What kind of background do I need for a HAL trip? What is the mileage each day?
Most of our fastpacking participants come to us from a trail running background but have also had some very strong hikers join our fastpacks. Many come with a history of completing organized ultras or major thru-hikes, but all you really need to have is a love for trails and a willingness to lean into a challenge like hiking over a 17,800ft pass. It also helps if you like to eat french fries at the end of a long day, put your feet up, and laugh. People often ask what the mileage is each day but it is incredibly variable. The longest day on the Annapurna Circuit might be 32k and the shortest 10k, but they are at very different altitudes with different footing. Most of our fastpacks will have a mix of few tough days where we are moving most of the day and happy to be done and put your feet up at the end. Some days we will get in mid-afternoon and people will go climb a hillside or read a book in front of a beautiful view. And we always have at least two ‘acclimatization days’ where you are encouraged to do an easy hike to a viewpoint and read a book or take a nap before coming back down to eat and sleep (and hopefully oxygenate!). We don’t run non-stop all day every day – people walk when they want to walk, run when they want to run, and take breaks when they want to take breaks. We almost always regroup and have an hour long, hot lunch together. Almost everyone hikes for the majority of most routes – especially when we are gaining elevation toward the pass and above 3,000m; when people run it is only because they want to and usually on flats and downhills after we have crossed any high altitude passes.
Our Annapurna Circuit fastpack is a great choice if it is your first time in Nepal. For members who want to join our Langtang Lollipop fastpack, we look for prior high altitude experience, given the remote nature of the Kanja Pass, as well as comfort with very technical trails, light scrambling, and some degree of exposure.
These are designed for people from all walks of life and not ne. Please note that we do not hire porters or pack animals to carry supplies, and you will need to carry a light pack for most treks with 5-10kg of weight in it (typically some changes of clothes, snacks, and water). We are happy to arrange a trek to any destination in Nepal that your are interested in; our minimum group size is four.
Will I be stuck in a group?
Yes and no. We organize small group fastpacks, so there is definitely a group element. On the trail, we will often move in smaller sub groups of 2-3. But we also understand the need for personal autonomy. There is nothing like some solitude high in the Himalayas! We have a safety plan that we follow, which includes options for people to ‘go out on their own’ and move at their own pace with radio check-ins, a defined GPX track, and arranged meeting points. We also provide private rooms whenever possible on the trail so that you can have some personal down time. All that said, we have had some really great groups on our trips and the camaraderie and friendships that have developed is one of our favorite aspects.
Are you running the whole time?
Basically – for the Annapurna Circuit a lot of it is hiked by participants versus run and as long as you are fit and regularly running or hiking, you should be fine. The hiking is a function of the heat/humidity, climbing, elevation, desire to enjoy the trail, etc. There are some good runnable sections on the second half after we are acclimatize and some run these sections, but often people just power hike.
What other costs are there?
In general, the event fee covers almost everything ‘on the ground,’ including airport pickup/drop off; hotel in Kathmandu; transport to/from trail heads; all you can eat breakfast/dinner; room in lodges along the trail (usually a double shared room; we try to get private rooms for people whenever possible); permits; guide/support coverage; and tips to hotel staff and guiding staff.
What is not covered are: alcoholic drinks; soda or bottled water; and trail snacks. Most people spend between $50-100 USD while we are on the trail – some even less. A lot depends on how much you like to drink a cold beer at the end of the day. Other costs are emergency evacuation insurance (helicopter insurance, between $20-$100 USD – see below) and your visa (usually about $40 USD).
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 (Explorer option). 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 focused on evacuation, and 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 offers helicopter evacuation insurance and can be less expensive – but this does not also include medical insurance or other travel insurance perks.
I found another company that only charges half as much…
Yes, they are out there. If you are lucky, you will have a great experience. Please be aware that there are some companies offering below-cost trips as they hope you will get sick and need to be evacuated by helicopter. If this sounds cynical – please read this news story. Other companies are well-intentioned, but in our opinion, it is hard to provide a safe, quality trip for half of what we charge. We pride ourselves on paying above living wages to guides and staff and on the safety measures we take, which include carrying satellite phones and contracting with a remote high altitude physician and weather forecaster. Simply put, we don’t believe the Himalayas are a good place to cut corners – we take the mountains and your safety seriously. Please note that we also offer discounts to many people (teachers, medical professionals, first responders, etc.) and also donate 10% of all proceeds to a Nepal-based charity that we helped start.
Can I get a SIM Card?
Yes, this is surprisingly easy and cheap (as in under $20 with a lot of data). It will work well in Kathmandu and sometimes in the back country. We will be happy to help you with this, and we also detail how this is done in our ‘HAL Nepal Handbook,’ which is given to all participants.
Where do we sleep?
We stay in a nice hotel in Kathmandu, where it is easy to run from our doorstep and also easy to get downtown by taxi. On the trail, we will usually stay 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 and hopefully a great view. Whenever possible, we will try to give you a private room on the trail, but you may need to share. Conditions can be rustic but are often comfortable. There is usually a bathroom down the hall or outside. Occasionally, it is attached to your room. Many toilets are squat in design but some are western. Showers are available on the Annapurna Circuit quite often, but not always on other trails. 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 that you are with us, and we will pick up the tab. There is always a water tap outside the lodge for washing/filling.
What will we eat each day?
Most days, we will eat hearty food prepared by kitchen staff in whatever lodge we are staying in – think of eggs, toast, coffee. Or pancakes. Many choose to have Sherpa Tsampa porridge. For dinner, the national dish dal bhat (lentils and rice) is common, as are vegetable fried noodles and chapati and curry options.
Apple pie is easily found on the Annapurna circuit because it is a big export – so we will enjoy apples in all of their incarnations from apple juice to apple brandy and apple pie.
You can buy snacks in small shops along the way – cookies, candy bars (Snickers), chips (Pringles), peanuts, tuna, apples, and assorted junk food are common items on the shelf. Prices will go up as we go up, as others need to carry the product to the store. You can expect candy bars to cost under one dollar at the start and as much as three dollars above 4,000m.
What will the weather be like?
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 Langtang 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).”
How do you keep the 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 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 as well as a satellite locator/texting device.
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.
Do I need a visa?
Most likely yes – Most people get a 30-day visa on arrival at the airport for US $50. It is quite easy, and we will tell you how in the ‘HAL Handbook’ that we give to all participants.