MY MAKALU BASE CAMP TREK – Jwalant Gurung:
My goal is to complete all the major treks in Nepal. Hopefully I will reach this goal in the next two years. After all, I only have one major trek in Humla district in Western Nepal and a few short treks remaining. Also, because I prefer to be in Kathmandu while our company has clients trekking in Nepal, I only get to trek either in the winter or the monsoon (the so-called off-season for trekking). My goal this year was the Makalu Base Camp followed by a crossing of the Lumba Sumba pass to the Kanchenjunga region.
I vividly remember twenty-two years ago as someone learning the ropes of operating treks under my father’s supervision, I had helped organize a Makalu Base Camp trek for a couple (Tom and Peggy) from California. They had done a month-long all camping trek to Makalu Base Camp. But they had had to start/end hiking from Khandbari. This had added several days to their trek. Now a dirt road has reached Num and will soon reach Tashigaon which should make access much easier.
Monsoon starts early:
Continuing with the tradition of embarking on a minimum of two treks a year, I set out for the Makalu Base Camp at the beginning of June 2023. I only realized later that monsoon arrives early in the Makalu area. And that the Makalu region is the second wettest area in Nepal – only after Lumle near Pokhara. That’s perhaps because of the abundant forest cover in the region. We had taken tents to sleep in but soon had to abandon this plan as the constant heavy rains made this impossible. It was hot and humid on the first couple days but for the majority of the trek we were either walking in the rain or in foggy conditions. Only after Yangle Kharka did the rains subside and we were lucky to be rewarded with unimpeded views of Makalu.
My staff who had been on this trek previously mentioned that there can be snow on the passes even until early April that can make it very difficult or impossible to cross over. And given the steepness of the multiple passes, I believed them. Even if one were to slog over one or two passes, it would be impossible to slog over the four passes in deep snow. Hence, I would advise to do this trek only in late April and May or mid-October and November.
Why isn’t the Makalu Base Camp Trek as popular?!:
Currently, there is one daily scheduled flight to Tumlingtar airport which unlike the airports at Lukla or Jomsom is NOT a STOL (Short take-off and landing) airport. Instead the bigger ATR-72 planes (that can carry 72 passengers) fly to the wide valley with a longer runway at Tumlingtar. Despite this ease of access, the Makalu region receives fewer than 5% of the trekkers that go to either Everest or Annapurna. Despite the stunning beauty, the lack of publicity, difficulty of the trek and lack of trekker infrastructure could be the main reasons very few trekkers go to Makalu.
Physically challenging trek:
The first two days into the trek, we realized that it was a very physically demanding trek. The first day’s trek to Seduwa was only 3.04 miles/4.9 kilometers but involved elevation gain of 2,581 ft./786 m and elevation loss of 1,055 feet/322 miles. Similarly the trek from Tashi Gaon to Khongma danda was only 3.64 miles/5.85 kilometers but involved an elevation gain of 4,488 feet/1,368 meters. See daily elevation gain/loss chart below. As indicated in the chart, there are many days with a total elevation gain/loss of 3,000 feet. And there is one day with an elevation gain/loss of over 5,000 feet.
Also, unlike other treks in Nepal, one needs to cross passes pretty early on in the trek. The trek from Khongma to Dobate involves crossing four passes (the highest being Shipton La at 4,200m/13,800 feet). The total mileage on this day is 9.33 miles/15 kilometers with a total of 4,126 feet/1,25m of elevation gain and 3,944 feet/1,217m of elevation loss.
Additionally, a lot of the hiking on the earlier part of the trek is on stone staircases; some sections are almost 50 degrees. Only two days of the trek approaching base camp is on gentle terrain but this is above 4,000 meters and one will obviously feel the altitude. But while this is a physically demanding trek, the only major objective danger is the section from Barun river to Phemathang which involves crossing a landslide area of around a few hundred meters. Otherwise this trek is quite safe with clearly marked wide trails.
While the trails are surprisingly quite well maintained, the lodges on this trek are very basic. Unlike in the Everest or Annapurna regions, lodges don’t employ a specialist cook; instead the lodge owners themselves prepare the meals. Hence, meals are quite basic and are limited mostly to Daal Bhaat. Also, sleeping arrangements at all the lodges are NOT very clean. Surprisingly, the best lodges are at Yangle Kharka, Langmale Kharka and Base Camp which are the highest camps on the trek. At Crystal Mountain Treks, we will send tents, a specialist cook and food supplies on all our treks to Makalu. We know that nutrition is important for a successful trek and we will ensure a varied meal menu for our trekkers.
Side trip to Shiva Dhara:
One option for Hindu, Buddhist, Kirati and animist pilgrims is to take a side trip to Shiva Dhara. The steep climb from Yangle Kharka is “interesting”. After climbing for around an hour, one must traverse two sections stepping on iron rods etched on the granite rock. There are hand chains mostly for mental peace-of-mind; but a slip would mean a thousand-foot fall to the bottom of the valley.
Video of the “interesting” route to Shiva Dhara:
Shiva Dhara literally translates to Shiva tap. The main “shrine” is a cave which is believed to be Shiva’s abode and there is a waterfall above the cave that emanates from the rocks and lands in front of the cave. Even an atheist will admit the presence of energy in the area. There are also other caves dedicated to Parvati, Shiva’s consort, and to Ganesha. Visiting all three caves could take 5 to 7 hours.
Video of the waterfall at Shiva Dhara:
Facts about the Makalu Base Camp Trek:
- The Makalu Base Camp Trek is undoubtedly the most physically challenging trek in all of Nepal that does not involve crossing a high pass of over 5,500 meters. While it does involve crossing four high passes – none of which are over 4,500 meters – the daily elevation gain/loss is substantial. See chart for daily elevation gain/loss.
- The Makalu Barun region has the most varied bird species in Nepal. Of the 925 or so species found in Nepal, around 500 species have been recorded in the Makalu Barun region.
- The Makalu Base Camp trail earns the notorious reputation of the trail with the most cobbled stones and staircases in all of Nepal. After a while, the stones and staircases does get to even the most seasoned of hikers.
- The area boasts 25 species of rhododendron, 47 types of orchids, and 56 rare plants. Snow leopard, red panda, musk deer, wild boar are among the wildlife found here.
- The Arun valley at the beginning of the trek is the deepest valley in the world.
A short video of the final section of the trek to Makalu Base Camp: