Trekking to Tilicho
 
Route Description
FAQ about Tilicho
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Tilicho Lake is one of those places that has had next to mythic connotations. Many regard it as the highest lake in the world. It was for long almost totally closed save for a few climbers and expeditions, and since 1974, when Nixon changed the China policy, part of the area above Thini on the Jomosom side became a totally off-limits military area. From the Manang side it was rarely if ever visited. A much sold guide book informed potential trekkers that the path to Tilicho was “a figment of some ones fantasy” and the locals in Manang had little knowledge of the route too, and were often thought to be slightly unfriendly as they were known for not being particularly keen on working as human beasts of burden for various expeditions that had passed. When asked to porter they had simply refused! Manang is no ordinary village. Its people are heavily involved in international trade, due to passport privileges granted in the past.


A trek in 1981

On my first stay in Manang in July and August 1981 several villages told me that it was very complicated to find the path to the lake. One had even offered his services as a guide to some foreigners, and told me with a laugh that his clients had become really mad when he could not find the way. Later in August an English fellow turned up in Manang and we decided to try to reach the lake together. A tent was rented locally and Tsring Dolma, my host, made us some provisions, and then we set off.
 
Conversation with the locals had convinced us that it was a hopeless project to find a path along the valley floor. Instead we bet on making a high traverse from Khangsar, maintaining the altitude, on a path that went along the northern slopes of the valley. The path was large and well maintained to a Gompa a couple of kilometres beyond Khangsar. Then, it gradually got smaller, only to disappear completely after a couple of hours. At this point we were well beyond the thickest forest at the valley floor so we descended down lose scree slopes to the valley bottom and progressed along it. Here faint paths were found. We headed up grassy steep slopes where the valley narrowed to find that some extremely steep scree slopes had to be traversed. This was the most dramatic point. Beyond them we passed a side valley, forded a fast brook and headed for the moraine ridge that comes down from the watershed. By now it was getting dark so we pitched camp.

The night was quite dreary. Our tent turned out to be cold and leaking. So we spent the night freezing chewing cold chapati with sardines. The next morning we continued the ascent. The cold and the wet had discouraged us from the original project to camp a night by the shore of Tilicho. After a while we left our rucksacks and ascended the moraine. We reached the watershed and took in the stunning views. Avalanches were continuously shooting down the slopes of Tilicho Himal.
 
Tilicho in August
Tilicho Lake
    
We spent an hour enjoying the sight and then ran down to Manang. Now, we choose to follow the network of faint paths along the raging Khangsar Khola that runs along the valley floor. The going was rather difficult. There was no real path. Instead there were occasional trails made by wood cutters. At times we found ourselves climbing trees to get ahead. Eventually, approaching Khangsar the trails got better and finally we came out of the forest shortly above Khangsar and were able to run down to Manang reaching the village just as it began to rain and night was falling.

It was a fast trek. We went light. The tent leaked. We were wet, cold and hungry, but it was also unforgettable. The pictures made a deep impression on Elisabeth my wife to be when I first met her only a few month later.

Album from 1981 trek


A trek in 1993

In 1993  I visited the area again together with Elisabeth. We did it as a part of Jomosom, Muktinath, Manang, Jomosom-circuit in July and August. We flew to Jomosom, spent a couple of days acclimatising there, then headed slowly to Jarkot, Muktinath and Manang. As we had excellent trekking gear, lightweight tent, dehydrated food, warm cloths etc., we could spend plenty of time camping en route both between Muktinath and Manang and between Manang and Jomosom.

We started towards Tilicho via Khangsar, camped by the Gompa and continued on the same high traverse that I had gone in 1981. By now a proper path had been cut out through the scree rising  and maintaining the altitude to the narrow part of the valley with the extremely steep scree slopes. However, the slopes were lose and at points the scree had moved to the extent that the path had disappeared.
 
We camped by a brook that comes from a side valley, now the place is known as “Tilicho Base Camp,” and continued up to the lake where we camped again and spent a two days reconnoitring for a path ahead. There was no way to go ahead along the shores. On the southern is a crevassed glacier on the northern steep cliffs. We soon realised that the way to get to the other side of the lake was by going through the hills north of the cliffs, as it proved, over no less than three watersheds. By one of them, beyond a glacier, we made a camp next to a little lake and spent some days resting, reading, and hiking in the surrounding hills.

         
 
On the other side of the lake heading towards Thini and Jomosom we followed a glacial moraine to the watershed, and realised that we had to go still higher, to the right of an enormous gendarme. Coming down on the other side we camped just above a kharkha (summer pasture) and then started to look for a way down. The morning was heavy with fog and we spent several hours going in the wrong direction, first too high traversing north, then too low following a forested ridge, and had to back track twice before we found the correct path. Once we had found it the rest was easy as the path grew bigger the closer we got to Thini.

Album from 1993 trek



A trek in 1997

Our initial project was to enter the upper Marsyangdi Valley via the old monsoon route across Namun Bhanjyang. We trekked up to the tree line of the Rambrong Danda from Ganpokhara, only to find that Namun Bhanjyang was consistently in fog. Some Gurung shepherds told us they had been across the previous year and that they had found the Temang Khola extremely difficult to get across. They had felled trees and built a bridge. That settled it. We would not risk having to back track over a double pass. Instead we descended to Khudi and went the normal route to Manang.

We spent a couple of days in Manang taking high walks, to Kang Tso a lake north east of Manang and to Kira Gompa south east above Braga. Then we headed for Tilicho. We camped the first day by the Gompa just outside Khangsar. Proceeding we discovered that a completely new path had been carved out traversing a 4800 metres ridge. We camped once in ascent, on a flat spot intended as a resting place for yaks. The new path was excellent, though close to the watershed it was so exposed in one spot that we used our fording rope for a belay. Coming down on the other side, to what is now called Tilicho Base Camp, we chose to make detour to explore the upper reaches of the valley. According to the maps there is a lake on a high plateau. However, the terrain was rather difficult: steep slopes with thorny vegetation, so we decided to go down to Tilicho Base Camp instead and head for the Tilicho.

On our previous visit to the lake we followed a straight route heading up a steep slope. This time we followed the new path that leads into a shallow valley before it peters out. Just before we reached the big lake we found a lovely camping spot by a small lake. We camped here a number of days, exploring the surroundings, before we went on.

      
Then, we camped once by the lake, continued across the first of the passes one has to cross to reach the west side of the lake, and camped in the pass next to a glacier for a couple of nights, to be able to hike on the surrounding hills.
        
We continued on, as on the previous trek in the area, across one more pass to the west side of the lake and then we crossed the Meso Kanto La. On the Thak Khola side we had fair weather and stunning views on the way down  to Thini and Jomosom. 
  
We spent a day hiking to Marpha before we could get a flight.

Album from 1997 trek


Route description

The trek from Manang to Jomosom should only be undertaken by well equipped experienced parties. You need to have excellent camping gear, food, and clothing for high altitudes. As a large section of the trail is on high altitude and it is necessary to camp high one has to be properly acclimatised or allow time for it. A traverse from Manang to Jomomsom will take at least four days. It will be more fun and rewarding if you have more time. A path up to Tilicho Lake from Khangsar has been constructed. However, the path is sometimes difficult and exposed in one section. Beyond the eastern shore the terrain is strenuous. Unless the lake is frozen no less than three watersheds all higher than 5000 metres have to be traversed to reach the western shore. The main difficulty is the initial descent from Meso Kanto La.

From Manang one heads out through the western gates and then one follows the path down to the river. Cross it and continue on the south side of it through coniferous forest towards Khangsar. One section is across a steep and exposed scree slope. Cross the Khangsar Khola on the bridge below Khangsar and ascend the slope to the village.

Continue from Khangsar on a large path. Pass a Gompa (monastery). The route ahead goes on a recently constructed path up towards a high ridge. At one point is an intersection. One path maintains the altitude, traversing the slopes towards a place where the valley is narrow, the other continues to ascend towards the line of the ridge. The former is the old path, and is much more difficult as it goes on really steep scree, the latter is the new path that goes a completely different way. Continue along the new path, reach a high crest, and descend on switch backs carved out through the scree slopes to a side valley of the main valley. At its bottom is a brook. On the other side of it is a building known as Tilicho Base Camp.

From Tilicho Base Camp the path continues up along moraine ridges and grassy slopes to some large switch backs carved out of the slope. Reach the watershed. On the other side is Tilicho Lake. Camp sites are found on its north eastern shore. To go this far is rather uncomplicated. The route ahead is more far more complicated and demanding.

There are two ways ahead. One may cross the glaciers that come down from Tilicho Himal. Unless one is a party with complete ice climbing gear, and the competence to use it, this should only be attempted when the glacier is bare so all crevasses are visible. The second way traverses no less than three minor passes in the mountains north of the lake. This account covers that route.

Continue along the shore to a little plain. Leave the lake here and aim for a small saddle in the ridge above. The path is rather steep and there is plenty of lose scree and boulders.
The first pass
Reach a crest with a latå and descend to a valley on the other side. Follow it upwards and step on to a flat glacier. It has no crevasses and is safe. Follow its left (south) side upwards. Leave it where an obvious saddle westwards is visible. Go through this watershed. There is a little lake.

Continue ahead on a faint path, lose a little altitude, and then gain another saddle. On the other side one descends in to a small valley that turns south. Coming out off it one has reached the western shore of Tilicho Lake. See Addendum.

From here the path follows a partly dry valley westwards. It is also possible to follow the ridge of a glacial moraine. South of it is a rubble covered glacier. Reach the watershed. Cairns. Here it is absolutely essential not to go straight ahead. If one does one walks straight into a restricted area! The correct route goes up a steep scree slope (switch backs) north of the lowest watershed. Use the great gendarme as a land mark. The correct route goes just north of it. Reach the crest of the ridge. Here is a huge latå: a cairn with prayer flags etc.
Meso Kanto La
Descend on an obvious path on the other side. It goes in faint switch backs down a very steep scree slope. It would be a crux if snow covered, or icy. Below it one holds slightly north, rounding a spur, and enters a larger basin. Descend to its bottom, there is a stream, and continue, past a kharka, holding slightly right (N) to reach a point where a ridge with trees goes out in the valley. Take right (N) here and follow a path that maintains the altitude and goes in a long traverse along the eastern slopes of the valley. One loses altitude very slowly. Reach a stream with a bridge. Cross and continue along the path which now gradually turns towards the west. It goes in a long traverse along the northern slopes high above Lampoghyan Khola towards Thini, reaching the valley floor first at Thini. One passes a couple of kharkas (summer pastures) and the path progressively becomes better the closer one gets to Thini.
West slope of Meso Kanto La

 
There is no really dependable map. The best is the Schneider sheet, Annapurna 1:100 000. However, even this map does not delineate the path correctly and with regard to the lay of the land it is far from exact.


 
Frequently Asked Questions About Tilicho Lake

Is Meso Kanto La a viable alternative to Thourung La?
When is the best season to visit Tilicho Lake?
Is it possible to tea house trek to Tilicho Lake?
Is it possible to tea house trek from Manang to Jomosom?
Is it difficult to cross from Manang to Jomosom?
I have read and heard that the military banns trekkers on the Jomosom side. Is this true?
How can I avoid to get in trouble with the military?
Can I go on an arranged trek to Tilicho?
What should I think most about if I go on an arranged trek?
Why do Kathmandu and Pokhara trekking agencies and tour operators hesitate to arrange treks across Meso Kanto La?
Can I arrange a trek from Manang to Jomosom with an agent in Kathmandu?
Can I bring porters?
What do I need in terms of equipment?
Do I need crampons?



Is Meso Kanto La a viable alternative to Thourung La?

A traverse from Manang to Jomosom may appear as an attractive alternative route on the Annapurna circuit. It is, but some reservations must be made. Firstly, the Tilicho route demands a lot more acclimatisation than the normal route over Thorung La. Thorung La is certainly higher but there is a well beaten mule track across. In July it can on nice days be crossed in thongs. Furthermore, crossing Thorung La one only spends a few hours above 5000 metres and it is easy to descend fast. Except in bad conditions it is the perfect tea-house-route. One stays in hotels in Thorung Phedi one night, in hotels in Muktinath the next. The Tilicho route, on the other hand, has some sections that are truly demanding. In a couple of places the path is very exposed. In other one crosses boulder fields. However, most important is that one has to remain on high altitude for considerable time. Most parties would have to camp at least twice on 5000. Once one has come up and passed the rim around the lake there is no fast way down in case one is suddenly struck by acute mountain sickness. Secondly, timing is extremely important. The best season to traverse the Meso Kanto La does not correspond with what is generally regarded as the optimal trekking season.

When is the best season to visit Tilicho Lake?

June, July and August. Conventional wisdom has it that it is not only stupid but nearly suicidal to trek during the monsoon. One supposedly becomes eaten alive by leeches, if one is not caught by a landslide or washed away by a flash flood. There are plenty of leeches, landslides, flash floods and overflowing tributaries on some treks, especially on the south side of the Great Himalayan range, and trekking during the monsoon has its particular demands not least in terms of time to wait out a bad monsoon storm in a safe place. However, the Marsyangdi Valley as well as Thak Khola is largely in rain shadow. A seven thousand metres barrier of enormous mountains block out most of the clouds so most of the rain falls on the south side. Off course some monsoon clouds drift across and there will be an occasional drizzle. For high altitude trekking the monsoon season has its obvious attractions. The summer in Marsyangdi Valley is lovely, all meadows and coniferous forest. On higher altitudes, that are inhospitable already in September and freezing cold from October to May, one literally finds fields with leek, edelweiss and enziana in June, July and August. Thus, the best time is during the monsoon, Tilicho is at its best, when other areas are at their worst. Anyone venturing up in other seasons will find Tilicho, although stunningly beautiful, cold and inhospitable. Snow may fall any time, but from September to May it only rarely melts. Furthermore, one has to cross some steep slopes that are avalanche prone when snow covered.


Is it possible to tea house trek to Tilicho Lake?

Yes, but only sometimes. It can be done in some seasons. There is a building in a side valley that serves as a hotel sometimes. It is known as “Tilicho Base Camp” and is run by people from Khangsar. When they are there one can sleep and eat there, go up and see the lake, return down to Khangsar or Manang and then continue to Thorung La. Inquire in Khangsar if the lodge is open. Unless you have a tent and everything else you need to camp on high altitude it is foolish and dangerous to go so far beyond Khangsar that you can not return before night fall, when the lodge is not open.


Is it possible to tea house trek from Manang to Jomosom?

No it is impossible. To cross over to Jomosom one needs to have a tent and food and be properly acclimatised.



Is it difficult to cross from Manang to Jomosom?

Yes it is a serious trek with various difficulties and should only be undertaken by well equipped and experienced parties. If you are a first time trekker forget it. Note that everyone in your party has to be well equipped.


I have read and heard that the military banns trekkers on the Jomosom side. Is this true?

Yes. There is a military area south east of Thini. It is restricted for foreigners and the military has sent foreigners that have come down there back across the mountains. Others have been detained and had real problems. The same would happen if you walked into a restricted area in Europe or the US.


How can I avoid to get in trouble with the military?

Don´t go close to the restricted area. That means that you have to cross Meso Kanto La north of the great gendarme and find the traverse to Thini. Going that way you will not enter the restricted area and have no problem with them at all. The crux is that the west slope of Meso Kanto La is very steep. When it is snow covered it may at best be an excruciating snow trudge but it may also either be avalanche prone or not negotiable at all without crampons, ice-axe and rope. Snow and ice can expected there from early September to May.

 



Can I go on an arranged trek to Tilicho?

Yes if you do not mind using human beasts of burden you can most likely find some trekking agent in Kathmandu who will do it. You will have to be content to camp below the lake, at the “Tilicho Base Camp”, or at its eastern shore. The vast improvements of the path in recent years have been made largely for this purpose.


What should I think most about if I go on an arranged trek?

Most important is what gear the porters have. You should personally ascertain that each porter has good trekking shoes, suitable for snow fields, clothes and night gear that is adequate for camping above 4000 metres. Many porters have needlessly died of exposure when working for foreigners: Once when I crossed Thorung La I met a party of competitive Germans who were pushing ahead from the other side. They intended to camp high in the pass. There was a light snow fall. An hour later I met their porters some of whom walked bare foot. ...



Why do Kathmandu and Pokhara trekking agencies and tour operators hesitate to arrange treks across Meso Kanto La?

Because it is a difficult trek. The route is strenuous as one has to spend a great deal of time on high altitude and it demands a lot of the tour operator in terms of providing high altitude gear for porters etc. You can not trek in the colonial style, with sardars, porters, cooks, live chickens for food, dinner tent, field toilet, etc., across Meso Kanto La. If a trekking agent hesitates to set up a trek across Meso Kanto La, or claims it is not permitted, don´t push them. Then, they can not do it safely. You may also reconsider your mood of trekking. Should you be trekking there at all if you can not carry your own stuff?


Can I arrange a trek from Manang to Jomosom with an agency in Kathmandu?

Yes: But only with the very best trekking agencies and it will be rather expensive. The costs become high because they can not use the porters they usually do. There is a whole hierarchy of Nepalese who work in the trekking buisiness. The top layer are known as Sirdars. These are most often Sherpas and Tamangs who have learned to climb from foreign expeditions and then earn a living from being in the operational forefront of arranged treks. They are the ones who run the show when you are on arranged trek. They hire porters, cooks, bearers, etc. Some of them are excellent mountaineers and have the skill and experience one needs to do this route safely. It is from this category of Nepalese you have to recruit your staff and these people are not usually into portering! So, expect to pay a great deal more than for other treks and to carry some of your own load.


 Can I bring porters?

No: absolutely not. A safe crossing of Meso Kanto La demands proper equipment. Most trekking porters don´t have it. They most often carry in wicker baskets with a nanglo (strap to carry with the head) which is fine on good trails but not at all suitable for a difficult trail on high altitude. Furthermore, they are often poorly equipped for cold nights and have bad shoes. If you can not make it on your own, bring only well equipped experienced “Sherpas” with you. Check out Jamie McGuinness Appalled Around Dhaulagiri article and consider that the Meso Kanto La route is in some respects more demanding than the Hidden Valley.


What equipment do I need?

Light weight tent that can stand cold, stove, food for several days. You also need shoes with hard soles that don´t bend as you have to cross a lot of lose scree.


Do I need crampons?

Not during the monsoon season. There is a section of the path that is very steep west of Meso Kanto La. It may possibly be cramponed in other seasons. However, consider that crampoons by themselves are useless and dangerous. If you walk or climb on ice or hard snow that is so steep that you need crampoons you also need to be belayed: i.e., you have to have a rope and all the rest. Add climbing gear to all the stuff you already have to carry to be able to camp and keep warm and it will be very heavy and surely ruin the walk.  

Tilicho information on other sites:
The Tilicho route - exploring the Annapurna Region
Tilicho Lake Trekking (excellent photos)
Tilicho — Trekking in Nepal Annapurna


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This page was last updated 2001-04-25 by Per Löwdin who also holds the copy right of the text and the pictures.



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