Up the Barun Valley to the Makalu Base Camp

For the next seven days we went up the Barun Valley to Makalu Base Camp and returned. About 17 miles one way. Unfortunately and fortunately this was an eventful section. Our lowest elevation was about 12,000 ft. (3700m). This upper section of the valley has no permanent residents. During the summer, animals are grazed. Almost all of the animals have returned to lower elevations and we met several small herds of goats and sheep being herded out. The valley is narrow and rarely more than a hundred yards wide. Surprisingly at this elevation, forests exist. The forest resembled rain forests.

One view of the Barun Valley
One view of the Barun Valley

The pastures (kharkas) a spread out along the valley. Most of the kharkas have stone huts and some of them now have tea houses—primitive hotels. Campgrounds are provided at the tea houses. We camped, although a couple of us stayed inside at the first tea house at Yangle Kharka to get relief from being in a tent during days of rain. Camping is theoretically only allowed at approved locations in an effort to preserve the area. Wood fires aren’t allowed either. Trekking companies use kerosene.

Camped here going up and back.
Yangle Kharka

Not many people on our way up because of the bad weather, but when we reached Makalu BC we started to see more groups—many had come over several high passes on a northern route from Lukla. Typically two or three groups of ten clients at each tea house camp ground. Also a few independent trekkers, usually young couples; although we met two guys who had teamed up a Lonely Planets discussion board the Thorn Tree.

The unfortunate event was a log on a small bridge that broke under Paul’s boot causing him to fall and break several ribs. That ended his and Judy’s trip. The bridge was near a tiny tea house where they waited for two days for a helicopter rescue. Jhalak, our guide, and a porter had to travel at night to Makalu BC to intercept a group with a satellite phone to call in the helicopter. The phone wasn’t available until about 8 a.m., and when the helicopter arrived at 10 the clouds had come in. Another long day for the Becketts.

The next day we heard the helicopter fly over at 6:15 a.m. to avoid the clouds and succeeded in landing and whisking Paul (and Judy) to the hospital in Kathmandu. (We at Makalu BC didn’t know for sure until the next day they’d gotten out because the satellite phone had left, but based on the weather we were confident that they had.)  Although it wasn’t an easy decision, except for one assistant guide and a porter, the rest of us had proceeded on the trek, knowing that in two days we’d be returning to where the Becketts were. We were all very happy when the first helicopter came at 10 a.m. and it wasn’t until we reached the satellite phone later that day that we found out that it couldn’t land. We were above the valley fog/cloud and couldn’t see down the curved valley to where they were. But when we heard the 6 a.m. helicopter we were pretty certain that it was early enough to land. Fortunately we didn’t have to deal with what to do if they hadn’t gotten out when we returned the next day.

The bridge was comprised of four logs about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and the outer one was rotted near the end.

That day was our day to look at Makalu and explore. I wrote about what I did earlier in the blog here.

The next day we awoke to an inch of fresh snow and before leaving Sharon led us in putting up a prayer flag.

That day and the next we went back down the Barun Valley and headed up towards Shipton Pass stopping the second night in a cold rainy campsite. The porters huddled around a fire.

Our porters keeping warm around a fire.

The next day we made it back over the three passes including Shipton La (Pass) 

and ending up back in the Arun Valley at Kauma.

More trek photos here.

First Eight Days: Tumlingtar to the Barun Valley

Since I couldn’t blog during the trek, I’ll put up a trip description is several blog postings. Our trek was a 28-day trek—two days for getting in and out, and 26 straight days of hiking (chance to take it easy one day, but I did the hike described below). I enjoyed the trek immensely. Fantastic scenery, a good group of fellow trekkers and support crew. The trek was hard, but not always fun. More challenging than any of us expected—long steep ascents and descents and some unpleasant weather.

We started out by flying to Bratnigar, then taking a long SUV trip, followed by a night river crossing, and short ride to Tumlingtar ending up there at maybe 8 pm. We were supposed to fly directly to Tumlingtar, but the airport is closed for reasons that were never quite clear—maintenance or a rain saturated runway. The first few days were along a new dirt road with some sections along the old road and sections of trail. Farming and towns and villages the whole time. And even a couple larger towns with all kinds of stores and markets. The main challenge was the heat and humidity—maybe 85 for both. Farming is rice, millet, beans (lentils and soy) mainly. And some animals—pigs, goats, and cows. Friendly people, mostly from the Rai group—Hindus. Almost everyone enjoyed having their pictures taken and would smile for the picture—quite a change from Africa. For three days we were hiking along a ridge until the village of Num.

From Num we dropped steeply down to the Arun River and climbed as steeply up the other side to Sedua About 2500 ft. up and down and we only went 4 miles (6 km). But by then we had gotten over jet lag, our legs were getting used to walking, a little cooler because of the elevation. More climbing to come and then the rains came. Not heavy rains or accompanied by wind, but as we got higher accompanied by cold. Made for slippery going on rocky trails. We got occasional peak sitings, but hiking in the clouds for some of the time. After the down and up day, we climbed 2200 ft., then 4700 ft. to almost 12,000 ft. (3600m) at Kauma. That was followed by one of the tougher days of climbing over three passes in the rain, and the crew couldn’t find a good place for lunch so we did without more or less. After 2700 ft. of climbing and 1100 ft. of descending we arrived in camp. But the scenery was incredible—lakes, lichen, moss, and small plant.