Contents
Mustang, Nepal
Icon: Pavilion, Tai Shan, China
Walkopedia favourite: Vikos Gorge and Pindos Mts, Greece
Photo Essay: Route of the Volcanoes, La Palma
Focus: Trailblazer guides
Best camp tucker
New on Walkopedia Website
 

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Mustang, Nepal – the world’s second best walk?


At work, Tsarang


Afternoon near Chhusang

Mustang, the ancient Kingdom of Lo, is physically as well as culturally Tibetan: a high, windy, deeply eroded semi-desert, separated from the great plateau by bare, snow-capped mountains. It lurks in the northern rainshadow of the 8,000m-plus Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs, inaccessible from the lowlands and thus culturally unadultered for centuries.

Mustang (Upper Mustang, technically) is a huge basin, surrounded by 6,000m-plus mountains and drained by the vast Kali Gandaki gorge - although this is often well disguised by its wildly broken ridges and side canyons. Like other areas north of the central Himalayan peaks, it is drier and tougher country than most of Nepal, often sparse scrub and bare rock, with towns and hamlets huddled in terracing and trees by the rare water sources. It is thinly populated as a result.

After 50 years of Chinese depredation on the plateau, Mustang is more Tibetan than Tibet proper, which often feels hollowed and Disneyfied and where spies can seem to outnumber monks. Every path passes prayer flags and chortens: mani walls abound, often metres long, composed of beautifully carved calligraphic stones, the product of centuries of skilled and dedicated work. Monasteries and hermitages are to be found in quiet corners: caves, rivers and passes, sometimes it feels like every stone, have sacred connotations.

The area’s greatest glory is its towns and villages, incredible collections of houses redolent of the European Middle Ages. Families live with their animals, the spiritual world is everywhere, with prayer wheels and chortens on every street corner. As is dung, and not mere animal stuff at that. These are, however, prosperous and comfortably founded places compared to their Tibetan counterparts: there was rich trade to live off and more water than in Tibet, so it was possible to settle, terrace up and cultivate the valley bottoms. The rigours of the plateau have meant that most Tibetans have always been nomads. Walled Lo Munthang (pop apparently 1,000, although it feels like more), the capital, lies in the far north, below the range that separates Mustang from Tibet. As well as the sturdy palace of the Rajas, direct descendants of the kingdom’s 14th century founder, whose rule ended finally in 2008, it contains Mustang’s finest collection of monasteries and a maze of fascinating streets.


Kagbeni monastery


Mustang lay on the main trade route between India and Tibet: salt, wool and spices followed the Kali Gandaki river into its vast gorge between the great Himalayan massifs, one of many aspirants the title of the world’s deepest, that linked the high Tibetan plateau with the steamy lowlands. This resulted in a turbulent history, evidenced by the huddled, defensive-looking villages and the ruins of towers that seem to occupy every bluff above Lo Munthang. It was also the source of centuries of rich religious life and relative prosperity.

Mustang is astonishingly beautiful in a stark, barren, tree-deprived sort of way. Even geologically, it is Tibetan rather than Himalayan. The primordial Tethys seabed, thrown 4,000 metres skyward by the collision of India and Asia, has eroded into fantastical cliffs and contortions of crumbling sandstone and conglomerate, their vivid colours ranging from reds to ochres to blue-greys. We picked up fossils from 4,000m passes.

Wildlife includes the snow leopard, the blue sheep and, supposedly, the yeti. Eagles and vultures, including huge lammergeiers, are to be seen manoevering on the thermals. Jackels can be heard prowling around village edges at night.


Lonely chorten

Long closed to visitors (it was a base for Tibetan guerilla resistance to Chinese rule and thus a very remote corner of the Cold War), Mustang was opened to visitors in the early 1990s. Even now, only 1,000 permits are issued a year, which really must help the area remain culturally pristine. The centuries of cultural slumber are, however, being rudely broken: a road has been cut the whole way to Lo Munthang, and up to the Tibet/China border. Although (as of 2012) this is a very rough track passable only by the hardiest of jeeps and motorbikes, this must be going to change everything.

This heady (well, altitudinous, anyway) combination makes for some of the best trekking on earth. Its dryness means Mustang has a much longer trekking season than most of Nepal, although it is a different experience from classic Himalayan trekking, as a result. Mustang treks take a minimum of 10 days, but allow more - 12 upward is the minimum for the best rewards.

You could sort-of teahouse trek in Mustang, although realistically you can only stay in the at times very basic hostels in the villages, which are scattered as a result of the topography and dryness, and you could easily arrive somewhere and find all berths taken. Camping, with full Himalayan-style support, is the best option if affordable, although this isn’t as delightful as the classic Himalayan experience: think a dusty, windblown terrace on the edge of a village, rather than high meadow complete with a stream and an icy peak overhead. That said, you can find some lovely orchards and sheltered corners to park yourself in.

These are tough walks in high, remote mountains, where altitude can cause real problems. Come prepared.


By monastic quarter, Lo Munthang


Drakmar valley


Winnowing


Cave dwellings above Ghami


Goats, chorten, Drakmar cliffs

Walkopedia rating: 99 – Top 100
More information on this walk
William Mackesy’s full account of this walk

Best Books:

Nepal Trekking and the Great Himalaya Trail: A Route and Planning Guide - Robin Boustead/Trailblazer
Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya - Lonely Planet
Mustang – Lives and Landscapes of the Lost Tibetan Kingdom – Taylor Wiedman and Nika Wenger - get this.
Nepal - Lonely Planet
The Rough Guide to Nepal - Rough Guides
Nepal - Insight Guides

Our expedition was organised by the excellent Dendi Sherpa of Happy Feet Travels Ltd. – www.happyfeetmountaineers.com, who were efficient, helpful and flexible to deal with and, we thought, very good value.


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Icon: Pavilion, Tai Shan, China

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau
A pavilion on the summit of China’s most sacred Taoist mountain, 1,545m of broken cliffs and boulders in which twisted little pines make a precarious living. Some 3,000 years of religious significance have left a marvellous array of temples, pavilions, gates and calligraphy everywhere.

Walkopedia rating: 84
More information on this walk


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Walkopedia favourite: Pindos Mountains and Vikos Gorge, Greece


Down the Vikos Gorge


Picnic spot in the depths of the gorge

The wonderful region of Zagoria combines the wild grandeur of the north Pindos range – deeply eroded limestone peaks, cliffs and gorges – with glorious vegetation, intriguing wildlife and ancient villages which speak of a rich past. At its heart is the magnificent Vikos Gorge, claimed to be the world’s deepest - although every country seems to have one of these.

Zagoria is a distinctive place, with a surprising past. Unlike most mountain country, its remoteness enabled it to prosper: it was effectively autonomous within the Ottoman empire, avoiding the tax collectors but enabling its people to trade widely. The area’s superb “Kalderini” mule tracks and gracefully arched bridges are evidence of this long mercantile prosperity. Following the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans, its remoteness protected the old religion, culture and art from the depredations of the Muslim overlords. It was a base for partisans during WWII, and was heavily fought over during the ensuing civil war; from this, and the lure of the cities, came depopulation and dilapidation.

This has left the area remarkably unspoilt, and some of its villages are now national monuments, with their limestone walls and heavy slated roofs, narrow cobbled streets and mellow little squares under vast, spreading plane trees. Their thick-walled churches, with low arcades sheltering stone seats from the summer furnace, have been restored by prospering descendents from the cities. The area’s monasteries and simple wayside chapels are moving evidence of its role in preserving Greek Christianity in the dark times of Ottoman rule.

Zagoria straddles the far north of the Pindos Mountains, the spine of Greece, which march from Albania to the sea at Delphi. The range’s limestone peaks and deep ravines make for thrilling if demanding trekking throughout its length, although the Vikos circuit is, justly, the most famous route.

The area’s lower slopes are cloaked in richly varied forests (and ancient too – they are relics of earlier habitats) of beech, oak, maple, birch, hornbeam, with twisted pines giving way to patches of flowery pastures amid the crags on the higher slopes. These mountains are home to abundant wildlife – although you are unlikely to see the bears, boar and wolves that lurk in their forests. If you are sharp-eyed (and lucky), you will see chamois half way up some impossible precipice. And the wild flowers…in May and June, you will tramp through sparkling carpets of them in the higher meadows, and bright reception committees will line your path as you struggle up a cobbled track out of some abyss.


Cliffside path


Famous mule track

This walk is a circuit of up to seven days, often following the ancient mule tracks which linked the area’s remote villages; it can be broken down into shorter routes (or even day walks) if time is short. You will trek through the extraordinary Vikos Gorge, staying in the historic villages of Monodendri, and Vikos or Papigo, at each end; then slog up to the Astraka refuge, perched on a narrow ridge under ferocious cliffs, with wonderful views to each side; walk to the outstandingly beautiful Dragon Lake; and ascend Astraka peak. Gamila I, with its huge views over the Aöos gorge, can be tackled instead – or as well, if you are really keen. You are then faced with nearly 2,000m of trudge back to the refuge and down to Papigo – or you can enjoy a beautiful walk across the plateau round to Tsepelovo and Vradeto. The tracks are well marked, and there are places to stay (and eat) every night.

You shouldn’t miss the view from Beloi down the Vikos Gorge and the ancient Vradeto steps, a seemingly endless switch-backing mule track which negotiates a cliff face down to a slender bridge in the cool of the distant canyon bottom. And you must get to the Agia Paraskevi nunnery perched below Monodendri on the very edge of the vast gorge. A ledge above it winds round the cliff-face to the Megali Spilia, a high, shallow scoop from the cliff rendered inaccessible by a stout doorway on the path. The walk along this ledge – no more than a metre wide in places and 300 metres above the quiet forest of the bottom, with ravishing views out into the gorge – is thrilling but horrible for anyone prone to vertigo.


High country


Dragon Lake


Above Dragon Lake


Over the Aoos gorge

Walkopedia rating: 90.5 - Top 100
More information on this walk
William Mackesy’s full account of this walk

Best Book: The Mountains of Greece – Cicerone: excellent information on all options in this walk-rich area.



Photo essay: Route of the Volcanoes, La Palma, Canary Islands


North to Caldera de Taburiente


Ascent through pine forests


Ash and pine needle pattens


High ridge, west side


Sea and sky merge behind long eastern ridge


The high ridge


Absolute centre


Red Crater, I think

This trail winds among the remarkable line of craters that forms the central spine of La Palma. Weird formations, an array of blazing colours, sinisterly beautiful craters, stunted pines and other specialised vegetation: all with a backdrop of the sea, nearly 2,000m below.

Walkopedia rating: 87.5
More information on this walk


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Focus: Trailblazer guides

Walkopedia loves Trailblazer, for its guides’ dedication, quality and individuality.

Bryn Thomas

ORIGINS

Trailblazer (www.trailblazer-guides.com) is a small specialist publisher of route guides for adventurous independent travellers. More than half of the 40-title list now comprises walking guides. It was founded in 1991 by former Lonely Planet author Bryn Thomas who describes the books in these words: ‘As a hands-on publisher, I can’t (and won’t) cover the world; I’ve simply tried to provide the most detailed guides available to a number of routes that are of greatest interest to our authors and to me’.

MAPPING

Trailblazer believes that a good walking guidebook should have maps specifically tailored to the reader’s needs. Trailblazer creates its own maps to the most useful scale, annotated with information such as walking times, places to stay or eat and trail notes (eg tricky junctions) - information not usually found on standard maps. The maps in the 14-title British Walking Guides series are 1:20,000 - bigger than even the most detailed walking maps currently available.

THE GUIDES

These guides came about either because there was nothing in print or else because we felt the level of detail in the available guides was not sufficient.

These are all-in-one guides. Route instructions are written onto the maps leaving room in the text for full details of places to stay, places to eat and public transport links. As an example of the level of detail, in the British Walking Guides not only are all the restaurants and pubs along the way marked on the maps and reviewed in the text but also the time they stop serving food at lunchtime is given, to help the walker plan ahead. You can’t walk on a bag of peanuts!

Author voice is strong and the books are opinionated. There are detailed sections on the environment and each guide has a Minimum Impact Trekking chapter.

Have a browse at www.trailblazer-guides.com


The world’s best camp tucker

Serena Mackesy, best-selling novelist (see www.alexmarwood.com for information on her latest novel), journalist, wit, traveller, foodie - but not self-mortifier – on Portable Cooking….

CAKE IN A MUG

Fresh cake! In a mug! This is one of those recipes you find on internet entertainment sites, shriek and move on from, but it actually works. It’s meant to be for a microwave, but amazingly enough it also works on a rack over a camp fire.

  • A metal mug (not if you’re microwaving!)
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2-4 tbsp sugar depending on your taste
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Chocolate chips if you want

Mix the dry ingredients in the mug with a fork. Add the egg and mix vigorously. Add the oil and milk and mix vigorously again to beat some air in. Add chocolate chips. Put the mug over the fire and watch it rise in astonishment. Takes about 10 mins.

USEFUL THINGS TO MAKE AHEAD AND EAT ON THE RUN

KENDAL MINT CAKE

The walker’s time-honoured standby. Does not, in fact, grow in pre-wrapped bars in specialist shops. This makes quite a lot, but it keeps.

  • 1lb sugar
  • ¼ pint milk
  • 1 tsp peppermint essence

Line a shallow baking tray with greaseproof paper. Have a bowl of cold water standing close by. Combine all the ingredients in a thick-bottomed pan – non-stick probably a good idea, but use a wooden spoon. Bring it gradually to the boil, stirring continuously, and cook until a drop of the mixture, dropped into the cold water, can be rolled into a firm ball between your finger and thumb. Pour into the baking tray and mark into bars with a knife after it’s cooled a little but is still soft.

TRAIL MIX

For weak moments...

  • Dried fruit, as you like
  • Nuts, as you like, but almonds, walnuts and cashews are traditional
  • Sunflower seeds, shelled
  • Pine kernels
  • Chocolate chips for luck

Mix, salt, put in a Ziploc bag.

And finally, what to do with that COATHANGER I mentioned a long time ago:

Pull it apart and refold so that the hook hangs down over a stable base that you can put into the fire. You can then use foil, oiled – and your water bottle as a mould – to make packages for simple things like eggs, bacon, or things that just need heating, to hang off the hook over the heat. Eggs take about 3 minutes this way; but the kudos is enormous and it’s easier to carry than a grill rack. Here’s a vid showing how to make the stand.


Best Walking Websites

A North Carolina Hiking Blog at http://internetbrothers.org/

Trail reports for many of the best hikes in Western North Carolina. Jeff Clark is fortunate to live in this beautiful environment, this “Land of Waterfalls,” and have the opportunity to day hike nearly every week. The Blue Ridge Mountains in Pisgah National Forest rise as high as 6600 feet, and are filled with new and old-growth conifer and hardwood forests. The mountain laurel and rhododendron are plentiful, and the region fully enjoys all four seasons. Most posts on this blog will be about hikes available in this area.


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New on Walkopedia website:

Walk of the month:
  Latest walk:
Scotland, Cairngorms, UK   Glacier National Park, USA
 
  • The Cairngorms, the heart of Scotland's Highlands, contain some of Britain's - and the world's - best walking.
  • A huge, roadless, protected area teeming with precious wildlife. The scenery is almost painfully beautiful: grand crags and purple hillsides above glens and lakes. Pockets of the ancient Caledonian forest.
  • Is a walker's life is complete without having surveyed the Cairngorms from one of its great peaks, trudged one of its many and wondrous hill tracks and explored a magical, remote glen?
  • These are serious mountains, with serious weather. Come prepared.

Read More ...

 
  • Montana's Glacier National Park is theatrical and dazzling: a vast area filled with stunning vistas of sheer mountains, foaming waterfalls and startlingly blue lakes, spilling into the US from the Canadian Rockies.
  • With hundreds of animal species as well as more than 1,000 different types of plant, Glacier's ecosystem is impressive and well-protected. Endangered species such as the grizzly bear and the Canadian lynx live here, as well as the remarkable mountain goats the area is famous for.
  • From gentle short strolls to very difficult long scrambles, Glacier NP has walks for everyone. And the best bit? They are all stunning. This can be a tough place to walk, in high, remote mountains, on which you will often have to be self-sufficient. And, beware bears. Come prepared and take all precautions.
Read More ...

Number of walks featured in Walkopedia: over 600.



Walkopedia use the magnificent
Cicerone guidebooks

www.cicerone.co.uk


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