Thursday, November 15, 2018

Elephant Trail Lodge | Udawalawe Sri Lanka



One of the nicest forest lodges where  we have stayed in recently is the Elephant Trail Lodge in Sri Lanka five minutes drive from the gates of Udawalawe National Park. Udawalawe is the third popular park in Sri Lanka after Yala and Wilpattu but it's well worth a visit and Elephant Trail is the ideal place to stay.

The lodge has around fifteen rooms with high ceilings, a well appointed large bathroom and a sit out overlooking the swimming pool. The best rooms are on the second floor with plenty of light and air.

For more information on the lodge please do visit  http://elephanttrail.lk/

Some photographs are given below:

The park is famous for elephants

The swimming pool and sit out area seen from the rooms
Gallery image of this property
Relaxing by the swimming pool
A room at the lodge

Each room has an independent sit out area overlooking the swimming pool  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Everest Base Camp Trek | New Permits



There has been some confusion regarding the permits needed for the Everest Base Camp Trek.

Currently, the TIMS permit which is required in other trekking areas of Nepal is not needed for the Everest trek and Gokyo.

Instead a local permit called the Pasang Lhamu Municipality permit costing NPR 2000/- is needed and is available on arrival at both Lukla and Namche checkposts.

Other than this the Sagarmatha National Park permit is needed which is available at the Monjo checkpost for Rs 3000 plus 13% tax for Foreign passports and Rs 1500 plus 13% tax for SAARC countries.

No photographs are needed for either of these permits.



For more information on our treks in the Himalaya do visit www.southcol.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Boardman Tasker Prize Short List 2018

One of the most prestigious prizes for Mountain Literature - The Boardman Tasker Prize has announced the short list for 2018. As usual the competition for the winner will be fierce and all the books here are worthy of mention.

The shortlisted books are below. For more information do visit  http://www.boardmantasker.com/news/2018/8/29/2018-boardman-tasker-award-for-mountain-literature-shortlist-announced

NICK BULLOCK

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TIDES: A CLIMBER’S VOYAGE

An enlightening memoir by an accomplished writer and climber that provides a window into the nature of extreme climbing now and over the past thirty years.

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PAOLO COGNETTI

THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS

A widely praised novel by an Italian author that details the intriguing friendship between a mountain cow herder and a city boy from Milan, played out over three decades in the Dolomites.

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ED DOUGLAS AND JOHN BEATTY

KINDER SCOUT: THE PEOPLE’S MOUNTAIN

An evocative celebration of a much-loved mountain, presented by a partnership between two of Britain’s finest mountain writers and photographers.

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CHRISTOPH RANSMAYR

THE FLYING MOUNTAIN

A second work of fiction, audaciously told in blank verse by Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr, that follows the journey of two brothers from southwest Ireland as they pursue a quest for an unnamed mountain in Tibet.

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DAVID ROBERTS

LIMITS OF THE KNOWN

An enthralling examination – part history, part memoir – of the motivations of mountaineers and other explorers, related by veteran US author and climber David Roberts.

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DOUG SCOTT

THE OGRE: BIOGRAPHY OF A MOUNTAIN AND THE DRAMATIC STORY OF THE FIRST ASCENT

The long awaited full account of the epic accident and rescue on the Ogre in the Karakorum in 1977, together with an enlightening history of the exploration of the mountain.

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JUNKO TABEI AND HELEN Y. ROLFE

HONOURING HIGH PLACES: THE MOUNTAIN LIFE OF JUNKO TABEI

A revealing biography of the life of the first woman to climb both Mount Everest and the Seven Summits, based on her memoirs and completed by Canadian writer Helen Rolfe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Hotel Namche: The Best Place to Stay

Namche Bazar - June 2018 morning after a night of heavy monsoon rain 
One of the nicest places to stay in Namche Bazar on the trail to Everest is Hotel Namche run by the efficient and friendly Maya Sherpa. The hotel is located in the heart of the town and has comfortable rooms, many with attached baths and electric mattresses!   Maya can be contacted at hotelnamche@gmail.com or 00977 38 540004/540068 or +977 98412 11918.

Namche Bazar Hotel Namche is the long red roofed building in the lower right side of the photo

Entrance of Hotel Namche
Maya Sherpa with a trekker

For information about our treks to the Everest region do visit www.southcol.com

Monday, October 15, 2018

Banff Mountain Book Competition Winners 2018


Book covers for all finalists

The Banff Mountain Book competition is one of the most prestigious events for mountain books around the world. The winners of the 2018 competition have just been announced. Here is the winners list courtesy https://www.banffcentre.ca/2018-banff-mountain-book-competition-awards


Adventure Travel
$2000 - Sponsored by Fjällräven

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

Kate Harris, Penguin Random House Canada (Canada, 2018)
"In thoughtful, melodic prose, Kate Harris embraces the spirit of adventure in this story about cycling the Silk Road even as she confronts the entangled nature of science and imperialism in the history of exploration. From permits and packaged noodles to sage-speckled horizons, Lands of Lost Borders relates the ordinary, unglamorous details of life on the road alongside moments of beauty and insight. In her travels with Mel, a childhood friend turned cycling companion, Harris also reveals how the shifting contours of a friendship can form new landscapes worth exploring. All the while, Harris maintains a hope in the power of the exchange of ideas to reimagine borders along territories and, perhaps, within the human heart."

- Paula Wright, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Mountain Fiction & Poetry
$2000 - Sponsored by Grimms Fine Foods

The Eight Mountains

Paolo Cognetti, Penguin Random House - Vintage UK, 2018)
"A coming-of-age tale set in the foothills of Monte Rosa, The Eight Mountains is the story of a friendship that forms in the mountains between Bruno, a young shepherd, and Pietro, a boy from Milan. Bruno teaches Pietro how to interpret signs in his alpine world, sweeping the reader up in an exquisite tour of the forests and glaciers. At the same time, the novel shows the cost that forsaking modernity for the mountains may exert, on individuals and their relationships. Sparse in detail but resonating with poetic energy, Paolo Cognetti’s prose glimmers like the surface of a mountain, where even the smallest ripples and fissures may reveal enormous depths. Cognetti reminds us, 'that in certain lives there are mountains to which we may never return.'"

- Paula Wright, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Mountain Literature (Non Fiction) The Jon Whyte Award
$2000 - Sponsored by The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Tides: a climber's voyage

Nick Bullock, Vertebrate Publishing (UK, 2018)
"In Tides Nick Bullock carries us with him on the sought-after dream life of a pro climber, seasonally migrating from Llanberis to Chamonix, and other hotspots along the way. Young want-to-be-sponsored climbing bums beware, all is not glory on this path, for as well as the slippery sea-cliff holds, long runouts and Himalayan storms lie other perils: self-questioning, angst at ageing, failed relationships, and a search for meaning.  Evocative stories which have become campground lore, Nick offers a glimpse into his mind in the life to which he has committed."

- Ian Welsted, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Mountain Environment and Natural History
$2000 - Sponsored by Town of Banff

The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

Nate Blakeslee, Penguin Random House Canada (Canada, 2017)
"Cinematic and movingly told, Nate Blakeslee’s The Wolf is the true story of O-Six, an adept hunter and the alpha female of her pack, narrated against the backdrop of the political and environmental history of the American West. Rendered in novelistic detail from the meticulous reports of Yellowstone park employees, O-Six struggles to protect her pack from encroaching wolves as other dangers - in the form of hunters and changing policy - loom. Skillfully crafted in sparse, elegant prose, The Wolf is at its core the bare story wolves and men, a tale older than the mythic American West itself."

- Paula Wright, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Mountain Image
$2000 - Sponsored by Lake O'Hara Lodge

The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered

Paul Zizka, Rocky Mountain Books (Canada, 2017)
"Paul Zizka has produced an absolutely breathtaking collection of images of the Canadian Rockies.  People from the world over visit the Rockies to take in these views; Zizka captures them at their most magnificent.  Initially recognized for his aurora night photos this collection revisits the area with new themes.  The result is a visual masterpiece."

- Ian Welsted, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Guidebook
$2000 - Sponsored by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides

Squamish Rockclimbs

Kevin McLane and Andrew Boyd, High Col Press (Canada, 2018)
"As Canada's preeminent world-class climbing locale Squamish deserves the exact, loving treatment that Kevin McLane and Andrew Boyd gives it in their guidebook, Squamish Rockclimbs. Eschewing commercial pressures for brevity and select guidebooks, we are fortunate that McLane and Boyd continue to produce this comprehensive guide to all the known climbs.  Enhanced by essays chronicling the local climbing history and ethic, the volume is the reference of record and an essential tool alike."

- Ian Welsted, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Mountaineering Article
$2000 - Sponsored by the University of Alberta and the Alpine Club of Canada

Contraindications

Alison Criscitiello, Alpinist Magazine (USA, August 2017)

“A heartbreaking story beautifully told. It would be almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like to experience this tragedy except that Alison has opened her heart and shared her experience so deeply. The story honours Anna and their time together and is, I feel, a deeply important read for anyone who travels in the mountains and values love, life and friendship.”
- Larry Stanier, 2018 Book Competition Jury

*Jury member Paula Wright (Associate Editor of Alpinist Magazine) recused herself from adjudication of this category.


Mountaineering History
$2000 - Sponsored by Rab

Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei and Helen Rolfe, Rocky Mountain Books (Canada, 2017)
“The story of a young woman who begins climbing in Japanese Mountain Club culture in the 1960’s is a tale worth reading in itself. From this complex and often tragic social beginning Junko Tabei goes on to a rich life that manages to include family, teaching and climbing all over the world well into her late 70’s while supporting causes related to the value of a life connected to nature and the mountains. It is a well named and well put together piece of history.”

- Larry Stanier, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Special Jury Mention
Bert Riggall's Greater Waterton: A Conservation Legacy

Beth Russell-Towe, Fifth House Publishers (Canada, 2018)
“Bert Riggall’s photographs from the first half of the 20th Century frame some fabulous writing about the people, terrain and history of the Greater Waterton Region. The images alone tell a fabulous story. Sid Marty’s Mistakis-The Backbone of the Earth and Kevin van Tighem’s God’s Breath should be required reading for anyone who travels to southwest Alberta. This is a story of the origins of a regional conservation legacy that to this day strives to include the landscape, flora, fauna and people who live in this very special part of the world.”

- Larry Stanier, 2018 Book Competition Jury


Special Jury Mention
Atlas of a Lost World

Craig Childs, Pantheon Books (USA, 2018)
"With the aid of archaeological findings and anthropological research, Craig Childs travels from the present to the prehistoric past to meet the inhabitants of the Ice Age. Across the Harding Ice Field, Paleolithic burial sites, and more, Childs illuminates the fragile humanity within the seemingly mythical past. At the same time, Childs issues a warning for a warming planet as he reminds us, 'Going ahead without stories or family is like falling off the edge of the earth.'"

- Paula Wright, 2018 Book Competition Jury

For more information on the event and the Banff Festival November 2018 do visit
https://www.banffcentre.ca/

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Everest Three Passes: Rhenjo La (5337m) Crossing

The Rhenjo Pass as seen from the third lake of Gokyo

The trail to the top of the Rhenjo la pass

Rhenjo La  - The crossing of the pass from Gokyo to Thami

The Rhenjo La is one of the three high passes on the Everest trek the other two being Kongma La and the most popular one is the Cho La.  The Rhenjo La can be crossed from the Gokyo side as well as from the Thami - Lungden side. However it is advisable to cross the pass from the Gokyo side as the climb from the Lungden side is extremely long and tiring.

Gokyo 4750 metres  to Rhenjo La 5357 metres 
We left Gokyo at around 6 15 am and headed out towards the pass on a trail that skirted the third lake and climbed gently for an hour. The trail then began to climb steeply following a series of switchbacks for another 45 minutes to one hour until it reached a flattish plateau from where there was an excellent view of Everest and the other peaks including Makalu which started peeping over a rock face.  This plateau can get snowed under and there are cairns to show the way. From the plateau the trail swung to the right and began climbing again through rocks and moraine. The pass can be seen from here with a row of prayer flags strung across the rocks. The climb from the meadow to the top of the pass would be another hour.
Gokyo to the top of the pass 3 to 4 hours

Looking down towards the Lungden side of the pass with the peaks of Rolwaling
Looking down from the pass towards the Gokyo side

Rhenjo La 5357 metres  to Lungden 4400 metres
The pass has an excellent view both to the north and to the south. From the pass a very steep stone staircase leads down to an emerald lake which can be seen from the top. Pass the lake and the trail swings left following the natural contour of the valley. In about an hour or so there is a large lake on the left side - the trail passes this lake and climbs gently until it reaches some yak herders settlements made of stone. This part of the walk can be extremely cold and windy especially if it is foggy and cloudy. From here the path heads downwards and the lodges of Lungden can be seen in the valley below around 30 to 45 minutes away. Lungden has four or five lodges now so accommodation is not usually a problem.
Rhenjo La to Lungden 2 to 3 hours 




Lungden 4400 metres  to Thami 3800 metres
It is now a pleasant stroll down the valley following the Bhote Kosi river. In around 40 minutes you reach the village of Maralung which has a couple of lodges. The trail continues to lose altitude and reaches the village of Taranga in another half hour. From here it is about  60 to 90 minutes pleasant walking to the lodges of Thami.
Lungden. To Thami  2.5 hours to 3 hours

Thami  3800 metres to Namche 3450 metres  3 hours to 3.5 hours

For more information on South Col's treks do visit www.southcol.com 


Monday, October 1, 2018

Everest Trek: The crossing of Cho La Pass (5420m)



Cho La Pass
The Everest trekking season is here once again and many trekkers will be attempting to cross the Cho La which links the Khumbu and Gokyo valleys. This post gives an account of this crossing.

Many years ago I was sitting in a lodge in Upper Pisang on the Annapurna circuit trek. I started a conversation with an elderly Jewish gentleman who was quite amazed to see Indian trekkers in Nepal. In the course of our discussion I happened to mention that I had trekked in the Khumbu.
"But have you crossed the Cho La" he demanded.
I replied that I had not.
"If you haven't crossed the Cho La you haven't done the Khumbu" he replied triumphantly.
This remark rankled me and for the next few years whenever I went to the Khumbu, the Cho La was on my radar. However invariably due to bad weather, snowfall, etc the pass could not be crossed. This happened on a number of occasions.

Finally on November 18th 2015 in near perfect conditions we crossed the pass from Dzongla on the Lobuche side to Thagnak on the Gokyo side. It had been more than 15 years since that discussion in Upper Pisang.

A detailed account of the crossing along with photographs is below.

November 17th 2015
Indraneel, Sanjukta and myself accompanied by our sirdar Shyam and two porters left Lobuche around 9.40 am for Dzongla, which comprises of a number of lodges at the foot of the pass. The trail initially followed the main trail down to Pheriche but after around 25 min, the main trail crosses the stream over to the other side. Do not cross but remain on the same side of the valley. The trail then crosses a broad maidan which is used as the Base Camp of Lobuche East.


It then starts climbing and skirting the hill directly opposite to the Pheriche trail. After a few minutes you can see the lodges of Dugla far below, the Dudh Kosi river and in the distance Pheriche. The view is extremely impressive covering Pumori, Lingtren, Kumbutse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Kangtega, Thamserku, Taboche, Cholatse and Lobuche East. A feat for the eyes!

In around an hour and a half the trail turns a corner and you can see a beautiful emerald green lake below Cholatse. The trail then travels high above the shores of the lake until it reaches a high point from where the lodges of Dzongla can be seen across the valley.

The lodges of Dzongla and the first part of the route marked in red
The last thirty minutes crosses a frozen stream and then climbs up gently to the lodges of Dzongla. We stayed at the Mountain Home lodge which was pretty full with trekkers both going to Gokyo and coming down from Cho La. 

Around three in the afternoon, we got the news of an accident. A trekker coming down had been injured in a rock fall and she could not move. She was carried down in a make shift stretcher in a Gamow bag. By then the weather had broken and a thick cloud cover had reduced visibility to fifty metres. No helicopter could come in today to pick her up. The thick cloud cover, the chilling temperatures and the aftermath of the accident depressed us sitting in our lodge dining room. While I wrote this note Shyam and the other sirdar's were engaged in a game of cards. We all hoped that the weather would improve tomorrow.
Lobuche (4940m) to Dzongla (4850m) 3 to 4 hours easy walking

November 18th 2015
We had decided to have breakfast at 4.30am and leave at 5 am for the pass provided the weather was good. I woke up at around 3. 30 am after a bitterly cold night- somehow Dzongla was the coldest place we had stayed in so far on this trek. I looked out of the window from my sleeping bag and found the stars shining brightly in the sky - our climb was on!

Ultimately we got away at around 5.40am. As I stepped outside the night sky was fading and Ama Dablam was in silhouette bedecked by the stars.


Ama Dablam before dawn on th start of the walk to Cho La
To the east was Cholatse it's menacing wall dominating Dzongla. We used our headlamps to navigate the trail. It was cold around 8c below zero and despite my gloves my hands became numb and started to pain.

The trail was more or less level for the first fifty minutes remaining below Cholatse and crossing some small streams which were frozen in the early morning. It then started to limb up to a ridge which we reached around 7 am and around the same time the rays of the morning sun hit us, chilled as we were to the bone. In front of us was a formidable rock face. The trail now vanished and we had to scramble over rocks and boulders staying close to the rock face.




Cho la has a history of falling boulders and we moved carefully keeping a look out for any rock falls and sounds.

Scrambling over boulders
The climb through the boulders took around 45 minutes and we reached the top of a ridge which was also a small pass with cairns on top which would be useful when the area was under snow. The trail then took a sharp left turn and we were soon on a vast snowfield just below the Cho La which could not be seen from this point. Luckily for us the snow was hard and we followed the footprints of the trekkers in front of us.

Crossing the snow field below Cho La
We had brought micro spikes for the snow but they were not needed. The peaks had also started to open up and we saw Baruntse, a peak not seen very often in the Khumbu. The tip of Makalu was also visible.

We climbed gently up the snowfield avoiding the crevasses to the right some of which were large. Finally we could see the pass above us and fairly close. The trail to the top had been almost obliterated and another scramble over snow and rocks followed. Luckily a rope had been fixed for a few metres which we could hold on to before reaching the top.
The last scramble over rocks to the top of Cho La
The view was indeed impressive. A long chain of peaks were visible towards the Gokyo side and looking back towards the way we had come were Lobuche , the tip of Lhotse and Lhotse Shar, Makalu , Baruntse, and Pokhalde, a trekking peak.
Looking back from the top of Cho La towards the Dzongla side and the snow field which we had crossed. The trekkers are heading towards Dzongla
It had taken us almost four hours to reach the top from Dzongla, though the usual time was around three to three and a half hours. We stayed on top for about half an hour and then started down. It was just after 10 am. As it is with most high passes in Nepal, the descent was harder than the ascent! The trail dropped away steeply and the scree and rubble made the descent even more precipitous.

The difficult descent from the top of the pass through scree and boulders

From the top of Cho La looking towards the Gokyo side. The red line indicates the route which we would have to follow to the pass with the prayer flag (see photo below). 
Even with trekking poles it was hard to maintain balance. In some places the trail had vanished and scrambling over rocks was the only way of descent.

The rocks finally ended and we dropped down to a level patch in about 75 minutes from the top where we stopped for a break. In front the trail climbed up to a small pass which could be seen from a distance - it had a prayer flag on top.


The pass with the prayer flag. Its is still 75 minutes to Thangnak from here.
From this pass also there were good views of the trail going back up to Cho la as well as some of the peaks like Cholatse. From this pass the trail dropped down again to the valley and finally followed the river all the way to Thangnak. It would take around an hour to 75 minutes to reach Thangnak from here.

Thangkak
Dzongla (4850m) to Cho La(5420m) 3 to 4 hours; Cho La to Thangnak (4700m) 3 to 4 hours

November 19 2015

We left Thangnak around 9. 15am in the morning. The trail followed a path for around 30 minutes and then reached a small pass with a white prayer flag. From the pass we could see across the whole Ngozumpa glacier and our route across the glacier to Gokyo.


The present route actoss the Ngozumpa glacier to Gokyo from Thangnak
All through this walk in front of us was Cho Oyu and behind were Cholatse, Taboche, Kangtega and Thamserku. The path then dropped steeply from the pass onto a rough trail which skirted the edge of the glacier for around 30 minutes. It then started to cross the glacier through the tangle of rubble and scree. It was a tenuous route with parts requiring scrambling over rock and rubble. The trail came onto a broad plain right in the middle of the glacier and then descended again.

Cho Oyu and the Ngozumpa glacier
We could see the trail on the other side across the rubble leading up to a high point above the third lake of Gokyo.

Finally about two hours after leaving Thangnak we reached the grassy trail which climbed up to a ridge from where we had a splendid view of the third lake of Gokyo, the trail to Gokyo Ri and the peaks around Gokyo.
The lodges and the third lake of Gokyo
It was quite apparent that the path across the glacier changes from time to time and possibly a new route needs to be developed every season depending on the movement of the glacier.

Thangnak (4700m) to Gokyo(4750m) 2 hrs 30 min to 3 hours

Note: It is easier to cross the pass from the Dzongla side than from the Gokyo side as there is a very long uphill climb from Thangnak to the top of Cho La which is easier to desscend despite the scree and boulders. We found trekkers as late as noon below the Cho La who had started from Thangnak in the morning and they were still a good hour and a half away from the top. Also rockfall increases as the day progresses so it is best to be over the top by 9 am-10 am.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Everest 2018 | Photographs


The autumn treks in the Everest region will soon be underway and October and November 2018 promises to be a very busy season. The lure of Everest is difficult to resist and here are some photographs of the mountain from different locations over the years:


Moorise near Kala Pattar

Everest and the Lhotse - Nuptse wall from Thyanboche

Above the fifth lake of Gokyo

Approaching Kala Pattar

Sunset view Gokyo Ri 
For our treks in Nepal do visit www.southcol.com

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