This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Nepal.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.
Arrive: by 1700 on 5 Aug at the hotel in Katmandu.
Depart: leave Kathmandu anytime after breakfast on 30 Aug.
Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
Balance due: 90 days before departure on 5 May 2017.
The aim of this expedition is to truly immerse yourself in the lives and culture of the Dolpo Pa as they follow their ancient trading routes toward Tibet. The Dolpo Pa’s migration encompasses the sacred Upper Dolpo region of Nepal, a place so inaccessible that Outside magazine says even Sherpas are astounded by its remoteness. No other company has joined this migration before (though some visit the Dolpo region), which is an annual phenomenon that has happened for hundreds of years.
The Upper Dolpo was the scene of the Oscar-nominated film, Himalaya, and Peter Matthiessen’s epic tale, The Snow Leopard. To trek with the Dolpo Pa to the border of Tibet, this trek will cross 5000m passes, cross steep ravines and take in the majesty of this untouched and isolated region.
Live with the Dolpo Pa as the migrate with their yaks carrying goods to trade in Tibet.
Trek in the Upper Dolpo, a remote and isolated restricted area of Nepal.
Climb over three 5000m passes including Kanda La at 5322m.
Visit ancient monasteries including the 11-century Shey Gompa, and learn about the Dolpo Pa’s pre-Buddhist Bon Po religion.
Enjoy and take in the sights of Kathmandu.
Your experienced Secret Compass expedition leader will be ably assisted in-country by local guides, a cook team and a herdsman.
You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24hour assistance helpline. Fill in a Flight Request Form (linked to on this page) or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.
It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for fee or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. Visit our Terms and Conditions online.
You need to be at the team hotel in Kathmandu by 1700 on 5 August 2017 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on 30 August 2017 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart in the morning.
Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and Travel Aware.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose any to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Travel Insurance advice page.
Visas are your responsibility. It is relatively easy process to obtain a visa on arrival at the airport. You will need to obtain a minimum of a 30-day visa which costs $40. You must ensure that you have the cash to pay for this visa, but is accepted in most major currencies.
You should have a passport valid for six months beyond the date of visa application and covering the duration of the expedition and your travel dates. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Day 1: Aug 5 – Kathmandu
Arrive into Kathmandu and make your way to the team hotel for briefing at 1700.
Day 2: Aug 6 – Nepalgunj
Local team will obtain permits in the morning. Pack bags and make your way to domestic airport where you will fly to Nepalgunj. Stay overnight in a local guesthouse.
Day 3: Aug 7 – Juphal
Early in the morning fly to Jupahl where the local team will be met. Once pack animals are loaded, a short trek will be made to Sulighat and the first campsite at a height of 2100m.
Day 4: Aug 8– Chekpa
You will now follow the Upper Dolpo trek and acclimatise to the altitude. Trek to Chekpa.
Day5: Aug 9 – Sumua
Gradually increase in height as the path winds its way up the valley to Sumua at 3100m.
Day 6: Aug 10 – Phoksundo Lake
Make your way up to the beautiful Phoksundo Lake at 3650m. A pristine and alpine lake with stunning turquoise colours.
Day 7: Aug 11 – Phoksundo Lake
This will be a rest day to acclimatise to the altitude, a buffer in case of a delayed flight into Juphal, but also the first time to meet up with the yak migration families. You will get to camp with the Dolpo Pa and immerse yourself in their way of life and culture. The team will then move with migration until they cross the border into Tibet.
Day 8: Aug 12 – Sallaghari
The team will set off again, moving slowly with the migration, and will now be following in the footsteps of Peter Mattiessen from the Snow Leopard. Move to Sallaghari at 3800m.
Day 9: Aug 13 – Nggda La High Camp
A short walk today, as the path starts to climb to 4700m and camp at the Nggda La High camp.
Day 10: Aug 14 – Shey Gompa
One of the toughest days of the trek, as the team continues to walk up and climbs to the highest point of the expedition, the Kanda Lo pass at 5322m. You will then continue and reach the 11–century Shey Gompa which is situated at 4350m.
Day 11: Aug 15 – Namyung
Another hard day of climbing up to Shey La pass at 5150m and head to Namyung at 4470m.
Day 12: Aug 16 – Saldang
Head down to Saldang at 3770m where you should start to see more yak migration families converging on the ancient village.
Day 13: Aug 17 – Saldang
A much deserved rest day after the last few days of exertions. There will be a possible excursion to Karang, and also more of a chance to live with and understand the Dolpo Pa way of life.
Day 14: Aug 18 – Yanger Gompa
A reasonably flat day of walking as you continue North and head to the Yanger Gompa at 3800m, and one of the last areas of civilisation before the border with Tibet.
Day 15: Aug 19 – Yanger Gompa
You will walk as far as possible up towards the border where you will say goodbye to the Dolpo Pa. The families will cross and find their Nestang partners who give them refuge and trade goods such as salt and grains with each other. Return back to the Yanger Gompa.
Day 16: Aug 20 – Rapa
Return to Saldang and continue on to Rapa at 3800m.
Day 17: Aug 21 – Jeng La High Camp
Start to climb again and camp this evening at the Jeng La High Camp 4650m
Day 18: Aug 22 – Tokyu
The last high pass of the trek where you will climb to 5110m to the top of the Jeng La pass and camp at Tokyu at 4160m
Day 19: Aug 23 – Dho Tarap
A short walk now into one of the larger Dolpo Pa communities of Dho Tarap at 4100m.
Day 20: Aug 24 – Shim Odar
Start to head South and pass through the steep valleys. Trek to Shim Odar at 3640m
Day 21: Aug 25 – Khanigagon
Descend to Khanigagon at 2620m.
Day 22: Aug 26 – Dunai
Last full day of trekking and start to see larger villages as the team reaches Dunai at 2100m.
Day 23: Aug 27 – Juphal
Short walk to Juphal airstrip, and celebrate the end of the trek.
Day 24: Aug 28 – Kathmandu
Early morning flight to Nepalgunj and then on to Kathmandu. Warm showers and cold beers await!
Day 25: Aug 29 – Kathmandu
Today will act as a contingency day in case of any delays with the domestic flights. A half day of sightseeing will be included. Spend the afternoon at your leisure before the final team celebratory meal.
Day 26: Aug 30 – Kathmandu
Team members are free to depart after breakfast to either extend their trip in Nepal or to head home.
A note on Secret Compass itineraries
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but it will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions that you will encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, it is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go! You will be required to be fit enough to:
Terrain: varied and challenging including snow pack, loose rock, mountain passes and river crossings.
Climate: exposed conditions with temps ranging from 25°C to -15°C on the high passes.
Altitude: sustained trekking at heights predominately over 3500m. Three 5000m+ passes with the highest reaching 5322m.
No previous experience of alpine conditions is necessary to join this expedition but team members would benefit from trekking or winter hill-walking practice and being used to carrying 10–15kg for multiple days. The expedition will be supported by pack animals, but is very remote with no vehicle access, and so team members must be fit enough to carry their day sacks for over 20 days at a reasonable trekking pace.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS websites FitForTravel and TravelHealthPro are useful sources of information.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
The local currency is Nepalese Rupee. It is possible to withdraw cash from ATM machines, but there are hundreds of currency exchange shops in Kathmandu, especially around the Thamel district, so you should bring GBP, EUR or USD to change into local currency. Debit/credit cards can be used to pay for items in towns, please make sure they are unblocked. This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money – only really if you want to buy some souvenirs at the end of the expedition in Kathmandu or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.
Home to You. Secret Compass will have an Ops Room manned in the UK throughout your expedition. If your family need to get in touch with you due to an EMERGENCY your family can call the Ops Room on +44 (0) 207 096 8428. The Ops Room will ensure the message gets to the expedition within 24 hours. Unfortunately we are unable to pass routine messages between your family members and you.
You to Home. Secret Compass will have satellite phones for emergency use only and these cannot be used for personal messages home unless in extremis. Please reassure your family that we have their contact details (NOK information provided on your Booking Form) and that no news is good news.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Kathmandu and Nepalgunj, though you are unlikely to get any signal once the trek has started.
The following is a suggested kit list for the 2017 expedition to Nepal. Secret Compass consider some items essential so please read the list thoroughly and contact our Operations team with any questions. You might be allocated certain items of group equipment such as medical or communications equipment to carry. Secret Compass will supply tents and all safety equipment related to the expedition.
Secret Compass has arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and sleeping
DUFFLE BAG:60-70ltr: All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack including your sleeping system. This will be carried by the pack animals during the trek.
DAYSACK 30-40ltr: Essential to be well fitting, and will carry all of your essential equipment such as warm jacket, waterproofs and water whilst trekking.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack. Bring smaller ones as well to keep everything organised.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort -15°C minimum. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack.
FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable winter roll mat required as pitching tents on snow. Bring a repair kit.
WATERPOOF WALLET: For your passport and money.
2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton).
1 x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Long sleeved thermal top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
1 x DOWN JACKET: Down jacket or synthetic equivalent suitable for summit use at -20°C with layers.
1 x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
1 x WALKING BOOTS: Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. Three-season walking boots minimum. Recommend you visit your local outdoor store for advice on fitting.
4 x HIKING SOCKS: Fitting well with your boots and comfortable.
SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS.
4 x UNDERWEAR: Sports or cycling-styled shorts don’t chafe.
BUFF OR BALACLAVA: Some form of face protection from high winds at heights/ on summits.
GAITERS(Optional): For when walking across snow fields.
1 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg.
1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of three litres of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.
Health and hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT.
SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION.
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.
Small First Aid Kit:
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Such as Imodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
EURAX CREAM: For bites.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.
TREKKING POLES: Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
SPARE BOOT LACES.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places.
Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Frictions are often found with:
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and natural events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs).
Part of a team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Incident management and medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has developed a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies on each expedition. This will be briefed in full at the arrival brief, so that everyone is aware what action will be taken.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
The people of the Dolpo, the Dolpo Pa, live an extreme existence. They inhabit one of the most isolated and remote regions of Nepal which is completely shut off for six months of the year due to the harsh winters. Once the lands open up, they set out with one of the world’s last nomadic trading caravans, following routes they have trodden for thousands of years.
It is very Tibetan in culture and landscape, with many Buddhist like stupas and monasteries in the region, although the Dolpo Pa follow a religion that pre-dates Buddhism. When visiting such religious monuments, respect will be shown, such as removing shoes. The yak herding families will teach the team their beliefs and an insight into their way of life.
This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from dirt tracks, rolling meadows and scree slopes to (possibly) snow-covered passes and exposed steep paths. The longest trekking days will be through valley floors with river crossings whilst even the shorter days of ascent will be made more challenging by the altitude with three 5000m+ passes on the itinerary.
The weather in August in Nepal is during the monsoon season. Despite this, the Upper Dolpo is in the Himalayan rain shadow, and so the landscape and climate is predominately dry. Temperatures in Kathmandu and at lower altitudes can easily reach +25°C but you should be prepared for the high passes to be well below freezing and with high winds lowering the temperature to -15°C
Tibhuvan International Airport is located six kilometres outside of the city – team members are responsible for their own transfers between the airport and the accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Transfers are available by taxi to the city centre, which are a fixed rate. It is wise to exchange a small amount of cash at the terminal to pay for the taxi.
Once the expedition has started Secret Compass will cover all modes of transport. Domestic flights will be taken to get to Nepalgung and then onto Juphal. This is a very remote, mountainous airstrip, and can be subject to delays due to weather conditions. It provides spectacular views of the Himalayan ranges, however if you suffer from airsickness it is advisable to take travel sickness pills.
In Kathmandu the team will stay in a comfortable hotel in twin rooms, you will be able to leave a small bag with items you won’t need on the trek such as travelling clothes etc here and you are welcome to book extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary.
Throughout the trek the team will be camping in technical mountaineering tents shared between two. There will also be a night in a basic guesthouse in Nepalgunj, again on a twin-room sharing basis.
The team will be eating in local restaurants while in Kathmandu and Nepalgunj, where there will be a variety of delicious meals. Whilst on the trek, a cooking team will accompany the expedition and prepare meals which will provide enough energy for the trekking. Though sufficient calories in terms of meals and snacks will be provided by Secret Compass, teammates are advised to bring a few favourite trail snacks or bars to keep spirits high.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
Is altitude sickness likely?
The trek will be purposefully slow, and will not ascend too high too fast. The altitude profile of the route allows for a safe ascent of the high passes. The Secret Compass leader is very experienced with leading at altitude, and will brief all the team on the effects of altitude sickness, how to recognise the symptoms and how to treat it.
We will recommend taking Acetazolamide (Diamox) to help with the acclimatisation and will carry medication to treat symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), along with carrying oxygen and a Gamow bag, should someone have a severe reaction.
Can I have a one-person tent?
Secret Compass will provide the tents for this expedition. Pack animals will be carrying all of the equipment and this weight will have to be kept to a minimum and so the group will be asked to share tents on this expedition. If a team member would like to have their own tent there will be a single tent supplement.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the start of the trek so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge all my electricals?
Once the team start the trek there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be telephone signal?
There will be mobile signal in Kathmandu and the villages at the start and end of the trek however you should plan on having no signal throughout the trekking phase.
Is it rainy season?
Although this will be during the monsoon, the Upper Dolpo is in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, and is very similar to Tibet in its landscape. It is possible that the domestic flights can be delayed and contingency has been put in the schedule of the trip in case the flights are delayed to the start or getting out of the Dolpo.