Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Off the Beaten Trek in the Everest Region

The Everest region in Nepal, and particularly the route to Base Camp, offers some of the world's greatest trekking. But it's a busy place, especially in October, November and April. April 2015's earthquake will doubtless mean fewer trekkers this October but the Everest region was only lightly affected and most lodges will be operating as normal on the Everest routes.

After spending a month trekking both the main routes and the side valleys of the Everest region, the following are my best tips for adventurers looking to avoid the crowds. Most are only a couple of hours off the main trails, some are only 20 minutes from the madding crowd. My best advice if you are planning an Everest trek is to add on a couple of days to your itinerary and fit in these off-trail highlights. You'll likely have them completely to yourself.

To see the photos more clearly simply click on them.

Meditation Retreat, Jorsalle

Just ten minutes off-trail above the lunch stop at Jorsalle sits an ignored but charming meditation retreat. It's pretty inconspicuous from the outside but the inner sanctum is saturated with beautiful Tibetan murals painted on wooden boards. I visited a couple of months before the earthquake so hopefully it wasn't damaged then. Get permission to visit from the owner of the nearby Boudha Lodge, whose grandfather was the village lama.

Rock Paintings, Namche Bazaar

The Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar is lined with espresso stalls, bakeries, trek gear shops and even an Irish pub, all full of acclimatising trekkers sipping lattes and checking their Facebook status. Few people tear themselves away from this to make the short hike above the town's monastery to the rock paintings of local protector deity Khumbu Yul-lha. It's a sacred, almost animist site, so be respectful.

Ama Dablam Base Camp

Ama Dablam is perhaps the most beautiful peak on the Everest trek. You'll see it from multiple points along the main trail but for a neck-craning, close-up view, make the day hike from Pangboche up to Ama Dablam Base Camp to see the expedition tents camped in meadows at the foot of the peak. You'll need to be well acclimatised to hike up here, so visit on the way down from Base Camp, not on the way up.

Hillary Memorial Chortens Viewpoint

A few people make the excellent acclimatisation day hike from Namche Bazaar to Kunde but most miss the views from Hillary chortens (memorial stupas), just 20 minutes up the hill from Kunde monastery. Three chortens pay tribute to Ed and also his wife and daughter, both of whom died in a plane crash while working on aid projects in the region. The views towards Thamserkuu peak, Namche Bazaar and Thame are superb and you'll have only the yak herders for company.


This stunning alpine lake is just 30 minutes off the main Everest Base Camp trail, between Dughla and Lobuche. It sits at the base of craggy Cholatse Peak and is also visible if you trekking to Dzonglha and the Cho La pass.

Upper Pangboche village

Pangboche is divided into two settlements; trekking lodges on the main lower trail and the charming traditional Sherpa village above it. Stay in the latter to experience one of the nicest villages in the Khumbu as well as the chance to see the replica yeti hand held in the village monastery. Hard-core hikers can head up the valley behind the village towards Taboche Base Camp, curving round the valley to get this jaw-dropping view of Ama Dablam (note the trekkers in the foreground):

Upper Gokyo Lakes

For my money the Gokyo Valley is the most spectacular in the Khumbu. Overnight in the Gokyo village lodges and then climb Gokyo Ri the next morning for views of Everest, the lower Gokyo lakes and the huge glacier. Few people take an extra day to make the full day hike up to the fifth lake and then beyond to the sixth lakes. These lakes sit in a high alpine bowl at the foot of Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest mountain. The sounds of avalanches tumbling off the 3km vertical wall echo around the otherwise silent valley. You need to be fit and acclimatised to do this in a day trip.


From the popular overnight stop of Dingboche it's just 45 minutes uphill to this former meditation retreat. Keep going up the hill for another 30 minutes and you'll get panoramic views towards the peaks of Cholatse and Taboche (shown here), as well as Ama Dablam. Chola-tsho is also visible here.

Pangboche to Phortse Trail

The basic itinerary to Everest Base Camp is an out-and-back linear trek but you don't have to take exactly the same trail on the return route. This little-used trail on the northern side of the valley links the charming villages of Pangboche and Phortse and offers uncrowded views of Tengboche Monastery en route (left side of the photo). Phortse is a great place to overnight, as it has good lodges and is well off the main trails.

Island Lake and Amphu Labtsa

Up a side valley, the village of Chhukung is a great detour off the main Everest Base Camp trail and many trekkers make the fabulous hike up to the viewpoint at Chhukung Ri. Fewer people, however, continue up the valley to Island Peak Base Camp and even fewer branch off before getting there to visit the south side of Imja Tsho lake and the base of the wall-like Amphu Laptsa Pass. This is a wild and remote high mountain landscape.

Upper Bhote Khosi Valley

This wild valley to the north of Thame has historically been an important trading route over the Nangpa-la pass to Tibet. Today you can hike up to lodges at Arya, overnight there and then make a remote day hike to glaciers tumbling off the peaks bordering Tibet. No permits are currently asked for. 

Other Spots

Cho-la Pass - stunning views if you are making the Everest Three Passes trek:

Lawudo Monastery - hillside monastery than makes for an interest detour off the route from Namche Bazaar to Thame:

Gokyo Ri - a famous viewpoint but still one of the most spectacular in the Himalaya:

Dzonglha - a staging post en route to the Cho-la pass but worth a visit in itself for its fine views of Ama Dablam peak down the valley:

Renjo-la - the third of the high passes on the challenging Three Passes trek offers fine views of Gokyo Lake and Mt Everest in the centre distance:

Hope this offers some inspiration to dust off your hiking boots, book a flight to Nepal and plan your own Everest adventure. Be safe.


Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

Current Favourite Track