Initially I found a partner using www.trekkingpartners.com. When I arrived in August I posted that I was looking for a partner for the Everest Base Camp Gokyo Lake trek. A few weeks later I received a message from “Nicky” a Swedish girl my same age who wanted to do the same trek, she had a guide she’d said she trekked with before and suggested we go with him and split the cost of guide and accommodation making it an affordable trek for two people without going with a group or a package tour. Too good to be true indeed. I had contact with “Nicky” a few more times and then she gave me the e-mail of the guide from a company called Mount Face Nepal http://www.mountfacenepal.com/, I had direct contact with him from then on and stopped hearing from her. At the time I didn’t think anything of it.
The day before the trek I was still in a Vipassana retreat with no communication for the outside world. Before the trek started I e-mailed both of them and asked them please not to change the itinerary because I would be in Vipassana and could not have contact. When I arrived in Kathmandu at 5pm, panicking to prepare for a 6 am departure to Lukla I met my future guide and he explained to me our first problem. “Nicky” was volunteering in a village and was stuck due to the rain, the buses weren’t running so she wasn’t able to come. I had no partner. My initial reaction was that trip was over I couldn’t afford it on my own, nor would I want to go on my own. But, he had a plan. There just happened to be two Australians that booked a package trip with the same company that were going on the same day. I could join with them and share a room with the girl so my accommodation would be cheaper, but I would have to pay for my own separate guide since I wanted to do a longer trek. They gave me a break on the price of the guide (still $15/day instead of the original $25 split between two people), but I still had to pay the cost of my flight and the flight for the guide all myself. We had flights for the next morning, I didn’t have time to stop and think about how much more it was going to end up costing me, reluctantly I agreed, thinking it could be my only shot to do this trek affordably.
The next morning I was told to be ready by 4:30, so I waited until 5:15 in the lobby of my hotel until they finally showed up to get me. In the van I met my guide and we went to pick up the two Australians, whom had no idea about me until I introduced myself in the car. At the airport while we were waiting for our flight, we talked about how we came to our current circumstances. They used Trekking Partners also and found a girl who recommended this company who trekked with them before, who was also stuck in the village with my partner “Nicky”. Weird, we agreed, maybe they are made up, we joked.
Ha-ha. If only we knew.
We were excited and it seemed like it was all working out so we didn’t question the actual validity of it.
The weather was awful the first day and we didn’t get flights out so we went back to our hotel around 2pm after being stuck in the domestic departure terminal all day. At one point we were on the tarmac about to board the airplane, and they turned the shuttle bus around and brought us back to the terminal. The next day, we didn’t have much more luck. There were no flights to Lukla that day, so somehow it was decided that the two Australians and the co-owner of the company, whom I’d met the night before who was their guide, take a helicopter and start trekking and I got left behind with my guide to wait another day. So we waited again until 2 pm and left the airport with no flights out. On the third morning we got a flight and started the trek from Lukla to Phakding.
In Namche we caught up to the rest of our group and I was relieved that everything seemed to be working out. In Namche, most people stay to take an acclimatization day. I thought we would be all together now and they would wait an extra day for me since they had already taken theirs, like I was told they would do at the airport, but they told me that night that they planned to push ahead the next day. And I was to stay behind and take my acclimatization day, thus stripping me of my companions. I spoke calmly and politely to the two guides and requested that I continue on the next day as well. Fine, I’d been well over 3,000 meters before it shouldn’t be a problem, we’d all go slow then we could go together. It worked out, we went very slowly and I did not have any problems with altitude.
As we continued our trek and met up with others everything seemed to be going fine. I asked several times to see a map and was always told, later, and then never actually saw one. I thought it was a little strange but tried to push it out of my mind. We were never informed where we were going next, how long it would be, the conditions of the trail, altitudes, etc. I had to ask several times each morning before getting a straight answer. This was very frustrating for me personally because I am a very organized person, especially when it comes to outdoor activities and I like to know exactly what I am getting into. I tried to let it go thinking that this is Nepal and things tend to work out in their own way, maybe it was just a cultural thing I was missing.
When we reached Gorakshep, the guide approached me about cutting my trip short. I’d paid for 15 days, of guide services, because I wanted to go to Gokyo Lake, and the rest of the group was only doing base camp, so I was paying for an additional guide even though we were essentially doing the same trek. They told me it wasn’t worth it to go, the weather and the views wouldn’t be good and it would just end up costing me more money in the long run. But I couldn’t get my money back for the 5 days, there was a clause in the contract I signed that I never received a copy of, although I’d asked repeatedly. I wanted to continue despite the weather, I’d allotted time and money for a 15 day trek and already paid for it, but they pressured me not to.
It wasn’t until we were told we’d be hiking from Gorakshep to Namche (on the way down) in one day, that I became concerned. Three days worth of trekking in one day. The morning was fine, we made fast progresss, but when we stopped for lunch and finished eating we hung around for some time waiting to move on, only to find that our guides had been drinking in the kitchen when we thought they were eating lunch. It was a birthday celebration, fine, I can understand, I decided to push it aside. That day when we didn’t reach Tengbouche until 3pm I was concerned we’d be arriving in Namche in the dark. But I thought they knew the trail best, if they said it was fine then we would be okay. Somehow between Tengbouche and Namche we all became separated, with the guides hanging in the back and each of us spread out alone somewhere ahead of them. That day, when I was on the brink of exhaustion, after 9 hours of hiking, and it was starting to get dark and foggy, I got a call from one of the guides saying that they could not find one of our group members. That is when I started to go into survival mode. I jogged along the trail trying to catch up to those ahead of me so we could get to the teahouse in Namche and figure out if we needed to mount a search party.
By 6pm when I reached Namche in the dark I’d caught up with one of our group members, and we’d made it to the teahouse with the other deciding what we should do about our missing member. Luckily, an hour and fifteen minutes later he walked in the door of the teahouse and our greatest fears were relived. He was not lost, he was alone and no one else had seen him for several hours. If anything had happened I do not feel like our guides were competent enough to even know what to do in that situation.
With tensions a bit high the next day there was a social confrontation after we’d all been having drinks to celebrate. Instead of having a rational conversation, the guide lashed out at others, became confrontational, and instead of apologizing, sulked like a child when he realized he was in the wrong. And the whole next day proceeded to hike as fast as he could ahead of the group, then act annoyed when he had to wait for us to catch up.
In the airport in Lukla, the weather was abysmal and it looked like we were not going to get a flight out. We were approached by the guide about using our travel insurance to claim sickness and spend the night in the hospital, in order to get an evacuation helicopter to get back down to Kathmandu. We tried to explain the concept of insurance fraud, but it didn’t seem to resonate. Luckily, we got a flight about 6 hours late that day and were able to avoid illegal activity.
Later in Kathmandu, we asked about the girls who’d originally contacted us through trekking partners. Were they still stuck in the village, even after two weeks of no rain? Weird. We cross-checked the IP addressed used to create the profiles with that of the guide from the company, they were one in the same. He had indeed made them up, and several others. He’d clearly done this before and it had worked to obtain clients, until now. Not only did we find out the girls were made up by him, we also discovered it was his first time trekking to EBC and he was actually following the guide I had to pay extra for, which makes me think that was the real reason for the pressure to cancel my days to Gokyo Lake.
I have reported them to both TAAN (http://www.taan.org.np/) and KEEP (http://keepnepal.org/) in Thamel and hope that they can no longer operate on these illegal terms. I was so disappointed in this experience, especially since everyone I’d previously met in Nepal had been so kind and trustworthy. I feel extremely betrayed, like my spirit and my trust have been violated. I am not a vengeful person. I just want to make sure other tourists do not get trapped by this company or other similar scams.
When you are looking for a guiding company, insist on meeting them in person, insist on seeing certifications and qualifications. Check the TAAN website to make sure they are a registered company. Even if the trekking agency displays the TAAN logo (like Mount Face does) it does not mean they are a registered partner unless they are listed on TAAN’s website. All these thing’s I wished I’d done beforehand. For most of the major treks, I really don’t think it is necessary to hire a guide, I did it for safety reasons because I’d never been over 5,000 meters before, if you are an experienced trekker I wouldn’t recommend it, it is just an unnecessary cost and in my case a safety hazard. If you feel the need to hire a guide, DO YOUR RESEARCH!!
After this experience I don’t think I will ever use a guide service in Nepal again (unless I am summitting). Unfortunate for Nepal who depends on tourism for the majority of their income.
I am trying hard to not let this ruin the great experiences I’ve had here and the great people I have met. I still love Nepal, I still love the Himalayas, it is unfortunate that some people feel the need to exploit this magnificent resource and peoples passion for personal gain.