Top Three Treks in Bhutan

bhutanA land lost in time, Bhutan is a nation of happiness, a nation of flamboyance, vibrancy, remoteness and quiet valleys.

Although one of the remotes countries on earth, Bhutan is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best trekking destinations in the world. It’s not hard to see why, with less than 40,000 tourists crossing here border each year, Bhutan’s trekking trails are incredibly quiet and beautiful. Unlike Nepal (that gets over a million tourists a year), Bhutan’s trails still feel remote and off the beaten path.

Top help you decide on the best trek, we have listed our top three favourites below!

The Snowman Trek

Often believed to be the most difficult trek on earth, the Snowman Trek is definitely a huge challenge. However, it is also one of the most beautiful and astounding treks on the planet and experienced hikers will have the time of their lives. The trek straddles the mountain region between Bhutan and Tibet and takes trekkers over 11 passes over 4,500 meters! You’ll trek below enormous mountains, visit lost villages and explore the remote kingdom of Lunana – not to mention getting some of the best views in the world! See more information here.

The Druk Path Trek

Ideal for beginners, the Druk Path Trek begins in Paro and takes its trekkers over the local mountain range that separates Paro from the capital city of Thimphu. The trail is gorgeous and you’ll come across flowering rhododendrons, alpine forests and some perfect alpine lakes with famously large trout! Perfect introductory trek to Bhutan that allows you to explore the wilderness and the local culture on offer.

The Chomolhari Trek

The Chomolhari Trek is ideal for people who want to experience some true wilderness trekking at high altitude. The trail focuses on taking you towards Mount Chomolhari where you camp at base camp. You cross over several passes to reach what is often termed the “Bride of Kangchenjunga”. Chomolharis is famous for its high vertical relief that rises sharple for almost 2,700 meters! The trek is one of incredible mountain views and trekkers cross over both Nyele La pass at 4850m (16000 feet) and Yale Pass at 4950m (16,240 feet). See more information here.

Top 3 Most Adventurous Cruises on Earth

AntarcticaThe word ‘cruising’ conjures up images of middle aged couples sipping champagne on their deck chairs as they await the nightly buffet and cinema screening.

However, there is another cruising industry lurking in the shadows that looks down upon such stereotypical and mundane ideas of cruise holidays. Its name is expedition cruising.

Taking off in recent years, expedition cruises offer an altogether different experience from the sunbathing, robe wearing antics of the Caribbean style cruises. Expedition cruises take their guests to parts of the world few have ventured, areas where the seas and landscapes are cold, unforgiving and most certainly dangerous. In fact, it’s almost an insult to call it ‘cruising’. What it should be called is ‘adventure by boat’ or something very similar.

To give you an idea of these cruises, we have listed our top 3 adventure cruises below!

The Northwest Passage

For hundreds of years, adventurous humans have died in the attempt to cross the fabled Northwest Passage.

In fact, until only recently, the crossing was seen as impossible, a mythical link route between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Not anymore.

With changing climates, adventure cruises now stalk the cool waters between the two oceans and outdoor lovers will be thrilled and amazed at the landscape on offer.

See polar bears and visit ancient Inuit communities as you follow in the footsteps of notorious explorers. Not many people on earth can say they have sailed this particular passage!

Prices start at around $600 per night.

The North Pole

The North Pole is unchartered territory. It’s one of the least explored destinations on earth and you certainly won’t come across many other people who have been there!

Adventure cruise operators have only recently started offering the North Pole as a destination and cruise goers can witness the austere and expansive wilderness of the region from the safety of their ship.

Several of the most popular cruise itineraries in the region are the Lofoten Islands and the northernmost fjords of Norway. Both offer exceptional landscapes, Northern Lights and a wide array of wildlife including Polar bears, sea birds and walruses!

Antarctica

A land unlike any other, a land that many people still believe is unreachable. Yet in 2015 alone, over 35,000 people visited the White Continent!

Tourism has been rising steadily in Antarctica over the years and it’s easy to see why. The landscape is beautiful, endless and brutal. It captivates visitors immediately and conjures up images of another world, an isolated planet of ice and giant whales.

You’ll see stunning icebergs, lounging seals, colonies of seabirds, penguin rookeries and midnight sunsets.

Cruising in Antarctica is not cheap though and the minimum price tag is over $500 per night with the average being nearer a $1,000.

Climbing Island Peak was the toughest thing I have done in years!

island-peak-climbApril was a crazy month for me. I was in Nepal trekking with our team via the standard routes to Goyko and Everest Base Camp (where we spent an amazing night with an expedition team), when we got the crazy idea to climb Island Peak.

Now I am very much a trekker, I have little mountaineering experience, and although I am well versed in the ins and outs of the sport from an ‘academic’ perspective, I am very much a armchair enthusiast.

I knew a lot about Island Peak so was quietly confident that I could do it. I wasn’t concerned about the altitude – which at 6,200m is high – but not nuts! And by this point we were already well acclimatised having been trekking for two weeks about 4,600m with three big 5,500m passes under our belts!

We spent a few days with our really experienced team doing some basic technical training – self arrest, jumar ascending, rappelling etc – and then set of for Island Peak high camp, a really inhospitable place!

Things were going well until we got to the crampon point, which I must say freaked me out a little. Since last years Earthquake there has been a lot of movement on the glacier that leads up to Island Peak’s ice wall. The movement has resulted in two crevasses opening up, which now require a ladder crossing. A character building experience to say the least!

Once you get across the ladders things are pretty straightforward up to the headwall, where again things get a little hairy. The 150m ice wall is heavily jagged and not the easiest thing to ascend. From the summit ridge there is a traverse to the tiny summit with 1000 foot drops on either side. It’s scary but with the help of are incredible climbing team we were able to make it.

The experience on Island Peak was by far the most challenging I have ever had in the Nepal, but all and all I loved it and am now looking at my next peak, climbing Aconcagua!!

We used Kandoo Adventures – find out more about their Island Peak climb here. You can also read about Island Peak here.

Golfing the golf game, ha!

golf-courseWhat game did you think would be the last on my list of games to play… you guessed it, golf! Okay, maybe curling and bowls are also up there.

But golf was certainly one of the games that I thought I would never be drawn to.

Yet, here I am talking about my new passion, playing golf.

It all started at the beginning of 2016 where I was invited to the driving range with a few mates to basically mess about. A good excuse to get together and drink. And drink we did, but we also spend the afternoon hitting white balls around. Now, I had been to the range before but never really got stuck in. This time though we built some competition into the experience – basically we designed a drinking game around how close people could get to the driving range targets.

Never to shy away from a competition I took on the challenge with full vigour and proved to be rather good. In fact half way through the bucket of golf balls I was clearly winning based on my inebriated state.

After the day, which proved to be thoroughly enjoyable, I decided to sneak back to the range by myself that weekend and test whether my performance the week before was just a fluke. I arrange for the local pro to join me and give me some pointers.

Turns out it wasn’t a fluke. I’m a natural. Of course, ha!

So I have spent the last 4 months getting proper instruction from the golf pro at the range and am now hitting the ball like a seasoned veteran. Next week I have my first full 18 hole experience coming up. I have played 9 holes a few times now, and even made a birdie a week ago, so I am really looking forward to seeing how I perform on the big course next week.

I plan to try break 90 which would effectively give me an 18 handicap. My coach thinks it is possible so I am quite confident.

Now I just need to get some clubs. I have been reviewing these irons on Golf Assessor and I’m about ready to make my purchase.

Will keep y’all posted on how I get on with the game next week.

For golf equipment reviews I recommend Golf Assessor.

Great trek options in Nepal

trekking-options-nepal

Tourism is a huge factor in the Nepalese economy and it’s easy to see why. With many of the tallest mountains in the world, thousands of hikers travel to Nepal each year to get their boots worn and muddy on the some of the most dramatic trekking routes on earth. Within Nepal there are two famous trekking regions – Everest and Annapurna, both of which offer unique possibilities as this article will look at.

Annapurna region

Annapurna Circuit trek

One of the most famous treks in the world, the Annapurna trek is a real gem and takes you through some stunning scenery. The trek begins in sub-tropical conditions and then ascends up into the mountains where you trek over the Thorung La pass. From which you get one of the most stunning vistas in the Himalaya! Your trek then ends by hiking down into the Mustang region where it becomes slightly more arid.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek

Another great option, this trek is slightly shorter than the Circuit trek. The Sanctuary trek begins by ascending to the summit of poon Hill where you are rewarded with amazing vistas of the surrounding area.  It then descends down into the ‘sanctuary’ – a deep valley walled on either side by huge mountains.

Poon Hill trek

The Poon Hill trek is ideal for novice hikers or hikers on a tight schedule. It is the shortest route available and takes the same route as the Sanctuary up to the top of Poon Hill to see the incredible views of the Annapurnas, Dhaulagiri and Machhapuchchre.

Everest region

Everest Base Camp trek

With thousands of hikers a year flocking to Everest, this is by far the most popular trek in Nepal. Following in the footsteps of all the great climbers that have come before you to conquer Everest, the trail follows the famous Khumbu Valley towards Base Camp. You’ll pass through beautiful Sherpa villages, steep rocky terrain and take breaks in some of the most authentic teahouses in the country.

Gokyo Lakes trek

If you have a bit more time on your hands then we would suggest taking the Gokyo Lakes trek to Everest Base Camp. This trail is a great way to avoid the crowds, get off the beaten track and see some incredible sights! After leaving the standard trek at Namche, you head towards the lake region where you come across three holy lakes of beautiful blue azure colour. You then trek over the Cho La pass and on towards Base Camp where you can see the Khumbu Icefall up close.

Machu Picchu – Route Options and Recommendations

machu-picchu-trekking-optionsAlthough the Inca Trail is by far the most popular route to Machu Picchu, there are other options.

Sometimes we just want to get away from the crowds and find our own path. The Inca Trail requires you to be accompanied by a licensed tour company and also requires a permit and, whilst this suits many people, others want to go it alone!

We have therefore put together a little list of the possible other route options available. We’ll also conclude by quickly mentioning the Inca Trail itself.

Alternative Machu Picchu treks

Huchuy Qosko – 3 days, 20km trek: This is a relatively easy and short trek that is best attempted between May and September. It offers up great scenery and the Huchuy Qosko ruins a well worth a look.

Choquequirao – 9 days, 69km trek: This is the longest trek up to Machu Picchu and is best attempted in the dry season between May and September. The Choquequirao ruins are a great thing to see and this particular trek can be shortened or lengthened depending on energy levels. Read more about Choquequirao.

Lares – 4 days, 33 km trek: This little trod trek is a great way to get away from the crowds! You’ll be able to immerse yourselves in the local culture and get up close and personal with the locals.

Salkantay – 5 days, 55km trek: This is a fairly tough trek at high altitude. Like the Lares trail, the Salkantay trail is one of the least busy treks to Machu Picchu. The reward for this tough trek is getting up close to Nevada Salkantay.

Junge – 4 days, 60km (cycle) 15km (trek): Great trek for the thrill seekers as it has a super-fast downhill cycle track! Also includes a zipwire and rafting if that’s your cup of tea!

Vilcabamba – 5 days, 62km trek: Probably the toughest trek to Machu Picchu, the Vilcabamba trail is for experienced backpackers and offers up incredible scenery!

The Inca Trail Variations

Classic – 4days, 45km trek: The Classic trail is of course the most popular. Great for people with a sense of history as this was the original pilgrimage trail when Machu Picchu was a functioning site. Includes a lot of steps! Remember to book early as permits sell out months in advance!

Short – 2 days, 13km trek: Ideal for the trekker looking to understand the Inca Trail without so much of the effort.

Salkantay (combo) – 6 days, 65km trek: The ultimate option! Combining both treks to make a beautiful trail that flows through the ancient trail and also the mountains.

Here’s a packing list for the Inca Trail – http://www.gogreenfuel.biz/machu-picchu/the-hiking-clothes-you-should-take-on-the-inca-trail/

Click here for a recommended Machu Picchu tour operator.

Routes on Kilimanjaro – Which one is right for you?

kilimanjaro-routesThere are seven official routes on Kilimanjaro. In this short article we describe each and provide recommendations on those routes which are best suited for acclimatisation and hence have high summit success rates.

You can find more information on Kilimanjaro routes here: http://www.kandooadventures.com/information/africa/climb-kilimanjaro/kilimanjaro-routes/

Kilimanjaro Routes

Machame Route

The Machame route departs from the South-west side of the mountain, at about 1,800m. The route follows a 6 or 7-day trail via the southern circuit to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Today the Machame route is one of the most popular routes as it has high summit success rates. The seven day route is most sort after for it’s good acclimatisation profile. The route includes a good climb high, sleep low profile at Lava Tower and a technical scramble up the Great Barranco Wall. We recommend this route!

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho route starts from the far west side of Kilimanjaro, where the trail is relatively wild and quiet. The route for the first two days is not busy at all. On day the Lemosho converges with the Machame and then follows the southern circuit via Lava Tower, Barranco, Karanga and Barafu to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Again, we recommend this route!

Shira Route

The Shira Route begins north of the Lemosho trailhead, at nearly 2,800m altitude. The route was the originally western approach but has now been nearly totally supersede by the Lemosho. Because it has such a high start point we do not recommend the Shira route. Many trekkers on this route suffer from early symptoms of altitude sickness.

Rongai Route

The Rongai route is the only trail that begins from the north of Kilimanjaro, near the Kenyan border. The route is great for the rainy season (Apr, May) as the north side of Kilimanjaro receives less rain and is hence dryer. The begining portion is flatter, but the summit assault passage via Gilman’s Point is relatively steep and tough going. We think the 7-day version of this route is a good option and recommend it.

Umbwe Route

The most direct route up Kilimanjaro, departing from the south side of the mountain. A tough little route as it doesn’t provide much time for acclimatisation. Best used in conjunction with the Western Breach assault passage by experienced trekkers.

Marangu Route

This is the only route on Kilimanjaro with hut accommodation and the same ascent and descent profile. It is best used by novice trekkers, although the 5-day option has very low summit success rates. We recommend the 6-day option only.

Northern Circuit

The Northern Circuit is the newest and longest route on Kilimanjaro. Beginning on the Lemosho trail, the route veers north on day 4 around the northern circuit of Kilimanjaro. A long and very wild route that is perfect for the experienced trekker.

Click the link for more information on how and when to climb kilimanjaro.

You can also find out how to get to Kilimanjaro here.

Packing List for Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit

ebc-packing-listWhen you ponder what to bring with you on an Annapurna Circuit trek or Everest Base Camp trek, you will be limited to 15kg – 33-and-a-third lbs – for the flight to Lukla or Pokhara (although buses have no limit), so it will be something you have thought of much. You will understand why there is such a low weight limit when you catch glimpse of the aeroplane and airport. Clothing is dealt with elsewhere.

For sure, you will see days from one shower to the next, and you are going to perspire. You will have to live with the fact that you are going to smell unwholesome, although it is less bad given that everybody else will smell the same. Toiletries you will require are toilet paper, and plenty of it, because there is precious little chance of finding any at a tea house; wet wipes since the water will be too cold for washing; SPF50 sun cream; deodorant; a razor, if you happen to be male; toothbrush and toothpaste; soap; shampoo; hand sanitiser; and a medical kit. The medical kit should contain surgical tape; plasters; neosporin; nail clippers; imodium; ifuprofen; and diamox. 12 diamox tablets, taken for altitude sickness, will cost around $4 in Kathmandu, much less than the price of a UK prescription. And to go with these, you will want a quick dry towel.

The electronics you will need are an iPad for the uploading of photographs; an iPhone that will even work from time to time; headphones; a camera; and chargers. Taking a solar-powered battery pack instead of a charger will save you money, as electricity must be paid for.

A Steripen purifies water and is a sound addition to your equipment, considering that water purification tablets normally require 30 minutes to take effect and taste none-too-good. You will take a small bag which your porter will carry and a daypack and cover you will carry yourself. There is a call for a pair of water bottles, one of the Nalgene variety for easy Steripen use and one that is Swix style and made of metal which can be used as a hot water bottle at night. Another very useful item is a Camelbak, which sits in your daypack and allows you to hydrate, hands-free. A silk sleep sheet or sleeping bag liner will prevent your bedding from stinking too much. You will feel the need for a headlamp when you visit the toilet in the dead of night or read after lights out. Nighttime toilet visits will be inevitable if you take diamox. You can use playing cards and a book to amuse yourself in the evenings. You are sure to wish to write about your activities, for which you should take a journal and pen.

Finally, energy, granola or chocolate bars will provide you with calories as you hike. Trekking poles are certain to be vital for steep ascents. And you will want a facemask for when the air gets very dusty, as it certainly will.

More information for each trek can be found here:

Here more information from Nepal’s Mountaineering Association.

Lesser-Known Things to Take on the Inca Trail

inca-trail-equipment-listThe Incas constructed an elaborate network of almost 25,000 miles of trails in order to to connect their mammoth empire that reaches from Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina. You can travel along a 26-mile stretch which is widely regarded as one of the best treks in the world and encompasses the important Incan archaeological sites of not only Machu Picchu but also Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. This trek has grown increasingly popular in the last 30 years. Access to it is strictly controlled – the number of permits available has been limited to around 200 a day for tourists since 2001. If you attempt this venture, there are some less well-known items you should bring.

Sleeping in the company of others, you may well find yourself reminded that some people snore, in which case you would rather have earplugs, particularly if you are a light sleeper. A blow-up pillow will increase your comfort in return for little packing space. Sleeping with a hat on will prevent your body from losing heat.

Some cash will be required for pay-to-use toilets, to tip the porters and guides and purchase snacks. The need for snacks will arise due to your burning much more in the way of calories than usual and the opportunity to satisfy it will present itself as you pass small villages. You will surely feel the need to tip – those people carry and set up tents, amongst other things, and cook three meals a day and prepare a snack. Porters should be awarded $15 per day. Bills larger than $20 will not be accepted. There are ATMs in Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, but precious few, so it would be wise to obtain cash before arriving to begin your trek.

With soap and water not readily to hand, you should take hand sanitiser. A travel-sized pack can be clipped to your backpack. You will already have become aware of the need to always have toilet paper, even for restaurants, and the consideration is even more important given that you will often be using the “Inca toilet” – the bushes. It is pretty much expected that you will take some from the last hotel or hostel in which you stay.

Many people do not consider it until it comes to pass, but a blister on your foot can drastically curtail your joy. Unaddressed, this issue will only get worse. Hence you should take some form of blister treatment. You might be able to prevent this situation if you break in your shoes before hiking.

You will find many uses for a smartphone – as an alarm clock, to take pictures and to provide music, which works wonders against tiredness. One use you will certainly not have for your phone is phoning, as there’s no reception. Bear in mind that you will have no electricity for at least four days.

Your knees are generally asked to cope with flat surfaces. This will not be the case on the Inca Trail, where you also have increased pack weight and may be active for longer than you are used to. People often suffer discomfort in this area. Knee supports – either an athletic support or just a bandage around the knee – can be useful. They should only be employed if you need them, because otherwise, the knee grows accustomed to external support and can be weakened.

You will make use of a good torch to locate your belongings in your tent and to make potentially perilous trips to the toilet after dark, which will involved walking on steps or uneven, muddy banks. Chemical toilets tend to be perched precariously on slopes.

Finally, some brief points: you will need plastic bags for rubbish and to protect your belongings. At midday, the sun can be harsh, so you should have good quality sunscreen – cheaper variants get cakey. At high altitudes, the sun can be strong even if it does not feel very hot. Bring something to read in the evenings. You will most assuredly not be gathering around the campfire, as fires are not permitted.

Here is a complete Inca Trail Packing List.

Trekking to Machu Picchu – How to avoid the crowds?

machu-picchu-treksFor the vast majority of people, Machu Picchu is the principal feature of any holiday in Peru. With its name meaning “old mountain” and coming from the mountain to its south, it was originally constructed by the Incas in the 15th century, going undisturbed by the invading Spaniards and falling into disrepair. It was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a professor of Latin American studies at Yale University. It retains many of its original features to this day and is one of South America’s most impressive sights as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Machu Picchu sits in a saddle betwixt two lushly-forested peaks, 7,970 feet above sea level. Its elevation could be to make it less prone to the landslides that are highly common in the valley below and allow a clear view of the three different valleys, which would have been strategically useful. Of course, the views garnered from the site are most beautiful, and the Incas would have appreciated them just as much as you will.

Machu Picchu’s inaccessible location only serves to highlight its impressiveness. It covers 116 square miles, while the state of Liechtenstein is only 62. Unless you are walking the Inca Trail, one of the 10 best trekking trails in the world, a train from Cuzco or the Sacred Valley will deposit you in the valley below, whereupon you take a bus along the windy road that cuts into the side of the mountain.

You can partake of the city’s streets, temples, staircases, delicate gardens and complex system of aqueducts. Entry costs around £37. It is wise to stay overnight at Machu Picchu or the nearby village of Aguas Calientes to enable you to return to the site in advance of the multitudes of day trippers. Almost 2,000 people come every day.

Two of Machu Picchu’s most striking features are the Intihuatana stone and the Royal Tomb. The Intihuatana stone is a carved pillar with a square stone base whose corners point to the four cardinal points – north, south east and west. It shows when the equinoxes occur. The Royal Tomb is believed to be where sacrificial and burial rituals were performed, and over 100 skeletons have been found there.

Knowledge of Machu Picchu remains sketchy despite scores of studies. Much speculation has been made as to its function. Early in the 20th century, US osteologist – one who studies skeletons – George Eaton declared the skeletal remains found to be 80 percent female and Bingham speculated that Machu Picchu was a city for chosen women with a temple dedicated to the Virgins of the Sun, a holy order devoted to the Incan sun god, Inti.

Now, however, the work in 2000 of John Verano, an anthropologist then employed, like Bingham, by Yale, has shown the gender breakdown to be 50/50. The Andean people are generally shorter and less muscular than the European and African skeletons with which Eaton would have been more closely acquainted. Eaton believed that those skeletons that were of children were the product of “indiscretions” by the virgins.

Machu Picchu could have escaped the Spanish because the large numbers of natives working for them and willing to aid them in any fashion were unaware of its existence. This was perhaps because its was one of the royal estates of Pachacuteq in the middle of the 15th century and would have been abandoned after his death. Alternatively, it could have been known only to the Inca elite.

Here is some great information on the Machu Picchu Trek and check out these tour options from Private Expeditions.