Nepal expert reflects on Matt Allpress disappearance

The tragic disappearance of Australian Matt Allpress whilst trekking in Nepal has touched everyone this week as news filtered through that it seems his body and belongings had been found.

It reminds us that adventure travel can be dangerous, however the stunningly beautiful Annapurna region in Nepal is not known as a dangerous place to trek.

Reading about Matt, the pain of what his family and friends must be feeling hits hard, but it was also the image of Matt with the beard and sitting by a lake in Pokhara that reminded me of my own time trekking in Annapurna.

I found myself hoping that Matt’s initial time there brought him happiness.

Nepal hosts more than 800,000 international visitors a year, with more than 100,000 in 2013 trekking or climbing in the mountain kingdom.

We all know about Mt Everest and there is no doubt that the world’s tallest mountain is a big draw, but Everest itself is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the entire Himalayan mountain range that runs across the north of Nepal.

Eight of the tallest 14 mountains in the world lie within this small country and it is in central Nepal where 65 per cent of all trekkers spend their time. It is not Mt Everest that brings them here, it is the Annapurna Region.

It is popular for many reasons, not least of which is the incredible scenery in the area. No less than 16 mountains in the 55km long massif are taller than Mt Kilimanjaro.

As a result, at almost every turn there is another outstanding view of some of the most dangerous mountains to climb on earth.

Annapurna is also very accessible for tourists and trekkers alike.

Driving or flying into Nepal’s second largest city Pokhara, there are excellent treks as short as three days starting very close to town, all the way up to the full Annapurna Circuit that will take anywhere from 17 to 25 days.

There are also numerous treks in between these extremes, with 10-day treks similar to Matt Allpress’s trek proving popular. Another incentive to travel to Annapurna - it is considered a safe place to trek.

With more than 65,000 trekkers through the area annually, the visitors are lifeblood for many of the villages along the well travelled treks and for the local Nepalese that live there.

There are plenty of hotels (tea houses) in the hills and the welcome is always hospitable from both the locals as well as the many other trekkers who are following the same paths and stone staircases as you through these mountains.

Attractions include towns and villages such as Tatopani with its famed hot springs or Ghorepani, the town below Poon Hill that so many people aim for, given it’s amazing dawn views of many of the regions mountains, especially the striking fish-tail mountain Machhapuchhare.

Many trekking companies strongly recommend that no-one should set out on their own for their own safety.

From one aspect, this is understandable - tourism in Nepal employs more than 500,000 people and contributes significantly to the local economy, so all efforts should be made to protect this industry both by reputation of safety, but also in moving customers towards tour operators.

Notwithstanding this, Annapurna is a region considered safe for trekking and so many adventurous types have trekked solo in this area for many years.

The trekking routes, particularly on the lower altitude treks, are well defined and villages are numerous and all have phones.

While Matt Allpress was found off the main track, the Siklis area of trekking is considered a low altitude trek from between 700 meters and 2,200 meters above sea level.

It is not surprising that Matt chose to make this trek by himself, there are some wonderful moments to be had making your way through Annapurna lost in your thoughts, taking in the sites and chatting with all that you meet on your journey.

The Annapurna region is extraordinary and is held special by many people the world over.

The heartbreak that has struck everyone who knows Matt’s story, and the pain we feel for his family and friends will not soon be forgotten and nor will Matt Allpress. 

Hopefully people will not stop visiting Nepal, but perhaps make the journey to understand what drew this young man there in the first place.

Jason Harwood is co-founder of travel agency Journeys by Design and has trekked in Nepal, Mt Kilimanjaro and many other places around the world.

This article Nepal expert reflects on Matt Allpress disappearance was originally published in WA Today.