In the spring of 2018, I heard rumors that my friend Stanton Mayer wanted to return to Nepal. This time to explore the least-traveled region, the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area. Tucked into the northeast corner of Nepal, Kanchenjunga showcases rich biodiversity within one of the most pristine wilderness areas on the planet. For anyone that is passionate about mountains, the Himalayas are a no-brainer; this is a trip you simply don’t turn down.
As a photographer, my gear had to be dialed for this trip, enabling me to capture some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Not only would I need a handful of lenses (16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm with 2x extender), but also a solar panel, tripod, extra memory cards, and even a portable hard drive. Weighing in at just under 50lbs, I utilized every piece of equipment in my pack, and still had room for a book…ironically Desert Solitaire.
There are two trekking seasons in Nepal — one running April through May, and the other October through November. Arriving in early October, we spent the first couple days linking up with our guide and finalizing our permits, both of which are required to trek within Kanchenjunga. There is no form of trash removal in Nepal, therefore garbage fires are commonplace, making the air quality less than tolerable. To say the least, after a couple days in Kathmandu, you start to go stir-crazy.
After a short two-hour flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur, we rented a Jeep and driver for the final eight-hour drive into the mountains; dodging cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, and animals in a barrage of honking horns. On either end of the trip, we worked our way up and down steep trails carved through the jungle, crossing numerous suspension bridges over pristine rivers with raging currents. There are no marked trails here, and we encountered countless route-finding situations while wandering through villages and backyards, often following a rough 4×4 road for miles at a time.
We quickly settled into the simple routine of walking, eating, and sleeping. Most of our nights were spent in tiny tea houses where only a sleeping bag and pad were needed, however, we brought two lightweight tents just in case. Within these small shacks constructed of stones, 2×4’s, and tarps, we played cards in the evening, sipping on Tongba (homemade liquor made from fermented millet) and enjoying delicious hot meals – typically the Nepalese staple dish Dal Bhat (rice and lentils). The perfect fuel for the next day, it’s often said; “Dal Bhat, 24-hour-power, no toilet-no shower.”
Perched above the Kanchenjunga Glacier at 15,700 ft., Lhonak was my favorite location of the trip, and also featured on the cover of the 2019 Big Agnes Catalog. Within this landscape, it was hard to grasp scale. We often found ourselves silently gazing upwards and questioning, “Is that 3,000 vertical feet, or 10,000?” It was typically the latter. One evening, with my tripod over my shoulder, I wandered alone underneath a full moon. Serenaded by the faint and distant jingle of Yak bells, I watched clouds crawl up and over the glacier moraine and dissipate into the flickering stars slowly rotating overhead. This moment I will never forget, and I will return to Nepal once again.
Noah is originally from Ripon, Wisconsin, but it was his love for skiing that motivated him to move west in 2005. After attending Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and completing his associates degree in business he moved to Alta, Utah for the winter seasons and returns to Steamboat Springs every summer. His appreciation for the outdoors continues to grow and you will often find him skiing, backpacking, mountain-biking, and fly-fishing. Noah’s work has been published in Powder Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Backcountry, Ski Magazine, and many more…including the cover of the Big Agnes Catalog.