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Kora Athletes on their favourite Treks

Picking your next trek destination is always difficult: the choices are seemingly endless. So we asked 3 of our mountain athletes to name their favourite treks and explain their choices. Helen Howe is a Summer, Winter and International Mountain Leader who runs Snowdonia Mountain Skills and Snowdonia First Aid with her husband Steve, training and assessing people in first aid, mountain leadership and winter skills. She is a member of Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, the busiest mountain rescue team in the UK. Kevin Thomas is a guide with REI Adventures and Active Outdoor Adventures in southwest USA. In his spare time he treks in the Himalayas and in Scotland. You can follow him on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/kevin.s.thomas/. Jeff Fuchs is a Himalayan explorer, author, photographer and tea fanatic. Follow him at: http://www.tea-and-mountain-journals.com


MK (Michael Kleinwort): Helen what would you say has been your favourite trek?

“Laugevegur also known as the Landmannalaugur Trek in Iceland is incredible. It had so much variety of scenery which changes every few miles. It feels like walking through Tolkien's Lord of the Rings! Walking on rock which is only in some places 7 years’ old is also a novelty to someone from the UK, which has some of the oldest rock on the planet!”


Laugevegur Trek, Iceland (Photo courtesy of Helen Howe)

MK: sounds amazing! what level of trekker would you say the Laugevegur Trek suits?

Helen Howe: You need to be competent at navigation because even though there are marker posts these can be covered over by snow and so good navigational.skills are a must. also even in summer, winter conditions can occur so some experience of coping with steep snow slopes is also important.


MK: Kevin, you’ve trekked extensively in the US and also in Nepal. Which have been your most memorable treks?

Kevin Thomas: The Annapurna Circuit, Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim, and the Three Passes Trek.

The Annapurna has just about the greatest range of environments you can find on one trek. The elevation reaches exciting heights, but the trail has very steady ascents and descents, making the altitude easier to manage safely. And the people are amazing.

I've been all over the Grand Canyon, and the Rim-to-Rim is absolutely the way to see it. It's not just being enveloped by the monstrous "upside down mountains". It's not just the challenge, which is significant. It's also the sense of scale you experience, the aggressive simplicity of Phantom Ranch, and feeling at peace in one of the most brutal environments on Earth.

The Three Passes. It's as awesome as the Everest Base Camp trek, but longer, higher, harder, bigger, and less crowded. Enough said.


MK: Is the Annapurna a good first trek to undertake in the Himalayas then? What about the crowds? Is there any need to acclimatise?

Kevin:The Annapurna for the most part is a good first time trek, provided you're a hardy sort of person. It's elevation profile is a steady upward advance followed by a steady downward advance, so acclimatization is straightforward. It has the most infrastructure of the big treks. During the high season of October/November it's apparently a total zoo. The secondary season of March/April is much less so, but conditions are likely to be worse (that's when I did it, and I had five days hiking in deep snow), so that requires more extensive preparations and a bit more experience.


Laugevegur Trek, Iceland (Photo courtesy of Helen Howe)


MK: Would you rate the 3 Passes as for experts only? how long should one allow to complete it?

Kevin: I'd rank it "experienced". It's still a hut-to-hut trek, which takes care of a lot of things for you. But I was really glad I had already completed a Himalayan trek before tackling it. The passes are no joke, and crossing them means very long, tough days. The Khumbu region is very high up, and the elevation changes are not as friendly as the Annapurna. I had to fight through a lung infection to complete it, which is fairly common. People do the three passes in 17 days, but that leaves zero margin for error and I think that's a terrible plan. I did mine in 21 to really spread out my acclimatization.


MK: That's great advice thanks. If I recall correctly, these are treks you did solo. But you're a guide and have the experience. I assume that you wouldn't recommend the average trekker to try these alone?

Kevin:  Not someone with no experience. I had a partner for my Annapurna trek, which made me feel ok going alone the second time there. Guides and porters are very affordable in Nepal though!


MK: The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Trek gets me wondering what are the best treks in the US! Is the rim to rim an expert trek?

Kevin: No, not expert. It's hard, and you need to understand the unique conditions of the canyon because it regularly kills people. But a fit individual with proper planning can absolutely do it.

Helen: I agree that the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim is a fantastic trek. the day we started our descent into the Grand Canyon we left winter conditions and snow on the Rim and descended into desert heat! Incredible.experience!



Laugevegur Trek, Iceland (Photo courtesy of Helen Howe)

MK: Jeff, you grew up in Canada and have spent years in the Himalayas. What are your thoughts here?

Jeff Fuchs: The Khampa Route in eastern Mustang follows an old pilgrimage and trade route used by the eastern Tibetans. It’s a strenuous and utterly desolate route with almost no human signs (plastic, etc) to disturb. It’s made up of steady upward ascents along metre wide pathways at times with deep plunges and yet more ascents. From a visual and physical point of view, it is utterly magnificent. There are cultural pods in some valleys and superb campsites with snow peak views...all the while knowing that the route existed for centuries as a means of accessing remote nomad camps and monasteries. One should count roughly 2-3 weeks to complete depending on the fitness of the group and side trips. Altitude range is from 2800-4700 metres approximately. Best times to trek are April-May, or September-October. It is precious in so many ways with some serious grinding and not a route for those with vertigo, though if done slowly it is a great step into more challenging routes.

The Kawa Karpo Kora Trek still ranks as a great romp through the mountains, though sadly garbage has been piling up in successive years. Hot valleys and wind blown passes mix with days that are daily up and down grinds following an ancient pilgrimage route and a portion of the Tea Horse Road. The journey circumambulates the sacred Kawa Karpo mountain range and can take anywhere from 8 days to 2 weeks and one can expect the unexpected in terms of weather. Snow and wind can strike (particularly on the moody 4800 metre Sho'la Pass) at almost any time of year without warning. You need to be fit and in shape, and keen to simply plod away through high alpine forests, upon ridge lines and past dusty wind blown villages. Villages dot the route and have long provided the basics for trekkers and pilgrims. Great thing about the route is that regardless of the time of year, one can trek in tandem with Tibetan pilgrims who consider the route a once in a lifetime gift to cleanse the life of misdeeds.


Parang La, Himachal Pradesh, India (Photo courtesy of Jeff Fuchs)

MK: I agree. You’ll remember that we were testing the first working prototype yak wool fabric and we loved it. So it was entirely appropriate that kora’s base layer range should be named The Shola Range. Kawa Karpo also features somewhere else though: in the artwork on the Upside Down Sock. Our designer Piers Thomas took the GPS readings from my Garmin and stitched them together to create a continuous chart - it wraps around the ankle.

My hope is that via kora we can fund a cleanup of the route hiring local communities to do so, and an educational programme to spread best practices to support this.

Jeff: Completely agreed. Encouraging locals is the way. I saw that local government and schools were helping to clean it up a year ago so at least there is the realization of the need to keep nature free from too much of 'us'.

Kora of Kawa Karpo, Yunnan, China (Photo courtesy of Jeff Fuchs)

MK: What’s your number #3 in the list?

Jeff: The Parangla route up from Spiti to Tso Moriri starts in the dry isolated Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh and ends up at the sacred Tso Moriri lake in the Ladakhi portion of the Changtang Plateau. Another of the wonderful trade/pilgrimage routes that has provided the blueprint for an epic trek, taking anywhere from a week to 9 or 10 days. Few villages or communities along the way and a couple of stunning slow ascents up to glaciers and down into huge wide valleys of red and taupe coloured stone. One needs an autonomous team with ample supplies and time to 'take time' as there are loads of virgin unclimbed peaks in the region. Altitudes here range but the start point in Spiti is already close to 4,000 metres so acclimatization is relatively simple. The major Parang Pass is close to 5,000 metres and there are some amazing river crossings and glacier streams. Fitness levels don't have to be too high as there is room to play with efforts on this journey.


MK:I remember this one well. Our 70+ yr old guide put us to shame by completing the whole trek including climbing the glaciers, and crossing the rivers in his crocs.

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