Trekking in the Himalayas

After the Quake

Reconstruction and trekking in the Himalayas

The Gosainkund trek is one of the most popular routes in the Himalayas, but what is it really like for trekkers and local businesses after the devastating 2015 earthquakes?

Trekking in Nepal can be a flourishing industry, but it is dependent on tourists who come to the Himalaya to spend their money.

Since the earthquakes in April and May of 2015 and the fuel blockade on the Indian border later in the year, the world has been receiving mixed messages. Nepal’s official stance is optimistic, launching a social media campaign, #iaminnepalnow, encouraging apprehensive tourists to return to the trails, maintaining the routes destroyed in April have been reopened and the ever-growing Himalayas are stable once again.

Even the popular Langtang trek, where over 250 people were reported missing after the April 25th earthquake, has been cleared by the army and is reportedly open for business. Yet, this optimism is not reflected in the experience of those who earn their livelihood on the trails.

A view from Cherko Ri of Kyanjin Gompa and the Langtang Valley before the quake

Tremors still reverberate in Kathmandu and the mountains to the north.

The price of gas has skyrocketed because supplies from India cannot make it across the border. As a result, locals report that their incomes are down by at least 75%. For those involved in the trekking industry there is little to do but persist. Before the earthquake, running a guesthouse or working as a guide or porter was good business.

A Nepali host makes tea

Before the earthquakes, in Langtang National Park, about 10,000 tourists bought park permits and TIMS Cards (Trekkers Information Management System) at approximately $50 USD per head. Then, they would embark on one of three treks, the Langtang Trek, accounting for 60% of footfall according to lodge owners, the Gosainkund Trek (40%), and the Tamang Heritage Trail, more of a detour appealing to those who could afford to spend a little extra time and money after they had finished one of the two more popular routes. Money from foreign economies was constantly being injected into the local economy.

Trekkers need beds to sleep in, food to eat, clean water to drink, guides to show them the right trails to walk on and porters to carry their bags.

A trekker carrying his own bag on the Langtang trail

The residual fear of a natural disaster and wariness over political tension has seen a marked decline in foot traffic. Nima Sherpa owns a lodge in Kutumsang, which although it is outside the borders of Langtang National Park is the first stop on the Gosainkund Trek from south to north. The initial earthquake leveled every building in Kutumsang. There were injuries but no loss of life.

Since then, Nima has built a temporary wooden structure to house trekkers who pass through, next to the makeshift home where he, his wife and son now live. He estimates business is down 85%. The government has promised 200,000 Nepali rupees, about $2,000 USD for homes that were destroyed, but have promised nothing for broken businesses like Nima Sherpa’s guesthouse. Regardless, they were supposed to pay the lump sum by Dasain festival, which had passed at the time of this interview, and had only delivered 22,000 NRS, equivalent to $220 USD. Rumours circulate.

1. Nima Sherpa and his wife outside their destroyed guesthouse. 2 & 3. The village of Kutumsang, very few houses have been repaired.

Government engineers are supposed to approve any building project before it goes ahead, but there has simply been no sign of them yet. If they don’t give the go ahead, or if local people build before the government gives them the promised sum, they will be ineligible for compensation. It’s a Catch 22 situation. If the government holds off until the people are forced to rebuild out of their own pocket they are off the hook. Nima is well aware of this, but will run a temporary home and business for a few years just to see what happens stating,

“We cannot depend on the government. Even if we have to borrow money, we need to rebuild our home and run our business.”

The situation is harder for those who operate guesthouses within Langtang National Park. Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa, operate a lodge at Thadepati Pass. Unlike Kutumsang, which is a village, Thadepati Pass is only a stop for trekkers. Before the quake, there were three lodges here but all were completely destroyed.

Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa standing outside their lodge at Thadepati Pass.

Jimbu and Kanchi are the only ones to rebuild though their new guesthouse is less than half the size of their previous property. Like a recycled phoenix, their guesthouse has risen out of the rubble using found materials as it is illegal to cut down green wood within the park. The stones, though fallen, are undamaged and anything new has to be carried up the mountain at extremely inflated prices. Only the windowpanes, shattered, must be replaced entirely.

As their business is within park jurisdiction, and they don’t own the land outright, they have to pay a royalty fee for the land they occupy — in their case 90,000 NRS ($900 USD.) Across the park the royalty fee goes up by 10% annually. Despite the destruction of their property in the earthquake and the subsequent nosedive in tourist traffic (Jimbu estimates a 90% decline) the National Park still demands payment. To make matters worse, his home in Melamchigaon, a village further down was also destroyed. Jimbu is desperate.

“If we still have to pay the royalty, our only option will be to leave this place and open a lodge on our private property…”

Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa, inside their lodge at Thadepati Pass.

Between Thadepati Pass and Phedi, the last stop before the steep climb to Gosainkund Lake, the route is difficult. The trail snakes along the south face of a steep range now marred by at least fifteen landslides, a few of them very challenging. The route, which normally takes one day even for slow hikers, now takes two. Jimbu Sherpa told us a foreign trekker was killed near Ghopte when the quake brought parts of the mountain down. Between landslide areas, boulders, conspicuous because of their lack of moss and position in the middle of the trail make it hard not to feel apprehensive. This is no place to linger.

The difficult route between Thadepati Pass and Phedi.

There is only one operational guesthouse between Thadepati and Phedi, in Ghopte, but its precarious position straddling a ridge between landslides caught beneath a sagging face of granite make it an unappealing place to spend the night.

Phedi comes as a welcome sight, located slightly higher and away from under the looming rocks of the previous day and a half.

There are two guesthouses here, both damaged and repaired after the quake in anticipation of the autumn tourist season. Dawa and Lakpa Sherpa run Hotel Blue Sky. They too must pay a royalty fee of 90,000 NRS despite the damage and the downturn in tourism. They say they are losing even more business because the route is bad now.

Dawa and Lakpa Sherpa with their daughter outside Hotel Blue Sky

The national park has done nothing to repair the trail. Instead, herders and hotel owners have had to pick their way through the landslides creating the difficult traverse from Thadepati Pass to Phedi. Langtang National Park has stated they will do nothing to make the way safer until hoteliers pay their royalty fees, some of which have been outstanding for years. Effectively, the park is holding guesthouse owners to ransom.

Dawa and Lakpa also tell us that three and half years ago, the National Park Authority informed the guesthouse owners that in five years, the land their lodges reside on will be put up for tender, effectively sold to the highest bidder without any concessions towards the families that have held leases here for decades.

Dawa and Lakpa have the right to rent land here, because their families held herding rights in this area before the park was designated in the 1970s.

The high paths that lead to Gosainkund are an old route used by both pilgrims, herders and mule trains.

Gosainkund is an important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site and when more tourists started visiting the area, enterprising herders set up stalls to sell tea and then lodges for weary travellers. According to them, the national park was founded and a royalty fee structure implemented only when the government realized how lucrative trekking could be. If the Nepali government follows this policy through, Dawa, Lakpa, and all the other guesthouse operators leasing their land from Langtang National Park have a year and half until the land on which their businesses reside is put up for tender. Unfortunately, the earthquakes and the fuel blockade mean they will have even less money to bid on the plots than they would have had otherwise.

Ram Sherpa and his son in the ruins of Hotel Mountain View, Laurebina Pass

A few hundred metres beneath Laurebina Pass, Ram Sherpa and his son are picking through the rubble of their guesthouse. The lofty position of Ram’s lodge, approximately 4,100 metres above sea level, meant Ram was often coming to the aid of trekkers with altitude sickness and injuries suffered in accidents.

Once, Ram Sherpa delivered a 106-kilogram man with a badly broken leg to safety, carrying him all the way down the mountain on his back.

Ram is a small man, and can’t weigh more that 55 kilos himself. In the hours after the initial quake, Ram rescued five visitors who were in trouble on the mountain. Now, there is nobody coming to Ram’s aid. He doesn’t have enough money to rebuild his lodge, yet he is still expected to pay the park royalty fee for the plot of land his pile of rubble occupies. According to the lodge owners in Phedi, failure to pay will result in an additional fine.

Ram Sherpa and his son in the ruins of Hotel Mountain View, Laurebina Pass

High in lakeside Gosainkund, guesthouse owners were luckier than their neighbours. All the lodges survived the earthquake, but they were damaged and business is down by the same percentage as places below. Tempa Sonam Tamang who has to pay a 1.25 Lakh NRS or $1,250 USD park royalty fee because of his prime location, is renting the guesthouse from the owner on a 5-year contract. Despite these overheads and the cost of paying for goods to be carried to 4,380 metres above sea level, business was good enough before the quake to make it worthwhile. Now he is unsure of the future. His contract is up at the same time the lodge is supposedly up for tender.

When, and if, the land is to be bid upon, if the guesthouse owner is outbid, they stand to lose not only their lodge, but also the land it stands on.

Even if the structure was built entirely with the lodge owner’s own capital, because it is made from wood, stone and mud from within the boundaries of Langtang National Park, the owner only has rights to the stove and utensils.

The lakes of Gosainkund are a sacred pilgrimage site and a big tourist attraction their natural beauty drawing in thousands of tourists each year.

On the way back down, coming through Laurebina, lodge owners Pasang Tamang and Tashi Wangmu Tamang face similar problems. Although business is down by an estimated 95% and they are still being made to pay a 90,000 NRS royalty fee to the park they are being a little more proactive about their situation.

According to the Nepali government, their lot will be up for tender in a year and a half. They have requested that the tender be postponed for ten years and the royalty fee be waived for two years so they may recover their losses. However, they’re unconvinced their appeals will bring relief and when asked if they will protest say,

“There is trouble enough already.”

Local teenagers outside the lodge run by Pasang Tamang and Tashi Wangmu Tamang.

In Mung Kharka, there exists some of the only optimism left on the Gosainkund trek. Pema Tamang and her family live on an idyllic piece of land at 3,000 metres. Unlike the aforementioned guesthouse owners, they are lucky enough to own their own land despite its location within the national park, and as such, they can do with it as they please and are exempt from paying the royalty fee.

They have a flourishing agro-business, supplying tomatoes and potatoes to the lodges higher up, as well as keeping chickens, cattle and goats. Their guest lodge was damaged in the quake and business has seen a dramatic decline, but because they have taken the opportunity to diversify their assets, they are in fact now doing better.

Pema Tamang and her father in law and daughter Ruth at their farm homestay in Mung Kharka

Thulo Shyabru is a village near the bottom of both the main trails in Langtang National Park. Kanxa Sherpa and Chheten Dolma Sherpa live at the unfortunate end of town as their land is on the Langtang trek and not the Gosainkund trek. On the same day as the first earthquake, which saw a huge loss of life on the Langtang trail, a massive landslide destroyed the route just past their home.

Guesthouse owners begining the rebuilding process in the badly damaged village of Thulo Shyabru.

It is still impassable and since the quake, they haven’t seen a single tourist walk by. The Langtang trail is still accessible, but now the only access to the route is on the other side of the valley. They own their own land, so they don’t have to pay the royalty fee to the park, but their home, their guest lodge and their livelihood have been largely destroyed. Kanxa estimates they have lost 75% of their income since the quake — besides owning a lodge he had worked as a porter and Chheten Dolma sold hand loomed textiles and made food for tourists on the trail.

“Without tourism,” Kanxa says, “Our life is very hard. It is impossible to live.”

Chheten Dolma outside the remains of her guest house and home, Thulo Shyabru.

The Langtang trek is the trail to the Kyanjin Valley, and although it no longer passes Kanxa and Chheten Dolma Sherpa’s home in Thulo Shyabru, it is open once again according to the Nepali government.

However, as of December 2015, very few of the guesthouses are open and locals are afraid to go. Their belief is that bad spirits haunt the trail between the Lama Hotel and Kyanjin Gompa, a stretch where many perished and many are still missing. This is both superstition and an expression of the real, palpable danger. Fears live on in recent memory of the gargantuan forces moving deep beneath the ground as we trek.

Langtang Lirung overshadows Langtang village which was buried in the quake.

Syabru Besi on the highway is the first and last stop for most tourists who visit Langtang National Park. It has seen similar damage to higher towns on the trail and a similar decline in tourism. Materials are much easier to come by here as they can be trucked in from the rest of Nepal or over the border from Tibet. New Syabru Besi, which is on the highway that runs along the west bank of the river, is almost fully repaired. Old Syabru Besi, on the other side is still heavily damaged.

The twisted buildings look as if they’ve emerged from a tornado. Beams that once supported them, are splayed out like the limbs of a giant spider.

Old Syabru Besi

Porbu Sangbu Sherpa ran the OK Guest House here before the quake but he doesn’t yet have enough money to rebuild. Just like Ram Sherpa, he is still required to pay a royalty fee to the park, in his case 45,000 NRS, even though his guesthouse is a pile of rubble. Despite this adversity, Porbu is optimistic. According to him, a new dual carriage highway linking Tibet and India paid for entirely by China is set to open in six months and will pass through Syabru Besi. Money and tourists from Nepal’s affluent neighbours will flood the highway town and he will be able to rebuild his business. He thinks the coming spring trekking season will see a multitude of visitors descending on the trails once again.

Porbu Sangbu Sherpa ran the OK Guest House in Old Syabru Besi.

Sangbu has reason to be hopeful. Nepal has dealt with political unrest and natural disasters before. The tourist industry has always bounced back. Few countries measure up to Nepal’s natural beauty and the hospitality of its people. And yet, although hardship is nothing new in the mountains, little or nothing is being done to alleviate the pressure felt by families and business owners in these hard times.

This article originally appeared on Maptia and is republished here with permission.

photo essay tribute women in Nepal

My time in Nepal

I SPENT ALMOST SIX MONTHS in Nepal last year and achieved a lifelong dream of going to Everest Base Camp and sleeping in a tent on the Khumbu Glacier.

Kathmandu has its own special charm and is equal parts chaotic, dusty, and loud. If at first, I felt overwhelmed, I soon came to embrace the cultural differences. As a solo traveler, I was able to better immerse myself in the culture and everyday life of Kathmandu, getting to know people and becoming friends.

The presences of women everywhere in Nepal

With so many great discussions on politics, religion, and everyday life, I noticed a trend both in the city and in rural areas: women working in every field imaginable. Women are such an integral part of the society in Nepal, particularly because so many men leave to find work elsewhere. I loved walking around with my camera in hand, chatting (often with gestures only), and snapping pictures of the various women I met. Here are just some of them.

1

Fruit and vegetable sellers are numerous throughout the city and can be found wherever there is some free space along the road.

2

A Nepalese women in rural Nepal carries a heavy bale of hay on her back. Women in Nepal are frequently taking over all of the farming chores as more men go to find work in the cities and outside of the country.

3

Construction is a major source of work in Kathmandu, especially reconstruction after the devastating 2015 earthquake. Female workers are as common as men. Lacking the machinery common in the western world, most work is done by hand from laying bricks, transporting rocks, and climbing scaffolding made of bamboo.

4

The Boudhanath Stupa (or Bodnath Stupa) is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. After the arrival of thousands of Tibetans following the 1959 Chinese invasion, the temple has become one of the most important centres of Tibetan Buddhism. Today it remains an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists.

5

A Nepalese woman in Kathmandu is surrounded by colourful plastic bags as she sells fruit and vegetables on the streets. Street vendors are common in the cities and set up shop anywhere they can find a free spot on the sidewalk or side of the road. Everything from fruits and vegetables to clothing and trinkets are available.

6

Sayapatri, or marigolds, are sold everywhere in Nepal. Garlands of marigolds are believed to bring good luck and happiness. The flowers are used during puja (prayer ceremonies) as offerings, and as decoration at weddings and other festivals, especially Tihar, the festival of light and flowers.

7

Two women stand outside their shop in Kathmandu. Their shop sells everything from food items to dusters.

8

A woman makes and sells disposable leaf plates on the streets of Kathmandu. The plates are made from saal leaves and are used in many rituals in Nepal. They are made by stitching together the leaves with small bamboo sticks.

9

A female Buddhist monk or nun in Kathmandu has laid out a pad on the ground to protect her from the cement while she does her prostrations. Prostrations are used in Buddhist practice to show reverence.

10

One out of five households in Kathmandu has no access to a domestic water source. None of the rivers that flow through Kathmandu are clean, the wells are drying up and there is insufficient infrastructure in place so many people have to buy their water from private sources.

Top 10 Guest Photos 2015

Photo competitions. They’re not necessarily a good thing for an organisation like us to run, because there can only ever be one winner, and we leave hundreds of other people disappointed. But we can’t help ourselves, can we? That’s because it’s just too damn hard to take bad photos on our trips and we’re naturally compelled to share them with everyone. And what’s life without friendly competition amongst family and peers?!

But rather than showcase just the one winner, here’s the top 10, in no particular order, all taken by you guys on our trips in 2015. What a year it was!

We’ll tell you who the winner is also – don’t worry.

1. Aoraki Mt Cook & Lake Pukaki, ‘Rimu’ – Allen Cameron

Aoraki Mt Cook

This is a scene our guides never tire of seeing, no matter how many times they visit the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There’s always the butterflies that flutter in your stomach as this landscape greets you. As you get closer, the waters of Lake Pukaki become more radiant and the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding hills become more dramatic. After passing Lake Pukaki you’ll delve deeper into the National Park and get the chance to hike onto Mueller Ridge, where you’ll experience the most mind blowing mountain views in New Zealand.

2. Hiking Siberia Valley, ‘Tui’ – Bob Secor

Hiking Siberia Valley

You step out of the aircraft that has just dropped you into arguably New Zealand’s most isolated and dramatic wilderness area, and there’s just one way out from there; on foot. The plane takes off again and you realise it’s just you, your fellow hikers and the native birds accompanying you through this area of untouched beauty. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days. Well… technically you’ll get to take a jet boat ride down the Wilkin River as well, so it’s not just hiking!

3. Sand Boarding Te Pouahi Reserve, ‘Kauri’ – Bonnie Mullin

Sand Boarding

Sometimes it’s important to just be a kid again. And what better way than taking an old body board (not intended for anything other than use on the water, but hey – it’s fun!) and sliding down a huge sand dune and getting completely covered in sand? It can’t all be too civilised can it?

4. Swimming with a Turtle, ‘Tortuga’ – Charlotte Sherman

Swimming with a Turtle

If you don’t swim or at least see a turtle when you join us on our ‘Tortuga’ trip in the Galapagos Islands, then there will certainly be something wrong with the space/time continuum and we’ll have to look into getting into another business. Here’s the reason why we called the trip the ‘Tortuga’ – they’re everywhere and you never get sick of seeing them, especially in crystal clear water!

5. House on the Svelte, Patagonia, ‘Condor’ – Dennis Wilson

House on the Svelte

Patagonia has many faces, yes there’s the enormous granite peaks and glaciers of Torres Del Paine and Glaciares National Park, fiords and picture perfect lakes. There’s also the windswept plains dotted with grazing cattle and traditional “Gaucho” farm houses (now with solar power!). You find yourself wondering if you’ve stepped into a time machine.

6. Immaculate Forest Walk, Nelson Lakes National Park, ‘Rimu’ – Donal Rafferty

Immaculate Forest Walk

Can you see the hobbit in the trees in this shot? Well, there is no hobbit but you’ll be forgiven for expecting some sort of ancient creature to walk across the trail as you’re hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park. So no hobbits here, but you’ll probably be greeted by a South Island Robin – one of our most inquisitive native birds. They often peck at the ground you’ve walked on as they know your hiking boots may have opened up some soil for worms!

7. Machu Picchu Selfie, ‘Jaguar’ – Jen Risser

Machu Picchu Selfie

Check out how happy Jen Risser is, after hiking for 3 days on the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. We arrive at Machu Picchu super early in the morning before the sun comes up and get ahead of the numerous people who visit the site every day, but when the sun does come out, it shines directly down on the site all day – it’s an incredibly refreshing place to be. The other thing we’ve noticed about this photo is that it’s a reminder of how much of a big job it’d be to mow those lawns, just look at em!

8. Milford Sound Kayaking, ‘Rimu’ – Jim Lane

Milford Sound Kayaking

Believe it or not, photos like this are EXTREMELY rare. Not because it has captured a truly perfect moment in time for Jim and his son Ben Lane, in the world’s most spectacular fiord, but because it’s captured a person in a double sea kayak who isn’t engaged in an argument with their fellow paddler… For that reason, this photo is our winner! Who needs flat horizons anyway…

9. Blue Duck in Repose, ‘Manuka’ – Joyce Barbour

Blue Duck in Repose

Our native Whio (Blue Duck) are known here in New Zealand as the “whitewater duck”, as when they’re spotted, they are often seen riding the rapids in our streams and rivers. They are also extremely rare. Contrary to how it appears in this photo, they do actually have heads, and two legs.

10. Hiking Amongst Giants, ‘AST’ – Marjorie Pilli

Hiking Amongst Giants

Almost there! In this shot, you’re only about 30 minutes from arriving at the Annapurna Sanctuary – a spectacular alpine amphitheatre that has to be seen to be believed. That’s our guide DK in the picture, pointing out the surrounding peaks but clearly not holding the attention of the other guy in the photo. It’s OK – we’re working on his presentation skills… :-)

Killing Time in a Backcountry Hut

It probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that around 30% of New Zealand is public land, and a lot of it covered by 18 incredible National Parks. What you may not know, though, is that there are over 950 back country huts throughout the country (accessible to the public). They come in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of ‘luxury’ and charm.

Some of these – the most charming of the lot – date back to the 1800s and are the foundation for our Kiwi love affair with the ‘back country hut’.

There’s so many memories tied up in these huts. So many friendships forged, heroes born and, probably, people conceived! There is a certain routine that happens – it’s a totally enjoyable routine that to a kiwi usually ‘just happens’ without thought – like foraging for dry wood. And in between this routine there’s time to kill and fun to be had.

So we came up with an idea. Let’s break down the routine and also give you a few ideas for how to create uncontrollable laughter and grins from ear to ear, in a backcountry hut (you could supplement that for tea house, tent, refugio and so on!)

Here’s the routine…

Tired legs turn the last bend along the trail, only to discover that it is in fact not the last bend and the trail continues to meander along the valley floor. This goes on for a while until the ‘real’ last bend rewards you with the welcoming site of shelter.

Angelus Hut
And there it is, our home for the night! Angelus Hut in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Spirits lift and energy comes seemingly from nowhere. Enough even, to scrounge for dry firewood on the approach to the hut.

You ease your pack off tired shoulders, a pack heavier than it needs to be, with a bladder of red wine. You hang up your hiking poles and examine your toes out of your boots. 

Boots at a Backcountry Hut
Boots drying after a day’s hiking

Damp boots and socks now lay resting next to the sizzling wood fire. No one cares about the odor. It’s worth it.

Food is a priority. Everyone chips in – or maybe it’s someone’s turn and you’re lucky enough to put your legs up. At any rate, snacks arrive quick smart.

Backcountry Hut Food
Hut food is the best!

Dinner happens. It’s epic. You look around the room in the aftermath to flushed faces, enjoying the warmth from their hearty meal, their home-made mulled wine and the glow from the fire – your new best friend.

Backcountry Hut Glow
Backcountry Hut Glow

You lie snug in your sleeping bag listening to the old guard wax lyrical with hero stories. In this particular story the old guard was a NYC fireman sharing riveting, ‘real’ stories, better than any Hollywood movie. Rain tipper-tapers on the roof lulling you away to the best sleep you’ve had in ages. 

OK, so all that happens. That stuff needs to happen. That’s basic survival stuff really. Shelter, food, rest. But what about the other stuff. The fun that happens spontaneously. Well, there’s no harm in having a few tricks up your sleeve. Here’s our favourites:

Spoons

This really is a classic, and we’d like to think it’s an Active speciality. And the best part is, you’re guaranteed to have spoons with you (if you don’t, something has gone terribly wrong!). The game is simple really – place a number of spoons on a table (1 less than the amount of people playing) and make sure they’re evenly spaced so everyone sitting around the table can reach one. Grab a full pack of shuffled cards and deal 4 cards to each player. Nominate someone to draw a card off the top of the face down deck so they have 5 cards in their hand – they need to discard one and they’re trying to get 4 of a kind. They’ll discard a card and then pick another – the quicker they do this, the faster-paced the game and the more exciting it becomes. The first person to get 4 of a kind grabs a spoon and then everyone has to grab one. The person who misses out on a spoon is OUT. If you go for a spoon before you’ve got 4 of a kind you’re out. Faking is allowed though, most definitely, as long as you don’t touch the spoon! Here’s a short video of a recent spoons game on an Active trip, in this case not a backcountry hut, but you get the idea!

Star gazing

So you’re going to need a nice, clear night for this. If you’re really lucky you might be on our ‘Winter Rimu‘ trip, relaxing in the natural hot springs at Welcome Flat, on the Copland Track. It’s a dreamy experience to lay under the stars and listen to the natural sounds of the forest, whilst you rest your tired legs. It’s also a pretty special way to bond together as a group.

Star Gazing
Star Gazing from a NZ backcountry hut

Uno

More colourful than your average card game, essentially it’s all about getting rid of  your cards. Each suit has a colour (red, yellow, blue or green) and a number. Like a normal game of cards, you’ll follow the circle around and place a card from the 7 in your hand, onto the pile (so long as it’s the same number OR colour as the previously laid card).  The tactics begin when you change the colour to suit yourself (by laying the same number in a different colour) or by throwing down a ‘wild card’…  Sprinkled through the pack are ‘specialty cards’ which could either mean your neighbour has to pick up another 2, 4 or even 8 new cards to add to their hand, skip their go or switch the direction of play – which may or may not make you some new friends and enemies! Once you’re down to a single card in your hand, you have to shout ‘UNO!’ and the first person to lay down their final card wins. Pick up the pace, add a few more rules to the game and you’ve got yourself an evening of fun as well as a great way to make some new hut-friends (unless you screw them over…!).

Meet the wildlife

Many of our backcountry huts are situated in beautiful alpine environments, so when you visit one of these huts you’ll be sharing your home with the Kea, an endemic South Island parrot. The kea is thought to have developed its own special characteristics during the last great ice age, by using its powers of curiosity in its search for food in a harsh landscape. It’s a highlight for many, to sit and watch as inquisitive Kea fly around the hut. Just make sure your belongings are inside and please don’t feed them!

Kea
Endemic NZ Alpine Parrot – the Kea

Build a dam

Assuming you have some energy left. There’s nothing more satisfying than diverting a stream’s river flow. Even if it’s only for half an hour. Unleash the engineer within and get to work! A dam, with 100% no end goal, is a beautiful thing.

Bananagrams

It’s the “anagram game that will drive you bananas!” If you’re OK about calling out ‘Peel’, ‘Split’ and ‘Bunch’ in a public hut, and judged accordingly, this game is for you.

Look for glow worms

You’ll need a local guide for this. Coerce them into an evening tour and go to find some glow worms. It’s like star gazing but you don’t need to crane your neck!

NZ Glow worms
NZ Glow worms. Image courtesy of nz-trip.com

Whittle a walking stick

So you’ve built a dam and you’ve still got some energy. It must be the middle of summer and the days are long, allowing for extra MacGyver time. You’ll need a good bush knife for this and remember to whittle away from you, not towards your body! Don’t cut down our native tress either, please find a tree that’s already fallen down naturally. A Lancewood would do the trick. Oh, and be careful about trying to take your new walking stick through customs on your homeward journey…

Bush rummy

You’ll need at least two packs of cards for this game and any number of players. It would take a whole post to explain the rules of bush rummy, so you’re going to need a resident expert within your group. Essentially though, it’s based off gin rummy, but once you go past the first round you can place cards down at any time – you don’t have to wait your turn. So like many of the games listed here, it can get pretty crazy!

Country-themed sing along

One of the brilliant surprise elements of a backcountry hut experience is the mix of people you’ll be sharing your evening with. It’s like the fun part of flatting, without the hassle of having to do it day in/day out. You’ll always find some banter, whether it be around sport, politics or pop culture. And if you’ve got a merry crowd you might just get into a good old fashioned sing-along – so bring along a ukulele if you have one (and can carry it)!

Tantrix

We had to include this game – it’s from New Zealand! Tantrix is “the world’s most twisted puzzle game!” So what is it exactly? It’s a hexagonal tile-based abstract game. Huh? There are 56 tiles in a set, each containing 3 lines going from one edge of the tile to the other. The aim is to use the tiles to create the longest line or loop. It’s probably best if you invite Miriam along on your next backcountry hut adventure – she’s our resident Tantrix expert.

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Tantrix – we thought you’d need a photo to understand it!

Cards against humanity

If we need to explain this game, you’ve been hiding under a rock.

Success in the Himalayas

Active Himalayas was proud and excited to see the season’s first ‘Mustang’ trip head out on August 24. The trek could only be described as challenging, rewarding and inspiring. We caught up with trip leader Dan Thomas, and he gave us a run-down of how everything went!

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“The trail itself was fine, there were no visible earthquake related issues at all. The only difference was the lack of people out on the trail… it felt like we were the only ones out there at times – which was great! Kathmandu and the surrounding villages were also fine. As we expected, the Nepali people got stuck in over the summer months and cleaned the city up at light speed! Their hard work was especially apparent in the Thamel tourist area, where you’d hardly know there was an earthquake at all. Local store owners were ready for business, but the biggest difference here was again, the lack of crowds. In saying that, we did notice the town got busier when we returned from hiking the Mustang trek, so hopefully things are picking up again.

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Having spent some time around the Kathmandu region myself, I did see the difference… but I felt the whole area was really clean. Noticeably cleaner than any of my previous trips.
Thamel also seemed really quiet. It felt like the locals and store owners were ready for tourists to return, but still it felt a lot quieter than the Kathmandu I have experienced in the past. In saying that, after the trek it did seem like there were a quite a few more tourists in town, so hopefully things are picking up again.

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As for the rest of Kathmandu, some of the main tourist sites and temples had visible earthquake damage, but repairs to most of them were already well under way and we felt really safe the whole time.

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As far as I can say, Nepal is open for business and eagerly awaiting more visitors in the coming trekking season.”
So with our next trip heading into Annapurna Sanctuary on November 23, we can’t wait to see what’s in store! Be sure to check out our hashtag #HikeNepalAgain on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with the latest updates from Nepal!