My son and I just arrived back home from an incredible trek to Mera Peak (May 2018). After searching and reviewing many companies, we finally selected Annapurna Foothills Treks and Expidition as the company we would use for our trek.This turned out to be a great decision. Ngmia and the gang at Annapurna Foothills met and exceeded all our expectations. Ngima answered all my e-mailed questions (and I sent him a lot of them) quickly and accurately. He made sure all travel documents were in order and that we knew exactly what gear to bring and how to prepare. Ngima arranged for us to rent sleeping bags and down jackets in Kathmandu, these turned out to be excellent, at no time were we cold (and it getg cold at the top of Mera!).
After travelling for 30+ hours and arriving at Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu, you cannot imagine the relief we felt when we saw Tashi Sherpa (Manager from Annapurna Foothills) waiting for us at the arrivals gate. He recognized us from our passport photos and had us and our luggage in a car in minutes, no looking around or wondering where we were. This gave us a great start to our adventure. Tashi took us to our hotel (The Address - Kathmandu, great location) and made sure we were settled in OK, before leaving us to rest. Arrangements were made for a welcome dinner, as well as scheduling a time to meet the next day to go over our climb itinerary and introductions to our guides.
We had a free day to explore Thamel region in Kathmandu, which turned out to be a great idea, as it gave us time to get over jet lag and do some shopping and sight seeing. If I was to do it again, I would add a day or so at the start and finish of the trek to see some more of Kathmandu, there is a lot going on there and is worthwhile to spend some time there.
Ngima and our guide Dawa Sherpa met and went over what to expect, made sure we had all the correct gear, signed all the appropriate paperwork (some things never change, no matter where in the world you go, there is always paperwork to be done), made sure our insurance was OK.
Next up was flight out to Lukla. We were booked on the first flight out the next day, so it was a 4:00 a.m. wakeup call and a quick cab ride to Tribhuvan airport. Dawa made sure we were first on the plane and made sure we got seats that would give us best views on the way to Lukla. The weather had not been great, and the day of our flight to Lukla was one of the first clear days, so there were a swarm of planes heading to Lukla. We were one of the first up and what a flight it is. Makes for a fantastic way to start a trek, look at some youtube videos of landing at Lukla and you will see how exciting it is. Having a great guide like Dawa ensured we got best location to enjoy this.
Once we landed at Lukla, it was time for a quick breakfast and coffee. We were introduced to our climbing guide Ngawang Sherpa who would go up Mera with us and our porter Chitra Khulung who would carry all our gear for the next few weeks (Chitra is withouth the strongest, kindest person we have ever met, how he carried all our stuff and manged to keep a smile at all times is amazing!). Dawa and Ngawang would take turns explaining where we were going each day, teach us about Nepal, its customs, politics and life in general. All the time making sure we were safe and healthy.
We had chosen a slightly longer route to Mera, giving us more time to acclimatize to the altitude.This turned out to be a great decision as at no time did we have altitude sickness symptoms. This route took us over some very quiet trails, where we would not see another person all day. The lodges (teahouses) were sometimes basic, but always clean and dry. Food was basic but plentiful. Dawa always made sure our orders were taken and translated any questions that we had. At times, we were not eating enough (you appetite goes away when you go high up). Ngawang and Dawa would supplement our meals with fresh fruit (apples, oranges) and candy bars when they did not think we were eating enough.
This was our first time to Nepal and I know we were not prepared for just how big the mountains there are and just how steep the trails can be. There is a lot of going up and down and very few switchbacks on the trails, just lots of climbing. I wish I had spent more time on the stair-climber in preparation. This going up and down is great for acclimatization, so go with it. At all times, Dawa let us set the pace and never rushed us. Lots of breaks and stops for tea. We always made it to our lodges for the night in plenty of time, so I think the distances were appropriate. Each evening, Dawa would go over our plans for the coming day and let us know what to expect ad what to wear. Being on a trek by ourselves gave us incredible flexibility. Whenever we wanted to take a side trip, a quick mention to Dawa and off we went. This allowed us to go to some monasteries, explore some waterfalls and other sights.
It is interesting that on the trek to Mera, the really hard treking days are early on in the trip, as you approach Mera Peak, the trails become easier and not as steep. The trail from Kote to Khare is actually quite easy and enjoyable, despite the altitude. Walking the river valley up to Khote, with these magnificent peaks all around you is beyond words. I know my son and I stopped occasionally and said to each other "can you believe where we are?".
We had arranged through Ngima to rent boots, crampons and climb gear in Khare. All this was taken care of and worked as expected. If I were to do this again, I would make sure to have my own crampon capable boots. while the rental boots worked, there is nothing like you own boots, broken in to you own feet, for comfort. So, next time, I will have my own.
On the Mera Peak trek, the only nights you spend in a tent, are at Base Camp and High Camp. The tents provided were good, both had mats in them to cushion you from the cold ground. Even when tenting, a variety of food is offered. The cook at the camps did a great job of providing worm drinks, soup and whatever you wanted (and of course Ngawang supplimented the food with fruit and candy).
The climb/trek to the summit is quite hard. You are getting pretty high up and the air is quite thin. Ngawang made sure we were roped up safely and ensured that no matter how slow we went, he was with us all the way. We had a bit of a snow storm while heading to high camp, but the trail is well marked and one just has to follow the footsteps. I only made it as far as high camp, as I had a cough (lung infection). Ngawang made sure I was OK, (he had O2 in case I needed it, not necessary). He took my son further up to the Peak and then came back and collected me for the trip down. I was a little disappointed until Ngawang took me round the corner from high camp, and there spread out before me were all the royalty of the Nepal Himalayan mountains, Everest, Makula, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Nuptse. What a view. The weather perfect, blue sky, clouds below (I understand this was one of the best years to climb Everest as there were 11 days of good weather in a row). Made up for not making the summit.
I had thought the trip down would be anticlimactic, but it turned out to be great. As you descend, you can breath easier, and it is possible to enjoy the scenery a bit more. You just have to keep an eye where you step, as the trail is quite rough.
While in Kote, we met up with some other trekers. They indicated that Lukla airport had been closed due to bad weather for several days and that there was a backup of people waiting to get out. Turns out the weather pattern that was making it clear at high altitude was making it really cloudy down low. This could have been a bit of trouble, but this is where Annapurna Foothills really came through, Chitra and Dawa mentioned that we cold change our plans and walk to the nearest road and then take a jeep back to Kathmandu. A quick call to Ngima, and our flights were cancelled, and a jeep arranged. All this with only a question or tow from me. Dawa handled all the change details. It meant a bit more hiking for us, but once again, took us to another trail that was used very little. We went over two 4300M passes, through some incredible forests and into villages that I do not think many westerners go to (given the number of people that came out to see us).
While heading on this trail, we passed through Chitra's village. He insisted we had lunch at his house and welcomed us there. I cannot express how honoured we were to be welcomed by him and his family into his home. This act of kindness touched me more that I can express.
For those of you that have not experienced a jeep ride on a non-paved road in Nepal, it is something you must try. I don't think there is a bone in my body that was not shaken up on this trip. The views from the road were amazing. Throughout this unplanned trip, Dawa made sure we had hotel or lodge rooms, often insisting we try another as it did not meet his standards.
Once back in Kathmandu. Dawa made sure we were delivered safely back to our hotel and all was OK before he took off. Ngima contacted us and made arrangements to meet with us the next day. After 18 days on the trail, that first shower at the hotel felt really good!
At the end of the trip, Ngima, and Tashi met with us and went over the trip. They asked what went well, what could be improved upon and how we felt about the trip. I really appreciate this type of followup, as they are really concerned that you have had a great experience. They want their company to be the best and want to ensure their guests have a great time. This type of feeback and review is something that closes the loop on the adventure and makes you think about doing it again.
Finally, Ngima made sure we were delivered to the airport in time to make our flight home.
One has a lot of choices in who to use as a Treking Agency in Nepal. I do not believe that you can go wrong in engaging Annapurna Foothills Treks and Expedition. They delivered exactly as the said they would, at all times met or exceeded our expectations and remained flexible to changes as weather and our requirements changed. They are a small company, but know what they ae doing and have great staff. So, if you want to go to Nepal, reach out to Ngima. You will not be disappointed.
Some final thoughts:
1. Add a couple of days to the start and finish of the trek. This will allow for weather and some time to look around.
2. Do not hesitate to rent the cold weather sleeping bags, the ones we got were fantastic.
3. Making a summit is not necessary, the trek is fantastic and just being there and experiencing it is enough
4. Don't wait, just do it. I am 59 years old and should not have waited this long.
So, until our next adventure..