One of the best hikes in the world
Makalu Base Camp
Hike little used trails to the 5th highest mountain in the world. (8,485m)
Also known as Tumblingtar to Makalu.
Follow in the 1952 footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Eric Shipton.
AT A GLANCE
Very few hikers do Makalu compared with the more established areas Everest, Annapurna and Langtang.
Most find Makalu tougher hiking. Some call it strenuous.
Most hikers hire a guide, porter guide and/or porters but it’s possible to hike Makalu independently
Kangchenjunga cannot be done independently, by comparison.
Carry food (buy in Kathmandu, Tumlingtar or Khandbari) and a tent, for emergencies, if you want to try Makalu on your own.
- since at least 2016 — during high season — there have been simple teahouses and meals of dal bhat all the way up. Check in Tashigaon to find out which lodges are open en route.
- 10 days in, 8 days out
- reduce that to 15 days if able to take a jeep Tumblingtar – Num in both directions
- fly or bus Kathmandu to Tumblingtar
- highest point 4800m (15,749ft) Base Camp
- difficult sections. High altitude trekking experience recommended.
- bring tent and camping gear though some homestays and lodges are available.
- one day you cross 4 high passes including Shipton La (4200m). You need good weather for that day.
- March – May, Oct – Nov best months
- higher sections will be impassable December – February
- days are short in November. There’s more daylight in the Spring.
- be clear — you might have to QUIT if by bad luck or rushed ascent you suffer altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS).
- some suffer respiratory problems. Headaches. Or fatigue.
Why We Like This Hike
- views of the Kangshung face of Mt. Everest (8848m), Chamlang (7319m), Lhotse (8516m), and Baruntse (7129m) as well as Mera Peak (6654m)
- Kauma camp has fantastic views of Kangchendzonga to the east
- this area was less affected by the 2015 earthquake though some houses collapsed in Seduwa
- wonderful photographic opportunities
- having these mountains mostly to yourself
- lovely cloud forest the first few days. Then pristine forest.
- ferns, flowering shrubs, rhododendron
- river gorges, sheer cliffs, spectacular waterfalls, high-altitude lakes
- Sherpa and Rai villages
- Tibetan snow cocks, hill pigeons, black redstarts and mountain finches
- slight chance to spot red pandas, snow leopards, blue sheep, musk deer, and black bears
- water is scarce in some sections, especially in the autumn. Water availability might dictate where you camp. Higher up some sources are muddy so you may want to carry a filter.
- autumn foliage colours are stunning
- you could combine Makalu with a Lukla – Tumlingtar hike adding the Everest region to your same adventure
- you could even trek east towards Kangchendzonga though that’s much more challenging than Lukla
- no vaccinations required for Nepal
- a good side-trip from base camp is to return to Shershong and climb the ridge to 5250m for a superb vista
- if weather is good, you might be able to continue with a long, hard scramble to Makalu Advance Base Camp (5,700m/18,701ft). But don’t count on it.
We recommend you fly to Tumblingtar rather than suffer the long, awful bus ride. Indeed, avoiding dangerous roads is one good reason to chose Makalu over other options.
There are several flights a day. Get the earliest. Then take the first available jeep to Num. If the road is closed for any reason, it could take 2-3 days to walk to Num.
If you do have to stay in Tumblingtar either before or after your hike, there are teahouses and camping available.
But you’ll be crossing snow higher up.
- dangerous rockfall in some sections
- bad footing, boulder scrambling, in other sections
- eastern Nepal has higher rainfall. Expect clouds here when it is sunny further west.
- fog in the lower sections is not atypical
- November 1995 a freak snow storm killed dozens (46 some say) of hikers, porters and guides throughout the Himalaya, most by avalanche. The October 2014 Nepal snowstorm disaster killed at least 43 people including at least 21 trekkers.
- virtually no medical assistance available
- respiratory problems, stomach problems, headache, sunburn are common ailments
- you MUST bring footwear you love and trust
- some hikers buy Diamox in Nepal. It’s called Diamox Sequels in the USA. Others bring homeopathic coca as is used in the Andes.
- some even carry a course of antibiotics, just in case
- both men and women are advised to wear modest clothing respecting local culture
Makalu Adventures charged about $80 / day for about 22 days in 2019 tenting. Kathmandu return.
Himalayan Glacier, by comparison, charged about $186 / day in 2019. So shop around if you want to be guided.
Tip your guides & staff at least 15% if happy with service.
Hiking independently would be less expensive, of course. Budget U.S. $40 / day staying in teahouses.
This site mostly posts information for independent hikers. If you hire a guide, they’ll instruct you what to do regarding these logistics.
Consider purchasing good insurance coverage for this trip. World Nomads, for example, offers policies covering hikers up to 3000m, 4500m or 6000m.
In 2019 we bought 30 day visas for Nepal. And World Nomads insurance for those same 30 days.
Evacuation by helicopter is expensive. Payment must be guaranteed in advance. Bring your credit card, just in case.
- carry more Nepali rupees in cash than you think you need, in case of emergencies. Lodges and restaurants normally only accept rupees.
- In 2019 the most we could take out of a bank machine at one time was 35000 NPR (about $300). We used Nabil Bank machines withdrawing directly from our bank cards, not credit card, to reduce the transaction fee cost and avoid interest.
Independents need to buy their own hiking permits for Makalu:
- 2019 $20 (NPR 2,000) / person TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card.
- 2019 $30 (NPR 3,000)/ person Makalu-Barun National Park permit – single entry
Permits MIGHT be available on the trail at Seduwa. But we’d buy them at the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu, to be sure.
Visa on arrival for most nations at Tribhuvan International, Kathmandu in 2019:
Multiple entry 15 days US$30
Multiple entry 30 days US$50
Multiple entry 90 days US$125
You can pay with credit card or other major currencies. The visa on arrival process is much faster and simpler than in the past. No need to bring passport photos as machines now take your mugshot photo.
- the valley of the Arun Kosi is the approach, the largest trans-Himalayan river passing through Nepal
- from Num, cross Shipton Pass (4210m) into the upper Barun river valley
- if you have a guide, listen to his advice on where to stop each day
- if you have an extra day or two, consider exploring above Base Camp: the Upper Braun Glacier and Advanced Base Camp; Chamlang and Baruntse Base Camps; or (easier) ascend the SW spur of Makalu for views of Lhotse and Everest
Should you sign on with a guide?
Consider that you will then be tied into the group itinerary. You’ll travel only as fast as the slowest person in your group.
On the other hand, a minimum of two people can sign up with a guide. If you do that you’ll have a lot more freedom to choose what you want to do day-by-day.
If not sure, go independently. And — if it turns out you need help — hire a porter, porter-guide or guide and porters yourself on the trail. That can be arranged next day from most teahouses.
The Khandbari-based agency Makalu Arun Social Trek 029-560716; (socialtreknepal.com) can arrange insured local porters (US$20 a day per porter, plus food) and teahouse treks in the region and is a good source of information on the Makalu trek. The agency uses profits to support an orphanage and can place short-stay volunteers …
A guide will show you around, but not carry your gear. They may be Nepali or foreign. Many hikers are happier to be led. A good guide may enrich the trip for you.
A porter guide is a local who speaks English who may also carry a limited load, perhaps 15kg (33lbs). There is often an insurance fee added.
If you are not confident to go independently, check Trip Advisor, Trekking Partners and other online sites for recent recommendations. Don’t sign on with any company until you are sure they can deliver what you want. We don’t recommend any on the list below. It’s simply a starting point.
- KimKim Makalu Base Camp trek (24 days)
- Mountain Kingdoms Makalu Base Camp trek (22 days from London)
- Nepal Sanctuary Treks Makalu Base Camp trek
- Makalu Arun Social Trek (MAST) Makalu Base Camp
Compare with a bigger and much tougher itinerary – Great Himalayan Trail – Makalu & Everest Traverse via Sherpani Col
Only TAAN registered trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara can legally organize treks and provide the services of a guide and/or porter with insurance. Be aware that no one else, no hotel, no street broker, no nice person you just met, not even a trekking guide is legally authorized to organize a trek. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both tea-house and camping styles …
If you sign on with a guide, let them organize everything. You are there simply to follow. And enjoy. There’s plenty of time to go off day hiking on your own.
For independent hikers …
- get a guidebook early
- decide on your destination each day as you go. That way you can adjust for weather and fitness. It’s fairly common to take a rest day while ascending to acclimatize for altitude.
- decide on what weeks of the year you could trek
- finalize how much time you can spend on the trail
- once on the trail, decide day-to-day on your itinerary
- before leaving Nepal, donate any clothing or gear you don’t want to take home to the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP)
- Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP)
- Himalayan Rescue Association – altitude FAQs
- Himalayan Rescue Association – Mountain Medicine
- Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN)
Best Trekking Guidebooks
Be sure to get the most up-to-date version of any guidebook you buy.
- Trekking Guide to Makalu: Lumbasumba and Arun Valley (2017)
by Sian Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons
- Kanchi’s Tale: Kanchi goes to Makalu Base Camp (2017) by Sian Pritchard-Jones, Bob Gibbons, Sanjib Gurung
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya
- Trekking Guide to Makalu: Lumbasumba and Arun Valley (2017)
Best Travel Guidebooks
Yep. We still like Lonely Planet best.
Other Recommended Books
- The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen … best Nepal book ever
- Kangchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak (1955) by Charles Evans
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster – Jon Krakauer
- Insight Guides – Nepal (2014)
- A Beard In Nepal (2012) – Fiona Roberts
- Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal (2011) – Conor Grennan
- Travelers’ Tales Nepal – Rajendra S. Khadka
- Nepal Trek – A Woman Alone (2006) – Kay Petterson Shaw
- The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman
Best Maps / Apps
Himalayan Map House – 1:100,000 Kangchenjunga Region
Best Web Pages
Best Trip Reports
- Guided – Project Base8000 – Makalu Base Camp & Advanced Base Camp Apr 2019
- Independent – Sathya Makalu Base Camp Oct 2012 (photos)
Leave a comment if you’ve got an up-to-date trip report to recommend.
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