Trip report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT (Nepal) in Spring 2024 led by Natalie Wilson

Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)
Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)Managing Director & Founder, The Mountain Company
Phoksumdo Lake on Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in Nepal
Phoksumdo Lake on Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in Nepal (credit: Natalie Wilson)

In May 2024 we organised our 7th Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in Mid-West Nepal. Our leader for this group was Natalie (known as Nat) Wilson (UK) and our Nepalese guides were Dorjee Lama, Norbu, and Jons Lama. Our cooks were Jagatman and Ram.

As you can read in our Trip Report for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in May 2022 there is a road currently being built over our previous exit pass from Upper Dolpo called the Sangda La. Therefore for our Upper Dolpo trek in 2024 we decided to switch to walk out over an alternative pass called the Ghami La. In the Summer of 2022, we sent Dorjee Lama on a reconnaissance to inspect this new section of the trail from Chharka village to Ghami village. As Dorjee’s trek went well we decided to update our itinerary and in practice, our first group to walk over Ghami La was in May 2024.

The disadvantage of crossing the Ghami La is we need to obtain a second Restricted Areas Permit “RAP” for Upper Mustang (as well as RAP for Upper Dolpo). RAPs are expensive so this increased the price of 2024 departure compared to 2022. I was interested to find out whether this group felt it was worth it. The feedback received from them so far has been very positive and everyone agrees this trek was an incredible experience. A member of this group commented on his AITO Review: "The new exit via the Ghami La adds to this trip, being very remote, using a route that is rarely taken even by the local herders and traversing terrain that is stunning in its beauty and isolation. This is well worth the extra cost for the additional Mustang permit."

Historically there have been cultural issues with crossing the Ghami La in Springtime. This was an area we asked Dorjee to investigate during his reconnaissance trip in Summer 2022. He spoke to the villagers of Chharka and Ghami about this and his understanding was this was no longer an issue for them. In practice, our group in 2024 did not get any comments or feedback from the locals in Ghami. From what we heard it sounds like they are encouraging trekkers to visit their village. Other trekking groups have crossed the Ghami La in the Spring of 2024 including the Great Himal stage trail race.

As discussed in our Blog article Is Upper Dolpo One Of The Most Remote Treks In The Himalaya?, over the last few years, a jeep track has been constructed from Jomsom to the base of Sangda La. On the Dolpo side of the pass, there is another jeep track that continues through the main spine of villages in Inner Dolpo (Chharka, Tinje, Shimen, and Mischagaon). We have designed our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT itinerary to follow old paths for most of the time apart from the section from Shimen village to Chharka village (Days 18 to 21).

I was interested to discuss with Nat the current situation given our last trek in Upper Dolpo was two years ago. According to Nat, the jeep track from Shimen to Chharka was like walking on a wide trail as it has not (and probably never will be) blacktopped. In practice, there is very little traffic with only a few motorbikes and horses passing by during their trek. Rather interestingly Nat commented that it was often more pleasant walking on the jeep track than walking on the rocky trails off the road. She spoke to a road surveyor in Chharka village and he said the road from the Kali Gandaki over Sangda La pass should be open in about two years.

The other change to our organisation of this trek in 2024 was to delay the starting date by 10 days. Our Spring 2024 group started in Kathmandu on May 17th and crossed the crux pass called Churan La over to Shey on May 29th (versus May 18th in 2022). The weather patterns in the Nepalese Himalayas are changing and there has been a trend over the last few years of very dry winters followed by heavy snow in March and/ or April. As a result, it takes longer for the snow to melt off the high passes in remote areas of Nepal. In practice, Nat’s group had good conditions crossing Churan La although there were still a few patches of snow they had to negotiate on their ascent. Our view is the best time of the year with optimal weather and conditions in Upper Dolpo is late May into June. We believe there is a lower chance of completing Upper Dolpo treks in the Autumn/ Fall season as there is often heavy precipitation in early October (from both cyclonic and monsoonal systems). As the temperatures cool off through October the snow on the passes is unlikely to melt off until Spring.

Nat sums up her experience leading this group as follows:

“This trek went exceptionally well. We completed the whole itinerary, including the route over the Ghami La, the final high pass - an exciting and strenuous end to a great trek. The amazing variety of terrain makes this an unforgettable trek, add to that the remoteness and cultural interest, and it really is the best trek in Nepal. 

We experienced really good weather mainly sunny, it only rained a little during a few evenings and we had a couple of light snow and hail showers. We didn’t see snow leopards but we saw plenty of evidence of them with fresh paw prints on the trail and lots of scat. There were many large birds of prey including vultures and eagles and we were serenaded one night by a pack of wolves. 

The support crew was exceptional - professional and hardworking and the cook crew provided consistently tasty and varied food. We had brilliant chicken dahl bhat a few times, which was a big hit. The bread on this trek was exceptional - some days there were fresh croissants and cinnamon rolls. Amazing apple pie and pumpkin pie too! We experienced no sickness or health issues at all. 

Everyone enjoyed being out in this really special region. Highlights are too many to list but include:

  • camping at Lake Phoksumdo and enjoying its astounding blue
  • exploring Shey and taking tea and talking football with the lama at Takshang Monastery
  • enjoying the remoteness and the astounding new views day after day
  • the cultural aspects of the area

As you may have heard our May 2022 Upper Dolpo group was very fortunate to see a snow leopard from their camp near Chharka village. You can view this on YouTube at Amateur Footage of A Snow Leopard Filmed in Dolpo, Nepal. Our May 2024 group did not see a snow leopard although were thrilled to see evidence of their presence in their area. As Nat says above they saw fresh paw prints on the trail and lots of scat but unfortunately no sightings.

We have been focusing on improving the food provided on our camping-style treks. We know proper nutrition is needed for long and challenging treks like in Upper Dolpo. If you have trekked in Nepal you will know that traditionally the food tends to be carbohydrate-heavy. We aim to reduce the number of carbohydrates dishes at each meal and increase the amount of protein and vegetables. We have updated our list of provisions to include more pulses, beans, lentils, and soya. In addition, we bring out tins of freezed dried chicken from the UK. We also have a dehydrator machine in Kathmandu used for dehydrating vegetables and then we vacuum seal in bags for use on our camping treks. For 2024 we have developed new menu plans incorporating the extra provisions and have provided training for our cooks. We have made significant progress although we will continue to train our cooks over the Summer months before the Autumn trekking season.

The common perception among many people considering doing a trek in Nepal for the first time is that all of the trails are crowded. It is true the trails will be busy at some times of year on some treks such as in the Everest and Annapurna regions. Although it is still possible to access remote places in Nepal with traditional villages that have barely changed and only ever get a handful of other trekkers. For example, our Upper Dolpo group in May 2024 saw only three groups over 26 days of trekking. They saw a group of 8 Americans near Saldang, 3 Italians at Ringmo, and 2 trekkers at Shey making a total of 13 trekkers!

We had several members of our Upper Dolpo 2024 group that have trekked extensively in the Himalayas including doing the Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan with us in Autumn 2022. From discussions Nat had with them comparing the two treks, the consensus was Upper Dolpo was even better than the Snowman trek. Their reasons were as follows:

  • Upper Dolpo had a greater variety of landscapes and scenery. This is from the forested trails leading up to the stunning Phoksumdo Lake to the more arid Trans Himalaya.
  • Upper Dolpo region is culturally very interesting, especially with the Buddhist and Bonpo religions. Our groups enjoyed their experiences having tea with the monks (known as a lama) at Shey Gompa and Tsakang Gompa.
  • The trails on our itinerary for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT are wilder and more remote than the Snowman trek in Bhutan. The Snowman trail is pretty well established whereas the Upper Dolpo trail is more technical in places especially the Ghami La where very few other trekking groups go.

We have received a number of AITO reviews from this group and I have copied some of them below. You can read all of our AITO reviews for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT since 2017.

"This has to be one of the top treks in the Himalayas. It is long (4 weeks, 350km), high (average altitude 4,000m, max altitude 5,700m) and challenging (most days over seven hours walking, two rest days). But the international leader and the local guides took care that I could manage. It is very rewarding. Every day was different as we passed through forests, next to lakes, over high barren boulder strewn passes, through arid valleys and wading rivers. We visited a number of temples, all very different, and met and chatted with some of the monks. We were excited to see paw prints of snow leopard, to hear a cuckoo at over 4,000m and to gaze at soaring eagles and vultures. The new exit via the Ghami La adds to this trip, being very remote, using a route that is rarely taken even by the local herders and traversing terrain that is stunning in its beauty and isolation. This is well worth the extra cost for the additional Mustang permit.

This was my third trek with the Mountain Company. Roland Hunter runs a very good company with strong ethical values. He pays particular attention to safety, risk assessment, care for the crew and trekkers and respect for the environment. He takes a personal interest in every individual and goes the extra mile to ensure satisfaction. Nat Wilson was our international leader. This was my second trek with her. She is very experienced, has high standards and is caring to both trekkers and crew. A great team."
 by gmac

"A Wondrous Journey Through the Remote Upper Dolpo Region: Vast landscapes, ancient monasteries, and tiny remote villages, a twenty-seven day trek through the Upper Dolpo region of northwest Nepal, culminating in crossing the seldom traveled Ghami La pass into the Upper Mustang region. A glimpse of a fast-disappearing ancient Tibetan culture set amongst sights such as Phoksundo Lake.Roland provides very detailed notes on all aspects of the trek and promptly answers any queries. Right from being picked up at Kathmandu airport, all aspects of this trek were covered including the complex regional permits and travel arrangements.. Nat the group leader and all of the Nepalese crew couldn't be bettered. this is the second long remote area trek that I have done with the Mountain Company." by John Eager (Australia)

"I had a most amazing camping trek in Dolpo, Nepal organised by the Mountain Company. This was over 4 weeks in a remote part of the country at high altitude. The Mountain Company is a serious tour operator specialising in treks in Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, and North India. It is an impressive outfit with a commitment to safety and health, high-quality sustainable travel, and, importantly, ethics in the way it cares for the crew locally. I have nothing but praise for Roland Hunter and staff and associates in Nepal. I felt inspired by its ethos and the way I was looked after generally. I’ll certainly return." by Roger @Dolpo

Given the above, I am optimistic about the future of remote trekking in Nepal. However, the drawback of accessing these places is that it is quite expensive. We need to take several internal flights, pay for permits, and provide the logistics to support the group in a remote area. That being said, our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek is about half the price of the Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan. If you have the budget then either of these treks are incredible experiences in wild areas of the Himalayas. It is for that reason we included both in our selection of the top three treks in our Blog article What Is The Best Trek In The Himalayas?

I would like to thank the guides, cooks plus the rest of the trek crew for their hard work in making this trek a great success! Well done to the group for completing a long and remote that crossed multiple high mountain passes. 

Trek on!

Roland Hunter
The Mountain Company