On the 13th October 2018, 14 soldiers from the Queen’s Own Yeomanry deployed to Nepal for Ex Himalayan Fox; an 8-day trek in the Annapurna Region of Nepal to reach the basecamp of Mardi Himal at 4,500m.
This particular expedition was a long time in the planning with the initial conversation taking place in 2016. By 2017, a bid had been submitted to Adventure Training Group, and by the summer of that year the trek was confirmed. Fast forward 16 months and we found ourselves packing our equipment into our Exped bags ready to go!
We were very lucky on this trip to have two Gurkha instructors that were extremely familiar with the area, having grown up in an around Pokhara which was very close to our trek destination. This added a huge amount to our trek with a plethora of local knowledge, traditions and customs being passed on. We were also very fortunate with the trekking agent used; Nepal Promote Treks, as from start to finish we were incredibly well looked after and combined with our two Gurkhas, it really made for a fantastic experience.
When we arrived in Kathmandu, after the initial admin / permits had been completed, we had the opportunity to explore the city and visit several temples and learn a little more about the culture of the Nepalese people and their religious beliefs. It was also quite clear to see the aftermath of the major earthquake in 2015 which is still quite visible in parts and was certainly quite humbling to see.
From Kathmandu, we moved to Pokhara and although it is only around 200km away, the total journey was around 10 hrs due to the roads and amount of traffic trying to leave the city. This time of year in Nepal is the Dashain festival for the Hindus where many families leave the cities and return to their villages adding to the flow of traffic on the single road to Pokhara. Despite the bumpy journey and choice service stations, some of the scenery was spectacular and really did add to the overall experience.
Day 1 of the trek started in Dhampus (1,650m), and we headed towards Forest Camp at 2,550m, a 9.5-mile route taking us through some dense forest with some tricky route negotiation and some precarious footing. It was certainly a pleasure to see the sight of our first real tea house. Relatively basic rooms, a gas heated shower and a log burning fire in the communal area, all that we required! It was genuinely amazing to see and taste the quality of food produced from an open fire cooked under torch and candle light when the electricity ran out.
Day 2 took us up to a place called Badal Danda at a height of 3,250m. Even though it was only 3.5 miles away, it was a slightly steeper ascent than the previous day, with the majority again under thick forest cover. It wasn’t until we arrived at the tea house that we were finally above the tree line and were welcomed by the most amazing view. A clear sky and a direct line of sight to where we were going to be climbing over the next coming days.
On the third morning, we took advantage of the crystal-clear sky to get up at 0600 to see the sunrise. We were not disappointed! The view of the sun hitting the side of the mountains with the snow filled peaked glistening in the distance was genuinely breath taking. We then had the pleasure of eating breakfast outside with this view as a backdrop. Our trek took us a long a ridge line, maintaining the spectacular scenery as we went along. We saw a horse-train carrying supplies further up the mountain and various other cattle and wildlife littered across the landscape. We ascended to High Camp at 3,900m about 3 miles from our previous destination, and arrived just in time for lunch. High Camp was the last official tea house before Basecamp and was certainly very busy with several other groups taking on the same challenge. After a well-deserved lunch, we decided to continue up to View Point 1 at 4,200m to allow further acclimatisation to the altitude. On the way, we met our first Yak farmer, with over 100 Yak in his herd. He spent the entire summer and autumn season living on the mountain in a very basic shelter in the middle of several baby Yaks, with just enough resources to survive on. This man’s simple life was incredible and certainly put into perspective the amount of belongings and items the western world require to live with on a daily basis. This was also one of the main festival days and the farmer seemed to be somewhat inebriated as he celebrated Dashain! An absolute pleasure to meet him though!
After View Point, we ventured back down to High Camp where we would be spending the next couple of nights and allowing further time to acclimatise to the altitude. Luckily, our group was doing ok and no one was suffering any effects.
When the day arrived to trek to Basecamp we were a little worried that the clouds may come over at the wrong time and completely ruin our view. But, the Trekking Gods were in our favour and despite a relatively tough and steep climb back up to and through View Point 1 again, we were making good time! 4hrs in total and we made it from High Camp to Basecamp – 4,500m!
When we arrived at Basecamp, we were luckily the only ones there, and had the pleasure of toasting our achievements with a hot cup of locally produced tea made by the Yak famer from the previous day who also had a dwelling next to Basecamp. Glad to report he had sobered up, and it was a pleasure to be joined by him as we celebrated. The views, the scenery, the company and the sense of reward and accomplishment made the experience even more emotional. Seeing how the group had progressed and bonded over the last few days really defined the purpose of adventure training, as many of us were pushed out of our comfort zone both mentally and physically but were somehow motivated by the spirituality and tranquility of the surroundings. Then, the inevitable descent back down!
We remained at High Camp for another night before descending back down through Badal Danda to Forest Camp. We couldn’t resist stopping for breakfast though at Badal Danda to relive the incredible view of the mountains and recently conquered route. It was certainly a lot quicker going down, albeit a little tougher on the knees and we were back down at Forest Camp in good time.
From Forest Camp, we ventured down another route to a village called Lwang. About a 6-mile trek down to a height of just below 1,500m. Lwang was amazing! It was a traditional hillside village, with quaint abodes, random cows in sheds and completely self-sufficient in terms of vegetable and herb growing! The route down took us past several small temples and rest places, with an extremely well-constructed stone path / stairway leading down in to the village. Seeing the villagers working their traditional methods of rice and tea production was fascinating and in the nicest possible way seeing their old and weathered faces that no doubt could tell a thousand tales of times gone by was incredible! As part of the ‘homestay’ in Lwang, the local ladies ‘Mum’s’ choir had been arranged to entertain us with song and dance, but unfortunately rain stopped play and the evenings events had to be cancelled.
Our penultimate day saw our trek take us from Lwang to Noudanda along a fascinating track that followed the contour of mountain and circumnavigated the valley, again with incredible views down into the distance. As we approached Noudanda, we came across our first form of busy civilisation for a brief moment, but as we ventured towards the top of area we were awarded by the incredible new build hotel that awaited us. Situated right on the peak of a hill with incredible views either side of the room, with a very impressive panorama of Mardi Himal and the surrounding peaks. The facilities were very modern and more in tune with the Western world and for some was a welcome break in an almost luxury setting.
Our last day saw the final straight from Noudanda down to Pokhara! It was almost a shame to start walking as we knew that Pokhara for all intents and purposes symbolised the end of the trek! The route down was not quite as scenic, but the going was quick and we made good time covering the final miles in to the second largest city in Nepal. Trek complete!!
All in all, we ascended to a height of 4,500m and trekked over 50 miles in 9 days! 14 Reservists from the Queen’s Own Yeomanry shared the experience of a life time and truly benefited not only mentally and physically but spiritually as well. Nepal is a very special place and the people, their customs, traditions and beliefs make it even more so! If you ever get the opportunity to take part in such an adventure like this then you must do it, fully embrace it and savour every moment.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time. I am a very outdoorsy person anyway, but have never had the opportunity to go to Nepal. This trek has been an incredible experience and one that I know I will treasure for a long, long time. Bring able to see first-hand the breath-taking views and scenery was incredible. I know it is a cliché but if it wasn’t for me being in the Reserves, I don’t think I would ever have had the opportunity to do such an expedition. The trekking company was fantastic and our Gurkhas were as well and I learnt a hell of a lot! What an experience, I absolutely loved it!”
“I have been in the Reserves a while now and I have tried to make the most of every opportunity. When this Exped came a long, I just had to jump at it. I love running and keeping fit, but this was something else. A new challenge, a new test! I have never done anything at altitude apart from a couple of peaks in the Lakes. This however blew my mind! The views on a clear day from 4,500m were epic, I can only imagine what Everest must be like. It was also great to see parts of the country and it certainly put me out of my comfort zone, not only trekking but also seeing and experiencing how other cultures and people live. Took me out of my western civilisation bubble that is for sure!”
“I was very lucky to get a last-minute place on the trip and I am so glad I went. I wouldn’t say I was the fittest of guys beforehand, and parts I struggled, but I kept at the back, plodded along and I made it! I got a real sense of relief and achievement at the top and I guess you could say this is what AT is all about. I was massively pushed, I don’t particularly like heights, but I did it! Proud of myself! Not bad for a guy in his 40s.”