Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hindu Business Line: The backbone of Everest - A Photo Essay

The Hindu Business Line March 22nd 2014

The sherpas of the Khumbu region continue to carry the weight of expectations of thousands of climbers
In the northeast corner of Nepal, bordering Tibet, lie four of the five highest mountains in the world — Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and Kangchendzonga. In the high valleys, below these mountains, lie the two districts of Solu and Khumbu, the home of the sherpas.

Ever since Nepal opened it doors to climbers in 1949, the sherpas have been the backbone of any climbing expedition, carrying huge loads, sometimes up to 50kg each, for a wage of not more than $15 per day. Many of the expedition sherpas, who are now Everest summiteers, started their lives as porters ferrying loads. Even today, most of these porters hail from the Solu-Khumbu district. Since 1949, the popularity of the region with its star-studded galaxy of high peaks, emerald lakes, icy glaciers and fast-flowing rivers has drawn tourists in droves. This influx also provided a means of employment for the villagers.

Every spring and autumn, more than 50,000 trekkers and climbers descend on the Khumbu region. A majority of them come to trek to the base camp (south) of Everest and to climb Kala Patthar, the black rock above the base camp with its splendid 360-degree view of the Khumbu Himal. Others attempt ‘trekking peaks’ like Island Peak, Lobuche East, and the most intrepid and determined attempt the Everest. There are guided climbs to Everest where a client can pay $50,000 for a place on the summit! To keep the lodges running en route and to provide food and shelter to this enormous influx of visitors, porters and yaks are used right through the season to ferry loads from the airstrip of Lukla to the base camp. Without this back-up team, no expedition can be successful.

Back to the grind: Two porters, bent over and oblivious to the stunning back the Cholatse peak, start the climb up to the Dugla memorials en route to Lobuche

The high fliers: Flights land at Lukla airstrip from Kathmandu, and the yaks take over. Expedition barrels are carried from the airstrip at 2,800m to the Everest base camp at 5,600m

By the way: A porter rests awhile near a prayer wheel of the Benkar village

Weighty matter: Surely it doesn’t get any bigger than this! A porter carries a huge suitcase for a lodge owner on the trail between Khumjung and Thyanboche monastery

Breathing easy: Exhausted, this young lad takes a short nap before resuming a punishing climb to Mong la pass.

Load shedding: Playing carrom in the Lukla sunshine on a rare afternoon off

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hiking & Mountaineering Boots

Vishnu Kumar from Thinking Particle suggested that I may like to do a post on different trekking shoes and boots and how they should be used. So here is the post!

Trekking Shoes Low Cut
If you are planning to walk on a well defined trail without  a lot of streams to cross, rivers to ford and not much likelihood of snow and rain then this is a good choice. Most of the major companies like Keen, Merrell, Lowa, Vasque make these shoes - some of them are waterproof with Goretex liners, others have proprietary liners made by  the individual companies. Many of them come with Vibram soles as well.

Trekking Boots Mid Cut 
These boots are usually mid cut at the ankle and the upper is usually a fabric-leather combination with a waterproof liner. Many of them have Vibram soles as well. The weight would be less than 3 lb a pair and typically would need minimum break in. They would be suitable for spring and autumn hikes on regular trails. The Merrell Chameleon featured here is typical of a boot of this type.

Trekking Boots  - Heavy Duty and Off Trail
These boots are typically made with all leather waterproof uppers with Goretex liners. There are some models which use a fabric-leather combination as well. They would have a higher cut at the ankle and some of them would support step in crampons.  The weight is around 3-3.5 Lb for a pair and they would require break in. For winter hikes, or off trail/rough trails with heavy loads these boots would be recommended.

Mountaineering Boots
These boots would be typically all leather with a stiff shank. They would have rigid soles and would be waterproof and would be crampon ready - weight would be around 3.5 to 4lb or more and would require break in. The La Sportiva Makalu featured here is a typical boot of this type. These boots would be worn for extended glacier and Himalayan travel.

Plastic Boots
For climbing in snow and wet conditions these plastic boots are recommended. Used extensively in the high Himalaya they are part of every high altitude mountaineer's kit. They are heavy and can fit mountaineering crampons.They also have an insulated liner for maximum warmth. Some of them like the La Sportiva Batura have a gaiter attached to the boot. These boots are expensive in the range of US $ 400 to 800 and are meant for major expedition use. Some of the best mountaineering boots are listed here -

Top 10 Hiking Boots
How To Choose Hiking Boots
Common Hiking Boot Lacing Techniques
How to maintain Hiking Boots?
Boot Fitting Guide

Note: All photographs are copyright of their respective owners 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Markha Valley Trek: Part III

Ashesh Ambasta trekked with South Col Expeditions through the Markha Valley in Ladakh in September 2013. In the final part of this three part essay, Ashesh recounts his journey through the Markha Valley. 

 For the first part of this essay please do visit

For the second part of his essay please do visit

Day 7 (10th September 2013) – Secret Lake of Kang yatse - Nimaling

It was a very cold night. Not surprisingly, woke up to find the water channels frozen and part of the lake covered with a thin icy surface layer. Leisurely breakfast of pancakes and porridge. Watched the horses being tethered and loaded in front of our mess tent. Incredible how a single man manages 8 ponies, not only in terms of loading, etc but herding them through the trail.

Began walking at 9 am. Ambled through open pastures, loads of chortens and maney walls throughout the trek.  Lots of marmots and micehare (Ladakhi pika) all along the trail. Reached Nimaling by 11 am, which is a summer pasture for the animals of Markha and Hanker. And sure enough were treated to a large flock of sheep leaving for the upper pastures, including very woolly pashmina goats with rounded horns. 

Marmot on the slopes near Nimaling
Large campsite with one permanent camp for the summer season.  Several other groups (small and large) had already set up their camp by the time we arrived while two other groups arrived after us. Many of our party took advantage of the sun and caught a quick nap. But a partially clouded sky and cold winds forced us into the mess tent. Lunch of rice, chhole dal and two vegetable dishes.

Three of the party then decided to climb and explore the slope leading to, what we thought was, the Kangyatse base. Stiff climb of about a 100 m before it evened out to open pastures, the scrubs turning orange and brown; shades of autumn already . Saw herds of yaks in the far distance. The south face of Kang yatse was closer, rising loftily into the clouds. We realised that our secret desire of making it to the base camp was unrealistic, given that sunset was imminent. Stamped our feet in frustration – should have started earlier instead of hanging around camp. Perhaps the bigger mistake was not to have taken the upper slopes from our lakeside camp, via the Kang yatse basecamp to Nimaling.

The pastureland below the peak of Kangyatse above the meadows of Nimaling

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Markha Valley Trek Part II

Ashesh Ambasta trekked with South Col Expeditions through the Markha Valley in Ladakh in September 2013. In the second part of this three part essay, Ashesh recounts his journey through the Markha Valley. 

 For the first part of this essay please do visit

Day 4 (7th September 2013) – Skiu  - Markha

After a breakfast of omelettes and muesli, hit the trail by 8 am. First sighting of the lone ranger from Barcelona on this stretch, who was with us until Hankar. Steady climb, on a narrow trail for a while before flattening, until we reached a tea house at Pendse .  Used to be a proper eco resort until it was washed away by the floods in 2010.  Only the main building left, which offers refreshments and sells handicrafts made by the Ladakh Women’s Alliance Group.  Back on the trail for several hours, down to the river, crossed a two-logged bridge (the ponies waded through the water), moderate climb to a shady glade where we take a short halt. Soon after, cross Humarge village and after an hour so reach Sera village by 1 pm where we stop for lunch at the tea house.
The sun had been beating down on us relentless throughout the trek from a brilliant clear blue sky. The first thing we did was to remove our shoes and hang the socks to dry. Washed our feet and faces with the deliciously cold water from the hand pump before tucking into our lunch. The tea house was stocked with assorted cold drinks and toilet paper rolls (for sale). It also had waste segregation bins. A signage by Exodus Travels informed us that every year 15,000 plastic bottles of water sold. Their objective is to reduce plastic waste by setting up water purifying units.
After an hour’s break, set off again. What had, until now, been a narrow gorge, now opened out into a wide river valley. Long trudge, which went on endlessly, or so it seemed, due to the heat and the extreme discomfort caused by the rock/stone strewn, rough trail.  A short climb to a pass with prayer flags and a fascinating assemblage of yak horns and prayer stones. A rapid descent to the river and then the first river crossing through ice cold water! Back on the trail, thinking we were finally on the home-stretch. But obviously a wide gulf separates Tenzing’s notion of distance and time from ours because it went on interminably like the proverbial last mile. 


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