Bhutan is a country that has gone unnoticed, a country that has swept under the radar of many a traveller.
People who do visit Bhutan are greatly thankful for this as the quiet country provides a relaxed atmosphere that is hard to replicate anywhere else. This also extends to Bhutan’s treks where the trails are empty, the tea hoses vacant and the wilderness is still a wilderness.
Among Bhutan’s many treks sits one of the most infamous and difficult treks on earth – The Snowman Trek.
The Snowman Trek
Often termed the most difficult trek in the world, the Snowman Trek is a titanic trek of high passes, hidden valleys and stunning vistas.
Trekkers face some of the most inspiring, difficult and mesmerizing terrains on earth over 25 days. Such is the length of the trek that the trail is only suited to the most experienced hikers. Trekkers who have little experience at altitude or hiking over many days should not both even attempting this one!
The Snowman Trek begins in Paro and follows the spine of the Eastern Himalayas between Bhutan and Tibet before finishing in the east near Trongsa. To make it clear why the trek is so difficult, the trail crosses over 11 passes standing over 4,500 meters and 5 of these stand at an altitude of over 5,000 meters! Even for experienced hikers, 11 high passes is a lot and the Snowman Trek can only be completed during summer as the passes are all covered in snow during the other periods.
The trek also takes you into the almost unknown kingdom of Lunana which is almost separate to Bhutan (but not quite). Here you will visit one of the most remote regions and valleys on earth! You will also visit long lost villagers such as the fabled Laya and Thanza, trek in the shadow of many 6,000 meter peaks including the stunning Jitsu Drake, the daunting Chomolhari and the highest unclimbed mountain on earth – Gangkar Puensum.
If this is not enough, you will also visit several of the most notable monasteries (or Dzongs) in Bhutan including the famous Takstang ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monatery which sits on the side of a cliff and the large Punakha Dzong. Both are incredibly important both in terms of history and culture and give views are great insight into Bhutanese culture and architecture.
Until quite recently, Antarctica was considered to be almost unreachable. However, over the last 20 years things have changed dramatically to the point where over 35,000 tourists visited the White Continent in 2015!
Now in 2016, experts are predicting a rise of 14% with more than 42,000 tourists to visit Antarctica in the next season and this number is only predicted to rise. Of those 40,000 visitors, 10,000 are expected to go ashore. But can the landscape cope?
Whilst the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) does its best to regulate and manage Antarctic operators, many slip under the radar and avoid clear guidelines. This has led many people to speculate that Antarctica tourism should be stopped period!
“To keep some places on earth out of bounds for tourism will often simply obscure challenges. Tourists can be witnesses to the ongoing changes in the Antarctic waters caused by climate change – to see and learn for themselves, and to further help raise awareness when they get home. It is a good thing.” says Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten.
Whilst the general census is to continue, there is a call out for more stringent regulations and possibly even laws. Claire Christian, acting executive director, states that “Tourism is currently well managed, but the status quo may not last forever. IAATO’s rules are not mandatory and no one has to join it, after all.”
The environment and the wildlife that inhabit the area are most people’s number one priority and as long as this continues, experts say there is little risk.
As Steven Chown, a professor from Monash University in Australia says “It needs to continue to be managed the way it is, which is well,” he adds. “If it got out of control, it would be a problem, but that actually goes for all activity in the Antarctic. If you just had rampant science everywhere – stacks and stacks of stations – and no one paying attention to the environment, you’d end up with problems too.”
Whatever the future of Antarctica tourism holds, the one good thing is that operators rely upon the sell-factor that the region is an ‘untouched wilderness’. If this were to change from rogue operators, the region would fast get a new reputation! “People want to visit Antarctica because it is a pristine environment,” states Amanda Lynnes, IAATO’s environmental and communications officer. “We don’t want to have them visiting part of it and another ship to be waiting in the distance for them to leave.”
Luckily for now, there are currently no large Antarctic operators that do not adhere to IAATO. Long may this continue.
The other day I decided I want to take up golf. All my mates have been talking about it and how much fun they have and all that jazz. Well I said I am going to give it a bash and actually get out the house for a change rather than sitting in front of the television all day. Surely golf can’t be that great and from what I hear only old people play golf!? It’s not a ‘young’ man’s sport! Let me find out for myself what the story is.
I drove to my nearest golf store and went to have a look at all the equipment on offer. Everything except actual golf balls of course. I don’t know how that’s possible to forget that considering that is what actually makes golf golf! After getting back home I decided I was not going to get in my car again so rather I googled “golf balls for beginners” and found this review. Now bear in mind in mind I had NO CLUE as to what kind of golf ball is best for me and whether hard or soft was best. Well Golf Assessor (see: http://www.golfassessor.com/) helped me tremendously by simplifying my process and within minutes I knew exactly what I wanted – and I haven’t even hit a golf ball yet. In my life. Ever!
Anyway true as Bob I set off to the driving range the next day in absolutely beautiful weather. Not a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind. Hearing the birds tweeting in the trees alongside the tee box. Man I can get used to this! And would you know it, I am now the biggest golf fan out there and already a Tiger Woods fan. Even though he hardly even plays golf anymore! I bought 100 driving range balls to whack away into the blue yonder and I’ll be honest. About 90 of them were ‘whacked’ away into the blue water right in front of the practice tee, but. BUT. The other 10 I somehow found the clubface and only one of those the center of the clubface. And boy oh boy is this game all the better when you strike it! It makes me want to come back and try again the next day. Try and make it 5 or 6 pure strikes out of 100.
If you’re currently on the cycling, running or gym bandwagon then get off. Get to the golf course and start playing!
This year I started playing golf. I was invited to the driving range with a mate back in December last year and immediately got into the challenge of getting the ball into the air – a task that is much harder than it looks. My many years of playing hockey certainly helped but it still takes some getting used to hitting a golf ball.
By the end of the session I was pretty good at getting the ball airborne but useless at directing it towards the target – something that is relatively key in golf!
After a few more lessons with my mate at the range I could sense that I was getting pretty good and decided I was ready to take my skills to the course. Suffice to say it was probably a little early. I think I nearly killed a golfing patron when I shanked my second of the 1st hole.
Things steadily improved though and by the end of the round I had actually scored a par!!!
Well, I have been hooked on the game since and this weekend I went a little nuts and splashed out on some new gear. I’ve bought a brand new standing golf bag, a set of shiny new irons and a great big bloody driver! It’s actually called a Great Big Bertha! man can I hit the screws out of this thing.
Now that I’m all kitted and looking the part I have decided to bite the bullet and join my local club. All I need now is a handicap and I will officially be a golfer!
Quick shout out to the guys ad gals at Golf Assessor for sorting me out with gear. The reviews and recommendations where really helpful.
I look forward to seeing the chaps from the driving range on the course this weekend – planning to break 90 so you better have your A game on.
Yours in golf! Laters!
So you are thinking of taking on a Himalayan Trekking Peak and are considering Island Peak or Mera Peak. Here are my thoughts on which to choose.
This April I was fortunate enough to climb both peaks. We started our expedition after an amazing flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, Hillary-Tenzing Airport. Instead of heading straight up the Khumbu Valley, we veered right out of Lukla and down into the Arun Valley. Its quiet, remote and beautifully scenic in the Arun, seriously amazing part of Nepal.
Mera is one of the highest trekking peaks in Nepal, standing at 6,476m. It’s defining features are:
Some operators take you directly over the Zatwa La, which at 4250m, is a big pass to cross early on in your trek. We recommend skirting around this to improve your acclimatisation chances and return via the Zatwa La!
Or in our case we took on Amphu Labtsa, the 5845m technical pass that sits north of Mera and drops you via abseil into the Imja Valley.
From here it is a relatively short trek to Island Peak base camp.
Here are the defining features of Island Peak:
So which to choose? Both really, but if you are more of a trekker than a climber then I would definitely say start with Mera and then build up your confidence from there.
Hope this provides some useful insights!
BTW, we used Kandoo Adventures as our tour operator and they were amazing. Incredible guides!
The tiny mountain nation of Nepal is famous for its trekking industry. With its gigantic peaks and rugged landscape, Nepal is a great option for any hiker out there looking for an adventure. In this article we will look at some of the most notable trekking routes in the country, particularly within the Everest region and the Annapurna region.
Everest Base Camp trek (EBC)
Drawing over 30,000 tourists a year, the classic Everest Base Camp trek is by far the most popular route for hikers in Nepal. The iconic route is full of ancient villagers, Buddhist monasteries and incredible vistas. Taking the route of Tenzing and Hillary, the trek takes you through Sherpa villages, past lovely cultivated land and up into the mountains proper where you can climb to the top of Kala Patthar and get the best views of Everest available in the entire region!
Gokyo Lakes trek
If you have some extra days on your hands then we would suggest hiking this route. Not only do you get away from the crowds, but you get the best of both worlds. Beginning on the same path as the classic Everest Base Camp Trek, the route diverges after Namche and heads towards the Gokyo Lakes on a circuit route. The beauty of this trek is that you’re not backtracking yourself like the EBC trek. The emerald green lakes are a true wonder of the Himalaya and should not be missed, as is the dramatic scenery around Cho La pass.
Annapurna Circuit trek
This is the most trekked route in the Annapurna and is considered to be one of the best treks in the world! The varied geology and stunning vistas it provides are simply breath-taking. You’ll trek along rivers, through huge gorges, over ancient bridges and over the Thorong La pass at 5,416 meters! Remember to check out the local teahouses along the route as they are a fantastic way to speak to locals and experience some authentic Nepalese culture.
Poon Hill trek
This is an easier option than the Circuit trek and is great for either beginners or trekkers that are pressed for time and need something slightly shorter. The trek winds its way along river and through gorges before finally ascending to the summit of Poon Hill where you are rewarded with some incredible vistas of the surrounding region!
Annapurna Sanctuary trek
Slightly longer than Poon Hill, the Sanctuary trek takes you up over Poon Hill and then down into the deep valley where you trek along the ‘sanctuary’ – a majestic route with towering mountains on all sides. You then trek on towards Annapurna Base Camp where you get beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains.
Most people associate Machu Picchu with the iconic Inca Trail. As this was the original pilgrimage trail made by the Incas, it’s easy to see why. Whilst the Inca Trail is incredible and certainly well worth doing, there are other routes available to Machu Picchu. Whilst these other routes are not as iconic, they do offer up their own charms. Far less crowded, they do not require a permit and they also do not require you to be accompanied by a tour operator like the Inca Trail does.
Below we’ll have a look at all the route options available so you can choose what will suit you most.
There are three Inca Trail routes. Firstly, of course, is the ‘Classic’ Inca Trail which takes 4 days and covers a distance of 45km. This is the most popular and requires booking moths in advance .Be warned – there are a lot of steps!
Secondly is the ‘short’ Inca Trail. This is much shorter taking two days and covering a distance of 13km. This is a perfect option for the less energetic of hikers.
The third is called the ‘Salkantay’, also known as the ‘combo’ route. This is the longest route combining both trails together and takes 6 days with a distance of 65km.
Below are other Machu Picchu Routes you can consider. Read more about each here: http://www.machupicchutrek.net/hike-to-machu-picchu/
Choquequirao Trek: 9 days, 69km trek. The Choquequirao ruins are incredible and should be seen if possible! This is a rare trek as it can be shortened or lengthened depending on how you’re feeling. As this is the longest trek up to Machu Picchu it is wise to hike it in the dry season from May to September.
The Lares Trail: 4 days. 33. This easy going trek is a great way to get away from the crowds and interact with the locals!
The Junge Trail: 4 days. 60km (cycle) 15km (trek). As the only cycle option to Machu Picchu this a fantastic trail for the thrill seekers out there. The downhill section of the trek is very fast and there is also the option of rafting and taking a zip-wire!
The Salkantay Trail: 5 days. 55km. Similar to the Lares trail, the Salkantay trail is fairly crowd free. The trek is considered quite difficult as it hiked at high altitude. The reward for this difficult hike is getting to see Nevada Salkantay.
Huchuy Qosko: 3 days, 20km trek. Short and easy going, this trek is ideal for the less fit amongst us!Ideally should be hiked between May and September. The trail has beautiful scenery and the Huchuy Qosko ruins are a must see!
The Vilcabamba Trail: 5 days. 62km. The toughest trail to Machu Picchu, Vilcabamba is for experienced backpackers and offers up incredible scenery!
Click here for a recommended Machu Picchu Trek Operator.
So you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro. That’s Awesome!
You probably have loads of questions. Things like: How do I get to Kilimanjaro? How fit do I need to be? Is it dangerous to climb Kilimanjaro? What are the main risks and how high is the probability of summiting? Which Kilimanjaro route should I take.
In this article we set out the main things you need to prepare to get ready to climb Kilimanjaro.
1. Choosing a route
There are 7 official routes on Kilimanjaro. Each offers trekkers something unique but some are better profiled for acclimatisation and summit success than others. What do I mean by that? Key to climbing Kilimanjaro safely and successfully is acclimatisation. This is the process of becoming accustomed to high altitudes where the air pressure is significantly lower than at sea level. Without proper acclimatisation you will likely experience altitude sickness, which is a potentially fatal condition. Key to acclimatisation on Kilimanjaro is choosing a route that gradually moves up the mountain in incremental stages that are spread across at least 6, ideally longer days. Equally important is not to rush or over exert yourself, and to ensure you stay well hydrated by drinking loads of waters. I recommend drinking at least three litres a day.
The three route that provide good acclimatisation options are the Lemosho route, the Machame route and the Rongai Route – each of these routes provide good climb high, sleep low profiles, which is great for acclimatisation.
You don’t need to be a super star fitness athlete to summit Kilimanjaro, but you should be in good cardiovascular shape. This means you will need to do some training before climbing Kilimanjaro. I recommend a three month training regime that builds up your stamina through cardiovascular exercises in the gym, lots of long-distance (4-5 hour) hikes during the weekend, and some strength training for your legs and upper body.
It is important that before you depart for Kilimanjaro you get all your administrative tasks in order. This means getting your passport ready and Tanzanian visa issued, get all your vaccinations (there are many nasties in Tanzania), get anti-malarial tablets and sorting our your travel insurance. Booking your flights early is also a great way to save money. Click here to find information on cheap flights to Kilimanjaro.
4. Getting to the top
Getting to the top requires loads of determination and grit. It is important to make sure you eat and drink well on the mountain as you will need the energy. Going slowly is also key to successfully summiting. Finally having a positive mindset, particularly when things get tough is a sure way to increase you chances of summiting.
For a recommended tour operator I suggest checking out these guys: http://www.kandooadventures.com/
The question of what to bring on a trek to Everest Base Camp or on the Annapurna Circuit is oft-asked. Your packing list must be carefully considered given that there will be a weight allowance when you fly to Lukla or Pokhara (see: http://www.taan.org.np/). Many people make the mistake of bringing too much stuff: there is nothing worse than carting clothing and equipment around for two weeks at altitude and not making use of it. You will feel even worse if it is a porter doing the carting. So here is a list of clothing for this trek that assumes the adventure will last for slightly more than two weeks.
Footwear, because your feet are critical here
And do not forget the inner and outer gloves and wooly hat.
Adhering to this list will allow you to be comfortable on your Everest Base Camp trek
You can find more information on the Everest Base Camp packing list and Annapurna Circuit packing list here:
The Inca Trail appears on many people’s bucket lists, featuring as it does breathtaking scenery and Inca ruins. It’s widely-regarded as one of the 10 best treks in all the world. It concludes at the lost city of Machu Picchu, whose image seems to grace every Peru-related brochure or travel book.
If you take the Inca Trail, central to your enjoyment will be your sleeping bag, in which you’ll be spending a large proportion of your time. Nights chill the bones, particularly in winter when the temperature can be below freezing and legend speaks of nights when it was below 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be cold at night, whatever the season. The coldest night is the second, which is spent at the greatest height.
A warm sleeping bag will be required, and it’s highly-advisable to bring your own, although it will be one more thing to carry. A down sleeping bag will last forever more, compensating for its higher price, but a synthetic one will absorb less moisture and offer more insulation even when damp. A water-resistant shell will prevent a down sleeping bag from becoming wet. Down possesses a better warmth-to-weight ratio.
If buying is not an option, so long as you have no objection to being the latest in a long line of occupants, a sleeping bag can be hired from the trek provider with ten days’ notice, or more cheaply – $10 – from a multitude of establishments in Cuzco, however its quality will then be in the lap of the gods. You should closely inspect any bag you are considering renting. Apart from anything else, it is not unknown for bags to go unwashed or, even worse, undried between uses. Since there is a weight limit to your accoutrements, a sleeping bag should never be bulky – and cheap ones often are. It is wise to bring a sleeping bag liner to provide extra warmth and stand between you and that rented sleeping bag. Silk is more compact than thermal.
A four-season bag is much preferable in winter, although if you’re on a budget, you may be able to make do with a three-season bag and liner plus warm clothes. Roll mats will be provided, but you’ll be spending at least two nights on the bare ground so your comfort would be enhanced by a Thermorest-style mattress which is a much superior insulator and can be hired locally for $10. It should be borne in mind that there are different types for men and women.
Evidently, the decisions as to whether to bring a sleeping bag on the Inca Trail and what type to use are not to be taken lightly.
For a complete Ica Trail packing list check out this article!