When's the best time of year to trek in Nepal?
By David Reed, author of The Rough Guide to Nepal
My standard answer to this question is that there is no best time of
year for everybody. The best time for you will depend on how high you
intend to trek, how you feel about crowds, and your tolerance for cold,
heat and dampness (to name just a few main variables). Each season has
its pros and cons, so read this column through the lens of your own requirements.
Fall (October-November) is normally dry, stable and very clear, with
the most reliable mountain views. (That said, bad weather can strike at
any time of year-a disastrous storm in November 1995 brought up to 9 feet
of snow in the high country and claimed dozens of trekkers' lives.) Temperatures
are moderate, making it a good time for any trek. It can be cold at night
higher up, but not as cold as it gets in winter, and the daytime temperatures
are pleasantly cool for walking. At low elevations it may still be quite
hot during the day, but not as hot as in spring.
However, thanks to the weather, fall is also the most popular season
for trekking. You'll hit long lines at the permit offices (especially
during the big Dasain festival), guides and porters will charge top dollar,
the tourist quarters will be hustley, and all the standard routes-especially
Annapurna and Everest-will be maxed. Don't expect solitude.
Winter (December-January) is for the most part dry and settled, albeit
colder. How cold depends, of course, on elevation. If you want to go to,
say, Everest Base Camp (at about 17,000 feet) you'll have to be prepared
for overnight lows of -10° to -20°F; high passes at this time
of year are icy and will probably require crampons and some technical
experience. But if you're not into winter conditions, just stay lower:
since Nepal is about as far south as central Florida, the lower hills
will still be surprisingly springlike-below about 6,000 feet you won't
even see frost. The trails are relatively quiet in winter, but note that
many teahouses may be closed, especially higher up. The days are shorter,
Temperatures and the snow line rise steadily during spring (February
to about mid-April), while the likelihood of precipitation increases.
The warmer weather brings more trekkers, though not as many as in autumn.
The main factor that keeps the numbers down is a disappointing haze that
creeps up in elevation during this period. By April, you probably won't
get good views until you reach 12,000 feet or so. However, the rhododendrons
are spectacular in April at about 6-8,000 feet.
It gets that much hotter, hazier and unsettled in May and early June.
The warming Asian landmass has begun drawing air up from the south, ushering
in the pre-monsoon-a period of erratic afternoon clouds and occasional
squalls as hot, dry air from India is forced up over the mountains. The
trails and teahouses again begin to empty out. This is a time for going
high, but be prepared for rain, especially in traditionally wet areas
such as Annapurna.
The monsoon proper begins when the warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean
arrives. The rains generally advance from east to west in early to mid-June.
They build to a peak in July and early August, then taper off again until
clear weather returns by early October. Even at the monsoon's height,
however, it doesn't bring continuous torrential rain-torrential, and sometimes
you'll get breaks in the clouds or even patches of blue.
Few foreigners trek during the monsoon because of the rain, mud, leeches,
travel difficulties, and general lack of mountain views. The leeches along
the mid-elevation trails are not for the squeamish! If you want to stay
drier, head for areas in the Himalayan "rain shadow," such as
Mustang or Dolpo-or skip Nepal and hit Ladakh, Tibet, or Pakistan.