2010 expedition to Tilman's Pass

Below you can find an account of our trip. Anyone who understands Dutch is also invited to read our blog which we maintained during our trip.

And if you want to see more photos, please visit our webalbum.


During the months before our trip we had frequent contact with our trekking agency. We discussed what we wanted to do and tried to make clear that this would not be a trekking 'from the book'. We knew that Tilman's Pass was hard to find. And we also did not find much information of other people. We found 1 trip report by Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides who tried to cross Tilman's Pass in reverse direction. The group did not succeed because of the difficult and dangerous moraines and the unwillingness of the porters to cross the pass. This trip took place in Autumn 2009, so exactly 1 year before us. That was not very encouraging. So we pointed out that we needed an experienced guide who had been on Tilman's Pass before and porters who knew that this would be a hard trekking with a difficult pass. We did not want any discussions at 5000 meters.

Our trekking agency took our request very seriously, but had difficulties finding a guide who had been on Tilman's Pass before. In the end they came up with an experienced porter who had crossed the pass a few years earlier. He would help the guide in finding the pass. So we were happy; we had 1 climbing guide, 1 porter who knew the route and 7 additional porters.

After arrival in Kathmandu we were struck by Murphy's Law. First of all our 2 duffel bags did not arrive on the baggage belt at Kathmandu airport. We only had one day in Kathmandu before starting the trekking, so it was very important that our stuff would be there on the next flight. That caused some stress, but 24 hours later the 2 bags were there. Secondly Otto had some severe stomach pains that already started on the flight to Kathmandu. And thirdly there was an issue with our most important porter: he did not show up. Our trekking agency found a replacement for him, but that was a normal porter. So now we did not have anybody with knowledge about the route. In fact nobody of our staff had ever been in the Helambu or Langtang region. Of course these were no good signs for our trip at all. And we only had 5 porters instead of 7. So it was decided to hire two more porters as soon as we arrived in the region. And our hope was that one of them would know the way to Tilman's Pass....

The next day we took a private bus to Chautara, with 1 guide (28 years old and Everest summiteer twice) named Phurba who was also going to cook for us, one cook helper named Lhakpa Nima, and 5 porters who all came from the same village near Pike (or Pikey) Peak.

Day 1 - 7: Kathmandu to Panch Pokhari

Bus to SyauleThe bus took us to Chautara. Until Chautara there is a tarmac road. From Chautara we had 2 options: either start walking or continue to Syaule by bus. But to Syaule it was a dirt track and the past days (it was 18 October now) it had rained a lot. So the bus driver was not very eager to continue. But somehow he was convinced over lunch and brought us to Syaule, which was indeed a rough ride.

Our first priority in Syaule was to find 2 more porters and preferably men who knew the surroundings and Tilman's Pass. We were very happy to find 2 men, of which one of them had crossed Tilman's Pass 2 weeks before. We were so lucky! So the 2 of us and 9 staff hit the road!

The first 7 trekking days were easy. The trail was easy to find, basically we had to follow the ridge. Our guide Phurba often asked for directions, which was only possible the first 2 days, because from day 3 onwards there were no villages anymore.

All trekking days followed the same routine: at 6 or 6.30 in the morning one of the porters brought some tea to our tent ('good morning, bed tea') and some bowls with hot water a few minutes later. In the meantime we cleaned the tent and packed the sleeping mats and bags. Half an hour later breakfast was served, comprising tea, cornflakes, cereal, sometimes pancakes or bread (chapati), sometimes porridge, sometimes a fried egg. And then at around 8-8.15 we started walking. And dependent on the duration of a day's walk we had lunch 'en route' or upon arrival in the next camp. The lunches en route took place rather early, maybe 11 am. That was because of the porters. They do not eat any breakfast, they are used to 2 meals a day. And every meal is identical: dal bhat (lentils and rice). And because they eat a lot lunch also takes a lot of time. So an average lunch would last from 11 am till 1 pm.

Clouds coming inAlthough we started our trekking in the second half of October the weather was not particularly stable. A typical day started with clear skies, but in the morning the clouds were spreading over the mountains and the rest of the day was foggy again, and sometimes even rainy. And we thought the monsoon should have ended by mid October. Well, not this year.

After 5 days we reached Nasimpati, quite a big kharka, only used in the Summer and abandoned now. Since the cook was using kerosene burners we also had to carry kerosene (well not us but the porters). It was decided that there would be enough kerosene until Nasimpati. From Nasimpati it is another week till the Langtang Valley so somebody had to go down to the valley and buy some new kerosene. Two porters went down and met us again 2 days later in Panch Pokhari.

In the morning of day 6 we were surprised by fresh snow. That day we walked to Panch Pokhari with 2 porters less (collecting kerosene). Panch Pokhari (meaning Five Lakes) is a holy place for the Hindus. It is situated at 4050 meters and has some buildings where pilgrims can sleep. When we arrived there was nobody.

After 6 days of walking we were looking forward to our rest day. We used that day to wash ourselves, charge batteries (with our solar panel) and write a blog which we uploaded with our sat phone. And we got the feeling that the weather started to improve a little. That was very promising. The guide used the day to look for the trail the next day and we used the day for relaxing. We felt quite good, no altitude problems, only our faces were swollen a little, but that was not something to worry about.

Day 8 - 10: searching the trail to the Balephi Glacier

Panch PokhariThe next day we walked around the lakes and climbed a ridge. The weather was clear and we saw our first high mountains. That day we went up and down a lot until we found a place for lunch. The frustrating thing was that we were not any higher than Panch Pokhari although we had completed half a day walking. The trail was also not so obvious anymore, but fortunately we had this local porter who had been on the pass 3 weeks earlier! After lunch we followed a trail up besides a stream and made camp somewhere. We planned to make camp at a place called Bheri Kharka but there was no kharka to be seen. Were we following the right trail? We had the feeling that we had not missed any 'junction', there was only one trail and we had followed it.

The day after we went up again and we climbed to a little pass. By then we already got the feeling that we did not go in the right direction. But just below that little pass we found a few small lakes and according to the map we should pass a place called Tin Kunda (3 lakes), so that might well have been that place. But on the other side had we got the feeling that we had to go in a more northern direction and we were heading west now. And upon arrival on that pass we knew it for sure. This was definitely not the correct route. We decided to go down again, to those small lakes. The local porter had never been to Tilman's Pass! He admitted to have been to this little pass 3 weeks ago and was then forced to return because of heavy snowfall. So now we ended up with nobody who knew the route to Tilman's Pass and we were lost.

Balephi Low CampWe decided to take lunch and after lunch Phurba the guide and Lhakpa, one of the porters, went searching for the route. They climbed several mountain tops and returned to our spot 3 hours later. They had seen a trail! We followed them across a ridge (it started to snow) and descended on the other side to a kharka and a small trail. We were back on track! We made camp there.

And the next day we just followed that trail. We were so happy that we were back on the route again. And we also passed the 3 lakes (Tin Kunda), which we were supposed to pass the day before. So we were one day behind schedule now. And then we saw the Balephi Glacier. This is the glacier that comes down from Tilman's Pass. From Tin Kunda we hiked down to the lower end of the glacier where we had lunch. We were at 4250 meters, still not much higher than Panch Pokhari. From that spot it was very unclear how to proceed. The glacier more or less ended at our lunch spot. On both sides there were huge moraines all the way up to Tilman's Pass, which was not visible from our location. According to the map we had to follow a trail (but we did not see any) left of the glacier. That afternoon the guide went out for a reconnaissance trip. He climbed up the left (west) moraine and returned back 4 hours later over the right (east) moraine. They had crossed the glacier just below Tilman's Pass Base Camp and found that this was extremely dangerous and undoable for us and the porters. We decided to make camp now and take the right moraine the next day.

Day 11 - 13: across Tilman's Pass

And so we did. After a short climb up the left moraine we crossed the very low end of the Balephi Glacier and stepped up the right moraine. This moraine (no trail, just some cairns) we followed the next hours until we reached a spot at a little over 4800 meters. This was the best place to make camp. The weather became better and better each day and this day was no exception. It was clear all day. But being at almost 5000 meter means that it is getting very cold as soon as the sun disappears. So at 3 pm or so we already retreated in our Fixed ropetents and sleeping bags. Brrrrr. We were now close to the pass. We could see the impressive ice fall coming down from the pass and were wondering how we were going to climb up there.

Our guide had not joined us this day. He left camp at the lower end of the glacier earlier this morning. He and one porter quickly made their way up to the 4800 m camp. Because we were one day behind schedule we had decided not to take a rest day in high camp (a.k.a. Tilman's Pass Base Camp). The plan was that he would go ahead and continue to Tilman's Pass. So they went up to the ice fall and installed some 200 meter of fixed rope in the rocks next to the ice fall. And they climbed up to the pass to see if there were any difficult sections or crevasses.

A rather early start the next day, 7 am. This was going to be the day of Tilman's Pass! A very interesting day. Again there was no trail, just rocks. In some 90 minutes we walked to the base of the ice fall and worked ourselves up along the fixed rope. This was very tiring at 5000 meters. Some time later we put on our crampons and crossed the glacier towards the pass. The glacier itself was not very dangerous. There were some crevasses, but they were clearly visible, the was no fresh snow covering them. So we decided not to rope up on the glacier. At 1 pm we stood on Tilman's Pass at 5320 meters! We had found the pass. First objective completed.

Tilmans Pass GlacierAnd the weather was great, the best day so far, completely clear skies. We were very lucky. The first part of the way down was easy, merely a walk on the glacier. But at the point where the glacier ended it became harder again. We had to descend over a steep and rocky slope down to a glacier lake, not easy at all. But eventually we reached camp next to that lake at 4750 m. We had had a great day, with climbing next to an ice fall at 5000 m, and we crossed the pass. Everybody was in good shape and felt well that day, although the porters suffered from some mild symptoms of altitude sickness (just headaches). The problem is that they do not drink enough water and you might get away with that on lower altitudes, but not on 5000+, not even if you're a sherpa.

We only had one more day to go to return into civilization. Just one day down. But the last day turned out to be not so easy. We had to climb down a 200-300 meter high moraine. This was the moraine that the group from Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides found so difficult in 2009. Well, it was difficult and very dangerous. The moraine was full of loose rock (not only small rocks but also large boulders) so it took a lot of concentration to descent onto the Langshisa Glacier. And after reaching the glacier it was still a long hike to the Langtang Valley. And last but not least there was no bridge across the Langtang Khola. So that meant taking off our boots and cross this icy river. And then there was a trail again, a beautiful and good trail!

Day 14-15: the Langtang Valley

People! After almost 2 weeks of not seeing any people we saw Nepali and American people in Langshisa Kharka. Even a 72 year old Japanese man. And on the way to Kyangjin Gomba we met a French group.

In Kyangjin Gomba we decided to take a lodge. In Nepal a lodge is not a luxury hotel like you find in Africa, but a very basic 'hotel'. We had a two bed bedroom, but we had to use our own sleeping bag. And there was a shower! Kyangjin Gomba is the highest village in the Langtang Valley at about 3800 meters. There is small monastery and a cheese factory. And a bakery where one can get freshly baked apple pie. Mmmmmm. We took one day rest there.

Day 16 - 18: ascent of Naya Kanga

SummitIt took 2 days to reach the Naya Kanga High Camp from Kyangjin Gomba. The days were relatively short because we could not gain too much altitude in one day. Base Camp is at 4300 m and High Camp at 4900 m. Both camps are also used by anyone who wants to cross the Ganja-La pass to the south. After arrival in HC we quickly phoned our trekking agency to arrange a peak permit. The point was that up till then we were not that certain that we were going to climb Naya Kanga. From a distance the mountain looked extremely steep, it's graded AD-, and we were already very happy that we crossed Tilman's Pass. But in HC we decided to give it a try.

'Good morning, bed tea'. It was 3 in the morning and rather cold. After breakfast we had to put on our gear: plastic boots, down jacket, backpack. At 4.15 we started the approach over rocky terrain. It was only us 2 and the guide. After 90 minutes or so we reached a rock face which we had to climb. Fortunately another team had left fixed ropes there. We decided not to use jumars, so we could leave the harnesses in our packs. After some effort we were at the top of the rocks. It was 6 am and the sun was already there! So we could get rid of our down jackets and continue on the snow, quite steep as a matter of fact. That forced us to put on crampons. When we had reached the steep snow section about half way we roped up and continued to the top. A little before noon we arrived at the summit section. This last past is very steep. The guide installed a rope and we used our jumars to work ourselves up. At noon we were on the summit of Naya Kanga!

The way down involved 2 abseils: from the top and from the rock face close to high camp. Tired but satisfied we returned back in HC at 4.45 pm.

Day 19 - 23: across Ganja-La and down to Melamchi Pul

Only 5 days more to go! Today was for the crossing of Ganja-La, only 2 hours from HC. Walking the first hours on the north side was cold, but when we arrived on the pass we saw the sun again. And from now on we would stay on the south side of the mountain range, so we were happy that we could leave the cold nights behind.

There is not much water on this side of the pass, so you have to plan your camps carefully. After crossing the pass we continued till Yangri Kharka. Normally people walk until Keldang, some 90 minutes further. But we were not so sure about the water situation there and we were also a bit tired because of Naya Kanga the previous day. So we camped next to the river, plenty of water.Speech in Kakani

From some people who came the way up we learned that there was no water to be found the next one and a half day or so. We had planned to camp in Dhukpu but that was no option anymore. So that day we covered 1.5 day and walked all the way till Yangri Peak. By the way: the trail was exceptionally good here. We heard that the government had done a lot of maintenance and improvement here. It was really a very good trail. So we camped at a small kharka just before Yangri Peak.

When entering Tarke Ghyang the next day we really were back in civilization. From now on we would see more villages and villagers. Our last camp was in Kakani. This would be our last night together with the staff. Of course they had prepared a cake for us and of course we had prepared a speech and handed over some envelopes with tips. Everybody seemed to be very satisfied. And so were we. After all we managed to find Tilman's Pass and cross it and we climbed Naya Kanga. And we were very fortunate to have a team of porters that never complained about anything. They seemed to have enjoyed the trip as well. And many thanks to Phurba, our guide, who was always willing to search for the route.

And now 3 more hours down to Melamchi Pul, end of the trekking.