlier British expeditions on Everest. There were a series of camps on the mountain and Doug Scott and Dougal Haston made the climb from the highest Camp VI  below the upper snowfield.

Today is almost the 40th anniversary of the first successful ascent and the south west face is still attempted though in variation to the original route climbed by Haston and Scott.

Some photographs from that climb are below:

Haston climbing the Hillary Step

Doug Scott on the summit of Everest 1975

The enormous  south west face of Everest from the Western Cwm

Though Haston, Boardman and Burke have passed away,  all in climbing accidents, Chris Bonington now 80 and Doug Scott are still climbing together as seen in this photograph below on the crags in England!

On 23rd September 2015 a lecture will be held in Oxford which will include all the surviving members of the 1975 expedition. For more details on this lecture please do visit 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mustang and Lo Manthang | The Itinerary Part II

South Col Expeditions had a team of eight trekkers to Mustang and Lo Manthang in April 2015. The first part of the journey is covered in this blog post:

This is the second and concluding part.

April 23 2015

It was a windy and cold morning at Drakmar and we waited for the sun to hit the trail before setting out at 8 am. The trail initially travelled through the village and then entered a canyon with steep walls and amazing rock formations. The trail then started a steep climb to the pass of Mui La 4070m. There were some steep switchbacks and the path finally went through a narrow canyon which opened out onto the pass in about an hour and ten minutes. The trail then traversed a ridge for about 15 min and reached another pass on the other end of the ridge.

Ghar Gompa from the trail above

 From the  second pass the trail dropped steeply to Ghar Gompa which is about an hour from the pass. From the pass the high route to Lo Manthang across the Marangla pass can be seen. Below are the twin villages of Lo Gekar and Marang.  The spectacular Ghar Gompa is situated at the end of the valley pressed against the hill side. We left Ghar Gompa around 1 pm and travelled due east down a broad trail to the village of Lo Gekar and then onto Marang in about 45 min. From Marang cross a long suspension bridge and then reach Tsarang in about two hours from Ghar Gompa.

April 24 2015

We left Tsarang at 8am and walked down to the river. Cross the river on a bridge and then start the climb up on the other side to a small pass which is reached within one hour. From this pass the trail follows the jeep road climbing slowly until it reaches a large attractive chorten in yellow orange and white at the bottom of a climb in about an hour and a half.

From the chorten the trail climbs up again to another small pass and then again climbs across a large level windswept plain for about another hour until it reaches the last pass. Below lies the walled city of Lo Manthang about forty minutes away. The walk on this day was the hardest of the trek due to the  relentless wind, long distances and a long stretch on the jeep able road. Further there is no  tea shop anywhere between Tsarang and Lo Manthang.

April 25 2015

We had decided the previous evening to go to the Chosser caves in the morning but when we woke up the weather was dark and grim - low clouds hung over the mountains to the north and fresh snows covered the peaks. So instead we stayed at Lo and visited the walled city with its splendid monasteries and frescoes many in need of restoration. The mandala frescoes were particularly outstanding.

Lo Manthang
Nearing noon we visited the studio of a tankha painter and while we were there the earthquake struck. Michele, one of our trekkers from Australia  who was ill was sleeping in her upstairs room and was helped out by Shyam and our porter Bikram and shell shocked she was put on the road on a mattress.  The owner of our lodge Mystic Himalayan Ram Gurung suggested that she be put on oxygen and he hooked her onto to an oxygen cylinder.  We did I not know then about the intensity of the earthquake. I tried calling Kathmandu but all lines were busy.  Finally on the CDMA sky phone I was able to call Paula who told me that the epicentre was north of Pokhara.

With the quake and Michele's illness we decided to cut short the last day and start our return journey by jeep as planned. We left Lo at around 2pm.  There were thirteen of us in a long wheel base Mahindra jeep and it was a very  tight squeeze.

The jeep ride down to Chuksang

Within half an hour of leaving  a rock fall which had occurred due to the landslide blocked the road and Shyam and the porters had to get down and clear the rocks. The  weather had also become ominous and a few drops of rain had started to fall. The jeep careered down the darkening hillside the grey brown cliffs of Mustang assuming a monstrous hue. We had planned to reach Chuksang but were told that this jeep would go up to Shyanmochen only.

Just before Shyanmochen the road had become caked in mud and the jeep slipped across  a number of times and tethered very close to the edge. We finally all got off and walked up the hill for a short distance to the waiting jeep. We reached a river flowing across the road and had to tranship to another jeep. Finally around 7 pm we reached the Himali guest house in Samar and decided to call it a day. It had been a very long day and we were all exhausted.

We tried to use our phones but all lines were busy and we were unable to reach anyone's phone.  We still had no idea about the severity of the earthquake. At around 11 pm there was a knocking on my door. It was Bikram. A  phone call from Santaman had conveyed really bad news- Shyam's father had died, their house had collapsed and most of the two hundred houses in the village had been raised to the ground. I went down in the freezing night to find Shyam sitting outside the lodge sobbing loudly. I somehow got him to bed but there was no further sleep for any of us that night. The enormity of this tragedy really hit me then.

April 26th 2015

The next morning also dawned ominous and angry. It had again snowed at night and a weak and watery sun was trying to push its way through the clouds. We left for Chuksang around 7 30 am. Fortunately there were no landslides and we entered Chuksang in about 75 minutes.

We had planned to take another jeep to Jomsom but learnt that there was a big landslide ten minutes ahead which had blocked the road. The landslide could not be cleared in the next two hours and finally we crossed the slide on foot. There were jeeps waiting on the other side and we got to Kagbeni in about 45 minutes.

Crossing a landslide at Chusang

The final drive to Jomsom took about another hour and dusty, weather beaten and exhausted we entered the Windy Valley Hotel. We then learnt of the severity of the quake and that Kathmandu, many districts in the vicinity had been very badly affected.

April 27th 2015

At Jomsom below Nilgiri
We had managed to pre pone our tickets on the Jomsom Pokhara flight and we had been assigned the third flight of the morning at 8.20am. The morning was clear at  Jomsom and Niligiri could be seen clearly behind the tarmac. But no flights came that morning. We tried to get a jeep but none of the jeeps were available. Finally around 9.30 am we managed to get a local bus which was going all the way to Pokhara.

Archana in the bus down to Pokhara
The dirt track to Pokhara was more suited for a pony than a vehicle. The 74km section to Beni took us seven hours and the final 81 km to Pokhara was covered in around three hours. Dog tired, shaken and exhausted we had completed this bone rattling journey all the way from Lo Manthang at around 3850m through the deep gorge of the Kali Gandaki to Pokhara around 850m in three days. We were lucky to have escaped unscathed.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mustang and Lo Manthang | The Itinerary Part I

The sky caves of Mustang
April 19  2015

 South Col had a group of eight trekkers to Mustang and Lo Manthang last April 2015. The morning dawned clear in Pokhara and all the peaks were visible after the rain the previous evening.  Our 7 am flight to Jomsom was bang on time and I was sitting on the left side so I had splendid views of the peaks including Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri and Tukuche. I could also clearly see below me the route we had taken on so many treks - Austrian camp, Poon hill and the valley of the Kali Gandaki . On the right side of the aircraft was visible the Annapurnas and Machapuchare.

Dhaulagiri from the flight between Pokhara and Jomsom

The Kali Gandaki valley near Jomsom
We had breakfast at Windy Valley Jomsom and left around 8- 50am for Kagbeni. The current road followed the right bank of the Kali Gandaki though for most of the way there were a large number of jeeps ferrying Indian pilgrims to the holy temple of Muktinath. We reached Eklai Bhatti in about an hour and a half as it was the first day and we were not yet acclimatised. We entered Kagbeni around noon and stayed at the Yakdonalds hotel which had good food but poor dark rooms which also had a peculiar smell!  We also visited the interesting Kag Chode monastery with a monastery school for young lamas.

Jomsom airport and Nilgiri

April 20 2015

Shyam our sirdar and I were at the permit office by 6 am and we finally got the permits stamped and completed by 6.45am. Next to the permit office is Cafe Applebee's with a dress circle view over the Kali Gandaki and the entrance of Upper Mustang. Standing there in the early morning light and watching the Kali Gandaki flowing gently through the gorge with the first rays of the sun lighting up the red and ochre cliffs was a breathtaking experience.

The Kali Gandaki before Kagbeni
We left for Chuksang in a jeep as we wanted to gain some time on the first day and make better progress into Mustang. The jeep ran on a dirt track road and in forty minutes reached Chuksang - what would have taken us four hours on the trail! Chuksang is a very impressive village with green fields of freshly planted vegetables backed by sheer cliffs in a myriad of shapes and patterns. The sculpted rock canyons of upper Mustang start here and many have the famous sky caves of Mustang built into the rocks!

The village of Chuksang

We had breakfast at the Brakpa guest house where the omelette and toast was excellent!  We left Chuksang at around 9 05am and the trail crossed a small stream and then followed the right bank of the Kali Gandaki.  In about fifty minutes the trail crosses two bridges up ahead and above we saw the village of Chele.  We then climbed a slope for about 20 minutes and stopped at Hotel Mustang Gate for a welcome cup of tea. Nilgiri dominates the view back across the Kali Gandaki .

Some members of the South Col group to Mustang
From Chele the trail continues to climb gently up the hillside and passes a school in about 15 min. It then continues for another 35 minutes and across the valley the village of Gyekar can be seen.  The trail then starts a steep climb clinging to the side of a canyon and in a series of hairpin bends gains altitude heading up to the pass of Chele la 3630 m.  In around 75 to 80 min from the start of the climb the pass is reached and from there is a gentle 20 min stroll down to the village of Samar.

Samar which is around 3600 m boasts an excellent view of the Trans Himalaya. Nilgiri dominates the view but there is a long line of peaks to the east most of them possibly unnamed and to the west is Tukuche and possibly the summit of Dhaulagiri as well. We stayed at Hotel Himali in Samar which is a basic facility like most of the tea houses in Upper Mustang.

April 21 2015

We left Samar at 7 15am. The morning was clear and there was a splendid view of the mountains. As we left the red and ochre chortens were getting the first light - ponies were grazing below the chortens while an old woman with grizzled features turned prayer wheels below the chortens. The trail left the main gate of Samar and then descended into a gorge. It crossed a small stream and then started climbing steeply up the hill side for about 30 min and reached a clearing with another great view of the snows. The trail then followed the side of the hill climbing steadily in the hot sun.  In about one and a half hours we reached the pass of Bhena La and a 15 min stroll down the hill brought us to the one house of Bhena where we stopped for a cup of tea.

Typical Mustang chortens at Samar
From Bhena the trail to the Yamdo La is clearly visible across the hill.  The trail initially follows the jeep able road and  begins a climb up the hill side for about 40 min. It then rejoins the jeep able road and makes a gentle climb to the pass of Yamdo La 4010m. Yamdo La is reached about 75 min from Bhena and has an almost 360 degree view starting from the peaks on the Tibetan frontier  to  the peaks above Thorung La and then towards the North face of Nilgiri. From the pass Shyangbochen is seen below and is around  40 min down the hill on the jeep road.

Heading down from Yamdo La to Shyanbochen
We had lunch at the Hotel Nilgiri and left after lunch around 1.15pm. A ten minute walk uphill reaches a small pass from where the village of Ghelling could be seen about 75 minutes away.

April 22 2015

We left Ghilling at around 7 40 am.  We stayed the night at a small guest house which had minimal facilities and as we got only three rooms I used my tent for the night.  I found that the tent had iced up at night and the inner wall was damp with condensation. The trail initially travelled north climbing gently and reaches the bottom of the Nyi La pass in about 90 minutes. A half hour climb to the top brings up another spectacular view of the peaks including Annapurna 3 and Nilgiri. The trail then drops from the pass and joins the jeepable road . It then follows the road for about 45 minutes and then joins a walking trail marked “way to Ghemi”. The trail reaches another small pass in about 15 minutes and then drops steeply down the valley from where the village of Ghemi can be seen.

We stopped for lunch at the Royal Mustang hotel which had an excellent apple pie which was finished by our group. We left Ghemi at 1.10 pm and the trail  goes through the village and down to the river. Cross the river and start climbing up the other side gradually to reach another pass in about an hour. From the pass looking down the longest Mani wall in Nepal can be seen below as well as the bends of the jeep road. From the pass the trail levels off and reaches Drakmar in an hour. This part of the walk is spectacular as it  snakes its way  below the red cliffs of Drakmar.

The red cliffs of Drakmar

..... to be continued next week on  12th  September 2015 at

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Boardman Tasker Prize Long List for 2015

The Boardman Tasker prize is given every year to one outstanding book on mountain literature. This is one of the most prestigious awards a mountain  book can get and this year the list of books are awesome. It would be a very difficult job for the jury to pick a winner from the list below. In the meantime while the jury deliberates and decides,  try to read as many of these great books as you can.

My personal recommendations are :

Alpine Warriors 
Bernadette McDonald
ISBN 978-1-771601-09-2

The Ghosts of K2: The epic saga of the first ascent
ISBN 978-1-78074-595-4
Mick Conefrey
Becoming a Mountain: Himalayan journeys in search of the sacred and the sublime
ISBN 978-1-62872-510-0
Stephen Alter
Everest Revealed: the Private Diaries and sketches of Edward Norton 1922-24
ISBN 978-0-7509-5585-0
Christopher Norton

The long list for 2015 is below:


Village of Secrets Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
ISBN 978-0-701-18641-8
Caroline MoorheadChatto & Windus
After the Wind 1996 Everest Tragedy One Survivor's Story
ISBN 978-1-9940877-00-6
Lou KasischkeGood Hart Publishing LC
Denali's Howl
ISBN 978-0-593-07445-9
Andy HallTransworld
The Scent of Juniper:Poems of the Himalayas
ISBN 978-0692328941
Dr Mikel VauseKelsay Books
Make or Break: Don't Let climbing Injuries Dictate Your Success
ISBN 9780956428134
David MacLeodRare Breed Productions
Statement: The Ben Moon Story
ISBN 978-1-906148-98-0
Ed DouglasVertebrate Publishing
The Great mountain Crags of Scotland
ISBN 978-1-906148-89-8
Guy Robertson & Adrian CroftonVertebrate Publishing
One Day as a Tiger
ISBN 978-1-910240-08-3
John PorterVertebrate Publishing
Beyond Limits
ISBN 978-1-910240-19-9
Steve McClureVertebrate Publishing
Mount Hood: Adventures of the Wy'East Climbers, 1930-1942
ISBN 978-0-9887339-2-3
Ric ConradKahuna Books
Wilderness Weekends
ISBN 978-1-84162-9124
Phoebe SmithBradt Travel Guides
ISBN 978-1-906175-24-5
Mark GoodwinLongbarrow Press
Snowblind: Tales of Alpine Obsession
ISBN 978-1-61902-453-3
Daniel ArnoldCounterpoint
The Blind Man of Hoy
ISBN 978-1-910124-22-2
Red SzellSandstone Press
Becoming a Mountain: Himalayan journeys in search of the sacred and the sublime
ISBN 978-1-62872-510-0
Stephen AlterArcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing
The Calling: A Life Rocked
ISBN 978-1-938340-31-4
Barry BlanchardPatagonia
The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing & Controversy on Cerro Torre
ISBN 978-1-938340-33-8
Kelly CordesPatagonia
Everest Revealed: the Private Diaries and sketches of Edward Norton 1922-24
ISBN 978-0-7509-5585-0
Christopher NortonThe History Press
The Adventure Game: A Cameraman's Tales from Films at the Edge
ISBN 978-1-910124-31-4
Keith PartridgeSandstone Press
Wild Nights
ISBN 978-1-84953-699-8
Phoebe SmithSummersdale
The Sunlit Night
ISBN 978-1-4088-6303-9
Rebecca DinersteinBloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4088-5792-2
Karen CampbellBloomsbury Press
In Some Lost Place
ISBN 9781-1910240-37-3
Sandy AllenVertebrate Publishing
Between the Sunset and the Sea
ISBN 978-0-00-754540
Simon IngramWilliam Collins, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Going Up is Easy
ISBN 978-0-14-357323-4
Lydia BradleyPenguin NZ
The Ghosts of K2: The epic saga of the first ascent
ISBN 978-1-78074-595-4
Mick ConefreyOneWorld Publications
Too Close To God
ISBN 978-0-9918076-5-9
Jeff LongImaginary Mountain Surveyors
Abode of the Gods
ISBN 978-1-85284-771-5
Kev ReynoldsCicerone Press Ltd
A Life on the Edge: Eric Jones
ISBN 978-1-84527-549-5
Greg LewisGwasg Carreg Gwalch
Extreme Eiger
ISBN 978-1-47113-460-9
Peter Gillman & Leni GillmanSimon & Schuster UK Ltd
Alpine Warriors
ISBN 978-1-771601-09-2
Bernadette McDonaldRocky Mountain Books
Cold Feet, Stories of a Middling Climber
ISBN 978-0692305560
David PagelSelf published
The Naked Mountaineer, Misadventures of an Alpine Traveler
ISBN 978-0-8032-4879-3
Steve SiebersonUniversity of Nebraska Press
Mountains: Oblique Angles
ISBN 978-0-9933659-0-4
Alison IrelandHour of Writes Ltd
Run or Die
ISBN 978-0-241-00485-2
Kilian JornetViking, Penguin Random House
Apprentice to the Masters of the Golden Age
Pat Amente-book

For more details on the prize and winning books of earlier years  do visit

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Galen Rowell

August 23rd 2015

Galen Rowell would have been 75 years old today. A cruel twist of fate took him away on August 11, 2002 in a plane crash. A multi faceted personality he was a photographer, a mountain climber as well as a writer

Though Rowell was primarily a landscape photographer, he was not averse to other forms of photography as well. He spent long hours waiting for the right light for his photos. Living in California, the nationals parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon were his back yard  including Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada and  it is here that he did some of his most splendid work.

A Rowell photo has a distinctive stamp on it and if you are familiar with his work you would probably recognise the photographs.

He pioneered a photo technique using a filter called the split neutral density filter in varying strengths to lift the shadow detail in a high contrast landscape shot. Rowell was so successful at this that the boutique filter company called Singh-Ray developed split  ND filters based on what Rowell had pioneered!

One of his most famous images is the rainbow over the Potala Palace in Tibet. The story goes that when the rainbow appeared in the sky Rowell was no where near the Potala. He ran to the Palace and positioned himself in such a location that the rainbow seemed to emanate from the roof of the Potala an amazing shot which has become a signature Rowell print as well.

Some of his great photographs are reproduced below and have been an inspiration to photographers all over the world!

“Galen Rowell was a man who went into the mountains, into the desert, to the edge of the sea, to the last great wild places in the world to be absorbed by their grace and grandeur. That is what he did for himself. For the rest of us, he shared his vision with—click—the release of a shutter, creating photographs as timeless, as stunning, and as powerful as nature itself.”
Tom Brokaw, from the foreword of Galen Rowell: A Retrospective

For details of Galen's work and the gallery he established in Bishop,  do visit  and for an essay from the Sierra Club archives do visit 


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