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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2012

The Best Trek in the Khumbu

It is always nice when a plan goes, well, according to plan and this season it certainly did! The so called by KE Adventure Travel 'Everest the Hard Way' trek does, as another cliché goes 'exactly what it says on the can'. It is certainly not easy and if you just want to tick Everest Base Camp, don't bother with this trek but it is in my opinion by far the best trek in the Khumbu.

It is a mountain adventure away from the crowds with some excellent and not undemanding trekking and the finest views of Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Cho Oyu and many more that can been seen anywhere. This autumn we were also blessed with the good weather that has continued throughout the season. Wall to wall blue skies but temperatures that I would consider more normal for a month or so later. It was cold.

Everest, Lhotse and Makalu from the top of Renjo La pass

The Renjo La is the first major pass that we cross in this three passes trip and the most recent to be opened to trekkers. Access to it is gained from the Thame valley which itself is the historical access route for the nomadic traders from Tibet who bring their yaks over the glaciated Nangpa La to trade in Namche Bazaar. At the moment this ancient access route is closed so this season it was pretty much just us and the last of the summer grazing yaks on the high pastures in the valley. After the Renjo La we drop into the settlement of Gokyo. It's a stunning setting below the huge ice face of Merchamo Peak and with Cho Oyu dominating the head of the valley.

Cho La pass Ama Dablam behind

The settlement has changed a lot since I first visited here in 1991 when I witnessed the first and only hot air balloon flight over Everest! The second pass is another favourite. It is as near to mountaineering as you can get without mountaineering (if you define mountaineering as requiring ropes and so on). Easy scrambling leads to a glacier topped pass which when crossed opens up to an astonishing, even jaw dropping view of Ama Dablam, Cholatse and Tawache.

Everest base camp

We then descend to rejoin the masses to reach Everest Base Camp and Kalar Pathar before heading off into the wild again for perhaps the remotest of the three passes on this trip, again an old favourite, the Kongma La. Scrambling towards and from the top of this pass requires a bit of concentration. This isn't easy when you are faced with the view on the other side. It's an enormous wall of ice that continues all the way from Lhotse to Kantega, across nearly 180° in front of you.

Descending from Kala Pattar with Pumori behind

To complete the loop we then descend back down through the Khumbu visiting Tangboche Monastery and Namche Bazaar before finally returning to the warmth and luxury of KE's home in Kathmandu the delightful Shanker Hotel.

The third pass, Kongma La

Thanks to all the Team for being great company, loads of fun and digging deep when they had to and especially thanks to Karma, LB and Nabin our Sherpas for making it happen and last but not least to Outside for being a brilliant and tolerant employer.

Tom works in the Boot Room at Outside Hathersage (when he's not leading expeditions to Nepal!)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2012
By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2012

Langtang Yala Peak and the Ganja La

Perhaps the best way to sum this trip up is the word WOW. It didn't start that way though as three members of the team were delayed out of Manchester and missed their connection to Kathmandu. This meant that the whole team finally began the trek from Syabru Bensi a day late.

How to make up the time without jeopardising our acclimatisation for Yala Peak was my main worry as we trekked up the beautiful Langtang Valley. Unfortunately this time we didn't get any sightings of langur monkeys let alone the elusive red pandas in the area either.

My worries dissolved when several days later we arrived at Kayajin Gompa (a remote monastery at 3600m) and all spent the afternoon hiking up one of the several excellent viewpoints in the area. We would climb to the High Camp next day and spend our time acclimatising higher up.

The ascending balcony path from Kayajin Gompa to HC is fantastic with views straight on to the magnificent Gangchempo, first seen by Tilman in 1950 and nicknamed Fluted Peak.

Our arrival at HC was a bit less dramatic. There was no snow on Yala Peak. On my previous visits it had been an elegant white sharks fin. Now it was just rock and rubble with a small glacier clinging on the the north ridge.

The next day we hiked up the nearby Tsergo Ri, the summit of which gives jaw dropping views of all the peaks on either side of the valley and intriguingly a view straight up the Ganja La. Our ascent of Yala Peak began as always with these things before dawn. The route is mostly on steep moraine but it is interspersed with some interesting scrambling until just below the summit. Here a short steep buttress leads to the summit tower. We fixed a rope up the buttress and the team jumared up it.

We were now tantalisingly close but on inspection the exceptionally dry conditions had made the summit rocks loose and the drop from the shoulder was enormous. We turned and descended. It was a twelve hour day by the time we finally reach Kayjin Gompa.

The next day we were off again. Concerned by a Sirdar Kungas report from last year that water was a problem beyond the Ganja La. We camped at the viewpoint of Ngagang Kharka, a place I had only previously visited in waist deep snow and the next day started up for the Ganja La.

It is a tough haul up the the pass not made easier by the need to be constantly aware of the potential for stones to tumble down from the slopes on either side. One fantastic distraction was the sight of snow leopard prints in the area, but sadly no sightings.

Again we fixed a rope for the final steep section at the top of the pass. From the top we had the most fabulous views in both directions. Behind us stood Yala Peak dwarfed by the mighty Shishapangma, the only 8000m peak entirely in Tibet behind it and ahead lay the wilderness of Helambu.

Yala Peak with Shishapangma behind

We camped by the only source of water at the base of the moraines. The next day was a big one as the expected water sources at Kelding and at Dukpa were both dry. Finally after a10 hour day we camped in the forest below Ama Yangri Stupa. The final few days were a delight of wide open views across the whole region and sightings of peaks as far off as Everest and the Rolwaling. We visited huge golden statues and enjoyed a wide variety of bird life and festival atmosphere in the small settlements along the way.

Langtang and Helambu certainly have it all, except perhaps the crowds.

Tom works in the Boot Room at Outside Hathersage (when he's not leading expeditions to Nepal!)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2012
By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Chamonix Trip

Let me first get one thing straight. I boulder. I don’t put on a harness, or a helmet or even carry a rucksack. I have my pad, shoes and a down jacket (and an endless supply of chocolate). That’s me set. So, when the opportunity arose to go to Chamonix with Berghaus to do some beginner winter mountaineering, to say I was slightly concerned is putting it mildly.  However, I thought why not and got on my way (with 3 insulated jackets and plenty of thermals). Arriving late at the chalet I met the other lovely people who were also on the trip, but soon was tucked up in bed ready for an early wake up call.

Now I’ve been to the Alps before, but always in the height of summer to do walking and Via Ferrata. Therefore I knew how stunning it was but I had truly forgotten the sheer beauty of it. Looking out of my bedroom window the tiredness disappeared and excitement took over. After a breakfast of chocolate croissants (god I love France) and porridge we met our guides from Mountain Tracks and sorted out our gear. Helmet? Check. Harness? Check. Crampons? Check. Ice Axe? Check. Fear setting in? Check!

Into the mini bus and we headed over to Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The sky was clear and the sun was shining which means only one thing for my pale skin, so on went the factor 50 and out came the sunnies. We took a cable car from La Palud to the Torino hut and as soon as we stepped out we could all (well almost all of us, guides excluded) feel the altitude. After a short walk, and lots of huffing and puffing, we got ourselves geared up. Crampons on, ice axe in hand, oh Jesus I’m actually going to die today.  The more experienced of the group headed to The Traverse of the Aiguille du Thoule whilst the rest of us headed for a comprehensive glacier training session. We did some basic crampon exercises to get us used to wearing them, which involved going up and down a steep face whilst roped up. A couple of trips and laughs later we all felt comfortable (well almost) and confident (urm, perhaps not).

First ascent using crampons from Pnte Helbronner

After a baguette and some chocolate we headed across the glacier to do some simple ice climbing. None of the group had ever used technical ice axes before so it was an experience for all of us. To say I felt pretty professional is an understatement. In my head I looked immense: cool, calm and confident. I think the reality was a bit different though. ‘Come on Jess-really hit the ice’, ‘Jess-put more effort in, use your strength!’  One thing I have learnt-my left arm is shockingly weak. How embarrassing. Note to self- if I ever sign up for something like this again, get strong (oh and a certain amount of fitness will probably help too).  It was really enjoyable and I have to say I had a huge sense of satisfaction when I had successfully reached the top without falling and looking like an idiot. The scenery was stunning as we were doing all our ice practice just east of Mont Blanc du Taoul. I felt very lucky to be there. A windy and rainy Peak District seemed a long way away and I understood why a lot of Brits leave the rain behind to live out in Chamonix. It was certainly a tempting idea-sun, mountains, croissants, what more could any outdoor enthusiast want? Anyway, we all had a go and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and were disappointed when we decided we had to head back if we were to make the last cable car of the day. Then the realisation dawned on us that we had been walking down hill to get to where we were, which meant only one thing. We had a tough hour ahead of us.  Walking slowly and carefully, we finally made it back to the cable car station.

Ice axe work on the Glacier Du Geant

Once back down a couple of us indulged in some Italian coffee and cake then made our way back to the chalet. All ideas of a crazy night soon disappeared once we all realised how knackered we were. A leisurely walk into Chamonix to a pizzeria was just what the doctor ordered, and some tartiflette and pizza later we were all in bed dreaming of what tomorrow had in store.

Another early morning and another beautiful, sunny day. A short walk into Chamonix (with slightly aching legs from yesterday but I wasn’t going to admit that to anyone) and to the cable car station to head up to the Aiguille Du Midi. Once at the top you could feel that it was certainly colder than yesterday so, as predicted, my shivering started and out came the many layers and down jackets. I should have mentioned this earlier on but the cold and I don’t get on. In fact, the cold and I hate each other. Now, I’m originally from the south so moving up to Sheffield itself was a shock, let alone being out here. Anyway, after layering up and getting all our gear on in the (sort of) warm station and with only my eyes showing we headed out onto the windy, snowy, exposed ridge.

About to embark into the cold of the Aiguille Du Midi

The ridge was pretty exciting stuff and I felt pleased I had done plenty of ridge walking before otherwise I think some fear may have set in! Looking down to Chamonix on my left and stunning mountain scenery and glaciers on my right, I once again felt lucky to be up here. We were all pretty comfortable being roped up by now so the walking was much smoother than it had been and we were all soon in a rhythm. Having walked down the ridge we then headed towards Pnte Lachenal. After a little bit of a break we started our ascent.  Whilst walking up we heard and saw a small snowfall on the mountain face beside us. I’ve never heard anything like it before and it sounded like the deep rumblings of an earthquake. Us beginners all looked at each other in fear, but Klem (our leader) soon reassured us whilst also hurrying us along! At that point it did dawn on me how dangerous it can be out here and safety is the number one priority.

The ascent up to Pnte Lachenal was exhausting but really good fun and it was good to do some scrambling to finally reach the top. We all had a little breather, took some photos and then headed back down dreaming of lunch. We stopped by the rock face just under the Refuge des Cosmiques for our lunch and to do some crevasse rescue work. We were shown how to rescue someone if fallen, and all the necessary precautions needed in order to rescue them safely and securely. This was useful and really interesting and it was good to learn more technical details.

Crevasse rescue under the Refuge des Cosmiques

After the crevasse rescue and lunch we started our exhausting ascent back up to the cable car station. The ascent was so steep and although we took it slowly it was still a huge struggle and once at the top we all felt extremely pleased and proud of ourselves. Walking along the ridge back to the station we could see amazed Japanese tourists taking photos of us, which was an incentive to keep going and not let them down! Once at the station they wanted photos with us which was a bit of a surreal experience but quite cool. They were very impressed with us, which suddenly turned us all very modest (‘oh no, it was nothing, anyone could do it….’).

Looking pleased to have nearly finished the dreaded Aiguille du Midi ridge

After getting the cable car back down to Chamonix we had ice cream (much deserved) and coffee and headed back to the chalet. We then had an interesting slide show from Berghaus and Mountain Tracks, which I think encouraged us all to visit Chamonix again in the future and explore it once more. A tasty dinner at a pub soon lead to drinks out, but still a relatively early night in preparation for our trips home tomorrow.

Looking out over the Vallee Blanche

A fantastic trip with brilliant people and one which I will remember for many years to come. Thanks to Klemen Gricar for the pictures used here and a huge thank you to Berghaus for organising the trip and Matt, Klemen and Miles at Mountain Tracks. I’m sure we’ll be back for more.

Jess works in the Web Sales department

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012
By Jess Dumbelton
Web Customer Service

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Jess Dumbelton
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