ClimbReport

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Climbing Arjuno and Welirang, East Java Indonesia

 welirang summit from arjuno

Climbing in Indonesia is a great experience. Indonesia is blessed with hundreds of volcanic mountains that are perpetually active. Climbing these volcanic mountains is an experience in itself and completely different from that of the Himalayas.

What it lacks for in snow and height, Indonesian mountains compensate with their absolute raw beauty in terms of tropical wilderness, thick vegetation, wild flowers and animals and a sense of mysticism. They are steeped in religion and history. Each mountain has some special cultural or religious significance that cloaks the mountain in mystic lure.

Arjuno & Welirang

One such mountain range is Mount Arjuno and Mount Welirang. Yes. Two mountain peaks that lie on the same range and are above 3,000m. Mt. Arjuno stands at 3,339m and Mt. Welirang at 3,156m. They are part of a group of strato-volcanoes that lie in the island of East Java. The mountains were not that high, which suited me fine as i haven’t done any serious exersice in the last couple of months. I didn’t want to push my luck too much.

I had written about these two mountains in my previous article on the 14 Volcanoes in Indonesia that i wanted to climb.

Mt. Arjuno is named after the Hindu god, Arjuna, who is depicted as the Receiver of wisdom from Lord Krishna in the epic Mahabharata. Welirang, on the other hand is the Javanese term for Sulfur – which it has in abundance, thanks to its still active volcanic crater.

So, i decided to explore these two mountains over a period of 5 days starting from 16th to 20th March as i had some days off from work.

I found out more about the two mountains through Gunung Bagging. This is one of the best websites to get information on mountains in Indonesia and is run by Dann P. Quinn. He also keeps track of reputable guides and local tour operators through his other website – Gamkonora. If anyone who wants more information on climbing Indonesian mountains, these two websites are the go to places. I highly recommend them to you.

I got hold of a local outfit through Gamkonora. They were quite responsive and had a very good spoken english.

I did a check on the weather and i seemed to have picked the wettest period to climb. The weather  forecast mentioned rain and showers on all the days we were to be on the mountain. But i was still determined to go.

Arjuno Welirang Weather Forecast

 16th Mar

prasanna and yoka guide

I took a flight out of Singapore and landed in Juanda International airport, Surabaya at 9am. The airport is quite modern and well maintained and processing was quite fast. The agency operator, Istikmal and guide, Yoka were at the airport. Both spoke very good english and we hit it off quite well. Both Istikmal and Yoka had climbed the two peaks quite often. After some pleasantries, i got myself a prepaid phone card with a 2GB data plan for 130.000 IDR. In hindsight, i should have got the card outside as it was cheaper. We hopped onto a van and drove all the way to Tretes, the closest village to the mountain range. Being a massive range, there are many approaches to the mountains and Tretes seemed to be the shortest and most easily accessible of them all albeit a harder trek.

Tretes, is a laid back town with a bit of dutch influence and lies 2 hours away from Surabaya and at an altitude of about 800m above sea level. It was and still is a holiday spot for former dutch colonial rulers and modern local tourists. Being just 60km from Surabaya, the town gets quite a lot of visitors over the weekend. The roads were pretty good but with a lot of traffic. On the way, you could see Mt. Penanggungan at 1,653m.

Penanggungan from kopkopan

Like all mountains in Indonesia, Mt. Penanggungan has a story behind it. According to the myth, Java was an island that was freely floating in the vast ocean. So, to make it stay in one place, Lord Brahma (The Creator) and Lord Vishnu (The Preserver) moved Mount Meru from India to Java to make it stay in one place. This is currently what is known as Semeru. However, since Meru was huge, the whole island began to tilt and as a result, the other gods went and pleaded with Brahma and Vishnu to do something about it. So, what they did was to cut off the top part of Semeru and place it at a point where the island will not tilt anymore. This small mountain is called “Mt. Penanggungan” – or the mountain that brings balance to the island of Java. There are nearly 116 Hindu and Buddhist shrines and archaeological artifacts on this mountain.

tretes basecamp for arjuno welirang
We arrived in Trete at around 11.30am. We waited for the guide and the porter to finalize their goods. In the meantime, i tried one of Tretes dishes which comprised of cooked rice, peanut paste and becel. It tasted quite delicious.
food at tretes
 Once the packing was done, we headed out to the trail at around 12pm.

basecamp starting point arjuno welirang

tretes to kopkopan

The climb up to our first camp site was about 3 hours. The pathway was mostly well laid stone  road inclined at a steady 15 degree angle which allows jeeps to travel to the top to pick up sulfur deposits packed by miners.

path to kopkopan from tretes

As soon as we started our trek, it started raining and we had to stop and put on our rain coats. After about 40 minutes of trekking, we came to our first rest point. It was one of the few concrete resting points.

first stop arjuno welirang

We rested there for a minute or two before we started our climb to the first camp site, which was called Kopkopan. Again, the climb was a constant gradient of 15 degrees. The well laden roads gave way to rock filled pathways and with the rains the path became slippery from the rain. The rain stopped as fast as it had begun and it became pretty hot in that humid weather. So, we dressed down to make the climb a lot easier. So, we took our time to climb by making frequent short stops for break.

break from climb arjuno welirang

Eventually, we were at Kopkopan by 2 hours and 15 minutes from the first camp site. Since it was quite early, we just rested and drank some hot tea. I spent my time taking photos of the surroundings. There were a couple of locals who were taking a bath in the stream near by. Soon they left for Tretes as they were going back down.

kopkopan at arjuno welirang

kopkopan arjuno welirang misty kopkopan arjuno welirang stream at kopkopan arjuno welirang

Yoka setup my tent in a comfortable place overlooking the town of Tretes. Unfortunately, the place was shrouded in clouds the whole time, so i couldn’t get to see the town at all. Dinner was at 6.30pm and after some small talk we retired off to bed. The night was pretty cold so, i put on some layers of clothing and went to sleep.

kopkopan bad weather

17th Mar

kopkopan morning

We got up in the morning at around 6.00am and had breakfast comprising of bread and cheese with hot tea. After that, we wound up and headed for our second camp called Pondokan, from where both the summits will be attempted. The terrain became even more rocky with long stretches of near flat sections followed by sections of 30 to 45 degree angles.

kopkopan to pondokan 3 kopkopan to pondokan trek 2 kopkopan to pondokan trek
The surroundings were absolutely beautiful and the slope was gradual. Luckily, it did not rain while we were on the trek and i managed to enjoy the trek up.
kopkopan to pondokan arjuno welirang
Pondokan is a tiny settlement of miners who go up to Welirang to collect Sulfur. They bring the sulfur from the crater back in trolleys and deposit them at the settlement before they are packed and loaded onto a dilapidated jeep that somehow manages to overcome the rough terrain and drive all the way to the settlement. There is a small shop where you can guy some snacks or soft drink.
pondokan sulfur miner settlement sulfur packing arjuno welirang
We arrived in Pondokan at around 11pm and settled down to have lunch. Our plan was to summit Welirang on the same day at 2pm to see the sunset at 5.30pm. Welirang is famous for its beautiful sunset.
   welirang summit trek
At around 2.30pm, we left for the summit of Welirang. Welirang is an active stratovolcano and still spews out plumes of sulphuric acid. The trek up was again not that steep with many areas with long flat sections. It was a long hike to the top and sometimes i wondered if it would ever end.

The steepness seemed to gradually increase towards the summit push and the rocky path made it all the more difficult.  But compared to Rinjani or Semeru, this mountain did not have loose gravel and so, there was no question of sliding. In addition to the steepness was the pungent smell of suflur that pervades the air. I used a muffler to protect my nose, but it did not do me any good. We had to wind our way through small sections on the ground from which hot, dry smoke was coming out. Some areas looked as if they had just erupted not too long ago with small lava domes jutting out.

prasanna at welirang summit
We reached the summit at around 5.30pm. The summit is marked with a metal pole with the Indonesian flag hoisted on it. On a normal day, we could have spent time there looking at the wonderful sunset. But this was not one of those days. The weather, which was already cloudy, was turning bad with strong winds. I could see flashes that did not seem like a normal lightning. From the summit, i peered into the crater. There was a greenish yellow lake that covered the crater and from the sides, there was a strong jet of sulfur spewing out making the sound of a jet plane’s engine. The whole place looked as if it was from a scene on Mars with no vegetation and plain rocks all around with smoke eerily coming out of the ground in several places.  I could not see anything and staying there any longer was fruitless. The winds drove the pungent air on the summit ledge and it was quite suffocating.
welirang crater
sulfur jet at welirang summit

We quickly made a decision to climb down fast before the clouds closed in and it started raining. We started down and made our way back to Pondokan. On the way, i took a few photos of the surrounding mountains before it got dark.

surrounding peaks welirang

When we reached there, it was around 7pm and was pitch black. I had fallen a few times during our decent and although, didn’t hurt myself, my knees were quite raw and knocking. So, i told Yoka that we skip the plan to start early for Arjuno the next day and take it easy. I don’t mind not seeing the sun rise. So, we decided to start later at around 9.30am.

I was in no mood to eat, so i just forced myself to eat some noodles and have some hot tea before i retired to my tent. I did not get much sleep with the rain making a constant noise on the tent.

18th Mar

I got up at around 7am and came out of my tent. The weather seemed perfect with clear blue skies. Yoka and the porter were up and had started a campfire. Since it was very cold, i went over and sat next to the fire and warmed myself. I felt much better now and was ready to start the trek up to Arjuno.

Arjuno, is a sacred mountain for the Hindus in Indonesia. Myth has it that, Arjuna, who had supernatural powers was greedy for more power. So, he climbed up the mountain and started meditating. As he did so, the mountain grew in size and height, nearly touching the heavens. Fearing the complete destruction of the heavens, the gods asked the care taker of Arjuna on earth to stop him as several attempts to stop his meditation failed. The care takers soon meditated themselves and became bigger than the mountain. So, they cut the mountain into two and threw one portion away. The thud that the portion made woke Arjuna from his destructive meditation. Having realized his mistake and the danger of destroying heaven, he soon decided not to meditate more and was happy with the powers he already had. Arjuno was the mountain on top of which, Arjuna had meditated and is thus named after him.

We left Pondokan at around 8.30am after a quick breakfast of hot tea and bread and cheese. We made our way slowly up to the summit. We crossed over the Lalijiwo forest. Lalijiwo, in Javanese meant, the forest of lost souls. Yoka told me that many people have died in the forest because they could not find their way through. Many bodies were not recovered at all. I found the forest to be quite scenic with areas that are exposed to the clear blue sky and some areas which had a very thick undergrowth of plants and trees. On several occasions, i stepped on a thick layer of leaves or placed my trekking pole on what seemed to be solid ground only to see my feet or pole sink right in. At other sections, the pathway is so narrow that you have to walk through keeping one feet in front of the other.

arjuno summit from lalijiwo forest lalijiwo forest towards arjuno summit

Once we were out of the Lalijiwo forest, the pathway became more steep. Soon enough, the clouds started moving in and we were constantly covered in mist. Although not that high in altitude or steep like Rinjani, the pathway took a toll on my knees and on several ocasions, i was wondering if i really wanted the summit so badly to put up with this torture.

arjuno summit from trek

We could see the summit of Arjuno on the way. It was mostly shrouded in clouds.  After about 3 hours of climbing, we reached the summit. There seemed to be several false summits that looked higher than the actual one and we had to pass through them to reach the main summit.

arjuno summit path

It was quite annoying to have the summit within view, but to get there, you need to climb up and down a few smaller peaks. Eventually, after much grunting and grumbling we reached the main summit at around 11.30am.

arjuno summit approach

arjuno summit

Arjuno is not an active volcano and there were no craters to be found. The summit was a pile of rocks and the peak was again marked with a metal pole on which the Indonesian flag was hoisted. There was a lot of static and occasionally i could feel an electrical surge going through my hair. The hair on my arms were standing on their ends. I did not get a good feeling about this and so, after some photo taking and videos, i decided to climb down.

On the way down, it suddenly started raining and we found a small cave where we hustled together and stayed till it finished raining. Soon enough, the rain stopped and we made our way quickly down the mountain. We took a wrong turn at the start which lead us down a different path. Luckily, the porter corrected us and we had to retrace our steps to join the correct path. Thanks to the GPS, we were able to find our way in the thick fog. Once the fog cleared on the way down, we could see the beautiful terrain and Mt. Welirang from afar. It looked eerie with smoke bellowing from the crater and its sides. I was quite amazed at myself in thinking that i was just there yesterday.

arjuno summit trek

welirang summit from arjuno

arjuno summit trek 2

By the time we reached the Pondokan, it was around 4pm and i was really done spent. My knees were aching even more than my trek to Welirang.

Our original plan was to come down from Arjuno and make a beeline directly to Tretes. But given that it was raining and the risk of falling in the dark, we decided to spend the night over at Pondokan and come down the next day.

pondokan to arjuno

I never got out of the tent that evening and i just slept the whole period. I skipped dinner and continued to sleep through the night.

19th Mar

I was up by 6am and after some hot tea, we packed up and left for basecamp. I was in decent shape to make the trip all the way to Tretes. We walked down pretty quickly as the day was clear and the path was not that slippery. We made it to Kopkopan in about 2 hours. We rested there for a while watching a group of about 30 people congregated together to perform worship. There was a priest who was giving a sermon.

kopkopan gathering

From there we started down again and in a span of about 3 hours, we were back in Tretes. Istikmal, our agency operator was welcomed us with some hot tea and some snacks to eat. Although i was in pain, i was glad to be back in civilization.

Unfortunately, throughout the trip, there was absolutely no signal so, my purchase of a 2GB data plan was more or less useless. The only place where you could have got a decent signal was in our first resting place – Kopkopan. But due to bad weather, it didn’t work out.

arjuno welirang trek

 After hanging around Tretes for some time, Istikmal drove me back to Surabaya and dropped me off at my hotel. I reached the hotel, IBIS BUDGET HOTEL that was inside the Airport compound. We said our good byes and i went to my room. The first thing that i did was have a bath after 4 days. Then i made a trip to a nearby shopping mall to gorge myself on a large pan cheese pizza and a chocolate milk shake. Once that was done, i came back to the room and watched TV till i slept. I was to wake up the next day and catch a flight back to Singapore. Quite an uneventful evening that left me wondering when i will be back again to visit another of these wonderful mountains.

GPX Files

I have provided the links to the GPX files for the entire trip. Please feel free to download them.

The 4 Forbidden Mountains in the Himalayas

If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people’s souls …

– Reinhold Messner

Forbidden Mountains

Mountains have always had mythological or religious significance in human evolutionary history. Every religion or culture has a mountain associated with gods and have held people in its awe and reverence.  The Himalayas has been a source of great religious and spiritual significance among the Hindus and Buddhists.

I have grown up listening to stories of Hindu gods where mountains played a significant part. They have always captured my imagination and kindled my curiosity. Since then, many of the mountains have been climbed and summits have been reached. Yet, a few stand there that are forbidden from climbing today. Not because of its technical complexity or remoteness, but because of the respect for human belief and cultural significance.

Here, i would like to list 4 of the mountains that are forbidden for climbing.

1. Mount Kailash (6,638m), China

Mount Kailash

Wikipedia

Considered the world’s most sacred place. Mount Kailash appears in the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism,  Jainism and Bon. For the Hindus, it is the adobe of Lord Shiva. For the Buddhists, it is the central axis of the whole universe and creation. Some of the world’s largest and longest rivers start from the regions of Mount Kailash. Every year, only a thousand or so pilgrims make their way to visit the Manasarovar lake and get a glimpse of the majestic mountain. Traveling to this remote place is more than a physical endeavor. It requires spiritual and mental journey into the soul. It is believed that circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot will cleanse your soul of all sins.

in 2001, the Chinese had given permission for a spanish expedition to climb the mountain but due to international disapproval, all future climbs on the mountain have been banned.

2. Machapuchare (6,993m), Nepal

Mt. Macchapucchere, Nepal

Wikipedia

I rather think that it was a goddess of the mountain, for she had lured us on so cunningly, who now drew that effective line just below the top….We decided that just here two respectably married men should leave her to her stormy privacy and get down.

– Climbing the Fish’s Tail

Standing majestically in the Annapurna region, Machapuchare, also known as Fish Tail is another sacred mountain that is forbidden from climbing. It’s twin summits look like the tail of a fish facing downwards into the Earth. It is associated with Lord Shiva in Hinduism and

The mountain is visible from Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. Till date, no one has ever reached the summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 150 m (492 ft) of the summit via the north ridge, to an approximate altitude of 22,793 ft (6,947 m). They did not complete the ascent, as they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Ever since then, the mountain has been forbidden to climb.

3. Gangkhar Puensum (7,570m), Bhutan

Gangkhar Puensum, Bhutan

Wikipedia

Located in Bhutan, Gangkhar Puensum is the world’s tallest unclimbed mountain. The locals believe that the spirits of their forefathers reside on the mountains. Being religiously significant to the locals of Bhutan, the kingdom has banned all climbs of mountains above 6,000m in 1994 and a blanket ban on all climbing in 2003.

Before the ban, there were several expeditions to the area with the objective of climbing the mountain, but they all failed or were unable to determine the actual summit of the mountain.

 4. Nanda Devi (7,816m), India

Nanda Devi, India

Wikipedia

Nanda Devi, the “Bliss-Giving Godess”, located in the Garhwal Himalaya region of India, is a formidable mountain. Protected on all sides by mountains that are more than 6,000m in altitude and surrounded by a formidable valley of ice, the region is considered a Sanctuary and is a UNESCO preserved region – The Nanda Devi National Park. It is one of the steepest peaks in the world and rises Nanda Devi is the abode of Goddesses Nanda and Sunanda.

Unlike other mountains, Nanda Devi has been climbed several times but as per the religious customs, the climbers promised not to set foot on the true summit. However, due to reliious and environmental reasons, the mountain’s main summit has been banned from climbing. The East summit, Sunanda Devi, can still be climbed and stands at 7,434m.

Tenzing Norgay of Everest fame considered Nanda Devi to be more difficult than Everest itself.

Others

There are other mountains, where climbers are not allowed to step on the true summit due to religious reasons.

  1. Kangchenjunga (8,586m), India-Nepal border
  2. OmParvat  (6,191m), India-Nepal border

How to choose the right trekking agency

Deciding on a good trekking agency is a very important component of any trekking, climbing or hiking plan. The choice of agency can make or break a trek. So, it is important to do your research on the agency.

So, here are a few tips on some key aspects of selecting a good agency.

Understand and acknowledge your expectations

This is probably the most important aspect of the whole agency selection process. You must be clear on what you want from the agency. Whether it is a full blown support from the agency including porters, food, tents, transport and entertainment or a bare minimum support of just porters to haul up your goods.

I have heard stories where the customer becomes the root cause of all troubles where they expect something that was not part of the package in the first place or was missed out during the initial communications. These cause a lot of grievances and loss of happiness even if the agency has delivered on its promise of completing the trek.

So, the important thing is to understand what you want the agency to provide. It is best to write it down so that, it becomes the basis for your future selection and shortlisting. Some key questions that you would need to reflect on are as follows:

  1. Do i need an experienced guide or do i just need porters?
  2. Do i need a shared or a one-to-one guide?
  3. What is the level of support i need on the trek?
  4. Do i prefer an international group, a private one-to-one experience?
  5. What are the facilities that i am going to bring on my own?
  6. What do i expect the agency to provide in terms of facilities?
  7. What is the kind of food that i am capable of eating?
  8. Can i share a tent with another person or do i need a separate one for myself?

Sourcing for a suitable agency – Online

Trip Advisor Screen Shot

Agencies come in all shapes, sizes and reputations. Unlike other sectors, agencies in adventure tourism are not regulated and are prone to some serious misdirections and false advertising. So, it is essential to do your due diligence when selecting a suitable agency.

The most common source for shortlisting agencies is through travel websites that provide independant reviews of different agencies and their experience. Some of them are

  1. TripAdvisor
  2. Lonelyplanet
  3. GoGoBot
  4. Facebook

Navigating through them and reading the reviews will take some time. But it is worth it to ensure that you’ve got the ideal agency for your needs. Most of the reviews provide the agency name as well as some form of contact information or a name of the guide.

Currently, my favorite is TripAdvisor. I also source through LonelyPlanet sometimes. Facebook is specially useful for actually seeing successful trekkers posting their pictures as well as profiles of the guides or agency owners who update their posts. Try to search for hashtags on the trek that you want or join groups or pages that are available for your trek. The below is an example of the facebook page for Kilimanjaro.

Facebook Kili

You can note that down and use that in the future when you start contacting them. From the sourcing of these websites, you can shortlist a few of the companies that repeatedly earn 4 or 5 stars from their customer reviews.

Sourcing for a suitable agency – Offline

Use the internet to try and reach out to people who have done the same trek in or around your area. There are definitely small interest groups that have done such as climb. Reach out to them and get to meet them in person over a cup of coffee. Talking face-to-face will definitely be useful in gauging the level of feedback that the person will provide. Ask them about the agency that they went with and their personal feedback. Some key questions would be:

  1. How did they pick the agency?
  2. Why did they pick that agency?
  3. How was the service?
  4. How was the communication?
  5. Did they have any unexpected problems?
  6. How did the agency manage to solve the problems?
  7. How were the porters and guides?
  8. Any specific guide or porter that they were especially satisfied or happy with?
  9. Will they go with them again in the future or recommend them to someone else like yourself?
  10. How is the quality of food, hygiene and preparedness?
  11. How is the tipping like?
  12. What is their level of fitness?
  13. What was their level of preparedness?

The answers to these questions should be subjective and you will need to measure your capabilities against the answers. If the person was exceptionally fit and well experienced in the trek, then their reliance on the guide or porter may be much lower than that of yours if you are a newbie.

Get in touch

The next thing you need to do is to contact the agencies. This can be through email or a telephonic conversation. It is preferable to have the first mode of contact through email and follow up with a telephonic conversation at a later stage. Preferably, if the agency is in your vicinity, try to do a visit to their office.

Explain in as clear terms, your desire, expectations and needs. This is very important for the agency to come up with the most accurate plan for your needs and also sets the stage for clear communication between the two. In the event of any misunderstandings, the email thread will be the only source of evidence as verbal communications and telephonic promises are not useful in anyway.

Even if you do a telephonic conversation or a physical visit, you must follow up with an email.

Factors for selection

Selecting an agency can be done as systematically as possible. It all boils down to clarity of understanding between the two parties.

Credibility

Are they well known in the industry? Do they belong to any associations or organizations in the industry? Who is the owner? What are the credentials of the owner? Is there are accreditation or certificates?

Responsiveness

Do they respond to your emails in a timely manner? Is the same person responding to you? If you get shuttled a lot between different parties, then it can be a red flag.

I find that most of the customers pick an agency which is responsive to their queries and have that personal touch. It cannot be explained. It is a feeling of comfort that you get from their interactions.

Language

Do they communicate in a language that you are comfortable with? Can you understand what they say? This can only be judged through a telephonic conversation. Spend some time talking to them on the phone to understand their fluency. Ask them a lot of questions. Then follow up with an email on whatever you talked about. Talking to the agency manager is one thing. But try talking to the person whom you will be dealing with on a day-to-day basis – the guide and porters.

Group details

Are you going to travel one-to-one (private) or in a group? How many people are in the group? What is the climber to guide ratio? What is the demographics of the other climbers in the group? Nationality, Age, Sex, Race and Experience level. All these things play a part in your overall experience and how you perform on the trek.

Generally, those who are non-professionals tend to go in a group while those who are self-sufficient would prefer a rather private one-to-one trip with minimal guided support. It depends on your experience and comfort level.

Equipment

What are the equipment that are to be used? What will be provided and what is to be brought?

Some agencies provide everything from tents to harness, crampons, ice-axe and oxygen cylinders. Others only provide certain items and expect you to bring them with you or rent them out at the start of the climb. Get a list of such items. If there is any misunderstanding, now is the time to clarify it with a straight “yes” or “no” answer.

Climbing itinerary

How many days to climb? What is the route taken? Are there sufficient acclimatization days built in? Are there back-up days? What are the back-up plans?

Keep a look out for agencies that promise very short days for treks or climbs that require more time. By now, you should have a pretty good estimate on the number of days it may take to trek or climb a mountain. So, anything that falls far short of it is not well planned or the agency is cutting corners.

Medical & Emergency

What are the medical assistance provided? What are their procedure for evacuation? What are their tools for search and rescue? Will there be sat-phones, walkies-talkies, emergency transponders?

Guide & Porters

What is the credentials of the guide? How many times has he/she done the trek? Is he familiar with the route? Is he familiar with medical situations? Is there a back-up guide?

It is important to note that the guides and porters are usually freelancers who will take up the job any agency provides them at a decent price. So, a guide working in one agency one season may be working for another agency in another. So, if you are specifically interested in a guide, it is important to highlight to them in the beginning so that they can make the suitable arrangements. If not, get to talk to the guides/porters directly to get acquainted with them. You will be spending a lot of time with them in the wilderness or on the mountain and the comfort level you have with them is a deciding factor on the overall success of your trek.

Another approach is, you could talk to your preferred guide directly and perhaps he would recommend you the agency he is works with. Usually, he will recommend the agency that deals with him in a fair manner.

Costs & Charges

This is one of the most important aspects of the whole trek. Understand the costing and pricing in detail. Know the payment milestones. Clarify any misunderstandings or fine print. Get a detailed breakdown of items that are included in the package and exceptional items. What are the cancellation charges? What are the refunds like?

Again, it is important to balance pricing with the kind of trek. If you go for the cheapest price then it is guaranteed that the agency will assign you inexperienced guides and porters or the agency may cut corners in areas of risk or medical. You go for the cheapest option only if you are experienced enough to take care of yourself (self-sufficiency) or the trek is easy. Otherwise, negotiating for the cheapest price is definitely not a good idea and can endanger yourself.

Referrals

Who are some of the customers who have done climbs with the agency? Get their contact number and try to reach out to them. Explain to them about your plan and try to get as honest an opinion from them as possible. Most will provide a truthful opinion considering that your life may be at stake in the trek.

Trip booklet

Most professional agencies will provide a complete documentation on the trek in the form of a trip document. These should cover everything from the dates to emergency contact details and medical information. Some of the items in the document include:

  1. Trek details
  2. Detailed itinerary with maps
  3. Pricing and charges with inclusions and exclusions
  4. Cancellation policies
  5. General country introductions
  6. Visa matters
  7. General geographical introductions
  8. Language of the people and culture
  9. Emergency contact information (hospitals, police, etc…)
  10. Embassy details of your native country
  11. Addresses of locations of stay
  12. Name and contact numbers from the agency
  13. Medical indemnity forms
  14. Medical procedures

Selection

Once you have gone through the whole selection process, it is time to decide on the agency that you best find suitable for your trek. This is a very tricky part and there is no science to it. No matter how systematic your selection and filtering criteria is, there will mostly be a situation where more than one agency will be suitable for your needs. At this point in time, it is left to your gut instinct to select an agency and go with them.

No matter which agency you pick, it is important to have everything in writing through email. Word of mouth or over-the-phone promises will not be of any use in the unfortunate event that something happens.

Caution

Since the guides are independent of the agency, why not work directly with the guide? Why not bypass the agency altogether?

Well, this line of assumption is great if you are willing to make some compromises and accept some risks. With an agency, there is accountability. If in the event something goes wrong, there is some agency that you can talk to and, if possible, recover some of the damages. With a guide, you run the risk of not recovering anything and accountability is next to zero.

Another factor is that, insurance agents may need a proper agency with proper receipts, documentation and communication threads to be able to recover any loss. It is next to impossible to get any recovery if you go with an individual guide as the insurers may not consider the guide as a valid entity.

So, if you are well prepared to take the risks and live with the possible consequences, or are extremely confident of filling in the guide’s inadequacies, then it may be possible to directly approach the guide and work with him towards arranging a trek or climb.

Final Thoughts

Be prepared for uncertainty. It is part and parcel of a trekking or climbing adventure. There are unknown unknowns that you will need to face. And on such occasions, there will be a need to improvise. Some of them could be solved easily, but others may require you to come up with additional costs or charges. So, be prepared to face up to them. There may be valid reasons where out-of-pocket expenses may be incurred. There could be last minute changes to your preferred guide or some other planned item on your trek. So, it is important to keep an open mind.

 

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