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Winter Newsletter – January 2024

The WHATT group of 2024

NAMASTE!

The Crystal Mountain Treks Family would like to wish you a Happy New Year (both belated and in advance). May you and yours prosper and be in good health in 2024!!! But which New Year you say?! Our New Year series begin with the Gurung Lhosar (Lhosar = new year) which was on 30 December. And after the Gregorian New Year, we have the Sherpa and Tibetan Lhosar – February 10. And the Nepali new year happens even later – April 14.

Anyways, here’s what’s going on in the Nepal Himalayas:

Women’s High Altitude Trek Training Program (WHATT)

The third edition of Women’s High Altitude Trek Training Program (WHATT) has concluded wherein 13 female guides underwent a grueling 15 days training in the mountains – in Langtang and Gosaikunda. Braving freezing temperatures at high altitude, these hardy women learned about map reading, first aid, high altitude sickness, client management etc.  They also shared personal experiences relating to problems with clients and discussed conflict mitigation ideas. 3 Summits for Nepal’s goal is to create more opportunities for competent female guides in an otherwise male dominated industry. With this training, we believe we have been able to give the necessary tools and instill confidence in the female guides – to believe they are as good or better guides then men.

 

A shout out to Travel Kind. We only had sufficient budget to train 10 guides. Because of donations from Hong Kong based Travel Kind we were able to add three more trainees as well as cover some of our administrative cost. Travel Kind has also donated to us directly in the past during COVID lockdowns. With those funds, we distributed rations in Kathmandu and in the Everest region to hundreds of families.

What some trainees had to say

Interestingly, this year, we had an Everest summitter, Nisha Bhote, in the midst. Nisha says: ” I felt like not only practical knowledge but theoretically it is important for me to get idea of how things work. And I learnt many things”.

Another trainee, Keshu Sherpa says “I am forever thankful and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of WHATT 2024. For me this training I would say personally and professionally (was) very impactful. I just started my career as Assistant Guide and I was somewhere confused if I am worth it or not. This training helped me to be a better guide providing more professionalism like doing short and precise briefing using map and navigation, useful AMS information, qualities that I should have as a guide and many more. I am now more confident than I was before this training. I would proudly say WHATT 2024 as stepping stone for my destination. I would say it helped me on my way to be a “Great Leader”.

News on past graduates

Several of the graduates from our previous Female Guide Training Program have been actively working in the trekking industry and have been employed by various trekking companies. A few also worked for Crystal Mountain Treks last year.

Update on senior guide Manju Rai:

In early February, Rajbir Rai, our senior guide and head builder will be accompanying a Sierra Club group to build two homes in Badel village. Badel is where most of our Rai staff live. The homes are sponsored by the Sierra Club and trip participants will also help build at least 20% of the homes. One of the recipients of a new home is our senior guide, Manju Rai. Last April, Manju was in an unfortunate motorcycle accident where his ACL, MCL and PCL were damaged. He has undergone three surgeries and visits the physiotherapist regularly. He has been unable to guide treks for almost a year. Feel free to write to Manju: raimanjubadel@gmail.com

Sonem Primary School:

Sonem School
The tin-shed that is the Sonem School

After this trip, in March, Rajbir and team will head up to Sonem village in Taplejung to build a primary school. A majority of the funds for this school has been sponsored by Ananth Duggarilla, a fellow UW MBA graduate, to honor his mother – Usha Shastri. His donation has been graciously matched by Global Pearls. It should take two months to complete the school. This project has been delayed by new regulations imposed by the Social Welfare Council of Nepal. For all our new builds, we are required to invite tenders from registered contractors; and all the school builds will be undertaken by a third-party. While this will increase transparency, it will also make the process lengthier and more expensive.

All 3 Summits for Nepal programs are possible because of donations. To donate to our projects, please click TO DONATE.

All your donations are tax deductible in the USA through our US partner, Global Pearls.

IN OTHER NEWS:

Tourist arrivals spike in 2023:

After a big drop due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, tourist arrivals to Nepal increased slightly in 2022 and has now spiked in 2023. Arrivals to Nepal had crossed the million mark for the first time in 2018; 1.17 million tourists had arrived that year. The numbers then rose slightly in 2019 to 1.19 million. But, due to COVID, numbers dropped to 230,085 and 150,962 in 2020 and 2021 respectively. But, again in 2022, the foreign tourist numbers rose to 614,869. And in 2023, tourist numbers have spiked to 1.14 million. Here are some figures by nationality:

Indian – 31,9,936 (31.52%)

American – 100,357 (9.89%)

Chinese – 60,876 (6 %)

Australian – 38,798 (3.82%)

Bangladeshi – 36,483 (3.59%)

(Data source: Nepal Immigration Department)

KANCHENJUNGA TREKS

My love for the Kanchenjunga region began in 2012. That year, 3 Summits for Nepal, a charity I founded while doing graduate work at the University of Washington, Seattle, helped rebuild the Gaubari Primary School in Nepu village. The school had been destroyed by a 6.9 Richter earthquake that hit the region in 2011 and was dubbed the 2011 Sikkim earthquake. I stayed in the region for around 2 months helping with the build. While there, I also explored routes of the classic Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek. A few years earlier, my sister had also lived in the region working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). She had helped set up the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP).

Kanchenjunga from Pangpema
Kanchenjunga from Pangpema

Over the years, 3 Summits for Nepal has built/rebuilt 4 primary schools and 2 girl’s hostels in the Kanchenjunga region. My team and I have always been hands-on (literally and figuratively) in the construction of the schools. And this has allowed us the opportunity to explore the region quite extensively. Our knowledge of the region has enabled us to design two trekking programs that offer the best experiences for trekkers to the Kanchenjunga area. Both programs visit both the North and the South Kanchenjunga Base Camps.

THE TWO KANCHENJUNGA BASE CAMP TREKS:

1) KANCHENJUNGA BASE CAMP TREK

The Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek is a CAMPING trek. On CAMPING treks, one sleeps in tents and eats meals prepared by a kitchen crew. This trek goes anti-clockwise beginning in Yamphudin which lies east of Taplejung (the district headquarters). The route then follows the Simbuwa khola (river) valley past Tseram and Ramje to Oktang. Here you can savor unimpeded views of the South face of Kanchenjunga. Return to Tseram to cross the Selela pass. Once over the pass, follow the route to Pangpema near the North Base Camp. Then return to Ghunsa and head over the Nango La pass towards Olangchung Gola. The trek ends with a short hike to the road head from where a jeep will pick you up for a bumpy ride back to Taplejung. We have two departures which are guaranteed to run in 2024:

Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek map
Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek map

2024 Departure Dates:

  • 07 October – 03 November (FULL)
  • 04 November – 01 December (GUARANTEED TO RUN)

2025 Departure Dates:

  • 14 April – 11 May
  • 06 October – 02 November
  • 03 – 30 November
2) KANCHENJUNGA TREK

This Kanchenjunga trek is a LODGE TREK. On LODGE treks one sleeps in local family-owned lodges and eats meals prepared in those lodges. This trek goes clock-wise beginning in the Ghunsa river valley at Sekathum. One would reach Sekathum after two and a half days of driving. From here, first head up to Pangpema for views of the North face of Kanchenjunga. Return to Ghunsa and cross over the Selela pass to the Simbuwa Khola valley from where you would trek up to Oktang for views of the South Face of Kanchenjunga. This trek ends in Yamphudin.

While there are new lodges being built, the infrastructure is still very basic compared to those in other popular trekking destinations in Nepal. Hence, this trek is NOT recommended during the peak trekking month of October as it may not be possible to get a room. On this trek, we do carry tents if trekkers feel that the lodge accommodations are not adequate. And we do carry some extra rations to supplement those available at the lodges.

TRIP ADVISOR AND GOOGLE

If you haven’t already, do provide a review of your experience on Google and Trip Advisor

Some reviews:

“I’m afraid to share the secret. In a sea of operators who try to cram as many tourists as possible onto the EBC trek and have them finish it as fast as possible, or risk cutting the trip short, it was a breath of fresh air to find and communicate with Jwalant. He is exceptional in terms of recommendations, safety, comfort, convenience and is not looking to provide a cookie cutter Himalayan experience. My guide Rinji was the absolute best companion you could hope for.”

Salag… New York, NY

“Crystal Mountain Treks exceeded all our expectations. I would strongly recommend them to my family and friends, and I will sign up with them for other treks without any reservations.”

Shiva D… Folsom, CA

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