The rarely seen Kangshung (East Face) of Everest is only accessible by a trek up the beautiful Gama (Karma) Valley. The Kangshung Face is not nearly as renowned as the iconic North Face seen from Rongphu Monastery, primarily due to the fact that the north side is easily approachable by vehicle. In contrast, the Kangshung side is only accessible by trekking over high passes, and most fully appreciated by descending into Gama Valley and trekking up to the head of the valley where the Kangshung glacier reaches the valley floor. Everest’s ominous size can rarely be appreciated as it can from this vantage point.
This 8-day trek involves the stuff of expedition lore, as this relatively untouched part of the Himalayas combines both high altitude alpine terrain with the dense vegetation found in the lower reaches of Gama valley. The presence of local yak men and their animals to carry the loads adds to the sense of a true expedition. The first couple days after descending into the valley from the pass above involves weaving your way through rhododendron, juniper, orchids, and willow trees as you gradually ascend the valley west. To accompany you along the way are the magnificent peaks of Makalu, Jomolonzo, Lhotse, and of course Everest. The entire experience can only be described as surreal.
Arrive in Chengdu on Day 1 before flying to Lhasa the next morning to spend 2 days in Lhasa for acclimatization purposes, and to see the iconic sites of this ancient and mysterious city. Then make the 2-day overland trip by private vehicle to the Himalayas and the staging point for the trek.
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September 13-27, 2020
- Booking Deadline: July 17, 2020 -
Lhasa, Yamdrok Lake, Shigatse, Gama Valley, Everest's eastern (Kangshung) base camp
Private vehicle with driving distance 1300KM (Return)
Starts and ends in Chengdu
The heart of Western China welcomes you as your driver navigates the throngs of cyclists which mix with the rhythm of a modern city. After settling into the comfort of your hotel, a brief trip orientation will be given over dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Board an early morning flight from Chengdu Shuangliu international airport for your 2-hour shuttle to the roof of the world. It is hard to find such a short flight anywhere else on the planet where the geography, climate, elevation, and culture changes so dramatically. Met by your Extravagant Yak guide at the airport in Lhasa, you'll head to the heart of Lhasa's ancient Barkhor area to settle into your hotel. The afternoon will simply be enjoyed mixing with pilgrims from all over Tibet who descend daily on the Barkhor to visit Tibet's most venerable pilgrimage destination: Johkang Temple. During dinner, the enjoyment of traditional Tibetan music and dance will leave you with the sense you've passed through a time portal to an ancient past. (Elevation: 3,650 m / 11,972 ft)
This morning's cultural highlight is a tour of the Potala Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site), parts of which date back to the 7th century, and which served as the chief residence of the successive Dalai Lamas. After rest and refreshment over lunch, a trip to Sera Monastery to observe the afternoon live debates in the courtyard by the resident monks affords one of the most enjoyable (and entertaining) experiences to be had in Lhasa. Following dinner back in the old town, you will have the option of further absorbing the vibe of the Barkhor at night while doing some souvenir shopping, or proceeding to the outskirts of town for a massive 800 actor live performance dramatizing Princess Wencheng's impact on the history of Buddhism in Tibet. The scale of this performance makes this is a stunning once in a lifetime kind of experience for many people.
Today begins the overland trip by private vehicle along the Friendship Highway. This scenic drive will take you over many mountain passes, past the turquoise waters of mystical Yamdrok Lake with sweeping views that represent the quintessential images of scenic Tibet. From there, you'll carry on to view Karola glacier, then stop in Gyantse for a late lunch followed by a visit to Pelkor Chode Monastery to view the largest stupa in all of Tibet. You will then carry on to Shigatse, your destination for the night. (Elevation: 3,840 m / 12,595 ft)
Today will be another breathtaking day on the Friendship Highway, winding through high-altitude valleys toward the Himalayas. After lunch in Shegar (New Tingri), the afternoon includes winding up the countless switchbacks to the heights of Gyawu-la pass for a breathtaking panorama of the entire Himalaya range. Stretched out like a white jagged spine on the horizon, five of the 8000m peaks are visible from the top of the pass: Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Cho'Oyu, and Shishapangma. Descend to the valley below through Tashi Dzom and follow the Dzakar River east and south to the staging point for tomorrow's trek commencement in Chutang. (Elevation: 3,700 m / 12,100 ft)
In the morning, say goodbye to the glacial waters of the Kharta Tsangpo River as you begin the ascent to the Sha-u-la pass. This morning's trek follows the river out of Yulba for about 20min before reaching the fork which separates the two approaches to the Gama Valley (On the return journey, you will descend to this point via Langma-la pass). The fork to the left ascends the left side of an irrigation channel through plenty of vegetation and dwarf rhododendron as you head for a large meadow and a good place for a scenic rest after a couple of hours of trekking. Continuing south, the next short stage of less than an hour will take you up some moraine to another meadow and the spot for tonight's camp. Once camp is set up you'll have time for exploration of nearby ridges for incredible Himalayan vistas. (Elevation: 4,160 m / 13,650 ft)
Leaving the meadow after breakfast this morning, you’ll continue a 2-3 hr climb up a rocky ascent to the twin lakes near the base of the last climb to the pass. On a clear day, looking south you can enjoy unparalleled views of surrounding mammoth peaks, including Makalu (8,475 m / 27,805 ft), the world’s fifth highest peak, and Jomolonzo (7790m / 25,550 ft). The final couple hundred meters of elevation will be gained over the next 1.5 hrs before you arrive at the top of Sha-u-la pass (4,790 m / 15,700 ft) for even more outstanding panoramas, and views of Gama valley stretching westward up the valley below. After a deserved rest, begin the continuous 3 hr descent down into Gama Valley. The top of the descent involves steep switchbacks, before reaching a lush canyon with soaring granite walls. Rhododendron and juniper are in abundance here, as well as primulas. The canyon eventually opens up to wide meadows and the campsite for tonight. (Elevation: 3,990 meters / 13,100 feet)
Wake up to bird calls in a sea of wild rhododendron and juniper. Today’s ascent continues west over undulating terrain through high meadows, past lakes and herder camps. The Karma Tsangpo River threads itself down the Gama valley from the convergence of several steep glacial valleys on the slopes of the Himalayan giants at the head of the valley above, known as the Rabka Chu. As you walk, you are surrounded by the grandeur of Makalu and Jomolonzo on your left (south). Four to five hours into the journey you will come to Shalung Tso (lake), with a beautiful meadow for camping on the north side of the lake (4420m / 14,500 ft). Before dinner, climb high on the ridges for stunning views of Everest and Lhotse at the head of the valley in the distance. (Elevation: 4,420 m / 14,500 ft)
Rise early this morning for a big day. Leaving the lake this morning, ascend about 30min more for the first views of the East Peak of Lhotse (Lhotse Shar) and rock and rubble beneath the massive Kangshung Glacier. The trail soon comes to Thangsham (4480m / 14,700 ft), a seasonal herder camp with spectacular views of the valley below, and then on to the intersection with the Langma-la trail before plunging back down to the valley floor (4210m / 13,800 ft) to be greeted by meadows surrounded by dense scrub and tall rhododendrons. Thread your way through the vegetation for the next push of the morning: a 2-hour rugged climb (370m / 1200 ft ascent) up alongside the Kangshung Glacier to some rolling hills of moraine and on down to further dense scrub in another meadow. The next climb of the day ascends a rocky traverse to an active herder camp known as Opka (4570m / 15,000 ft), before the final one hour push of the day up to Pethang Ringmo (4820m / 15,800 ft). On a clear day it's hard to find a better view on a trek anywhere else in the world. (Elevation: 4820 m / 15,800 ft)
After a more relaxing breakfast this morning, leaving the tents and gear behind, today affords the opportunity to travel light and explore the furthest upper reaches where the Kangshung Face reaches the valley floor below. Climber’s basecamp sits in a small meadow here (5,090m / 16,700 ft), while it is possible to continue a further 45min higher to the end of a long moraine which reaches 5,200m. There is a large glacial lake below, and across the valley is one of the great views of the Himalaya, with three of the world’s five highest peaks towering above. Everest's eastern face rises more than 3 vertical kilometers from here to the mountain's summit (8,848 m / 29,029 ft), with Lhotse standing at its side (8,383 meters / 27,503 feet). This is the end of the road for all but mountaineers. Scramble on some nearby slopes and savour the surreal remoteness beneath the world’s highest peaks before returning to basecamp for a second night, and prepare for the return trek tomorrow. (Elevation: 4820 m / 15,800 ft)
Enjoy a spectacular sunrise this morning as Kangshung wakes to the light of the day. After reluctantly breaking camp, today begins your three-day return journey to Chutang. Follow the Rabka Chu for about 2 hours back down to the meadow camp, and begin the ascent toward Langma-la pass. Leaving the meadows of Rabka Chu, there is a 3 hr ascent past the Sha-u-la trail that brought you into the valley and through Thangsham herder camp to ascending hills of moraine with braided trails and grassy slopes. After 5 hours the trail eventually follows a ridge northwest to the first of two small lakes on the way to the pass. Depending on progress, the night will be spent at either the first lake (Tso Melongme, 4850m / 15,900 ft) or 30min further up to the second lake (Tso Jokring, 4940m / 16,200 ft). These are the last decent campsites before crossing the pass tomorrow. (Elevation: 4850 meters / 15,900 feet)
After breaking camp, this morning’s destination is a dip in the rocky ridges to the northeast of the lake. Ascending the trail to the north of Tso Jokring quickly brings you to a ridge of bare rock and an indistinct route dotted with cairns to help guide the way. The pass itself (5240m / 17,200 ft) is only 1.5 hrs from the lake and is well worth a leisurely rest to view a towering Makalu directly south across the valley. From this vantage point, it appears to be the largest of all the surrounding mountains, including Everest. Bid farewell to Gama Valley as you begin your descent on the other side of the pass through a jumbled world of rocky moraine and cliffs, past a long narrow lake shaped like a guitar called Tso Dramnyen, reaching the first meadow on the way down, Lhatse (4750m / 15,600 ft), after a couple of hours. Just past Lhatse the rhododendrons make their first appearance in the valley, and an hour beyond here sits the meadow camp of Trose (4420m / 14,500 ft) and your perch for the night. (Elevation: 4,420 m / 14,500 ft)
After breakfast is the final stretch back to Yulba. A couple of hours beyond Trose is another sprawling meadow called Shomale (4160m / 13,650 ft) surrounded by tall willows and wild rosebushes. Beyond here, the trail returns to the same valley you ascended on the other side 8 days before to Sha-u-la, the Dambuk Chu. From here it is a steep winding descent through juniper and rose bushes, then down barren slopes to the town of Lhundrubling (3990m / 13,100 ft). The trailhead is less than an hour beyond here, passing the turn-off for the ascent to Sha-u-la on the way. Your final day of trekking will take about 5 hours, arriving back in Yulba by early afternoon for your transfer to Rongphu Monastery and views of the iconic north face of Everest. Spend the night in the tent hotels located just below Rongphu Monastery in the village of Chödzom. (Elevation: 4,750 m / 15,600 ft)
Your dream of seeing both the east and north faces of Everest is now complete. On top of that, the epic trek into the Gama Valley with its visual feast of Himalayan scenery day after day over the past week makes the return journey one of immense satisfaction. The Friendship Highway provides one last sweeping view of the Tibetan Plateau before arriving back in Shigatse for a relaxing lunch. After a hot shower, the afternoon includes an optional visit to Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the second most important spiritual leader in Tibet, the Panchen Lama. For those happy to continue to stretch their legs, joining the Tibetan pilgrims on their Kora circuit around the monastery is an option, as well as the opportunity to walk in the old quarter of town to enjoy scenes of an ancient way of life. Dinner and a comfortable night at the Gesar Hotel will precede heading to the airport early tomorrow morning for your return flight to Chengdu. Distance: 290km. (Elevation: 3,840 m / 12,595 ft)
*Your tour concludes upon departure from Lhasa. The morning drive to Lhasa Gonggar Airport follows the great Yarlung Tsampo River and offers beautiful views of idyllic Tibetan farming villages along the way. A late afternoon flight awaits to take you from Lhasa back to the lowlands of the Sichuan basin.