Best INDEPENDENT hikes Nepal 2019

by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

I’m just back from Nepal, my first trip since 2014 where I hiked Langtang.

Around 9,000 people died during the Nepal earthquake of 25 April 2015.

One tiny village in the Langtang Valley accounted for 243 of them: 175 villagers, 27 local tourism staff (guides and porters), and 41 foreign trekkers.

Yet in the 2018-19 fiscal year, a record 21,945 tourists (16,386 foreigners and 5,559 Nepalis) visited Langtang National Park.

So far as I could see, Nepal trails are busier than ever. And easier than ever as you could connect to the internet almost everywhere with a Nepal Telecom (Namaste) SIM card in my mobile phone. I didn’t once have to pay for electricity in the mountains.

The big 3 trekking areas for those who want to hike independently are

        1. Sagarmatha National Park (Everest)

        2. Annapurna Conservation Area

        3. Langtang National Park

We love Nepal because it’s so easy and inexpensive to access many of the best hikes in the world.

Hiking other Himalayan nations is problematic for different reasons: Bhutan, China, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

On the other hand, arriving in Kathmandu or Pokhara you are faced with a bewildering number of options.  😐

 

In this post we rank the very best hikes you can do independently in 2019.

Best independent hike – Sagarmatha Region

If you can only do one hike in Nepal it should be Everest Base Camp 3 Passes:

Kongma pass (5,535m)
Cho pass (5,380m)
Renjo pass (5,388m)

Plus Kala Pattar peak (5,545m) and Base Camp (5,380m).

Ideally you’d want 3 weeks. Two weeks would be risky in terms of rushed acclimatization.


Best independent hikes – Annapurna Region

The classic trek is the Annapurna Circuit. But but road construction has degraded the experience.

Though still popular in 2019, the Circuit now might be better for mountain biking than hiking.

Best of the alternatives is another classic:

Annapurna Sanctuary (ABC)

OTHER alternatives somewhat similar to ABC include:

Khopra Ridge (opened 2012)
Mardi Himal 

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

Ideally, we’d love to do one continuous hike:

Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Trek starting Banskharka (Bans Kharka) to acclimatize → continuing on 1. Khopra Ridge → connecting to 2. Annapurna Sanctuary (ABC) → finishing with 3. Mardi Himal .

The 2-3 week adventure in green connecting those 3 hikes would be far more enjoyable than the Annapurna Circuit.

You can do all on the same permit.


Best independent hikes – Langtang Region

Our recommended route. Perhaps 14-16 days.

Drive to Syabrubesi, trekking Langtang first (top of the map). Then backtracking to the Gosainkund & Helambu trek, walking most of the way back to Kathmandu.

langtang_gosainkund_helambu_trek
map via NepalSanctuaryTreks.com
Our group atop Kyanjin Ri (4773m) Langtang
Laurebina Pass (4600m) on the Gosainkund & Helambu

This will be far less crowded than either Everest or Annapurna regions.


You can easily and inexpensively hire a guide and/or porters on any hike in Nepal for your whole trip … or short sections. But we’d recommend you do those listed above independently.

If we were to do a guided hike we’d choose areas of Nepal where guides are mandatory. For example:

Best GUIDED hike – Manaslu Circuit

The Manaslu Circuit (lodges open since 2010)  was fantastic and uncrowded before the 2015 earthquake. Reports are that it’s fantastic again in 2019.

The Tsum Valley sidetrip is still a recommended add-on in 2019. But  China is developing a road. It could be a dusty construction zone soon.

Manaslu finishes on the Annapurna Circuit. In 2013 I did Manaslu with a guide — then continued independently on the Circuit hiking & cycling.

Since I was acclimatized, the high pass on the Circuit seemed easy.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page.

booking Lake O’Hara in the Canadian Rockies

Our favourite hiking destination in the Canadian Rockies is Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, B.C.

For decades we’ve had hikers hitting redial on the phone trying to get one of the precious reservations:

  • 32 day-use visitors
  • 90 campers / day

Some good news:

Overnight camping spots will now be offered through the Parks Canada reservation system on a first-come, first-served basis starting Jan. 24, 2020.

“Historically you phoned in,” …. “That creates some frustration for visitors because they get a busy signal. There was no way to see if sites were reserved.

This means we need be online at midnight on Jan 23rd.

Much easier.

 

Everest Base Camp trek – flight problems 2019

Most hiking the Everest region in Nepal fly into and/or out of Lukla, a small village at 2,860 metres (9,383 ft).

You can walk in and/or out, but that requires a lot more time.

Lukla’s very short runway

In order to ease congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport (in Kathmandu) and facilitate ongoing runway repair works … Lukla flights were rerouted to fly from Manthali.

An airport that had barely seen a dozen flights in the last decade began to handle 85 flights daily, and it was ill-equipped to deal with the hundreds of tourists arriving daily. The airport lacks proper parking, a waiting room, toilets and even a restaurant.

More than 800 tourists arrive and depart daily during peak season. About 85 flights a day.

For Everest enthusiasts, an unpleasant experience awaits at Manthali airport (Nov 15, 2019)

It’s 132km (82mi) from Thamel, Kathmandu to the airport. That’s at least a a four-hour drive IF there are no delays. You leave Kathmandu around 2am.

Know that there are still a couple of Lukla flights departing Kathmandu airport after 8am each day. But it’s risky to buy that ticket as your flight might be cancelled.

Flights out of Ramechhap airport at Manthali — however — are shorter, cheaper and more reliably get you to Lukla.

The international airport in Kathmandu is terrible. Current renovations won’t help much.

The planned (2025) replacement will be situated 150kms from Kathmandu by road.

Two other new airports already under construction should help relieve traffic:  Pokhara International Airport (opening 2021) and Gautam Buddha Airport. (opening 2020) should help.

I’ll try to fly into Pokhara in future. We should avoid polluted Kathmandu, if we can.

cycling the Annapurna Circuit

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

My best ride EVER.

Jeeps and buses now shuttle up and down the valley all the way to Muktinath, causing some trekkers to dismiss this section of the Annapurna Circuit as ‘over’.

It’s not over. Most who do it still enjoy the hike down.

Still … cycling is better.

Cycling Annapurna is getting increasingly popular. But it is dangerous.

One guide I cycled alongside had 3 clients: all 3 fell over two days, one evacuated back to the U.K. with a broken collar bone.

Here’s the best easy & inexpensive option, in my opinion.

I did the Muktinath to Tatopani ride in 2014. Enjoyed it so much that I repeated exactly the same trip in 2019.

First you have to make your way to Muktinath (3800m) and be acclimatized to that altitude.

Many offer to rent you a bike. I went again with Mustang, as I like their professionalism. For this trip and 6 years ago the cost was $60 — and you could do the trip in 1, 2, 3, or 4 days for that price. Most do 2 days. They shuttle your luggage to Tatopani.

  1. Muktinath to Marpha (2650m descent)
  2. Marpha to Tatopani (1130m descent)

There are several ways down to Kagbeni, all interesting. This time I took the high route via Jhong (Dzong; 3580m) on the other side of the valley from the motor vehicle traffic. Loved it.

All day long you are staring at impressive Dhaulagiri (8167m).

Day 1 is dry, arid Tibetan landscape.

You definitely need protection from wind and dust.

You reach fantastic Kagbeni without passing any traffic. But road building is ongoing in the so-called Annapurna Conservation Area.

Riding through Jomsom is ugly and un-fun. But there’s no alternative to the busy main road.

Almost everyone stops in lovely Marpha. I followed the guide and her clients to this Guest House. In fact, I got the room of her injured rider.

Next morning I toured Marpha, the apple capital of Nepal.

… a pretty stone lined village which has survived the transition to the current time, by catering to trekkers and tourists. …

Dominating the village is the Nyingma monastery …

Day 2 you can often choose between the main road (bad), the river (hike-a-bike) or the new Annapurna trekking trail (single track with plenty of ups-and-downs).

I enjoyed it much better than 6 years ago.

The final ride down to Tatopani (hot water) is very, very rough. I’ll post video of that section later.

😕

BUT … it is great to hit the hot springs after 2 long, dusty days.

There’s no easy way out of Tatopani. My first time here I continued trekking to Annapurna Base Camp, a serious commitment. This time I got on the local bus … $5.50 for a 7 hour, very bumpy ride back to Pokhara.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

visiting sacred Muktinath, Nepal

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

Waking up in Kagbeni, the morning sky was perfect.

Niligiri North (7061m) from the rooftop

I thought I might catch a bus or shared jeep up to Muktinath so started walking the (shockingly paved) main drag.

I ended up on foot for 3-4 hours, but still enjoyed the road walk.

The highlight was weird Serthang Selfie Park. Yep, everyone stops here to take selfies.

Happily, this viewpoint is protected from evil spirits including ZOMBIES.

I stopped too as it was my first look at massive Dhaulagiri (8167m).

Walking asphalt is super easy. And the views kept getting better.

In arid Tibetan lands these solar powered water boilers are popular.

On arrival in Ranipauwa (3710m) I went straight to Mustang Cycle to organize my bike for the next day. They recommended the newest lodge. Probably the best room I’ve had, so far.

Muktinath (3800m) is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the Nepali Himalaya for both Hindus and Buddhists. There are far more pilgrims than trekkers at any given time.

In the afternoon I walked up to the main temple complex above town.

Muktinath (3800m) looking back to the village.

Many pilgrims choose to ride horseback. Indeed, this seems the biggest industry in town.

It’s easy to get confused as to what’s a Buddhist temple and what’s a Shiva temple.

Vishnu is worshipped here as Muktinath, the Lord of Salvation, 􏰩􏰟while Buddhists associate the deity with Chenresig, the Tibetan bodhisattva of compassion (yes, it’s complicated).

From there I continued over 2 suspension bridges to the village of Jhong (Dzong; 3580m) on the other side of the ‘river’.

Six years ago one huge statue of Shiva was under construction. I sat on the roof at dusk, I recall. It’s finished now.

Great views from up there.

Muktinath in November is also filled with relieved trekkers having successfully crossed Thorung La (5416m) on the Annapurna Circuit, the highest most will ever climb.

That’s it between the peaks. It snowed up there during yesterday’s crossing.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

visiting Kagbeni, Nepal

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4
One of my favourite places in Nepal.  Medieval Tibetan-style Kagbeni village is weird and wonderful.
… closely packed mud houses, dark tunnels and alleys, imposing chortens and a large, ochre-coloured gompa perched above the town. …
I flew from Pokhara 6:15am. Earlier the better for Himalayan flights. They get cancelled when wind comes up.
Arriving Jomsom (2760m)
I had breakfast and hung around until 10am to see if I could buy an NTC sim card for my phone. It’s the best network for the high Annapurna.
No luck. Only Nepalis can buy those in Jomsom, I was told.
I left immediately as Jomsom is a place you only visit because of the airport.
10am I started the easy walk up to Kagbeni (2840m). You can take the dusty road. Or walk aside barren Kali Gandaki, the river separating Annapurna from Dhaulagiri (8167m).
Another reason to come here in November rather than April is being able to stay off the road more.
It was good to be getting back to Tibet. Kagbeni is far more Tibetan than Nepali.
And Kagbeni looks much the same as it did when I first visited in the 1990s. Aside from Yac donalds.
On arrival I immediately headed for another new business – Cafe Applebees. It’s an upscale, modern coffee shop … but with excellent views to the forbidden kingdom of upper Mustang.
I’m still planning on taking a guided trip to Mustang. One day.
One place in Upper Mustang you ARE allowed to visit without a restricted-area is Tiri village. To get there you cross a bridge over the Kali Gandaki and hike about 45min on the west bank of the valley.
I do love the light in Tibet.
Here’s the view looking back to Kagbeni.
On my return I walked the river.
The other highlight of Kagbeni is Kagchode Thubten Sampheling Gompa, a Buddhist Monastery dating back to 1429.
It was guarded by Ram.
Arriving on the 5th day of a 5-day festival, many monks were in attendance. Throat singing, huge horns, cymbals and percussion. I doubt much has changed here since 1429.

Click PLAY or watch a short video on YouTube.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4