This section is the crux of the upper GHT, and not just because of the three technical passes you will cross. The beginning of this section has both navigation challenges and exposure on high trails etched into canyon walls. We called this section the ‘Lizzy Hawker Enchanted Forest’ Two of our predecessors got lost early here, Doc for 2 days and Lizzy for 3. We fared ok, largely because of their information and blind luck.
Day 17. April 25, 2014: Camp after Lumba Samba to Wood Cutters Camp
We woke up hiked down the valley and passed through Thudam – staying a couple hours later in Woodcutters camp on Modek Chheju Khola There did not seem to be any stores or lodging obviously available in the village, but we didn’t really ask. There was a nice spot next to the river as we entered the village to rest. From there we followed the river. At times the trail was sandy and meandered along the bank. There were a couple washouts that required descending to the river and hugging the crumbling bank. Villagers in Thudam do not apparently use this trail much! We avoided turning at a wood cutting camp where Doc had made a wrong turn. We are naming this the Lizzy Hawker enchanted forest as we believe she was first lost in this area. After a couple (to be confirmed) hours camped at a large/unused wood cutter camp just before the trail started climbing. The camp was off of a short spur, but easy to see from the trail. Access to the water, several hundred feet below, looked too perilous and we had to back track on the main trail about 10 minutes before finding a place to scramble down.
Day 18. April 26, 2014: ‘Thudam Triangle’ Wood Cutter Camp to Chyamtang 2187m. 10hrs
This was a very tense day with lots of perilous high trails. Starts out right after leaving the camp. Someone had also recently harvested bamboo and the sides of the trail were lined with dangerous spikes.
Through Linggam 2250 then through Chipuwa 2040?
Day 19. April 27, 2014: Chyamtang to Hongon 2323m 6hrs
Camped inside half finished school. Supply limited, store closed. No fuel. We were welcomed into a home and plied with Roksi. Locals scared us about future trail and convinced us to detour or wait two days for guide.
Day 20. April 28, 2014: Hongon to Gola 10hrs
Detour. Heading south – discover shortcut west along river does not exist (labelled mystery).
Day 21. April 29, 2014: Gola to Ala 10hrs
Detour – camp? Started getting hot!
Day 22 April 30th, 2014 Ala to Tashigoan 8.5hrs
Detour – finally going North.
Day 23, May 1st, 2014 - Tashigoan to Khongma Danda. 5hrs
John Sick. 3 passes. Detour
Day 24, May 2nd, 2014 Khongma Danda to Yangla Kharka 11.75hrs
Another pass? Resupply – cache
Day 25, May 3rd, 2014 Yangla Kharka to Makalu Base Camp 4870m
Day 26, May 4th, 2014 Makalu Base Camp Rest Day 4870m
Day 27, May 5th, 2014 MBC to below Swiss Base Camp 5150m
Leaving Makalu base camp, we climbed for a while and then went up the wrong valley – it had a large cairn and some continuing on up, but after a while we came back down and ascended the next valley – stopping mid-way up and camping in a small circle of sand and rocks amidst the boulders.
Day 28, May 6th, 2014 Below Swiss Camp to Barun Glacier Camp 6050m 9hrs
We continued the next day and followed easy rock and some old fixed lines that covered about 20 meters to the top. There was quite a bit of exposure especially with heavy packs but the climb up was not very long. From the distance the pass looks hard but you can see the prayer flags on the top and once you get closer the route is obvious.
We rapped down to the plateau. We needed to use our own rope for the initial rappel. After that there was an old fixed line with a sketchy anchor. We didn’t rope up once we made it down to the glacier and quickly ended up in a white out. There are crevasses on this glacier so roping up would have been the prudent thing to do. It is easy to get lazy at altitude. We walked for a while following a way point on the GPS and some faint tracks and then we camped. The stove didn’t work so we spent the night with limited water and cold food.
Day 29, May 7th, 2014 Barun Glacier Camp 6050m to Honku Basin 5500m 9hrs
The next morning was sunny and the West Col was only 20 minutes in front of it. This picture below is looking back (east) at Sherpani Col after we decided to rope up.
The up part of West Col was easy and short. 3 rock moves and it was over. The rappel was the longest of the 5 passes. About 200 meters that had fixed line going down it. The Sherpani Col rappel had been steeper so initially we thought no big deal. However the fixed lines were long with multiple ropes, anchors, and random knots in the ropes. One of the ropes was snapped off halfway down and one of us almost rapped off the end of it but fortunately was paying attention. The conditions when we did it consisted of a layer of snow on top of ice. Crampons were needed to grip the surface. The glacier below all this had a lot of melt going on so that when you broke through you tended to be ankle deep in water and below that we triggered several mudslides since the ground was so wet.
It was a long walk from here (skirting to the left looking out) down the valley to a pretty crappy
spot between the rocks.
Day 30, May 8th, 2014, Honku Basin Camp to Amphu Labsta BC 5527m 6.25hrs
Amphu Labsta was the most scenic of the high passes though they were all scenic. Crossing the Honku Basin from West Col took us a day longer then we expected. You want to position yourself at the base of this pass so that you head up it first thing in the morning.
Day 31. May 9th, 2014, Amphu Labsta BC to Chhukhung 4730 11hrs
The route crosses a serac/icefall region and it would not be a good place to be in the heat of the afternoon. The route probably changes year to year depending upon what the ice is doing but basically we zigzagged through a series of ice shelves getting higher and higher to the top of the pass. The route was fairly obvious for us.
Robin Boustead describes this as one of the most dangerous in Nepal. The reasons would be the combination of crossing through the ice fall and the rappel down the other side. We only had a 40 meter rope and that led to problems (ie: being 10 meters short of the rappel anchor we needed). Bring a 50 meter rope as a minimum and if you have 100 meters then you can make it past the technical part in one sweep and be done with it. There were no fixed lines and the anchors were minimal. It would be good to have extra sling to help back up the anchors. To get to the anchors in the first place involves traversing over some big exposure. Once past the rappel section it is still a long traverse to the left across the mountain to easier terrain and then a long scree slope to the valley below. Both the upper and lower traverse have huge exposure (steep slopes with cliffs below them) that may be scary to some people.
Zip file of relevant GPX files: S3-Thudam-Chukhung20150407 (<1 mb)
Note that our route below is in yellow. Near Hongon we detoured far south, but not as far south as Doc’s route (grey). There is a higher blue lavendar route which is the official GHT high route and it has way points. The source for the track is Robin Boustead but it is made from connecting way points so it should not be used for detailed navigation. In our southern detour we thought we could head west up a river valley (there is a trail marked ‘new’ on the paper maps) but there is
definitely not a trail there. They are ‘building one’. This is marked by the blue track below and was provided by Neha Shrestha: www.samarth-nepal.com and may be found on: http://www.greathimalayatrails.com/map/map-of-makalu-barun/ but the trail did not exist in 2014.