Frequently Asked Questions
Note that we have two kinds of trips: Guided Running Trips and also Guided Treks. Most of the information on this page is for the guided running trips which usually draw people who have a solid history of ultra-running.
What kind of back ground do I need for a HAL trip?
For our guided treks, we only accept people who have an ‘active lifestyle’ – meaning that you regularly jog, walk, cycle, or basically ‘get out and enjoy the outdoors’. A long hike makes for a happy day. For our guided runs weare looking for applicants who like to be active and push themselves. Most of our applicants come to us from a trail running background with multiple ultras under their belt as well as long runs in close proximity to another (e.g. back to back days). Nearly every day will be long and challenging – particularly when we are at altitude. We will power hike a lot, especially when we are gaining elevation toward the pass and above 3,000m. We usually run all flats and downhills. It’s not uncommon to be fairly dirty and exhausted at the end of a long day but happy. Our Annapurna Circuit fast pack, and our Annapurna Sanctuary fast pack are great choices if it is your first time in Nepal, no previous experience needed. For members who want to join our Langtang Lollipop fast pack, we look for prior high altitude experience given the remote nature of the Kanja Pass and comfort with very technical trails, light scrambling and some degree of exposure.
How much support is there?
Our events are self-supported – we expect members to help themselves and to not be coddled at every step. We will focus on the logistics so you can focus on the mountains and communities that your are encountering. We will handle all of the logistics (permits, lodging, transport, meals, etc) but in a major departure from classic group treks, we will not be hiring porters or mules to transport our gear. This means you will need to carry a small pack with your daily necessities. You will also be expected to carry a VHF radio provided to you, and approximately 0.5kg of group gear.
We support the families of porters through fundraising activities and charity work, but we don’t believe in running all day while someone else is carrying our gear. On Langtang you will need to carry a shelter, sleeping bag, and one emergency dinner. (see gear).
What other costs are there?
In general – the fee covers most everything ‘on the ground’ including airport pickup/drop off, hotel in Kathmandu, safe(r) jeep transport to/from trail heads, all you can eat breakfast/dinner, room in lodges along trail (usually a double shared room, we try to get private rooms for people whenever possible, permits, guide/support coverage, etc.
What is not covered are: alcoholic drinks + soda or bottled water, trail snacks (budget at least $5 per day for this). On days when we don’t stop for a hot lunch, you may also be responsible for buying some snacks. Other costs are helicopter insurance (see below $20-$100 USD) and your visa (usually about $40 USD).
If you have to leave the event for some reason during the event we will make sure you are accompanied all the way back to Kathmandu, however there may be some additional expenses to arrange this level of support. We have never had to need to do this to date.
Helicopter Evacuation Insurance
This is required by the Nepal government and we actually think it is a great idea. Please buy a policy covering at least $5,000 USD for medical evacuation and travel to 6,000 meters. We recommend www.worldnomads.com – coverage with medical insurance might run you around $100 USD and is well worth it.
One company we have worked with before is GEOS. They are solely focuses on evacuation, they are also closely integrated with Delorme and SPOT trackers which include rescue features. If you buy one of these devices they will usually try to upsell GEOS rescue coverage. Please check them out: http://www.geostravelsafety.com
Also note that membership in the American Alpine Club and other mountaineering associations also offer helicopter evacuation insurance and can be less expensive – but does not also include medical insurance or other travel insurance perks.
Can I get a SIM Card?
We highly recommend you bring an unlocked phone to Nepal with you or buy a dumb phone, or a low cost smart phone when you are there (try to get a dual SIM phone if you can, there are many in Nepal). One of the best places to get a SIM card is at the airport if you are not too tired. We will help you when we pick you up. Why at the airport? It is a little less expensive and generally more expert service. But if you are too tired you can also get them in other parts of the city. You can get a card from either NCell or from from NTC. They have adjoining counters and are on your right as you exit the airport. The staff at these counters are pros, they work directly for the companies and troubleshoot phones all day. Buy approx 1000 rupees ($10 USD) of a data package (they will probably show you a price sheet), this will likely be good for at least 1 gigabyte and for 30 days. Then buy at least 500 rupees ($5) of voice credit. They will set this all up for you – and they will tape your old SIM card to the packaging and instructions they give to you. Last, buy one more 500 rupee scratch card and carry it with you for emergency – just in case you run out of credit. Total cost per phone: $20 USD including a month of data and a lot of calls. Later, look up the international tariffs to call your home country. It can be surprisingly inexpensive and google maps makes navigating Kathmandu so much easier.
Where do we sleep?
We will be in ‘lodges’ each night, these historically have been called ‘tea houses’ but are now quite a bit more sophisticated. That said, you can expect a simple room with two plywood twin beds. When we get to a lodge with enough rooms we try to get one for anyone who wants a private room. Rooms costs are low, the lodges make their money on the food (which we cover). Conditions can be rustic but are often comfortable. There is usually a bathroom down the hall or outside. Occasionally attached to your room. Many toilets are squat in design but some are western. Showers are often, but not always, available. If hot water is available ask how they heat it and then use your own judgement. Sometimes a small fee is required for the shower, remind the lodge owner you are with us and we will pick up the tab. And there is always a water tap outside the lodge for washing/filling.
We are using Royal Astoria Hotel which is in the northern part of the city. It is a good distance from the chaos of the city and is in a quiet neighborhood with options to run nearby. It is about a 20 minute taxi ride to Thamel which is the main tourist district in Kathmandu. Plan on the city being crowded, noisy, polluted, and for your senses to be overloaded. Carry a compass, the hotel business card, and recognize it is easy to get lost in Thamel as the streets are narrow and winding. Use a taxi to get there for 200-300 rupee ($2-$3) and a little more to get back after dark.
It’s great that you are able to arrive early or to stay a little later. We highly recommend it. We can adjust and pick you up at the airport and get you settled into your hotel. We usually try to arrange some runs for those that arrive early. We can also suggest some World Heritage sites to see and help you with hiring a guide or taxi for the day if those things interest you. If you need help with lodging, we would be happy to book you into the event hotel.
What will we eat each day?
Lots of carbs! Seriously, most days we will eat hearty food prepared by kitchen staff in whatever lodge we are staying in – think of fried eggs, toast, coffee. For dinner the national dish dal bhat (lentils and rice) is common, as is vegetable fried noodles and chapati and curry options.
Annapurna: Apple pie is easily found on the circuit because it is a big export – so we will enjoy apples in all of their incarnations from apple juice to apple brandy and apply pie. There will be no problem accommodating vegetarian diets. If you have food intolerance/allergies – we recommend that you bring your own dehydrated dinners. We often try to coordinate what we order so that it is easier/faster for the kitchen. You are welccome to order seconds. You can buy snacks in small shops along the way – chinese cookies, candy bars (snickers), chips (pringles), peanuts, tuna, apples, and assorted junk food are common items on the shelf.
Langtang: We will eat in lodges as well, but we will also camp out for at least one night. Please see the gear list for more information.
Will we all be coordinating our flights?
People will be arriving in Kathmandu from many different locations so it is not possible to get everyone on the same flights. But we try to coordinate having people arrive the same day (though we also support/encourage you to arrive earlier if possible to see more of the sights etc. We can offer some advice on plane tickets, contact information for our favorite agent, and we will encourage participants to share their flight details with one another. If you have time, we recommend you consider a ticket routed through someplace fun like Hongkong, Bangkok, or New Delhi. Many airlines will give you a free, or low priced, stopover and you can piggyback another cultural experience onto your Nepal trip. Please do not route your ticket through India if you have family connections to Muslim countries as this has been a problem for travelers in the past. The cheapest tickets are often through Guangzhou using China Southern Airlines – however the connections and service is a bit sub par and you may want to look at Korean Airlines (KAL) which has much better service. Please do plan on landing in Nepal on the arrival date or prior. We will be there to pick you up and will handle all of the logistics from there on out including a briefing, gear check
What will the weather by like?
Kathmandu: This link has temperature and rainfall trends Also: Historical 12 year averages for temp, rain, etc for Kathmandu, very numerical. Also in more graphical format and with days of sunshine.
Annapurna: The last half of September is usually the very beginning of the post-monsoon season. There may still be some remnants of the monsoon, but this usually comes in a somewhat predictable window of time, lasting about an hour during which one can usually duck into a lodge and grab a cup of tea. In October the skies are more clear and the rain less. So why aren’t we going in October? Chiefly because that is the peak of trekking season and we would rather deal with a little rain and some clouds than streams of trekkers. Other than locals, and a couple key choke points like before and after the pass, we should have most of the trails to ourselves which is pretty priceless. And while we may not have the best visibility every day, there will still be plenty of views as you can see in our pictures.
You expect to spend most days in shorts except near the pass. The first few days will be at a relatively low altitude and it can be very hot and humid until Tal village. As we climb up the humidity will drop a lot but it can still be quite hot. Nights can get a little chilly after the second and third night in Chame and you will often want to wear some thermals and a puffy jacket. When we are above Manang before the pass (2-3 nights) it will be the coldest and most people are wearing all of their layers. The dining rooms have heated stoves and card games will be won. After we are over the pass and descending things will warm up quite fast.
We also receive custom reports from Michael Fagin just before we go over Thorung La via a satellite communicator. We take the weather and safety seriously, Micheal predicts weather for teams climbing Everest. Some helpful links below:
Langtang: Days should be warm but nights cool and potentially freezing when we get above 3,000 meters.
Our weather forecaster Michael Fagin looked up historical data for Langtang and wrote us, “For data over the last 50 years temperatures, at 16,000ft in the Langtant region, early in the morning (coldest of course) and before sunrise is -7 (19F). Although last year it was closer to -2 C (28 F). Average winds are at 20 mph that varies greatly if jet stream is over us (double that if not more) .
Is this event safe?
Venturing into the Himalaya is never without risk. However, we take several steps beyond what most trekking groups practice to ensure safety including being in daily contact via satellite communicators with Michael Fagin of www.everestweather.com for custom weather reports. Michael is one of the leading weather forecasters for Everest expeditions.
We will also have a remote medical doctor on call who is Nepali and has completed advanced training in high altitude medicine. We will be carrying a satellite phone and other forms of communications should the sat phone prove difficult.
All members are required to have thorough medical checkups before the trip, to learn about Acute Mountain Sickness, and to carry appropriate medications. All members are also required to have helicopter evacuation insurance. We will cross any high passes together. It is our opinion that many other activities (crossing the street in many countries, being in a jeep, etc) are higher risk but we will be in a remote medical situation and take it seriously.
Passport and Nepal Visa
Make sure your passport does not expire within six months of the event!
Most people get their visa on arrival at the airport. Double check that you can at this site. You can also do it by mail (instructions for US applicants). We don’t recommend using private companies to arrange your visa – or trying to use the online system. Be sure you have a minimum of $40 USD cash and two passport pictures when you arrive. We will give you more guidance closer to the arrival date on how to efficiently get through the immigration line at the airport.
If you are flying through India, please consider getting an India visa in case you want to leave the airport due to flight delays or travel interests. If you are planning on visiting India after the event and you are also passing through on our inbound journey- please consider a multiple entry visa. Last, if you are not a U.S. citizen, or if you have connections to Islam, do some research to make sure you can obtain a visa for India.
On arrival, you will be asked to sign a waiver and also to indicate that you have received a comprehensive medical exam and been cleared by a physician for this trip. The US Center for Disease Control provides good current information about Nepal, and you’ll probably find that your provider uses their website in making recommendations to you. If you are prescribed Diamox, which is an altitude sickness medication, you should discuss with your provider how to use it for prevention as well as treatment. Whenever possible we are following a rate of ascent that matches, or is less, than that recommended by the Wilderness Medical Society, if we are due to exceed those guideline we will have a discussion and options for not exceeding it. We will also have a remote physician on call throughout the trip via our sat phone. He is Nepali and trained in high altitude medicine and also emergency care. See the First Aid information on our gear page for more information.
Language and Culture
Some thoughts to get you started:
- Learn some language basics, even a little will go a long way and will demonstrate your respect for their culture. We will do some language lessons during the event but it is always better to get a head start, we recommend Cornell University’s online language site (they offer semester long programs in Nepal)
- Do not touch people on the head. (this one is debatable)
- Don’t point the bottom of your feet at people or walk over people.
- Do use your left hand for the toilet and your right for eating or handing things to people. If you are left handed – don’t stress too much about eating with your left hand.
- Do try to eat with your hands (but wash them first!)
- Don’t give money or food or anything to people begging, including super cute children asking you for chocolate on the trail.
- We have never had a problem with theft on an event. But be careful opening bags and wallets, leaving valuables in your room when on the trail…The biggest problem are taxi drivers who over charge and unofficial tour guides at cultural sites who spring charges on you at the end of a tour.