The 7 Greatest Treks in Tibet - Exploring the Roof of the World

The Tibetan Plateau occupies an area four times the size of France and with an average elevation over 4,500m (14,800 ft) is often referred to as the “Roof of the World” or the “Third Pole” in reference to the number of glaciers and volume of ice that lies within the Himalayas. The great treks of Tibet approach the peaks of the Himalayas from the north and give a different perspective then the treks in Nepal and India which approaches from the south. The weather of Tibet is much drier and colder than conditions in Nepal and India both due to the elevation and the fact that the Himalayas block tropical monsoon moisture from reaching this far north. Strong solar forcing across the plateau in the summer and exceptionally cold winter temperatures are thought to amplify monsoon patterns across southeast Asia and before the uplift of the plateau the monsoon was likely much more moderate then it is today. The Himalayas make up the southern boundary of the Tibetan Plateau and geologists estimate that uplift of the plateau began about 20 million years ago as mantle material flowed towards a low pressure area away from the Himalayas. Tibet might be a paradise for trekking but if you take a moment to visit the ancient monasteries and sample traditional dishes such as the butter tea and roasted barely you will get a true sense of the place.

Mont Everest Base Camp and Rongbuk Monastery

Mont Everest Base Camp and Rongbuk Monastery, Tibet

Advanced Everest Base Camp Trek
This is one of the most spectacular treks in Tibet and also the world’s highest elevation trek ending at 6340m (20800 feet). The trek itself does not take more than a week but you need to tack on another 3 days on each side for the overland journey from either Lhasa or Kathmandu. The trek starts when you reach the small monastery of Rongbuk from where you can look up the valley of the same name directly at Mount Everest. Its only 22km (12 miles) to the Advanced Base camp but you are gaining (4300 ft / 1310m) which is more than it seems given the already high elevation. The trek is usually divided into several days with an intermediate base camp set up so that you can go up and down the mountain at your own speed while you acclimatize. This is the same route used by climbers using the North Col to summit Everest (Read the full blog post).

Mount Kailash, Tibet

Mount Kailash, Tibet

Mount Kailash Pilgrmage
Mount Kailash 6,714 m (22,000 feet) is a holy mountain considered by ancient texts as the center of the world and by Hindus as the abode of Lord Shiva by Hindus. Some Buddhists believe the mountain to be the home of the Buddha Demchok. Many Hindu pilgrims from India make the long journey so that they may trek around the mountain in hopes of being freed from an endless cycle of births and deaths. The mountain itself lies in a remote part of the Tibetan Himalayas just to the north of the border between Nepal and India. It’s a 52km (30 mile) circuit that normally takes 3 days to complete. It’s a long but exceptionally scenic journey just to reach the mountain that requires 4 days of driving from either Kathmandu or Lhasa. If you are in a hurry and can afford it you can join wealthy pilgrims on a helicopter.

Gyama Valley Trek
This 8 day trek takes you to the Gyama or Gama Valley which many have claimed is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in the world. The valley leads up towards the base of Makalu and Everest from the east in a region that few tourists visit. The region is know how its orchids, azaleas and numerous wildflowers as well as forested slopes at the lower elevations. The high point on the trek is Shauwula Pass at 4900m. Since the area is remote and seldom visited trail conditions can be quite be difficult and its important to bring an experienced guide who knows the region well. The Gama trek is much like stepping back in time as you will meet locals from a variety of cultures such as the; Monpa, Lhoba and Sherpa who still maintain the traditional ways.

Tsurpu Monastery

Tsurpu Monastery

Tsurphu to Yangpachen Trek
This is a week-long high elevation trek that gives you a real feel of the Tibetan Plateau and the culture of the Drokpa, semi-nomadic Tibetan herders. You will cross several alpine valleys before reaching the broad Yangpachen valley. Unlike the other treks mentioned here you are not in the Himalayas on this trek but you have continuous views of them in the distance. It’s a chance to experience the wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau and to get a rare glimpse of the traditional people who still make their living off the land. The majestic views of the snow capped Himalayas in the distance are a continuing inspiration.

Mount Shishapangma in Tibet

Mount Shishapangma in Tibet

Mount Shishapangma Base Camp Trek
Mount Shishapangma is one of only 14 peaks reaching 8000m in the world. You can make the dramatic trek to base camp 4980m in as little as a week and if you have an extra few days continue on to Advanced Basecamp at 5400m (17,700 feet). The hiking here is not so difficult as its mostly on decent trails and then across the rockier moraines to the base camp. Most the time trekkers need to arrange to go as part of an organized climbing group but of course will return after meeting their objective. Either way this trek is a great way to get a close look at one of the world’s greatest mountains.

Overlook Makalu in the way go to Everest base camp

Overlook Makalu in the way go to Everest Base Camp

East Mount Everest Base Camp – Kangshung Face
This is an 8 day trek to the seldom visited Kangshung Face Base Camp which serves as the eastern base camp for Mount Everest. The trail passes over two high passes the; Shao La (4915m) and Langma La (5200m) and passes through the beautiful Gama Valley. The trek passes through an area of rich floral diversity and some of the world’s highest elevation forests before bringing you to the base camp where you have great views of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu (all 8000m peaks). Note that this trek brings you to the same area as the Gama Valley Trek mentioned above but from a different approach. The Kangshung Face is the most dangerous approach to Everest and the least used. The impressive rock wall viewed from base camp has a vertical relief of over 3,350 metres (11,000 ft).

Samye Monastery Tibet

Samye Monastery, Tibet

Ganden to Samye Trek
This is one of the most popular treks in Tibet connecting the famed Ganden and Samye monasteries. Its one of the closest trekking routes to Lhasa and also one of the shorter treks at 4 days so it the best option for those with less time. Despite the relative ease of logistics it has great mountain views and is a challenging trek that includes crossing over Chitu La and Shug La, both these passes exceed 5000m (The word “La” means pass in Tibetan). The ruins of Ganden at the start are built high on a cliff and are attraction for many on day trips from Lhasa. One reaches the Samye Monastery at the end of the trek which is significant as the first Buddhist monastery to be built in Tibet and many Buddhists make a pilgrimage from across Tibet to visit this site.

Mount Shishapangma Base Camp

Mount Shishapangma Base Camp

Flickr Image Credit :
Goran Hoglund (Kartlasarn)
McKay Savage
Brigitte Djajasasmita
Christophe Chenevier