Jamie McGuinness Climbing on fixed ropes to North Col

7000m on North Col - and Everest just keeps going! - Jamie McGuinness

Our trekkers say

Anyways, I just wanted to thank you again for all your help and patience in getting us to the North Col on that perfect HOT day in May. Your guidance was most appreciated and I always felt taken care of with the whole crew.

It was great fun being with an easygoing group and I learned a ton again up there....and not just how to get that oxygen mask ready for Eric!! I am still pretty thrilled at being on the Col and the pictures are great reminders. First time to 7000m for me was TOUGH but I am pumped to be able to have done it and still smile while I was up there!

Troy Smereka, CHE North Col

Political warning

Note that Tibet is normally closed during March but opens in April.

Tibet is a sensitive province of China and as such can be closed to foreigners without notice, and you should have insurance that covers this.

Climbing experience

You MUST have alpine climbing experience, previous experience using crampons and preferably have completed a mountaineering course and must be able to abseil almost vertical slopes. There are sections of 60+ degree snow and ice.

North Col route

Over recent years the most challenging section of the climb has gotten more challenging;
here Mike descends some steep ice - Jamie

North Col or Lhakpa Ri?

Lhakpi Ri is a 7045m/23,000ft mountain relatively close to Everest Advance Base Camp (ABC) and is a tempting peak but I prefer the climb of North Col to 7000m for many reasons. Even though North Col is not a mountain, it does get you to that magic 7000m though.

North Col is significantly more achievable for a variety of reasons. The climb is more straightforward and safer as there is a fixed rope (or two) all the way up compared with climbing alpine-style on Lhakpa Ri and crossing crevassed areas usually unroped. Additionally on fixed ropes you can partly go your own speed, whereas roped up you definitely go the pace of the slowest. Winds are also a real factor, with North Col climbable in all but the most severe winds (perhaps a couple of days in the Everest season out of six weeks) whereas moderately strong winds stop all but the most hardcore on Lhakpa Ri, and these occur far more frequently and sometimes for many days at a time.

For a high chance of success on Lhakpa Ri more time should be allowed for weather events, and also for acclimatization. Increasingly teams try in one day from Lhakpa Ri Base Camp or Everest ABC (15 minutes apart), making it a TOUGH 12-18 hour climbing day. Perhaps the best plan is to camp part way up but that means two days climbing, needing a better weather window, and involves real commitment by the climbing sherpas and expedition members as camping gear has to be carried to that temporary camp, and carrying full packs at 6400+m is tough, especially as yaks have carried the gear to Lhakpa Ri BC, hence the need to be better acclimatized, which gives more strength.

The next issue in recent years has been that there are a couple of ways to get the Lhakpa Ri permit, one substantially cheaper, but only one way to get the North Col permit (expensive), and getting a cheap Lhakpa Ri permit with a North Col permit involves administrative difficulties that we are not willing to risk.

Lastly, on a trip that includes both, in the end most people just climb North Col. It takes considerable motivation to climb both.

Season

The April-May window is definitely best. Lhakpa Ri and Everest ABC trek trips are offered in August and September but the success stats are getting lower with expeditions being stopped by dangerous, uncrossable streams flowing in the ice before even getting to Lhakpa Ri BC, and in a number of places, not just one. This has occurred as low as just above the old Camp 1, sometimes at Interim Camp and often just above Changtse Base Camp.

Esther Tan jumps over Everest Tashi Lunpo monk - Shigatse Everest night shot from Everest BC

To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).

Detailed itinerary

We begin the in Kathmandu to have the visa and permits issued then fly to Lhasa, stay three full days for better acclimatization then drive to Rongbuk and Everest Base Camp. After some acclimatization we trek up to Everest ABC, sometimes called Camp 3 at 6340m, and after a couple more days acclimatizing then we climb up to the North Col at just over 7000m on a day trip, then trek out and drive onto Kathmandu.

Early arrival

Arriving early can be a great way to begin unwinding, we will arrange airport transfer (included) and hotel (extra). In particular, we recommend arriving a day early and therefore having an extra night in Kathmandu as part of acclimatization preparation before flying to Lhasa.

Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu

You must arrive this day or earlier. You’ll be met at the airport, look for a Project Himalaya signboard with your name on it.

Our office staff will show you around Thamel.

We collect your passports ready for processing the Chinese visa tomorrow, and discuss how to acclimatize for Lhasa.

Day 2 - Kathmandu

Today we’ll explore the sights of Kathmandu and the valley with a good local guide. Many trekkers are already familiar with Kathmandu so we match the sightseeing itinerary to what people haven't seen before.

Day 3 - fly Kathmandu 1350m to Lhasa 3660m

We check in early for the for the hour long flight to Tibet. This spectacular flight taking us right across the main Himalayan range with magnificent mountain views. After landing at Gonggar Airport and meeting our Tibetan guide, it is 45 minutes more to Lhasa via the tunnel. It's advisable to rest or take it easy for the remainder of the day due to Lhasa's altitude.

Note that in the past the rough roads in Tibet necessitated travelling in Landcruisers, now with good roads we will travel in a good vehicle suitable for the group size. This could be Landcruisers, could be the surprisingly comfortable Ford Transit Van (which is faster than a Landcruiser) or another suitable, high quality vehicle.

Days 4, 5 and 6 - in Lhasa 3660m

These days will be spent visiting four of Lhasa's main sites in the company of a guide-interpreter. The order is decided by the guide.

We visit Sera Monastery or Drepung Monastery, both are the best preserved monasteries in Tibet. Within their white-washed walls and golden roofs, several hundred monks live and study.

Norbulingka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, a quiet place of gardens and a pleasant house with impressive murals of Tibetan history and beliefs.

The Jokhang (temple) is the most sacred shrine in Tibet and on public days there is a procession of devout Tibetans through the complex. This is the real Tibet as it was and is usually a highlight of the trip. Surrounding the Jokhang is the Barkor - a maze of narrow cobbled streets which is the central market of Lhasa and since our hotel is close to this you can wander around any time.

The Potala is the icon of Tibet, with its eighth wonder architecture, and dominates the city of Lhasa. A spectacular building, it contains the private quarters of the Dalai Lama as well as numerous grand state rooms and many important chapels. There has been a palace on this site since the 5th or 6th century, but the present palace was constructed in the 17th century.

The Potala is also extremely busy. Once past the ticket office and thru the main courtyard, from that point you might only be allowed one hour for the interior, you guide will explain the latest rules. You do have plenty of time prior to the point, however.

You have more time available so can arrange with the guide and drive for an extra charge to visit Ganden or similar.

Day 7 - drive Shigatse 3900m ~250 km

We drive to Shigatse, arriving in time for a late lunch. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and Tashilhunpo Monastary is the seat of the Panchen Lama, often considered the second most important Rinpoche after the Dalai Lama. Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet and there is much to explore within its high surrounding walls.

Tashi Lunpo monastery

Day 8 - drive Shegar 4350m ~244km

We continue along the Friendship Highway. Beyond the small town of Lhatse we cross the highest pass on our journey, the Gyamtso La, 5220m. From here we descend to some of the most spectacular panoramas of the drive.

Day 9 - Shegar 4350m

This is a rest and acclimatization day. The best day trip is to walk or drive to the new town of Shegar and climb to the monastery and past that to the top of the fort.

Travelling in comfort!?

Day 10 - drive Everest Base Camp 5150m ~76km

Shortly after leaving Shegar, we turn off the Friendship Highway and head south over the Pang La 5150m towards the main Himalayan range. The view from the top is incredible with uninterrupted views stretching from Makalu to Shishapangma, and including Everest. Below the pass, Everest initially is hidden from view, but as we turn the corner into the upper Rongbuk Valley it reappears, more impressive than ever.

Everest cruising

The Pang La with Everest distant center-right

Days 11, 12 and 13 - Everest Base Camp 5150m

We rest here several days to acclimatize; it is important to be well acclimatized prior to trekking to Interim Camp.

How often do you get a chance to sit and read and dine with the sheer north face of the highest mountain in the world towering above us. There are several possible day trips, whihc the climbing leader will talk you through.

Day 14 - trek to Interim Camp 5760m

We begin in a dusty ablation valley with views of Pumori, Lingtren and even Nuptse then branch off up the East Rongbuk valley. The trail climbs moraine rubble. Nearby, the first ice pinnacles [penitentes] rise like white sails from the dark debris-laden surface of the glacier.

Day 15 - Interim Camp 5760m

We spend a day here in the intermediate camp, resting to further acclimatize. This is another good chance to finish that book.

Day 16 - trek to ABC 6340m

The Rongbuk Glacier is an impressive frozen ocean of ice waves; the views of the glacier and the Himalayan peaks are some of the most dramatic in Tibet. Along the middle moraine of the glacier is the trail that expeditions use to begin their climbs of Everest and this is the trail we are taking. About two hours above the Interim camp the central ridgeline leads in to a confused of ice at the confluence with the Changtse glacier, and this is Changtse Base Camp [5970m] which is sometimes called Camp 2; it was the 1920's and 1930's camp 2. The appropriately named Serac Highway continues to extend its unusual gravel arm trough the centre of the of the ice formations.

Rounding the corner, first Lhakpa Ri Base Camp comes into view, then eventually Everest ABC (The old "Camp 3"), and this last section is always tough.

Days 17 and 18 - ABC acclimatization

We have a well-deserved rest, taking a couple of days to acclimatize here at Advance Base Camp (ABC) and meet some of the expeditions here. The summit pyramid of Everest appears phenomenally close; it is little more than 2400 metres higher than ABC. This is the closest non-climbers can get to the top of Everest. With a pair of binoculars, you are almost there...

We will put in some fixed rope practice on some ice pinnacles too.

Day 19 - North Col-ABC

Starting smartly, we climb to the top of North Col, just over 7000m, for fantastic views across Tibet and into Nepal. Mountains litter the horizon.

Yes, there are now ladders on the north side too, even to North Col - Jamie

Day 20 - spare day

This covers bad weather and other unforeseen events. If you are on schedule with the itinerary you might just want to trek to interim camp to break the long trek down...

Day 21 - trek down to Base Camp

This is a LONG day's trekking down to Base Camp but to a much lower, more comfortable altitude.

Day 22 - drive Zhangmu 2400m

We normally take the rough, adventurous shortcut road to Tingri where we have lunch. Beyond Tingri are more views of Everest, Cho Oyu and other giants. Then we cross two high passes, the Lalung La (5124m) and the Shung La (5200m), rewarded with magnificent views, this time Menlungtse and Gauri Shankar, and to the right of the road is Shishapangma. Over the last pass we begin the long descent leaving the arid Tibetan Plateau into the magnificent gorge to Zhangmu.

Day 23 - drive Kathmandu

We switch vehicles and sides of the road as we cross from Tibet to Nepal. Once through immigration formalities we drive to Kathmandu which should take around 5 hours depending on road conditions. Then it's time to get cleaned up at the hotel, which has abundant hot water.

Day 24 - depart

Farewell. We take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you had a fantastic trip, the journey of a lifetime.

You are welcome to arrive earlier / stay longer in Kathmandu and we can assist with hotels, tours, showing you around etc.