Trekking in Nepal is on many people’s bucket lists and brings unforgettable memories of mind-blowing scenery, cozy tea-houses, mountain puppies, and a major sense of accomplishment! When deciding to embark on your own trekking adventure, it is important to understand the time of year you are going and the implications this can have for your experience. Nepal has two off seasons: winter (December – February) and summer (June – August). While trekking in the summer is pretty unadvised by most, trekking in Nepal’s winter can be really do-able and can have some amazing benefits. However, like travelling in any off season, there are some cons that are important to consider as well.
I have done two different treks in the winter season so far. The Ghorepani Poonhill trek in the beginning of January and the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek at the end of February. Here is all that I have learned about the pros and cons from those experiences and my overall verdict for whether you should make the trek in off-season or not.
Before diving into it, it is important to note that these pros and cons are definitely influenced by the trek that you are planning to do. I go a bit into detail on the experiences I had specifically with my 2 treks and how these experiences also apply to other treks in Nepal.
Pro’s for Trekking in Nepal’s Winter:
- A Winter Wonderland – At this time of year, the Himalayan mountains become a snowy paradise, adding extra magic to the already stunning landscape
- No Overcrowding – There are wayyyyy less people trekking at this time of year. As a result, your trekking experience is likely to feel more authentic, without hoards of people turning it into more of a tourist attraction. Our guide for ABC told us that during the peak trekking season, Poonhill has on average 400 (!!!) people visit it each day. Considering that pretty much everyone heads to Poonhill for sunrise, this would mean literally hundreds of people gathering at the same time of day. I’ve also been told that all the teahouses along the popular trekking routes can become overfilled, making it necessary to go with a guide to ensure a bed and again adding a sense of overcrowding. On both experiences, I felt I was able to really connect to nature and enjoy visiting Nepal’s mountain villages with the fewer amounts of people.
- Clear Skies – The winter season in Nepal is often known to produce beautiful views of the himalayan mountains, as the sky is bright and clear. After having lived in Nepal for 7 months, I can definitely say that once December hit, I was seeing views of the Himalayas multiple times a week all the way from Kathmandu. This is compared to the maybe 2-3 times I saw them total between September and the end of November.
- Shorter Treks are Still Very Do-Able – For shorter treks, such as the Ghorepani Poonhill trek, there are not really any risks of the weather impeding your ability to complete the trek or not. It is at low enough elevation and there are not any avalanche prone areas along this route.
Con’s for Trekking in Nepal’s Winter:
- The Cold – You’re in for colder nights, that’s for sure… but they are really not that bad. Trekking to Poonhill in January, we experienced temperature lows of – 5 Celsius at night. During the day was never an issue and we often found we were too hot because of all the physical exertion. At night time, the teahouses we stayed at had wood burning furnaces that we could sit around and we came well prepared with sleeping bags that were for temperatures as low as – 10. The tea houses also provide blankets on top of that, so I never experienced any cold-related issues while sleeping. Don’t worry about not owning the right equipment though, because these sleeping bags are super easy to rent from Pokhara or Kathmandu and only cost about $1 / day. As for the ABC trek in February, we only experienced negative temperatures as we got closer to ABC and with the same sleeping bags we were fine. Now, for treks like the popular Everest Base Camp that reaches higher altitudes, the cold definitely becomes more of a consideration, as temperatures can get as low as – 20 at night. So yes, the cold is often a huge deterrent for trekkers coming to Nepal in the winter, but depending on the trek you are choosing to do, it can be pretty manageable.
- Risk of Interruption from Bad Weather – As I mentioned above, this con is not really a problem for the Ghorepani Poonhill trek specifically, aside from the snow just requiring extra equipment such as trekking poles and chains for your boots to create more traction (although we had neither of these and turned out fine). However, this is definitely a huge consideration if you are thinking about doing ABC or other long treks that have high passes or avalanche prone areas. Unfortunately, right before we were meant to make the final 4 hour push to ABC, we were forced to turn back because of heavy snowfall in the mountains that made the risk of avalanche high and the risk of getting stuck at ABC with no way to return back even higher. We had met a group of trekkers that were only a day ahead of us along the trek that had made it up to ABC, so it is definitely still possible in the winter time, but you do have to go into it knowing that if the weather does not cooperate there is a chance your goals will be interrupted.
- Potential for Risk – Similar to what I said above, trekking in the winter in certain areas can mean that the weather creates riskier situations. On the ABC trek, the risk of avalanche can increase if there is heavy snow, despite the highest risk season for this trek being actually in the spring time (especially in March), when the warmer temperatures cause snow melt. A good way to mitigate chances of risk is to do the trek with a guide because they will be able to give you really good advice that can help you avoid these risky situations. Our trek was an example of this, where our guide informed us of the risk of continuing and based on that we made the decision to turn back.
The final verdict: I would 100% recommend trekking the Ghorepani Poonhill trek in the winter time instead of the peak season because the pros heavily outweigh the manageable cons in my opinion. However, for longer or more risky treks, it is super important to understand that the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and could possibly interrupt your trekking plans. These treks require you to weigh these pros and cons based on what is most important to you before deciding to embark in the winter off-season.