The Himalayas are the ultimate dream for generations of mountaineers, but not all climbers have the pocket change to join a major 8,000-meter expedition. Nepal’s Himalayan Range is so vast and varied that even mountaineers with basic glacier travel experience can find minor and significant summits to add to their repertoire.
Nepal has designated 18 mountains as Trekking Peaks, climbs of an intermediate level that has less stringent restrictions but is a step above the standard Himalayan sojourn. Despite the rather benign sounding name, Nepal’s trekking peaks are not to be taken lightly. While the altitude is well under 23,000-feet, the difficult climbing and the dangers are still very prevalent. The peaks are listed under three climbing grades: “F” (Facil) for easy, “PD” (Peu Dificile) for intermediate, and “AD” (Assez Difficile) for difficult. The following list describes the major trekking peaks by their grade.
Chukhung Ri (18,238 ft.) F
Situated just outside the town of Chukhung, this small mountain is more of a strenuous day-hike, requiring 3–4 hours of scrambling and steep uphill walking. Many use the climb as acclimatization and preparation for bigger peaks since its lack of snow and easy to follow cairns make it a stout but non-technical mountain. From the village, the well-maintained trail leads up a saddle and to the summit marked with fluttering prayer flags where hikers enjoy excellent views of Ama Dablam, and Makalu.
Kala Patthar (18,514 ft.) F
While not officially a trekking peak, Kala Patthar is a small section of Pumori’s main ridge, that offers one of the best views of Everest and Lhotse. Because of its easy accessibility and low-grade hiking, the climb is popular with trekkers from nearby Gorakshep, who scramble to the top in the pre-dawn hours for a spectacular sunrise over Everest’s South Col.
Yala (18,046 ft.) F
West of Kathmandu, the mysterious Langtang Region is a relatively untouched mountain paradise, receiving just a fraction of the visitors that head for the Khumbu Himal. The star of this rugged range is Langtang Lirung, however the minor is surprisingly moderate first climb or acclimatization route. Base camp is set at one of the lodges in the valley with a high camp established on the main ridge. While a rope isn’t required for the wide and low-grade ascent, crampons and ice axes are a must. Since Yala is near the border with Tibet, there are excellent views of several major peaks including Shishapangma.
Island Peak (20,285 ft.) PD
Climbing Island Peak, one of Nepal’s most popular trekking peaks, takes commitment and experience, utilizing ropes, ice axes, and crampons. The ascent can be done in an easier two-day push or a one-day roundtrip from Chukhung. The standard route ascends a thin ridge to a pointed and dramatic summit. Because of its architecture, many teams climb Island Peak in preparation for ascents such as Ama Dablam or as an excellent entry-level introduction to Himalayan mountaineering.
Lobuche East (20,075 ft.) PD
Like Island Peak, Lobuche East is a superb introductory mountain that follows a narrow ridge to a magnificent pointed summit. With base camp sitting well above 15,000-feet, the vertical gain is relatively short but the climbing strenuous. Climbers tread icy slab and rock, then transition to a snowy ascent at a low-grade. The most popular route travels via the Southwest face, where the top of the ridge marks the false summit. For climbers with technical knowledge, a treacherous thin knifed edge requiring rope leads to the true top. From here, a saddle separates the mountain from East’s sister peak, Lobuche West, which is a technical expedition climb.
Mera Peak (21,247 ft.) PD
Mera Peak is the highest and most one of the most prestigious prizes of Nepal’s trekking mountains. On a clear day from the domed summit, climbers can see five 8,000-meter peaks: Everest, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga, Cho Oyu, and Makalu. The approach to Mera Peak takes climbers to an inhabited yet remote side of the Khumbu Valley and over one of Nepal’s highest passes, Mera La. The peak is heavily glaciated on all sides, with a gaping crevasse to navigate just under the summit ridge. It’s style, grade, and architecture are similar to Mt. Rainier in execution.
Kongde Ri (20,298 ft.) AD
The mammoth face of Kongde Ri dominates the skyline above Namche Bazaar. It’s an intimidating massif of rock and ice considered to be a holy peak by the settlers of the Khumbu. While all of the routes are long, technically difficult, and strenuous, the glaciated south side sees a more traditional climbing method, while the steep, rocky North Face calls for a pure alpine style ascent. While the mountain is visibly imposing over the Sherpa township, it’s base camp is in a remote valley surrounded by four glaciers. Climbers move up to a high camp at 4,900-meters and make a summit bid by following a long ridge across multiple false summits to the true peak. Kongde Ri is excellent training for those who practice a fast and light climbing style.
Cholatse (21,129 ft.) AD
Cholatse is a striking crystal-like peak that was only recently named a trekking peak. It’s steep angular faces have turned back even the best of mountaineers, and its prominence makes it a formidable, committing, and extremely difficult ascent. Because of its remoteness and advanced technique, it didn’t see its first ascent until an American team conquered the Southwest Face in 1982. It’s the boldest ascent came in 2005, when Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck solo climbed the North Face. Cholatse is only a trekking peak by classification, but it is a serious and committing expedition.