Kangchenjunga & Lumba Sumba: Photos & Notes

Tip: If you’ve not read it yet, I’d recommend you read my Kanchenjunga Base Camp and the Lumba Sumba Pass: We’re (almost) back! blogpost first.

I love this part of a Big Trip – taking the time to remember each day, looking at the photos and reading my diary. It reminds me just how much we did, and how amazing it was.

Me, at the hot juice stop on the gully climb from the wide hanging valley to the upper section of the Dingsamba Khola valley
Me, at the hot juice stop on the gully climb from the wide hanging valley to the upper section of the Dingsamba Khola valley

We had a brilliant trip, largely due to Mingmi, Mingma and Tenzee on the trip and Val’s input before it – and before her accident precluded her actually leading the trip. Their combined knowledge and experience paid dividends in planning a route well within our combined capabilities: we all got to Kanchenjunga Base Camp at Pangpema and we all got over the Lumba Sumba pass. Plus we had a fantastic crew, and were all fuelled by Dali’s fab food on the camping sections. And not forgetting the superb weather – November is a good time to trek in Nepal.

Trek Team Photo, Yak Kharka Camp
Trek Team Photo, Yak Kharka Camp

Summary

Outline itinerary

Fly London – Doha – Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Fly & drive Kathmandu – Bhadrapur – Phungling / Taplejung
Drive Phungling / Taplejung – Sekathum
Trek Sekathum (1660m) – Amjilossa (2400m)
Trek Amjilossa (2400m) – Gyabla (2730m)
Trek Gyabla (2730m) – Ghunsa (3430m)
Ghunsa Acclimatisation Day, hike to “Prayer flag deurali” (4000m)
Trek Ghunsa (3430m) – Khambachen (4095m)
Khambachen Acclimatisation Day, hike to Jannu Shrine (4400m)
Trek Kambachen (4095m) – Lhonak
Trek Lhonak (4761m) – Kanchenjunga North Base Camp / Pangpema (5142m) – Lhonak (4761m)
Trek Lhonak (4761m) – Kambachen (4095m)
Trek Kambachen (4095m) – Ghunsa (3430m)
Trek Ghunsa (3430m) – Chauri Kharka / Nango La camp (4160m)
Trek Chauri Kharka / Nango La camp (4160m) – Nango La (4776m) – Langjong Kharka camp (3734m)
Trek Langjong Kharka camp (3734m) – Olangchungola (3208 m)
Olangchungola Rest Day, Deki Chholing Gumba
Trek Olangchungola (3208 m) – Sanjung camp (4012m)
Trek Sanjung camp (4012m) – Lumba Sumba Pass camp / East High Camp (4646m)
Trek Lumba Sumba Pass camp / East High Camp (4646m) – Lumba Sumba Pass (5139m) – Yak Kharka camp / West High Camp (4480m)
Trek Yak Kharka camp / West High Camp (4480m) – Thudam (3556m)
Trek Thudam (3556m) – Yak Kharka camp (2750m)
Trek Yak Kharka camp (2750m) – Chyamtang (2250m)
Trek Chyamtang (2250m) – Hongon (2445m)
Trek Hongon (2445m) – Hatiya (1585m)
Trek Hatiya (1585m) – Gola (1128m)
Trek Gola (1128m) – Hedanga Ghadi (1180m)
Trek Hedanga Ghadi (1180m) – Num (1567m)
Drive Num – Tumlingtar
Fly Tumlingtar – Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Kathmandu
Fly Kathmandu – Doha – London

36 days London-London; 25 days trekking; 5 days Kathmandu (permits & prep before / relaxing after); 3 days travel within Nepal

As I said in my “We’re (almost) back!” blogpost, our trekking route comprised two main sections: the well trodden / well served trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp and back to Ghunsa, and then heading off the beaten track to trek west-ish over the Nango La and the Lumba Sumba passes, then south to the roadhead at Num.

Photos

Photos are collected in my Nepal, October / November 2023 Flickr album.


Day by Day Detail

Here’s the detail of what we did, day by day.

Wednesday, 25 October 2023: Abbey Dore – Abergavenny – London (Photos)

Train to London with Phil and IPWW with Hazel, Steffi and Fi.

Overnight: Hazel’s

Thursday, 26 October 2023: London – Doha (Photos)

Qatar Airways flight from LGW to DOH. Late take off and a vast airport in Doha meant we only just made it onto our connecting Qatar flight to KTM.

Overnight: In transit

Friday, 27 October 2023: Doha – Kathmandu (Photos)

Overnight flight to KTM, giving us pretty much a whole day in Kathmandu to work through jet lag and for a surprise catch up with Tseten and Tenzi.

Overnight: Manang Hotel, Thamel (Marshyangdi was fully booked!)

Saturday, 28 October 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

A whole day in Kathmandu, giving Mingmi and Tenzi time to sort out our permits while we strolled and shopped, moved back into the Marshyangdi and repacked our travel bags into daypacks and kit bags ready for tomorrow.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Sunday, 29 October 2023: Kathmandu – Bhadrapur – Phungling / Taplejung (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Fly Bhadrapur / भद्रपुर (91m). Drive to Taplejung / ताप्लेजुङ / Phungling / फुङलिङ (1440m).

Mega Marshyangdi breakfast then to KTM Domestic terminal for our 45 minute morning flight to Bhadrapur – fab views of Gauri Himal, Melungtse, Everest, Makalu … ad Kanchenjunga.

Hot down in the delta lands, lots of greenery.

Spent the rest of the day driving north east, reaching Phungling (aka Taplejung) around 8.30pm after 9 hours or so. We stopped for a tasty dal bhat lunch in a roadside thakali place set amidst the tea plantations at Kanyam, where we also changed jeeps / drivers. Good roads.

Overnight: Hotel Annapurna, Phungling / Taplejung

Monday, 30 October 2023: Phungling / Taplejung – Sekathum (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Drive Phungling / फुङलिङ / Taplejung / ताप्लेजुङ (1440m) to Sekathum / Sekāthum / Sekhathum (1660m)

Time to explore Phungling Bazaar and to buy a replacement watch (mine was hanging out in KTM….) while the jeeps were readied for the half day’s drive to the current roadhead at Sekathum.

We drove through various hamlets and lunched (early and leisurely) en route, pulling up outside the lovely Sekathum Guest House at 2pm after only 4 hours on decent dirt roads, often lined with green leafy bushes which we came to know was cardamom – it’s a major crop in this part of Nepal.

We settled into our simple rooms at the guesthouse then had a mooch around the cottage gardens (home to some cute goats), the hydroelectric project offices and a short stretch of a trail high above the River Tamor. Back at base we relaxed on the first floor back deck next to our rooms, on a DIY sofa made out of brand new duvets and sipping tea until it was dinner time. Then bed.

We’d not even started trekking and we’d had our first encounters with The Andorrans (outside the hotel and en route) and The Japanese (at the guesthouse), who we saw most days on the Kanchenjunga section of the trek.

Overnight: Sekathum Guest House

Tuesday, 31 October 2023: Sekathum – Amjilossa (Photos)

Trek Day 1

Route: Sekathum / Sekāthum / Sekhathum (1660m) – Lamatar – Phedi / Fedi (2036m) – Amjilossa / Amjilosa / Amjilesha / Amjilosha / अंजिलोशा (2400m)

Distance 10km | Ascent 965m | Descent 160m

A day following the Ghunsa Khola upstream to Amjilossa. Bridges and waterfalls; butterflies and kittens, pigs and goats; paved trails and stone staircases; cardamom and bamboo galore.

A leisurely mid morning mint tea in Lamatar and an early lunch in Phedi to refuel us before the 400m climb up to Amjilossa.

Me, Steffi and Sonia, Lamatar
Me, Steffi and Sonia, Lamatar

Arriving mid afternoon, we had time for ginger tea high up on our bedroom level, marigold lined terrace – three sets of steep stone steps above the dining room – plus diary catch up and some clothes washing, with time to get it dry(ish) in the last of the afternoon sun.

A very hard bed – a wooden platform with a thin layer of insulating foam by way of a matress. I should have got my thermarest out. Very clean though, and there’s electricity for lightbulbs and recharging.

Overnight: Chhiring-Kipa Guest House, Amjilasa

Wednesday, 01 November 2023: Amjilossa – Gyabla (Photos)

Trek Day 2

Route: Amjilossa / Amjilosa / Amjilesha / Amjilosha / अंजिलोशा (2400m) – Pangling Hill (2550m) – Thangem / Thangyam / Dhangem / Thyangyam (2379m) – Gyabla Phedi (2555m) – Gyabla / ग्याब्ला (2730m)

Distance 10km | Ascent 750m | Descent 450m

Another warm day once the morning sun hit our side of the valley and we were glad of the bamboo shade as the path delivered gradual ups and steep downs.

Butterflies and cicadas; woods, waterfalls and rhododendrons – this’ll be a gorgeous route in the spring when they’re in flower.

Reaching Thangyam after a couple of hours walking we settled in the very-geared-towards-trekkers Hotel Shingi Namjong for coffee and biscuits and an acoustic guitar set from Tenzee. And western loos.

A further 90 mins walking brought us to Gyabla Phedi where we had a water stop before the final climb up to Gyabla, arriving at the collection of three or so tea houses and old farms on the plateau below the main village (which we only twigged was there as we were leaving the next day).

At the Hotel Namaste we were loudly welcomed by small person – Lapka Tashi – and spent most of the rest of the afternoon being entertained by and entertaining him: paper aeroplanes, photos, writing and drawing.

Crossed paths with quite a few people / groups coming the other way during the morning’s walking, and shared the lodge with a solo trekker from the Czech Republic (and his guide) also on his way home, who said it had been busy higher up on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp N&S Circuit.

Stunning orange and pink sunset.

Overnight: Hotel Namaste

Thursday, 02 November 2023: Gyabla – Ghunsa (Photos)

Trek Day 3

Route: Gyabla / ग्याब्ला (2730m) – Tea shack – Phale / Fale / Folay / Phole / फले (3232m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3595m) (3430m)

Distance 14.5km | Ascent 910m | Descent 220m

A cold morning until the sun hit the hillsides at which point walking got hot again and the shade of the tall trees was very welcome. We walked under canopies of gorgeous autumn colours, crunched on fallen leaves, passed by persevering purple primulas.

The path dropped down to the Ghunsa Khola and back up again a few times, with bridges and waterfalls, stone steps and a gateway before the valley opened out and the river split temporarily into babbling brooks and we emerged into the high pastures leading to Phale.

A long lunch stop at Phale gave us time to explore the village including the sacred mound topped with prayer flags and the closer of the two gompas – Tashi Choling Monastery (closed so that the monks could travel to the festival at Olungchungola) – and to spot a sign for a Carpet Shop (sadly also closed).

Sipping hot lemons before lunch and ginger tea afterwards we did some people watching too as other trekkers passed by including the infamous coca cola bottle throwing, weed smoking, silently superior solo trekker and the french pair (a Canadian-based young woman and her dad).

Leaving Phale we followed the power lines as the trail returned to the trees and the narrow valley of the Ghunsa Khola, taking us past the turn off to the Nango La, which we’d be returning to for the start of the Lumba Sumba section of our trek, and the memorial to the 2006 helicopter crash before crossing the river a final time – with the “new” suspension bridge providing views of the older bridge collapsed into the icy, white waters, mountainsides clad in golden larches, green juniper, red leafed spiky bushes and snowy peaks ahead.

Bridge over the Ghunsa Khola leading into Ghunsa
Bridge over the Ghunsa Khola leading into Ghunsa

We walked on paths through the fence lined fields of Ghunsa just as the sun’s light and warmth left the village and settled into Room 101 at the Kanchanjunga Guest House for two night stay. Time to unpack and sort things, charge batteries and to meet The Very Tall Belgian Lady – Hello Annik!

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House <– hot showers! hair dryer! western loo! fabulous food!

Friday, 03 November 2023: Ghunsa Acclimatisation Day (Photos)

Trek Day 4

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – “Prayer flag deurali” (4000m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा  (3430m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 600m | Descent 600m

A leisurely breakfast before going back across the river and hiking up to the “Prayer flag deurali” at approx 4000m for our acclimatisation. We hung out under the prayer flags taking in the views – and chatting with the French-Canadians – before heading back down for lunch sandwiched between showers – hot showers! – and a bit of opportunistic in shower clothes washing.

Sonia, Mingmi, Steffi, Tenzee, Mingma, me and Krishna at the "Prayer flag deurali" above Ghunsa
Sonia, Mingmi, Steffi, Tenzee, Mingma, me and Krishna at the “Prayer flag deurali” above Ghunsa

We spent part of the afternoon at the village health clinic running an LED eye clinic – Pat B had sent us out with three shoe boxes of (mainly) reading glasses – and then adjourned to the Dzonga Bakery & Cafe for coffee and cake…. the posters we’d spotted en route did not lie (except for the bit about cheese).

Ghunsa looks a little like Prok (on the Manaslu Circuit) and serves a function similar to Namche (on the Everest trek ie it’s the biggest place on a trek, and you’ll pass through it twice) but on a much, much smaller scale. Still, it’s home to good tea houses, some small shops and long awaited Dzonga cafe … No wifi anywhere though.

Pizza & chips for tea 🙂 and a snug night in the sleeping bag.

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House

Saturday, 04 November 2023: Ghunsa – Khambachen (Photos)

Trek Day 5

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – Sypchen (3541m) – Tartang (3583m) – Chhermalung (3740m) – Labuk Teashop (3789m) – Hajare / हजारे ओडार (3892m) – Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 810m | Descent 170m

A colder day today, as we gained another 700m elevation. A beautiful morning walking through the woods stopping at the Buddhist shrine at Sypchen, and making our first landslide and icy edged stream crossings of the trek. We met a couple of large groups heading down, and looking cold.

We had a leisurely lunch stop at the Labuk Teashop where the lady who runs the tea shop prepared dal bhat (for us) and boiled potatoes with hot (HOT) chilli (for M, M & T) while her entrepreneurial niece made the most of the school holidays and the pausing, passing trekkers and crew to make a few seabuckthorn juice sales…. One of those really memorable parts of the trip.

Shortly after lunch we left the tree line behind us and started up the stone steps that took us up and around the terminal moraine of the Kumbhakarna Glacier. Cloud had built up in the valley of the Ghunsa Khola over lunchtime and it was a cold afternoon. No views of Jannu (Kumbhakarna / Phoktanglungma “mountain with shoulders”) (7711m) at the “First Views of Jannu” signpost, but it came into view later in the day along with Phole South (6501m), Phole Sobithonje (6645m), Khabur (6294m) and Ghunsadhar (5740m), some of which I think might have been the peaks we’d seen from the Prayer Flag Deurali yesterday, from their southern side.

A long landslide crossing high above the Ghunsa Khola got us to the long suspension bridge across to the western side of the river and the final section of the trail to Khambachen. As we waited, a lammergeier glided slowly down the ravine, below us but almost close enough to touch.

Steffi and Krishna on the last landslide traverse of the day
Steffi and Krishna on the last landslide traverse of the day

Two sets of stepping stones and an old wooden bridge later we arrived at the Khambachen Guest House where we chose our chalets, settled in and then adjourned to the Dining Room for tea and biscuits, diary, chat with fellow trekkers, including The Andorrans we’d met at Taplejung and on the drive to Sekathum, and, in time, dinner. The first yak dung stove of the trek made the room nice and snug.

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Sunday, 05 November 2023: Khambachen Acclimatisation Day (Photos)

Trek Day 6

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Jannu shrine (4400m) – Khambachen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 14km | Ascent 300m | Descent 300m

Our hike to the Jannu shrine took us back to the suspension bridge and across the Ghunsa Khola – cold while we were in the shade but things warmed up once we were in the valley of the Nupchu Khola and following a clear, rock paved trail beneath the Kumbhakarna Glacier’s side moraine. Emerging out into a wide high valley, we found seabuckthorn bushes, icy streams and and the occasional blue gentian. The trail levelled off a little and in time the Jannu shrine (Parung fokku faktanglung) came into view.

Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond
Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond

The shrine is a massive free standing boulder, sat in the plain between Jannu and the Merra Massif, and is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. We all did a circuit before sharing the large thermos of lemon ginger tea and several packets of biscuits that Mingmi had carried up. We = me, Sonia and Steffi plus our KBC crew Mingmi, Tenzee, Mingma, Krishna, Lokpa and Pasang. Dali and his kitchen team and the other porters had stayed behind in Ghunsa.

Great views of 7711m Jannu / Kumbhakarna / Phoktanglungma (“mountain with shoulders”) and the snow covered peaks and ridges either side. Jannu was largely free from snow, and its gorgeous stone colours glowed in the sun.

Lots of photos!

Me, Steffi and Sonia, Charlie's Angels at the Jannu Shrine
Steffi, Sonia and me in the high valley en route to the Jannu Shrine and with the mountains west of Khambachen beyond

We retraced our steps to return to Khambachen, collecting goba for the guesthouse stoves and paddling in an icy stream <- Sonia only there!

Back at the guest house we settled in at the tables and benches in the grassy space in front of the guest house and in time tucked into a late lunch of veg noodle soup followed by pancakes, enjoying the last of the day’s warmth and listening to three newly arrived French ladies chat. It grew cold as the clouds built up again and we adjourned to the dining room, which grew busy with the French group, the Andorrans and an English chap (Hello Peter if you’ve found this write up!).

Clear skies overnight = lots of stars. Two loo trips 🙂

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Monday, 06 November 2023: Kambachen – Lhonak (Photos)

Trek Day 7

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Lumbuchhemu (4222m) – Ladam (4291m) – Khando Waterfall (4381m) – Ramdang / Ramtang / राम्दङ (4596m) – Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m)

Distance 12km | Ascent 820m | Descent 150m

A fab day’s walking. Cold initially as the trail stayed in the shade as we followed the river north east, but once we emerged into the sunshine it was lovely and warm. We still needed light down jackets, hats and gloves on mind you. The trail was stone paved for a lot of the way – a recent improvement – and led steadily ever upwards.

An exciting section over landslide / rockfall zone brought to the spectacular Khando Waterfall. A tricky crossing stepping from one icy rock to the next, snow cover and icicles on the banks and buttresses. Seabuckthorn too. A lovely spot for a breather, once the crossing was completed. And plenty of photos.

A final flight of stone stairs brought us out onto a wide open plateau, home to Ramdang and its two tea houses. Lemon and ginger tea outside, taking in the spectacular views and the “Queen Mary” rock outcrop, then inside for veg thukpa and chat with an English guy who’d worked in Solukhumbu for 6 months in his younger years.

Another 90 mins across the plateau and up a narrow glacial moraine lined valley then the trail turned away from the Ghuna Khola and followed the Lhonak Khola instead. A wooden bridge brought the teahouses of Lhonak into view. Not many trekkers and teams in residence, in contrast to the tales we’d heard of groups sleeping in dining rooms and resorting to tents a week or so ago. The Andorrans were there though.

Panorama: Mingmi on the trail above the Lhonak Khola, Lhonak Glacier dry lake bed and Lhonak
Panorama: Mingmi on the trail above the Lhonak Khola, Lhonak Glacier dry lake bed and Lhonak

We settled into our lovely twin rooms in the Himalayan Guest House’s new block, each complete with foam insulation lined walls and hooks for hanging stuff up – always a good sign – and a loo at the end of the corridor.

Relaxing at one of the outside tables in the afternoon sun we decided it was time to crack open the Kathmandu Coffee… and between Tenzee and the wife of the couple who ran the guest house and her kitchen, we cooked up the coffee and I headed outside with the saucepan and a sieve… and some biscuits. What A Treat.

Coffee al fresco, Himalayan Guest House, Lhonak
Coffee al fresco, Himalayan Guest House, Lhonak

Once the sun went the temperatures plummeted, and we were very glad of the yak dung stove in the Dining Room, where we also found the Japanese Quartet – reunited!

Big day tomorrow, so after tea and popcorn we tucked into chips, spring rolls and momos.

Overnight: Himalayan Guest House

Tuesday, 07 November 2023: Lhonak – Kanchenjunga North Base Camp – Lhonak (Photos)

Trek Day 8

Route: Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m) – Syamjo (4851m) – Thanakpu (4966m) – Jorkyu (5035m) – Pang Pema / Pangpema / Kanchenjunga North Base Camp / KBC (5142m) – Jorkyu (5035m) – Thanakpu (4966m) – Syamjo (4851m) – Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m)

Distance 20km | Ascent 700m | Descent 700m

Up early for a very long day trekking to KBC and back. The toughest day of the whole trek for me – I didn’t eat / hadn’t eaten enough and it told in super low energy levels before we’d even got to Pangpema. A glacially cold wind and, after the sun hit the valley floor, strong sun were in our faces all the time too. The pricy garlic soup at the KBC tea house helped; a packed lunch would have been better. No energy for many photos or much exploring. I just about managed to put my prayer flags up, with some help from Mingma, Tenzee, Krishna, Lakpa and Pasang.

Sonia, Me, Steffi and Kangchenjunga (8586m), Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Pangpema
Sonia, Me, Steffi and Kangchenjunga (8586m), Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Pangpema

Cold wind and bright blue skies followed us for the return route too and by the time we’d got back to the yak kharka tea house where we did have a late dal bhat lunch I had a splitting headache and felt sick so didn’t eat much. Thankfully back at the Himalayan Guest House a good meal – spring rolls and chips followed by a slice of 80th birthday cake courtesy of the older Japanese lady (80!!!!) – and a good night’s sleep sorted me out.

At 20km it’s a long day anyway, and although the trail was generally good there was a very long and steep descent down a sandy landslip, and then a long and steep ascent back up again. And the same again on the return route. That cold wind and strong sun took their toll too.

Bed tea at 5am, left Lonak at 6am, arrived at KBC c. 11am, tea house lunch 1pm (?), Lhonak 4pm, dinner 7pm.

Overnight: Himalayan Guest House

Wednesday, 08 November 2023: Lhonak – Kambachen (Photos)

Trek Day 9

Route: Lonak / Lūnak / Lhonak / ल्होनक (4761m) – Ramdang / Ramtang / राम्दङ (4596m) – Khando Waterfall (4381m) – Lumbuchhemu (4222m) – Ladam (4291m)  – Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m)

Distance 12.5km | Ascent 150m | Descent 820m

A leisurely start, the departing Japanese group having provided a 6am wake up call, with time to pack and to hang out in the kitchen with the family who run the Himalayan Guest House as they made all our breakfasts.

The sun arrived just as we were leaving Lonak. Lovely walking and pretty much downhill all the way  back to Kambachen. Tea again at Ramdang, more photos at the Khando Waterfall, al fresco mint tea then lunch back at the Khambachen Guest House.

A free afternoon. Sonia, Mingmi and I walked up to the prayer flags and followed the sign for the Snow Leopard Research Centre, which looks more like a big hotel in the making than anything else. Smashing views of the village, and north east up the Ghunsa Khola towards Lonak and north west up the Nupchu Khola side valley. We walked the ridge trail to the next couple of chortens, high above the Nupchu Khola and Kambachen’s potato fields.

Back at the tea house we sorted out our stuff in our chalets and then adjourned to the Dining Room – stove already on – for lemon and ginger tea, chat, diary and dinner.

Overnight: Khambachen Guest House

Thursday, 09 November 2023: Kambachen – Ghunsa (Photos)

Trek Day 10

Route: Khambachen / Kambachen / Kangbachen / Kangpachen / Khāṅpāchen / काङ्पचेन (4095m) – Hajare / हजारे ओडार (3892m) – Labuk Teashop (3789m) – Chhermalung (3740m) – Tartang (3583m) – Sypchen (3541m) – Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m)

Distance 14km | Ascent 170m | Descent 810m

Another day retracing our steps back down the Ghunsa Khola valley and back below the tree line – the autumn colours had grown richer in our absence as the birch and larch leaves and needles turned gold and orange whilst the rhododendron, yew and juniper remained dark green.

A stop for a ginger tea at Labuk Kharka with the lady and her niece, more landslides crossings than I’d remembered, and back in Ghunsa in less than 4 hours.

We returned to the Kanchanjunga Guest House for a late lunch of momos, pizza and chips to share, and to rejoin our full complement of crew.

A relaxing afternoon settling into our chalets, doing some washing, recharging camera batteries and sorting out kit bags for the next stage of the trek. While most folks are either going up / down to KBC northside or crossing to / from KBC southside, we’re about to leave the beaten track and start our Lumba Sumba adventure with a couple of nights camping en route to Olangchungola.

Stuff sorted, it was time to hit the Dzonga cafe again for final americanos / cappuccinos and chocolate crunch cake before returning to the KGH’s Dining Room for tea, diary, chatting with other guests and – in time – dinner.

After we’d eaten, Mingmi introduced us to an older man who’d worked for WWF monitoring and tagging snow leopards for 10 years, up at Kambachen.

Bed 8.30pm – A Late Night!

Overnight: Kanchanjunga Guest House

Friday, 10 November 2023: Ghunsa – Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) (Photos)

Trek Day 11

Route: Ghunsa / Ghunsā / घुन्सा (3430m) – Helicopter Crash Memorial / Nango La turn off (3342m) – Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) (4160m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 850m | Descent 50m

Today was the day we left the main trails and started on those that would lead up and over the Lumba Sumba. It was our first night under canvas too.

Up and packed for 7am breakfast, on the trail by 8am. Cold in the shade, but toasty once we were walking on the sunny side of the Ghunsa Khola. Beautiful golden larches, green and gold rhododendrons and hanging moss. Orange  butterflies and birdsong. Blue skies above.

We retraced our steps down the main trail to the helicopter crash memorial and shortly after turned into the trees at a sign for the Nango La. Then it was up up up a stream-carved side valley on an easy trail through the trees. Occasional stops for water and views – clear across the Ghunsa Khola valley Mingma pointed out the Mirgin La trail that connects KBC South to KBC North. As we climbed the trees grew smaller and larch gave way to juniper, and we emerged above the tree line and crossed a rock field at the lip of a hanging valley that was home to our first camp.

Two blue roofed buildings – one kitchen / crew accommodation and one toilet – a water hose bringing water from the Yangma Samba Khola (ie the stream we’d been following) to a tap and concrete “sink”, and a fenced terraced area for tents. The campsite has superb views over to Tso Kang South (6138m), Boktoh (6114m), Boktoh Central (6037m), Boktoh West (5798m) and the Lapsang Bhanjyang (5161m).

Cloud in the Ghunsa valley, and mountains beyond, our tents in front - the view from Chauri Kharka, Nango La Camp
Cloud in the Ghunsa valley, and mountains beyond, our tents in front – the view from Chauri Kharka, Nango La Camp

Hot juice and camping stools on arrival. Dali and team were already busy preparing lunch, having already done dal baht for the crew, and soon we were feasting on veg curry, chips, Tibetan bread and cheese as our tents went up, and the cloud came down. Post lunch tea, then washing water, then afternoon tea and biscuits.

While we’d been lunching, the porters had been out gathering firewood, and once the  campsite fell into shade a camp fire was lit and we all whiled away the rest of the afternoon keeping warm by the fire and watching the sun set on the snowy peaks across the main valley. Then the stars emerging, and a satellite whizzing overhead.

Dinner was another Dali marvel – soup then momos, greens, curried potato, and apple for afters. Then bed. Two loo trips under wonderful star-filled skies.

Just magic.

Overnight: Chauri Kharka Camp

Saturday, 11 November 2023: Chauri Kharka (Nango La Camp) – Nango La – Langjong Kharka camp (Photos)

Trek Day 12

Route: Chauri Kharka / Nango La Camp (4160m) – Nango La / Nā̃go Lā / NangoLa pass (4776m) – Thasa Khola Stone Hut (4480m) – Langjong Kharka camp (3734m)

Distance 13km | Ascent 615m | Descent 1040m

Bed tea 6am, breakfast 7am, off at 8am for our Nango La crossing day.

Easy trail, still following the course of the Yangma Samba Khola heading towards the bare rock peak the occupies the skyline at the head of the valley.

We walked steadily up as bushes gave way to grass and grass to surface scree. A few stops en route provided views back out over the Ghunsa valley but as the trail curved to the north we lost sight of yesterday’s spectacular peaks.

A (relatively) tough steep zig zag to the right of the rocky peak brought us onto the final flat section of trail that leads to the prayer flags at the Nango La where a cold wind blew. Fab views of Sato (6164m), Sharphu III (6220m) and Nangma Ri (6547m) to the north.

Sonia at the Nango La (4776m)
Sonia at the Nango La (4776m)

We had a bit of time to explore then added our prayer flags, took photos, and set off northwards down into the valley of the Thasa Khola. Rockier terrain underfoot, but the trail was clear all the way down to the Thasa Khola. We hopped across the rocks and stones to the roofless stone hut where our porters were resting, and Dali and the kitchen crew had prepared another delicious lunch. But first, mugs of hot orange juice.

We resumed walking around 1pm, turning west and following the Thasa Khola downhill into the valley where the clouds were gathering. After lunching in t-shirts we soon found ourselves trekking through sleet. Shrubs reappeared, followed by rhododendrons and juniper and then tall evergreen trees. A few stream crossings and some boulder clambering as the trail approached the yak kharka where we’d spend our second night camping.

Langjong Kharka was home to yak herders who were gathering their beasts ahead of moving them to new pastures, and another blue roofed wooden hut for camping groups. Our tents were pitched in the clearing … and being investigated by the more curious (or unobservant) yaks while others decided it was time to establish who was alpha-yak with a bit of fighting. Quite alarming to be inside the tents as the yaks meandered around, and to see their eyes shining in torchlight during overnight loo trips!

Colder under cloud, but the crew got another camp fire going and we had another lovely evening gazing into the flames and feasting on Dali’s dinner.

Overnight: Langjong Kharka Camp

Sunday, 12 November 2023: Langjong Kharka camp – Olangchungola (Photos)

Trek Day 13

Route: Langjong Kharka camp (3734m) – Yangma Khola (3430 m) – Chyane (2925m) – Yangma Khola / Tamor Nadi river junction at Ramite (2800m approx) – Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m)

Distance 18.6 km | Ascent 525m | Descent 900m

This turned out to be our Holy Mackerel day, and it took us from yaks, frosty grasses and rhododendrons through moss and tree ferned forests of rhododendron, larch and birch to bamboo and cicadas, and back up into forests again. But the Holy Mackerel was earned by the long stretches of fresh landslides, high, high above the Yangma Khola and a 10/11 hour day. The photos don’t really tell the tale.

Bed tea at 6am, breakfast in the dining tent and time to warm up by the revived campfire before leaving our Langjong Kharka camp at 7am. The frosty trail followed the Thasa Khola valley downstream through rhododendron groves that grew from shrubs into trees and merged into forest, gradually getting steeper until we emerged onto the eastern banks of the Yangma Khola.

Our first, short, section of freshly trodden trail over this year’s landslides brought us to a new wooden bridge crossing to the sun-warmed northern banks of the river, lined with river tumbled rocks, giant boulders … and more dramatic landslides traversed by long sections of sandy trail, trodden two footwidths wide into the steep landslip, as the river dropped through its gorge. Lots of scrambling, lots of slippy sections where streams washed through the trail and clambering over tree trunks swept down the collapsing riversides by this year’s monsoon, and occasional relief when the trail returned to the through forest high above the river.

Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m)
Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m)

Around 1pm we reached Chyane, a small flattish ‘kharka’ area, thin soil sitting over big rock slabs left behind as the river carved its way through a deep rock gorge. It was also  home to another new-ish looking hut where the crew were relaxing and Dali was waiting with dal bhat for our lunch. How the team carried their loads along today’s trail I’ll never know.

Tree trunk & branch steps, on the trail from the Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m) to Chyane (2925m)
Tree trunk & branch steps, on the trail from the Yangma Khola Bridge (3430 m) to Chyane (2925m)

After lunch we continued to work our way carefully south west crossing yet more landslides, one of which involved clambering down tree trunks and stairs made of branches packed with mud and stones to the beaches lining the slower sections of the Yangma Khola. Eventually the landslides gave way to bamboo and wood and/or stone staircases, one of which boasted metal railings and a viewpoint across the Yangma Khola to one of the many powerful waterfalls plunging down through the forested eastern bank.

The vegetation grew increasingly lush as we continued our overall descent down the Yangma Khola valley heading towards its rendezvous with the Tamor Nadi, flowing down from the north west. In time we reached the bluff overlooking Ramite’s two blue roofs the confluence of the Yangma Khola and the Tamor Nadi,  and the trail up the Tamor Nadi from Sekathum, and on up to Olangchungola.

Soon we were on the bigger trail following the Tamor Nadi north west upstream, through three distinct valleys, each one higher than the last, waterfalls coming in on both sides and the river boiling blue over rocks.

At times the trail looked like a jeep track, at others we were crossing landslip again – but nothing like the earlier terrain. A straight forward schelp back up approx 600m brought us to the Walung village of Olangchung Gola around 5pm, and the end of the day’s trekking.

A very Tibetan-looking village, wood and stone houses stretching along stone paved “street”, prayer flags flying and mani walls brightly painted. We were arriving on the last day of the Futuk festival at the 450 year old Diki Chholing Gumba, and the village was looking its best.

Hardly a soul to be seen mind you! We assumed it was because everyone was either at the Gompa / Monastery or resting, but it turned out that there was a third reason – emigration. Also during COVID the Chinese had closed the border into Tibet and that had cut off the village’s traditional trading route north. Mingmi got talking to the village leader who was going to walk up to the border post to petition the Chinese representatives there to reopen it as getting supplies up from Nepal-side was complicated by the fact that almost all the trails and bridges have to be remade after each monsoon and after the winter snow melt too.

Mingma led us to the only one tea house in the village where our crew were washing and settling in. We did likewise in our first floor rooms – wooden walls lined with fabric, reminiscent of Gokyo! The stairs up/down from the cobbled courtyard, the loos and the main house were virtually a steep step ladder, and hard work after the day’s trek.

Into the older wooden building, the main house, and up the wide wooden staircase to the dining room where we found the stove going, thermoses of tea – and lots of other guests, including the Belgians!! A lovely evening hearing all about their trek in from Ghunsa (they’d come via Sekathum) and their experiences at the Futak festival. A speedy dinner and in bed around 8pm, content in the knowledge that we’d be staying two nights.

Overnight: Guest House (No name, but it was the only one open in the village)

Monday, 13 November 2023: Olangchungola (Photos)

Trek Day 14

Rest Day: Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m)

Distance 5.5km

Almost all the other foreign tourists set off back down the valley in the morning leaving lovely Olangchungola to residents, local pilgrims and us.

A much appreciated rest day featuring several visits to Deki Chholing Gumba / Diki Chholing Gompa / Ngagyur Dikyi Choeling Monastery, strolls around the village, wifi blagging, army commander chatting and hand made carpet buying. Even a bit of washing.

Sunny and warm. A relaxing, easy day. Just what we needed.

Olangchungola (3208m)
Olangchungola (3208m)

Overnight: Guest House

Tuesday, 14 November 2023: Olangchungola – Sanjung Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 15

Route: Olangchu / Olangchun Gola / Olangchung Gola / Olangchungola / Olāṅchuṅgolā / Walungchung Gola / ओलाङ्चुङ गोला  (3208 m) – Tamor Nadi Bridge / Dingsamba Khola valley turn off (~3710m) – Sanjung camp (4012m)

Distance | 11km Ascent 800m | Descent ~0m

Leisurely start with time for photos at the Guest House before we set off on the trail again.

A steady climb on a jeep-y track that stays close by the glacial blue waters of the Tamor Nadi. Signs of logging and planking at suitable riverside spots for the first hour or so, and abandoned road making machines.

Once we’d crossed the wood and stone built bridge and turned west to climb a stone staircase into the Dingsamba Khola side valley we were on stone paved trail following the river all the way to Sanjung camp.

We arrived in time for lunch, and a leisurely afternoon.

Sanjung camp
Sanjung camp

Both valleys are wooded, although the Sanjung camp is at the point where trees have given way to bushes – lots of juniper and rhododendron.

A lovely spot to camp – with better behaved yaks this time! Another new-looking hut for the kitchen and crew, another campfire, another evening of sunsets, stars and satellites.

Overnight: Sanjung Camp

Wednesday, 15 November 2023: Sanjung Camp – Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 16

Route: Sanjung camp (4012m) – Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (4646m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 500m | Descent ~0m

Fabulous day on wonderful section of the trail, blue skies above, following the Dingsamba Khola upstream to its source and our last camp before crossing the Lumba Sumba.

We returned to stone paved trail for the initial section out of Sanjung camp, ascending steadily up the valley, rhododendrons giving way to juniper until we were above the shrub line. Ice covered the slower sections of the stream, and we reached our first Lumba Sumba signpost, and, later, a narrow wooden bridge adorned with prayer flags that marked our arrival at the wide, flat hanging valley. Beautiful vastness. Silence only broken by the sounds of the stream and the cracking of the melting ice.

Teenage selfie at the second Lumba Sumba sign
Teenage selfie at the second Lumba Sumba sign

A breather and a  Snickers at the far end of the valley, by the boulders and prayer flags that mark the start of the steep climb up, up, up the gully to a higher, smaller valley carved out by now gone glaciers – and our camp, complete with a concrete camp hut!

A leisurely lunch and time to enjoy a sunny afternoon – a bit of a wash, aired the sleeping bags, explored up the stream in the final section of the valley – but no glacial lake.

In the time between tea and biscuits and dinner, blue sheep crossed the scree above the camp, and the three of us pondered what best to wear tomorrow. Early dinner, early to bed – we’ll be early up for our Lumba Sumba Pass day.

Overnight: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp

Thursday, 16 November 2023: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp – Lumba Sumba Pass – Yak Kharka Camp / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 17

Route: Lumba Sumba Pass East High Camp (4646m) – Lumba Sumba Pass / Lumbasumba La / Lumbha Sumbha / Lumbā Sumbā / Lungbasamba Pass (5139m) – Yak Kharka / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (4480m)

Distance 10.5km | Ascent 500m | Descent 660m

Pass day. Actually passes day as the Lumba Sumba comprises 3 distinct passes.

An absolutely superb day. Amazing views back towards the Kanchenjunga Massif at the first pass, a framed Kanchenjunga view from the second and out over towards Makalu and Everest from the third pass. Easy undulating rocky terrain in between.

Early start – bed tea at 5.30am as dawn light started outlining the surrounding mountains, and we watched sunshine chase the shadow line away as we breakfasted and readied our daypacks before setting off around 7am.

The first section was on a steep trail up a spur coming down from the high lands above to the west of the camp. Snowy in the shade but an easy trudge, and no snow to speak of once we were on the plateau. Slow and steady uphill cross country following Mingma and the cairns, peeling off the layers and stopping to admire the views which just got better and better, until we arrived at the first pass where we put up prayer flags and took a bazillion photos.

Steffi arriving at Lumba Sumba Pass No 1
Steffi arriving at Lumba Sumba Pass No 1

Then down into the shattered stone bowl between the passes, a short stop at pass No 2 to put up prayer flags then on to the main Lumba Sumba Pass and the gobsmacking views over to Makalu. The wind had picked up making it cold but not too cold for our third set of prayer flags and another bazillion photos.

First sight of Makalu (8485m) - and Mount Everest (8848 m), and many many more, from Lumba Sumba Pass No 3 (5139m)
First sight of Makalu (8485m) – and Mount Everest (8848 m), and many many more, from Lumba Sumba Pass No 3 (5139m)

A steady down over snowfields, deep in places, icy in others, brought us onto rocky plateau where we ate our picnic lunch and drank in the Makalu views.

The afternoon descent to camp took a while, with some steep scree sections and quite a few landslide traverses, all the time dropping deeper into the valley carved out by the Lapsi Khola, which I think starts in the frozen blue pokhari we’d sat above at lunchtime.

Lovely camp site, tents on flat grass next to a wide stone bottomed stream. Deep in shadow by 4pm tea time. Early dinner. Cold night.

Overnight: Yak Kharka Camp (4480m)

Friday, 17 November 2023: Yak Kharka Camp / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp – Thudam (Photos)

Trek Day 18

Route: Yak Kharka / Lumba Sumba Pass West High Camp (4480m) – Ladang Kharka (4193m) – Lase (Lapsi Khola / Medek Chheju Khola Confluence) – Samnay / Somne (3973m) – Thudam (3556m)

Distance 12.5km | Ascent ~0m | Descent 1,000m

Cold start, camp caught in the shade of the narrow Lapsi Khola valley, but with Makalu gleaming bright white against the blue skies.

An easy half day with a lot of down to Thudam, following the Lapsi Khola to its confluence with the larger Medek Chheju Khola, and the turn off for Tibet, and on to Thudam – our first village since Olangchung Gola.

Initially a gradual descent and an early section of the trail took us hopscotching over boulders and cat ice to cross the braided shallow streams of the Lapsi Khola, and into the sun. The path then dropped more steeply, lots of cascades as the stream hurtled down over boulders and rocks, the valley levelling out occasionally for kharkas, then narrowing again.

The descent brought us back into greenery – rhododendrons, juniper, the red spikey stuff, “yew” (?) hung with tinsel moss, trees that had produced lots of leaves underfoot.

Goner met us with the hot juice kettle again, a short way up trail from Thudam – a small Tibetan village, with wooden houses, chortens, mani walls and prayer flags. And yaks. We could see our camp on the other side of the Medek Chheju Khola, just below the Syangjing Khola junction, and in the sunshine – for now! Also away from any risk of yak jamboree.

Thudam (3556m) - village, river and camp panorama
Thudam (3556m) – village, river and camp panorama

Time to hang out sleeping bags out to air (and dry – lots of condensation from nighttime breathing) before lunch then a relaxing afternoon exploring the village and lounging around by the river before the valley fell into shade and it was time for tea and biscuits in the Dining Tent.

Another campfire, stars, early dinner, early bed.

Overnight: Thudam Camp

Saturday, 18 November 2023: Thudam – Yak Kharka Camp (Photos)

Trek Day 19

Route: Thudam (3556m) – Phamjo (3556m) – Chhibu Kissa – Chijung Danda (3360m) – Yak Kharka camp (2750m)

Distance 18.5km | Ascent ?670m | Descent ?1,000m

This was the day that Val’s itinerary had described as ‘a long day’ – and it was. It took me and Sonia over 9 hours, and Steffi a few more.

An epic hill hugging day. Initially quite easy, continuing on down through the mossy woods following the Medek Chheju Khola. The hard part started with some “straight up” through the trees from Phamjo to Chhibu Kissa, leaving the river far down below and cutting its way ever deeper into a very narrow, wiggly gorge.

We spent the rest of the day on a trail traversing the flanks of the Himaloso Danda. The route was easy to follow but a lot of up, a lot of down, a lot of round – and a lot of very exposed sections dropping straight down into the river gorge, and wood, stone and earth walkways cantilevered around bare rock faces. Some rock-cut steps, some stone paved trail, mostly just a bare track – and always narrow.

Hot walking through trees and bamboo. Swifts soaring above.

A super view of Makalu and friends from Chijung Danda Pass (3360m), and on the far side of the Arun Nadi the village of Chyamtang spread out over sunny slopes.

As the afternoon wore on, streams started feeding in from the north, and the monsoon rains had brought down a lot of big trees too, which required clambering over where they’d fallen across the trail often embedded in a landslide. There was a lot of clambering for one reason or another.

The blue roofed building signalling the first yak kharka is a red herring…. there was still a good couple of hours to go after that, and we were shattered by the time we got to ‘our’ yak kharka camp.

A tiny place, our two tents taking up all the flat terrace next to the ankle-breaking stone cobbled courtyard in front of the wood and bamboo house. We had tea and biscuits, and later on dinner, in the new “extension”, as yet unroofed, which served as our Dining Room and doubled up at a cabbage and potato store.

Not the most prepossessing camp site, but a lovely family who spend their summer there tending to their yaks.

Overnight: Yak Kharka Camp

Sunday, 19 November 2023: Yak Kharka Camp – Chyamtang (Photos)

Trek Day 20

Route: Yak Kharka camp (2750m) – Arun Nadi Suspension Bridge (1750m) – Chyamtang / Chyāmtāṅ (2250m)

Distance 12km | Ascent 500m | Descent 1,000m

Although I think we would all have relished a day off after yesterday’s epic, and even though the family at the Yak Kharka camp were lovely, it wasn’t somewhere any of us wanted to spend a whole day. So, after a leisurely start, photos of the family, cute goat kids, a team photo and an LED Solar Light donation, we set off up through the forest on the trail again, destination Chyamtang village. But would there be wifi? or showers?

It turned out they had the latter, but not the former. But getting there entailed descending all the way down to the Arun Nadi – approx 1000m descent, with giant nettles, butterflies, swifts – crossing over the Arun River on a suspension bridge that had a few gaping holes in the side wire chicken netting …. and then climbing 500m back up again on stone steps that brought us to the fields below the village and thence on a stone trail into the village. Hot work.

Lots of construction going on. Small girls carrying large rocks on their backs in their bamboo baskets. There’s a big road at the top of the village, for the Arun River hydro project and/or for access to/from Tibet / China. We didn’t see any traffic on it at all, which was a relief as I had visions of spending the remaining 5 days trekking on a busy jeep / bike track.

Himali Hotel & Lodge wasn’t quite the “nice tea house” we’d been hoping for. Very basic, but there was a hot shower, and a phone signal (and Mingmi’s hot spot), and a shop selling a vast array of goods including wellingtons …. and packets of dal mut (“bombay mix”), which went down very well with a shared bottle of 8% Ghorka beer or two that evening.

Dali took over the kitchen and he and Mingma made us chips for lunch.  Everyone did some washing (clothes and selves) and a leisurely afternoon leading to teatime in the Dining Room / Bar (we rejected the “Ladies Saloon” we’d been sat in on arrival), then those beers and nibbles before dal bhat dinner. On the best brass plates. Indian cricket extravaganza on the big telly.

Overnight: Himali Hotel & Lodge

Monday, 20 November 2023: Chyamtang – Hongon (Photos)

Trek Day 21

Route: Chyamtang / Chyāmtāṅ (2187m / 2250m) – Linggam / Lingam (2249m) – Chepuwa / Chepuwā (2040m) – Gimbar (2200m) – Hangdak Khola Suspension Bridge – Hongon / Honggon / Hongong / Hungung / होङ्गोन (2133m / 2445m)

Distance 17km | Ascent ?880m | Descent ?690m

Another day with a lot of down and then a lot of up! Those darn rivers….. And a long day, even with a pack of tasty treats from Mingmi.

The first section was on the new road, but thankfully Mingma soon turned off it and we were on village trails to Linggam where our permits needed checking and then onto Chepuwa, via an unexpected landslide section. They keep on coming!

Lovely walking around Chepuwa, and its fields, on a stone paved trail up to a series of Chortens and a Mani Wall. Beautiful. Then onwards, hugging the hillsides again high above the Arun Nadi valley, gradually contouring round towards Hongon. Lots of stone staircases, golden fields of millet and rice, a few stops – one with a group of ladies walking the Chyamtang for a wedding, one with a bunch of soldiers carrying their rifles. And another hard, hot slog up from the Hangdak Khola Suspension Bridge to the village…. and all the way up to the Very Top of the village, and the road.

Mingma on the trail from Chepuwa to Gimbar
Mingma on the trail from Chepuwa to Gimbar

Still, the Yangla Hotel and Lodge was lovely. Good views, lovely clean duvets, plenty of plug sockets, lots of ginger tea. And bottomless tomba for the crew. The only downside was the steep sandy path down to the hotel rooms, and the steep stairs down and up to the loos. Lots of lactic acid build up in the legs these past few days!

Overnight: Yangla Hotel & Lodge

Tuesday, 21 November 2023: Hongon – Hatiya (Photos)

Trek Day 22

Route: Hongon / Honggon / Hongong / Hungung / होङ्गोन (2133m / 2445m) – Hatiya / Hattiya / हटिया  (1585m)

Distance 12km | Ascent ?m | Descent 500m

After breakfast we left the road and the yellow digger parked outside the Yangla Hotel & Lodge and headed back down into Hongon village, veering south west on the trail that would take us to Hatiya.

A genuine half day trek today, mostly on stone / rock trails and no significant uphill sections, mostly traversing with a gradual descent. Lots of fields of rice, millet, potatoes and – increasingly – cardamom, and more mani walls and chortens.

Hongon
Hongon

A short section back on sandy road brought us to the fields below Hatiya and thence onto the stone paved lanes that thread through the village. Lots of Namastes and Tashi Deleks; lots of ducks, chickens, goats; lots of kids! A primary school, a bank and a small army outpost.

We lunched in the dining room of the Community Party of Nepal, Hatiya HQ, sorted out our rooms then explored around the village. Clouds arrived, so after tea we have a few hands of Rummy, Lakpa joining us for that. Language proves no barrier when it comes to cards!

Overnight: Community Party of Nepal, Hatiya HQ, Homestay

Wednesday, 22 November 2023: Hatiya – Gola (Photos)

Trek Day 23

Route: Hatiya / Hattiya / हटिया  (1585m) – Barun Dovan / Barun Bazaar (1100m) – Gola / Golā (1128m)

Distance 15.5km | Ascent ?m | Descent 500m

Another day of gradual down. On trails to Barun Dovan where we had lunch, then on the road all the way to Gola.

The trail section featured increasingly lush vegetation, giant grasshoppers, lots of cardamom. A tricky down and up to get through a deep landslide that had collapsed into the Arun River, and quite a lot of wood and stone cantilevered sections.

Cardamom lined trail from Hatiya to Gola
Cardamom lined trail from Hatiya to Gola

We rejoined the road not far from Barun Bazaar, and had photos with two enterprising young men from the lowlands who were selling eggs – a large van’s worth. My attempt to exchange a photo for a lift came to nought.

At Barun Dovan / Barun Bazaar the blue Barun Nadi flows into the murky Arun Nadi (Mingma told us that locally the main river is known as the Kosi Khola until further down) and the old suspension bridge has been superseded by an earthen causeway that allows vehicles to drive across, large concrete pipes let the Barun flow through. We’re on a lot of road from now on.

Sonia and I had a “foot spa” – cold – before lunch.

The road to Gola made for fast going but not particularly interesting or pleasant. Lots of construction sites, heavy machinery, construction workers, motorbikes and jeeps. We’re suddenly back in the modern world.

In Gola, after we’d settled into our carpeted (!) rooms and had had a wash, we headed out to explore the shops, the jeep stop and the bus station and encountered turkeys downtown and Mingmi and Tenzee in a local place at the top of town where they’d tracked down pani puri, which they shared two platefuls with us washed down with 3 large cans of Tuborg on our part. Cool under cloud and in the deep valley shade.

Dinner in the telly room, guessing the plot of Pogaru.

Overnight: Community Homestay No. 4

Thursday, 23 November 2023: Gola – Hedangna Ghadi (Photos)

Trek Day 24

Route: Gola / Golā (1128m) – Ekuwa (1330m) – Simma – Hedangna Ghadi / Gadi Bazaar Hedangna / Gadhidanda / गढिबजार (1180m)

Distance 17km | Ascent 200m | Descent 150m

A day on the road. Thankfully hardly any traffic once the bus from Gola had passed us by playing its cheery “I’m off!” horn tune. Cool while the shade lasted but hot thereafter.

Leaving Gola
Leaving Gola

Bananas at Ekuwa, a short, steep section up through millet fields provided a shady shortcut to a deurali village, where the roadside tea house was shut. Thankfully another was open a little further along the road, just before Simma. Tea and biscuits admiring the long waterfalls on the other side of the river valley, then we pressed on to Hedangna Ghadi.

The Sherpa Guest House was delightful. A lovely traditional house, on one of the “roads” through the large village / town, perched above their gardens (and their pair of pigs) and with a breezy veranda attached to our basic dorm room with lovely views. Late lunch in the old house then we headed out to explore town, returning to enjoy cold beers – from their fridge! – and nibbles on the veranda before dinner.

Overnight: “Sherpa” Guest House

Friday, 24 November 2023: Hedangna Ghadi – Num (Photos)

Trek Day 25

Route: Hedangna Ghadi / Gadi Bazaar Hedangna / Gadhidanda / गढिबजार (1180m) –  Arun III Dam / Arun Bridge (870m) – Num / नुम (1567m)

Distance 7.5km | Ascent 700m | Descent 300m

Last (half) day trekking.

One lovely short section of old trail through fields and past farmhouses but road almost all the way down to the river, the bridge and the Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project’s vast construction site.

Arun III Bridge / Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project
Arun III Bridge / Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project

Tarmac on the road on the far side…. but thankfully Mingma knew the old stone staircase up to Num had survived, too steep for the road to obliterate.

And, yes, it was steep, and a lot of up but fortunately through forest so we were mainly in the shade.

Num is the road head, a big place and the start / finish for Makalu treks too. The Sherpa Guest House was fully booked, but we had a lovely triple room, plenty of hooks and power sockets, and sparkling clean duvets.

Over ginger tea Sonia and I got chatting with a small group of french friends who’d just finished Lumba Sumba and the high route to Makalu Base Camp.

Late lunch sat out the front, which turned out to be the football pitch once primary school ended for the day.

Hot shower / bucket wash, mooch around town, bought oranges and snacks, sorted out tips (always tricky!), relaxed with Gorkha beers and nibbles.

Dinner, “Congratulations” cake (Dali’s last mealtime miracle), thank yous, tips and beers all round. Then bed.

Overnight: Sherpa Guest House

Saturday, 25 November 2023: Num – Tumlingtar (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Num / नुम (1567m) – Khandbari / खाँदबारी – Tumlingtar / तुम्लिङटार  (285m)

A long morning in the jeeps, with a breakdown en route. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a lot of hammering.

The road was rough to Khandbari where the tarmac starts and where we said farewell to the crew who just made it onto the bus back to KTM.

Tumlinglar is where the airport is. There is little else to recommend it and the Hotel Makalu is a hole. Not recommended. Nowhere else any better though. I’d look to stay in Khandbari another time.

Overnight: Hotel Makalu

Sunday, 26 November 2023: Tumlingtar – Kathmandu (Photos)

Travel Day

Route: Fly Tumlingtar / तुम्लिङटार  (285m) to Kathmandu / काठमाडौं

Definitely not “au revoir” to the Makalu Hotel in Tumlingtar, we took the morning flight to KTM, called in at the Marshyangdi to swop kit bags for clean clothes and continued on to the Chharari Retreat, high in the hills above Kathmandu, which provided lovely rooms, long hot showers, fresh food (from a menu!) and plenty of peace and quiet….

Our lovely room at the Chharari Retreat
Our lovely room at the Chharari Retreat

Overnight: Chharari Retreat

Monday, 27 November 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

Relaxing at the Chharari Retreat. Fresh fruit. Massage. Wifi.

Overnight: Chharari Retreat

Tuesday, 28 November 2023: Kathmandu (Photos)

Leisurely morning at the Chharari Retreat, then Mingmi and Tenzee arrived in their jeep and transferred us back to the Hotel Marshyangdi. We treated them to the Famous Falafel Wraps as a late lunch. Settled into our rooms, did a bit of shopping, met Annick for early dinner at the New Orleans Cafe.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Wednesday, 29 November 2023: Kathmandu (No photos)

Indulged in the vast array of tasty treats that is the Marshyangdi Breakfast Buffet. Prelim packing, then SHOPPING! Bought fresh fruit gift to take with us to dinner with M&T&family – but the gods decided that that was not to be.

Overnight: Hotel Marshyangdi, Thamel

Thursday, 30 November 2023: Kathmandu – Doha – London (No photos)

Early start – Qatar had brought forward the departure time for out KTM-DOH flight and annoyingly that meant we were too early for a second stab at the breakfast buffet…. and made do with a breakfast box. It also meant we have a lot more time to kill in Doha – SO EXPENSIVE, and I was tired.

Flights fine. Farewell to Sonia at LHR luggage carousel, and Steffi and I caught the Elizabeth Line to Paddington, emerging into a FREEZING night in London. Checked in at the Gresham – chosen for proximity to Paddington train station – then nipped back to the station to purchase M&S snacks for late dinner back in our room.

Overnight: Gresham Hotel, Paddington

Friday, 01 December 2023: London – Hereford – Abbey Dore (Photos)

Homeward bound through the frosty fields to Herefordshire.

Overnight: Home

Notes

Place name spelling = map / signposts

Altitude = signposts / map / The Mountain Company itinerary / Camera GPS

Distance = Sonia’s stats / The Mountain Company itinerary

Ascent / Descent = The Mountain Company itinerary / Calc from map

Mountain etc identifiation = Mingma, Mingmi and Tenzee / Mingmi’s PeakFinder app / the following pages on Günter Seyfferth’s wonderful Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya) website:


Some thoughts

Although this was the longest trek I’ve done in terms of days on trek (25), I found the Dhorpatan and Dolpo (2017) and Mera Peak & Amphu Lapsta (2019) trips harder / more challenging. I suspect that on the fact that on this trip we only had 7 nights camping, split into one 5 night chunk and one 2 night chunk, played a part there, and the generally lower altitude, and excellent weather, too.

That said, there were some hard days and tricky sections.

Even though I was well acclimatised, trekking to Pangpema and back to Lonak was a very long day, and I was knackered before we even got to KBC. But that was down to not having eaten enough. The icy cold wind and strong sunlight didn’t help either.

The two passes – Nango La and Lumba Sumba – were both very straight forward. But then we didn’t have any snow to contend with.

The landslide crossings were the trickiest I’ve ever done, particularly the long stretches high above the Yangma Khola en route to Olangchungola. That was a tiring day, concentrating hard.

As well as Sonia’s stats for distance, steps and flights (Apple iPhone Health App – fine until we got to 4000m, then the data went all doolally), Mingmi monitored our heart rate and O2 saturation levels using a PulseOx meter. And, as I do love a graph, here’s the graph of my PulseOx data and the corresponding altitude:

Nepal 2023: Kanchenjunga & Lumba Sumba - Graph showing my Pulse-Oxygen Readings (nights spent at over 3000m)
Nepal 2023: Kanchenjunga & Lumba Sumba – Graph showing my Pulse-Oxygen Readings (nights spent at over 3000m)

Logistics as at November 2023

The road reached to Sekathum at the start and Num at the finish (although we saw jeeps and jeep tracks as far north as Hatiya).

On the KBC section we had electricity / sockets in our rooms, and from Chyamtang onwards at the end.

Wifi was scarcer due to limited data signal coverage – nothing between Sekathum (mobile signal & wifi) and Chyamtang (mobile signal + hotspot).

Kanchenjunga Base Camp and the Lumba Sumba Pass: We’re (almost) back!

Hello from Kathmandu!

We got back yesterday from our 25 day trek in the far east of Nepal – well away from the earthquake. Starting walking from Sekathum we went north to Kanchenjunga Base Camp (north side) then backtracked a bit before heading west over two passes – the Nango La and Lumba Sumba.

The Lumba Sumba is technically 3 passes, all over 5000m, and we had stunning views of Kanchenjunga, Jannu (and more) in one direction and Makalu and Baruntse (and more) in the other.

Lumba Sumba, first pass. Looking east towards Kanchenjunga.
Lumba Sumba, first pass. Looking east towards Kanchenjunga.
Makalu from Lumba Sumba's third pass
Makalu from Lumba Sumba’s third pass

Amazingly lucky with the weather – blue skies pretty much every day, with the odd afternoon of cloud on a couple of days.

We are now indulging in two days relaxing at the Chharari Retreat high in the hills above Kathmandu, before a couple of days back in the thick of things in Thamel then flying back to the UK on Thursday and catching the train home to Herefordshire on Friday.

Room 107, Chharari Retreat
Room 107, Chharari Retreat

I’m getting a “Trekkers Massage” later today, we had fresh fruit for breakfast and they have fresh roast and ground coffee in the rooms and organic shampoo and body lotion in the en suite (The En Suite!) – luxury!!

Prayer flags, Ghuna deurali
Prayer flags, Ghuna deurali

So, the trek…..

We flew to Bhadrapur, jeeped through tea plantations to Taplejung (1 day, tarmac) and then on to Sekathum (1/2 day, dirt track). From there, a gradual ascent (with plenty of descents en route) through mostly tiny villages to Lhonak at 4700m. A cold and frosty place but a very warm welcome.

Lounging Ladies at Lhonak
Lounging Ladies at Lhonak

From there we did KBC there and back in a (long, cold but clear) day, then returned to the relative metropolis of Ghunsa (3500m) via Kambachen (4100m).

At Kanchenjunga North Base Camp
At Kanchenjunga North Base Camp

You can get fresh ground coffee and good solid chocolate cake in Ghunsa….

Coffee and cake, Ghunsa
Coffee and cake, Ghunsa

Then we headed west, off the beaten track and over the Nango La and a few days later, the three passes of the Lumba Sumba. There were then a further 5 days trekking out to Num, each day involving A Lot of Up and Down.

At the Nango La
At the Nango La

The contrast between the KBC section and the rest of the trek was striking. On the KBC we met lots of trekkers (Hello, Snickers-fuelled Andorrans!) and stayed in tea houses. Once we turned off that trail an hour south of Ghunsa and started trekking west we were mainly camping or staying in relatively basic “hotels” / homestays, until we got to the end of the trek in Num. The exception was Olangchugola where we stayed in a tea house along with a fair few trekkers (Hello, Belgians!). They’d only had about 50 people trek to / through the village this whole year, and later, in Honggon, we heard that we were only the 3rd group of trekkers to cross over the Lumba Sumba this year.

Olangchungola tea house
Olangchungola tea house

The vegetation was very different to either side of the Lumba Sumba. On the KBC side, we were walking through forests of glorious golden autumn larches, bronze barked birches, glossy green and gold rhododendrons and deep green juniper. On the Arun khola side we had lots of bamboo, tall trees and, as we descended, lots of very lush growth of all sorted of trees, shrubs and plants. Cardamom covered the lower slopes for the first couple of days and the last couple too. Butterflies galore.

Cardamom
Cardamom

The trails were clear – lots of stone steps and slopes where the trail is still the main route between mountain villages and yak pastures. But they really hugged the hillside in places and some of the drop offs were sheer and went a long way down, particularly once we were following the upper sections of the Arun river. So, not recommended if you get vertigo….

There is also a lot of ascent and descent, pretty much every day, rather than the steady ascents / descents of routes further west. Tiring towards the end, when we were trekking down to the river and back up high again at least once a day. And the final day, from Ghadidanda to Num came with a 300m descent to the construction site of one of the hydro power stations being constructed on the Arun, followed by a hot and sweaty couple of hours going straight up the 500m to Num. We earned a beer that day.

End of trek photo with Mingmi (and beers) at Num.
End of trek photo with Mingmi (and beers) at Num.

Lots of bridges – some metal suspension, others new built wooden replacements for ones that get washed away…

Rock and wood bridge, Lhonak
Rock and wood bridge, Lhonak
Suspension bridge over the Ghunsa khola
Suspension bridge over the Ghunsa khola

….. and lots of landslides – the most I’ve encountered on a trek, and the most challenging too, particularly high above the Yangma Khola between the Nango La and Olangchugola village.

The two passes were easy. With no snow to complicate things, it really was just a matter of walking and a lot of up, then a lot of down.

Although we only had 7 nights camping, they were memorable with multitudes of stars, the Milky Way, fingernail moons and bright shining Venus. And yaks… which are not very familiar with guy ropes it turns out.

Yak Jamboree No 1 campsite. Frosty morning.
Yak Jamboree No 1 campsite. Frosty morning.

Our return flight was from Tumlingtar, where we stayed in the most squalid hotel ever. Avoid Hotel Makalu if you’re ever there, although I’m not sure anywhere else is much better. It’s very much an airport village. The jeep journey from Num is a bumpy 4+ hours, until you reach the tarmac at Khandbari.

A big, big thank you to our main guide, the wonderfully calm and competent Mingmi Sherpa, and her brother Tenzee and Mingmi, our local Taplejung guide who completed our trio of guides. Dali and his kitchen team fed us feasts full of flavour while we were camping, and our porters where all lovely, and very good at getting a camp fire going…..

Campfire
Campfire

Thanks – and credit – to Steffi for the photos! Mine are still on the old school camera SD cards….

And big, big thanks to Val for the inspiration, planning and coordination. We missed you!

Where Next: Kangchenjunga & Lumba Sumba

Today I bought the flights to Kathmandu, which means this year’s Nepal trip has firmed up enough for a Where Next blogpost.

Steffi and I, and maybe a few others (hopefully) are off to the long awaited Kan[g]chenjunga trek, first discussed with Val back in October 2020 as Storm Alex battered the walls and windows of Steffi’s caravan perched on the coast of Far West Wales.

Destination: Kanchenjunga, Eastern Nepal, and back west over the Nango La (4,776 m) and Lumba Sumba pass (5,160 m), and maybe as far as the Makalu-Barun National Park.

When: October / November 2023

What: Trekking to Kangchenjunga North Base Camp in the far east of Nepal right on the border with Sikkim, India, and then heading back west to cross over the Nango La and the Lumba Sumba / Lumbha Sambha passes into the Makalu-Barun National Park.

Hopefully we will be able to do the extra 4-5 days along the Barun River to Mera village to explore the valley there before turning south and the long journey back to KTM.

Precise route TBC – depends on what condition the trails are in after the winter snows and the summer monsoon (landslides) and how far the road(s) have got….

How: With Val Pitkethly, of course.

Why: Hiking high in the big mountains with old friends, and another chunk of the Great Himalayan Trail – this time, the eastern section from Kangchenjunga / कञ्चनजङ्घा (8,586 m / 28,169 ft) almost to Makalu / मकालु हिमाल (8,481 m / 27,825 ft) – but Makalu Base Camp will need to wait for another trip….

Flights: We are flying with BA/Qatar. Flights have got so much more expensive… these come in at over £1000 each.

Resources

Map & Route

I do have an outline route from Val, but I’ll wait until nearer the time to share that as it’s likely to change after the monsoon and depending how far the road building had reached …

In the meantime, here’s Val’s original sketch map of the possible routes, from October 2020:

Val's 2020 Sketch Map: Kangchenjunga & Lumba Sumba
Val’s 2020 Sketch Map: Kangchenjunga & Lumba Sumba