Manaslu & Tsum: Mini Update

Two months before I go to Nepal, this story blows up and major travel insurers threaten to pull their cover unless Nepal puts a stop to helicopter rescue insurance fraud.

First on twitter:

(Excellent summary from Alan Arnette there)

Then in the wider press:

Here’s the original story, by Annabel Symington, AFP’s Nepal Bureau Chief:

and some of follow up coverage:


All of  which brings back memories of our enforced helicopter ride from unlovely Lukla to KTM back in 2011 which marred the end of the otherwise wonderful Three High Passes to Everest trek. A different scam, but still a scam involving trekking tourists and helicopters.

It looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. It felt like one.
It looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. It felt like one.

In the meantime (and looking ahead!) I’m starting on my kitlist spreadsheet, checking Air India’s baggage allowance (2 x 23kg – should be plenty!!) and gradually getting my USD from Thomas Exchange Global. Turns out they can provide Nepalese Rupees too.

Oh, and starting to plan next year’s Nepal trek with Val: Mera Peak 6,476 metres (21,247 ft) – Amphu Labsta Pass 5,845 metres (19,177 ft) – Island Peak / Imja Tse 6,189 m (20,305 ft).

Update – 18 September 2018

Annabel Symington’s blogpost on her investigation into helicopter rescue fraud in Nepal:

Home from our eleven day stay at 40A

Phil and I are back from a super eleven day stay in Herefordshire.

Walked a bit, read a lot.

15 jars of August Apple Chutney – various varieties – made from Train Set Red Delicious Windfalls.

Learned how to use the sit on mower and cut all the grass. Perfected the three point turn at the grass cuttings escarpment.

Me and my mower
Me and my mower

Failed to find the lost tortoise, and marvelled at the range of the Lost! poster locations.

Lost Tortoise poster - Kerrys Gate
Lost Tortoise poster – Kerrys Gate

Caught the bus into Hereford and made friends with Dominic, the bus driver. In town, Sensory & Rye provide such a hit for morning coffee that we went back for lunch. Yum.

The local buzzard quartet provided regular afternoon displays, and one blue sky morning we received a visit from what looked like all of Herefordshire’s house martins, sitting along the wires strung out over the sheep field.

Buzzard in the blue sky
Buzzard in the blue sky

We started our holiday with a slap up Sunday lunch with dad and Jean and had a local food-tastic Friday evening meal with them at The Temple Inn, Ewyas Harold – AA Friendliest B&B of the Year Winner 2018-2019!

A leisurely mooch around Dore Abbey, and a last lunch at Abbey Dore Court Gardens….

Dore Abbey
Dore Abbey

Bargain bird’s eye chilis and ginger from the Allensmore Aladdin’s Cave that is Lock’s Garage, and the best Raisin and Cherry Tiffin this side of Offa’s Dyke helped pass the time on the three hour train journey home.

Sunrise over Grey Valley
Sunrise over Grey Valley

My photos are in this Flickr Album: Forty Acres, August 2018.

Walking in Northern Albania: We’re back!

Well, we survived Northern Albania’s Accursed Mountains, although lingering – and unexpected for us – snow patches made life a little ‘exciting’ at times.

Snow ledge crossing on the approach to the Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)
Snow ledge crossing on the approach to the Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018) … what you can’t see is the steep drop below the snow just went on, and on, and on.

We walked through wonderful wildflower meadows – buttercups and daisies, vetch and valerian, orchids and lilies, gentians and geraniums, campion and columbine and many, many more. Beautiful both to see, and to smell as we strolled through patches of sage and mint, chamomile and marjoram. Wild strawberries lined the path in places, and butterflies and moths fluttered by.

Undulating forests full of ancient beech and oak, lime and chestnut, rowan and pine, provided cover for us from the sun, and protection for giant snails and one spooked salamander.

Wildflower meadow, and the Accursed Mountains (Prokletije / Albanian Alps) above. En route to Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)
Wildflower meadow, and the Accursed Mountains (Prokletije / Albanian Alps) above. En route to Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)

Our days also featured crystal clear mountain streams, freezing cold turquoise pools, river crossings, waterfalls and gorges; and a three hour cruise up Lake Koman, a reservoir in one of the Drin River’s many gorges, to reach the Albanian Highlands.

Cold water, shade and cool breezes were always welcome as it was hot and sticky most days, with a regular afternoon downpour around 2-3pm. Bledi, our excellent local guide, and Max, our Wild Frontiers group leader ensured early starts to avoid the rain, and the heat. They also took great care of us on those trickier sections of the trail, and numerous river crossings – most were plank bridges, but not all.

Walks ranged from a 7km stroll around the cultural sights, waterfalls and waterways of Thethi to the 1300 m ascent up to the Qafa e Thorës / Thore Pass.

Me, cooling off at Ujëvara e Grunasit / Grunas waterfall / Thethi waterfall, Albania (June 2018)
Me, cooling off at Ujëvara e Grunasit / Grunas waterfall / Thethi waterfall, Albania (June 2018)

Alpine chalet-style guesthouses in Valbonë and Thethi provided comfy beds and en suite bathrooms. Our last night’s accommodation at the aptly named Hotel Panorama in Krujë came with this super view of the old town, bazaar and castle.

Krujë old town, bazaar and castle, from the Hotel Panorama, Albania (June 2018)
Krujë old town, bazaar and castle, from the Hotel Panorama, Albania (June 2018)

Tomato, cucumber and feta cheese were staple foods for breakfast and lunch, together with boiled eggs, local bread and jams, and occasionally honey and tasty fried pancakes. To drink, gallons of water, thimblefuls of Turkish coffee and glasses of mountain tea during the day, beer and wine available with dinners which ranged from myriad mezzes to four course meals.

Best treat of the trip – afternoon tea at Bledi’s parent’s place, complete with jugs of mountain tea and scrumptious orange and walnut cake made by his aunt. Although cold beers and crisps on the balcony of our Hotel Panorama room in Krujë came a very close second.

All in all, a great way to spend a week (cheap too!), and I’ve added Albania to my list of places to return to (soon).

Walking in Northern Albania: Counting Down


A month or so to go before we set off on Wild Frontiers’ recce trip, Walking in Northern Albania – Into The Accursed Mountains, and this has popped up in my Twitter feed:

Two Skanderbeg snippets I learned from Karen Murdarasi’s article were that he was born, in 1405, in Krujë – where we spend out our last night, and that he

“…left his homeland at the age of nine for Adrianople (Edirne, in modern Turkey), where he was converted to Islam from Christianity and given a new name: Alexander, or in Turkish, Iskander. He was trained in the art of war and granted the title bey (lord or chieftain) and so the warrior ‘Skanderbeg’ came into being.”


A few weeks ago Thelma-from-my-WF-Pakistan-Trip booked the last remaining place on the tour and is joining Hazel and me on our whistlestop pre-tour night and morning in Tirana – home to Skanderbeg Square – so I’ve changed our Villa Tafaj reservation to a triple room.


It’s a little early for looking at weather forecasts, but here they are on Yr:

I’ve raved before about, the weather forecasting website from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.  Yr’s coverage of Albania is no less amazing.


Looking for books to read about Albania has led me down a couple of interweb rabbit holes. Join me in exploring the lives and works of:

Robert Elsie

Robert Elsie (1950- 2017): writer, translator, interpreter and specialist in Albanian studies.

His marvellous website – – houses a wealth of material relating to Albanian art, history, language, literature and photography, which led me to….


Edith Durham.jpg
Edith Durham

Edith Durham  (1863 – 1944): an English artist and anthropologist, who travelled and worked in Albania between 1900 and 1914; Nicknamed the Queen of the Highland Peoples by the Albanians of the Northern Alps.

The Photo Collection of Edith Durham (on Robert Elsie’s website)

Albania’s Mountain Queen: Edith Durham and the Balkans by Marcus Tanner, book review (Anna Aslanyan, The Independent, 12 June 2014)

I read Robert Carver’s The Accursed Mountains: Journeys In Albania in 2010, and struggled through Ismail Kadare’s The Accident (translated by John Hodgson), and so based on Planning your own reading journey? on Around the World in 80 Books, I’m going to track down the following in the library – Albania: The Search for the Eagle’s Song by June Emerson and Ismail Kadare’s The Three-Arched Bridge and Agamemnon’s Daughter.

And to round everything off, I’ve just ordered Edith Durham’s High Albania and Lloyd Jones’s travelogue Biografi from AbeBooks.


I’m flying hand baggage only, so I’ll have to be ruthless. Time to start piling up the potential packing on the spare bed….

Albania - the packing commences

Everest Trek Get Together No 12

A magic weekend in Pembrokeshire with a trip to Skomer for the long awaited Project Puffin!


The usual: Hazel, Charles and I met at Paddington at 3pm. Paddington to Newport by train. Newport to Steffi’s with Dave – and Gwyneth. LARGE G&Ts courtesy of Maurice and curries à la Steffi at Mayhem, then on to Newgale for a night in the caravan.


An early start (7am) to allow time for coffee and croissants before Dave drove us over to Martin’s Haven, arriving there at 9.30am and getting tickets for the 10am ferry to Skomer, the first of the day.

A gloomy, grey morning. Our main hope was to avoid rain.

A smooth crossing, with puffins skimming low over the water to join the rafts that floated just off the Skomer coastline. We had a great briefing from one of the wardens at the top of the steps up from the jetty at North Haven, and then we were free to explore until our 3pm return to the mainland. The volunteer wardens have a job getting people up the steps – not because they are tricky, but because there are puffins and razorbills almost within reach all the way up, and certainly within camera range….

We decided to follow the coastal footpath clockwise around Skomer – and within our first half hour on the island the morning started to brighten. We spent the rest of the day there in glorious sunshine, getting hundreds of photos of puffins, mainly at High Cliff and The Wick (including the Lonely White Puffin), and seals up at Garland Stone.

Puffins, The Wick, Skomer
Puffins, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin pair at The Wick, Skomer
Puffin pair at The Wick, Skomer
Puffins, North Haven, Skomer
Puffins, North Haven, Skomer

(For more puffin photos, take a look at my Flickr album: Pembrokeshire, April 2018)

We picnicked at Old Farm, and returned for our 3pm boat back to the mainland via the ruins of the Iron Age house that nestle below the rocks of the South Plateau, the High Cliff puffins and the megalith at Harold Stone.

Steffi, Hazel, Charles, Dave and Gwyneth on the rock outcrop above Harold Stone Skomer
Steffi, Hazel, Charles, Dave and Gwyneth on the rock outcrop above Harold Stone, Skomer

Excellent tea / coffee / cake at the Clock House Cafe in Marloes, and an afternoon pint at the Druidstone Inn, soaking up the sun and the view out over St Brides Bay. Fabulous.

An evening of wine, crisps, veggie spag bol, bread and cheese back at the caravan.

A superb day.


Rain. Lots of rain. So no walk on the beach or in the woods back at Steffi’s.

Instead, a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest to tour the Aisles of Lidl and the Aisles of Aldi, then back to Mayhem for one of Maurice’s Marvellous Sunday lunches: pulled beef, a giant yorkshire pudding (veggie toad in the hole for me), gravy, creamed leeks, roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, broccoli, green beans, peas and broad beans. With cherry bakewell tart and ice cream to follow.

Another slap up Sunday lunch from the marvellous Maurice
Another slap up Sunday lunch from the marvellous Maurice

Not surprisingly we three in the back seat snoozed for most of the drive back to Newport….

Home around 8.45pm after a slow journey back to London with GWR.