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Mountain Trekkers Discover the 'Real Magic' of Nepal

There are only 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) and nine of them, including Mount Everest, are accessible from Nepal. With so many of the world's highest summits within its borders, Nepal is a magnet for "peak baggers"—climbers who scale mountains simply because they're on a list.

An advantage of trekking through Nepalese villages is getting to know the local people.
(Photograph by Lauri Hafvenstein/

Climbing careers don't usually begin with the objective of bagging peaks. The fever takes hold once they've knocked off a few of the bigger ones, and it can become an obsession.

But what challenges and pleasures lie beyond the trophy peaks?

Recently, 25 participants on a National Geographic Expeditions trek in Nepal shared the trail for 16 days with climber and adventure photojournalist Pat Morrow, who has stood on the highest point on each of the seven continents. They learned from his experience that ascending the highest mountains was not the best way to experience the splendor of Nepal.

Author of Beyond Everest: Quest for the Seven Summits, Morrow first came to Nepal in 1982 as a member of an Everest climbing team.

"I had tunnel vision," he admits. "The only thing on my mind was getting to the summit." But he soon discovered that the real magic of Nepal lies elsewhere.

Nepal's Greatest Resource: People

"The mountains are stupendous," says Morrow, but "Nepal's greatest resource is its people. [They are] among the warmest we've encountered anywhere in the world."

Today, Morrow is much more interested in the journey than in reaching mountain summits. In 1994 he and his wife Baiba, who also accompanied the Expeditions group, embarked on an 80-day trek that began in the Annapurna range. "Climbing an 8,000-meter peak requires long-distance travel up and down, day after day, over the same route in order to acclimatize to the altitude. We wanted to find out what it would be like to start at one point and just keep going."

Shorter, less tiring, and without the problems associated with high altitude, the Expeditions trip, also in the Annapurna region, had much of the appeal of their 1994 trek, according to Baiba Morrow. "We went from village to village, chatting with school kids and using the same trails that the Nepalese people travel on."

Another rewarding aspect of the Expeditions trek was interacting with the staff that supported the group—a cross section of hill tribe people that included Sherpas from the Khumbu/Everest region, Rais from eastern Nepal, and the local Gurungs. They worked tirelessly to make the trip comfortable, sharing their language and culture at the same time.

A Hike to Remember

The trek began in the lowlands near Pokhara (819 meters; 2,686 feet) and crested on the ridge at Ghandruk (1,981 meters; 6,500 feet), a Gurung farming village perched in the shadows of Machhapuchhare (6,993 meters; 22,943 feet) and Annapurna South (7,219 meters; 23,684 feet).

"Every campsite had spectacular views," says Pat. "The trek was well thought out to take advantage of the most scenic camping areas."

"It was interesting to see our group transformed," says Baiba. First they had to adapt to a slippery trail, and then climb thousands of feet of stairs in a single day. "Though they found it quite daunting at first, we showed them how to pace themselves and they ended up feeling really good about what they were doing."

Pat Morrow quotes the adage that "Nepal is here to change you, not for you to change it." He adds that those who were on the trek, even if they never go back, took home positive feelings and an experience that will remain for a long time. And he's convinced that most will be back.

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Summits of the Seven Continents
  • Mount Everest, Asia (8,850 meters; 29,035 feet)
  • Aconcagua, South America (6,960 meters; 22,834 feet)
  • Mount McKinley, North America (6,194 meters; 20,321 feet)
  • Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa (5,963 meters; 19,563 feet)
  • Mount Elbrus, Europe (5,633 meters; 18,481 feet)
  • Carstensz Pyramid, Australasia/Oceania (5,030 meters; 16,502 feet)
  • Vinson Massif, Antarctica (4,897 meters; 16,066 feet)

    National Geographic Expeditions

    National Geographic Expeditions are small group trips organized by the National Geographic Society and available to the public. Accompanied by a National Geographic expert, participants get a unique insiders' perspective to the places they are exploring. The next Trekking in Nepal expedition will be accompanied by National Geographic EXPLORER host Boyd Matson from April 4 to 17, 2001.