Nepal Shivalaya to Lukla track notes – Food Intolerance Network
Shivalaya to Lukla high route track notes
joining parts of two treks – Numbur Cheese Circuit and Dudh Kund pilgrimage – with an exit direct to Lukla
These notes have been prepared (Dec 2018) following the trek in October 2018
Here are track notes for a 15 day camping trip, mostly above 4000m with the highest pass at 4878m, joining together part of the Numbur Cheese Circuit with part of the Dudh Kund pilgrimage and then making an exciting exit direct to Lukla.
The Numbur Cheese Circuit part goes from Shivalaya (near Jiri on the route into Everest) on the edge of the Gaurishankar Conservation area and climbs rapidly to the sacred and scenic Panch Pokhari. It then heads northwest through wilderness and grazing country and over the 4878m Gyajo La before dropping down past glaciers to the small Sherpa village of Llachhewar, the only village on this route. A link is then made east through wild country to join part of:
The Dudh Kund pilgrimage arriving through multiple passes above 4000m, past lakes and grazing fields and a possible snow leopard sighting to Saharsbeni, access for the sacred milk lake of Dudh Kund under Numbur (Shorong Yul Lha, 6958m) and icy Karelung (Karyolung, 6530m) which is visited by over 3,000 pilgrims at the August full moon each year.
Exit to Lukla follows traces of an ultra-marathon route through some truly wild country eastwards to drop down on Lukla in three days.
It is a difficult trek and should be undertaken only by those familiar with trekking in Nepal.
- A guide is not required but is recommended. Unless you can carry 8 days of food and equipment you will need a camping team. Some permits are needed, details below.
- It offers several retreat routes in case of bad weather, illness or accident – details in track notes.
This is what we did and we hope you will enjoy it hugely if you follow in our footsteps.
Gentian violets and bluebonnets were an outstanding feature in October 2018
Permits, guides, costs and gear
Maps and track notes
Access and exit for the treks
Daily track notes
If you are looking for remote trekking and wilderness with mountain scenery, this trek will appeal. Yellow high altitude pastures, the smell of honey rhododendron and the feeling of vastness in the empty landscape are the enduring images. There were many wildflowers but little wildlife, except for birds and one snow leopard.
It is mostly through country that has been grazed in the monsoon by yaks in pastures called kharkas, while the transhumant Sherpas live in goths, stone-walled structures that are seasonally roofed with tarpaulins these days. Particularly at higher altitudes, there is some evidence that this lifestyle is dying out, with many derelict goths and fewer full bred yaks in evidence lower down. Crossbred cow-yaks are easier to manage but cannot handle the cold at high altitudes and young people are leaving the villages for delights of cities.
Note in particular that there is a shortage of water in several places on this trek which limits camping places, as detailed below. Carry water if advised.
We chose to trek from 4 October which was also the family holiday festival of Tihar and so experienced remarkable solitude. Usually yaks are taken down from the high kharkas on 1 October, so we saw no Nepalis while trekking other than in the settlements of Llachhewar and Saharsbeni. In addition, we met only two parties of foreigners – four Russians carrying mountain bikes (!) and a Frenchman with a dog. To see the grazing yaks and perhaps cheese-making, you would have to trek in June-September, raising other problems like leeches, rain and cloudy weather. November and December may be better times to go, but they are far colder.
For us the weather pattern was cold and clear overnight and in the early morning, but every day, sometimes as early at 9am, we were enveloped in thick cloud which hindered navigation and mountain views. Therefore we left and stopped early, making short days. If blessed with clear weather, an alternative shorter itinerary is provided here:
|1 Shivalaya – Khahare||3:30|
|Khahare – Pani Paka||3:30|
|2 Pani Paka – Mane Danda||3:45|
|3 Mane Danda acclimatisation day||3:00|
|4 Mane Danda – Panch Pokhari||3:30|
|5 Panch Pokhari – Tare kharka camp||8:00|
|6 Tare kharka camp – Ngeju kharka||6:00|
|7 Ngeju kharka – Llachhewar||5:30|
|8 Llachhewar – 4041m camp||6:30|
|9 4041m camp – Saharsbeni||7:00|
|10 Saharsbeni – Dudh Kund – Saharsbeni||9:00|
|11 Saharsbeni – Lost camp||5:30|
|12 Lost camp – Upper Luja khola bridge||6:00|
|13 Upper Luja khola bridge – Chheplung||7:30|
Permits, guides, costs and gear
No special permit is required to undertake this trek and a guide is not required although recommended. However unless you can carry eight days food and camping gear you will require porters.
You will require a Gaurishankar Conservation Area entry permit at $US35 per head and a TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card at $US10 per person. These are best obtained in Kathmandu prior to departure although there is a Gaurishankar office in Shivalaya that may be open.
If continuing into the Everest area, as we did over Renjo La etc, then you will need a Sagarmatha National Park entry at $US35 per person and pay Pasanglamu local government taxes at $US20 per person.
Our preference is for a light flexible team using local food where possible (dalbhat twice a day is great) and minimum equipment. For two of us, given the 8 days between villages, we had a team of five in 2018: a guide, a cook, and three porters. We had a small tent plus a mess tent that doubled as the team tent, and a toilet tent. We carried a satellite phone. There is spotty mobile reception using NCell and Nepal Sky SIMs. A small solar charger provided power for the satellite phone, a compact camera, UV water sterilizer, two headlights, and two Kindles. We took instant coffee, honey, Snicker/Mars bars for over 4000m, some muesli bars and trail mix from Kathmandu. Staple food and kerosene fuel we purchased in Shivalaya, with some food like tsampa (parched barley flour) and rolled oats from Kathmandu.
For guides and professional organisation, we very highly recommend Visit Himalaya Treks www.visithimalayastrek.com run by Himal Tamang firstname.lastname@example.org whom we have used on eight occasions to complete satisfaction, negotiating daily rates for guide, porters, food and actual costs for necessary travel.
We want to record our deepest thanks to our team in 2018 of Khudambir Tamang (KB), ‘Babu’ Tamang, Sangay Sherpa, Tenzing Sherpa and Deepak Tamang. Their unfailing cheerfulness and helpfulness will not be forgotten.
Maps and track notes
We used a Nepal Map Publisher 1:50,000 Jiri-Lukla-Namche map and found it generally accurate except where noted below and particularly wrong on the section from Saharsbeni to Lukla. The spelling of place names from these maps have been used in the following track notes but alternate spellings are given.
Track times given are actual hours walking, with brief rests. The times do not include lunch, for instance, which may add two hours if you are ordering or cooking dalbhat. This can be an issue: your guide and porter expect to eat at 10am or 11am depending on how early you start and often they use this waiting-for-lunch time to wash themselves and clothes. Our solution is to make a rule to walk for at least 3 hrs before stopping, which makes sure some good progress is made and then feel happy about a long lunch.
Altitudes given are from the map, in metres. Height gain/loss per day is cumulative and rough, from an altimeter and may help you know what is coming.
Access and exit for the trek
Shivalaya is now a road head but the road from Jiri to Shivalaya is very rough. Allow 10hrs from Kathmandu by jeep or longer by bus.
To exit you can fly from Lukla, explore the Everest area or exit to Phaplu, Jiri or even Tumlingtar https://fedup.com.au/information/nepal/nepal-khumbu-arun-valley-track-notes
Even the tent got into the Nepali Buddhist mode
Shivalaya to Lukla high route track notes
|1 Shivalaya – Khahare||3:30||Yes|
|Khahare – Pani Paka||3:30||No|
|2 Pani Paka – Mane Danda||3:45||No|
|3 Mane Danda acclimatisation day||3:00||No|
|4 Mane Danda – Panch Pokhari||3:30||No|
|5 Panch Pokhari – Dobatto camp||6:00||No|
|6 Dobatto camp – Tare kharka camp||2:00||No|
|7 Tare kharka camp – Ngeju kharka||6:00||No|
|8 Ngeju kharka – Llachhewar||5:30||Homestay|
|9 Llachhewar – 4041m camp||6:30||No|
|10 4041m camp – River camp||3:00||No|
|11 River camp – Saharsbeni||4:00||No|
|12 Saharsbeni – Dudh Kund – Saharsbeni||4:00||No|
|13 Saharsbeni – Lost camp||5:30||No|
|14 Lost camp – Upper Luja khola bridge||6:00||No|
|15 Upper Luja khola bridge – Chheplung||7:30||Yes|
1. Shivalaya – Pani Paka 1300m↑ 7hrs
Take the level trafficable road on the true left of the Khimti khola, not the track climbing above Shivalaya and going to Bhandar. Pleasant walking in an open green valley of buckwheat and millet with the river beside, 1.5hrs to Garjang with the Garjang Lodge and just afterwards pass the huge 19MW hydro power station under construction. There was no traffic for us but the road does terminate in hydroelectric headworks above Khahare so trucks may be encountered. Climb slowly to Khahare (2175m) for the Himalayan Sherpa Lodge with camping for an excellent Rs300 dalbhat lunch of choko (chayote, iskus), crispy potato straws and a fresh tomato achar, served with a glass of fermented buttermilk mohi. Climb 250m 30 mins on a rougher road to the hydro headworks, where a hidden steep stair track starts directly behind, not further up valley and not on the road back to the right. This access must change once the headworks are further developed. Climb to a swing bridge 2230m over the Ghwang khola after another 30 mins, cross and go right passing left of a Hindu/Buddhist shrine to start the relentless ridge climb for 2.5 hrs, enlivened for us by a hailstorm. There is a leaning wooden shed for shelter at Pani Pakha (3110m) but despite the camp’s name water (pani) was difficult to find: check the inlet for the black pipe between the shed and the flat camping area. Heavy rain cleared later to reveal the valley lights below but Shivalaya is out of sight.
Looking west across Pani Paka (3110m). The water pipe is near the rock between tent and shed
2. Pani Paka – Mane Danda 850m↑ 3.5-4hrs
The weather pattern we encountered was clear mornings, cloud and whiteout by midday, with risk of rain or snow each afternoon so we made early starts and did short days so as to see the mountains. Continue quite steeply up the ridge danda behind the shed, reaching Phokte 3470m in about 1hr, no water, roofless goths. The rhododendron, oaks, holly and beech give way to rhododendrons among silver spruce and the hot smell of juniper needles in the sun then to subalpine scrub with epiphyte-laden rhododendrons among mossy boulders. Climb again steeply to prayer flags at 3870m after 2hrs then more gently along a lovely alpine ridge, for us in mysterious clouds, to empty huts above which in a saddle is Mane Danda (4180m) with a couple of ruined goths and plenty of camping sites. Again there was no water despite extensive searching but we were saved by a savage thunder and lightning storm and snow and later found water in broken pipes nearly 1hr away towards Kal Pokhari. There is water and camping either about 1hr north towards Kal Pokhari (seen Day 3 notes) or about 1.5hrs further on towards Panch Pokhari if water can’t be found here (see Day 4 notes)
Mane Danda campsite (4160m) with path beyond left to Kal Pokhari and valley right leading up to Panch Pokhari (4495m)
3. Mane Danda acclimatisation day
Note that for safe acclimatisation the daily altitude gain is 300m per day above 4000m. Watch for signs of altitude sickness and be prepared to rest or retreat if they emerge, particularly if you have respiratory or gut issues. Consider using Diamox and remember that there are no clinics or easy communications in case of trouble.
We took an acclimatisation day at Mane Danda and attempted to reach Kal Pokhari (4380m) to the northwest on an obvious track, but going was slow due to icy snow and we turned back once the midday clouds had rolled in obscuring all views. A guess is about 2hrs each way to the lake, with a stream and good flat area for camping after 1hr. Lunch was a standout: home-made thukpa (Tibetan noodles) with simi (beans), iskus (choko), gundruk (home-made fermented dried mixed greens like saag mustard green, radish and cauliflower leaves fried then rehydrated into a tasty gravy) and masyraura or masyura (nuggets prepared in many Nepali houses during winter from different lentils mixed with taro stem, yam, potatoes, cauliflowers or spinach, rehydrated in a curry gravy). A pleasant afternoon in the tent with an afternoon thunderstorm and snow which yielded to a cold clarity after midnight.
Kal Pokhari (4380m) is over the lip in sunshine back left, with water and camping on flat below
4. Mane Danda – Panch Pokhari 600m↑ 100m↓3.5-4hrs
Drop off the Mane Danda saddle to the right north through pleasant forest on a good track. After about 1-1.5hrs and an up-and-down descent of 100m find limited camping and water in two places 10 mins apart. Another 1hr takes you to an open light-filled cwm with a shallow wide stream and the smell of the honey dwarf rhododendrons, several species of which distinguish this trek from others. A long row of stepping stones crosses to the true left of Ghwang khola to a track marked as an alternative and shorter route to Llachhewar village or Gumdel, crossing a ridge at about 4200m. Stay on the true right of Ghwang khola and in a short climb pass a shrine across the river and a goth and camping space above Jata Pokhari, a beautiful sacred lake nestled on the right. There were extensive fields of gentian violets all around. At the head of the valley to the right is the waterfall which drains Panch Pokhari (“five lakes”) but the route, visible, goes up the right of the stream on the left side of the valleyhead. There can be snow and ice on this track, which then traverses the skyline right on a well-formed track with grand views of Jata Pokhari below and then descends gently to the lakeside altar to Shiva with a burden of prayerflags on the eastern end of the stunning Panch Pokhari (4495m on map but our altimeters said 4170m). We arrived in gentle snow and camped on the arrival flat, where clearly many of the worshippers who flock here in the monsoon also choose to camp. It felt like a place of great peace and great cold when the stars appeared later in the night.
Jata Pokhari (4235m) from track leading up to Panch Pokhari (4495m); the route came up true right of stream to right
The largest of the five lakes at Panch Pokhari (4495m), campsite at back centre
5. Panch Pokhari – Dobatto camp 100m↑ 860m↓170m↑ 6hrs
This was an extraordinarily beautiful wilderness day. There is a clear path anti-clockwise about the lake but we chose to go clockwise in Buddhist tradition, which was less clear and rather rocky. The intended Panch Pokhari Pass 4601m is to the right directly over the lake, 1hr up a shallow ridge with a sketchy gravel track arriving at a flagged chorten. Some of our party easily crossed an alternative pass just to the left. If clouds permit there are excellent views of Numbur (Shorung Yul Lha 6958m), sacred to Sherpas. Drop down the grassy valley with gentian violets keeping true right of the stream with traces of track, admiring the unmarked lake to the right. After about another 1hr and at 4300m, passing several abandoned goths, look closely for a zigzag track climbing 100m up the bluffs left. There was no obvious track leading to this path but do not continue down the valley over the lip.
An exposed traverse through bluffs then opens to views of a picture-book cirque of subalpine rhododendron and grazing flats. The onward track may be visible to the right of a small lake below, after a ruined goth and small bridge. Drop to the lake in about 1.5hrs at 4000m where a sign will inform you that this is Khola kharka, even though the map shows that kharka as being back under the pass. This would be a lovely place to camp, surrounded by waterfalls and rhododendrons. After the small lake, start a steep zigzag descent through pines and bamboo for 200m then traverse up valley on an indistinct and difficult trail. At one point a nasty 50m descent is required in a rocky riverbed to find the ongoing traverse. The track is not marked and is clearly rarely used, possibly only by medicine gatherers. Distinctive wildflowers we called bluebonnets first became evident, a feature of this trek. Eventually cowpats provide welcome signs of monsoon grazing and the track improves as it climbs beside the Nupche khola from about 3700m. We found only limited camping right on the riverside track, Dobatto camp (3870m) otherwise it is at least another hour to camping, over the Dobatto bridge and up into lower Tare kharka where there is plenty of camping.
Descent from Panch Pokhari Pass (4601m) with view of Numbur (Shorung Yul Lha 6958m), sacred to Sherpas
6. Dobatto camp – Tare kharka 320m↑ 2hrs
Climb about 100m to the Dobatto (“two tracks”) bridge consisting of two planks at about 3970m. Gaze with longing up the valley north and northwest with mysterious tracks and wild glaciers heading past the trekking peak Ramdung (5925m) to the upper Rolwaling and Tibet. Sigh, cross the bridge and climb 30mins to the first of many huts and a lovely flat golden kharka, exited only 2-3 weeks before to judge from the yak droppings. We crossed a second bridge right to visit several huts on the true left, wrongly signposted “Tare kharka 4100m” but there was no water. These huts included what is probably the collapsed cheese “factory”. We then continued on that bank to a lovely campsite under the zigzags leading to tomorrow’s pass, but it was rough under foot and the track may be better on the true right. Tare kharka camp (4180m) was a most lovely spot with moraine and bare rock behind, snowgrass zigzags enticing one on above and braided streams through the yellow kharka down valley. Cloud unfortunately arrived by 10am which rather spoiled the intended laundry tasks.
Heading east up Tare kharka (4140m). Gyajo La (4878m) lies up sunlit zigzags out of sight to the right in centre of photo
7. Tare kharka – Ngeju kharka 600m↑1130m↓ 6hrs
This was one of the best days trekking we have ever had, despite a cold night with wind clearly off some glacier. Only 2hrs non-stop on an excellent trail with snow and ice-covered stairs towards the top to Gyajo La (4878m), revealing views back over the golden flat of Tare kharka to snowy mountains towards Tibet. Onwards, an icefall spilled into the large unnamed glacier on the left through shifting clouds, down valley the terminal lake of the Likhu Glacier arrived from the left, and above was Shorung Yul Lha (Numbur; 6958m) sacred to the Sherpas, with spiky black satellite ridges crammed with hanging glaciers.
Drop down the dry valley to the right of the moraine wall on snowgrass, passing evidence of grazing with some goths in use but many are derelict. Enjoy the unfolding views up the Likhu Glacier, with a tidy set of goths tucked left of the terminal moraine – the path marked on the map up the true right of the Likhu Glacier is visible near these. First water is found after about 1.5hrs, draining from the right. Gentian violets and edelweiss, golden snowgrass and autumn-tinged herbs, and shifting sunshine with mountain glimpses through cloud all made this a perfect day. Therefore it was a shock to meet three middle-aged Russian men and one woman in Lycra, carrying awkward packs and their mountain bikes up towards us, very slowly. We explained to these first trekkers that we had seen in six days that there was no ridable track at all ahead of them, let alone an icy pass, and wonder what happened to them because in fact we saw no ridable track below them either.
Drop more steeply to several goths on a flat space on a ridge opposite the Likhu Glacier terminal lake, bear left to find the zigzag onward trail which drops into a pretty pine and deodar forest with moss-covered boulders for some time and traverses south above the Likhu khola. Note that the map location and altitude given for Ngeju kharka is wrong. Keep descending and watch for and cross a local bridge over the Likhu khola with a glimpse of wooden huts lower on the true left. Arrive through a deodar and spruce forest to a clearing with the eight uninhabited huts of Ngeju kharka (3670m) and the junction for a track to Kau Gumba.
Descending from Gyajo La (4878m) with unnamed glacier left, the Likhu Glacier terminal lake ahead under rocky Karelung (Karyolung, 6530m). Numbur (Shorung Yul Lha 6958m) is out of sight left
Uninhabited Ngeju kharka (3670m) in typical post-midday weather in October 2018
8. Ngeju kharka – Llachhewar 100m↑ 950m↓ 5.5 hrs
At the bottom of the Ngeju kharka there is a second local bridge leading back to the true right of Likhu khola. Climb back up into old growth pine, spruce and rhododendron on a very rocky and totally uncyclable trail, then start descending past occasional wooden goths with evidence of cows and goats but no people, all well above the Likhu khola. Descend further into bamboo, rhododendron, pine, sycamore and other broadleaf trees, then climb and traverse to arrive in the prosperous Sherpa village of Llachhewar (2765m) with 20-30 scattered houses set among potato, buckwheat and bean fields. This was the only village in seven days and resupplied welcome rice, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, tutsi karela (bitter gourd), iskus (choko) and saag (mustard greens). Kerosene was not available. We camped at the far end of the village among cow-yak crosses and enjoyed the afternoon rain from inside the tent. There is a friendly homestay in the village. The setting sun burnt through the afternoon murk to reveal Numbur (6958m) on fire above.
From Llachhewar it is possible to exit in two days to the road in Bhandar (2190m) via Gumdel (2240m).
The only village on this trek, Llachhewar (2765m), for fresh vegetables and rice resupply
Distant view northeast of Llachhewar (2765m) of sacred Numbur (Shorong Yul Lha, 6958m) left and rocky Karelung (Karyolung, 6530m) right
9. Llachhewar – 4041 camp 120m↓ 1550m↑ 6-6.5hrs
This is a gruelling day with no water until the end. Descend back to the east through potato and bean fields 30mins to a long swing bridge, and then climb relentlessly on a muddy steep track south through bamboo, rhododendron, pine, sycamore and other broadleaf trees. The watchword is “where the cow slips, there slip I” (with apologies to Shakespeare). Halfway up the ridge and down to the right you may glimpse a camp where the honey-smelling rhododendron is being harvested and distilled. Emerge into sub-alpine vegetation with lower smooth-bark rhododendrons at about 3800m then low in a small clearing at 3900m look for an open path going left. There are occasional red arrows pointing to WG, the Sherpa name for Dudh Kund. Traverse up and down, and then climb a ridge right to views of the inaccessible Sailung khola left. There is a goth just out of sight above to the right, but no water. Continue left climbing towards the upper Sailung khola and arrive suddenly at a comfortable goth by the river with ‘4041’ painted on it in red. 4041 camp (4041m!) has limited camping but throwing a fly over the goth provided excellent shelter for the team. A strong smell of sweet honey from the dwarf rhododendrons and west a sea of boiling cloud in the late afternoon are enduring memories.
Camp 4041 (4041m) with goth to left and upper Sailung khola. The onward route lies up right in shadow to immediate right.
10. 4041 camp – River camp 400m↑350m↓ 3 hrs
Another highlight day, particularly with a close view of a snow leopard not far above our camp. Climb across the gentle snowgrass in an easterly direction for about 1hr to the lake marked on the map, sparkling in the clear morning. Climb above to the grassy pass and chorten at 4420m in another 30mins, and then descend left to the east. This area would be difficult in mist. The red WG markers are confusing here: for the teho bhatto (“true path”) the aim is to pass between the lakes, two to the right out of sight and one left below a solid but dilapidated roof goth. Pick up a track at the left lake’s outlet, go left and descend to the river below. This river drains from multiple lakes above including Chharungkha above a waterfall in the head of the pretty cirque and then past the Thupten Chholing Gumba to Junbesi. We camped here to be certain of water as the midday clouds rolled in but there is excellent camping about 1hr higher (see Day 11) and a strong party could reach Saharsbeni this day. There are several campsites at River camp (4100m), including on a low-lying island. The lights of a village towards Junbesi, maybe Kumagangdu, may be seen down valley, as can the planes buzzing over Taksindu La to Lukla or Kathmandu. Our team excelled with no-MSG momos, with saag (mustard greens) and tutsi karela (bitter gourd) served with an onion and garlic sauce. A very solid frost overnight left huge icicles in the river.
From River camp it is possible to exit to the road at Junbesi (2760m) in one long day past Thupten Chholing Gumba.
A very ordinary photo of an extraordinary snow leopard just above Camp 4041 – the tail is distinctively as long as the body
The goth above the left-hand lake at 4380m. The path lies across the lake outlet, left and down to River camp. Tomorrow’s Choim Pass (4327m) can be seen on skyline directly above the left-hand end of the lake
11. River camp – Saharsbeni 250m↑350m↓ 4-4.5hrs
A day when the vastness and emptiness of the country really impressed itself upon us. Follow red arrows downstream on true left then up a rising traverse across a face to an open snowgrass ridge tending left for Choim Pass (4327m) with four chortens in 1.5hrs. This is not the path shown in the map, which joins somewhere from the right under the pass. The kharka just before this pass has water and would be an excellent campsite. Circle high left on a good track following red arrows, crossing two excellent kharkas recently vacated, with water and camping and, if clouds permit, great views of Kantega, Thamserku and perhaps Ama Dablam in the Everest area. The fields of gentian violets and high golden kharkas made mysterious by swirling mist created a very special day. Descend on a loose track past a dozen yaks, the only ones we saw, to the several blue-tarpaulined goths of Saharsbeni (4250m), which are above the new bridge shown on the map and not lower as indicated. There is no high school. Note the sign red-blazoned on a rock by the bridge, indicating that the route we have arrived by leads to ‘Chhewar’.
We had intended to camp at Dudh Kund itself then attempt the 5000m pass above Kalo Pokhari and so to Lukla, but the poor weather pattern and local advice from Ang Dawa Sherpa about the lack of any trail convinced us to hire a tarpaulin-covered goth here for two nights for the team and visit Dudh Kund as a day trip. Ang Dawa intends to keep his small shop and shelter open all next year, rather than closing at the end of November as has been the case in the past. Our tent was cold enough in the down-valley glacial air drainage without going any higher in any case.
From Saharsbeni it is possible to exit in two days to the road at Taksindu La (3071m) via a camp at Sarkaripati (3503m) or, on a less developed track, to Ringmu (2720m) also in two days.
Cloud-filled valley left leads to Saharsbeni (4250m) and Dudh Kund
12. Saharsbeni to Dudh Kund return 320m↑ 320m↓ 4 hrs
The sacred milk lake of Dudh Kund under sacred Numbur (Shorong Yul Lha, 6958m) and rocky Karelung (Karyolung, 6530m) is visited by over 3,000 pilgrims at the August full moon, who usually access it from the road at Taksindu La (3071m) via camps at Sarkaripati (3503m) and Saharsbeni as do most trekkers. Dudh Kund itself is a steady climb through moraines from Saharsbeni and the kora (sacred round) is done anti-clockwise rather than in the traditional clockwise direction to avoid passing the first unlucky lake, called Ghost Lake, on the return trip. Apparently the volume of Ghost Lake was much reduced by the 2015 earthquake. The next lake is Kali Pokhari, which is not black but deep green. Access to the 5000m pass, which looked icy and imposing, is to the left of this lake. A short walk above the deserted pilgrim shelters is the huge Dudh Kund (4561m), milky and remote under three major glaciers. The altar is buried under Shiva tridents, bells and Buddhist flags. Take lunch and enjoy the amazing mountain solitude – other than the Russians and one Frenchman with a dog above Llachhewar we had still not seen any other trekkers. Return by a more direct route to the right of the outward path.
Milk lake of Dudh Kund under sacred Numbur (Shorong Yul Lha, 6958m) and rocky Karelung (Karyolung, 6530m) to right
13. Saharsbeni – Lost camp 450m↑ 300m↓ 5-5.5 hrs
Another very lovely day, but note that the tracks on the map are not accurate at all and that the bridge shown on the Luja khola has not existed for some years. The new bridge is far up the Luja khola at about 3240m (under the ‘k’ of Luja khola on the map). The views would be magnificent but for us afternoon clouds made navigation problematic. The route ahead was marked with red and blue symbols for two separate ultramarathons, so we were told, but the markers are often indistinct and cryptic as to direction. Use them as indicators and for reassurance, but be willing to exercise judgement too. Ang Dawa provided helpful advice.
Descend 20mins on the true left below Saharsbeni, past the bridge, and climb left following the markers up to a pass at 4133m in 30mins, descend to cross a creek draining right and climb straight ahead 1hr to a second pass 4372m. Bear left 20mins for a third pass 4428m across a rockfall. Keep left again and descend on indistinct trails through a large kharka. If you pass a huge boulder on the left with prayer flags and a chorten underneath you are on track. We had never seen such fields of gentian violets, high yellow kharkas and rockfalls, all so empty. Keep bearing left and descend in 40mins to an extensive waterlogged kharka at 4120m with a strong flowing river and stone bridge. It took us 3hrs to this point. Cross and traverse a loose steep hillside, gaining a ridge which climbs up and down north and northeast rather than the expected east but with some red and blue markers. Another 2hrs and 150m of climbing among crags in mist found us a welcome goth, rare flat campsite and flowing water at Lost camp 4273m. We settled in to the sound of rain and wondered where we would find ourselves when the clouds departed.
The daily reality of this section of the route, given cloud, unclear tracks and a poor map
Searching for a flat space with water on a ridge in cloud, leading to Lost Camp (4273m)
14. Lost camp – upper Luja khola bridge 200m↑ 1200m↓6 hrs
Superb views all around, blue ranges fading off to the south down the Dudh Koshi nadi, jagged ridges black before chains of mountains east and north, Kantega and Thamserku and Kongde? A very heavy frost. Ahead of us a shallow saddle climbed to views of a broad valley, but do not be tempted to go below the bluffs down valley. Instead, cross the cirque and climb through unlikely looking rockfalls and bluffs, following some red and blue markers, to a cairn with flags at 4445m in 1.5-2hrs. Then there is an unremitting descent on slippery moving rocks under black bluffs and down waterfalls, every step difficult. It was hard to imagine an ultramarathon coming through here but that may have been the thick cloud and rain that had arrived at 9am. Into bamboo at 3900m then subalpine rhododendron with a lot of the beautiful longleaf varieties (chimal). Three young Nepalis overtook us here, having left Saharsbeni at 4am that very morning each carrying more than 30kg of yak butter to Ghat for trekkers. Cross a fresh boulder field of large unstable rocks, perhaps from the 2015 earthquake, slowly and carefully. The markers are hard to find. Descend finally into ancient wet forest among house-size boulders, where a tent-site had been hacked out beside the roaring river and it rained. Upper Luja khola bridge (3250m).
View north from Lost Camp (4273m) with shallow saddle in nearest ridge then onward route through left notch 4445m on dark skyline
Start of the long descent from the notch at 4445m to Upper Luja khola bridge (3250m), note prayer scarves on cairn
The descent from the notch 4445m centre, viewed from Upper Luja khola bridge (3250m) seen the next morning
15. Upper Luja khola bridge to Chheplung 400m↑ 11150m↓250m↑ 7.5 hrs
The bridge itself was 10mins scramble downstream, a few planks scarcely discernible among the moss-covered boulders. Climb steeply 2hrs through black bamboo and moss-covered slabs all sloping the wrong way, dwarf cotoneaster and chimal (longleaf rhododendron) to a sunny notch in the bamboo at 3623m. Descend on a drier track in bamboo to a clearing from which Lukla is visible below across the valley, having been audible for some time – the clatter of helicopters is now constant in the Everest area. Descend through birch and sycamore 700m 2.5hrs to Tate 2923m where our team co-opted the traditional house of an old guide to cook a welcome dalbhat. Drop below the village, climb to traverse north, descending to the prosperous Sengma at an abandoned school, keeping right of village down the penstock trail with new stairs to cross the Dudh Khosi at 2490m after another 2.5hrs. Climb on stairs to the unbelievable crowds of the main Everest trail at Chheplung (2660m) where the **Hilltop View Lodge offers warm hospitality, even hotter gas showers, a washing machine (!) and organic freshly roasted coffee.
Jungly camp at Upper Luja khola bridge (3250m)
We were surprised by how jungly and remote the Luja khola was from the crowds and noise of Lukla and how locals who had lived near Lukla for their lifetimes had never seen it
Thanks to our marvellous cheerful and kind team, from left: Tenzing Sherpa, Sangay Sherpa, ‘Babu’ Tamang, Deepak Tamang and guide Khudambir Tamang (KB)
Sue and Howard Dengate (October 2018). All changes, comment and corrections welcome at email@example.com