Tragedy on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

by Joslin Fritz
( October 20th, 2014 )

Nepal has been on my mind. I’ve been reading the news reports about the 40 bodies now recovered from the deadly snowstorm that struck this country earlier this week. Nepal is in its’ prime trekking season on the Annapurna circuit, which receives over 100,000 hikers a year. It is one of the most popular treks in the country, and for that matter, the world. The hike, located in the northwest region of Nepal, takes up to three weeks to complete and crosses over a the famous 17,769 ft Thorung La Pass. This area surrounding the pass was the hardest hit of the snowstorm, receiving up to six feet of snow and creating white-out conditions.

Back in 2008 I hiked the Annapurna circuit. I hiked it alone, and met a number of friends along the way. It was one of the most spectacular hikes of my life. I was blown away by the beauty of the Annapurna range, and the experience paved the way for other multi-day hiking trips I’ve done around the world. Looking back on this hike that took me fifteen days, I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t train. I didn’t worry about altitude sickness. Quite honestly, I decided on a whim to do the hike. I patched together gear and clothes for the trip, buying what I could in Kathmandu, and deciding quickly that I didn’t need what I couldn’t find.

I imagine many of those hiking there recently probably packed better than I did, but nothing could have prepared them for what happened. Even now, I have more wilderness and emergency experience than I did back then, but that’s because I’ve chosen a career as a expedition river guide and tour leader. On trips, it is me and my fellow guides that take care of people-we are the ones that are responsible. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, case in point because no one can predict when an accident will occur or when a river will hit flood stage. I struggle to think of what I would do in the shoes of those caught in the storm.

My pain this week is two-fold. For one, my heart goes out to those hikers that died. I remember that tea house before Throng La Pass, how small it was inside and how basic of a structure it really was. I remember the altitude, and huddling around the heater, waiting for it to be late enough so I could go to bed and get the heck out of there in the morning. I can only imagine crammed into that tea house, watching the snow pile up, and terrified at what the options lay before me. My thoughts are with their families and loved ones.

Secondly, I’m deeply troubled by how this natural, unpredictable weather occurrence will affect tourism in Nepal, the largest source of foreign revenue in the country.
There’s been substantial criticism of the Nepalese government and hiking agencies for their lack of warning as to how dangerous the Annapurna circuit is. Nepal suffered another disaster earlier this year where 20 people died as a result of an avalanche on Mount Everest.

I disagree with this criticism. No one can predict massive weather changes, or the smallest chance that the stars will align and terrifying x, y or z will happen. We as adventure travelers make decisions when we sign up for a trek, or a whitewater trip, or a biking tour. Just as we never know when we may get into a traffic accident or get hit by a bus, we may experience a freak storm, a rock fall, or another completely unpredictable occurrence. We choose to put ourselves in the situations. We need to take responsibility that though there is an extremely unlikely chance that something terrible will happen, we have taken that risk.

Granted, there are times where guides are ill-equipped and lack the knowledge of how to properly deal with a situation. This sounds like it happened near Thorung La Pass, where a guide made the incorrect choice to try for the pass, when he should’ve chosen to wait. Or perhaps he was pushed into going by the promise of cash by his clients. Who knows. We certainly aren’t in the place to judge right or wrong when not one of us was there to see for ourselves.

As with many accidents worldwide, I foresee the government taking strong action in building new certification standards for their hiking guides, and emergency weather protocol in teahouses. Well, I hope at least this will happen as a result of this incident.

Adventure On, 

Joslin

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Pretty Faces Film, The Story of a Skier Girl

by Joslin Fritz
( October 7th, 2014 )

Two years ago I wrote a post on She Jumps, an organization whose aim is to increase the participation of females in outdoor activities. There were just starting a program called Get the Girls Out aimed at getting young adult females more involved in outdoor recreation.  I was inspired by these ladies, and wanted to get the word out about their mission and their programs.

Now, the ladies of She Jumps are at it again.

This time, co-founder Lyndsey Dyer paired up with Unicorn Picnic film productions (and a ton of sponsors) to put together a skiing movie for girls. The tagline aptly is, “The Story of a Skier Girl”.

When asked about why she made the movie, Lyndsey says, ““I wanted to give young girls something positive to look up to…I wanted to give them their Blizzard of Ahhs, Ski Movie or High Life, but done in a way that also shows the elegance, grace, community and style that is unique to women in the mountains.”

Click on here to see if the tour is coming your way. Or, better yet, you best get YOURSELF to it.

 

Adventure On, 

Joslin

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It’s All in the Family at Bear Claw Lodge

by Joslin Fritz
( October 2nd, 2014 )

Perhaps his shiny, massive, belt buckle wasn’t the first thing I noticed about Gene Allen, co-owner of Bear Claw Lodge and patriarch of the Allen family. But it definitely caught my eye within the first fifteen minutes of meeting him.

Gene had just picked me up in Smithers, British Columbia, located in Northern Central British Columbia. We had a two hour drive to Bear Claw Lodge ahead of us. During this time, he regaled me with tales of his rodeo days, passing the clicks (kilometers) with stories of bucking broncos and championship competitions, helping me make the connection between him and his gleaming belt buckle. I was totally enthralled. I wasn’t sure where I had landed, thinking it could be the Wild West, but I knew I was going to enjoy myself.

Horseback Riding Bear Claw Lodge

 

Bear Claw Lodge is different than any other place I’ve ever been. Aside from its’ remote location and wilderness beauty, the eight room lodge is an honest-to-goodness family-run getaway. with excellent customer service and cuisine. In the fall, they offer world-class steelhead salmon fishing right in their backyard on the Kispiox river. The head guide, Jim, has guided guided fishing trips all over the world. (Jim also happens to be Gene and Joy’s son.) In the winter they have almost 6,000 miles of a heli-skiers paradise in the Skeena Mountain Range that surrounds the lodge, managed by Skeena Heli-Skiing. I visited during their quieter summer months, where plenty of hustle and bustle still abound, with activities like horseback riding, rafting, and hiking available.

 

Lobby in Bear Claw Lodge

As we pulled up to the lodge in Gene’s truck, I was given a warm welcome by the handful of staff as well as Gene’s wife, Joy. The Allens’ are sixth generation Kispiox Valley residents, and they excel at making you feel right at home from the minute you arrive at their front door.

 

“We treat folks like family here, and we find that people come back year after year because of that. We’re truly a family run operation.” Joy explains to me. Over the next few days I began to understand what she meant.

The following morning I went for a two-hour horseback ride with Joy. As we rode along one of their many trails, through open meadows filled with blooming wildflowers, fiddlehead ferns and aspen groves, Joy shared her stories of growing up riding horses, and the countless people she’s taken on these very trails. Many have never ridden a horse in their life. “Those are my favorite people to take for a ride,” she says,  ”because you can just see them open up, become more comfortable, and really enjoy themselves.”

Bear Claw Lodge Horseback Riding

In the afternoon, I head out to the river with Jim for a lesson in spey casting. Spey casting is a two-handed casting technique used in fly-fishing, and being a novice fly-fisherwoman, I was excited to try it out. As Jim showed me how to cast, we saw Chinook salmon swimming upstream in the crystal clear water, briefly breaking the surface before continuing its’ journey upstream to spawn. After a few tries, I got the hang of the “tai-chi” cast as I began to call it,  as a very slow and precise movement was necessary to properly get the line when I wanted it to go.

 

Spey Casting Fly Fishing Bear Claw Lodge

It was the perfect day. 


 

Not only were the activities fun and the scenery spectacular, but the service, food and accommodations were what truly put Bear Claw Lodge in a class by itself. Kim, a lovely, young woman, gently woke me up in the morning by bringing me my choice of coffee (a latte) in bed to me.


View at Bear Claw Lodge

 

The chef, Heather, followed up my caffeine buzz with eggs benedict, fresh fruit and just-out-of-the-oven muffins.

Gourmet Breakfasat Bear Claw Lodge

Dinner was delicious as well, with fresh greens from the garden, and local chicken from a nearby farm.

Gourmet Dinner Bear Claw Lodge

I left the lodge with a full belly, rested body, and heavy heart. I was sad to say goodbye to my new Kispiox river family, and I was going to miss the beauty of their land that they had shared with me. This lodge and the locale is a little slice of heaven, and the people are what truly make it so special.

You can check out Bear Claw Lodge for yourself here on their website, and also, have a look at their instagram photos!

 

Adventure On, 

Joslin

All photos taken by Joslin Fritz.

 

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