Getting Off The Beaten Path In The Khumbu

©istockphoto/fotoVoyagerSince the release of Jon Krakauer’s sen­sa­tion­al best­seller Into Thin Air, the trail that leads to Ever­est Base Camp has become increas­ing­ly crowd­ed every trekking sea­son. With the news that Nepal plans to build a paved road between the towns of Jiri and Luk­la, the gate­way to Saga­martha Nation­al Park, many will soon find an eas­i­er path across this well-trav­eled region. While the mass­es are fol­low­ing the stan­dard route across one of the world’s most pop­u­lar treks, there are oppor­tu­ni­ties for adven­tur­ers to forge new paths to the less vis­it­ed areas of the Khum­bu region.

Makalu Base Camp
Lead­ing to Makalu, the world’s fifth high­est peak, the trail to base camp is remote, stren­u­ous, and more adven­tur­ous than the road to Ever­est. Begin­ning with a flight into Tum­ling­tar, a remote air­field in East­ern Nepal, and well under the ele­va­tion of Luk­la, the 12-day trail to Makalu ascends over 3,000-feet (1,100-meters) in the first four days. The tea­house lodges are sim­ple, and trekkers pitch tents on the more remote sec­tions of the trail. Start­ing from a rhodo­den­dron grove, the trail ascends into a val­ley of tow­er­ing mono­lith­ic gran­ite walls, cas­cad­ing glac­i­ers, and soar­ing water­falls. Base camp is set in a lush val­ley with the tit­u­lar peak ris­ing dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the back­ground. Makalu’s sharp black pyra­mid pierces the sky above a jagged sky­line that includes Ever­est, Lhotse and Baruntse.

Three Pass­es Trek
Fol­low­ing a breath­tak­ing trail around the oppo­site end of Ever­est Base Camp, the Three Pass­es Trek tra­vers­es Kong­ma Ra, Cho La, and Ren­jo La, a series of alpine val­leys that gaze on the world’s high­est peak but receive a frac­tion of the trekkers that fol­low the stan­dard path. After fol­low­ing the famil­iar path, trekkers veer east from Teng­boche and track towards the emer­ald-like Ama Dablam. From just under her twin sum­mits, the trail ascends to a look­out over the Khum­bu Ice­fall, the treach­er­ous mov­ing glac­i­er that guards the Ever­est climb­ing route. A high tra­verse descends into the Gokyo Region, famous for its jade-col­ored lakes and a panora­ma of sev­er­al 8,000-meter peaks from Gokyo Ri. After sev­er­al days at 16,000-feet, trekkers descend to the town of Thame and fol­low the stan­dard route to Lukla.

Ama Dablam Base Camp
Ama Dablam is with­out a doubt one of the most unfor­get­table moun­tains in the world. With twin sum­mits, a hang­ing glac­i­er across the face, and pure white slopes, the peak’s sub­lime beau­ty is one of the high­lights of a trip into the Khum­bu. The trek to its base camp is a short­er and less crowd­ed sojourn up a near­by ridge. From here, there are unob­struct­ed views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Cho Oyu. Camp is estab­lished just below, and the climb to the ridge starts well before dawn, con­clud­ing with a mag­nif­i­cent gold­en alpen­glow bathing the Himalayas. After­ward, the descent to Khumjung, where Edmund Hillary estab­lished a hos­pi­tal and school, offers views of Kongde Ri’s mas­sive wall over­shad­ow­ing Nam­che Bazaar and the jagged Kantega.

Rowl­wal­ing Val­ley Trek
The West­ern Khum­bu is a remote land thats rarely explored or even talked about. There are no tea­hous­es here, no estab­lished tourist trade, and no ameni­ties just for trekkers. Known for its col­lec­tion of 6,000-meter peaks and high alpine pass­es, the Rowl­wal­ing Val­ley requires skill­ful route-find­ing, prepa­ra­tion, and off-trail expe­ri­ence. Set­tled between the Bhote and Dudh Kosi rivers, the iso­la­tion of this region makes res­cue extreme­ly dif­fi­cult. The vil­lages on the Tibetan bor­der retain their authen­tic­i­ty with sparse West­ern influ­ence oth­er than the traders who trav­el from Chi­na. Ascend­ing up one of the Valley’s many pass­es, the view to the east looks at the Solokhum­bu, but even more unex­pect­ed, the west­ern view looks on the mys­te­ri­ous Lang­tang region includ­ing the fear­some Lang­tang Lirung.