Trekking Nepal’s High Passes

The following is a guest post from Allen Bullard, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a volcano in Indonesia and who subsquently (perhaps stupidly) agreed to climb my 2009 birthday mountain with me, despite the fact that I had a gimpy ankle. His Twitter name is @borntotrek, and there’s a good reason for his choice: the man loves mountains. Not only does he love mountains, he is very good at scaling them and has often returned to Nepal to climb and relax. It takes a special kind of person to find 5000m+ mountain passes relaxing. This year Allen decided to head back to Nepal and opt for a much more grueling trip: the Makalu Base Camp trek, winding high up Makalu. Here’s what Allen has to say about his trip.

Makalu Base Camp Trek in Nepal

In April this year I got the opportunity to join an expedition in Nepal who were trekking the Arun valley to Makalu base camp and over Sherpani Col. This route involves technical climbing and takes you to an altitude of approximately 6200 metres as well as a glacier crossing. This was my fourth visit to Nepal, and I’ve previously trekked The Khumbu (Everest), Annapurna and Langtang regions. All of these I walked independently, carrying my own pack. All of them took me over 5000 metres. But very few people trek the Sherpani Col route through the Himalaya’s – it’s difficult and expensive to organise, and is rated as one of the most challenging and dangerous treks that can be done in Nepal. To say I was nervous about taking this on would be an understatement, but I think life’s all about challenging yourself and it sounded like an incredible adventure. It was also an opportunity for me to see how my body would react to breaking the 6000 metre barrier.

It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. We contended with temperatures as low as -30 degrees and spent more than 12 days over 5000 metres. During the 3 days I spent on the glacier over 6000 metres I found it almost impossible to eat and even walking 50 metres left me gasping for breath. I was up in the mountains for 30 days and came back a good 10 kilos lighter. It’s given me a whole new respect for those guys who go out and climb serious peaks.

It was also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and while I questioned my sanity at times while I was up there it was also one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Jodi is a great friend and I love her website, so when she asked if I wanted to share some photos from my trek the answer of course was ‘Yes’.

Makalu base camp trek in Nepal
Flying in Nepal is always an interesting experience and this was no exception. Our plane in Tumlingtar after a bumpy flight from Kathmandu.
Makalu base camp trek in Nepal
One of our porters as we trek towards Kongma. Our porters carried standard loads of 30kg although some carried 45kg for and were paid extra accordingly. If this seems like a lot, I’ve previously met porters in Nepal who carry loads over 90kg. Some of these guys are superhuman.
Shipton La, a 4200m pass in Nepal
On day 7 we crossed Shipton La, a 4200 metre pass. This part of the valley gets an amazing amount of snow and we were often wading knee deep.
Camp at Yangri Kharka, Nepal at 3600 metres, during the Makalu trek
Yangri Kharka, at 3600 metres, where we stopped for a rest day. Also where I picked up bed bugs in my sleeping bag that took 4 days to get rid of.
Porters in Nepal
Me with some of our porters shortly before an impromptu football match. Playing football at 3600 metres isn’t easy and I lasted about 10 minutes.
Makalu base camp, Nepal
Makalu base camp with Makalu in the background. This is the last teahouse before reaching the Khumbu valley.
Camping in the Arun Valley, Nepal
After leaving Makalu base camp the terrain quickly turns to moraine. This was our first camping spot in the valley at 5200 metres.
5200m, trekking in Nepal
Our second camp after leaving base camp at 5600 metres. Makalu is in the background.
Makalu, Nepal at sunset.
Makalu at sunset.
Walking toward camp near Makalu, Nepal
The approach to our final campsite before attempting to cross to the glacier. We camped here at 5900 metres.
Gomba Sherpa goes ahead to fix ropes before climbing the ridge.
Gomba Sherpa goes ahead to fix ropes before climbing the ridge.
Glacier at Makalu mountain, Nepal just before Sherpani Col
Posting at our final camping spot before the glacier.
Getting hypothermia in Nepal
To reach the glacier we had to climb a 120 metre ridge and rappel down the other side. It was getting dark before everyone made it over and we got the tents up. Myself, one other expedition member and 3 porters had a mild case of hypothermia by the time we got organised. Not my most pleasant night.
Trekking in West Col, Nepal
After crossing the glacier we reached the West Col a 230 metre ice wall that has to be rappelled. It took longer than expected to get the supplies down so we decided to spend an extra night on the glacier at 6100 metres rather than risk it in the fading light.
Mountain pass in Makalu, Nepal
The view across the glacier.
View from a tent at Makalu, near Sherpani Col Nepal
The view from my tent in the morning.
Baruntse Base Camp, Nepal
After descending the West Col we had a 4 hour trek to Baruntse base camp. This is the view from above
Amphu Laptsa pass, Nepal
After 2 days rest I left the rest of the expedition with one Sherpa to cross the Amphu Laptsa pass which is at an altitude of 5800 metres. We camped below it for one night and then crossed over the next morning.
Scaling the East Col, near Makalu, Nepal
Scaling the east side involves a little bit of climbing but there are fixed ropes already in place so it’s not too difficult.
Scaling the west side of Amphu Laptsa
Descending the west side of Amphu Laptsa involves rappelling again. This side of the pass is avalanche prone but luckily it was quiet the day we crossed.

29 thoughts on “Trekking Nepal’s High Passes”

  1. What a stunning and breathtaking [literally, i’m sure] trip!!! I don’t see my lazy self making that trek so thank you for allowing me to join you on the visual one!

  2. HOORAY! I’m glad to see these photos here and happy he shared his adventures with us. Like I’d told Allen before, I love the shots of the yellow/orange tent in the landscape. But the photo from *inside* the tent is incredible!

    Cheri

  3. What a truly amazing experience! Thank you for sharing it. A vivid reminder of the wonder that we are and the beauty of the place we inhabit.

  4. Wow, Looks beautiful. I love the mountains too. A few years ago I did some trekking in Nepal (Jiri to EBC) and enjoyed it very much. In the back of my mind I thought that I would like to go back but go to a less traveled area. You have inspired me! Thank you so much.

  5. Beautiful photos and congratulations. Nepal is so stunningly beautiful I can understand why you have returned 4 times. I would love to return and take on more treks through the region. Cheers.

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  8. Wow, what an incredible journey! These photos look unreal. I love stories like this. Allen’s message, “life’s all about challenging yourself” is a great one. Couldn’t agree more. When people challenge themselves, they end up doing awesome things.

  9. Whoa! Awesome truly magnificent TQ for sharing pics Visited Nepal in Jan 2012, after seeing yr fantastic photos, want to return and discover more of that beautiful country. WEll done God bless you. TQ

    Mimi

  10. Amazing and amazing! Not sure if I will be able to make it happen ever but must say you had fantastic adventure!
    Thank you making this content public!

  11. Hey Jodi and Allen:
    Thanks for investing the time to share some thoughts on your Makalu run. We are in the nascent stages of planning our own “expedition” to MBC to take place in October, 2019, and are aggregating as much data from as many sources outside of Nepal as we can.
    If I can trouble you for additional insights vis-a-vis your own experience, I would appreciate your sharing:
    1. What was the size of the group you joined and cost per head, excluding tips?
    2. Did the sherpa team conduct mini training sessions on rope, crampon, and ice-axe use? (some in our group do not have technical experience, but since the sherpas fix the ropes and usher the crew over, we are curious to learn how they approached this with your group)
    3. What year did you take this trip, 2017?
    4. Did your team sleep in tents the entire trip because you were ultimately crossing the Sherpani Col and therefore had the gear, or because the basic teahouses along the route were often closed, or?
    5. By extension, was this fully-supported from day one, by which I mean your porters were cooking for the team the entire time and setting and breaking camp, etc?
    6. Did your sherpa guide(s) have SAT comms or did someone on the team have this?

    1. Allan took the trip in 2010. My business is on hold presently (see legalnomads.com/csf-leak-update) so unfortunately I won’t be able to track him down to answer your questions. Best of luck.

  12. Wow! I am already feeling chilly by the pictures at 30 degrees. You have an awesome collection of pictures and I liked the way you put caption describing the event in the pictures. And Yes, it is great to hear about Nepal.

  13. Hi Allen,
    Just stumbled upon your experience during trekking Makalu Base Camp. Being one of the strenuous trek in Nepal you made it. Congrats!!!

    Furthermore, your exuberance is reflecting shortly and sweetly. Wow the photographs. You did a good photography.

    Keep on the good work.

    Cheers:)

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