Thursday, July 16, 2020

Covid 19 | Trekking Update from South Col Expeditions


 As some of you would have seen from our whats app messenger posts, we have cancelled our summer treks in Ladakh for the period July to September 2020.  We are very sorry to lose the summer season in Ladakh with some of the best short camping treks in the Himalaya, some of which have been pioneered by South Col. However, Ladakh is under fourteen days quarantine for new arrivals at present and Delhi, the jumping off point for Ladakh is a major covid 19 hotspot in India, so it would be advisable not to trek this summer in Ladakh. Further, international insurance companies are not providing insurance for visits and treks to India, Nepal and Bhutan so far and this rules out a lot of our international clients.

We are still open to conducting treks in the November – December season 2020, if possible, but as days go by and with rising covid 19 numbers both in India and to a lesser extent in Nepal, it does seem to be a long shot at present.  Nepal flights are still not open and like India they are following fourteen days quarantine for any of their passengers arriving on repatriation flights. We will be constantly reviewing the situation and advising you as we get updated information.

Following this cancellation of our Ladakh summer treks, I would like to thank everyone for their support and kind words. As an adventure trek and photography tour operator focusing on Himalayan countries we are probably more used to the risks of losing seasons than most other regular travel operators. In the past, we have also dealt with cyclones during Autumn 2013 & 2014 seasons in Nepal and Bhutan. After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal we had to cancel our entire Spring season and though we were back in autumn in a limited way, it took some time to rebuild the numbers of trekkers again.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Everest | Reflections on the Solukhumbu

We are happy to share some good news at the time of the global pandemic - our book Everest Reflections on the Solukhumbu published by Bidur Dangol of Vajra Books was shortlisted amongst four books at the New Zealand Mountain Film and Book Festival for the Mountain Heritage Award. . We congratulate the winner The Great Unkown by Geoff Spearpoint and are happy that we were able to take part in the festival. The press release is below:

Mountain Books
Seven books have been shortlisted for the 4th annual Mountain Book Competition. Con-tenders for the Mountain Heritage Award include: Leading the Way, a historical account of 100 years of the Tararua Tramping Club, by Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean, Exploring the Transantarctic Mountains by dog sledge, 1960-62 by Peter Otway, The Great Un-known, a chronicle of select trans-alpine journeys by Geoff Spearpoint, and Everest – Reflections on the Solkhumbu, with photography by Sujoy Das, and text by New Zealand’s Honorary Consul to Nepal, Lisa Choegyal.

For the Mountain Narratives Award Living the best day ever, celebrates the life of Hendri Coetzee, whose African whitewater adventures ended with a fatal encounter with a Salt-water Crocodile. Bewildered explores Laura Waters’ life changing catharsis of leaving toxic relationships and lifestyles for a long walk on Te Araroa. And In Fearless Chloe Phillips-Harris gives us a glimpse into the Mongol Derby; a 1000-kilometre endurance race across the wild steppes, desert and mountains of Mongolia – a competition with no marked course, no support team, that requires riders to switch horses every 40 km.

Competition is fierce for the NZ Mountain Book of the Year. This $1000 award was found-ed and is supported by Dave Bamford and John Nankervis. The award is only for a book of the very highest quality, and the judges say there are several books at that level.

For more details on our book do visit

Monday, June 8, 2020

Everest | 8th June 1924 - Mallory and Irvine

A historic image of Rongbuk monastery by Capt John Noel  with Everest in the background
On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. 

Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". 

Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

George Mallory's body was found on Everest by the American mountaineer Conrad Anker in 1999 seventy five years after he vanished on the slopes of Everest. Andrew Irvine has not yet been found.

But even today, ninety six years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Everest | 67th Anniversary of the First Ascent May 29th 1953

Hillary and Tenzing about to leave the South Col to establish Camp IX on the south east ridge - May 28th 1953 - Photo By Alf Gregory / Copyright Royal Geographical Society
Today is sixty seven  years since the first ascent of Everest. And due to the cornavirus global pandemic there will be no ascents of the mountain from the Nepal side in 2020. As I write this post news has just come in that a Chinese team have climbed Everest from the Tibet side. 

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a Sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain   has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with clients paying between thirty thousand  to  eighty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” 

In order to make it possible for the clients to summit Everest, the entire mountain has fixed rope from bottom to top and the first to summit each year is a Sherpa team. 

Kami Rita Sherpa created a new record in 2019 by summiting Everest 24  times - week he has summitted Everest twice in the 2019 season -  the most by any climber breaking his own record of 22 summits. I wonder if anyone will break Kami's record - maybe Kami himself  in 2021. 

 However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Annapurna South Face | 50 Years of the First Ascent May 27th 1970

Don Whillans and Mick Burke at a snowed under Base Camp

The route of the 1970 British Annapurna South Face expedition 
On 27th May 1970 just before the monsoon was going to break Don Whillans and Dougal Haston reached the summit of Annapurna I by the difficult south face route. This climb by a  British expedition led by Sir Chris Bonington   was a landmark one  in the sense that it was the start of big wall climbing in the Himalaya especially on 8000 metre peaks by the difficult routes. For the British, it was possibly the most important climb after the successful ascent of Everest in 1953.

Sadly, on the descent  from the mountain an ice avalanche without any warning  below Camp II killed Ian Clough, one of the climbers.

Interestingly, the year 1970  saw a number of  big wall climbs  in the Himalaya and Karakoram- The Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat was attempted by the Germans, The Japanese on the south west face of Everest, the French on the  west ridge and buttress of Makalu and the British on the south face of Annapurna.

This post shows some historic photographs from the 1970 climb very kindly shared with me by Sir Chris Bonington. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Everest | The West Ridge May 22nd 1963

Tom Horbein
 “But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.”

Willi Unsoeld
Today is the 57th anniversary of one of the most epic and iconic climbs on Mount Everest - the first ascent of the West Ridge and the first traverse of the mountain. 

As the British newspaper The Guardian mentions "The American pair, Unsoeld and Hornbein, achieved a major climb by what was undoubtedly a very difficult route which no previous party had explored at all. In 1953, the British party stood on the shoulders of the Swiss party of 1952, and the Swiss to some extent on Shipton's reconnaissance of the Khumbu Icefall in 1951. The Americans were on virgin ground for more than 9,000 feet. Second, these two made the first traverse of a great Himalayan peak, ascending on one side and descending another. Third, two American parties reached the summit on one day by different routes. 

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 anesthesiologist 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. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rhododendrons of the Himalaya

"The Himalaya is truly Rhododendron country. As you make your way along the Dzongri trail in Sikkim, extensive forests of Rhododendron can be seen all along the trail and across large tracts of the Dzongri meadows. This flower is the breathtaking glory of Sikkim and the land boasts of some 30 species from the gigantic Rhododendron grande –a tree that towers at 40 feet; to the diminutive nivale that rises barely 2 inches from the ground.

Some like the Dalhousiae are epiphytes growing on top of tall trees and barely visible from below; others are painted prima donnas: like the conspicuous falconeri with its large fleshy leaves covered with rust-colored filaments on their underside. The Rhodondendron literally live off its looks: the highly colored flowers are crucial since they are the only source of attraction for bees and butterflies since no species has any fragrance.

These trails were also the favorite stamping ground of the man who pioneered the first attempt to systematically explore the land and document information about the flora and fauna of the Eastern Himalaya: Joseph Dalton Hooker. The British botanist was the son of the first Director of London’s renowned Kew Gardens, and a close friend of Darwin’s. After obtaining his MD from Glasgow University in 1839, young Hooker traveled extensively for most of his life going off on botanical expeditions to all corners of the world (including the Antarctic region) and publishing prolifically on his findings and theories.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

In the shadow of Shipton and Tilman - Part II

Nanda Devi from Saini Kharak sunrise
This is  the second and concluding part of this essay. Readers are advised to read the first part at before reading this final part.

We started climbing again heading for the camp site of Jhandidhar (4200 metres) and reached it by 2 pm. It was a small clearing at the edge of a cliff commanding a view of Dunagiri to the north east and looking down into the Dhauli Ganga valley far below us. The tents were quickly set up and Prem and Monu left to get water from Lata Kharak, 3 km away. While we waited we received our first visitor. A forest guard returning on his beat from Dibrugheta stopped for a drink of water. We asked him about the bharal (blue sheep) which was to be seen in the sanctuary. "“The lack of water on these craggy cliffs has pushed the bharal down near the river”, he said “you will not be able to see them at this time”. However, close to camp we spotted a marmot and an alpine marten gazing at us from behind the rocks with great curiosity.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

In the shadow of Shipton and Tilman - Part I

The Nanda Devi Sanctuary
This is the first part of a photo essay I wrote many years ago for a book on the Indian Himalaya. The book was never published and I forgot about this essay. Going through my computer files at home due to the coronavirus lock down I found it along with some other essays as well. So here it is finally published in my blog. I hope you do enjoy it!
It was an oppressive and muggy pre-monsoon afternoon in early June 2003. I was sitting in Calcutta staring blankly at the computer screen mulling over the arrival or rather the non-arrival of the monsoon. The newspapers had said that it was delayed and as usual the build up of moisture over the Bay of Bengal had lead to an unbearable combination of high humidity and scorching temperatures over the plains of India.

Suddenly a message flashed in my Inbox with the heading “Nanda Devi”. It was from a friend informing me that the Nanda Devi outer sanctuary rim, which had been closed to visitors from 1982, had been formally opened for restricted trekking regulated by permits from the Forest Department.

The e-mail jolted me out of my reverie: Nanda Devi! The very name itself conjured up visions of a mountain goddess who had safeguard her fortress so securely for so many years that it took three generation of climbers and eight attempts to penetrate her sanctuary and that too after one of the most arduous treks in the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

South Col Expeditions | Treks suspended until 30th April 2020

In view of the Covid-19 crisis and considering the safety and health of our clients, we have decided to postpone all our treks in March and April 2020. Treks scheduled in May 2020 will run as usual unless the situation changes for the worst. We will take a call on this sometime in mid April 2020.

We thank all our clients for their loyalty and support over the years and hope to be back with all of you in the mountains very soon. All deposits and payments made will be rolled over to future treks.

Do stay at home and  be safe in these difficult times.

Om mane peme hung 

For more information on our treks and workshops do visit

Sunday, March 8, 2020

South Col | International Womens Day

On International Womens Day, I salute all our trekkers and climbers who have made South Col treks so memorable! May you continue to reach greater heights!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Kilimanjaro | The Lemosho Route with South Col

Image result for lemosho gate

A South Col team will be attempting to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and one of the seven summits in the fall of 2021.

There are seven routes to the summit and the climb be done in as little as five days (with major altitude issues) upto 9 days.  We are planning to do a conservative eight day climb, most probably by the Lemosho route.

This is a longer, more remote route on Kilimanjaro and allows  for optimum acclimatisation time for the summit itself.As the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro makes up one of the Seven Summits (i.e. highest mountains on each of the seven continents). The additional time on the mountain means that success rates for  the Lemosho route trekkers are relatively high.

Approx. 35,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year. The chances of reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is highly dependent on the number of days taken to trek the mountain.The more days, the higher the probability of success as your body has more time to adapt and acclimatize.Here are the success rate figures as published by the Kilimanjaro National Park. These numbers are admittedly quite old and success rates are most likely higher as route configurations have improved and the number of people taking 5 day treks has almost ended.

  • All climbers, all routes 45% (we estimate this figure is closer to 65% today)
  • All climbers, all 5 day routes 27%
  • All climbers, all 6 day routes 44%
  • All climbers, all 7 days routes 64%
  • All climbers, all 8 day routes 85%

The details of the Lemosho Route are given below:

Friday, February 7, 2020

Bhutan to charge Indians Rs 1200 per day Sustainable Fee

Bhutan will now impose a “sustainable development fee” (SDF) on Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian tourists, making visits to the Himalayan nation more expensive. The decision has been taken to protect the ecology and environment  of the country, amid a spike in visitors from India.

So far, tourists from the three countries had been exempt from a levy that other foreign  nationals had to pay — $250 per person per day during the peak season, and $200 per person per day during the low season.

The low season is in the winter from December to February, and during the rains from June to August.

The new legislation, titled “The Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020”, passed in Bhutan’s lower house on 4th February 2020, requires visitors from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives to pay a fee of 1,200 ngultrums (Rs 1200.17) per day, probably from July 2020 onwards.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Mardi Himal Trek | Nepal | March 23-30 2020

feature Image

The Mardi Himal is a relatively new route in the foothills of Annapurna and has developed into a full scale trekking route in the last few years. It now has a series of lodges at different camps and for a short five day trek rivals the traditional Ghandrung-Poon Hill loop. It has great views reaching almost to the bottom of the Fishtail Mountain Macchapucchare along with Annapurna South, Huinchuli and Gangapurna.

Suitability: A good choice for most  walkers, reasonable level of fitness required.

Walking times: average 5 to 7 hours walking per day

Altitude: up to 3550m at High Camp.

Terrain: for most of time following well-travelled trails, there will be daily ascent and descent on steps which are part of any Nepal trek.

 Remoteness: usually not too remote and often there is a reasonable level of infrastructure such as lodge accommodation and cell/ mobile phone reception and wifi reception every day at the lodges.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Kangchenjunga White House | Khambachen Nepal

Nupu Sherpa who runs the lodge
A South Col group trekked the Kangchenjunga North Base Camp in November 2019. One of the nicest lodges we stayed in was the Kangchenjunga White House run by Nupu Sherpa. The lodge has some very nice clean cottage rooms, a sunny and warm dining area and  is a good base to visit Jannu Base Camp and the surrounding valleys. We stayed for two nights which is also useful for acclimatisation but a third night maybe on the way back is also an option if you have days to spare.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Ghandrung - Ghorepani - Poon Hill Trek | Updates December 2019

A South Col team trekked the Annapurna foothills in the last week of December 2019. Our route was Pokhara-Kande- Australian Camp- Pothana- Tolka- Landrung-Ghandrung- Tadapani- Ghorepani- Poon Hill- Banthanti-Ulleri-Hillay-Birethanti-Pokhara.

Some useful updates from the trek.

  • The road from Pokhara to Nayapul and Birethanti has now been pushed up beyond Ulleri to lower Banthanti. Though we did not see any jeeps on the road we were told by the locals that the road is ready and jeeps can be hired from Pokhara to drive up to Banthanti. We fear that the road will reach Ghorepani in the next one/two years thereby ending another beautful trek. Many would not want to continue to climb or descend the 3280 steps. 


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