I finally got round to editing the footage I took from my expedition to Nepal. Enjoy!
After five days of trekking through epic valleys, pine tree covered mountains and fast-flowing rivers, we split into two groups. The group of 12 climbers were to stay in the town of Kakkot and attempt to climb the mountain of Putha Hiunchuli at 7,246 metres. We were to continue trekking and aim to complete a high pass at 5,200 metres.
Part of me was sad to be splitting into 2 groups. We had spent 10 days together since leaving the UK and we were bonding well as a group. Part of me was also looking forward to the split.
This was the real start of our expedition.
But we weren’t really just a group of 12 people. We had porters, donkey handlers with 12 donkeys, a cook and a guide as part of our team. These hardworking Nepalese people had made the expedition possible. The donkeys saved us from carrying heavy packs and the porters also carried equipment in ginormous baskets that they supported with a piece of cloth over their forehead. The chef had the ability to make amazing meals from tinned food and locally sourced rations. All of these people were now part of the trekking team and we were growing stronger as a group.
We set off on our first day without the climbing team at a blistering pace. The plan was to cover 20km and climb almost 2,000 metres so we made the most of the perfect weather conditions. The sun was blazing. The Nepalese guide decided to stop our group for 3 hours at lunchtime. I think the porters were struggling in the heat and the 3 hour break allowed them to rest during the hottest time of the day.
Once we finished the lunch break, the weather started to close in. The on/off routine with Gortex jackets happened a couple of times before the rain started to come down hard. As we continued to ascend higher up the mountain, this rain turned into snow. We were now at 4,000 metres, contouring on the biggest mountain I had ever been on, overlooking an epic valley. The towering peaks above us soon become obsolete as the snow was accompanied by heavy fog.
Some of the team members were physically struggling with the steepness of the climb and the altitude. Morale dropped because of the heavy snow. What started as a jovial day with a 3-hour lunch break in the sun had turned into a day not too dissimilar to what we experienced in the Welsh mountains in the Snowdonia National Park before heading to Nepal. You would think that 12 British Army Officers and Soldiers would be used to trekking through worse conditions. Some of us were. But some of the group were employed in roles where they would rarely spend time out of their office.
The snow was starting to settle. I had never seen such large snowflakes. It’s probably because what we were in wasn’t fog. It was a cloud that was snowing straight onto the mountain.
We continued to plod on until we could see the silhouettes from the tips of the Buddhist temples of the nearest peak. We had found our destination, just as it was getting dark. The town of Seri was starting to become covered in snow. Our guide managed to find us shelter in the local school.
Shelter in a school
The school was built of stone, with mud used where cement would normally go. There were 3 rooms. One was the main entrance. The second had 4 wooden benches that were likely made in the village. The door frame was particularly low. As I am only 5ft 7in, I am not used to ducking to get into rooms. Much to the amusement of the rest of the group, I banged my head pretty hard into the door frame. The third room was where the magic happened. There was a small fire surrounded by old pots and pans. Smoke was billowing out and made the room difficult to stay in for too long. The smell of the smoke from this room lingered on my clothing for about a week after that day. Standing next to the warmth and the smell of the cooking food was worth a few days of smoky smelling clothes.
As it started to get dark we had still not seen our bags. We trekked with a rucksack carrying essentials for the day but we had a larger bag that contained our sleeping bag and spare kit either on a donkey or with a porter. Shiva, our guide, came into the room to tell us that 4 of the Porters had not turned up and were missing. The snow was falling hard at this point. We were not too worried about our bags but more about the guys stuck out on the mountain. Shiva had sent a group of villagers to look for them to no avail. We all hoped that they were somewhere safe and dry.
Settling in for the night
That night we ate a delicious pasta, rice and vegetable dinner and were then shown to our sleeping room which was one of the school classrooms. As we only had 4 of the 12 sleeping bags for the group, most of us had to find blankets. I was one of the team members without a sleeping bag so I shared a wet, itchy blanket with another team member called Ryan. It was a pretty rough night. Using my arm as a pillow and struggling to keep warm with the sodden blanket, I struggled to fall asleep and spent most of the night shivering. I looked over to one of the lucky team members in his sleeping bag and felt pretty jealous.
The next day
The door to the classroom was thrown open and with it, the morning light penetrated my eyes. It was 0530 and at the open door frame, a young, scruffy Nepalese kid stood, staring at me like I was a strange man sleeping in his school classroom (I suppose the kid had a point). I’m not a morning person. I sat up and kindly asked the child to close the door. I was freezing cold after sleeping with just a damp blanket. The child remained motionless. I raised my voice, “go away!”. The child closed the door and scuttled off. Peace again.
At 0610 the Porters arrived with the usual offer of ‘chia’ and ‘tatopani’ (tea and hot water). I asked if the missing Porters have turned up. No such luck. He informed me that they were still missing and the search was about to continue.
I was pretty worried and angry. Angry that the guide, Shiva had allowed this to happen. He was in charge of his staff and responsible for their welfare. I also felt that we had not done enough to ensure that the porters were well looked after. If I had lost 4 of my soldiers on the side of a mountain at 4,000 metres, I would likely be facing a court marshall.
The Army had paid vast sums of money to the tour company for the guide and the porter’s support. Even so, Shiva was highly unprepared. He had never been to the area, didn’t carry a map and even if he did he would likely not know how to use it. It seemed that these vast sums of money had gone to the head of the company who was sat in Kathmandu and only a small fraction had made its way to the staff that needed it the most. Whilst the fat cat in charge of the trekking company was warm in the Captial, we were now coming to the realisation that the porters could be seriously injured on the mountain or possibly even dead. We had no way of contacting them. They had to be found. This whole situation could have been avoided.
At 0930 the missing porters arrived at Seri.
We were told that they had found shelter in a village called Ghiring only 30 minutes away. It was a big relief to see them all back in one piece. They looked more rested than us. Our night of drama had turned out to be a worry over nothing. Still, it demonstrated to us how quickly the weather can change at 4,000 metres in the mountains. From that day on, I carried a few more layers in my rucksack. We also ensured that we set rendezvous or checkpoints for the porters so we wouldn’t loose them again.
Before we left the school, we spent some time with the children at the Shree Jana Jagriti school. We were told that the people from this village are ethnically more Tibetan than Nepalese. Their school programme is heavily language driven with multiple lessons daily in Nepalese, Tibetan and English. The children were very similar to English kids in the way that they play and want to have fun.
I gave one of the young boys my GoPro to use and he quickly worked out how to record and take pictures with it. He was only about 7 years old. The kids started copying my actions and what I was saying so I lead them into a chorus of head, shoulders, knees and toes. They loved it. I even got them to sing a rendition of the Oasis song, ‘Don’t look back in anger’.
Speaking to the locals and seeing how they live, cook, eat and spend time together was one of the most rewarding moments of the whole expedition. The children were amazing and filled me with hope for the rural communities. Even after the drama of the missing Porters, sleeping with a wet blanket and the blizzard, I was having an amazing time.
The school had a stunning view of the mountains. This is one of the highest settlements in the Dolpa region so the weather can be unpredictable and tough. Still, the children were just like any other children in the world. They had a thirst for knowledge and seemed to enjoy having a group of strange Westerners staying at their school for the evening.
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The weather couldn’t be any better for the first few days of the trek. We had the pleasure of clear skies and strong sunshine, accompanied by a cool, refreshing breeze. I wore shorts for the first two days and couldn’t quite believe that I was above 2000 metres. Sun cream was needed to protect ourselves from the harmful rays, especially now we were over a mile closer to the sun. This wasn’t how I imagined trekking in the Himalaya. Pine trees covered the hills. A fast-flowing river cut through the valley. It reminded me of the Canadian Rockies, with its sweeping valleys and tree covered hills. Dolpa has a vast array of landscapes. With each turn of the valley, you are presented with a new magnificent sight. Rickety bridges cross the valley often. I was surrounded by snow topped peaks, towering to up to 7000 metres. The beauty is almost too pure to describe.
These first few days trekking were relatively easy. We followed a track that was an old road and didn’t climb a great deal. Following the river valley was brilliant. There is something pure about following a river that never fails to put a smile on my face. Knowing that you have food and water close at hand and the refreshing lure of a river swim is reassuring.
Nothing beats a river swim
I am a sucker for a river swim. For the first 6 days, I had a swim every day. Only once we started getting high up into the snow line did I take a break from my daily dips. The water was always ice cold. It was also unbelievably fresh. Especially at the higher altitudes, the freshness and coldness were strongly correlated. I got pretty good at swimming in these ice cold waters.
I’ve read that there are benefits to a daily exposure to ice-cold water. Some of the health benefits can be almost unbelievable. If you want to read about cold exposure and its benefits, check out the Wim Hof method.
In a remote place
Civilisation was left behind the moment I left the town of Juphal. I didn’t see a motor vehicle for 13 days (other than an emergency helicopter). This was a welcome break from the world as we knew it. My mobile phone lost its signal fairly quickly. I didn’t even attempt to connect to the internet as it was pointless. There was no more wifi cafes or data roaming. Instead of instantly turning to our mobile devices for entertainment or relief from boredom, we would (heaven forbid!) talk to each other. If we wanted some space, we would read. I got through 7 books throughout the expedition. This is more books than I have read throughout the rest of 2017 so far.
I never really considered it before I departed, but this expedition was a welcome break from the connected, Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-WhatsApp world that we live in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy using social media. But I enjoyed not using it more. Social media has its benefits. I can connect to old friends and even make new ones with a few swipes of a screen. It can be entertaining, inspiring and engaging but it shouldn’t control our lives. Most young people have never lived without it (now I’m starting to sound like an old man!). I see them in train stations and shopping centres, glued to their screens. Swiping through what will be mostly irrelevant social feeds of cat videos and their friends flipping water bottles.
The people I met in Dolpa don’t have facebook. They don’t have an Instagram account. Hell, if they did I’m sure they would be flooded with followers as they live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. What they do have though is a strong sense of community. On evenings, families gather in one room with a fire burning in the centre. They all help to prepare the meal. Be it collecting fuel for the fire, preparing chia (tea) or cooking the dhal bhat (rice and lentils). Animals roam free in the villages. Children learn how to handle pack animals, start fires and look after themselves at an early age. They are more street wise than any wannabe gangsters on the streets of our British cities.
There were a couple of moments when I realised how remote we actually were. The first came when an elderly lady asked our guide for some eye drops. Her eyes looked pretty sore and she could hardly open them. I doubt eye drops would have actually solved the problem. Only provided a short, welcome relief. Our guide stopped, asked the woman to sit and administered the drops. I asked if there was a local hospital and was told there was one in the next village but there was no doctor.
In the UK we moan about the NHS without realising how lucky we actually are. Yes, there are plenty of issues and problems with healthcare in the UK, but when compared to rural Nepal it pales into insignificance.
The Nepal Department of Health Services reported in 2015 that a child born in Kathmandu has 82 years of average life expectancy whereas a child born in the remote district of Jumla has only 36 years. This is crazy but having seen how remote these villages are it is not hard to imagine.
Another stat – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – for every 10,000 people, there is only one doctor in Nepal. The WHO state that there should be a provision of 15 doctors for every 10,000 people.
I think we should count ourselves lucky that in the UK we have some of the best healthcare in the world and we should strive to help those that are less fortunate than ourselves. This could mean helping in a number of different ways, be it charity work, donating or offering your skills and expertise.
Meeting the only other foreigner of the expedition
During the 13 days in the Dolpa region, I only met one other foreigner. His name was Alex Conty and he is walking 1700km – the length of the Himalaya in Nepal – in an attempt to raise £100,000 for children affected by autism in Nepal and the UK. Even more impressive is that he is attempting the feat alone with minimal support from porters and guides.
Alex was just past half-way when I saw him. He seemed in great spirits considering how far he had already walked. His guide had to be evacuated from the mountains just as we met him as he was coughing up blood. This shows how difficult walking the length of Nepal can be. It was strange to meet a Westerner in such a remote spot in the Himalaya. Even though I had been away from civilisation for such a shorter period of time than Alex, we still had a lot in common. It was nice to share our stories and hear about his experience so far.
I wish Alex the best of luck for the rest of his challenge. You can support Alex by donating at his website: https://www.himalayasforautism.org.uk
If you enjoyed part two of my adventure in Nepal, you can sign up for updates for future posts below. This is only part two of what will be a number of posts about the Dolpa region in Nepal.
Dolpa is one of the most remote regions of the Himalaya. Only open to foreigners from 1989, it is far away from the standard tourist routes in Nepal. Throughout the expedition, I was stunned by the beauty of the mountains, the kindness of the local people and the amount of wildlife thriving in this often arid and dusty landscape.
This is the first of a series of posts about my almost month-long expedition to the Himalaya in Nepal. There will be tips and advice for anyone that is planning to visit the Dolpa region or any other part of the Himalaya.
All of the photos are taken by me using either a GoPro 4 or a small Nikon 1 compact camera.
This expedition was organised by the Army Mountaineering Association to celebrate its 60th anniversary. A total of 24 of us were selected and split into two teams: a climbing team and a trekking team. As I have little climbing experience, I was selected for the trekking team.
Route and Stats
Below is a detailed GPS track of the route that I took along with the GPS coordinates for each campsite. Here are some quick stats of the final route:
Distance: 114.1 miles
Minimum elevation: 6,581 feet (2,005 metres)
Maximum elevation: 17,070 feet (5,202 metres)
Total climb: 37,132 feet (11,317 metres)
Total descent: 35,868 feet (10,932 metres)
After spending 2 days in the UK as a group – organising kit and receiving cultural and medical briefs, we were finally on the way to Nepal. After a short stop in New Dehli, we finally landed in Kathmandu and could get some well-needed rest. Some of the group planned to do some last minute kit shopping before heading off to the mountains.
I didn’t feel the need to buy any kit. The Army had issued us with all of the latest gear and it was pretty amazing. Mountain Equipment sleeping bags, jackets and trousers, fancy Thermarest roll mats, a Rab down jacket and more. It’s by far the best kit I have ever been issued by the Army. It is a long way from my early days of leather gloves that ruined once wet, for warmth a ‘Norwegian’ jumper and the good old leather combat highs that took about a year to break in.
Swayambhu Stupa or ‘Monkey Temple’
For some cultural emersion, I decided to visit the Swayambhu Stupa or ‘Monkey Temple’. According to Wikipedia, “It is probably the most sacred site among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. For Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second only to Boudha.” I thought the site was really interesting. As soon as I entered, there were women burning incense and praying to statues of Buddha. They were also having a communal feast. This was one of the first of many instances of increased sense of community in Nepal when compared to the UK. This turned out to be a common theme throughout the adventure.
On the way up to the top of the Stupa (wiki again, “is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics”), there was a large group of people gathered in a circle. I could hear clapping and cheering from a distance so I went to investigate. It was like an impromptu scene from a musical. The girls were all on one side and the men were on the other. At random, a local police officer would grab one of the men and throw him into the middle. The peer pressure of the clapping eventually got him to dance and sometimes one of the girls would join in and show him how it is done. Personally, I think this is a great use of police resources. Genuinely! Everybody seemed to be having lots of fun which in turn means there should be less crime. I’m sure that logic makes sense…. this could catch on in the UK.
The Stupa is surrounded by holy monkeys. Again straight from Wikipedia, “They are holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning, was raising the hill which the Swayambhu Stupa stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.” I don’t really understand most of this either and it sounds a bit crazy to me. Either way, there are loads of monkeys here causing trouble.
They are extremely used to being surrounded by tourists and use this to their advantage to get food. I was holding onto a bottle of Fanta that I had just bought from a small shop. It was a really hot day so I was very much looking forward to the refreshing relief that the drink would offer. One of the monkeys must have recognised the delicious orange goodness in the bottle and had decided that it too wanted the Fanta all for itself. Without even a please or thank you, the monkey leapt, grabbed the bottle (which is in my hand) and tried to snatch it away. Unluckily for this little mite, I had a vice grip on the bottle of fizzy carbonated sugar and thwarted the thieving monkey’s attempt. I received a kick in the stomach from the monkey before it scarpered off. A suspicious American couple were mysteriously filming the whole incident. My conclusion. The Americans must have tipped the monkey off and set the whole ambush up.
Lesson: beware of the holy monkeys and be even more aware of suspicious looking Americans!
This was one of the best journeys I’ve had in an aircraft since my days as a young air cadet when I got to fly in a Tucano over East Yorkshire.
All 12 of us climbed onto a tiny aircraft with only 15 seats (two for the pilots and one for the stewardess). Once the propellers started, you had to shout at full blast to be heard by anyone. This made the safety brief rather interesting.
We left the town of Nepalgunj on the Indian border (150 metres above sea level) and set off to our destination of Juphal (2,175 metres above sea level). It was only a short flight but almost immediately I could smell the tangy, pungent smell of somebody’s vomit. It was dribbling its way from the rear of the plane, under the seats and all the way to the front. Needless to say, it wasn’t a gentle flight. The aircraft winded its way through mountain passes before making a hard bank to the left at what felt ridiculously close to the towering mountainside. The expert pilot, wearing standard issue aviators and enough duty-free aftershave to drown out the smell of the puke, levelled the aircraft and started to make his landing.
We had not joined the list of crashed aircraft that we saw littered at the bottom of the steep drop before the dust covered runway. This was a great way to start a trekking adventure. Stepping off the plane, we were surrounded by snow-topped mountains, lush green valleys and the most remote villages I have ever seen.
Juphal is a fairly large village by Dolpa standards. I imagine this is due to its proximity to the airstrip. It sits high on the side of a mountain and has stunning views.
Upon landing, we were taken through the village to a community centre. Walking through our first Nepalese village was an experience that brought all of my senses to life. Around each corner of the tight, dusty streets were free roaming goats, chickens and donkeys. The small, stone built buildings were filled with smoke from the fires that cooked food. Piles of dried Ox dung were being thrown onto the fires as fuel. It was like going back in time. Children wearing their smartest clothes raced past us with happy faces on their way to school.
Escaping the pollution of Kathmandu and the hectic life that a city breeds, was a welcome relief.
Once we had eaten some Dal Bhat (steamed rice with lentil soup), we were ready to start the trek. Over a 100 miles and lots of climbing awaited. I was excited and couldn’t wait to get going.
This is the first part of my adventure in Nepal. In the meantime, please subscribe to my mailing list if you would like to receive updates of when the next parts from the expedition are released.
Next week I will be setting off on a three-week trekking expedition to the remote Dolpo area of Western Nepal. The aim of the expedition is to trek from Juphal to Jomson, passing over 3 peaks above 5500m. I will be trekking with 12 other members of the Army Mountaineering association (AMA) to celebrate the AMA’s 60th anniversary.
The expedition is being supported by porters throughout. This means that I am able to take more kit than I would normally take if I was self-supported. However, I have tried to keep the kit down to the essentials.
Here is a list of the kit I will be taking:
1 pair of boots/Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 Gortex* – Great pair of boots
1 pair of flip flops/sandals
3 pairs of trekking socks
1 pair of walking trousers/Mountain Equipment Men’s Ibex Softshell Walking Trousers* – expensive but I love these trousers
1 pair of shorts/Nike running shorts
1 waterproof jacket/Regatta point 214 Blue – I think it cost about £50 a few years ago.
1 pair of waterproof trousers/£10 pair from a camping shop
1 pair of waterproof gloves/Mountain Equipment Men’s Gloves* – these are waterproof, warm and not too big
1 fleece/Buffalo style – Army issue
2 pairs of Under Armour compression shorts* to be worn as boxer shorts
1 pair of gaiters/Berghaus Expeditor Gaiter*
2 synthetic t-shirts/1 Adidas sports top, 1 Rab t-shirt
1 baselayer/Helly Hansen Lifa Dry Stripe Crew Base Layer*
1 woolly hat (with bobble on the top)
1 pair of likely to be fake ray bands that I found at the bottom of the ocean whilst diving in Egypt
1 black baseball style cap
1 backpack/Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack Green* I’ve not really tested the pack out yet. This trip will be only the second time I have used it
1 sleeping bag, 3 seasons with waterproof compression sack/Robens Caucasus 600* This trip will be only the second time I have tested this bag. I used it on a wild camp in Wales and it felt very warm. First time I have used a down bag
1 fold up foam roll matt/Cheap and nasty
1 pair of walking poles/Trekrite Antishock Hiking Sticks / Walking Poles* I have used these a few times. Seem to be decent poles. The number one best seller for walking poles on Amazon
1 metal mug
4 dry bags/I have collected a number of different brands and sizes over the years and have no huge preference. The Ortlieb Ultra Lightweight Dry Bags* are a good place to start
1 lightweight bivvy bag/Karrimor X lite bivvy bag. Paid £20 for it a few years ago. Still going strong
1 headtorch/Petzl tikka plus 2. Bought this a long time ago, so long that they no longer make them
1 travel towel
1 small padlock
2 – 1 ltr water bottles/I use the CamelBak Chute Water Bottle* but any water bottle will do the job. Cheapest bottle is to reuse an Evian one
Factor 30 suncream
Prescribed high altitude medication and antibiotics/Azithromycin, Ciprofloxacin (diarrhoea), Nifedipine(HAPE), Dexamethasone (HACE) and Acetazolamide (mountain sickness)
1 roll of loo roll
Personal med kit – (paracetamol, plasters etc)
Toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser and soap etc. Small amount.
Smartphone – Samsung Galaxy S7
Kindle with a load of books on it
GPS/Garmin Foretrex 401 GPS Watch* I have had this GPS for years. Great bit of kit that uses AAA batteries
Nikon S1 camera with an 8 GB SD card with 3 batteries/ I’ve used this camera for a few years now. Takes a decent picture and is small and compact
GoPro HERO4 SILVER*/With a 64GB micro SD, selfie stick and 3 batteries
Solar charger /Anker PowerPort Solar Lite* I bought this for this trip. Still to see if its good or not
2 Power banks/One is a dodgy one that I bought in Egypt, the other is the Anker PowerCore 20100*. I have been impressed the Anker chargers so far
A load of AAA batteries and a couple of spare memory cards
International power socket adapter
Headphones/AKG Y40 Headphones* good quality and value for money headphones
iPod nano from 2007. Still in working order.
Notebook for journal writing and pen/pencil
Passport, passport photographs for the visa
Travel insurance forms and other documents
A photograph of family, I find pictures can often be a great ice breaker with locals
Normal clothes (t-shirt, jeans) to be left in Kathmandu
As a group, we will be carrying extra medical supplies, a sat phone, ropes and maps.
As I am a member of a group expedition, we are not taking individual tents for the expedition. We are using group tents that will be put up by the porters. Food is also provided by the trekking company on the expedition.
If I am being honest, I am not sure how I feel about not being completely self-sufficient. I hope it doesn’t take away from the physical challenge of trekking for 3 weeks. It is the first large group expedition I have been on. I am far more used to being self-sufficient.
I am really excited about this expedition to Nepal. The clothing and equipment I am taking is a mixture of high-end products (boots, rucksack) and cheap (waterproof trousers, roll matt). The more money you can afford to spend, the more comfortable you will likely to be but the kit I am taking isn’t much different to what I would take on a week of trekking in the Scottish Highlands (other than the altitude meds).
Let me know what you think? Any bits of kit that you would recommend for an expedition to the Himalayas? Let me know in the comments below.
*What is this?
If you buy using these links it earns me a small amount of commission. I use all of the kit listed and recommend itas I see fit. I am honest and upfront about this.