I remember when I first started thinking about climbing a peak in the Himalaya. It was my first trek there, the Annapurna Circuit, and I was walking among these superb giants, at the feet of glaciers and almost touching them, but not quite. My feet were tingling with the urge to be high up there, where there air was even thinner and the view even more magnificent. I ached to walk on the glacier rather than on dusty roads.
Many, like me, dream of going further up than a trekking trail. With the development of tourism in Nepal, a few peaks have become more accessible to visitors other than alpinists. Some of these have been classified as “trekking peaks”, meaning a summit between 5800 and 6500m. However, don’t be fooled by the term “trekking peak”. These are alpine peaks that can only be summited with proper gear. Some are more technical than others, with some being more accessible to the average mountaineer with proper guidance and preparation.
Some peaks are more popular because of their accessibility, in terms of location and technicality. This article focuses on these, rather than the more technical ones, which require proper mountaineering skills. Trekking peaks you might consider attempting are:
- Imja Tse (Island Peak), 6189m (Khumbu)
- Mera Peak, 6.476m (Khumbu)
- Lobuje Peak, 6119m (Khumbu)
- Pisang Peak, 6091m (Annapurnas)
- Chulu West , East, and Far East, which are quite long and technical (Annapurnas)
- Naya Kang, 5844m (Langtang)
What are the regulations around climbing trekking peaks?
It’s important to know that you cannot just take your equipment and climb one of these peaks. Access to any peak higher than 5800m is regulated by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), which creates and enforces the policies around climbing in Nepal. However, the bureaucracy around climbing a trekking peak is much more simple than climbing an expedition peak.
A permit is required to summit a trekking peak. The price differs depending on the season (spring/autumn/off-season). Updated price lists are available on the NMA website. Unless you obtain an independent climber permit (which are not easy to obtain), going through a local company incurs other costs, such as insurance and guides. You cannot obtain the permit without a guide. Unless you are an experienced mountaineer, you should always take a guide climbing with you, anyway.
How to organize a trekking peak expedition?
Once you know which peak you want to summit, you must get in touch with a local company to arrange an expedition. As someone who has been with and without a guide, I recommend always hiring a guide. They know the mountain and the rules.
You have two options: either organize everything from Kathmandu, or in the village closest to the starting point of the climb. However, even if it is possible to arrange everything in, say, Chukkung for Island Peak, I advise against it. It’s better to already have your permit, guide, equipment, and tent booked. Otherwise, you risk getting poorer service or even not being able to find a guide.
When you go through a local, reputable company, they will take care of everything for you: hiring a guide, reserving tents and equipment, securing staff and supplies in camps. You can choose to do the trekking part independently and only use the company services for the summit days, although you might want to hire a porter if you are carrying your own equipment.
What equipment do I need?
The price of a climbing expedition usually includes:
- Guide services
- Full base camp services for one or two nights: a bed in an expedition tent, a cook and staff to prepare all meals, free access to the kitchen tent with unlimited tea and snacks, access to the toilet tent
- Necessary climbing equipment: make sure you request it and confirm whatever you need before leaving. This includes ropes, index, harness, crampons, ice axe, and helmet. You can ask for boots, down jacket, and down gloves. The one thing you should consider having of your own is boots. Rental ones are not such good quality or as comfortable. However, if you’re only climbing one peak, rental boots may suffice. Having your own sleeping bag is also a good idea, but you can also rent warmer ones to supplement what you have.
How to prepare for the climb
Although some of these popular, not-too-technical peaks can be attempted by people with few mountaineering skills as you will be given brief training at base camp, you should at least know how to walk with crampons, how to use an ice axe, how to rope up and walk on a glacier, and how to rappel. These are minimum requirements. If you don’t have glaciers in your home country to practice on, try to do a couple of easy winter ascents, with crampons and an ice axe. You should also be in a very fit physical condition.
The best preparation exercises are cardio ones, as they develop your lung capacity, which is useful at high altitudes, where the air is thin and lacks oxygen. Go for runs, uphill hikes (if you carry a heavy backpack to add to the difficulty, even better) and cycle.
Climbing a trekking peak in Nepal, getting above 6000m, and sleeping in an expedition camp are unforgettable experiences. Doing so will push your limits, but will be worth it. The thing about the Nepal Himalaya is that you can always find an adventure appropriate for your own level of preparation. Prepare, organize your trip with the help of local people and organizations, and enjoy the life-changing experience that awaits.