Nepal Kangchenjunga to Makalu track notes

Kangchenjunga to Makalu track notes

three treks – Lumbasumba Pass, Lady’s Lake GHT Crossing, and Makalu Base Camp

These notes have been prepared (Dec 2017) following treks in October 2017

Here are track notes for three walks in eastern Nepal, with lots of variations possible. Each can be done individually or added together to make satisfying treks of from 30 - 40 days or more. Between Olangchun Gola and Makalu Base Camp these treks are part of the GHT (Greater Himalaya Trail high route).

Lumbasumba Pass goes from Taplejung, the usual entry point for Kangchenjunga, through Olangchun Gola and Thudam to Chyamtang on the upper Arun River (on map Arun Nadi, ‘nadi’ means river). It would be easy to add in a circuit of Kangchenjunga (south then north) before joining this route. There is limited lodge accommodation so camping is required. An exit can be made down the Arun River to Tumlingtar and then by air to Kathmandu.

Lady’s Lake Crossing
is a name we are trialling for the high level trek from the upper Arun River to the Barun Valley, from Chyamtang or Hongon to Yangri Kharka on the Makalu Base Camp trek. It is a GHT route along the Tibetan border in an uninhabited and sometimes untracked area for 5-6 days. There is limited lodge accommodation in the villages at each end but camping is required in between and the trekking is hard.

Makalu Base Camp is a popular group trek with lodges available throughout. It is here described as climbing up from Yangri Kharka to Makalu Base Camp then back down and out by the standard route to Num and Tumlingtar. Details are given because the glacial flood event in 2017 changed the trail. It is possible to continue from Seduwa to the Everest region over Salpa La in another 6-8 days and exit from Lukla, Phaplu or Jiri.

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These are mostly difficult treks and should be undertaken only by those familiar with trekking in Nepal. There are multiple passes over 4000m and one at 5177m (17,000ft), some with high camps in between. Several parties turned back on the Lady’s Lake Crossing and helicopter evacuations from the Makalu Base Camp trek were common.

Two of these treks require a camping team and permits. Makalu Base Camp can be done as an independent lodge trek. Details are given below.

There are various options to shorten or lengthen the treks; this is what we did or should have done if the weather had permitted and we hope you will enjoy as hugely as we did. We also hope that these free track notes will increase a more independent style of trekking in this region which will increase the flow of money direct to locals. Rather than taking all your food and supplies from Kathmandu, consider living on dalbhat twice a day and buying food and fuel and accommodation where available as you go, taking only selected supplies like breakfast foods and snacks from Kathmandu.

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Introduction

Permits, guides, costs and gear

Maps and books

Access and exit for the treks

Lumbasumba Pass track notes

Lady’s Lake Crossing track notes

Makalu Base Camp track notes

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                                                                     Introduction

An expanding lodge network in the Kangchenjunga region has bought many more trekkers and the Makalu Base Camp trek is now entirely feasible as a lodge trek. But what about in between these two outstanding mountain regions? The map shows a tantalising GHT (Greater Himalaya Trail) route along the Tibetan border linking them but we had difficulty finding detailed reports of treks there.

We were also spurred by unfinished business: New Zealand mountaineer Norman Hardie summited Kangchenjunga in 1955 then took a small team and travelled west through Thudam to the upper Arun River, reporting briefly in his book In Highest Nepal. In 2012, while in Kangchenjunga, we thought about crossing the Nango La (4776m) from Ghunsa to retrace Hardie’s steps but were under-equipped and it was too late in the year.

Part of the fascination was with the remote Thudam and Olangchun Gola villages, the last villages where Walungge and Llomi are spoken, remnant languages from Tibet.  Both villages look more to Tibet than Nepal, Thudam through the Umbak La (5232m) 4hrs distant and Olangchun Gola through the Tiptala Bhanjyang (5095m) which is now accessed by a brand new road from Tibet. The porter cost of bringing rice, lentils, salt and sugar from further south is far more than buying from just across the Tibetan border. Medicinal plants and timber and bamboo for construction are traded north but the transhumant lifestyle in this region is probably disappearing as young people move for education and rarely return.

If you are looking for remote trekking, wilderness and ancient villages little touched by modernism, and are prepared to put up with the high costs and hassles of flights, fuel, permits and food, these treks may hugely repay your efforts.         

                                                            Permits, guides, costs and gear

For Lumbasumba and Lady's Lake you require a permit
with a registered guide and a minimum party of two. Makalu Base Camp can be done as an independent lodge trek, which requires a TIMS card for each member unless you have a permit already for either of the other treks.  Each of the treks also requires the Sangkhuwasava restricted area permit for the region centred on Khandbari, obtained by your agency, at $US10 per person.

Lumbasumba Pass trek requires a Kangchenjunga restricted area permit and conservation entry, obtained by your agency at $US30 per person.

Lady’s Lake Crossing requires a Makalu Barun conservation entry permit, obtained by your agency, at $US35 per person.

Makalu Base Camp trek requires the above Makalu Barun conservation entry permit at $US35 per person plus a TIMS card for each member unless you have a permit for the two other treks in which case these are not required.

So for all three treks taken together the cost is $US75 per person. If you continue to the Khumbu then keep your Makalu Barun permit to show in Bung and there will be more permits to be obtained on arrival in the Khumbu.

Our preference is for a light flexible team using local food where possible (dalbhat twice a day is great) and minimum equipment. For two of us, given the 5-6 days between villages on the Lady’s Lake Crossing, we had a team of six in 2017: a guide, a cook, and four porters. A Tibetan speaker in the party is a great asset. We had a small tent plus a mess tent that doubled as the team tent, and a toilet tent. We had no horses or mules. We carried a satellite phone. There is variable mobile reception using Nepal Sky SIM up the Tamor River and from Thudam to Hongon but not in the Barun Valley or until Kongma Danda on the exit route. If there had been any sunshine, a small solar charger would have provided power for the satellite phone, a compact camera, UV water sterilizer, two headlights, and two Kindles. We took instant coffee, honey, Snicker/Mars bars for over 4000m, some muesli bars, trail mix from Kathmandu and rolled oats and/or muesli (1-3kg). Staple food and kerosene fuel we purchased along the way.

For guides and professional organisation, we very highly recommend Visit Himalaya Treks
www.visithimalayastrek.com run by Himal Tamang This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  whom we have used on seven occasions to complete satisfaction, negotiating daily rates for guide, porters, food and actual costs for necessary travel. Inclusion of a Tibetan speaker may help you to get an insiders’ view of the culture.

We want to record our deep thanks to our team in 2017 of Mingma, Ramesh, Pashuram, Subash, Dawa and Chindu for enjoying this hard long trek as much as we did despite the daily rain and snow. Listening to them singing in harmony was a real treat day after day.          

                                                           Maps and books

We used a Himalayan MapHouse 1:125,000 Lumbasumba Pass map and found it generally accurate. This map covers the three treks described here but if you intend to exit via the Khumbu a further map to the west will be required.  The spelling of place names from these maps have been used in the following track notes but alternate spellings are given.

In Highest Nepal (1957) by Norman Hardie describes his 1955 crossing from Kanchenjunga to the Arun River. He died in Christchurch New Zealand, aged 92, while we were doing these treks
http://www.alpine-club.org.uk/ac2/news/obituaries/397-norman-hardie

Lodges vary, no menu was sighted and showers are (almost) non-existent. You can certainly raise dalbhat, noodles and roti at most places, but coffee is not available and you will need to take your own. There are very few shops and often stocks are limited to noodles, biscuits, toilet paper, tobacco and alcohol. A limited range of batteries is available, take all you need. Bhattis are permanent teashops that usually have some porter accommodation and may be smoky and cramped but do provide food and shelter if needed.

Three complete sets of track notes are given below, for Lumbasumba Pass, for Lady’s Lake Crossing as we have chosen to distinguish it, and Makalu Base Camp. They can be done as separate treks or combined and extended for a fascinating and demanding experience.

Track times given are actual hours walking, with brief rests. The times do not include lunch, for instance, which may add two hours if you are ordering or cooking dalbhat. This can be an issue: your guide and porter expect to eat at 10am or 11am depending on how early you start and often they use this waiting-for-lunch time to wash themselves and clothes. Our solution is to make a rule to walk for at least 3 hrs before stopping, which makes sure some good progress is made and then feel happy about a long lunch.
Lodges we know have * in the notes following. Room rate is given as (Rs300) where known and (db Rs250) gives the dalbhat price, a sort of Big Mac index for Nepal.

Altitudes are from the map, in metres. Height gain/loss per day is cumulative and rough, from a cheap altimeter but may help you know what is coming. Net gain/loss can be derived by looking at the start and finish altitudes each day.

Villages in bold in the following tables are the stages described, but of course you can vary these stages depending on fitness and availability of accommodation.

                                                                     Access and exit for the treks

Eastern Nepal is the wet end of the Himalayas. If the monsoon is slow departing, as it was in 2017, then you can be in for a wet and snowy time. We started walking on 10 October and it rained and/or snowed on 28 out of 31 days, usually in the afternoon. A departure date 2-3 weeks later may be colder but drier. You can expect muggy hot and sometimes rainy conditions at lower elevations.

Taplejung access details can be seen here
https://fedup.com.au/information/nepal/nepal-kangchenjunga-track-notes#access

Tumlingtar could provide access to the Lady’s Lake Crossing on the upper Arun River and is the usual access and exit for the Makalu Base Camp trek. There are daily flights from Kathmandu for $US137. A very long bus ride is also available. The trek to the Khumbu is described in reverse at
https://fedup.com.au/information/nepal/nepal-khumbu-arun-valley-track-notes  

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Recommended routes are:

Lumbasumba Pass as a stand-alone trek, in from Taplejung, out from Tumlingtar, 12 days with no rest days, plus in/out.

Lumbasumba Pass and Lady’s Lake Crossing coming in from Taplejung and exiting down the Makalu Base Camp track, but it would be hard to pass up the extra four days need to visit Makalu Base Camp itself. 20-21 days with 2 rest days, plus in/out.

Lumbasumba Pass, Lady’s Lake Crossing and Makalu Base Camp, coming from Taplejung and flying out or bus from Tumlingtar on the lower Arun River.  This is what the following track notes allow you to do, as we did. 29-30days with 2 rest days, plus in/out.

Lumbasumba Pass, Lady’s Lake Crossing and Makalu Base Camp, then cross Salpa La to the Khumbu which was our original plan but we ran out of days. You can then exit via Lukla, Phaplu or even Jiri. 35-38 days with some rest days, plus in/out.         

These notes could also be used for the standard independent trek  to Makalu Base Camp. 15 days in and out without rest days from Tumlingtar.


                                                            Lumbasumba Pass track notes


Stage

 


Hours:minutes


Lodge
Accommodation?
 

1 Taplejung – Mitlung

3:00

Yes

Mitlung – Sinwa

2:00

Yes

2 Sinwa - Thiwa

1:30

No

Thiwa - Chhiruwa

1:30

Yes

Chhiruwa – Taplethok

1:00

Yes

Taplethok - Lelep

2:20

Yes

3 Lelep - Gowatar

2:00

Yes

Gowatar – Iladanda

1:15

Yes

4 Iladanda – Megawa

3:20

Porter shelter

Megawa – Jongin Kharka

2:00

No

5 Jongin Kharka – Olanchun Gola

2:00

Homestay

6 Olanchun GolaLangmale

3:00

No

7 Langmale Yangetar

2:30

No

8 YangetarPass camp

2:00

No

9 Pass camp – Lumba Pass

2:30

No

Lumba Pass – Sumba Pass

1:00

No

Sumba Pass - Yak Kharka

2:00

No

10 Yak Kharka - Thudam

4:00

Homestay

11 ThudamYak Kharka 3

9:00

No

12 Yak Kharka 3 - Chyamtang

5:00

Yes

Chyamtang - Linggam

0:45

Yes

Linggam - Chepuwa

0:15

Yes


1.   Taplejung – Mitlung 900m↓ 70m↑ 5hrs


The Limbu roadhead town of Taplejung (1820m) is busy and has many hotels for about Rs1000 (db Rs 170). While one can take a jeep onward to Linkhim and maybe even Thiwa, the best price was $US170, about what we had just paid to get from Bhadrapur, so we decided to walk. Exit down a disused road north through cardamom and beeches with a lot of water on the road, dryland and paddy rice, young millet, everything very vivid green in this season. Take shortcuts where available and descend to very hot and humid Mitlung (909m) for pumpkin and choko dalbhat at the Mitlung Guest House on the Tamur River. Continue upstream on the true left, making very hot detours above slips left from the monsoon and on steps over a bluff for 75mins, with arrive in busy Sinwa (Sinuwa, 980m) with the simple friendly *Sinwa Hotel (Rs500, db Rs250) and two other lodges (Tamor Khola, Paudel). A deafening monsoonal downpour without thunder and lightning was welcome and surprisingly there were no mosquitos.

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Looking south down Tamor River in Sinwa (980m)

2.    Sinwa to Lelep 700m↑ 6-6.5hrs

Get away early for some relief from the heat, walking in the shade of beeches over the cardamom plantations. Continue up and down on rockfalls, up and down and wet underfoot (this is Nepal!), climbing high on the true left at times. 35mins after Thiwa the road from Linkhim joins from right, cross and stay high through a pretty small village and climb to a swing bridge. At the south end a steep track heads up to Linkhim and eventually Suketar and Taplejung. Cross and descend eventually to the disused road, climbing major slips and heading for the obvious right hand skyline ridge, at the base of which lies the pretty thatched village set in a huge rockfall of Chhiruwa (Chirwa, ‘corner’ 1246m). Lunch on the shady verandah of the *Tamang Lodge or the competing Hotel Kangchenjunga will be welcome. Continue in easy cardamom plantations with some shade to the police check post at Taplethok (1340m) after 1hr. Cross swing bridge to the true right and keep right and low on an excellent flagstone path which is also the main trail to Kangchenjunga. The map is wrong here – do NOT take the red climbing path left used by locals to reach other villages. Eventually climb 30mins on steps to an isolated farmhouse then steadily through forest. At a junction shortly thereafter take the ascending trail left; the right trail goes to Kangchenjunga.  Lelep (1695m) is the Kangchenjunga Park HQ with the pleasant *Jongdak Hotel (Rs600, db Rs300, 9932 44583) and useful shop in a central plaza. There are Western-style toilets on each floor but no sign on the doors: ask. There is another lodge on the trail towards Olangchun Gola. Enjoyed tutsi karela dalbhat (a type of bitter gourd) with a fiery mollah (radish) achar listening to steady rain.

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Cardamom groves under beech shade trees beside Tamor River

3.    Lelap - Iladanda 355m↑ 3-4hrs

A lazy day for us after too much heat. Pass left of the mani wall above the hotel and traverse through Lelep and along a pleasant belvedere in cardamom groves with startling views of Mt Jannu (7711m, Kumbakarna) to the northeast. After 1hr do not take the bridge to the right which goes to Hellok and Kangchenjunga but continue to Gowatar (Lungda, ‘prayer flag’, 1805m) for lunch, for us an aloo ra iskus (potato and choko) tarkari and bentah achar (tamarillo) served with a local long springy rice of delicious flavour. It is worth reflecting that 500 years ago Nepal and India did not have their staples corn, potato, chili, pumpkin, choko or tamarillo, all of which came from South America. The friendly and clean Gowatar lodge has 4 rooms. After 30mins a waterfall across the track entails much cool merriment, then easy ‘level’ walking in mixed forest and cardamoms to a bridge. Climb on zigzag steps to prayer flags and view of Lelep and the Tamor River below. A few minutes takes you to Ildanda (2051m) and a friendly guesthouse (Rs500, db Rs300). Rained all night.

River and cicada contend
sweating and deaf
in the cardamoms

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Mt Jannu (7711m, Kumbakarna) to the northeast over the Tamor River

4.    Iladanda - Jongin Kharka 550m↑ 5-6hrs

An unusually filling breakfast of fat Tibetan bread cooked first on a griddle (tawar) and then steamed, served with an omelette. Easy mixed forest walking with a bridge to the true left after 1.5hrs and many many leeches, the record being 34 before lunch. Climb now in shade through thick bamboo forest, eventually traversing through even more bamboo and excellent waterfalls. Just before the tin-roofed dharamsala (pilgrim shelter) of Megawa (2435m) look for native honeycombs under cliffs across river. Climb then drop to the Tamor River through thick bamboo then into larches, rhododendron and too many nettles (sisnu). Cross a huge recent rockslip then a second older slip into Selap (Sera, 2535m) with no services, pass ancient sentinel pines on ridge and arrive at Jongin Kharka (Jongin, 2600m) with two ruined wooden huts. Cross bridge to true right for water and camping on the right. There will be many ’kharkas’ from here on – the term simply means any area used for grazing, usually seasonal. This campsite was notable for a delicious sort of orange fruit which the team called aiselu, but it does not resemble the aiselu or hisalu Rubus ellipticus, commonly known as golden Himalayan raspberry or as yellow Himalayan raspberry. A mystery. Heavy rain again in the afternoon and evening, many birds calling and finally a moonlit night.

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A favourite Nepali fruit, aiselu, resembling a raspberry

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Crossing Tamor River to arrive in Jongin Kharka camp, looking north

5.    Jongin Kharka – Olangchun Gola 600m↑ 2hrs

A planned short day to arrive in time to wash and dry clothes. 30mins to a bridge to true left at Ramite (2485m), shortly after which the track joins from Nango La (4776m) and Ghunsa. For those who may have trekked Kangchenjunga first, this is a shortcut from Ghunsa to Olangchun Gola which takes about 3 days.  Continue past huge waterfalls, beech, larch not yet turning, rhododendrons with a coppery underside to their leaves, and a native kiwifruit vine (‘kimi’, Actinidium sp). Some dwarf rhododendrons had pale yellow flowers despite the season. A final steep climb to a pass with flags then views of the 470 year old gompa above the village. A level path and final climb reveals the stunning old wooden village of Olangchun Gola (3208m, Olanchung Gola, Walungchung Khola) on a sheltered shelf beneath the gompa, shivering with prayer flags. We took a comfortable homestay room in the first house on the right, White Yak Yalung Guesthouse, and ate in the large traditional Tibetan kitchen (Norbu Sherpa +977 994240026, Rs700) where our team cooked for us. There is an excellent camping site.

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Olangchun Gola (3208m) with the 470 year old Deki Chholing Gumba above, looking north

A 20km vehicle road arrived in September 2017 from Tibet to Olangchun Gola and will transform this previously isolated village of 250 people. It comes from a Tibetan town (30km north of the border with 30,000 people?) down the Tamor Khola (khola means stream) from the Tiptala Bhanjyang (5095m). There have been Chinese visitors from Tibet in vehicles without the benefit of passport or other controls while yaks are used by local traders. Trade north is mostly construction bamboo and timber, livestock, Tibetan traditional medicines and, during the monsoon, yarsagumba, which is a very expensive fungus-infested (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) caterpillar found above 5000m and much valued by Chinese as an aphrodisiac. Food and alcohol flow south and locals regularly shop over the border.

There is plenty to explore while washing dries, or while it rains. The large houses are traditional and colourful with adze-cut shingle roofs, in fact well adapted to the climate. Yak trains carrying bundles of medicinal plants were being loaded for Tibet. The 470 year old Deki Chholing Gumba is the fourth oldest in Nepal (after Thangboche, Shey and Lo Manthang) and is in very original condition, without the repainting that has marred others. Ask in the central village for the lama to open the gompa and donate generously, certainly no less than Rs500 per person. One feature is a magic mushroom discovered in the forest with Aum Mane Padme Hum upon it which was reputed to kill all who looked upon it until it was tamed by a lama and installed on the altar. The gompa had the largest library we have seen and a sense of age, integrity and place in the community which was moving. No photography is permitted inside. Light a butter lamp. There are 7-9 monks associated with the gompa.

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470 year old Deki Chholing Gumba is the fourth oldest in Nepal

We were told that red pandas are often seen lower down “asleep in the midday sun” but we saw none. Similarly there are reports of snow leopards and Tibetan wolves, the latter regarded as dangerous for yaks. The population is declining as those rich enough or too old for the hard life leave for southern places or overseas. The village of Gupha Pokhari between Tumlingtar and Taplejung is a summer place for many from Olangchun Gola (see track notes between these towns at
https://fedup.com.au/information/nepal/nepal-kangchenjunga-track-notes#access ).

6.   
Olangchun Gola – Langmale 685m↑  3hrs

We spent the morning in the gompa and village then set off after lunch on the muddy new road northwest, dodging yaks. After 2hrs take the cantilever bridge left as the road swings north to Tibet beside the Tamor Khola. For us it was lovely walking in mist and light rain beside the clear Dingsamba Khola through subalpine long-leafed rhododendron, autumn-tinted barberry with spruce and pines and glimpses above of sharp misty crags coming and going until it suddenly became cold and snowy. Camped swiftly at the clearing of Langmale (3893m). Heavy rain all night, snow on the tops by morning.

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Fresh snow by morning, looking west up the Dingsamba Khola. The Lumbasumba route lies to the right

7.    Langmale - Yangetar 300m↑2.5hrs

Note that for safe acclimatisation the daily altitude gain is 300m per day above 4000m. Watch for signs of altitude sickness and be prepared to rest or retreat if they emerge, particularly if you have respiratory or gut issues. Consider using Diamox and remember that there are no clinics or easy communications in case of trouble.

We split the next day in two to ensure acclimatisation but those who know they acclimatise easily or who have already acclimatised in the Kangchenjunga region can save a day. A very muddy and slow rocky track through more varieties of dwarf rhododendrons than we had ever seen, some flowering in white, purple and yellow despite the season. Glimpses of sun bought out the very strong honey cinnamon smell characteristic of some dwarf rhododendron varieties. Keep on the true left. The downward migration of dzopkyos for winter created a quagmire and at times a bato khola (track creek).  After 45mins look carefully for a turn left over the Dingsamba Khola on a stone ‘bridge’, as though going up the valley on the left, but turn right about 30mins thereafter and ignore tracks up the left valley. Keep on the true right despite the map and despite old signs on the true left that point to Lumbasumba Pass or you will end in a mossy boulder field. Slow going in mud and sub-alpine rhododendron scrub with a few junipers. We passed a yak camp after 2hrs where a young couple made us smoky Tibetan tea while their kid played computer games. Only another 20-30mins to the Yangetar (4200m) campsite which we reached in snow flurries.

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Tents at Yangetar (4200m) just visible to northwest with Dingsamba Khola on right

8.    Yangetar – Pass camp 500m↑ 2hrs

Despite heavy rain through the night, sunshine in the morning gave us a chance to dry some clothes.  Climb about 100m to get the heart going and after a while cross a long alpine flat with meandering river, keeping right after crossing the river, heading for the obvious bluff, the top of which is reached in about 1hr. Some people camp on this flat and cross the Lumbasumba in one day. We had never seen so many gentian violets nor been so enveloped in the honey smell of dwarf rhododendrons. The strange tall plants, pale green or brown if frosted, are used in Tibetan medicine for coughs and chest infections. Drop off the bluff to the sheltered Pass camp (4700m) under a large cliff. After lunch we did a brisk reconnaissance of the onward snow-covered path to find a suitable creek crossing before retreating in rain turning to snow to read away the afternoon. A large-eared Himalayan pika was very active in the rocks up in the snow. These are tailless mammals related to rabbits.

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Climbing to Pass Camp (4700m), which is above bluff at end of valley. Lumbasumba pass lies to the left

9.    Pass Camp – Yak Kharka 600m↑ 580m↓ 5.5hrs

Today is the pass day, so an early start is recommended. In Tibetan, Lumbasumba means ‘three sheep’ or maybe it is Lumbo Sumba ‘new place’. In fact (although not shown on the map) there are two passes, the first sometimes called Lumba Pass and the second, nearly 2km traverse away, Sumba Pass.

For us, there was heavy mist and snow in the morning, despite some clear skies overnight. We waited until there was a pocket handkerchief of blue and decided to go despite very dark clouds down valley and a lack of visibility. Cross the upper Dingsamba Khola fairly early then climb to the top of the moraine wall to left, follow a path up the moraine wall then drop left and zig-zag up the valley side. Keep right and follow another ridge and broad gully with some scattered cairns to a first ‘pass’ with chorten after about 1.5hrs. A lake was glimpsed below left and the track passes another. Obviously all this would be easier without snow covering the rockfalls and possible track or if it wasn’t snowing. Keep up the broad valley heading a bit right and reach the Lumba Pass (5100m) in another 1hr.

Raj’s track notes report “the views are breathtaking, extending eastwards to Kangchenjunga and Jannu Himalaya range and westwards to Makalu” but we saw only falling snow.

Traverse right from the pass without losing height, crossing a boulder field then climbing somewhat across a bluff with some exposure before dropping down a ridge to the left and climbing to the right finally, after about 2km, to Sumba Pass (5177m).

Drop to a small lake then work your way down valley on a ridge, decaying at times, through a series of small kharkas with a few cairns, not all on the path. There is a large lake below left which is not visited. The map notes there is no water on this side but maybe that is seasonal as we found streams and lakes. In time, for us, the breakable crust and snow was replaced with mud and mist, glimpses of goths (a stone base and end wall over which a tarpaulin is pitched for shelter in the monsoon grazing season) and gratefully among the misty boulders our tent with the stove going in Yak Kharka (4600m) complete with a lone yak. We shared the campsite with one other couple who arrived late. A great day in the mountains.

Although not named as Lumbasumba, it is clear from the descriptions in Norman Hardie’s book that he made the first European crossing of these passes in 1955.

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Descending from Sumba La (5177m), the path lies on the ridge to the right of the large lake below

10.  Yak Kharka – Thudam 1025m↓ 4hrs

We found this an exceptionally beautiful day despite low expectations, maybe it was the swirling mist over the jagged rock peaks at the head of the valley, or the triangle of valley below suddenly filled with dazzling running mist. Weave backwards and forwards across the meandering Lapsi Khola on stepping stones but end up on the true right in rocky alpine country, descending into sub-alpine rhododendron scrub with purple primulas and buttercups. Yaks and dzopkyos had descended for winter so the track was very muddy.  Pass a series of small kharkas just closing for winter, the last being Miduxcchre (4000m) just beyond which a path heads north east for Umbak La (5232m) and Tibet.  Enjoy the autumn colours and enter true forest into a narrower rocky valley, with old man’s beard, waterfalls, and pines, like a giant botanical garden with mist coming and going. After 3hrs glimpse a green flat below with cantilever bridges, descend and find Thudam (3571m) tucked away to the right with about 20 houses. While they looked poor and decrepit from the outside, within they were dark, homely and clean. There is a school and a gompa but no current mobile reception. We camped in a grassy meadow across the Lapsi Khola and watched yak trains coming down for the winter. A person had died the night before and someone had to go to Chyamtang to get a lama and come back the same day – think of that when you walk tomorrow and think of doing it twice! Rain overnight again.

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Descending from Yak Kharka (4600m) towards Thudam (3571m)

11.  Thudam – Yak Kharka 3 1400m↓ 700m↑ 9hrs

Our first sight of Mt Makalu (8468m) this trek before the mist rolled in. A long difficult day so start early or split into two. We were warned that there was a lot of up and down but that was the easy bit. Perhaps because of the unusually wet season the track was so overgrown you could never see what your foot might land on: mud, loose rocks, slippery wood, rock, air, so it might be faster in a drier season. Leeches abounded.

Remain on true right out of camp, the Lapsi Khola growing in size among the beech, birch, spruce, dwarf and larger rhododendrons in lovely untouched mixed forest. Lower down are Himalayan oaks and yellow sycamores, holly and wild raspberry, the river being a feature of this easy walking. After 2-2.5hrs, some people choose to camp rather than start on the extended steep section coming, which would be a good idea if the party is slow. Climb steeply to a ridge in 20mins through bamboo and traverse deeply into a gully with the last water for several hours. Climb to the visible ridge and descend, repeat many times for 1.5hrs, the bluffs bigger and wilder all the time and the river whispering below. This is a masterpiece of track engineering where the fringe of bamboo provides an illusion of safety but a misstep could be fatal. Fire destroyed many trees in the area years ago. Arrive at the top after another 1hr to prayer flags and a chautara, with views into the Arun valley and across the Modek Chheju Khola into impossibly inaccessible country. There is water in another 30mins.

We afterwards met two parties who became lost in the section beyond this point, ending up too high using ropes, so be careful with route finding. Continue in and out of side valleys in bamboo tunnels full of mist, mud and leeches for us, and over endless ridges for another 4hrs. You may glimpse (yet another) Yak Kharka as shown on the map, but it takes a long time to reach it. We found no water near here so continued for 1.5hrs to a third kharka with water, a jungly camp which we called Yak Kharka 3 (2900m).

It is interesting that Norman Hardie in 1955 did not follow the route given above, but climbed above Thudam to a pass at about 4000m that took him down the Piling Khola (Pila Khola) on good tracks through Ridak (Ritak) to the Arun River and thence to Chepuwa (Chepua) in two days.

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The masterpiece of track engineering through bluffs between Thudam and Yak Kharka 3

12.  Yak Kharka 3 - Chepuwa 1050m↓ 300m↑ 6hrs

Rained all night. 30mins easy climb takes you to a pass after which it is all downhill for 2.5hrs to the Arun River through muddy bamboo, sycamore, beech, oak and some huge larches, mostly in shade and with water available. Heard a barking deer in the forest but in general there is a lack of wildlife through the Lumbasumba route. A glimpse finally of the Arun River way below with Chyamtang above left and the isolated village of Ridak high to the right toward Tibet. Cross the river and climb steadily to Chyamtang (2229m) in about 1hr to the Chyamtang Hotel (which has a separate camping area above the village) and 30mins up through the large village of over 100 houses to a second hotel. The villages along this side of the valley are on rich well-watered soil and grow mainly rice and millet. Interestingly, although ethnically mostly Bhote, nearly half have converted to Christianity following efforts from Austrian groups who have run medical clinics here over a long period of time. We enjoyed dalbhat with pumpkin and green beans, a change from potatoes and cabbage of the past week. A track north from here goes to the Nepali border village of Kimathangka, important in local trade with Tibet. Walk on south over the gentle ridge to Linggam (2250m) with two hotels in about 1hr, then down to Chepuwa (2040m) in 20mins. This village had about 120 houses, a hotel somewhere (we didn’t sight it) and a hydroelectric generator that powers streetlights! We stayed with Mingma’s mother on his first visit home in 5 years and really enjoyed dalbhat of aloo, saag, simi, tutsi karela and iskus (potato, spinach, green bean, bitter gourd and choko). Steamed soybeans were also served.

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First view of the Arun River, looking south. Makalu is not seen over our guide Mingma’s right shoulder


EXIT ROUTE

You can exit the area in 2-4 days trekking from here:

Chepuwa - Hatiya (1585m) 5-6hrs
Hatiya – Gola (1128m) 5-6hrs (some have found a jeep from here to Num and/or Tumlingtar)
Gola – Hedanga Gadhi (1179m) 5-6hrs
Hedanga Gadhi – Num (1572m) 3-4hrs and drive to Tumlingtar 4-5hrs (450m)


                                                                     Lady’s Lake Crossing track notes


Stage
 


Hours:minutes


Lodge
Accommodation?
 

1 Chepuwa – Hongon

4:00

Yes

2 Hongon REST DAY

REST

 

3 Hongon – Bakim Kharka

3:30

No

4 Bakim Kharka – Molum Pokhari

2:30

No

Molum Pokhari - Tin Pokhari

2:00

No

5 Tin Pokhari – Saldim Kharka

4:30

No

Saldim Kharka - Cave Camp (Nava Odar)

3:30

No

6 Cave Camp (Nava Odar) – Bluff Camp

4:30

No

Bluff Camp - Kalo Pokhari

1:15

No

7 Kalo Pokhari - Kharka

   

Kharka – Yangri Kharka

8:30

Yes

8 Yangri Kharka REST DAY

REST

 


We are trialling the name of Lady’s Lake Crossing for this high level GHT trek from the Arun to Barun valleys along the Tibetan border. Lady’s Lake is the translation from Tibetan of Molum Pokhari, the absolute highlight of this section on the third day of walking.

This is an uninhabited and sometimes untracked area for 5-6 days and the trekking is some of the most difficult we have encountered in 21 treks in Nepal. An alternative is to descend from Chepuwa down the Arun River through Hatiya to Barun Dovan (1100m) and thence up the Barun River (Barun Nadi on map). This is hot, has no accommodation until Nehe Kharka, and is made more difficult by track damage caused by the 2017 glacial flood event that dammed the Arun River at Barun Dovan for 24hrs (see box under Makalu Base Camp track notes for more information). An estimate of the time required, based on one very fit trekker whom we met, is 5 days from Chepuwa to Yangri Kharka. Note that the map shows the track as on the true left of the Barun River, but this is probably wrong as it was on the true right when we passed the intersection under Mumbuk and there are no bridges remaining downstream due to the flood – take advice in Barun Dovan!

In these Lady’s Lake Crossing track notes, we recommend adding an extra day to the 5-day isolated traverse from Hongon to Yangri Kharka given the high degree of difficulty, so alternative stages are given in the track notes below. Of five parties we know about who intended this traverse in 2017, three turned back and the other party took 6 days and were lost despite an expensive local guide.

There is an overview photo of the Crossing in Day 5 of the Makalu Base Camp trek.

You can access Hongon in 4 days from Tumlingtar using the exit notes above for Lumbasumba.

1.  Chepuwa – Hongon
510m↑ 200m↓ 4hrs

Climb gently westwards to a cool shelter and chortens then a long gentle in and out traverse on a good track with views of the Arun River, the Bhote village of Hatiya (1585m) and Mt Makalu if the weather is clear. Plenty of water is available against the heat. After 3hrs descend to a bridge then climb about 1hr to Hongon with a big school. We camped on a terrace in a private and quiet cornfield with views over the extensive millet fields.

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Track between Chepuwa and Hongon (2373m) looking northwest

2.  Hongon REST DAY

As this was the first day on which it didn’t rain and/or snow, we rested and washed clothes. Again, this is a rich village and now mostly Christian despite Tibetan heritage. Although it looks as though there is a road above the village, it seems that a grader was helicoptered in to prepare about 2km of road that goes nowhere following a 2015 promise by the Nepali Prime Minister at the time to have road from Biratnagar in the terai to to the Nepali-Tibetan border village Kimathangka by 2017. A track from the north end does go in 5hrs to Kimathangka (2476m, population 300), paired with the larger Tibetan town of Chentang across the border, joining the trail from Chyamtang. The villages in this region are reliant on Tibet for many food items. A blissful, quiet and necessary day, highlighted with a primus-cooked pumpkin pie from Ramesh. Note again that only Sky SIM cards work in this valley, none others.

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View east from Hongon (2323m) over the Arun River, looking up the valley to Lumbasumba Pass on the skyline

3.  Hongon – Bakim Kharka 1100m↑ 100m↓ 3.5hrs

Head straight up the hill behind the school for a line of chortens on the skyline, hence to a small pass and large chorten in the trees beyond. Good views down the Arun valley and back up Thudam’s valley to Lumbasumba somewhere on the jagged skyline. Drop a little and take the left track at a junction after 20mins; the right goes to yet another yak kharka. There is a steady climb in ancient pines, beech and huge-leaved rhododendrons on the true left of the gin-clear stream. One rhododendron was in full red flower. Pass a stone goth, climb more steeply, cross an open creek and up to a small balcony Barkim Kharka (3020m) also with a goth, a stone base and end wall over which a tarpaulin is pitched in the grazing season. ‘Barkim’ means a specific sort of bamboo in Tibetan. Be careful as the grazing cows like sugar with their grass and will take it off your tray.

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Barkim Kharka (3020m) with route to Molum Pokhari (Lady’s Lake) over the ridge in sunshine above the tent

4.  Bakim Kharka – Tin Pokhari 1150m↑ 400m↓ 4.5hrs

45mins steady climb up the ridge above the kharka to the tree line, then another 40mins keeping right to prayer flags at about 3700m, level with the top of a large waterfall to the left. Continue up through the rocks on hidden steps, zig-zagging and crossing slabs where the trail is not visible, cross a small grassy flat and take a rocky gully left up to a line of chortens. People have lost the trail here and turned back. The hidden gem of Molum Pokhari (3954m, ‘Lady’s Lake’) is large and deep and in a spectacular setting with the Tibetan border less than 3km north. Up to 100 people from local villages camp here in the June and July yarsagumba season and wander across the border to sell their caterpillars to Tibetan middlemen for about Rs400 ($US4) each. A searcher might find 5-8 yarsagumba a day if lucky. There are many more hidden lakes towards the border.

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Molum Pokhari (3954m, ‘Lady’s Lake’) with the Tibetan border less than 3km away behind. The route is up the valley left under the bluffs at the end of the lake

Circle behind Lady’s Lake into the basin to the left then climb the slope to the left of the jauntily named Mt Chhurpi, circling to the left of the peak. Actually, ‘chhurpi’ is a Tibetan delicacy of dried yak’s cheese, often offered as a gift on parting and sometimes rather rancid. Again, the path is not obvious and people have got lost here. If you are lucky, as we were for a few minutes, the entire Kanchenjunga range is visible to the east, a huge other world above the surrounding foothills. Climb to the left of the peak to the small beflagged Chhurpi La (4200m), traverse to the right ahead to a second pass with great views of lakes below and Mt Makalu if you are lucky. Keep left past a helipad until you sight the left hand lake which has a goth and descend rather than heading down the wet central valley towards the largest lake. Again, the path is often not clear. Cross the flat grazing land and camp at a small tarn Tin Pokhari (4100m, ‘three lakes’). The map is wrong: local team members Mingma Bhote from Chepuwa and Dawa Bhote from Hongon were clear that this is called Wangaba Kharka and that Tin Pokhari is kilometres away towards the Tibetan border. A very lovely atmosphere with yellow pasture, glowering lakes and a glimpse of Mt Makalu (8468m) and satellites in the sunset when the afternoon mist relented.

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Tin Pokhari (4100m) with a glimpse of Mt Makalu (8468m) to the right in cloud

5.  Tin Pokhari – Cave Camp (Nava Odar) 1200m↓ 550m↑ 8hrs

A rare solid frost overnight so another glimpse of massive Mt Makalu before the clouds rolled in. Drop without a clear trail over the pastures below the campsite, heading generally right and down into a rocky gully, on the true left of which is some path. A rude bridge takes you to the true right of Dhungge Khola (‘boulder creek’) and onto Dhungge Kharka (3590m) although Mingma is certain that this is actually Khola Kharka and that Dhungge Kharka is kilometres upstream. Follow a series of open meadows into thick rhododendron and bamboo forest and descend steadily for about 2.5hrs, at which point the track turns quite sharply right. The map shows a track and bridge below over Saldim Khola but no trace was found, as we had been told by people in Hongon. Instead, turn right on the good track and traverse, eventually climbing steeply and dropping after about 1hr into Saldim Kharka (3100m), a magnificent cirque with waterfalls booming out of the mist, two huts and a bridge to the true right of Saldim Khola. This location is recommended as the campsite for the day rather than pushing on to Cave Camp, giving a day of 1000m↓200m↑  4.5hrs, if taking the 6-day option.

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The cirque of Saldim Kharka looking west; the route lies across the creek and down left

It is slow going down the true right of Saldim Khola in thick rhododendrons, after about 2hrs passing a crude bridge left that goes to Hatiya. 30mins later reach the side valley that contains Cave Camp, cross on an even cruder bridge, wade through deep mud, struggle up through untracked scrub with some forlorn lichen-covered cairns. Eventually climb an open and steep boulder gully towards a huge cliff on the left, under which is Cave Camp (3155m). Locals call it Nava Odar (‘odar’ cave), after a Tibetan who died here but it is not so much a cave as a dry shelter where one or two small tents can be pitched and where toileting is hard to find. This leg takes is about 3.5hrs, 200m↓350m↑.

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Cave Camp (3155m, Nava Odar) has space for two small tents

6.  Cave Camp (Nava Odar) – Kalo Pokhari 1100m↑ 200m↓ 5.5-6hrs

Some earlier trekker had discarded three broken pieces of a trekking pole to provide evidence that the track really did continue up the true left of the steep and loose boulder-choked gully. Cross above a waterfall to the true right and find the scratch of a trail through the supine rhododendrons. Eventually you can get your heels down as the angle relents, pushing through thick rhododendrons and bamboo.  After about 1.5hrs climb left again over slabs and leave water behind, coming into ringing silence with the strong smell of honey among the clouds, everything for us wet and very slippery. There is water again after 2.5hrs of circling on largely trackless snowgrass and lichen-covered boulders under steep bluffs, mysterious in the rolling clouds, and a little later a flat area where we erected the mess tent for lunch in view of the heavy rain. This would be a suitable place for a spectacular camp at about 4100m, for a leg of 4.5hrs 1000m↑if taking the 6 –day option.

2017Makalu22

The top of the boulder gully beyond Cave Camp (3155m); the route is across the top of the waterfall left then circle left in steep supine rhododendrons


Continue in the same manner for 1-1.5hrs to Kalo Pokhari (4192m, ‘black lake’), like the dead marshes from Lord of the Rings with huge boulders in the mist and wandering black peat streams feeding the small lake. We all arrived very wet in sleet and sago snow and were very glad to climb into our tents. Snow, rain and sleet all night. This area has never been a trade route and appears to becoming unused for grazing, so only medicine collectors visit, leaving few traces.

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From the photos elsewhere here you might think the trek was done in sunshine, but nearly every late morning the clouds rolled in, as here traversing to Kalo Pokhari (4192m), later settling to rain or snow depending on the altitude. This is the wet end of Nepal in a late monsoon

7.  Kalo Pokhari – Yangri Kharka 1200m↓ 500m↑8.5hrs

Cold night and away in light snow with very limited visibility so we were impressed by our guide Mingma finding an unerring route traversing up across moss-covered rock tumbles and barely tracked snowgrass. Pass one abandoned goth after 20mins and climb to a major chorten where the path either dropped very steeply down a horrendous chute of large snow-covered boulders, or took a level mud track heading right. The correct choice is the chute and we think some parties might become lost here. Descend carefully, into the mist in our case, to find that it takes only 20mins to the bottom, then traverse right over more slippery boulders, cross the creek and climb left to a clear notch with flags (4300m) in 2hrs from camp. Good views of the forested or cloud-filled Barun Valley below and maybe up to Mt Makalu. Descend slowly through more boulders and rhododendron to the area marked Kharka (4097m) on the map, passing a boulder-fringed lake called Chomoling. This is a recommended camping place called Khorlungay Kharka by locals, for a leg of 3.5hrs, 300m↑ 400m↓ 8.5hrs

Although the route ahead looks difficult, if you cross the creek to the true right and stay up a bit in the kharka there is a straightforward track through the rhododendrons to the lip of the valley, then down into hushed ancient forest of spruce, soft underfoot. Continue down, muddier and wetter in places, and reach the Barun River in about 2hrs. Follow cow trails up river until a clearer trail emerges across slips and eventually Nehe Kharka, with a lodge, is visible across the flood-damaged river (see box under Makalu Base Camp track notes for more information). The new bridge is hidden behind large boulders a few hundred metres upstream if required. You can exit to Tumlingtar in 5 days without climbing to Makalu Base Camp by crossing to Nehe Kharka for the night then following track notes in the following section. For Yangri Kharka, continue on the true left of the Barun River and on a grazing flat look for a blue arrow and sign on a boulder pointing right to Yangri Kharka (3557m, Yangle Kharka, Yangla Kharka). The old track beyond was washed away in the flood. This leg is about 4.5hrs 800m↓ 200m↑.

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Descending the chute (4200m) beyond Kalo Pokhari. The route lies to the right much further down

8.  Yangri Kharka REST DAY

The modern corrugated iron lodge with 8 rather dark rooms (Rs900 per night, simple meals available) has been built since the 2017 flood. After the crossing it will feel like the height of civilisation, complete with a ‘hot’ shower, bedrooms and a dining room but not yet heating in the dining room unlike the higher destinations. Many camping groups choose to stay in rooms here, making it difficult for trekkers who are relying on finding rooms. It can be very crowded with 50-60 people one night, or empty with only us another night. The flood damage (see box under Makalu Base Camp track notes for more information) is obvious by the gaps where houses stood, an old gompa was lost and there has been a significant loss of valuable grazing land from this largest flat area in the Barun Valley. We tried to dry clothes as it rained, and the social contact and rest was valuable after the hard crossing.

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Looking up-valley from new lodge at Yangri Kharka (3557m) with glacial flood damage obvious. The new gompa is the blue building left that just withstood the flood


Here is the recommended alternative Lady’s Lake Crossing taking 6 days:

 
Stage
 

 
Hours:minutes

 
Height gain/loss
 

1 Chepuwa – Hongon

4:00

510m↑ 200m↓

2 Hongon REST DAY

REST

 

3 Hongon – Bakim Kharka

3:30

1100m↑ 100m↓

4 Bakim Kharka – Molum Pokhari

2:30

900m↑ 300m↓

Molum Pokhari - Tin Pokhari

2:00

250m↑ 100m↓

5 Tin Pokhari Saldim Kharka

4:30

1000m↓200m↑ 

6 Saldim Kharka - Cave Camp (Nava Odar)

3:30

200m↓350m↑

Cave Camp (Nava Odar) – Bluff Camp

4:30

1000m↑

7 Bluff Camp - Kalo Pokhari

1:15

100m↑

Kalo Pokhari – Khorlungay Kharka

3:30

300m↑ 400m↓

8 Khorlungay KharkaYangri Kharka

4:30

800m↓ 200m↑.

9 Yangri Kharka REST DAY

REST

 


         
                                                          Makalu Base Camp track notes

 

Stage
 

 

Hours:minutes

 

Lodge
Accommodation?
 

1 Yangri Kharka Langmale Kharka

4:00

Yes

2 Langmale Kharka – Makalu Base Camp

3:45

Yes

3 Makalu Base Camp - Langmale

3:30

Yes

4 Langmale – Yangri Kharka

3:45

Yes

5 Yangri Kharka - Dobato

5:00

Yes

6 Dobato – Kongma Danda

5:00

Yes

7 Kongma Danda - Tashigaon

4:15

Yes 

8 Tashigaon Lumlum Ma

5:00

No

9 Lumlum Ma - Num (Tumlingtar)

2:30

Yes


Brief track notes are given for this popular trek because the glacial flood event in 2017 (see box below) changed some details. We were surprised by how few trekkers noticed the signs of disaster or understood what had happened.

About half the trekkers we met on this section were in organised groups and about half were independent trekkers. Sometimes the organised groups chose not to use their tents and occupied all available beds in lodges, so think ahead if there are large groups.


Glacial outburst flood on Barun River 2017

On 20 April 2017 about 1pm a large rockfall or avalanche into Seto Pokhari (‘White lake’) to the north but just downstream of Langmale Kharka triggered a massive glacial outburst flood down the length of the Barun River, briefly blocking the flow of the huge Arun River 3hrs later.

Eyewitness accounts referred to the leading edge of the outburst flood as a “30 foot wall of tree trunks” and locals mention a great tearing roar, lots of dust and strong wind as the surge passed through.

Amazingly, no-one was killed. Two houses, two lodges and the old gompa were destroyed in Yangri Kharka, the family in Langmale lost 35-40 yaks/dzos, and climbers and trekkers were trapped while a new trail was forced and a new bridge built one hour below Yangri Kharka at Nehe Kharka. This is currently the only bridge on the upper Barun other than at Makalu Base Camp.

The entire Barun valley bears scars in the form of scattered house-size boulders, exposed bedrock, deep new river channels, erosion and subsequent slips, dead and dying trees and compacted mud terraces.

It is interesting that the cause was an obscure side basin not on any watch list. This is not the far larger Seto Pokhari just above the Makalu Basecamp complex of lodges. There is evidence of past such events in the Barun Valley.

http://glacierhub.org/2017/05/17/a-visit-to-the-source-of-a-recent-glacier-flood-in-nepal/
http://www.subhimalayan.com/?p=437


1.  Yangri Kharka Langmale Kharka 850m↑ 4hrs

An easy and lovely walk in rhododendron, spruce and pine forest. The glacial flood debris is very firm, set like concrete, so relatively easy to walk over but many trees above Yangri Kharka have been abraded or partly buried and will die in time. The track is clear enough, past the new gompa across the flat then keeping to the true left and climbing into alpine pastures with juniper, dwarf rhododendrons and some yaks. It was a pleasure to walk in sunshine among sheer walls and waterfalls with sharp peaks revealed above one by one. Langmale Kharka (4410m) lodge has two new rooms and some older ones in a separate building, plus a heated dining room and simple meals. The location with views over the cloud-filled lip of the valley below and Peak 7 (6758m) above is marvellous, if lost in cloud after midday. The owner Pemba Sherpa owns 150 yaks but lost 35-40 of them in the flood (at about $US1000 each!).

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Looking west, the 2017 glacial flood emerged into the Barun valley from the right and sloshed up both sides of the valley depositing mud and boulders. Langmale Kharka (4410m) is on the darker forested shelf right beyond the flood debris

2.  Langmale Kharka – Makalu Base Camp 400m↑ 3.5-4hrs

Clouds dissipated overnight so a hard frost and floating moonlit mountains. The sun comes early. The walk up, past the large decorated chorten, is a pleasure, gentle easy walking with a couple of boulder fields to stretch muscles. Had black Tibetan brick tea and a rest at Shershon (4630m) amid grazing yaks. Finally turned the corner right and there was Mt Makalu (8468m), impossibly huge above the scattered huts of Makalu Base Camp (4870m). We stayed at *Yak Lodge in a small room (Rs1200), owned by Pemba Sherpa from Langmale Kharka, with a heated dining room. There is one other lodge. Very cold night with some snow overnight.

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Makalu Base Camp (4870m) with foreshortened Mt Makalu (8468m), 5th highest peak in the world, to north and Yak Lodge left

3.  Makalu Base Camp - Langmale 400m↓ 3.5hrs

Ensure that you walk upwards for a closer view of Mt Makalu before departing. Even 10mins will reward the effort, among other things with a view of the huge muddy Seto Pokhari (‘white lake’) over the moraine wall, but allowing 2hrs is even better. We saw an engaging flock of Tibetan snow cock (kongma) on the left valley wall. Several walks were recommended, but the best and easiest is to head up the sandy ablation valley to the left of the moraine wall on an obvious track. It is easy until about two-thirds of the way to Swiss Base Camp (5150m), then becomes more difficult with no improvement in the view. There are climbs to the east (back over bridge and up for 2hrs) that give a view of Mt Everest through Sherpani Col we were told.

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Foreshortened Mt Makalu (8468m) to north from the ablation valley above Makalu Base Camp

Reverse Day 2 above. Clouds rolled in early as they had done on every day for our trek.

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Shershon Kharka (4630m) looking south

4.  Langmale – Yangri Kharka 600m↓ 3.5-4hrs

Reverse Day 1 above. A good snowfall overnight and then bright sunshine made this walk down a huge pleasure.

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Dropping over the lip of Langmale Kharka (4410m), heading down to Yangri Kharka after overnight snowfall

5.  Yangri Kharka - Dobato 465m↓665m↑ 5hrs

Dobato does not appear on the Maphouse map we used, but lies above Mumbuk.

We left in a beautiful heavy frost. Keeping on true left, with some sections of this trail needing care following the 2017 flood, arrive at the new bridge to the true right of the Barun River after 1hr then 10mins to Nehe Kharka (3700m). Enter an extensive slow rockfall area for 1.5-2hrs, care needed for threat of rockfall, greeting the prayer flags and forest at the end with some relief. The 2017 flood undercut the rockfall so there is active adjustment of the slope going on. The track improves markedly, with the pink trunks of smooth bark rhododendrons and sycamores shedding their last leaves. After 1hr note the stairs left for track down the Barun River but climb steeply right up a gully on good steps for 1hr to the deserted kharka and goth of Mumbuk (3540m, Nambuk). Climb again and traverse left in rhododendrons under cliffs to reach in 45mins the well-sited modern lodge of Dobato (3800m, ‘two tracks’, Rs700) with 22 beds and electric light. The old stone rooms are a lot quieter than the tiny iron rooms adjoining the dining room. Pemba Sherpa is the friendly host.

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Dobato (3800m) looking north over the Lady’s Lake Crossing. The green valley running away left is Kharka (Khorlungay Kharka) on map. Kalo Pokhari is over the ridge in shadow to the right, beyond the famous chute. On the far right but at the back might be just visible Mt Chhurpi (4375m) near Lady’s Lake (Molum Pokhari)

6.  Dobato – Kongma Danda 600m↑ 800m↓ 5hrs

One of those really great days in the mountains, with great views, pleasant passes and lakes succeeding each other as clouds roll in. The Maphouse map is not useful, with several errors in this section. Steady 370m 1hr climb on a good track to Keke La (4170m), down 100m on excellent stairs to the beautiful sacred Do Pokhari (‘two lakes’), still and reflecting. There is a small hut, no services. Climb 180m 1hr, still on amazing stairs, to Shipton’s Pass (4125m, Shipton La) with a bhatti. Descend 100m with Kalo Pokhari (‘black lake’) on the right (!), up another 50m traversing left then descending under crags to Gungru La (4050m, Tutu La).  Continue to Kauma La (3840m) with a large chorten and a reputation for stunning views of Mt Makalu. After this a rocky narrow ridge drops endlessly through rhododendron to the three lodges at Kongma Danda (3500m, ‘Tibetan snowcock ridge’). The views from this route would be marvellous but it was still mysterious and atmospheric to descend into a sea of cloud, visibility 50m, from Shipton’s Pass. Eric Shipton was a famous English mountaineer involved in most of the Mount Everest expeditions during the 1930s. The pass was named when Eric Shipton and Sir Edmund Hillary used this route enroute to Dharan after their 1952 Everest reconnaissance. We stayed in the 24 bed 10 room *Shika View Hotel (Rs800, db Rs400), the others were closed. The night was enlivened by repeated attacks on the chickens by a weasel, which was not accepted silently.

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Descending to sacred Do Pokhari (‘two lakes’) from Keke La (4170m). Shipton’s Pass (4125m) is over the broad snow saddle above second lake

7.  Kongma Danda – Tashigaon 1400m↓ 4-4.5hrs

Glimpses of the Kangchenjunga massif beyond the Arun River in a sea of cloud from a small hill near the hotel. The corrugated iron toilet of the topmost hotel has a similarly spectacular view and can be seen from Tashigaon. Drop down a steep rocky track past a closed bhatti in thick forest of autumn oak and shedding sycamores, reaching Danda Kharka (2800m) in 2hrs for lunch. A lodge is being built here. Again we were lost in mist swirling through increasingly temperate forest with many more birds and cicadas than we had heard on this trek before. Having searched without success for local yoghurt (dahi) for 28 days of trekking, we were delighted to finally enjoy some in a wayside kharka. Notably warmer finally as we emerged from forest into the delightful Buddhist Tashigaon (2100m) and the comfortable *Makalu Danphe Hotel (Rs500, db Rs350) with an extended camping area.  

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Temperate forest descending to Tashigaon (2100m)

8.  Tashigaon Lumlum Ma 1150m↓ 5hrs

A splendid falling traverse on easy track, past many purple orchids, turning right after 2hrs at Samdaling (not on the map) with a big school, then curving right to Seduwa (1500m) in another 1-1.5hrs for a great tutsi karela dalbhat at Hotel Lakpa db (Rs250). There are several good hotels here. The roadhead Num appears very close on the opposite hillside and there was the mechanical scraping sound of road repairs after the monsoon. We descended to a small village lower down to make certain of arriving early in Num and camped with goats and a pig in Lumlum Ma (950m).

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Descending through rice fields to Lumlum Ma (950m). Num lies up the hillside beyond

9.  Lumlum Ma - Num 700m↓ 900m↑ 2.5-3hrs

30mins and 270m down to the Arun River then a steep climb of 900m to the roadhead at Num (1572m), to be greeted by electioneering speakers!  Ate lunch at the Sherpa Hotel then by jeep Rs8000 to Tumlingtar and our favourite family-run *Arun Hotel in 3.5hrs, with restful garden pavilions. There are other hotels now in Tumlingtar, including the modern Makalu Hotel.

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Thanks Team! from left, a neighbour, Howard and Sue Dengate, Mingma Bhote’s mother, Subash Tamang, Pashuram Tamang, Ramesh Tamang (all brothers), Chindu Bhote and Dawa Bhote. Guide Mingma Bhote took the photo
             

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Sue and Howard Dengate (October 2017). All changes, comment and corrections welcome at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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