Nepal Earthquake Relief

When I heard about the earthquake I became uncertain about posting a new trek. Talking with Nima Sherpa (from his tent in Kathmandu) reminded me of how every trek we do infuses many thousands of dollars into Gran, our porters’ village. They now need the work more than ever. In that sense, every trek is an aid trek. For Nima it means his three girls can go to school. Vishnu, our cook, says: “if you no come, I die!” I invite you to join Nima and I on these incredible journeys and help the people of Gran.

To learn more about these wonderful people and their village visit the 15 minute video:

Tom Carter fundraised to build the Tamang village of Gran a new water system.
100% of your donations went into building this lifegiving resource.

After The Earthquake

Kagbeni Gompa

~ 29 days YVR-YVR ~ 17 days trekking ~ high point 4300m ~
Land price $5994 CAD (5 people) Kathmandu to Kathmandu

Wild Desert

An astonishing high altitude desert, Tibetan culture, caves of the troglodytes, the walled city of Lo Manthang, crumbling fortresses of ancient warlords, 12th century cave paintings and an unbelievably blue sky, make a journey to Mustang one of daily amazement.

To honour this fabled land, last fall we walked for twelve days north of the Annapurnas, before we began our 12 days (at $50 US a day permit fee), in the restricted territory of upper Mustang. The trek was wonderful but long, and our time in Mustang was too short. This year’s first option would fly in and out of Jomsom, trek through medieval villages below the Thorung La pass… for 4 days of pleasure and acclimatizing, then enter Mustang for 14 days. Last fall we were completely amazed climbing up to the Konchock Ling cave, painted in the twelfth century. With two more days we would be able to visit the Luri Gumba cave, also painted in the twelfth century. It would as well, enable a more satisfying circle trek.

Buildings below

Option 2 would trek up the Kali Gandaki Valley to Mustang from Pokhara. Starting in intensely green rice paddies, and after languishing in hotsprings, we would climb through a steadily drying landscape. Walking into the rainshadow of the Annapurnas, the land turns arid, and we arrive in the dusty alleys of Kagbeni. Comparing the two options, I am drawn more to walking through the changes, watching the land turn into the desert that is the Mustang…than flying to Jomson and missing the incredible variety of Nepal. This version would take two more days of walking, but, as we fly only one way, it costs no more. The return to YVR would be October 25 rather than the 22nd. Which version we follow will depend on the leanings of those inquiring.


Itinerary 1

~ Met by Nima and escorted to our hotel for lunch.

~ Explore the maze of Kathmandu. 1450m.

~ Walking up to the hill-top temple Swayambhunat, to watch the sun rise over Kathmandu.

sun rise over Kathmandu

~ Bus to Pokhara, a balmy subtropical 800m.

~ Fly to Jomsom and hike to Kagbeni 2800m.

~ Walk up to the fortress-like village of Jarkot. 3500m. If possible slightly higher to Ranipowa at 3700m. The goal is to spend a couple of nights at 3500m or higher to acclimatize for the Mustang.

Looking over Jarkot to the Mustang

~ Walk higher, or rest, or visit the temples at the pilgrimage site of Muktinath.

~ Descend to Kagbeni via the old fortress village of Dzong

Itinerary 2

~ As in the first itinerary we bus to Pokhara on day 4

~ After a night in the subtropics we take a bus-ride to Birethanti...1025m. We walk up the new road for a few hours to the trailhead. An hour on the trail brings us to Tikedunga 1540m.

Terrace Farming in Nepal

~ Our day begins with the infamous Ulleri staircase…all 420metres of it! Above it the trail angle lessens somewhat, we enter a somewhat cooler forest and the trail continues to climb to Ghorepani at 2850m. A long climb, but it gives us a panoramic view of Dhaulagiri 8167m. and the Kali Gandaki Valley, our walk for days ahead.

~ The bonus of Ghorepani is a pre-dawn climb of 200 metres up Poon Hill. The hill-top gives an incredible wrap around view of the sun rising on  Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas. After breakfast we walk downhill all day to the Kali Gandaki and the hotsprings of Tatopani, semi-tropical at 1190m. Besides the baths, Tatopani is famous for it’s chocolate cake and it’s orange groves.

~ We follow the river as the mountains squeeze tight. This is considered the greatest defile on earth. Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, both over 8000m., are only 28 kilometres apart. The river between them is 2500m. We cross this axis in the canyon. There is a road up the valley, but we can stay on trails all the way. Despite the road, I am told there are still mule trains that grace the trails with their gay-coloured headdresses. We will try to walk to Kalopani, 2530m. where the roar of the river slows, and the great gravel beds begin. Whereas most of the trees today are deciduous, after lunch they begin changing to fir and pine and tomorrow they will dwindle to juniper and scrub as we enter the rainshadow of the Himalaya.

Grannies enjoying their pipe

~ This is the land of the Thakali people who became the barons of the trade that flowed north and south from the lowlands to Tibet. Inns, now guest lodges, have large forecourts to handle the traders and their animals. When the Chinese closed the border to trade and the new road cut the numbers of trekkers, these large towns became partially ghost-town like. We will try to walk to Marpha, 2620m., the “apple pie capital” of the valley. The roofs are no longer peaked. The arid lands begin. Agriculture, including the large apple orchards, depends on irrigated water to survive.

~ Today we pass through Jomsom and continue to Kagbeni. The afternoon winds are a force, but fortunately are at our backs. The bandanas are coming out. Tomorrow the upper Mustang!

  Itineraries 1&2 join at Kagbeni

The Cliffs above Chusang

~ We pass the checkpoint and enter Upper Mustang, following the river braiding through the gravel beds.  At Chusang , the canyon walls above us are pitted with caves. The cliffs are eroded into towers that loom over the valley like ancestral kings. Leaving the river we climb up to Chele. at 3050m., Flat roofs are stacked with firewood that form a windbreak for drying peppers, squash, corn and millet.

~ We continue to climb up a side valley that turns into a canyon and our trail becomes very exciting as it climbs up the side of the cliff. The land flattens out briefly as we walk into Samar. Although the culture appears Tibetan, most of the villages in “lower Upper Mustang” are Thakali and Gurung.

Another Mustang Canyon

Leaving Samar we drop into a deep canyon and climb slowly up the other side only to come to another even deeper canyon. On the other side the trail climbs to a pass at 3850m. The land is vast and empty. Around a bend, far away, the two buildings of Shyanboche promise refuge as the wind begins to howl. They have a walled campsite and a welcome fire in a dining room. This is our first of many lodges that were once inns for the trade traffic. They all have several Tibetan styled dining rooms. We often have our choice. Across the road saddled horses were tied in front of a low mud building like a "wild west saloon".

Looking south to the Himalya

~ Today we can look back and see how far we have come. The Annapurnas are all lined up and shrinking as we walk north. The jet stream wind strips spindrift off their summits... The sun pours down on yellow and purple canyons as we cross another short pass, 4105m. and drop down into the village of Ghami. at 3550m.

Ghami's Gompa

Ghami is medieval, as we’ll find all the villages to be. The walls are mudded white, the gompas mudded an intense red. We share the alleyways with all kinds of cattle. Their pies are collected and dried for fuel. We decide to walk half-days before the wind picks up. And two passes a day is a bit too much for most.

The Gompa in Tserang

~ Tserang 3560m. - After a 4010m. pass we drop slowly down to a view of the red gompa (temple) and a huge stupa (monument), newly painted, with demons and dragons. Enough to scare off evil spirits from entering town. Although very devout Buddhists, there are many signs of animism and shamanism.  Tserang has rows of poplar trees, the shade and the green and yellow, are a very welcome relief from the dry world outside.

Demon Chaser

~ Lo Manthang 3810m. -  Lo is a walled city built in the mid 14th century by a warlord who became the king. His four story palace dominates the city. When Mustang officially became part of Nepal the  present king was demoted to  a rajah, but for the Lobos (as they call themselves), he remained their leader. Now very old, he has moved to Kathmandu and the palace is deteriorating badly.

Royal Palace of Lo

Lo is an amazing place with endless alleys, three very large 12th century temples and countless chortens (monuments). It is very easy to spend a whole day exploring, or lost. Three hills rise outside of town with the ruins of a castle on one, a fortress on the tallest, and closest to town a sky burial site.

Life in Lo

Sitting in one of several dining rooms in a very old inn, it is easy to imagine the traders, centuries ago, shouting and haggling, drinking strong brew and telling stories of distant lands.

Niphu Caves

~ Today we visit Choser, Niphu Caves and the Kenchok Ling Grotto 3900-4300m. A most incredible day. It is possible to line up a jeep and guide to make all these sights possible in a long day. The Niphu cave is very accessible and has a staircase up to the first level. There are five levels with ladders to each. The levels are extensive with many chambers. They were built by the troglodytes one to two thousand years ago.  Initially they were burial chambers but became dwellings as warfare intensified and the caves were easily defended. At least that is the theory. Much about them remains a mystery. Later when the Buddhists came the caves were ideal meditation cells.

Buddhist Cave Temple

Wild cliffs below Kenchok Ling

In the afternoon the jeep takes you part way up a canyon after picking up the key-bearer. It is a long climb up into progressively wilder eroded cliffsides. Along the ridge top the trail brings you to a cable. Lowering yourself to the ledge is very airy. But the ledge brings you to the most amazing grotto with walls painted in the 12th century. They are of a style that pre-dates all the Buddhist paintings I have seen in twenty-five years of visiting temples. It stretches your mind to imagine the painter at work over 900 years ago. One stays in a state of wonder all the way back to Lo Manthang.

In a State of Wonder

~ Yara 3650m. - We head south and east and cross the Kali Gandhaki to Yara. Again caves everywhere.

12th century cave painting

~ Luri Gompa, Yara 3880m.  We travel up valley to the caves of Luri Gompa. Here there is actually a temple inside a cave. The domed chamber, with a chorten in the middle was painted in the 12th century and is in much better condition than Kenchok Ling. In the afternoon we return to Yara.

The poplars of Tserang

~ From Yara we will most likely cross back across the river to Tserang and familiar territory. There is a route down the east side of the valley. It is high and wild with only one village and sometimes no water. Let’s presume we go to Tserang. We will try to find the caretaker for the old royal palace that was once the seat of the king.

Gompa window

~ Again we stay in Ghami

Chortens in Ghami

~ We go beyond Shyanboche, climb over the pass, negotiate the two canyons and spend the night in Sama. The land gives new views, going back, and is a wild as ever. The Annapurnas inch closer.

~ Going down, we pass through Chele and stop in Chusang - 2980m. It feels lush and low after many days higher up.

~ We hire a jeep to take us back to Kagbeni and on to Jomsom.

~ If all goes well we board our plane for a 30 minute flight to Pokhara. Although it is possible to continue flying on to Kathmandu, Pokhara is so soft and warm and the juice bars beckon and a boat ride on the lake is sublime. It’s just so nice to soak up the moisture. In the evening we’ll have a tip-giving party for the porters.

~Our bus back to Kathmandu.

~ We will have two more days to continue exploring this city which lost so much in the earthquake but is still so amazing. The resiliency of the Nepali people is truly remarkable. Their warmth and cheer under duress is something you will never forget. They will be with you long after your flight brings you home.



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Everest, Lhotse and Makalu

~ 32 days YVR-YVR ~ 21 days trekking~ high point 5350m.~ Gokyo Ri ~
Landprice $ 5267 CAD (5 people), Kathmandu to Kathmandu

Sherpa Graves

The mountains of the Khumbu are the most spectacular and dramatic on earth. A sea of 6000m. peaks swirl around the feet of the giants: Everest, Lhotse and Cho Oyu. Yak bells, the horns of monks, the hospitality of the Sherpa people amidst these mountains of an unimaginable scale, make a journey here a deeply moving experience.

But all the groups I have travelled with agree, our week of walking through the villages and forests of the middle hills is what they remember most: sitting by a family's fire, by a river in the hills, with our hearts full to the brim.

We merge relunctantly with the crowds at Lukla, and travel with them for two days to Namche Bazaar. While the horde marches off to Everest Base camp we turn north into the beautiful Gokyo Valley. On top of Gokyo Ri we are surrounded by four 8000m. peaks and their true majesty is revealed. Walking to glacial lakes opens up the most amazing vistas. Walking the trail to Pangboche is an airy delight. At the Tengboche monastery we watch plumes of cloud sail off from Everest’s summit. It is all so very overwhelming.



~ settling in to your hotel, getting your bearings in the bazaar, changing money.

Exploring Kathmandu

~ Exploring Kathmandu

~ Dawn over Kathmandu from the hill-top Buddhist temple Swayambunath.

~ Bus to Shivalaya - 1750m. If it’s clear we’ll have our first views of the Himalaya.

~ Over the pass to Bhandar - 2150m. Entering the land of the Buddhist Sherpas.

~ Sete - 2575m. the morning walk drops from Bhandar to Kenja at 1570m. then begins the long climb to the Lamjura La. Sete is halfway up. Fantastic sunsets from an ancient crumbling monastery.

The mountains at last

~ Junbesi - 2675m. After lunch at the pass -3530m. we begin the descent to Junbesi. Inhabited by Sherpas for centuries, the land is rich and pastoral. The people are also rich in culture and hospitality.

~ Junbesi. This is a rest / explore / washing day. Thubten Choling, the monastery home to 500 Tibetan monks and nuns is 90 minutes up the valley.

Smiling eyes

~ Nuntala - 2250m. On a clear morning, just around the ridge-end from Junbesi, we have our first view of the enormous Himalayan peaks. After lunch we cross the Trashindo La, a small pass and enter the Dudh Kosi watershed. Nuntala is halfway down the long descent to the river that drains all the water of Everest and the Khumbu.


~ Bupsa - 2300m. Having crossed the Dudh Kosi we turn north and begin our climb to the Khumbu.

Khumbu pastoral

~ Surke - 2290m. Our night in this quiet riverside village is the last before we merge with the “crowds” who have flown into Lukla. Clean, pressed, cologned and hell-bent for Base Camp. Those who have walked in realize how precious those days were.

~ Phakding - 2800m. a large Sherpa/ hotel town straddling the river.

~ Namche Bazaar - 3450m. It’s a long hill up to Namche., the commercial center of the Khumbu Sherpas. Long the mecca of mountaineers and hikers, one feels great satisfaction in having arrived here on foot, particularly if you have walked from Shivalaya.

Om Mani Padme Hung

~ Another night is necessary to acclimatize. It is helped greatly by walking higher still. As the area around Namche is stunning, it’s a pleasure more than a duty. Above Namche the world opens up and you are surrounded by ice peaks with Ama Dablam and Everest crowning the head of the valley. As our hours of trekking are shorter at high altitude, these afternoon hikes become a regular feature. Besides increasing your pleasure, they greatly assist your acclimatization. You get to sleep “low” every night!

~ Mong La - 4000m. This little hamlet perched on the side of Mt.Khumbila is the gateway to the Gokyo valley.

Monestary and mauntains at Thame


~ Dole - 4100m. Camping at the Yeti Inn! Kangtega behind, towers over us. Cho Oyu 8153m. dominates the head of the valley.

~ Machermo - 4400m. On the afternoon walk, 5000m. and a view of Everest, (which we have lost since being in the Gokyo Valley), are both possible. The Valley is beautiful from every height… there is no mandatory height to reach on these afternoon outings…if it isn’t a pleasure, something isn’t working.

Ngozumba Glacier

~ Gokyo - 4750m. The last settlement in the Valley. Cho Oyu is Huge!

Cho Oyu 8100m.

~ Gokyo - An early morning ascent of Gokyo Ri, 5350m. offers what many, myself included, consider to be one of the world’s greatest views, and the best of Everest. Cho Oyu, Gyanchkung, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and Makalu are like tall ships sailing through hundreds of tiny 6000m. dinghies.

Yaks in meditation

~ Gokyo - The nights are cold but, oh, the sun is so nice in the days. Walking up the valley along the moraines of the Ngozumba Glacier, (the longest in the Nepal Himalaya), to Fourth Lake, Cho Oyu keeps growing. At Fifth Lake, suddenly a valley opens up to the east and there is ALL of Everest rising up above the Changri La.

~ Phortse - 3900m. We turn back down the valley and cross below the snout of the glacier to the east side trail, which gives even better views of the valley peaks.

~ Old Pangboche - 4000m. The trail from Phortse is one of the world’s best, winding like a staircase in space to old Pangboche. The Everest Highway is down below, old Pangboche sits quietly in it’s grove of juniper trees by the Khumbu’s oldest gompa (Buddhist temple).

prayer flags at the pass

~ Tengboche - -3800m. Many years ago I went uphill from Pangboche and found myself on top of a pinnacle at 5200m. and the views were overwhelming. I called it Taboche Ri. It is an unsung treasure. and you can still walk to Tengboche the same day. Tengboche is the principal monastery in the Khumbu, spectacularly located, straddling a high ridge at the junction of the upper Khumbu valleys.

gathering dung for the fire

~ Namche - Our last night at altitude. There are discos, bakeries and pool halls if you are so inclined. But outside there is the moon and the monk's last horn of the day.

Vishnu's kitchen

~ And down to Lukla - down out of the high country. And if the morning is clear, the planes will fly and, “Oh my God! What a take off! What a flight!” In fourty-five minutes the Khumbu is gone and you’re on the streets of Kathmandu! It seems even more bizarre after weeks in the peace of the mountains. Most of us seem to eat and shop a lot! And we have a party with Nima and then we are gone. Often the next couple of months are spent daydreaming. It seems impossible to explain or describe it. ASIA! You begin to dream of going again.

Life is but a dream

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21 days walking ~ 29 days Vancouver to Vancouver
Moderately strenuous ~ high point 4100m.
Land price Kathmandu to Kathmandu ~ $4250 CAD

As with all our trips, we have two days to wander through the amazing mazes of Kathmandu before boarding our bus to steamy Pokhara. A shorter, wilder bus ride takes us to a beautiful lake called Begnas Tal. After a hot walk to the far end, and a cool dip, we sit down to our first awesome supper on the trail. Fishermen paddle about on the lake like waterbugs. The sun sets red behind them. It is so good to be here!

In the morning it is already hot and we have a big ridge to climb over. At the top, the Annapurnas look much bigger. Across the Marsyangdi river, Manaslu, at 8189m. sails above the clouds. Dropping to the Madi Khola river it is even hotter. Villagers are all under banyan trees or sitting under bamboo screens. In an intensely green landscape all the village women wear red. We camp in the paddies and of course all the village kids come to stare and giggle.

The next days are spent winding up the river catching glimpses of Lamjung Himal, the easternmost of the Annapurna giants. Siklis, a large Gurung village is high above us. It is a very hot climb. We take our time and at the top, at 2000m, we enter a welcome cooler climate. The alleys of Siklis lead to continual encounters with hillside Nepali life. The last two times in Siklis we danced for hours.

We climb up in the rhodo forest to 3000m. Camping on a cleared knoll we have an incredible view of all the eastern Annapurnas and their red petalled forests. Fantastic! The next day's descent takes us back down into heat and paddyland. After two days of lowlands we climb up to join the main route to the Annapurna Sanctuary. We follow the Modhi Khola valley into it's canyon. Red and pink blossoms are everywhere! Above treeline we climb up onto the first moraines of the Annapurna glacier. Suddenly we emerge into the Sanctuary, surrounded and overwhelmed by this circle of seven and eight thousand meter giants. The next day we climb to Annapurna Base Camp for a liquid orange sunset. In the morning, sunrise works it's way down the enormous wall of Annapurna 1. While standing under the prayer flags another beautiful day has begun. In less than two days we descend from the glaciers, pass through the flower jungle and walk out into hillsides stepped with terraces of barley and wheat.

Climbing up into a forest of huge 25 meter rhododendron trees, we arrive at Tadapani. It's view is back to the Modhi Khola. Machapuchare, at 7000m. towers above. The trail to Ghorepani winds and twists along streams and waterfalls with constant vignettes of red petals and snow peaks. Before dawn we climb up to Poon Hill for the ultimate sunrise view.

Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas soar above a sea of red blossoms. Dropping out of the forests we return to farmland and fields and continue down into the rice paddies. A short bus ride takes us back to the tropical juice bars of Pokhara and maybe we'll take a rowboat out onto Pewa Tal lake. Definitely we will have a party for our amazing porters. In the morning another bus takes us back up to Kathmandu. We have two nights left to eat and shop and wander before our flights home.

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