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Hongu Highlights

There are no easy access ( or escape ) routes to the panch pokhari ( five small lakes ) ensconced at the head of the spectacularly beautiful Hongu Valley.

The normal approach begins with a white-knuckle landing at the tiny, sloping airstrip at Lukla perched half-way up a steep mountainside above the deep, dark gorge of the Dudh Khosi. ( For those without recent high-altitude experience the traditional walk-in from the roadhead at Jiri, or, the less frequented back-door route from the Arun Valley over the Salpa Pass, is advisable. )

Directly above Lukla the 4000 metre high Zatrwa La gives access to the tranquil yak pastures of the Hinku Valley dominated by the towering cliffs of Mera Peak and the equally impressive Peak 43 ( Kyashar ).

Peak 43 from the Hinku Valley

Peak 43

( Kyashar )



Hinku Valley

On route from the cluster of yak herders' huts at Tangnag at the head of the valley to the glacial, high pass of Mera La the increasing altitude enforced many halts but these allowed time for a full appreciation of Thamserku and the spectacular spire of its South-East Peak. Some 100 metres below the col of the Mera La, a set of gravel beds provides a sheltered site for a base camp ensconced beneath the extensive snow slopes of Nau Lekh.

Mt. Thamserku on crossing Mera La into Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Mt. Thamserku


Mera La

Jubilant with our success I descended through the swirling spindrift from the summit of Mera Peak ( 6461m ) with Horst and Lal Bahadur our climbing sirdar., In the far distance below, nestling at the foot of the sheer, ice-and-rock walls of the massive south-west face of Chamlang , lay the grey, narrow, forbidding confines of the Hongu Valley. Access to this remote, uninhabited, himalayan mountain-fastness is normally via high, snow-covered passes although there is supposedly an obscure and difficult low-level route from the south ( described in Mera Peak & Island Peak ).

Our plan for the days ahead was to drop to the valley floor and follow the Hongu Khola northwards to the wild and rugged Panch Pokhari at the valleyhead and then return westwards across the difficult Mingbo La high pass to familiar territory in the Solo Khumbu.

Everest on ascent of Mt. Mera on Hongu Valley Climbing Trek, Nepal Himalaya


on ascent


Mt. Mera

Nearing our high camp on an icy platform in the shelter of a rocky outcrop ( c5800m ) we paused for a final appreciation of the tremendous himalayan panorama extending before us. Ranged along the northern horizon beneath clear azure skies were five of the world's 8000ers; Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, Everest and Cho Oyu. In the foreground unfolded a profusion of splendid shapely summits - many we could identify from previous expeditions but many more we could not.

Next morning after a leisurely start we set off from our base camp beneath the snow slopes of the Mera La ( c5414m ) across a band of bare rock beds . Rough scree slopes then led down into a wide sandy basin followed by a gentle descent over green, grassy hillsides to a pleasant campsite beside a sparkling stream in a meadow beneath the imposing cliffs of the nameless Peak 41 ( the "other" Mera, c6654m ).

From the meadow a faint trail climbed abruptly to a small lochan before contouring along the steep rugged hillside still high above the Hongu Khola. On its eastern flank the narrow valley was overhung by the immense precipices of Chamlang, a fine 7000 metre mountain, and on its western flank by those of Peak 41.

Mt. Chamlang on descent from Mera La into the Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Mt. Chamlang

on descent


Mera La



Hongu Valley

Bringing up the rear of our party I was suddenly startled by a commotion ahead. Something - or someone - was falling down the steep hillside. I watched in alarm as the rapidly rotating bundle crashed down the slope jettisoning bits and pieces as it went. Fortunately it was only a doko ( a conical wickerwork basket ). Lalu, our kitchenboy, had stumbled on the rough terrain and to save himself had slipped off his namro ( headstrap ) to release his load. Everything was recovered except a rolling pin - an essential implement for making the ubiquitous chapattis.

The track gradually dropped to the rippling waters of the river where we encamped on the banks amidst fragrant azaleas and shrub juniper overlooked by the high, enclosing mountains.

Further progress up the impressive, unspoilt valley was made the following day. Near the head of a frozen lake we reached the base camp of a French expedition hoping to climb Baruntse, another fine 7000 metre summit, but beset with problems. Two of their members were suffering from AMS ( acute mountain sickness ) and their high-altitude porters had failed to arrive.

Camp beneath Hongu South Peak in Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya



Hongu South


We continued for a short distance before pitching our tents in the boulder-strewn tundra now beneath the elegant, ice-fluted summit of Chonku Chuli ( aka Pyramid Peak / Hongchu Chuli, c6809m ).

In the evening the surrounding tops flamed red in the final rays of the setting sun whilst cheerful singing emanated from the tent of our happy-go-lucky band of Sherpas.

"Good morning uncle", greeted Lalu bringing my early morning bed-tea. "Tikcha?" ( is everything OK? ). A similar greeting evoked a series of grunts and groans from the neighbouring tent. Horst was suffering from a headache and required a rest-day.

It was another fine, bright, sunny morning and I took the opportunity presented to set off with Singi, our sherpa ( assistant sirdar ) for a shapely rock peak rising above our campsite offering the prospects of an interesting climb and a good viewpoint.

A long, labourious grind up the lower, stony slopes eventually gained a broad ridgetop. To the west, across the valley, a fine view obtained of the broad, easy-angled but badly crevassed slopes of the Hinku Nup glacier leading up to the Mingbo La ( c5817m ) - our escape route back to the Everest Region. Above the col jutted the imposing obelisk of Ama Dablam ( c6856m ).

Mingbo La and Ama Dablam from Rock Peak in Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Mingbo La


Ama Dablam


Rock Peak

Continuing up the ridge frequent stops were made to admire the long, icy crest and fearsome north-west face of Chamlang soaring skywards immediately to our south. Our vantage point provided a proper perspective of the immense scale of such himalayan giants.

We traversed a rough scree slope to reach the foot of the considerably steeper conical crown of the rock peak. Although unladen with any climbing gear - even the daysac was being carried by Singi - I was finding it a hard struggle to make upward progress in the thin cold air, surprisingly more so than on Mera Peak when ice-axe, crampons and heavy climbing boots had been used. The top looked increasingly far off.

Great care had to be taken in negotiating a stretch of unstable rocks. I considered turning back. Any accident would have serious consequences. There was no prospect of any helicopter rescue from the isolated Hongu Valley. "Bestari, bestari", ( slowly, slowly ) urged Singi. However once across this hurdle a fine airy scramble over large, solid boulders, fatigue now forgotten, led to the nicely pointed summit ( c5800m ) and a dramatic outlook.

Chonku Chuli from rock peak

Chonku Chuli

( Pyramid Peak )


rock peak

Only a short distance away, looming above a glacier, was the spectacular, dazzling, ice-hung bulk of Chonku Chuli ( Pyramid Peak ). Northwards from Chonku Chuli the pale pink granite mass of Makalu ( 8463m ) protruded above the seemingly vertical snow walls of the West Col ( c6135m ). Further round soared the precipitous south-west rockface of Baruntse ( 7220m ) flanked by its satellite range of peaks.

Hongu Panch Pokhari from Rock Peak in Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya


Panch Pokhari


Rock Peak

Beneath us to the north we could see our route onwards through the harsh, glaciated terrain to the blue-grey lochans of the Panch Pokhari ensconced at the head of the bleak, barren valley beneath a high rugged escarpment breached by the hazardous Amphu Labtse ( c5780 metres ) - the most difficult of the possible escape routes from the Hongu Valley.

From our campsite the route climbed over tundra-covered hillocks beneath the mighty rock cliffs of the Hongu South Peak ( c6057m ), festooned with snow like feathered-icing on some gigantic cake, to the top of a lateral moraine then continued over the rough, jagged crest to the frozen tarns of the Panch Pokhari. On the approach we enjoyed a fine view across a glacier lake to the West Col rising sheer above extensive neves while ahead of us the black, banded, summits of Lhotse ( 8501m ) and Everest ( 8848m ) reared above the escarpment at the valleyhead but gradually disappeared as we got closer.

Panch Pokhari at the head of the Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Panch Pokhari


the head


Hongu Valley

That night was the coldest of our expedition when the temperature plummeted to a bone-biting minus 25 degrees centigrade - the coldest night I have endured - and the ice-bound lakes and surrounding snow peaks gleamed ethereally in the pale, wan light of a crescent moon and star-spangled sky. In the profusion the familiar constellations of Cassiopea and Orion were difficult to discern.

After a fitful sleep I set off alone next morning in the welcome warmth of the sun to scale the higher of two, small rocky peaks rising to the east of the Panch Pokhari. An initial steep climb, made difficult only by the altitude, was followed by a long gradual ascent to the high point ( c5600m ) at the far end of the summit ridge.

In the profound eerie silence I surveyed the awesomely beautiful himalayan landscape. Towering directly overhead were the sheer, ice-bound walls of the formidable ridge extending from Baruntse. Prominent to the south were the massifs of Chamlang and Chonku Chuli - their complex features mirrored in the tranquil green waters of a nearby lochan. Along the western edge of the valley tumbling glaciers and high rock ramparts swept up from great moraines and scree slopes to culminate in lofty, snow-capped summits.

Mts. Chonku Chuli and Chamlang from Rock Peak above Hongu Panch Pokhari in the Nepal Himalaya

Chonku Chuli,



1st Rock Peak


2nd Rock Peak

In the afternoon we retreated from the huge glacial amphitheatre and climbed into a side-valley to encamp at the lake beneath the Hunku Nup Glacier encircled by a ring of graceful peaks; Chamlang, Hongu South Peak and Ama Dablam.

There have been several fatalities on the 120 metre abseil of the steep, 70 degree, ice-flutings on the west side of the Mingbo La and it took us all afternoon, with one frightening moment when one porter lost his footing, to get our ten Sherpas safely down and across the bergshrund onto the level neve of the Nare Glacier where we encamped beneath the towering pyramid of Ama Dablam - a spectacular, isolated peak akin to the Matterhorn of the Swiss Alps.

Mt. Ama Dablam from camp beneath Mingbo La after crossing from the Hongu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Ama Dablam




Mingbo La

The sting in the tail of our trek was a tricky descent through the ice-fall at the snout of the glacier before we finally escaped from the himalayan fastness of the Hongu Valley.

Back at Lukla , Lal Bahadur and our intrepid band of Sherpas, who had enabled our journey through this seldom explored, high-altitude region, were well rewarded for their stalwart efforts. We had been fortunate to have had an excellent trekking crew and to enjoy perfect conditions for our memorable adventure.

( CLIMBER & Hillwalker, November 1991 )






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Khumbu Himal: Schneider Nepal Maps Shorong / Hinku - Schneider Map Khumbu: Jiri to Everest Base Camp Map

Nepal - Rough GuideEverest Exposed Everest West Ridge Mount Everest Reconnaissance 1935 Annapurna Circuit Solu Khumbu - The Trek to Everest

Lonely Planet Nepal Rough Guide Nepal Lonely Planet - Kathmandu MapKathmandu Valley Map Trekking and Climbing in Nepal Lonely Planet - Trekking in NepalThe Trekking Peaks of Nepal Trekking in Nepal Trekking in the Everest Region

A dos de Sherpa - Perre Frey Into Thin Air - John Pilkington Sepu Kangri Bonnington Alpine / Himalayan Climbing Into Thin Air - the Everest Disaster Climbing High - the Everest DisasterOn Top of the World - climbing the 14 highest mountains Nepal Mountaineering Guide

On Top of the World - Rebecca Stephens Seven Summits - Quest to reach the highest peaks Seven Summits Eric Shipton - Everest and beyondEdmund Hillary - View from the Summit Kurt Diemberger OmnibusChris Bonington's Everest My Vertical World - Climbing the 8000m Peaks - Jerzy Kukuczka

History of Mountain Climbing Everest: The West Ridge Return to Everest - DVD Return to Everest - Video Lost on Everest - Video Conquest of Everest Everest: A Trekkers Guide The Climb - Anatoli BoukreevThe Naked Mountain - Reinhold Messner

Mountains of the Mind - A history..Mountains of the Mind - Experiences Everest: Summit of AchievementEverest: 50th Anniversary Volume Everest: Alone at the SummitThe Villain: Life of Don Whillans Left for Dead: Journey Home from EverestTrekking in the Everest Region

Tilman: The 7 Mountain Travel Books Mountaineering: Freedom of the HillsRope Techniques: The complete guide History of Mountain ClimbingBelow another Sky by Rick Ridgeway Facing Up; A journey to the summit of EverestEverest: To the Top Coronation Everest

Epic Stories of Survival on the World's Highest PeaksThe Snow Leopard Himalayan Quest - the 8000m Giants Trekking in the Indian Himalaya Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya World Mountaineering Climbing the World's 14 Highest Mountains Climb: Stories of Survival

Sherpas & Himalayan Mountaineering K2Cho Oyu Nepal Trail Map - NellesRough Guide India Footprint Tibet Handbook

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