Makalu Base Camp
A genuine Himalayan wilderness experience, with towering cliffs and hanging glaciers. Stand at the foot of the massive bulk of Makalu, while old growth rhododendron and pine forests surround picturesque and welcoming Rai and Sherpa villages.
- Duration & distance: About 15 days total; daily distance is not important to grade
- Gradient: Some steep and arduous sections
- Quality of path: Formed & rough tracks, some obstacles
- Quality of markings: Limited signage
- Experience required: Some walking experience required
- Walking times: Less than 7½ hours per day
- Steps: Steps not included in grade
- Highest point: 4825m
- Best season: Apr-May/Oct-Nov
- Accommodation: Camping or basic teahouses
- Recommended map: NP102 GHT Series Makalu Region, Himalayan Map House, 2017
The return trek to Makalu Base Camp takes about 15 days if you take a jeep to Num from Tumlingtar and return via the same route or via the Barun Nadi trail. However, you could create a longer mountaineering route across the high passes to the Solu-Khumbu (Everest region), either via Amphu Labsta or by descending the Honku Khola. Both of these routes can eventually take you to Lukla where you can either fly to Kathmandu or take the trail to Jiri (see Other trips in the Solu-Khumbu, pp000). If you are returning to Tumlingtar from Makalu Base Camp, consider taking the slightly rougher, but pretty riverside trail along the Arun Nadi instead of retracing your steps via Num.
Like many mountain regions in Nepal, the best time to visit is during the main trekking seasons of April-May or October-November. Throughout winter (December to March) and the monsoon (June to mid-October) the Arun Nadi and Barun Nadi valley systems funnel wet weather towards Mt Makalu, dumping large amounts of snow on the both the Khongma Danda and Shipton’s Pass (aka Tutu La), closing them. During the pre-monsoon spring season the extensive rhododendron and orchid forests that cover the Khongma Danda bloom in a multitude of colours and provide a welcome distraction from the tough climb. The clear air of the post-monsoon period makes for some excellent mountain photography and is probably the best time of year to cross the high passes to the Solu-Khumbu.
There are several scheduled flights a day between Tumlingtar and Kathmandu, and Tumlingtar and Biratnagar, as well as bus services. If you cross to the Everest region make sure you have purchased your flight tickets out of Lukla, as there can be long waiting lists in October.
Other Trails in the Makalu Region
GHT through-hikers have a simple choice in the Makalu region, to go over the high passes (see Sherpani Col, West Col & Amphu Labsta), or take a southerly route along the Arun-Salpa Trail, which could also include heading up the Arun Nadi to Thudam or continuing directly to Taplejung.
One of the least-visited regions in the Himalaya is the Milke Danda, a long ridge that runs south from the Lumbha Sambha and is covered in rhododendron forests, alpine lakes and craggy peaks. The ridge almost bisects eastern Nepal and in the heart of the region is Topkegola, a community renowned for trade with Tibet and India. From Taplejung, it is only a two-day hike from the road-head at Papung to reach Topkegola and another two days to Thudam. Trails across the Milke Danda link Dobhan with Khadbari via Chainpur (5-6 days, village-to-village route) and Jaljala Pokhari (6-8 days, a tough wilderness route with very tricky navigation).
Kimathanka lies beside the upper Arun Nadi on the border with Tibet. From Tumlingtar, it takes 10-12 days to reach and return from the most isolated district centre in Nepal.
A comprehensive 8- to 10-day village-to-village route (Grade 3) between the Arun Nadi and Kharikhola/Lukla via Salpa Bhanjyang (known as the Arun-Salpa Trail) is one of the new trekking gems of the lower Solu region. The trail follows an old trade route used by Sherpas visiting Sikkim and offers some wonderful views and immersion in a range of hill cultures. Typical itineraries include: Lukla–Kharikhola–Panggom, Sibuje, Khiraule, Bung/Cheskam, Gudel, Salpa Pokhari, Silicho Danda, Dobhane and Baluwabesi to Tumlingtar.
For those who want a wilderness challenge, the as-yet-undocumented routes along the Apsua Khola and Isuwa Khola lead into the heart of Makalu-Barun National Park. The Isuwa Khola route crosses to Shershong, just below Makalu Base Camp, whereas the Apsua Khola system leads to the Honku Khola and routes to and around Mera Peak.
Chyamtang to Makalu Base Camp
The ‘highest’ route through the Makalu region is probably the most difficult navigational section of the Great Himalaya Trail network as it follows some shikari bato (hunters’ trails) rarely used by locals when they search for medicinal plants, has many river crossings (especially post-monsoon), and three of the highest and most technical passes in the Himalaya. Only small (maximum 12 trekkers with crew), experienced groups who have climbing skills and equipment should attempt this route.
This section of the GHT begins with some particularly remote and small trails with occasionally confusing junctions, so you would be foolish not to employ a local guide from Chyamtang or Hongon at least until the Barun Nadi valley. This trail can be very hard to follow in the Dhunge Khola and Saldim Khola valleys, even with Finaid maps and GPS. You should take a 30m rope for river crossings.
If you want to climb the high passes you should have a guide or climbing sherpa who knows the route very well. Identifying the route can be very difficult especially if snow covers the trail and alpine-climbing skills are required for glacial travel.
Note: there is a direct route to the Popti La plateau and thence Molun Pokhari from Chyamtang, which avoids Hongon. This route takes the same amount of time as going via Hongon but has better views. Ask in Chyamtang for a local guide.
From Hongon, climb a well-used trail that goes straight up to a ridge behind the village. There are some tall prayer flags beneath the ridge that mark a burial site. Avoid going there or taking photos of the site as it will only offend the locals and your crew will believe that any disrespect will bring bad luck. There are many small trails towards the top of the ridge, most of which are created by grazing animals, so it might take a little time to find the chorten that marks a minor pass (2710m, 1½hrs Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 354 726).
Just after the pass the trail forks: you must go right; do not descend to your left. The trail traverses a hillside, crosses a stream and then climbs a small ridge before meeting the Tojo Khola. You need to stay on the true left (east) bank of this river and follow a trail made by woodcutters through rhododendron forest covered in moss. Eventually the trail crosses the Tojo Khola to the true right bank and Bakim Kharka (3020m, 2hrs; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 338 749) is a good campsite. After another hour there is a smaller campsite at Khazakhani Kharka (3480m). The trail becomes steep and rocky but offers great views south of the Arun Nadi valley. Climb for nearly 500m (2½hrs), as you near the top of the plateau (3950m) there are some scrambling sections. A series of chortens mark the end of the climb and the edge of Molun Pokhari, a picturesque lake.
Wind around the north side of the lake to a large campsite in a valley to the west (3954m, 40 mins; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 328 774). The trail to the Tibetan border, Popti La (4200m, 3hrs) can be seen heading north out of the valley. A small trail climbs a ridge to the south of the campsite, before heading south-east, then east to a rocky ascent that climbs a minor pass (4201m, 1hr; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 316 767). Be careful not to take a small trail that heads south just before the pass. Just after the pass is a great view of Tin Pokhari and the eastern edge of the Makalu-Barun National Park. An easy to follow trail descends a ridge to your left; there will probably be some yaks around the lake. At a small lake on your left is another trail junction (30 mins), head to your right and continue descending next to a small stream to the valley bottom. Cross the Dhunge Khola (the plank bridge is often washed away) to a large kharka on the far bank and continue down the valley on the true right bank to a drier campsite, which normally has a bamboo structure over a kharka (3590m, 1hr; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 290 772).
A small trail through dense forest continues to follow the true right (west) bank of the Dhunge Khola. After 1½ hours, and rounding a ridge that draws you away from the main river valley, the trail forks beneath cliffs in the middle of a small clearing. Either descend a steep stream bed to your left (which doesn’t look like a trail at all), or continue on a small trail that bears right and into the tributary valley of the Kholakharka Khola.
The streambed trail will take you to a large hollow tree used by locals as shelter before descending a couple of metres to the watercourse. A large tree has been felled creating a bridge across the river, but you will require a couple of safety lines as the log can be slippery (45 mins, note you only need to use the log if the stream is in spate). Cross the Kholakharka Khola, about 80m upstream of the confluence with the Dhunge Khola – after heavy rain this is a very difficult river crossing.
The right-hand trail goes to a point where the river crossing over the Kholakharka Khola is safer but will add up to 1½ hours to your day.
Either route will mean you cross to the true right (west) bank of the Dhunge Khola and then follow a small, overgrown trail to the Saldim Khola (2hrs; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 267 736).
A-hard to-find trail in dense rhododendron forest then climbs briefly, heading parallel to the Saldim Khola. The trail gets lost in the gouged out river-bed (almost certainly caused by a GLOF, Glacial Lake Outburst Flood) and you will need to find your own way across a boulder-strewn and shifting route (for about an hour) until you can see a large slightly overhanging rock-face on your left. Scout around and you should find a small trail that leads to the base of the rock-face, which makes an acceptable campsite (3115m; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 259 738). Apparently, there is an alternative trail up the real Saldim Khola to another possible camping spot, but we didn’t see the trail junction.
Climb the watercourse a little further before exiting on the true right (left) on a small trail that ascends just to the left of a much steeper watercourse, which looks more like a cascade. Ascend steeply (for 350m) between two streams on a small trail (1½hrs) before the gradient begins to ease; you can then cross the stream to the true right (left) and head up a shrub-covered slope. Pass a small lake and continue to climb to a waterless kharka and on to the ridge top (3855m, 1hr), which you will follow before descending slightly to an east-facing kharka and possible campsite. You then climb a craggy trail around a ridge to a minor pass (4207m, 1hr; Finaid: Kimathanka, sheet: 2787 02, ref: 252 711), before dipping through a shallow valley and climbing another ridge (4253m, 1hr) to arrive at a black water lake (4192m, 30 mins), where there is enough room to camp. Climb the next ridge to a pass (4624m, 1½hrs) before a steep, rocky descent, which is treacherous if snow-covered. From the valley bottom the trail climbs another ridge to a minor pass (4457m, 1½hrs), where you can see a large valley and campsite below, it will take another 1½ hours to descend through dense rhododendron shrubs and walk a little way up the valley to a kharka (4097m; Finaid: Bala, sheet: 2787 05, ref: 206 696).
The slight downhill to the lip of the valley gives you a moment to identify the blue-roofed Mumbuk teahouses on the far side of the valley before you enter a beautiful forest of fir, pine and large rhododendron, and the trail steepens. Before you reach the Barun Nadi the trail heads upstream (true left bank, northwest), past another rock overhang cave (3366m, 1½hrs), and then after crossing several streams, finally into the open valley bottom. You now follow the Barun Nadi along an easy trail broken by occasional landslides to Yangla (Yangri) Kharka (3557m, 2½hrs).
You are now on the main Makalu Base Camp trail, which you should follow and then cross the Sherpani Col, West Col and Amphu Labsta before arriving in Chukhung in the Everest region. Good luck!
Sherpani Col, West Col and Amphu Labsta
Those with mountaineering experience and equipment may choose to cross three passes of roughly 6000 metres (Sherpani Col, West Col and Amphu Labsta) into the Solu-Khumbu (Everest Region). If you want to attempt the high passes you should have a guide or climbing sherpa who knows the route well. Identifying the route and avoiding crevasses can be very difficult, especially if snow covers the trail.
From Makalu Base Camp follow the well-defined trail to Hillary Base Camp and then continue along a smaller trail on the south side of the Barun Glacier valley. Do not descend to the ablation valley (created by snow and/or ice melt from a glacier) beside the glacier until forced to do so, and camp at a small area known as the Swiss Base Camp (3hrs; Finaid: Mount Makalu, sheet: 2787 01, ref: 049 825). Just beyond the campsite the trail becomes hard to follow as it climbs towards a steep boulder-filled gully formed by a cascading stream (Finaid: Mount Makalu, sheet: 2787 01, ref: 043 829) that flows from a valley approximately opposite the one that leads to Makalu Advanced Base Camp. Identifying this valley can be difficult, especially in cloudy weather. Climb to boulders to the north (true left) of the watercourse for about 300m. The gradient then eases and ahead you will see a small trail ascending the northern side of a rocky valley. There is a small flat area (1½hrs) before the trail climbs further. After another hour you reach the Sherpani Col Base Camp (5688m), at the snout of a glacier. There are two routes that climb either side of the glacier snout, so you will need to do some reconnaissance to decide on the appropriate route.
The first is to the south (true right) of the snout and climbs mixed rock and ice, before veering onto the glacier. Beware of rockfall and crevasses on this route. The second option is to climb the rocky slope and gully to the north (true left) of the glacier snout. Once the gradient levels, step across onto the glacier. On the glacier, head towards the base of a rock-face on the southern (true right-hand) side of the glacier, where it begins to rise towards the Col. Do not get too close to the rock-face as there is constant danger from rockfall. Traverse across the base of the rock-face to a point beneath some prayer flags, which are easily spotted on the rocky ridge above. Climb towards the prayer flags from rocks beside the glacier; this will require a handline (20m) for the first, loose scrambling section, and possibly another fixed rope for an easy 20m rockclimb to the top of the Sherpani Col (6180m, 3-4hrs from Base Camp; Finaid: Mount Makalu, sheet: 2787 01, ref: 007 819).
You will need to abseil (35m) down to the West Barun Glacier, which you reach after crossing a snow-bridge over a bergschrund (a deep crevasse between a glacier and mountainside). Beware of rockfall while descending to the glacier! Cross the glacier (2-3 hours – beware of crevasses!) to Baruntse Advanced Base Camp and the only spot on the glacier with some shelter from constant wind. Most groups elect to camp here and prepare the abseil over the West Col for early the following morning. There are two routes over the West Col and they vary according to snow conditions each year. One route is over the snow bulge at the northern end of the West Col ridge, but this will involve crossing more crevasses at the bottom of the descent. Alternatively, take a route over the southern end of the West Col ridge (6190m; Finaid: Sagarmatha, sheet: 2786 04, ref: 993 805). To reach the ridge cross another bergschrund and climb a loose rocky route at the far southern end of the distinct rockwall that forms the pass. From the summit there is a 200m abseil into the Honku Basin and some potential campsites (3hrs) if you are going to head to the Amphu Labsta, or Baruntse Base Camp (4hrs) if you are exiting via the Honku Khola route. The full traverse normally takes about 11 hours, as time is lost preparing the abseils and fixing a rope up and down the Sherpani and West cols. If you have a large group it is advisable to run two ropes, one for clients/porters and the other for equipment.
The route to, and over, Amphu Labsta (5845m; Finaid: Sagarmatha, sheet: 2786 04, ref: 929 832) to Chukhung is now popular with groups who have climbed Mera Peak. However, this is still probably the most dangerous pass in Nepal and care needs to be taken on both the ascent and descent. Most groups that attempt the pass camp beside one of the Panch Pokhari lakes and get an early start. A collection of cairns are reached after about an hour, which mark the point where you have to choose one of two routes to the pass: the more popular is up a series of ice cliffs, while the other climbs an exposed, steep rocky and snow-covered section direct to the pass. Full climbing equipment is required for either route and it is wise to fix any ropes in the afternoon prior to crossing. The descent is a bottleneck as there is a short abseil (30m) to a ledge, which then leads down steep rocky ground to the Amphu Labsta Glacier and the trail to Chukung (4730m, 11-15hrs from West Col base depending on group size).
Dress CodeHigh-altitude alpine clothing and camping equipment required
IncludedMakalu Base Camp
Not IncludedSpecial PermitsTea Houses AvailablePersonal Guide