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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Part One: Trip report for The Great Himalaya Trail (“GHT”) trek from Makalu to Everest completed in April/ May 2011

Photo: Mount Makalu as seen from Base Camp

The trek from the Makalu region to Everest is known as the most difficult section of The Great Himalaya Trail (“GHT”). Completing this section of GHT has been an ambition of mine since I summited Mount Makalu in Spring 2009, I was hoping after this climb to walk out over Sherpani pass, West Col and Amphu Laptsa passes however as it turned out we summited late in the season so had to return on the easier and faster trail to Tumlingtar.

Please click on the links below to see the story of my summit day on Makalu and photos from Makalu expediton 2009:

Our summit day on Makalu May 2009

Part one: Makalu expedition photos

Part two: Makalu expedition photos

Part three: Makalu expedition photos

Part four: Makalu expedition photos

Following my expedition in 2009 I got to know the Makalu area well and also had trekked to Everest Base Camp many times with groups however had not been over the three passes that link these two treks. The first pass is Sherpani at 6,200m followed by West Col at 6,150m then the last pass is Amphu Laptsa to enter Everest region.

For our Spring 2011 we had twelve people booked onto our Makalu to Everest trek with most of them having already been on a trek with The Mountain Company on a previous occasion. Our Makalu to Everest trip was a reconnaissance trek and we clearly explained to everyone that we would only cross the passes if we encountered good weather and conditions, if unable to make the traverse to the Khumbu then we would have to retrace the trail back to Tumlingtar.

Selecting the right time of year is very important for this trek in order to maximise the chance of successful crossing the passes. While I was on expedition to Makalu in 2009 we heard of several groups in March and early April who were not successful and were forced to return to Tumlingtar as attempted this trek too early in the season. Therefore when planning our Makalu to Everest trek we carefully selected the dates and in the end decided to fly to Tumlingtar on April 24th and back from Lukla on May 19th. As one gets into late April the weather is much warmer and our plan was to cross Sherpani and West Col on May 10th, there is usually stable weather around this time when teams on Everest and Makalu are also making their summit bids.

The other factor that has prevented groups crossing these passes is the amount of time spent acclimatising to the high altitude and therefore during the planning stage we incorporated into our itinerary plenty of time before crossing Sherpani and West Col. As our Spring 2011 trek was billed as a recce the itinerary was flexible and in the end we decided to have three nights at Makalu Base Camp, two nights at Sherpani Low Camp and one night at Sherpani High Camp. Not only is spending this amount of time important for the groups’ acclimatisation but also for the porters and crew who are of course carrying much more weight than us!

The group flew into Tumlingtar as planned on April 24th and we were very lucky as we heard that flights were cancelled for the next four days due to weather, that would have been a bad start to the trip having drive for 24 hours in a bus and of course losing valuable days from the trek. The landing at Tumlingtar is on a wide grassy plateau so easy and not too scary compared to the hairy Lukla airstrip, in fact they are in process of adding a hard surface of tarmac to Tumlingtar so will be even smoother next year.

After meeting our kitchen crew in Tumlingtar we had lunch then took Landrovers along the jeep track through the market town of Khandbari and onto Chichila where we camped for the first night. That evening there was heavy rain and in fact throughout this trek we experienced far more rain compared to 2009 (after returning to Kathmandu we heard that this year all expeditions throughout Nepal had been experiencing more precipitation than usual). However by the morning the clouds had cleared and we were rewarded with a superb view of the Himalayas including our first view of Makalu and Chamlang.

For our first day trekking we were mainly walking along the jeep track to the village of Num however on the second day walking to Sedua we were off the road and following a local trail through the fields and forest down to the bridge over Arun river. Our permits were checked in Sedua and then next day continued to the last village at Tashigaon. We had some keen birdwatchers in the group and it was fascinating to see some of the birds pointed out such as common mynah, crested bunting, streaked laughing thrush, green backed tit however the two birds that really stand out were the stunningly colourful verditer flycatcher and firetailed sun bird (seen near Khongma campsite)

From Tashigaon we walked through the lush cloud forest to Khongma where we stayed for two nights to acclimatise before crossing Shipton La. This campsite at 3,600m was at the snowline and both afternoons we had hail and snow. On our acclimatising day most of the group joined a morning walk along the Khongma ridge, by “climbing high sleeping low” this helps the acclimatisation process. After the first mani wall along the ridge there was snow on the trail however we continued to the second mani wall at just over 4,000m.

On the next day the crossing of Shipton La went well although we had no views along the way as it was a cloudy day (very common to get poor visibility on crossing Shipton La...). There is one steeper section on the climb up to Shipton La before the lake called Kalo Pokhari however it was not too icey so group and porters managed this without fixed ropes. It is worth pointing out that the maps are very inaccurate for this section of the walk, for example Nepa Maps shows three passes after the lake when there is only one (Keke La). After crossing the passes we camped at Debotay where there is one small hut, this place is not marked on the maps however there is more space and better water source than Mumbuk further down the trail.

From Debotay we descended into the Barun Valley passing through a landslide area then through several yak meadows (kharkas) to our camp at Yangle Kharka. The next day we continued to Langmale Kharka passing through the last section of forest made up of rhododendron and pine trees before climbing above the tree line. As there is a 750m ascent from Yangle Kharka we decided to spend two nights in Langmale Kharka for acclimatisation before continuing onto Makalu Base Camp.

We were very lucky with the weather on our day trekking to Makalu Base Camp, the views of Peak 6 & 7, Chamlang, Honku Chuli and of course Makalu were sensational. Personally it was an enjoyable day bringing back lots of memories from my Makalu expedition two years ago and it was good to take time walking along the trail to absorb this amazing scenery.

In the end we decided to stay three nights at Makalu Base Camp to help with acclimatisation, on the first day we gave some mountaineering instruction to the group for ascending and descending fixed ropes and other useful tips for crossing the passes. On the second day the group went for a walk on the slopes to east of Makalu Base Camp where they reached an altitude of 5,300m with good views of Lhotse and Everest.

After three nights at Makalu Base Camp everyone in the group was sufficiently acclimatised to ascend to Sherpani Low Camp at 5,200m where we also spent two nights. This trail starts from Makalu Base Camp and stays to left (west) side of Barun Valley and does not descend onto the glacier as one does for the approach to Makalu Advanced Base Camp. The trail follows the ablation valley and lateral moraine then becomes rocky as traverses past several side valleys however the trail is reasonably well marked by cairns. The view of Makalu changes throughout the walk on this day as the West ridge becomes more prominent and also North West ridge appears and then at the end of the valley Lhotse and Everest soon becomes visible.

The trail to Sherpani High Camp is also on rocks involving lots of boulder hopping followed by a loose scree slope as one turns the corner to enter the valley leading to Sherpani High Camp (a good idea to wear helmet here as there is some risk of rockfall in this section of the trail). Sherpani High Camp is located an altitude of 5,700m just before the glacier, from here the trail to Sherpani Pass starts on moraine to the right and then after passing the icefall descends onto the glacier and follows this to the base of Sherpani Pass.

After arrival to Sherpani High Camp myself and the climbing Sherpas went to have a look at Sherpani Pass and to fix ropes before the group's crossing tomorrow. Following the glacier to the base of the pass we then fixed ropes to the top, the route starts on a snowy gulley traverses left on a rock step then follows easier ground to the summit of the pass. The view is superb from the pass with the flat West Barun glacier and West Col visible and also Baruntse, Chamlang and Honku Chuli. There is a 50m or so rapel/ abseil from Sherpani Pass to the other side descending onto West Barun Glacier.

Our plan for the next day was to cross both Sherpani Pass and West Col to get to Upper Baruntse Base Camp (5,700m), of course this would be a long day however the other option of camping between the passes at over 6,000m did not sound like a good idea as altitude sickness would be very likely at this height. We left Sherpani High Camp at 1.15am and made good progress to Sherpani Pass with dawn appearing as the group started the climb to the pass. Luckily at this point our porters were ahead of us and after a waiting for an hour or so all of the porters had lowered their loads and started their walk across the glacier to West Col.

As this Trip Report is longer than usual I have decide to write in two parts, hopefully this level of detail will be helpful for others planning to do this trek and of course this trek is likely to get more traffic in the future as Makalu to Everest is the crux section of GHT. I will write Part Two of this Trip Report shortly covering this trek from West Col, Amphu Laptsa to Khumbu region.

At this point you might be interested to see some of the photos of this trek please click on link below to see Part One with photos from Tumlingtar to Sherpani Pass:

Part One: photos of The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT") from Makalu Base Camo to Everest crossing Sherpani Pass, West Col and Aphu Laptsa

The Mountain Company is planning to organise our Makalu to Everest trek again in Spring 2012 so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group.

Part Two: Trip Report for The Great Himalaya ("GHT") trek from Makalu to Everest completed in May 2011

Roland Hunter

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