Top Ten Himalayan Treks

By Scott Dimetrosky
  |  Gorp.com
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The Himalayas are hot. With the success of Into Thin Air, the excitement of the Imax movie, Everest,and what seems to be a new Hollywood release every month, the world's highest mountains are definitely in vogue. For those people who prefer to experience the thin air with their trekking boots on, we surveyed experts and travelers to offer you Away.com's perspective on the creme de la creme.

Pakistan: Snow Lake
The Karakoram, the westernmost range of the Himalayas, is a desolate land of extremes that encompasses the earth's most dramatic, jagged high peaks and its longest glaciers outside the polar regions. In the middle of it all is Snow Lake, a vast basin of ice at 16,000 feet ringed by sawtooth peaks that explorer Martin Conway described as "beyond all comparison the finest view of mountains it has ever been my lot to behold, nor do I believe the world can hold a finer." The route to Snow Lake starts at the village of Askole and proceeds up the 40-mile long Biafo Glacier. The glacier ends at Snow Lake, where trekkers then cross the 17,000-foot Hispar La to the Hispar Glacier, which descends 35 miles to the Hunza Valley, prototype for James Hilton's Shagri-La. Although the terrain is gentle by Himalayan standards—most of the time you're walking on the glaciers themselves—the footing can be difficult. And the utterly barren landscape, devoid of vegetation and people, can be mentally trying for some. But for one glance at the grandeur of Snow Lake, these are scant drawbacks indeed.
Nepal: The Manaslu Circuit
If you regret not having done the Annapurna Circuit 20 years ago, before it turned into a trekkers' autobahn, head for the higher, more rugged peak just to the east, 26,800-foot Manaslu. Start in the town of Ghorka and climb up to the 15,500-foot Rupina La, with Himalchuli towering dramatically overhead. (Ropes will help get you over a short field of boulders at the pass.) Trek down to the Buri Gandaki valley, then follow it up through Nupri, an isolated region that still maintains an unspoiled Tibetan Buddhist culture. High point of the circuit is 17,100-foot Larkya La, a pass just this side of the Tibetan border. From there, you'll descend to the Kali Gandaki Valley and for the last few days rejoin the mobs on the Annapurna Circuit back to Ghorka.

Bhutan: Laya and Lunana
Bhutan, which charges very high trekking fees, has resisted the flood-tide of trekkers that have invaded Nepal. In this land of wild and little-traveled trekking routes, the wildest and least-traveled of them all begins in Punakha and proceeds north to Laya, hard against the Tibetan border. From there, head east into the remote Lanana region, traversing six passes from 15,000 to 17,000 feet. After passing beneath 24,900-foot Gangkar Punsum the world's highest unclimbed peak—head south to Tongsa and the trail's end. The Lanana loop is a classic Himalayan trek—peaks, villages, monasteries—in an untouched region visited by only a handful of Westerners. At a typical cost of $5,000 to $7,000, this may be the world's most expensive trek, but well worth the price.

Tibet: The Kangshung Face of Everest
Ninety percent of the people who see Everest view the south face from Nepal. Another nine percent or so see the north face from the Tibetan side. But only a handful see the east, or Kangshung Face, visually the most impressive of Everest's faces. With yaks shouldering the load, the Kangshung trek begins in the Tibetan village of Kharta and proceeds across a high alpine desert into the Kangshung Valley to Pethang Ringmo. The jutting face of Everest is visible almost constantly—unlike the Khumbu side, where the summit is often hidden by other peaks and ridges. From Pethang Ringmo, loop back to Kharta via the 17,000-foot Langma La. While this is not an especially long (about two weeks) or arduous trek, it takes you into a virtually untouched area with perhaps the best views of Everest anywhere.

Ladakh: Across Zanskar
This vast high-altitude desert dotted with Tibetan-style mud villages is cut off from the world for six months of the year by deep snow and raging rivers. Start trekking from the monastery at Lamayuru and head south to 17,000-foot Singi La and descend to the Zanskar River. Follow it for three days to Padum, a village of mud and stone where yaks crowd the main square. Continue south along the river to Kargya and over Shingo La to the southern trailhead at Darcha. Count on about three weeks. Although maximum altitudes are not unusual by Himalayan standards, you'll spend many days at a time on a high plateau at altitudes above 13,000 feet.

Published: 3 Dec 1999 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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