A Guide to Trekking in Nepal

May 2, 2013 by

Action, Adventure & Adrenaline, Asia, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Nepal is one of the most popular destinations in the world for trekkers. It is cheap compared to most other countries, has the world’s highest mountains, and offers hikers a chance to experience the unique cultures of Nepal’s highlands. Fully one-third of the great snow-capped Himalaya is contained within Nepal’s borders, and the opportunities to explore this vast zone are many. From the crystalline waters of Rara Lake in the west to the soaring peaks around Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Everest in the center, here is a look at some of the most exciting trekking opportunities in Nepal, with information on how to prepare and what you’ll need to bring.

Nepal’s peak trekking season falls in October and November, with mild weather, clear skies, and big crowds. From then until February, you’ll find clear skies, but potentially very cold. Trekkers should bring snow gear and be prepared to turn back due to blocked paths. As the calendar turns towards April, you hit the end of the dry season and the second-best time to go trekking. Visibility in the mountains can be hazy due to dust, but the trails are free from snow.

Everest Base Camp trek

Everest Base Camp trek. Photo credit: David Joshua Jennings.

Preparation and packing

What you need to bring on your trek is heavily dependent on which one you’re planning to do and what time of year you’re doing it. The treks listed here are non-technical and can be accomplished by most everyone in decent shape (as long as they pace themselves), and thus climbing gear is not required.

One big mistakes newbie trekkers make in Nepal is taking the trek far too seriously. You’re probably not going to need camping gear, summit body suits, or crampons if you’re doing a mild trek in the middle of September. If you plan to camp, this will change. Likewise if you plan to climb the peak of any mountain along your trek.

A lot of people book trekking tours overseas, which, more often than not, is a huge mistake. These are outrageously expensive compared to what you can arrange once you are in Nepal, or if you plan to do the trek independently.

What you’ll need, based on peak season (Sept-Oct) for an 18-day trek on the Annapurna Circuit without porter.

Note: This list is relative and depending on the needs of the trekker, the trek and the weather.

- Lightweight long-sleeve trekking shirts (3). These help protect you from the sun.

- Lightweight hiking boots (Make sure you break them in beforehand).

- Sandals/Crocs for night-time toilet excursions.

- Lightweight rain jacket.

- Hiking socks (3 thick, 2 thin pairs). You can wash them along the way.

- Windproof gloves.

- Long-sleeve cotton t-shirt to use as a sleep shirt or a base layer.

- One or two long-leg lightweight trekking pants. Zip-offs are the best. Avoid anything too heavy or completely water proof.

- Windproof jacket/windbreaker.

- Toiletry items: hand-soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. and a dry bag to carry them in.

- 4/5 changes of comfortable underwear.

- Hat. One woolen for cold weather, one brimmed for sun protection.

- Sunglasses with UV protection.

- Packet of washing powder (to wash clothes).

- Medium-sized quick-dry towel.

- Bungee cords for hanging up your clothes to dry or attaching things to your pack

- Head torch with extra batteries.

- Water purification tablets or drops.

- Chapstick.

- One or two one-liter water bottles.

- Duct tape, just in case.

- Watch.

- First Aid Kit, containing paracetamol, bite/burn cream, bandages, antiseptic cream and altitude sickness pills.

- Toilet paper.

- Trekking map.

- Day Pack to stuff the above into.

- Sleeping bag. You won’t need a heavy one, but bring one because during the peak season they might run out of blankets.

- Trekking poles.

Nepal trek gear

Gear for trekking in Nepal. Photo credit: McKay Savage via Flickr.

Optional

- Camera/camcorder batteries. Don’t forget a socket adapter for your charger.

- Swiss Army knife or equivalent.

- Snacks (the higher the elevation, the more expensive and harder to find these will be).

- Chewing gum.

- Thermal underwear. In the higher elevations these will be useful in the morning, or for sleeping in.

- Journal, pen.

- Silk sleeping bag liner, if you don’t like to sleep under unwashed blankets.

Everything on this list can be found in Kathmandu or Pokhara for very low prices, so if you do not own them it will save you a lot of money to wait until you arrive in Nepal to buy them. Just remember: You’ll be carrying, packing and unpacking these things every day. It would be to your benefit not to overburden yourself with things you do not need and will not use. Generally, most people are comfortable with the following:

- Shorter treks 7-8kg

- Medium treks 10-12kg

- Longer treks 15-17kg

Documents and Fees

All trekkers need to register their trek by acquiring a Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) card. The easiest place to do this is from the Tourist Service Center in Kathmandu, as you’ll be able to buy entrance fees to Nepal’s various national parks in the same building. You can also obtain your TIMS at certain stations along certain treks, but it’s much easier to arrange it before you set out.

For the card you’ll need a photocopy of your passport and two passport photos. Watch out for agencies who offer to register for you, as they’ll charge a commission. If your trek enters a national park area (such as the Everest region or Langtang) you’ll also need a national park fee. For Annapurna treks you must pay a conservation area fee. All of these can be arranged in Pokhara as well.

Porters

If you have never trekked before and plan to take a lot of equipment you should consider hiring a porter to help with your load. If you’ve hired a guide, they can help you hire a porter. You can also have porters who speak English (rare) who can also serve as guides. Generally, porters cost half the price of a guide and are allowed to carry 20-30kg. You can arrange porters before you leave Kathmandu/Pokhara (you’ll need to pay for their flight if you’re flying) or you can easily hire them at the starting point of your trek. Most porters do not speak English, so be sure to have a translator affirm what you are expecting from each other, including arrangements regarding food and accommodation.

Treks

Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna Circuit

Trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit. Photo credit: Svetlana Grechkina via Flickr.

The entire Annapurna Circuit takes nearly three weeks and begins in Pokhara, Nepal’s third largest city. It is the most popular trek in Nepal, though in recent years its popularity has been in decline due to road construction along much of the trail. Reaching a height of 5300m, the circuit cuts through the stunning mountains and glaciers of the Annapurna Conservation Area, from jungle to high alpine, passing through a region dominated by Tibetan Buddhist culture. For its scenery and cultural diversity, it is often considered the best trek in Nepal.

The Circuit completely circumnavigates the Annapurna Himal and takes you within reach of the sixth (Dhaulagiri), seventh (Manaslu) and tenth (Annapurna I) tallest mountains in the world. The trek is usually done counterclockwise direction from Pahar, up the Marsyangdi River to Thorung La, and then back down the Kali Gandaki River. Do-it-yourself trekker services (teahouses, guest houses and restaurants) are plentiful along the way, thus guides and porters are not mandatory. Season is from October to November.

Annapurna Sanctuary

Commencing in rice paddies and ending among glaciers and towering peaks, the Annapurna Sanctuary trek is a 10-14 day adventure into the icy bowels of the Annapurna range. It is this trek, not the Annapurna circuit, that actually goes to the Annapurna base camp (4157m). It can be as a week-long bonus for hikers fresh off the Annapurna Circuit or can be done on its own from Pohkara. There are several possible routes to the sanctuary, all meeting at Chhomrong. Although a short trek, the path is steep and sometimes treacherous, especially during or after precipitation. Like the Annapurna Circuit, there are plenty of accommodations for the self-sufficient hiker.

Langtang

Langtang

Langtang. Photo credit: Dmitry Sumin via Flickr.

The Langtang is one of the nicest treks in Nepal. It offers great scenery, small crowds, moderate challenges, great opportunities for wildlife viewing and is culturally less affected than the more popular treks. It begins not far from Kathmandu and last eight days — perfect for those pressed for time. The only bad news is the bus to get from Kathmandu to the starting point at Syabrubesi. The journey is only 117km, but the ride is nerve-racking and takes nine hours.

The trek lies entirely within Langtang National Park and is a slow and methodical climb through changing climates and vegetation along the length of the Langtang River valley, with excellent views of the Annapurna region to the west and the Makalu region to the east. The highest elevation is at the Kyanjin Ri viewpoint (4600m). If you don’t want to backtrack, you can connect with the Helambu trek to the south, but you’ll have to traverse the long and tough Ganga La pass, which eventually drops you in Helambu’s Melamchi Khola valley.

Everest Base Camp, Sagarmatha National Park

Everest Base Camp trek

Views from the Everest Base Camp trek. Photo credit: David Joshua Jennings.

When people think of the Himalayas, Everest is the mountain that usually springs to mind. Nestled in the Khumbu region, home to Sherpa and Tibetan Buddhist cultures, the trek to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) is today the second most popular trek in Nepal. The path is well worn and, especially between Lukla and Namche Bazaar, can be crowded during the high season, at which time accommodation also tends to fill up.

Treks in the Khumbu typically range from 17 to 25 days, depending on the route. Most trekkers fly into Lukla (2680m), acclimatize at Namche Bazar (the biggest village in Sagarmatha National Park), then head up the Imja and Lobuche Khola valleys to the Khumbu Glacier and Gorek Shep, a small outpost that provides unparalleled views of Mt. Everest and is the last accommodation point before EBC. The base camp itself is honestly not worth the additional day hike, unless it’s to say you’ve been there, as it offers no significant views and even Everest is hidden by a nearby mountain.

A better option, or if you’ve the time and strength, is the trail from Gorek Shep to the top of Kala Pattar (5.6236m), which offers some of the most breathtaking views in the area. By far the prettiest town in the region is Gokyo, which straddles the lip of a glacial blue lake and is surrounded by soaring peaks. A detour over Chola Pass to Gokyo Lakes on the way back to Lukla is highly recommended. Just keep in mind to bring plenty of cash, as the higher you get the more expensive things become.

See the region with a 5-Day Best of the Himalayas Trek

Dolpo and Mustang

Dolpo

Dolpo. Photo credit: Great Himalaya Trail via Flickr.

The Dolpo and Mustang regions have only recently been opened to tourists and all treks must be organized through a company. This is a remote and arid land of canyons and caves that borders Tibet, north of Nepal’s towering Dhaulagiri Himal and west of the great Kali Gandaki River, a long-forbidden kingdom and one of the most evocative regions on the planet. There will be few conveniences along the way, so prepare yourself and make sure to hire a dependable guide.

Neither Dolpo nor Mustang will stun you with colossal peaks, as the eastern treks do, but due to the high costs of trekking here the crowds are almost non-existent. Juphal is the airstrip from which most people begin. Walking east for two weeks will bring you to Jomsom (another airstrip) on the Annapurna Circuit. Figure about $500 for ten days of trekking, everything included, and $50 for each day more.

Helambu

Within an hour’s walk of Kathmandu, the Helambu trek offers a number of advantages to those short on time and money. The return trek last 6-7 days and keeps under the relatively low altitude of 3640 meters, which means there’s no need to worry about the altitude sickness that plagues hikers on the other treks. The trail begins in Sundarijal at the east end of the Kathmandu Valley, traverses the lush vegetation typical of the midlands and winds through the Sherpa-populated Helambu region.

Though it lacks the stunning mountain scenery of the other treks, the area you’ll be trekking through is culturally interesting and doesn’t require you to carry any extra equipment or clothing for cold weather. There’s plenty of lodging and restaurants along the way. Buses leave to Sundarijal from Kathmandu’s Ratna Park.

Explore Kathmandu Valley with 4-Day Kathmandu Valley Trekking Tour

Rara Lake, Rara National Park

Rara Lake

Rara Lake. Photo credit: Great Himalaya Trail via Flickr.

Rara Lake, the largest lake in the country, lies at the heart of Rara National Park in remote western Nepal. This trek is not for beginners. The road to Rara Lake lacks the comfortable services available along the more popular trails, and the logistics are a bit complicated: it is hard to reach, requires informed guides and porters to carry the two weeks’ worth of material that you’ll need to keep alive, and involves several 3000+ meter passes. If you overcome these obstacles, however, you’ll be rewarded with incomparable natural splendor, remote villages, silence and few, if any, other trekkers.

 - David Joshua Jennings

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3 Responses to “A Guide to Trekking in Nepal”

  1. Patty Says:

    Amazing blog! This calms a lot of the anxieties I had about an upcoming trek! Thanks so much!

  2. Harper Says:

    Thanks David for sharing useful information which will be helpful in trekking or climbing mountains, amazing snaps listed above of Everest. It is essential to prepare yourself with pre-trek training to know more about trek.

  3. Yatra Nepal Says:

    Nepal is one of the best destination for adventure activities.

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