Ice Climbing and Winter Adventures in the Annapurnas
Planning a mountain trip in the middle of winter can be difficult; temperatures are cold, snowfall can cause other risks, there are limited transportation options to get deeper into the mountains, and in some smaller places, there are no tea houses open because families have left the mountains during the winter. However, despite these challenges, adventuring in the mountains in the winter can be incredibly rewarding; the air is usually quite clear, the landscapes are beautiful, and you can have the whole trail to yourself. I decided to take advantage of the winter conditions to do an outdoors activity that is only possible during the winter: ice climbing.
I packed up my climbing gear and hopped on a bus to Besisahar and then the next day took a jeep to Humde, arriving in the evening. I joined my Nepali friends for a total of three days of ice climbing in the area around Humde.
There are a number of different climbing routes, mostly located on the hillside to the south of Humde. A handful of streams come down from the hill and freeze in the winter to form a stretch of ice that rises several hundred meters. The climbs follow the flow of the stream, with sections that are easy to walk up with minimal protection, punctuated by waterfalls that have created vertical walls of ice. The frozen waterfalls create fun and challenging climbs that require the first climber to ‘lead climb’ and place protection (ice screws) while climbing up.
Lead climbing on ice takes practice and can be quite scary, since you are completely reliant on a few pieces of pointy metal stuck into ice that sometimes cracks or splinters apart as you are climbing. Needless to say, my friends, who are very experienced climbers, led all of the more technical climbs, while I led only a few of the easier vertical sections. Once we reached a spot in the stream where the ice stopped or the climb was too difficult or risky for us to continue, we would take off our crampons and bushwhack from the stream down the steep slopes of the hillside. We arrived in Humde in the evening, tired but happy from good days of climbing.
After three days of climbing, my friends had to leave to return to Kathmandu, but I opted to trek on the Annapurna Circuit to reach Jomsom. I first trekked from Humde to Manang via Ice Lake, a one-day side trip that I highly recommend. From Manang, I went directly to Thorung Phedi. The next day, I left Thorung Phedi at about 7am, reached Thorung La just after 10am, and then continued all the way down to Kagbeni in Lower Mustang. I was lucky to make it down to the valley just in time before a snow storm came in that night and blanketed the whole landscape in fresh snow. I walked to Jomsom through the snow and arrived just in time to take a bus direct to Kathmandu.
After this trip, I can highly recommend off-season trekking and mountain adventuring for those people who are fairly comfortable in the mountains and know how to handle potentially cold and snowy conditions. I loved having the mountains to myself and was glad that I decided to make this trip in the winter.