Nepal has four distinct seasons and whilst each season offers something different for tourists visiting all year around, the best time for trekking in the Himalayas is during the pre and post-Monsoon periods and early/late winter. Below is a brief description of each season, with some of the pros/cons mentioned as well.* Winter: late December, January, early February – High-pressure systems bring clear skies and dry weather, and the temperatures are bearable during the day (actually quite nice in the sun), but as the sun sets the temperature falls quickly and it can get extremely cold at night. Some of the high passes can be unreachable at this time of year due to high snowfall.
* Pre-Monsoon: March, April, May, early June – The weather can be variable, but generally it is clear and calm in the mornings with overcast or thundery afternoons. The day and night time temperatures are gradually getting warmer as the season progresses. This is a great time of year to see rhododendrons in full bloom as you walk up through the forest during the early stages of the trek.
* Monsoon: mid-June, July, August, early September – Low pressure systems are predominant at this time of year and so there are frequent rain storms with high humidity and warm temperatures. There are fewer hikers around not only because the track can be blocked from slips caused by floods, but it’s just not as comfortable walking in the downpour! There are some parts of the Himalayas, such as Mustang, that are in rain-shadows and suitable for hiking at this time of year.
* Post-Monsoon: late September, October, November – The cycle begins with a return to more stable weather conditions, cooling temperatures and plenty of sunshine. With the monsoons recently over, the countryside is green and lush, the air sparkling clean and the views of the Himalayas crystal clear.
As you could expect, for many, altitude is the biggest concern or questioning factor when considering a hiking trip to Nepal. We’ve recently written an in-depth blog about altitude; the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness (AMS), the physiology behind it and some natural remedies and medicines.
In relation to the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, the risks of AMS are taken very seriously by our team, who are trained to identify the symptoms early. Also, oxygen is carried by our porters as a precaution. It’s important to point out though, that your fitness level or age has little bearing on AMS. What can aggravate the symptoms of AMS, however, is your general state of well being. So for example, if you have the flu or are dehydrated, you would be more likely to suffer at high altitude even if you are young or fit.
“Being one of the older participants, I was concerned whether I was up to the trek. Phil and Paul assured me that age would not be a problem. And it wasn’t! I have visited many countries, but Nepal and the trek with Active Himalayas was the best yet. We saw Nepal as it should be seen and entirely hassle free.”
For most, the Himalayas are the ultimate hiking destination and for this reason we find that the majority of our travelers have already been avid hikers for some time. The Annapurna Sanctuary trail is well marked and requires no technical knowledge and on our treks we stay in local tea houses, so there’s no need for any camping gear. With us, you would have a NZ guide as well as a team of Nepalese guides and porters and they’ll be monitoring the weather, the group’s well being and all food and shelter requirements, so really all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other and take in the views and cultural experience!Rather than the hiking itself, the biggest adjustment required for most people is the culture. Stepping out of Kathmandu Airport can be an exciting, daunting and overwhelming experience all at once. It’s a complete sensory overload, with the shrieks from competing taxi drivers, honking rickshaws, smells wafting from food stalls and even animals in the streets! Once out in the mountains, it’s serene and peaceful as you begin hiking up the valley, through rhododendron and oak forest. All the way along the trail you’ll pass through small villages where you’ll get a firsthand and authentic insight into the way of life of the local people and this is often one of the standout lasting memories that our hikers comment on.Equipment:
Having the right equipment is extremely important; hiking boots that are comfortable and worn-in is a good place to start! As mentioned earlier, a porter will carry the majority of your gear (13kgs/28lbs) so you’ll just need a comfortable day pack whilst on the trail. Because of the variable temperatures – from night to day and as you gain altitude – layering is very helpful and adds extra warmth. We recommend purchasing good quality layers made out of fibers that breathe well, dry quickly and don’t hold body odour, such as merino wool (one brand you may be familiar with is Icebreaker). A windbreaker or fleece as a mid-weight layer is a good idea and then a down/puffer jacket is the best option for a top layer (unless it’s raining). A good rain jacket is essential, so make sure to bring one that you feel comfortable hiking in with a backpack. Gor-tex is still the leading fabric in this department, but there are other fabrics that are breathable and potentially harder-wearing.
A good quality, warm sleeping bag is also essential, but if you don’t have one, or don’t want to travel with one, we have a supply of these in Nepal that we rent out. We also rent hiking poles and these are highly recommended as they help with balance and if you need to catch a breather, they’re the perfect ‘leaning stick’! If you’re after a more comprehensive gear-list with suggested quantities and all the specific bits and pieces, feel free to ask us!
Getting the Most out of Your Trip:
Visit Nepal with an open mind. Be in good physical shape, bring good quality gear, be prepared for a culture shock and of course, don’t forget your camera! Greg Lapic summed things up pretty well after his Annapurna Sanctuary trek with Active Himalayas in December last year:
“The scenery from the jungle trails to the staggering peaks was awesome. People in the villages and the tea houses were amongst the friendliest in the world. The Nepal guides and porters were extremely supportive and helpful. Pictures cannot begin to do justice to the visual experience!”
If you like reading about your destination, you may be interested in some of these books:
* Seven Years in Tibet and the sequel Return to Tibet – Heinrich Harrer
* The Snow Leopard – Peter Mathiessen
* Himalaya – Michael Palin
* Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
* The Path to Enlightenment – the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso
* Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal – James Fisher
Go forth and adventure!
Paul @ Active HQ