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Great Himalaya Trail Part 4: Makalu Base Camp

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Getting into views after Kongma

Buckey and I have been on the low route of our Great Himalaya Trail thru-hike until now. Tired of the jungle, we decided to make a side trip to Makalu Base Camp in order to get to cooler temperatures and see white peaks.

From Khadbari, we took a Jeep up to the village of Num. It was a bumpy, three hour drive. We were packed onto benches in the bed of vehicle with seven other people. I ended up trading seats with the little girl next to me so she could throw up out of the back, nauseous from the ride.

In Num we met a group of American climbers who planned to summit Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. They were planning on taking a helicopter to base camp. Their Sherpas had to turn back on the trek up because the snow on the passes was chest deep. We hoped it would be packed down by the time we reached that section of trail.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Gorgeous mountains all to ourselves headed toward Makalu Base Camp

We hiked out of Num the same day with the goal of reaching Seduwa, the first day of the Makalu Base Camp trek. It would be a steep walk down to the river, then back up the other side. As is typical of Buckey and I, we got lost for the first three hours of the walk. Once again, this was due to lack of common sense. We’re hoping in the future when we feel lost we’ll stop and reassess instead of aimlessly wandering. We got back on course and finally made it to Seduwa. We saw two different bands of monkeys along the way.

Our Seduwa guest house was ran by a woman in her mid-twenties. She had three daughters running around who looked to be two, three, and four. They let us play with their toys and were delighted when Buckey tried on a purple tiara. The next morning, our Seduwa guest house owner directed us to continue onto Tashigion and stay at her husband’s sister’s guest house.

It was an easy four hour walk. Upon arrival, Buckey had an equally long afternoon nap while I collected beta for the rest of our route. I learned that there would be rooms available for our whole walk to base camp and no need for a tent. The lady at this guest house offered to store our extra gear, which we gladly accepted in order to continue on with lighter packs.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Hiking through the snow and over passes

Snow Days

The next day’s hike to Kongma was much steeper. Finally out of the jungle, the temperatures dropped and we hit several patches of snow. We still made good time to the village. My guidebook suggested taking a rest day here. However, there was a group of about fifteen people planning on taking a day off. Not wanting to be on the same schedule as such a big group in an area with limited accommodations, we decided to move on.

This was the day of the two passes, Tutu La and Keke La, both at about 14,000 feet. We walked through snow for the entire day. Luckily it was packed down by all the Nepalis who had trekked it before us. We were able to do the route just fine in our boots. Occasionally our feet would break through the snow. At one point Buckey sunk down to his hip. After a long and wet day, we made it to the lone building in Dobate. We were the only guests that night staying in the two-room structure.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
At our guest house in Dobate with the owner

We continued on towards Yangri Karka. There was an anxiety inducing, two hour stretch through a landslide area. We trotted along over loose rocks that had fallen from the hill above. It was cloudy when we crossed over the Barun Nadi river via a wooden bridge. Snow covered mountains were barely visible through the fog, and I hoped for clear skies in the morning.

The next mornings hike from Yangri Karka to Langmale Karka was the most beautiful section. The trail followed the river, through forests and meadows. There were vertical cliffs with dozens of cascading waterfalls flowing. We regularly heard and saw chunks of ice breaking off and falling from rock walls. We were surrounded by white peaks.

The final day of ascent brought us to Makalu Base Camp. At 16,000 feet we both got small headaches and had trouble sleeping that night. Our intention was to take a rest day at base camp. However there wasn’t much to do there. By 10:30 am we were so bored that we packed up and went back to Langmale Karka.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain

Starting the Descent

Eager for a few rest days in Khadbari, where we would have wifi and the ability to shower, we decided to hike back down from Makalu Base Camp as fast as possible. Following the same route, night two of the descent was spent in Dobate. This time the guest house was packed. There was a group of German climbers and their guides and porters.

The next day we woke up early, scarfed down a breakfast of eggs and chapati (it’s like a fried flat bread), and started over the passes once more. We were greeted with thick fog, poor visibility, and fat snowflakes. The thick layer of snow muffled sound, and the morning was eerily silent.

We had a quick tea stop in Kongma before continuing to Tashigion. Having skipped lunch, I was grumpy for much of the afternoon. By the time we arrived in Tashigion, Buckey’s feet were raw from his soaking wet boots and my knees ached from a total of 8,000 feet elevation loss in one day.

We returned to the guest house where we had stored our extra gear. The owner said I had the same smile as her younger sister, and she showed me a family photo album. She asked our ages and when Buckey said 26 she replied, “Are you sure?” She thought his beard made him look older.

Our last day brought us back through Seduwa, where we stopped for a Red Bull and to see the three adorable little girls we had met on the way up. We both had sore feet with every step down to the river. We stood aside twice for mule trains hauling rice bags to pass.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Buckey getting in some bouldering time

Poisonous Jungle Plants

Almost to the river, the path was made of steep stone steps. I misstepped, and suddenly I was falling and rolling down the path. I stopped myself by grabbing a root, right on the edge of an abrupt and bushy hill that lead to the river. I yelled for Buckey, and he grabbed me and pulled me back on the path. My body was mostly OK, but my skin was burning and stinging from a plant I had rolled into.

Buckey rushed me across the suspension bridge to sit in the shade. He helped me wash my skin with a water bottle. It felt like tiny needles were poking all over my arms, hands, legs, and patches on my face. Within minutes, hives were forming on my skin everywhere the plant had touched. The hives soon went away, but the stinging remained all through that evening.

We started the long walk uphill into Num with the sun beating down and the humidity tiring us. It seemed like the climb would never end. We stopped in patches of shade when we came across them. Finally we got to the ridge where the village of Num resides, thus ending our Makalu Base Camp trek. As soon as we walked into town, a Jeep driver asked us if we needed a ride to Khadbari. His price for the trip was clearly an overcharge, but we were too tired to care and too eager to get to a big town.

We’re taking a few days in Khadbari to rest our aching bodies. From here, we will take the low route to Jiri, which should be a twelve day walk.

A trek to Makalu Base Camp in Nepal.
Taking a break on the way to Langmale Karka up to Makalu Base Camp

3 Things from Buckey:

  1. One of more memorable things for me was waking up at 3:30 am during our one night at Makalu Base Camp. I was having trouble sleeping so I went outside to check things out. There was a full moon and dimmed stars shinning brightly on the craggy cliff side of Mt. Makalu.
  2. The hike from Yangri Karka to Yangmale Karka was probably the most stunning stretch of trail we have hiked in Nepal. The cliffs were sheer and the river flowing. The Barun Nadi, the sacred river that runs from the base of Makalu down the valley we trekked, flowed Carolina blue. Makalu-Barun National Park is vast and beautiful and I’m lucky to have trekked there.
  3. We ran into a trekker in Dobate who was in the valley to set camera traps in hopes getting pictures of a bear. Before this conversation I was fully aware that there were in Asian black bears throughout Nepal. What I learned was that there are also brown bears in Nepal, which is the species he hoped to photograph. I had a long conversation about all the different types wildlife in Nepal. It was refreshing to chat with someone as enthusiastic as me about animals.

Miles hiked: 193

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