From the Rolwaling Valley to the Khumbu: the Tashi Lapcha expedition

From the Rolwaling Valley to the Khumbu: the Tashi Lapcha expedition

Gaining the 5755 meter pass and descending into the Khumbu Valley is a mountaineering feat in itself requiring rock scrambling, glacier travel, and plenty of route finding.


Everyday on the trail seemed slow. Our 80 pound packs dug into our hips and shoulders as the trail continued to go up further into the valley. I have never done something so difficult for so long. Everyday on the trail seemed slow. Our 80 pound packs dug into our hips and shoulders as the trail continued to go up further into the valley. I have never done something so difficult for so long. Lexie and I started talking about his trip four months prior. Planning didn’t begin until a month ago and our plan hadn’t really solidified until just two weeks ago. We knew where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, but the logistics of the trip hadn’t been figured out until the day before we left on the bus into the mountains. Overall we were prepared. Though we failed to arrange a porter to help us carry our 10 days of food, climbing gear, and camping supplies.

We chose the Rolwaling Valley because of its remoteness as well as hearing about the Tashi Lapcha pass expedition. This expedition started at the mouth of the Rolwaling continuing ten days of trekking to the head of the valley and then four days up and over the pass. Gaining the 5755 meter pass and descending into the Khumbu Valley is a mountaineering feat in itself requiring rock scrambling, glacier travel, and plenty of route finding. Along with the crossing the pass, there is the opportunity to climb other peaks in the Rolwaling such as Yalung Ri (5630m), Ramdung Go (5925m), and Pharchemo (6187m).


 The prime seasons for climbing and trekking in the Himalayas are late March through May and September through November. Monsoon seasons occur during the summer and winter months. The weather in the Himalayas is similar to most mountain ranges; it tends to be good in the mornings and degrades in the afternoons. Some days the weather was perfect all day long and others not so much. We experienced rain, snow, high winds, and lightning. Pay attention to the weather. It comes in quick. Start early and end early. There were a few times we didn’t go by this rule and we found ourselves lost, unable to see through the thick clouds we were in.

Time Needed

From arrival till departure in Kathmandu, the trip takes a minimum of 21 days. This does not include the time we spent wandering around for four extra days in the Khumbu. As you will see in other online articles while doing your research, others recommend up to 30 days to cross the Tashi Lapcha pass successfully and to take in all of the enjoyment the Rolwaling has to offer.

Trip Costs

Successfully accomplishing this expedition without a guide or porter was not only rewarding, but also very affordable. In Nepal, everything is cheap except if buying backpacking and climbing gear. Before setting off on our trek, we gathered supplies, permits, and gear in Kathmandu. Food for ten days for two people cost us $130USD, permits $50USD each, a big can of fuel was $8USD, and our bus ticket to Chhechhet only $6USD each. On the trail for 21 days, Lexie and I only spent a total of $600 on food and tea houses. Tea houses usually cost $2-4/per night per person. The price of food depends on where you are. For an example: In Dongang in the Rolwaling Valley, a plate of Dal Bhat was $4 while in Namche in the Khumbu Valley it was $7.

Level of Experience

The adventure starts with the 13 hour bus ride and then really starts with the self-supported week long push to cross the pass when you will most likely not see a soul. This trip was the most physically demanding trip I have done yet, but we did not feel that we were in too much danger. If there is a lack of previous mountaineering and altitude experience, the perception of danger may be a lot different. We roped up on the glaciated pass as well as on our summit attempt of Yalung Ri. Route finding was somewhat difficult ascending the pass and especially descending into the Khumbu. If precautions are taken such as roping up on glaciers, starting early to avoid weather and rock fall, and just having common mountain sense, most accidents should be avoided besides perhaps rolling an ankle.

Accommodations on Trail

The Himalayas are known for tea house treks. This is trekking from one village to the next, staying and eating in lodges run by the local villagers. From our experience, the tea houses are usually quite comfortable. Most rooms have two beds, coat hangers, and just enough room to empty your bags for reorganization.

A typical menu at a tea house is pretty simple: rice, noodle, and potato based meals. Though sometimes you will be able to order a pizza or sandwich. If very hungry, order the dal baht. They will usually provide a second and third serving.

On this expedition, there will be tea houses up to Na. Then you will need to be self sufficient for a week while crossing the pass. After crossing the pass into the Khumbu, the first tea house you will see is in Thangbo. 

Pre-trip Preparations

While in Kathmandu, we had a grocery list of errands to run before getting on the bus towards the Himalayas.

Food: We planned for ten days of self-supported backpacking (two days extra just in case). We only used eight days of food. Our shopping was mostly done at the Bhat Bhateni Supermarket just Northeast of old town. This market had almost everything we needed. We bought rice, lentils, soup mixes, nuts, dried fruit, oats, coffee, and a lot of snickers. Our food weighed a total of 40lbs.

Gear: We needed to buy trekking poles, a second stove, and fuel before we left. Luckily there are hundreds of gear stores in old town that sell everything you need. Be careful what you buy. If it is very cheap, then it will probably perform that way and fail on you like Lexie’s trekking poles. Both poles broke half way through the trek at the point in the trip when she needed them the most. You can also purchase a topographic map and guidebook in town which is essential for navigation.

Permits: There is a national park fee of $30 for Sagarmatha National Park, and $20 for Gaurishankar Conservation Area. They can be acquired at the Nepal Tourism Board near the Old Bus station.

Bus Ticket: After purchasing permits it was convenient to walk up and across the street to the Old Bus station. It is advised to purchase a ticket the day before to ensure you have a seat reserved. At the bus station all of the bus signs are written in Nepalese so unless you can translate it you will have to get help from locals working there. We asked random Nepalese folks where we could buy tickets to Gongar and were directed to a few different ticket counters until we found the right one.

Plane Ticket: Since we were exiting out of the Khumbu, we had to two options of getting back to Kathmandu: a 30 minute flight from Lukla or walking back. We chose the flight. It cost $160/person for a one way.

Packing: At last we had all of our food and gear and it was time to pack. It was important to shed weight as much as possible as we were about to be carrying everything for 21 days. We left extra books, extra climbing gear, and surplus food.

Our Itinerary

Day 0: Kathmandu (1400m) to Gongar (1370m) 

We were up all night packing and repacking not retiring until 1:30am or so. My phone alarm sounded at 5am. We were at the bus station at 5:45am. It was a bit confusing as to which bus in the lot was ours, but we quickly found this out after asking around. The bus departed at 6am. The next 13 hours were possibly the most uncomfortable 13 hours that I have experienced. For the Nepalese people, this is just a normal bus ride. We were on bumpy dirt roads nearly the entire time driving up and down switch backs. Riding conditions were like so: cramped, hot, bumpy, and very dusty. All in all it was worth the $6 because the other option was walking.

We arrived in Gongar at 7pm tired and hungry. There are only a few options here for lodges. They were nothing fancy. Our room had two beds and hadn’t been cleaned since the last residents. Though it only cost us a whopping total of $9 for the night, dinner, and breakfast.

Day 1: Gongar (1370m) to Dongang (2791m)

The first day was the most difficult. Our packs weighed in at around 80lbs each and we weren’t used to carrying them quite yet. The start of the trail wasn’t exactly the warm up we wanted, but hey, its the Himalayas. It ascended straight up climbing thousands of steps built into the cliff side. At the top was Simigoan. Our guidebook suggested we stay the night here, but we decided to continue another six to seven hours to Dongang. The trail climbed up and down most of the time staying high above the Rolwaling Khola. Gauri Shankar (7134m) occasionally made its appearance looming high in the Rolwaling Himal. Shoulders, and backs were sore and hips felt raw. After 10.5 long hours and 1,440 vertical meters of waddling uphill, we made it to Dongang. Upon walking in, a sweet old lady invited us into her lodge with open arms.

Gauri Shankar

Gauri Shankar

Day 2: Dongang (2791m) to Beding (3740m)

Another long day. The terrain is easier and the distance is shorter than the day before, but with tired legs and continually increasing in altitude, it felt just as difficult as day one.

My little piggy

My little piggy

The trail follows the Rolwaling Khola, a beautiful river of bright blue water cascading down water-polished granite. Along the way, we had our best and last view of Gauri Shankar (7135m). Shortly after, Chekigo (6257m) mades its appearance. Its west face displaying amazing fluting. About half way through the day, the trail ascends just above the river to Thangthing Kara a good lunch spot if the tea house is open. It wasn’t when we were there. The second half of the day is more difficult as the trail ascends more steeply until Beding is within view.

Day 3: Rest day in Beding

It only took two days of walking to convince us to have a rest day in Beding. Also it was necessary to acclimatize. Beding is the capitol of the Rolwaling. It was inhabited some time ago when Sherpas migrated from the Khumbu Valley through the Tashi Lapcha pass. Descendants of these Sherpas spend their time between Beding and the next town, Na herding Yaks, farming, and running the few lodges there are. In the winter, the Sherpa people will typically migrate to Kathmandu for the cold, snowy months. High above the village is the Beding Monastery built into the cliff side; a site for prayer and meditation.



Day 4: Beding (3740m) to Na (4180m)

A short 3 hour trek brought us to Na, the last village in the Rolwaling. This early in the season, no one is living here. Luckily, a girl heard we were trekking to Na and ran ahead of us to open her family lodge. We were grateful for the hospitality. Along the way, we passed a large blackish rock with Tibetan script on it surrounded by prayer flags. This area marked the spot of the holy cave retreat of Guru Rinpoche. It is said he kept his flying horse here and his tiger. Just up valley from Na, the spectacular south western face of Chobuje (6686m).IMG_7143

Day 5: Na (4180m) to Yalung Ri Base Camp (4700m)

Above Na is a side trail that climbs 500 vertical meters up to Ya Lung Ri Base Camp (4700m).  This was the best day of weather we had the entire trip as well as the only sunset we experienced. It also happened to be the best spot in the Rolwaling to watch one. Clouds danced around the two large peaks guarding the Rolwaling glacier across the valley, Kang Nachu Go (6737m) and Chobuje (6686m). Just behind us, hovering over our camp is Chukyima Go’s (6258m) north face and it’s fluted dollop of ice. That night was our first in the tent as well as our first cooking for ourselves. I prepared a Rice Lentil Marsala that turned out to be the worst meal I have ever made. It was very difficult to eat but we had to eat some of it, because that’s what we brought up. Fortunately we also had an emergency ramen to split.

Day 6: An attempt on Yalung Ri (5630m)

A casual alpine start to climb to the summit of Yalung Ri (5630m). The route information I had found a month ago convinced me that the climb was only a simple scramble on a ridge line with some steep snow. The rock was slick and brittle which made it hard to protect, and covered in a thin layer of snow-too risky to climb. I chose to ascend a thin strip of steep snow bounded by a large ice bulge on the left and brittle slabs on the right. The snow was stable but would give away to the slick terrain underneath when thinned out. Only four hundred feet from the summit, we decided to turn back. The weather began to close in. On our way back down from the mountain it began to graupel intensely followed by the constant roar of thunder. We retired back down to Na.

Day 7: Rest day in Na

Day 8: Na (4180m) to Chukyima Camp (4561m)

After a rest day in Na, we were ready to start our push for the Tashi Lapcha pass. We planned on a long day since we were well acclimated, ascending 3 hours passed the usual camp stop (Chukyima) to Glacier Camp. It only took us 2.5 hours to get to Tsho Rolpa Lake, one of the largest glacial lakes in Nepal. Tsho Rolpa is the final destination for most trekkers in the Rolwaling obvious by the degradation of the trail ahead. We arrived at Chukyima camp just passed noon feeling strong and ready to push on to Glacier camp. Though we did not read signs of approaching weather like we should have. The trail ascended 200 meters up a snow covered loose hillside. The terrain was ankle twisting and terrible. At the top of the of the hillside, the weather turned for the worst. An intense lightning storm forced us to seek shelter for an hour. Unable to see our route through the clouds, we descended back down to Chukyima where we spent the night protected under a large boulder. We learned a Himalayan lesson today: start early and end early.

Day 9: Chukyima Camp (4561m) to Glacier Camp 1 (4700m)

Exhausted after our close interaction with the weather the day before, travel at the start was slow. We ascended 200 meters up the same hillside of snow covered loose rock as the day before which took a little over an hour and a half. At the top, to the south, mountains rise out of the Panga Dinga Glacier and the Tashi Lapcha pass made its first appearance. It was daunting to first see, seeming to be guarded by the Tashi Lapcha Danda-a 1000 meter wall of hanging seracs and rock. The way down from the hillside eased up as the trail became obvious and then disappeared again at the bottom into a lateral glacial moraine. This is how the rest of the expedition was to be: moving through knee twisting, unstable snow covered loose rock. Once the weather began to approach, we turned around and camped at the last best spot on the moraine.

The Tashi Lapcha pass

The Tashi Lapcha pass

Day 10: Glacier Camp 1 (4700m) to Glacier Camp 2 (4900m)

There was a big confusion as to where Glacier Camp actually was. Our guidebook described it being positioned somewhere along the Tarkarding Glacier and the map showed the camp at the head of the glacier, a ways ahead. From our last camp, the trail traversed onto the Tarkarding Glacier and traveled straight up the middle meandering around crevasses and large icy cliffs. At the head of the glacier was the start of the Tashi Lapcha pass, though the way up was guarded by buttresses of rock. One of the buttresses was called Noisy Knob which the route ascended to gain the pass. Which buttress was Noisy Knob was the question. We searched for signs of the route and didn’t find it until it was late in the day, too late to climb it. So we camped at the base at Glacier Camp 2.

Glacier Camp 2

Glacier Camp 2

Day 11: Glacier Camp 2 (4900m) to Noisy Knob (5200m)

There are long days and there are short days. To acclimatize properly, at altitude it is recommended to ascend camps a maximum of 330 vertical meters. Sleeping higher than this recommendation can result in an increased risk of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) or HACE (high altitude cerebral edema). Mountain sickness is among the biggest worry of Himalayan climbers. Our ascent up Noisy Knob only took us 2 hours. The route was tricky to find: ascending a steep gully, a break in the rock becomes obvious to the left which gains the wall of the buttress, ascending its weakness to its summit. Steel cables were placed here last year (2017) to protect a fall. We set our tent up on one of the few spaces available at the top of the buttress. That afternoon the weather was good enough to dry our stuff out and relax, enjoying the sunshine. Our entertainment for the rest of the day was the large avalanches and rockfall that constantly came down from the Great Wall of the Tashi Lapcha Danda just besides us. Maybe this is why they call this camp spot, “Noisy Knob”.

Lexie ascending the Noisy Knob butress

Lexie ascending the Noisy Knob buttress

Day 12: Noisy Knob (5200m) to High Camp (5400m)

It was windy all night long, we didn’t sleep much. The bright side is there was no condensation in the tent so our sleeping bags stayed pretty dry. To avoid the ice fall above, the route traversed off the rocky buttress, across the top of a steep gully and then up a steep gully. Eventually the terrain eased up and we found ourselves on the upper Drolambau Glacier. We picked a flat spot on the glacier and called it High Camp. Only a short walk past camp you could see the tongue of a glacier which was the start of the Tashi Lapcha pass, our big objective for this expedition. Tomorrow is to be an early start and the day won’t end until we make it over the pass and down far enough to sleep comfortably. It’s going to be a big day.IMG_7174

Day 13: Rolwaling Valley to Khumbu Valley

Today we go for the summit and cross into the next valley connecting the Rolwaling with the Khumbu. Like most summit days, it calls for an early start. My wristwatch alarm starts beeping at 4am. A bowl of musli and cup of coffee gets us up and moving.

The approach to the toe of the pass followed the right side of the Drolambau Glacier. The snow is deep, really deep in spots so we switched off breaking trail. The start of the pass is now in front of us. The route moved up and then left to avoid a wall of ice. As climbers, we were inspired not to move left but straight up the ice fall. I led the pitch, first kicking in the snow and then chopping out steps in the ice with my ax. Half way up I realized how ignorant I was not have my crampons on and only one ice screw. One slip and I was on my way back down. Though that didn’t happen. I made it to the top and then belayed Lexie up.

Lexie nearing the top of the pass

Lexie nearing the top of the pass

Now that we are on the main glacier that ascends the pass, it is prudent we watch out hidden crevasses under the snow; probing through the snow in front of us before each step. Every step takes effort. At this altitude, the brain and muscles cannot acquire enough oxygen to work quick and efficient like they can back down at sea level. At 12:30pm we stood on the summit (5755m or 18,881ft). Even though we were at the top of our objective, there wasn’t much time for a celebration. The weather was moving in and it was windy and cold. We took a selfie and then began our descent into the Khumbu.

At the summit!

At the summit!

The route down at first seemed more complicated than the way up. We traversed a ledge along the sheer face of the mountain to our left, Angole, finding a steep gully, then a rappel down to the glacial moraines below. For the rest of the day clouds shrouded our view of our surroundings. We did our best to find our way down but inevitably lost all signs of a trail and found ourselves at a cliff edge unable to see a route down. We decided to camp just before the cliff edge hoping that when the weather is better in the morning we will be able to find a way down.

Day 14: Parchemuche Tsho (4780m) to Thame (3820m)

In the morning the weather was good enough to see where we were. There was no sign of a trail or cairn around. We weren’t exactly lost, we knew we had to somehow make it down the valley.

The three glacial lakes (Parchemuche Tsho) that we were hoping to camp at last night were 500 meters below us. What stopped us from getting there is a large cliff that seemed impassible last night. We found a way down on a steep moraine that reached up to the top of the cliff. Down at the upper lake the easiest way across was to walk across the lake itself. Signs from recent fallen rock proved the frozen lake’s stability. At the end of the lake, there was another 500 meter cliff which we navigated down.

Into the Khumbu

Into the Khumbu

There was much confusion as there still was no sign of a trail at the last lake. We traversed high above the last lake to get a better view of the area. Then there it was, a trail way off in the next valley. Lexie and I quickly started off towards it. I remember racing over to it as if there was a bacon cheeseburger waiting for me there. There was no burger but the trail was really nice. We hadn’t walked on easy stable ground in a whole week. You could walk so fast on this trail it was amazing.

We knew we were finally getting out. Within an hour or so of finding the trail we walked through our first form of civilization in seven days, Thangbo. The lodge was closed but fortunately a kind old lady invited us in for tea. The old lady spun her mani prayer wheel reciting the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” while making us tea. We drank an entire pot of milk tea. It tasted so good. Just another 2 hours down the trail was civilization, Thame. Hungry from our bland diet this last week, we indulged in multiple Nepalese meals.

Day 15: Thame (3820m) to Namche (3440m)

With the pass behind us, we now can take our time and just simply enjoy being in the mountains. Before leaving Thame we walked to the monastery just above town passing by stupas, prayer wheels, and the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” engraved on many stones. This mantra translates to “Hail the jewel in the lotus flower”. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is associated with purity, spiritual awakening and faithfulness, leading one to spiritual enlightenment. In prayer, buddhists will circle a stupa clockwise repeating this mantra.



Our trek today was only four hours long to Namche, the largest town and trading hub in the Khumbu. All desires for the tired trekker or climber can be found here. There are bars, restaurants, shops, and even massage spas. We sipped on our first beer since we left Kathmandu.

Days 16-20: Khumbu Valley

In the Khumbu, we had surplus time and no itinerary. We went on leisure hikes leaving most of our gear back in Namche. The views are breathtaking in the Khumbu although there was something about the area that didn’t sit well. Even though they are within close proximity of each other, there is a noticeable difference between the Rolwaling and the Khumbu. The Rolwaling is what the Khumbu looked like 30 years ago: quite, remote, and wild. Now the Khumbu is much different. Thousands of trekkers make their way to Everest Base camp each day, inevitably trash litters the trails, and helicopters fly back and forth through the valley every ten minutes or so. The Khumbu is very busy.

Peaks making their appearance while on our way out from Phortse

Peaks making their appearance while on our way out from Phortse

Day 21: Lukla (2860m) to Kathmandu (1400m)

We said our last goodbyes to the Himalayas for now. The flight out of Lukla is an experience in it’s self. Anyone who has been to the Khumbu can testify to this. The runway is built into the mountains side. It has a 11% gradient and is only 527 meters (1,729 feet) long ending abruptly at the edge of the mountain. Only a 30 minute flight and we were back the capitol to enjoy all of the luxuries we dreamt about on the trail!

The Lukla runway

The Lukla runway



A Trekking Guide to Rolwaling & Gauri Shankar: Lapche, Bigu & Tashi Lapcha by Bob Gibbons and Sian Pritchard-Jones is in my personal opinion the best guidebook for the Rolwaling. This book was our bible during the trip. Although there was some confusion and mistakes with camp locations and route information.

Justin Bowen

Justin Bowen

Use Facebook to Comment on this Post