Notes on Itinerary
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
Morning meeting at 10 AM in the back garden of the Kathmandu Guest House ...
A free day to explore exotic Kathmandu and the mythical Kathmandu valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they're not posing for photos-for-rupees.
We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 3 - Fly Suketar. Trek Mitlung 880m
We'll head to the airport after breakfast for our scenic, hour-long flight over green, terraced rice fields, high ridges and past Himalayan peaks to Suketar Airport in far eastern Nepal, a village of Rai, Lhomi and other Nepali hill people who carry their loads with traditional Nepali dokas, or baskets. Suketar, and nearby Taplejung, are the starting point of our trek to the Arun valley and also east to the remote, Tibetan Kanchenjunga region.
Once in Taplejung we will meet the crew and start trekking. We start with a long descent through a patchwork of terraced villages until we reach the Tamor Nadi at about 900 meters. Following the river north for a short while, we soon reach the Chettri bazaar at Mitlung (880m), a village with a few small teahouses and a campsite. Here, we will meet our staff and set up camp for the night. Nepali chai has been brewed, and we will introduce you to our 'Kamzang style' dining tent and your personal Marmot tents. Enjoy the lower altitudes and take a stroll into rural Chainpur to watch Nepali life go by at the local temple. Beers will be available at the local shops, and you'll be able to sample some traditional Nepali snacks at the bhattis, or Nepali teahouses ... Camp is above a great swimming river below a long suspension bridge!
Day 4 - Trek Chirwa 1270m
We may continue along the riverside trail over another suspension bridge spanning the Sisne Khola on to the village of Siwan, also called Sinwa, with a few bhattis (Nepali teas hops) and a police post. Timeless Nepal ... We continue to follow the Tamor Nadi on a rough trail past the settlement of Pithun at the Ima Khola and the intersection of the GHT trail to Tokpegola in the Makalu region. We are parallelling the high trail to our (trekker's) right that we will take on the return trip back to Taplejung. We pass the remnants of old, boulder-strewn slides and debris as the trail worsens and the valley narrows, and after more undulating trekking we reach the intersection of the Nuwa Khola and the small hamlet of Chirwa where our staff has set up camp for the night. Chirwa is a lively bazaar village of bamboo houses built in a boulder-strewn plateau with a small Nepali bazaar. Camp should be about a quarter of an hour past the village, at a nice campsite. It's a short day, so take advantage of the free afternoon to do some laundry or head to the village to explore.
Day 5 - Trek Sukethum 1565m
Continuing to following the Tamor Nadi, we hike along the east bank of the river for five-six hours as we head along the classic Kanchenjunga Base Camp route. En route, we pass the Chhetri village of Tapletok (1380m) where there is a Kanchenjunga Conservation Area check post and a few small teahouses for a cup of chai. At Temewa (1560m) we take the bridge across the river and soon reach Lelep (1750m), the headquarters of the KCA, which was created in 1998 'to preserve 2035 sq km of sub-tropical evergreen forest, temperate forests, sub-alpine pine forests and high alpine meadows. The preserve provides a haven for many rare Himalayan species, including snow leopards, red pandas, and bharals. The park is also home to 250 species of birds, and more than 3000 species of plants.' - Lonely Planet Trekking the Nepal Himalaya.
We descend to the Tamor River and cross on a new suspension bridge a bit before the confluence of the Ghunsa Khola to reach our camp at Sukethum, a Tibetan village with a helipad and a few small bhattis. We may get lucky and see our first glimpse of Jannu (7710m) if the skies are clear.
Day 6 - Trek Amjilosa 2310/2490m
From Sukethum we trek northeast for 4-5 hours along the Ghunsa Khola (river), gaining altitude as we head towards Kanchenjunga North Base camp and the remote Tibetan villages of the Kanchenjunga region. Contouring around the high ridges, we'll have fantastic views on our route north and possibly pass mule caravans transporting the locally grown cardamoms to markets further south. Taking either the small trail on the northern banks of the river or the trail on the southern banks, we reach Jongim where we climb on steep stone steps to a waterfall and the small hamlet of Ghaiyabari (2150m). From here we continue to ascend gradually on a slightly exposed trail, soon reaching a grassy saddle at 2530m from where we drop down to the Tibetan settlement of Amijlosa where our staff has found a nice campsite for the night.
Day 7 - Trek Kyapra 2730m
Gaining altitude as we trek along the Ghunsa Khola, we have another short-ish day as we trek through a bamboo, oak and rhododendron forest past waterfalls and pasture lands, followed by a steep and strenuous climb to the beautiful Sherpa village of Kyapra, also called Gyabla, with an old monastery and ancient Buddhist chortens. Camp has been set up at a lovely green campsite and we'll take the afternoon to explore the village looking for a cup of salt-butter tea ...
Day 8 - Trek Phale 3140/3210m
A lovely day of trekking through the forested river valley, with groves of bamboo, fir and rhododendron, where Himalayan black bear are said to live. We descend steeply into a deep, narrow gorge and follow the river valley for several hours to the Tibetan village of Phale, with an ancient (and active) gompa filled with colorful thankas and statues. Phale is located on a historic trade route with Tibet so has been an important stop for traders transporting their goods by yak and horse between Tibet and Nepal. We'll set up camp for two much needed nights here and set off to visit with the locals, perhaps stopping in some of the local homes to look for Tibetan blankets or saddle bags. Enjoy the afternoon in this wonderful, traditional Tibetan village, with yaks grazing in the green pastures and checkered with potato fields. Enjoy the chance to visit some of the houses for a cup of salt-butter tea, some tsampa (roasted barley flour) and perhaps some churpi (dried, slightly sour cheese) and a cup of chang (locally-brewed barley beer).
Day 9 - Trek Ghunsa 3595m
We have a short day today, trekking on a good trail through a wide valley, past the intersection of the Yangma Samba Khola, through forests of larch. We soon drop to the square chorten marking the start of the Tibetan village of Ghunsa, fluttering with prayer flags, situated in a deep valley of forested hillsides. Take advantage of this day to acclimatize and get out to explore the lively Tibetan village of Ghunsa, translated as 'winter settlement' although it is occupied throughout the year. Gunsa was one of Joel's favorite villages in the Kanchenjunga region; he would pick up a variety of Tibetan treasures including leather belts with silver medallions along the belt, silver spoons which Tibetan women hang from their belts and bamboo tongba pots.
Ghunsa was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake which had its epicenter in Sikkim so will still be in the process of rebuilding. Ghunsa is a typical Tibetan village with a few Sherpa families residing there, five-colored prayer flags on tall wooden poles and wooden houses with flat, slate roofs. There are two gompas on either side of the trail, a police check post, and a few lodges and shops in Ghunsa where it's possible to get a hot shower, make a phone call, and stock up on a few cold beers. Don't miss the opportunity to sample the local tongba, a traditional Tibetan fermented beer which is found all over the mountain regions of Nepal but is a specialty of the Kanchenjunga region. Tongba is fermented millet filled with hot water, drunk from a straw out of a bamboo container, and refilled at leisure. Be careful, one is plenty!
Kim and Lhakpa will head to the village to pick-up the re-supply, and you are welcome to tag along if you'd like. There is also a hydro-electric plant providing electricity to Ghunsa, the last chance to charge for a few days.
Day 10 - Trek Kambachen 4100m
Heading north along the east banks of the Ghunsa Khola on the GHT high route, we have a 5-6 hour day of altitude gain, cresting the 4000-meter threshold as we ascend through more larch forests, now sprinkled with juniper bushes that are ground and used as incense. We cross a wide, rocky floodplain and then a shaky wood and slab bridge to the north banks of the river at Rampuk Kharka at 3720 meters (kharka means grazing plateau in Nepali; the Tibetan word is doksa). The trail deteriorates as we ascend, passing a small waterfall, and hiking carefully high above the river below us. Another climb and we descend to Kambachen at the confluence of the Nupchu Khola, a remote Tibetan outpost of stone huts where the inhabitants exist on a simple diet of potatoes and rice, supplemented by chang and rakshi (distilled vodka-like alcohol). Camp is set up on a flat area beside a stream; the nights will start to get colder from now on, and the views more and more spectacular.
Day 11 - Kambachen (day hike Jannu viewpoint)
Take advantage of this acclimatization day to make the round-trip climb to the sublime Jannu viewpoint, to the east of camp along the northern ridges of the Kumbhakarna Glacier. Jannu, also called Kumbhakarna and a formidable climbing peak, is the 32nd highest mountain in the world, a Western part of the Kanchenjunga massif. ' It is called Phoktanglungma in native Limbu language, (Phoktang means shoulder and Lungma means mountain), literally 'mountain with shoulder' and it is sacred in Kirant religion.'- Wikipedia.
We'll climb the ridge to the north of the village for breathtaking views of Khabur (6332m), Phole (6645m) and Jannu at the end of the long valley to the east. Kanchenjunga Glacier, backed by snow peaks, is to the north of us.
Day 12 - Trek Lhonak 4780m
We trek further north along the Ghunsa Chu, fed by the Kanchenjunga Glacier, and enter a glacial environment as we gain altitude and get closer to the border of Tibet. We'll pass the high grazing pastures (doksa) of Ramtang (4370m) and then stay on the left side of the lateral moraine of the Kanchenjunga Glacier as we approach the source of the Ghunsa Khola. We continue hiking along a high, tundra-like plateau strewn with boulders, past the intersecting Lhonak Glacier to our left, to reach the high, flat campsite at the seasonal village of Lhonak. Bharal (blue sheep) roam this plateau so keep your eyes open for grey spots on the hillsides, often peering down from rocky ledges with their distinct horns silhouetted against the blue Tibetan skies. It will be a cold campsite, but the views are fantastic, surrounded by some of the highest snow-peaks on the planet.
Day 13 - Trek Pang Pema (Kanchenjunga North Base Camp) 5145m
This morning we head directly east for approximately ten kilometers, following the lateral moraine of the Kanchenjunga Glacier on the northern ridges to our sublime campsite at the north base camp of Kanchenjunga, also called Pang Pema. This is one of the highlights of the trek, a spectacular setting, worth having an evening climb to get a bit higher, gaze at the Northwest face of Kanchenjunga and its surrounded peaks shrouded in the pink alpenglow ...
NOTE: We may choose to spend two nights in Lhonak as it's much warmer and less exposed for the porters, and do a day hike to Pang Pema.
Day 14 - Trek Kambachen
We'll stay for some views in the morning from the north ridge of Pang Pema, hiking up 300 meters to a viewpoint. The peaks are Kanchenjunga, Taple Shikhar (6510m) and Gimmigela Chuli (The Twins, 7350m). To the east from the border of Sikkim rise Patibhara Khas (Pyramid Peak, 7168m) and Kirat Chuli (Tent Peak, 7365m). To the west, Chang Himal with its knife-edged ridge looms over Kanchenjunga Glacier. (Thanks to Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya for naming the peaks). Returning the way we came, it's a downhill but longer day to reach our campsite at Kambachen.
Day 15 - Trek Ghunsa
Back to Ghunsa along the same route, with the afternoon again in Ghunsa to relax. Take a look at Tashi Choding Gompa if you didn't have a chance to on our first visit.
Day 16 - Trek Kharka (High Camp) 4160m
From the gompa, we head back south along the northern banks of the river until reaching the sumdo of the Yangma Samba Khola. From here, we turn right, heading northwest as we contour up this narrow valley. We have about 600 meters of steep climbing to reach our campsite at the local kharka, or seasonal settlement of the Ghunsa villagers.
Day 17 - Thasa/Yangma Khola Camp (cross Nango La 4775m) 3430m
Our first pass day, so we're up early with a mug of steaming coffee before trekking north towards the Nango La (4775m). From the narrow crest we'll be treated to a panorama of Himalayan peaks before we head steeply down the pass. We'll pass the small dharamsala (rest house) from where we turn left (west) and follow the Thasa Khola valley to our camp at the intersection of this small river and the Yangma Khola.
Day 18 - Trek Olangchung Gola 3220m
Staying on the west of the Yangma Khola, we trek down valley surrounded by steep valley walls until we reach the sumdo (intersection) of the Tamor River (which you will remember from the earlier days of the trek). From the intersection at Ramite, we trek northwest along this river to the sprawling village of Olangchung Gola (Walunchung Gola), peppered with chortens, mani walls and white-washed stupas, one of the most remote Tibetan villages in the Kanchenjunga region. There is lots to explore within the maze of traditional houses that comprise the village, and more shopping to do, so we've scheduled an extra day to relax and visit.
Day 19 - Olangchung Gola
Olangchung Gola is 'the largest village of the Walung people, who speak a language derived from Tibetan and share many cultural similarities with the Sherpas' - Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya. We have a free day to wander through this remote village, once restricted to tourism, do some shopping, take photos or perhaps wander further west up the Tamor River along the GHT high route leading back to the Makalu region via the Lumbha Sambha pass (5160m). Feel free to accompany Kim & Lhakpa around the village as they resupply.
Exploratory Section to Makalu Barun National Park
Day 20 - Trek Tamor Sumdo Camp
Leaving lively Olangchung Gola we hike northwest towards one of the high points of our trek, the remote Lumbha Sambha pass (5160m) on the high Great Himalayan Trail route. We'll be trekking along the Tamor River again. Our camp is at the intersection of the Dingsamba and Tamor rivers, probably a four hour walk from Olangchung Gola.
Day 21 - Trek Lumbha Sambha High Camp 4455m
Next, on to the high camp at 4455 meters, quite a low camp as high camps go. We're quite close to the border of Tibet at this campsite, just below a glacier flowing from the Lumbha Sambha Himal.
Day 22 - Trek Chaurikharka (cross Lumbha Sambha 5160m)
We'll have an early start for our Himalayan crossing of the remote Lumbha Sambha pass, an epic double-pass crossing, the first about 50 meters lower than the higher point. It will take us about four hours to ascend the 700 meters up to the pass, which is often covered by snow. Views from the top are spectacular, with Kanchenjunga and Jannu to the east and Makalu to the west being the featured peaks. The descent will take us about as long as the descent as we trek as we will possibly be descending in snow to reach our camp at Chaurikharka in the Lapsi Khola valley far below, possibly at the next sumdo near Lasa and Samne summer settlements.
Day 23 - Trek Thudam 3555m
We wake to (hopefully) clear views of Makalu which we'll savor over fresh coffee and breakfast before heading off. It's a short day after yesterday's long one, a four hour trek along the Lapsi Khola through forests of rhododendron which should be flowering in pinks, yellows and reds at this time of year. The staff will have set up a lovely camp near Thudam, an interesting village of pure Tibetans who only trade with Tibet over the Umbak La (5230m), having very little interactions with Nepal. An interesting aside, Jamie's group saw a yellow-throated martin near the intersection to the Umbak La.
Day 24 - Trek Kharka Camp 2760m
From Thudam we hike along the Modek Chheju Khola through a mixed oak and pine forested gorge with steep walls, the trail deteriorating as we trek further from the Kanchenjunga region. We continue along this rough trail for a few hours before contouring away from the river on a hard intersection to find; old forest fire, tricky trail and through the equally densely forested Himalosa Danda. We have a few climbs and descents to negotiate with a often slippery few small river crossings on 'local' bridges, but the walking is lovely as bamboo lightens the forest, and we soon reach our next campsite at another kharka, or seasonal settlement.
Day 25 - Trek Chyamthang 2185m
Today we have the Arun River in sight as we head further west, descending, often steeply, through a thick and tangled rhododendron forest on trails that have seen better days to the Arun River at Hikchu. Crossing a bridge, we trek along the west side of the Arun to reach Chyamtang village where we've set up camp. It looks like a short day on the map, but will take us until lunchtime, about 5 hours, to reach camp near the welcoming village of Chyamthang.
Day 26 - Trek Haitya 1560m
Trekking southwest through more forests of flowering rhododendrons and bamboo we soon reach the village of Linggam from where a major trail leads up to the border of Tibet, specifically to the Kharta Valley and Kangshung Face of Everest region (the eastern part of this trek). We've met many semi-nomadic Tibetan traders who have used this pass when in the Kharta valley, so it's quite exciting for us to be so close! The next village, about an hour away, is Chepuwa at 2040 meters, and then the hamlet of Gimbar as the trail hooks upwards to the northwest. Just past here the trail forks and leads either northwest to Makalu and Makalu Base Camp or southwest towards Tumlingtar. This year we're taking the later route; you'll have to wait another few years to do the longer Makalu Base Camp section with us ...
Continuing along a small trail, we reach the village of Haitya where the staff will find us a lovely campsite. Head out and explore the village!
Day 27 - Trek Gola 1100m
Our route is quite straightforward today as we head directly south along the Arun River to Barun Bazaar, and an hour or two afterwards passing the intersection of the Ikhuwa Khola which comes from the east. Our camp at Gola is just a bit after this sumdo.
Day 28 - Trek Gadidandha 1120m
A contouring day as we head away from the river after an hour or so, climbing a bit and contouring around terraced rice paddies with villages peppering the landscape. We pass through Simma and Hedangna villages and then reach our camp at Gadhidanda, a warm campsite. It's our last night with the crew so we'll give out their tips and have a bit of a party!
Day 29 - Trek Num 1560m. Drive Khandbari 1040m
We're at the bottom of a large hill, and we'll start the day with a bit of hiking, after which we cross the Arun and start on our hot climb to Num. We'll meet our jeep, say goodbye to our crew and drive to Khadbari (or possibly another place with a hotel, and possibly camping).
Day 30 - Drive Tumlingtar 410m
It's a shorter drive today but a bit too much to do in one day. IF we end up reaching Tumlingtar a day early we'll use the extra day as our 'flight delay or cancellation' day.
We'll stay at one of Tumlingtar's lovely, 'rustic' hotels (or possibly camp).
Day 31 - Tuesday, 19 May 2015 - Fly Kathmandu
Our trek in the wonderful Kanchenjunga region has ended. In the morning we'll board the quite reliable flight from the now-paved Tumlingtar Airport back to the Kathmandu valley and head to our hotel where hot shower and laundry await! And of course we'll head out to dinner to celebrate our trek along the Great Himalayan Trail!
Day 32 - Depart
We'll drop you at the airport for you flight home ...