Thursday, 8 March 2018

January 2018 Newsletter

Last October OTWT went into Upper Mustang, a wonderful and very remote area of northern Nepal. However with all the local development taking place this area is rapidly engaging with the outside world and slowly but surely some of the mystique will disappear. My advice would be to go sooner rather than later if you want to witness the old Kingdom as it was. This image is of the last staging post, Tangge, before hitting the long and wild trekking days back down to Jomsom.

Well another year has come to an end. I hope you all enjoyed the last 12 months as much as we have here in Nepal. This season has been a busy one for us with 25 groups coming and going and enjoying their time here, completing treks from Everest in the east through to Mustang in the west.

Mountain News UpdateAutumn is not the big expedition season as most mountaineers try for their summits in the spring season however this has not stopped the Ministry from continuing to come up with yet more and discriminatory rules regarding Everest. It was reported in the Himalayan Times that there is now a total ban on people who are completely blind and double amputees, as well as those proven medically unfit for climbing. The Nepal Government has also announced that it now bans solo climbers from scaling its mountains, including Mount Everest, in a bid to reduce accidents. The fall-out is already happening on social media!

Nepal is also spending billions on trying to survey Everest to confirm the actually height.

Last season Pemba Dorje Sherpa allegedly climbed Everest in eight hours, ten minutes. However a joint bench of Justices; Cholendra Shumsher, JB Rana and Dambar Bahadur Shahi issued a statement overturning the government’s decision to recognise this achievement, saying Pemba Dorje Sherpa of Rolwaling, Dolakha, failed to produce substantial proof to authenticate his claim and as a result he will be stripped of his Guinness World Record. Many Sherpas have already gone on record as saying it is humanly impossible to climb Everest in that time.

For the first time the International Federation of Mountain Guides held their conference in Kathmandu. At least 65 participants from 24 member countries attended the assembly, with over 100 Asian delegates from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia and Pakistan also joining the conference. A great event!

The National Geographic Explorer Sung Taek Hong mounted an expedition to the South Face of Lhotse this Autumn season, however due to inclement ‘winter’ conditions and low temperatures he had to withdraw from the mountain on the 20th November. The legendary mountaineer Hans Kammerlander was also back in Nepal but he also had to abandon his bid to attempt to climb Manaslu. Tragically the well know Russian extreme sports personality, Valery Rozov was killed while attempting to wind-suit fly from the summit of Ama Dablam in November.
The remote Danphe Sail (in the foreground), Dolpa, but despite the appearance
the mountain is not straight forward as both easy looking ridges are in China!
On a ‘closer to home note’ my old friend Paulo Grobel from France led a 12 man expedition to Dolpa and successfully climbed Danphe Sail, the mountain we tried in 2016. Well done Paulo.. but now you’re off my Christmas Card list!! Another interesting development late in 2017 revolves around the two Indian climbers who allegedly climbed Everest and then falsified their summit photos using Photoshop. The Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation invested their claim and imposed a climbing ban on the couple and also cancelled their certificates. The Ministry has recently announced that it is to reopen the case for further investigation. A smell of something funny here as it was that very same Ministry who carried out the investigation in the first place!
Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Nepal's only female IFMGA guide
A team of Nepali guides succeeded in making the first winter ascent of Langdung in December. The peak was named Rpimutse in 1955 by the British Gaurishankar Massive Expedition Himalaya Survey team, but the peak is now known as Langdung 6357m. The team consisted of Dawa Yangzum Sherpa (27), Dawa Gyalje Sherpa (38) and Pasang Kidar Sherpa (35). Since then Dawa, the 27-year-old woman from the Rolwaling Valley has created history in the mountaineering world by becoming Nepal’s first female international mountain guide.

Meantime in the last few days of 2017 the Spanish mountaineer Alex Txikon (36) has returned to Nepal along with Muhammad Ali Sadpara to attempt Everest without supplemental oxygen this winter. This is his seventh winter expedition without supplemental oxygen.

Tourism News
It is officially reported that Nepal has received over 750,000 visitors this year that is an increase on last year. As I have mentioned in our previous newsletter Kathmandu can boast 4,000 new hotel rooms as part of the revitalising of the tourism program post earthquake but this ‘accommodation development’ is not being reflected in the trekking areas.

Manaslu has received the biggest boost for increased tourist numbers this year with over 22,000 permits having been issued, whereas it is said both the Annapurna and Everest trekker numbers are remaining constant. One very critical development is that to accommodate the increase in numbers several well known lodges have now erected ‘permanent’ camping ‘bed spaces’. While these are very comfortable and well equipped not every trekker who has booked for a ‘Lodge’ style trek will be happy with these arrangements. Nepal has always said it wants to hit the 1,000,000 tourists in 2018, and this now seems within reach, however, things will have to radically improve or we have the possibility of shooting ourselves in the foot. Having said all that there are still hundreds of really off the wall treks that can be undertaken where other trekkers will be hard to find!

The ‘Main News’ this quarter – the General Election

In Nepal, as it is an unusual event everything comes to a grinding halt at election time. To be eligible to vote all Nepali citizens must return to the village of birth, they can’t vote in Kathmandu unless that is their registered ‘permanent’ address. As nearly all Nepalese have a political streak this basically means a mass exodus from the city, a couple of days to travel home, a day to vote and then another week, or more, to wait for the outcome and then either celebrations or commiserations. Only then will citizens think of returning back to Kathmandu. In short, hotels, shops and other large establishments are short staffed and all menus are cut down as the catering staff are away. To make matters worse in 2017 the government suddenly announced that a certain day was a national holiday, the announcement only happened the day before, thus throwing everything into chaos.

Many people raise questions about, ‘Why has it taken so long to hold an election? And ‘Why is it all so complicated?’ To clearly understand the state of the nation and the politics one must consider the ‘developmental’ starting point which in historical terms was not that long ago.
The History of Nepal – in a Nutshell
Nepal as it was perceived pre 1700, the area on the Kathmandu Valley and its Kingdom
Pre 1750, the mid eighteenth century, Nepal was a country known mainly as the area designated as what we now refer to as the Kathmandu Valley. However in reality the country consisted of over sixty ethnic groups and sub-groups all having their own languages, traditions, festivals, kingdoms and kings. From the mid eighteenth century the Gokha King, Prithvi Narayan Shah began his unification process and went about conquering and expanding into other ethnic realms. The ruling Malla dynasty in Kathmandu feared the growing power of the Gorkha army and sort support from the East India Company who sent 2400 soldiers to Nepal in 1767. However the British were not adapt at fighting in the hilly regions of south Nepal and suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of only 120 Gorkha soldiers, during the battle most of the British contingent of arms and munitions were captured and later used in future Gorkha wars.

Eventually Prithvi Shah captured the Valley Kingdoms and with this ended the Malla Dynasty and from then began the reign of the Shah Dynasty. This was a time when, surrounded by India and its British task-masters to the west, south and east and with the Tibetans to the north Nepal flexed its muscles in an era of expansionism.

From 1780 under Gorkha leadership the Nepalese began to push their borders to the west and to the east. In doing so, in 1806, it encroached unacceptably on and invaded an area now known as Himachal Pradesh and also areas in Sikkim, part of the British East Indian Company territory and consequently part of the British Empire. Skirmishes were also taking place long other lengths of the Indian-Nepalese border resulting in the Nepalese eventually controlling an area that stretched from the Garhwal Kingdom in the west, including Shimla, through to the Teesta River in the east, the territory under the control of Sikkim which included the community of Darjeeling. This situation was not acceptable to the British and the two countries entered into the two-year Anglo–Nepalese War which began in 1814.
The extent to which the Nepalese borders were stretched by around 1805
By December 1815 the two countries had signed the Treaty of Sugauli which was eventually ratified in March 1816 bring the war to an end. The treaty established the boundary line of Nepal and called for territorial concessions in which some of the territories controlled by Nepal would be given to British India. Under the treaty, about one-third of Nepalese controlled territory was lost including all the territories that the King of Nepal had won in wars during the previous 25 years including the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west and Sikkim in the east.

In general, life went on but the borders of Nepal were closed with the monarchy fearing invasion by the British. During the next 150 years the Nepalese Kings gained power and tightened their grip on the Nepal Kingdom.
The new seven zones on modern Nepal

Between 1960 and 1990 there started the first move to establishing a democracy. Initially in the form of the Panchayat system of self-governance that was historically prevalent in other south Asian regions at the time. By 1990 ‘The People's Movement’ or Jana Andolan emerged as a multiparty movement and brought an end to the absolute monarchy and the thus the beginning of the constitutional process. The movement was marked by unity between the various political parties. Not only did various Communist parties group together in the United Left Front, but they also cooperated with parties such as Nepali Congress (the King’s Party). One result of this unity was the formation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, the UML party).

In 2001 the Nepalese Royal Massacre occurred at a house on the grounds of the Narayanhity Royal Palace, the residency of the Nepalese monarchy. Ten members of the family were killed during a party, the monthly reunion dinner of the royal family in the house. The dead included King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya. Later, upon his father's death, Prince Dipendra became King of Nepal while still in a coma, however he died in the hospital three days after the massacre without ever recovering from his comma. At that point in time Birendra's brother Gyanendra became king after the massacre and the death of King Dipendra. His imposition of direct rule in 2005 provoked a protest movement unifying the Maoist insurgency and pro-democracy activists. He was eventually forced to restore Nepal's House of Representatives, which in 2007 adopted an interim constitution greatly restricting the powers of the Nepalese monarchy. Following a Constitutional election, the Nepalese Constituent Assembly formally abolished the kingdom in its first session on 28 May 2008, declaring the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in its place.

Since 2007, when Nepal’s first Interim Constitutional Assembly announced it would abandon the Monarchy in 2008, Nepal held a second Constitutional Assembly election in 2013. There were subsequently many legal wrangles between the parties during which time many amendments were written into the Constitution. The main stumbling blocks were the key issues regarding the system of governance, judicial system and federation issues referring to the number, name and areas of the Federal States to be created within modern Nepal. The constitution could not be finalized and promulgated by the due date of the 22nd January 2015.

This virtually brings us up to date with the 2017 Legislative elections being held over two phases on the 26th November and 7th December 2017 to elect the 275 members of the fourth House of Representatives, the lower house of the Federal Parliament of Nepal. The election was held alongside the first provincial elections for the seven provincial assemblies. The new parliament will elect the Prime Minister, who must ordinarily command the support of an absolute majority of its members in order to form a new government.

The result of these elections place the UML as the biggest party with a strong majority to form the government followed in to second place by the Nepali Congress Party and then the Maoist Kendra. The UML have been in power in more recent times and with this result it is hoped that there will be more positive development as a result of continuity and also that the party system will now polarise as a three party system as opposed to a multi-party system.

It almost seems like reinventing the political wheel – in 1780 Nepal was unified, now in 2017 (onwards) it will be ‘federalised’ into seven zones!
Rapid Development, but is there planning?
Flying into Kathmandu these days makes you wonder just when the city will stop expanding. From the air there still seems plenty of tree covered hills and open spaces, however, once you get on the ground you seem to have difficulty in finding such places.

I moved to Nepal in 2005 and in 2012 we started to build our house in Dhapasi.
In the valley below our house, green fields and few houses
At that time the area we found was fairly un-developed and surrounded by fields, terraces and agricultural land. The thought of it ever being built on was difficult to imagine the land drops down from below our house and then disappeared off into a small valley below Shivapuri to the north.

At the head of the valley was a small tree covered ridge, with a small path that we use to take the dogs for a walk along. One day we noticed that the trees were being felled, then a JCB moved in and the ridge was flattened and used to infill the valley to the southern side.

Then a small road appeared resulting in what is locally referred to as ‘planning’ (for house construction), now there’s a misuse of the word if ever there was one! Still the agricultural land had not been touched. However, another year went by and agricultural buildings sprang up, then tracks to link those buildings to the main road in our area. Today 5-years on and the landscape has totally changed. It is difficult to look at some of the new buildings and to guess as to their use, but in the fullness of time all will no doubt be revealed.

Kathmandu is an old lake basin consequently the bed of the valley consists of sediment and fine glacial silt, not the best to build on but certainly the sandy hills provide excellent building material for which there is a great demand within the city.
Now no green fields and new houses with the wooded hillside rapidly disappearing 
The images above indicate the environmental change that has occurred within 5 years. In image 1 the tree-covered hill indicated by the tip prayer flag pole, is in image 3 the open caste sand quarry. The large grey building to the lower left of image 1 is the same building featured in the central left section of image 2.

Sadly this rapid development is not necessarily being planned or done with consideration for the environment or other residents or habitation.

A lot of building work is taking place outside the valley and in many cases the new constructions pay little attention to local or ethnic architectural norms. It’s all very sad, I have no objection to development but in some cases throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a bit too much and it’s only in the future that people will realise what they have lost.

At least being on the top of the hill the new development can’t take our sky-line views away from us.
A Vehicle free Thamel
After a few failed attempts the Thamel authorities seem to have eventually won this round. In October the first of the Traffic Police trucks rolled into Thamel loaded with `Vehicle Free Zone’ signs.
These were placed at strategic road junctions and the new rules were enforced by the traffic police themselves. Now the road from Thamel Chowk to the Kathmandu Guest House and up as far as Sam’s Bar is traffic free meaning that pedestrians can basically walk around the centre of Thamel without the fear of getting run over. People are stopping to look in shop windows, gathering for a chat and generally enjoying the ‘safe’ aspect of the area. Certainly the tourists give this new initiative the thumbs up and in general so do the shop keepers and hoteliers. Even though the main tourist season has now finished the police are maintaining the traffic free zones. Long may it last!

New breed of trekking guides
When trekking started back in the early-mid 1960s the trekking guides were hill people who had an eye to escape the poverty trap. Now in 2018 trek leading is a professional career move and there are many younger people undergoing training and assessment with the aim of developing their careers, staying in Nepal and supporting their families. Many of this new breed of guides are female. This last year we have used several female guides and porters and with great success. Now we are actually receiving requests from trekking groups asking for female leaders.

With the aim of providing more opportunities for female guides we are planning an all FEMALE expedition to Island Peak 6189m this autumn (2018). The group size will be a maximum of ten with five female guides. Among all the trekking peaks in Nepal, Island Peak is the most popular as it is suitable for all novice climbers and experienced trekkers. It offers an exhilarating climbing experience beyond simply ‘trekking’. This trip will include a hike to Everest base camp as part of the acclimatisation process. Island Peak is physically demanding but not technically challenging and is graded as Alpine PD+. The Peak is situated right under the south face of Lhotse, which seems so close that you could simply step across to the neighbouring 8000m peak which is the second peak along the Everest ridge.

We also specialise in running ‘private’ treks as opposed to open fixed departure treks so if you have any specific areas you wish to visit, whether using lodges or as camping treks then please contact us for advice, costs or assistance in planning your trip to Nepal. We’re always happy to provide advice.

For further details please contact us at either ian or
Since October trekkers (foreigners) have been charged 2000 NRs by the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality to enter the Khumbu region and it has so far collected 44 million NRs in tourist entry fees.
The Municipality collected Rs 28.25 million from 14,100 tourists in October, Rs 13.35 million from 6,676 in November, and Rs 3.1 million from 1,554 tourists in December.

Although the tourist season is wrapping up, tourists are still entering the region at a constant rate, which hovers around 100 per day.

Despite local entrepreneurs’ strong opposition to the collection of the entry fee, the policy has continued. The Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card issued by the Department of Tourism (DoT) does not substitute for the entrance fee.

“The rural municipality has exercised its rights to collect and allocate tourist revenue as suggested in the constitution, as the funds collected previously were not used for tourism development of the region,” said Nim Dorje Sherpa, chairperson of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality. Sherpa has said that the funds now collected will be used for tourism promotion of the region. The amount collected is set to be used to improve and construct the trail between Lukla and Everest Base Camp along with increasing other tourist infrastructure in the region.

I hope this is all done in the best possible taste or it will damage rather than improve the trekking and mountaineering industry!
Wishing all family, friends and colleagues a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.

Monday, 4 December 2017

An Attempt on Danphe Sail, Dolpa 2016

There is Dolpa, Lower Dolpa and Upper Dolpa..but then there is the real Dolpa

Much has been written about Dolpa and many have trekked through the wild mountains and valleys but few have explored the real heart of Dolpa and for no other reason other than it is wild and above all very remote. Initial access is either by plane from Nepalgung or by road followed by a long hard 14 hour walk to reach Dunai but soon this road will go all the way to Dunai. However, no matter the means of entry to Nepal’s largest National Park to really explore the wilderness beyond you need to allow at least 14 – 20 days just for the walk in to the northern part of the district, then another week or two for the walk out most of which is above 4500m. 

Dolpa provides a real wilderness experience for those who are seeking 
adventure in Nepal, the trails are vague, villages far and few between 
and trekkers certainly require good mountain skills ©Ian Wall 
Nepal offers more than 100 unclimbed peaks open for mountaineering expeditions but few offer the remoteness of the unclimbed peaks as found in Dolpa. By many standards these mountains are not high but they do offer some challenging lines and all are away from immediate assistance or rescue, they are remote!

Danphe Sail as seen from the broad valley a little below the south face, 
the sharp peak in the background is not Danphe Sail but as the most 
striking summit it is often confused for the same. The border with China
 runs up the glacier on the left (west) across the dome of Danphe Sail, 
the lower of the two peaks and then continues along the eastern ridge. 
The obvious line is up the loose and broken rock of the south face to 
the isolated boulder in the ice above, from that point head up towards 
the summit. Alternatives are capped by nasty terrain! ©Ian Wall
Danphe Sail 6103m is one once such mountain that has attracted limited attention. Set straddling the border between China and Nepal Danphe Sail has a far more prominent neighbor that I would suggest had initially attracted the attention of would be summateers but this neighbor is well and truly in China and off limits.

June still witnessed thew remnants of the spring snows with several
 passes providing difficult conditions for the ponies  ©Ian Wall

As far as I can establish up to 2016 there had been only two attempts to climb Danphe Sail. The prolific mountain explorer Tamotsu Ohnishi and four companions visited the region in 2009 when they planned to climb Danphe Sail but then abandoned their attempt. A second attempt was planned but again Tamotsu Ohnishi, with a Japanese companion and a Sherpa, headed for Danphe Sail. In May and June 2010 the three established base camp below the south side of the mountain at 3,900m and Camp 1 at 4,200m. Ohnishi became ill from insect bites on his feet that had become infected and they abandoned the climb. Ohnishi’s were the first recorded “attempts” on the mountain.
Lindsat Griffin, Mountain INFO, Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal and Richard Salisbury The Himalayan Database 2012
I also understand that an Australian team approached Danphe Sail but decided it was too technical so abandoned their attempt. It was likely that they mistook the distant peak for Danphe Sail as both seen from a certain angle could be mistaken for one of the same.

Our 2016 Danphe Sail team, Michael Salmon, Alex Cramb, Bill Crozier 
and Alastair Lawrence and some of the locals from Ku © Ian Wall
In June 2016 I organised a small Anglo Australian expedition comprising of Alex Cramb, Alastair Lawrence, Bill Crozier and Michael Salmon along with two Nepali climbers, Chhering Bhote and Wonchu Sherpa with the objective of making the first ascent of Danphe Sail.
The trail from Duani to Bhijer is well documented as it links the route to the north via Shey Gompa.  Bhijer is the local administrative district head-quarters and although it is situated on the route of the Great Himalayan Trail it boasts little in the way of amenities.

Seen from the watershed between Yambur Danda and Kyala Lek. Kugoan 
is situated in the obvious large east - west valley in the middle distance of
 this image, our objective Danphe Sail can be seen as snow dome below
 the highest mountain on the skyline mid image, another 6 days further on!
 ©Ian Wall 
Leaving Bhijer our team headed east following the Yamchho Khola to Phulak before turning north and ascending a long and undulating 1000m climb to cross the main east-west watershed between the Yambur Danda and Kyala Lek. The landscape was as expected, barren with virtually no respite from the grueling climb, the sun was beating down and with no shade and no water all we could do was to bite the bullet and get on with it. However the distant views provided plenty of excuses for stopping and taking photographs. The early start turned into lunch time and then evening began to draw in. Once on the watershed the indistinct trail dropped down to a small kharka, another opportunity to sit and view our surroundings when out of nowhere a young Nepalese man appeared. Pema joined us and we all got involved in a short conversation. It turned out that this young man was from Ku, he had set out a few hours previously with the intention of going to Bhijer to collect medicines for a friend, a journey he said would only take him four to five hours! I could have sat on that ridge watching the sun set for the next couple of hours but that would not have gotten me anywhere nearer to our destination in Kugoan.

The long descent into Kugoan situated in the bend of the river ©Ian Wall 
The team pressed on however despite there being little water we were forced by a combination of tiredness and darkness to camp at the small kharka near the Yaje Danda at 4742m. The kitchen staff, as committed as ever to the welfare of the team, then set out on a two hour round trip to find water and fill a blue expedition barrel which they then carried back to camp – an amazing effort after such as hard day (for us!!).Traversing the hillside the following morning the expedition eventually reached the end of the ridge at 4740m from where we were presented with the magnificent views to the northern border mountains but more essentially the impressive descent of 1100m to the village of Kugoan. The path was not difficult but as if to beckon us on, the view and details of this remote community got clearer and nearer with every step. 

Once down at the level of Kugoan the community appears to be well 
organised, the houses are well maintained and many have walled off 
courtyards. The buildings are very obviously built in Tibetan style 
with the walls tapered as they rise. Inside the lower level is occupied
 by the animals while people live above. The soil after generations of 
cultivation is richly improved with the use of animal fertilizer. 
©Ian Wall
Entering Kugoan was a step back into the middle ages yet there was a certain uniformity in the way things were organized with the terraces being newly ploughed and looking particularly fertile although the rich brown soil faded into the neutral colours of the surrounding barren hillsides. The houses were of a typical Tibetan style and the community was punctuated with lines of chortens. The locals made us very welcome giving us a tour of their school buildings and the monastery, accompanied by invitations into their homes for a glass of ‘local wine’. After a day’s rest, reorganization and the storing of excess gear in a local house time was spent answering many questions and explaining how an ice axe might be used or what the shovel was used for from the inquisitive locals who were adamant that we were the first foreigners to pass through their village.

The local people were very interested in all our equipment especially 
the technical climbing gear, ice axes, rock gear and the ropes ©Ian Wall
A fact I found hard to believe, however, judging by their inquisitiveness it might well have been true. The village nestles in a shallow bend in the river but to both the east and the west the terrain certainly did not encourage travel in either direction there were two ways out on the valley, going north to the border or south to habitation. On this expedition we had arrived from the south but would exit to the north. 

The gorge was dark, intimidating and early in the morning cold and 
dank. In places the sun’s rays clipped the more open cliff, the way
 ahead was inviting and the higher we got the more light we could
 see at the end of the tunnel. ©Ian Wall
The village holds the key to further progress, initially crossing the Tora Khola by a small bridge and then entering the very narrow gorge of the Jhyanblung Khola with its monolithic sided cliffs. The narrow canyon only a few metres wide in places stretched for approximately 7kms with the indistinct trail crossing and re-crossing the Khola many times before opening out at the confluence with the Shang Khola. One could only guess at the stability of the gorge walls, however not dwelling on the possibilities for too long we pressed on at our own individual paces.

Along the valley approaching the valley to our intended 
Base Camp, heading up towards the clouds!©Ian Wall
At this point our route took a sharp eastward bend and climbed onto a higher shoulder above the river. A bit of time was taken checking out the route from the shoulder and as in many mountain situations the right way looked the less probably way and a further steep ascent onto a short ridge lead to a slow contouring descent. Within a further two kilometers we reached a wonderful kharka and decided to call it a day, but to the north we could see our objective however, now with some ominous dark clouds rolling down the hillsides. 

Once in the valley leading to Base Camp careful navigation was 
required to find the best route for the mules Danphe Sail already
 in the clouds ©Ian Wall
The following morning dawned clear and bright but the route up the broad valley leading to our base camp took some careful navigating to find a safe route through the boulder fields for the mules. Reaching the flat basin under the south face of Danphe Sail we quickly organized base camp. The mules were unloaded and then retreated to the previous kharka for the duration of our stay in Base Camp.  We were in high spirits.

The joys of Base Camp, even if a bit chilly! The direct approach 
via the shallow snow filled gully can be clearly seen in the middle 
of the image leading up to the col. ©Ian Wall
Base Camp was ideally situated in a shallow basin just short of the lake, there was a small but fresh and constantly flowing stream was close at hand and plenty of flat ground covered in a light ground hugging shrub to make life comfortable. During the afternoon of the day of our arrival we decided to do a quick recce of the site for ABC. From Base Camp there were two ways to reach the col, either to approach up a shallow gully hidden behind some lateral moraine or to approach the col directly up a shallow snow filled gully. We looked at both but the direct option was the preferred route taking only an hour to gain the col. The initial plan was to make the col the jumping off point for the summit attempt. 

From what we though might provide Base Camp the col was
 obviously too rocky but the  way ahead to the large 
exposed rock in the snow looked straightforward even if a little
 foreshortened . ©Ian Wall
The first day in BC saw Chhering, Wonchu and myself head off to what was possibly going to be the site of ABC but on arrival the small col was much too rocky so while I descended back to BC Chhering and Wonchu headed up the rock pitches to complete the recce to the foot of the snow field. Meantime the ‘boys’ enjoyed the ambiance and surroundings of BC.

The snow fell, it melted at Base Camp but then there was 
another fall, which almost melted at Base Camp before there 
was another fall, the mountain did not look good! ©Ian Wall
Day two at base camp saw the weather change, occasional snow showers accompanied by a brisk cold breeze.. it did not look good. However we amused ourselves doing a bit of rope work and generally brushing up on our snow skills.

The weather did not look good ©Ian Wall

Day three saw Chhering and Wonchu set off in the dark to try to get a purchase on the snow field at the top of the rocky section but they returned within a few hours saying that the snow was in fact hard blue ice that shattered at the blow of each axe placement and with the wind and snow showers frequent slurries of spindrift were making things difficult. They were back by lunch time and we all headed into the cook tent for more tea and biscuits.
Then it got progressively worse ©Ian Wall
Sadly, the next few days saw the same weather pattern develop with deteriorating conditions. We discussed our options – to stay and see if things changed or to head down immediately. We spent time ‘playing’, packing and re packing gear, sorting the tents out, eating, drinking, reading and generally participating in all the mundane activities normally pursued while awaiting the weather in the mountains.

Finally a decisions had to be made, the mules  were called in and we 
packed up ©Ian Wall

The team decided to give it as long as they could but after five days we had exceeded our time and were faced with not having sufficient days left to walk out. One of the kitchen boys ran off down the valley to call for the mules to come up. They duly arrived and we struck camp and began to withdraw back down the valley. We covered the two day ascending trek in to BC in a little over half a day but decided to stop at the big kharka that the mules and their handlers had occupied for the previous several days. From here it was going to be a long haul all the way back down the gorge to Kugoan.
It had been two weeks since we left Ku but within that time the fields had turned green and the growing season was well underway.  

Our last camp site back in Kugoan and what seemed like a 
completely different world ©Ian Wall

We spent our final night in camp on the bank of the Tora Khola with our new friends from Ku. In the morning as planned we heard the helicopter and in fact saw it for a fleeting moment, but then it disappeared. As if to highlight the remoteness of the village the pilot failed to find the village, despite the fact he must have been within a kilometer of the community and with GPS. He returned to Bhijer to pick up a local to act as an aerial guide, he returned and with two shuttles the team were back in Dunai. However despite constant pressure from us and the offer of, additional funds the pilot refused to give the local ‘aerial’ guide a lift back to Bhijer.. he had to walk!

Thanks Dolpa for another great trip and see you in 2018
.. when we'll be back ©Ian Wall

Other memories

Monday, 18 September 2017

Newsletter August 2017

The August edition of our newsletter always seems to contain two recurring topics – the Everest Season and the Monsoon Season, this edition sees little difference, albeit with a few additions!

With regard to Everest, the main event this past season was the tragic scenario that occurred almost
Ueli Steck Facebook
before the season began and led to the demise of Ueli Steck the world famous speed climbing mountaineer. Steck was in the Western Cwm on Everest preparing and acclimatizing for his expedition to climb the West Ridge, descend the South East Ridge before completing the traverse across to climb Lhotse from which he would descend back to Base Camp. All this would be completed in his usual style, climbing solo and without protection. On the morning of the 30th April he set off for what was thought to be an acclimatization climb on Nuptse. Push the envelope far enough and long enough under these circumstances and the stakes rise almost meteorically, one slip and you won’t get a second chance. And so it was that Steck fell 800m.

Reinhold Messner had suggested that Steck may have had his eye on the Everest Horseshoe, ascending the West Ridge, descending the SE Ridge, traverse across to Lhotse summit before continuing along the ridge to Nuptse, an objective held in the minds of many a world class mountaineer, however, the challenge is still to be completed.

A young mountaineer, Vinayak Jay Malla had seen a climber high on Nuptse around 7100m early on the 30th April but then a little later he heard the sound of what he describes as ‘something falling’. Along with a colleague the pair went to investigate and discovered Ueli Steck’s body at around 6300m. It was reported that near to Steck’s body was a large rock covered in blood, one of his crampons was missing and Steck appeared to have been climbing without a harness. Later investigations showed that there was a pair of ice-axes in Steck’s tent along with a light rope and various other pieces of climbing equipment.

Steck was well known for his ‘axeless` climbing style, he would use trekking poles as opposed to his axes if he thought he could manage the difficulties in that style.
To this day there is no definitive conclusion as to what caused Steck to fall, as Vinayak is quoted as saying “Perhaps we should think of Steck as a Bharal (Blue Sheep) who although the master of their own terrain could fall for any number of unexpected reasons.
The second event to hit the headlines, although not directly associated with Everest in this instance was the announcement by Russell Brice that he was retiring as a commercial expedition organizer. Brice has spent several years organizing and running successful commercial expeditions to the big 8000m mountains.

Russell Brice Facebook
Recently Brice has made a few decisions that he feels, in retrospect, showed bad judgment. As a commercial expedition organizer a main part of your role is to carry out risk assessment. You look for all the likely danger points and then plan accordingly to minimize them. This situation can result in you being hung if you do and hung if you don’t. Brice has over the last two or three years called expeditions off because he considered the risks were not acceptable, usually weather and snow condition related. However other expeditions persisted and their members often achieved their objectives. I guess Brice got a lot of flak from some members who felt they should have been allowed to push the envelope, however, if that had been a bridge too far then again Brice would have been in the firing line, a difficult place to be. Brice has done a sterling job and helped many people achieve their ambitions, and I guess has allowed many climbers to return to their families and live to climb another day.
Apart from these two instances Everest has had its usual share of hype.

South African Ryan Sean Davy tried to climb Everest without paying the 11,000 US $ permit fee,
South African Ryan Davy Facebook
without going through the appropriate channels and avoiding several other compulsory conditions, his excuse, he had no money, but on his own admission he had no real mountaineering experience and added that he was motivated to help those climbers who got into difficulty and were not assisted by others. He was eventually found hiding in a cave at 7,300m by officials, who undoubtedly saved his life. His passport was confiscated and he was ordered back to Kathmandu. He was fined, deported and banned for any form of mountaineering activities in Nepal for ten years.
Janusz Adam Adamski's daughter wishing him luck before
he left for Kathmandu. Facebook

A second climber, a Polish citizen Janusz Adam Adamski completed the traverse of Everest ascending the North Col in Tibet and then descending the South Col route into Nepal. This is said to be only the 15th such traverse and the first to be completed by a Polish climber. 

Although he had a permit for the North Col route he did not have entry permission from Tibet into Nepal via Everest summit and he also failed to obtain a Nepalese permit for Everest. According to Janusz, he believes there are no borders on the mountains. He said he was well aware of immigration and climbing rules in Nepal and Tibet. “As there is no provision for the issuing of traverse permits in both countries, I had to traverse illegally for fulfillment of my lifetime dream,” the Polish economist claimed. He was also fined, deported and banned from mountaineering in Nepal for the next ten years. This also resulted in China closing the ‘big’ mountains on the north side of the border for the autumn 2017 season. In a statement China claimed “His action have caused the industry related internal rules and regulations to be adjusted and improved.” However it did not mention anything about the placing of the Tibetan flag as well as photos of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on top of Everest’s summit, images of which were widely circulated in social media during the spring climbing season.

Another situation that attracted a lot of media attention was whether or not the Hillary Step had collapsed as a result of the 2015 earthquake. Several rumours accompanied by photographic evidence suggested that it might have done but then this was contradicted by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism and the Nepal Mountaineering Association who insisted that because of the unusual snow fall and the fact that Everest had not been climbed since the earthquake the buildup of snow to the east had ‘buried’ the Step making it a lot easier.

Alpine Sange Sherpa in hospital in Kathmandu
after his rescue Facebook
Two very risky rescues were also carried out on Everest, although one was actually a recovery. In the first instance a young and relatively inexperienced Sherpa guide was leading his client towards the summit of Everest when the client experienced difficulties with his oxygen equipment and at the same time the weather started to deteriorate. The guide suggested they turn round, however the client insisted they continue. The result was that shortly afterward both collapsed in the snow above 8000m, the altitude that jets fly at! Ang Tshering Lama was completing his own expedition to the roof of the world when he came across the bodies in the snow, checking their life support systems Ang realized there was still life in the ‘bodies’.

Sange Sherpa's badly frostbitten fingers
Along with his two colleagues they roped the young guide and his client up and dragged them back down to a lower altitude where others were also able to assist before Ang was able to turn round to again ascend their route to the summit which they finally achieved a few days later.
Ang Lama during the rescue of Sange from above the
Balcony on Everest Ang Lama

The second instance concerned the death of Indian climber Ravi Kumar. Kumar was reported missing from about 8400m, above the Balcony on Everest’s South Col route, his body was eventually located after a 36 hour search. However at that altitude it is generally accepted that the retrieval of an injured or dead mountaineer is extremely difficult and hazardous.

This was to be the most complex rescue ever to have been carried out on Everest. This rescue, putting the lives of the rescue team in serious danger was ‘ordered’ by the Department of Tourism (Nepal) as the result of instructions from the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. It stated that the Indian government was providing all necessary support for the operation (apart from man-power) adding that the bereaved family wanted the body back home ‘at any cost’. Due to the risks involved in spending so much time at high altitude, many expeditions choose not to bring down the bodies of their members who die on Everest. Kumar had reached the summit with his guide. The Indian climber then collapsed during the descent at 8pm due to low energy and oxygen levels.

The client had forced his guide to push for the summit even though it was late in the day and getting benighted was a high probability, according to the expedition organiser. The guide left his client, Kumar, on the balcony making him comfortable and leaving auxiliary oxygen. The guide then descended to Camp IV to send back a rescue team as he himself was also suffering from frostbite and snow blindness could do little more to assist his client.

All Indian mountaineers (if in government service) received an enhance life style if they climb Everest, this pushes people to not only lie but to take extraordinary risk to secure promotion, enhanced pension, cars, houses or whatever the menu lists as appropriate. Obviously not every Indian mountaineer is subjected by ulterior motives, the majority enjoy ‘the games climbers play’. I think this situation needs doing away with, including the certification for all foreign summiteers. For the Nepalese staff this is a good addition to their professional bio-data so certification is right and proper but for Mr Mrs Average this means very little other than personal gratification, the individuals know the truth, why do they need a certificate, could it be anything to do with ego? Only those who climbed Everest before the days of the commercial expeditions have credit as true Everest mountaineers, and with a few modern day exceptions. We might get Everest back for the mountaineers then rather than to leave it in the hands of the gold diggers, how many times have we heard or read .. ‘I've climbed Everest, now I'm a motivational speaker, author!!!’
'I might be a bit late home tonight' Image TAAN

The monsoon has been very active this season. Landslips are a natural part of living in a hilly monsoon affected country however in Nepal’s case the government has not adequately prepared itself to tackle possible disasters in terms of precautionary measures and emergency response and relief systems. There still remains a huge coordination gap among government, non-governmental, humanitarian, inter-governmental and development agencies as well as the private sector in relation to tackling natural disasters, including floods and landslides across the country, according to a senior government official.
The Larcha Bridge over the Bhote Koshi RIver

An average of 300 people die each year due to floods and landslides in Nepal, which is ranked the 30th most vulnerable country in the world to floods and landslides. The country also regularly suffers annual economic damage exceeding US$ 10 million as a result of the monsoon. At the end of July ten landslips hit the Chitwan to Mugling highway in a single night, several cars and lorries were buried and a coach was pushed into the river and has as yet to be located. Despite the loss of property there were no reported injuries or deaths, all passengers and drivers managed to escape from their vehicles before the mud and rocks buried them.
The Larcha Bridge after the collapse

In Sindhupalchowk, the Larcha Bridge over Bhote Koshi River was destroyed and washed away by a landslide and as a result the Tatopani area has been isolated from the rest of the country. The bridge, a part of the Araniko Highway, (to the Friendship Bridge) was destroyed as a result of incessant rain throughout the previous day and the night. The landslip had originated approximately 200 m further up the hill side.


As usual, and periodically, various NGOs hold their elections for new Board Members. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has just gone through this process, which goes without saying had political connotations. There was an elected change of order this year so let’s hope things will move forward. One major issue for the new Committee is related to the new Federalism administration. The NMA was granted permission by the government in 1974 to collect peak royalties from foreigners for climbing Trekking Peaks. The original number of peaks open for this purpose was 18, this was then increased to 33 in later years. However, now the entire local administrative, ‘governments’, are insisting that they should keep the peak fees for local application. On the face of it if this money was to benefit the local people and resources then that would work fine, but the question is will itCould this be a question of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? Only time will tell.

Work on the long awaited new international airport in Pokhara began on the 2nd August 2017.This is more of an artistic impression than an architect’s actual drawing, however the authorities have high hopes of it meeting international standards not only in appearance but also in service. The aim is to open the west of Nepal up for tourism as well as to alleviate some of the pressure on Kathmandu. A lot of infrastructure is required before Pokhara, even as Nepal’s second city, will challenge Kathmandu for international arrivals. Completion date is provisionally set for 2021.
Keeping Pokhara in mind
It is reported that Fewa Lake shrank from 10 to 4.2 sq km in 46 years.

Locals show little concern or interest in the problem

It's been a few months since I last walked all the way along the lake front but recently I was surprised to see so many bars and the like built right up against the walkway. I was also surprised and worried to see so much rubbish getting blown onto the shore, obviously the issue is to solve the problem at source ‘Stop throwing rubbish into the lake’ but in the mean time why can't the powers that be scoop the rubbish up in a big net it’s not rocket science! Pokhara would lose so much of its attraction if the lake deteriorated into a murky pond and with the prospect of the Nepal's second airport, maybe this should be a considered priority by the Lakeside community, its authority and the NTB before all the new visitors see it and get a lasting first impression!

However, as long as the land owners are making money today, they don't care about tomorrow.... A fisherman reflects on how most locals don't care (lower image Jenny Caunt)

Meanwhile the Department of Immigration has released their forecast for arrival numbers for this year of 800,000 with an estimated 40,000 visiting from the USA. Tourist inflow to Nepal jumped by 46.8 per cent in the first six months of 2017, indicating signs of recovery in the tourism industry that was shattered by the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the subsequent trade disruptions. According to the Department of Immigration, the country received a total of 460,237 tourists in the first half of this year via air routes, against 313,512 in the corresponding period of the previous year. Tourist arrivals in the first half of this year surpassed the figure of 2014, before the earthquake struck when the country had only received 412,461 tourists who arrived in the first six months, traditionally the expedition and lower tourist arrival season. Certainly 2017 would appear, if things go to plan, to be our best Off The Wall Trekking season of the last five years.

The number of tourist visitors has also been projected well into the future. Since the earthquake both the public and private sectors have been proactive in selling Nepal and the private sector in particular in selling Nepal as a destination to invest in. This has all resulted in the estimated 1million visitor’s mark being crossed in 2022. This has resulted in an unprecedented boom in hotel construction that will add 4,000 star category rooms by 2020. However it has spread concern among the existing hoteliers who fear that the new entrants will eat into their markets.

There are obvious concerns over ‘sustainability’ and the fact that occupancy will depend very much on the continued political stability of the country, not to mention its geological stability and the development of other infrastructure to eliminate recognised bottlenecks.

As a result several genuine 5-star hotels have either been constructed and are now open for business or are under construction and are suppose to be ready for the next season. Pokhara has also two new 5-star hotels being built. The Fairfield Marriott, (open) the Sheraton (due to open June 2019), and the Aloft (open March 2018) already have a presence on the internet advertising their Thamel hotels. These are all developed on ‘brown field’ sites and I can only envisage that some of the other large construction sites are also ear-marked as hotels in the making.
A family menstruation shed often situated several hours
from the family home

Nepal criminalises isolation of menstruating women
According to the new law, people forcing women to follow the Hindu practice of ‘chhaupadi’ may face a jail term as a result of the Nepal parliament criminalizing the ancient Hindu practice that banishes women from the home to a small and often isolated hut during menstruation and after childbirth. The new law which will come into effect in 2018 stipulates a three-month jail sentence or a 3,000 rupee fine ($30), or both, for anyone forcing a woman to follow this custom. As in many other instances in Nepal many feel the new law is unenforceable because it is related to deeply entrenched beliefs that are harder to change. Nepal's patriarchal society plays a large part in the problem, it's the women and female elders who make some of the younger women follow the chhaupadi system, and this causes some of the problems, these women are not all persecuted and banished by men. It will take time for this law to be voluntarily implemented and at least a generation for the root cause to be understood and myths dispelled. This medieval Hindu practice has resulted in many deaths over the years. Now the law must be enforced alongside a program of education.

An income generating opportunity for all image Ian Wall
Many of you will know my affection for Dolpa and its people. As with many other areas of Nepal the local communities want to become more connected and included in their national and local affairs. Dolpa is no different. A new road is being pushed into Duani the administrative heart of the region. This will undoubtedly change the way of life and along with it will come positive aspects as well as some negative aspects. It will be at least a couple of years before the road is anywhere near ready to provide vehicular access to the region but now is the time to visit the remote part of Nepal before it is irreversibly changed.

I last visited the Dolpa at the end of June 2017, Juphal airport was closed for renovation – the old stone runway is now replaced with a pitch one nearly 50 years after the airstrip was built. I travelled with Chandra a local and old friend and he told me about his early life. ``I had heard stories of the long and at times difficult journey but I was keen to see the ‘modern’ world. We would travel along with other folk and porters carrying baskets of food and other essential items for our ‘expedition”.

``The region was rich in agricultural produce so the porters would carry plenty of food, each night we would leave a food dump at the resting place and continue on with our journey. By the time we arrived in Nepalgunj our baskets would be empty and we could make our purchases and prepare for our return journey”.

``We would set off early and follow the same trails back into Dolpa, every evening we would arrive at the resting place and find the hidden food, all we needed to do was to build a fire and prepared and eat the food.”

There was a loud explosion and when the dust had settled a large cliff several hundreds of feet high appeared through the haze covered in white ghost like figures scurrying around with large crow-bars, there was a mass of mobile ‘yellow hard hats’ giving the impression of attention to risk assessment and safety but on closer inspection it could be seen that the health and safety policy ended there, foot wear consisted of the ubiquitous ‘flip-flop’ and no other protective clothing. Many feet above the trail there was a busy workforce prizing and shovelling the demolished cliff into the void below that was shared with the new trail which in turn was situated several tens of feet above the river. Exposed? Just a tad! Dangerous? Just a tad! The only passing nod to travellers’ safety was a ‘stop – go’ worker who would monitor the passage of locals passing under the cliff face, however, this ‘nod’ to safety did not extend to the guy with the pneumatic drill who continued happily banging away literally overhead.Extracts from my blog - 'The Road to Dolpa' to read the full story visit
A family group all employed on the road works image Ian Wall

The Exchange Rate is at the moment hovering around 132.95/- to the pound; 102.27/- to the dollar, this is the highest it’s been for several months now, normally it’s around 130/- to the pound.

Over the last few months the roads of Thamel have been in a particularly ‘poor’ state. Many have flooded due to bad planning and other issues related to official projects. However one major contributor to this situation is the work being carried out in anticipation of the imminent supply of water as a result of the Melamche Water Supply Project.

Kathmandu suffers from an acute water shortage, not only has the population more the quadrupled in the last ten years and all drawing ground water from the valley but the major building programs have paid little attention to the old water courses and channels, the result being flooding, shortage of fresh water and disruption due to parked water tankers. Now with the end of the 27.58km Melanchi Tunnel nearing completion all the roads in town were dug up to lay water pipes, the work did not go according to plan and several sections had to be dug up several times. Over 23km of 27km tunnel have already been completed. According to officials, 99 percent work of the water treatment plant in Sundarijal which has the capacity of holding 85 million litres of water is also completed. 

This multi-million dollar project (c$464million) has been funded by multiple bilateral and multilateral donors as well as the Nepal government. It is hoped the project will supply clean drinking water for Kathmandu residents by the end of 2017. This is a 19 years old project which has yet to be completed due to the civil war, local agitation and several contractor changes at the hands of at least 19 different governments that have changed over the term of the work. 

I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer, I’m off to complete some work in Shimla for a couple of weeks, a new area for me to explore!

January 2018 Newsletter

Last October OTWT went into Upper Mustang, a wonderful and very remote area of northern Nepal. However with all the local development t...