2009 expedition to Baruntse (7129 m)

Plan of approach

The best time to visit the region is Spring or Autumn. The weather is relatively stable then. Our initial plan was to go in Spring, but due to some physical problems of Otto and Marja we postponed the expedition to Autumn.

Baruntse can be attempted anywhere between mid October and early November. We aimed to summit by the end of October.

We needed 2 days in Kathmandu for arranging all formalities.

In order to properly acclimatize we decided to take it very slowly and enjoy the trekking to Baruntse Base Camp. Normally expeditions start from Lukla and hike to base camp via the Mera La. We decided to take another approach. We started in Tumlingtar and then hiked to Makalu base camp. Baruntse base camp is three or four days further to the west over the Sherpani Col and West Col (both 6100 m). West Col is also the location of Camp 1.

The route back to civilization was via Amphu Lapcha pass, Chukung and Namche Bazaar to Lukla.

We allowed ourselves 15 days for the climb itself. We would take the normal route from the West Col over the South-East ridge. Camp locations are:

  • base camp (BC), 5450 m
  • camp 1 (C1) on West Col, around 6100 m
  • camp 2 (C2), around 6400 m.

The next 2 sections provide more detail in the itinerary.

This plan allowed for sufficient acclimatization. Each day we climbed, we aimed to sleep not more than 300 meters above our previous camp. Of course this was not always possible. Below you find the altitude graph.

Altitude graph

Acclimatization trekking

Since the objective for this trek was acclimatization we did not want to have very tough and long days. We opted for many average days instead of a few hard and long days.

This was our actual itinerary. On day 7 we have added an extra acclimatization day. That day we gained 1600 meters to an altitude of 3600 m. The next acclimatization day would be at Makalu base camp at 4840 m. But due to bad weather we inserted more rest days.

Day Date Activity Highest Point Sleeping Altitude Gain Hours
1 Wed 30 Sep Fly to Tumlingtar, trek to Khadbari 1040 1040 -310 4
2 Thu 1 Oct Chichila 1890 1890 850 6
3 Fri 2 Oct Num 1990 1530 -360 6
4 Sat 3 Oct Seduwa 1625 1625 95 4
5 Sun 4 Oct Tashigoun 2180 2180 555 5
6 Mon 5 Oct Kongma 3615 3615 1435 6
7 Tue 6 Oct Acclimatization day in Kongma 3615 3615  
8 Wed 7 Oct Dobate, 30 minutes before Mumbuk 4216 3850 235
9 Thu 8 Oct Yangle Kharka 3850 3650 -200
10 Fri 9 Oct Extra day in Yangle Kharka due to bad weather 3650 3650    
11 Sat 10 Oct Langmale Kharka, 10 minutes above Yak Kharka 4450 4450 800 4
12 Sun 11 Oct Acclimatization day and practice rope techniques with porters 4450 4450  
13 Mon 12 Oct Makalu BC 4900 4840 390
14 Tue 13 Oct Acclimatization day in Makalu BC 5000 4840  
15 Wed 14 Oct French Camp 5200 5200 360 4
16 Thu 15 Oct East Col Camp 5720 5720 520 5
17 Fri 16 Oct Cross Sherpani Col and West Col to Baruntse Base Camp 6190 5450 -270 13

You can click on the map below to see a larger picture in high resolution (2048 x 2747 pixels, 1.88 MB).

Note. The map we bought proved to be rather inaccurate. I have placed the camps on the actual spots which were identified by using a GPS receiver. Using Google Earth I was able to find the spot on the map. And sometimes it was not even close to the location as stated on the map. For instance: where the map says 'Kauma' is actually more like Tashigaon. Kauma or Kongma is more to the North. Anyhow, on the map below you'll find more accurate locations of the camps.

Click on the map for a larger picture

Baruntse ascent and return to Kathmandu

From basecamp, we followed the right bank of the Barun Glacier, approaching the mountain towards the West Col. We first crossed a wide, flat moraine and low angled, crevassed glacier to a snow gully leading up to the West Col. It is a 150 meter climb up a 50 degree hard ice snow gully up to the West Col on fixed rope. Upon reaching the top there is a wide flat glacier plateau where we established Camp 1 (6100 m).

From Camp 1 we began a long glacier ascent. The climbing is low angled. As the slope steepened, we reached a small col where we establish Camp 2 (6400 m).

From Camp 2, there was a short steep 75 degree ice wall we ascended to reach a small col at 6500 m. Next was a wide 45 degree snow shoulder up to 6700 m., where we reached the sharp summit ridge of Baruntse. We followed this up to a wide summit cone and finally to the true summit itself (7129 m).

Day Date Activity Highest Point Sleeping Altitude Gain Hours
18 Sat 17 Oct Rest day in Baruntse BC 5450 5450  
19 Sun 18 Oct Tried to reach C1 on West Col, back to Baruntse BC 6100 5450  
20 Mon 19 Oct Rest day in Baruntse BC 5450 5450  
21 Tue 20 Oct Move to C1 6100 6100 650
22 Wed 21 Oct Move to C2 6400 6400 300 ?
23 Thu 22 Oct Summit, back to C1 7129 6100 -300 13
24 Fri 23 Oct Back to BC 6100 5450   ?
25 Sat 24 Oct Clean up BC 5450 5450 ?
26 Sun 25 Oct Amphu Lapcha BC 5
27 Mon 26 Oct Cross Amphu Lapcha pass and to Chukung 11
28 Tue 27 Oct Deboche 6
29 Wed 28 Oct Namche Bazaar 6
30 Thu 29 Oct Lukla 8
31 Fri 30 Oct Flight to Kathmandu  

You can view this itinerary in Google Earth. After loading this file in Google Earth you have to click the 'PLAY' button, which will start the tour.

Staff logistics

As stated on the Preparations tab we needed:

  • 2 Sherpa climbing guides
  • 1 cook
  • 1 cook helper and 1 kitchen boy
  • porters
  • 1 liaison officer supplied by the Ministry of Tourism (see also below).

Logistically this was an interesting expedition. We had to cross to high passes (6100 m) before arriving in Baruntse BC. It is very difficult for porters to cross those 2 passes, so we came up with this plan.

The trekking to Baruntse BC was divided in 3 stages:

  1. Tumlingtar to Makalu BC. We made use of 18 porters as well as the kitchen staff and only one Sherpa guide. On the way we dismissed one porter in Tashigaon and 4 in Yangle Kharka.
  2. Makalu BC to Baruntse BC. In Makalu BC we said goodbye to 3 porters. Only 10 remained with us to cross the 2 cols.

Eight days before arrival in Baruntse BC another group of 9 porters left from Lukla. Our second Sherpa guide accompanied them. They brought all the gear and food for the climbing period as well as a generator for electricity. They arrived in Baruntse BC on day 12, the day we were in Langmale. The Sherpa guide did some incredible thing the next day:

  • he went up the West Col and installed fixed ropes
  • het crossed the glacier to the Sherpani Col
  • he installed fix ropes there too
  • he descended the Sherpani Col and walked to Makalu Base Camp and arrived at 5 pm!
    So instead of one Sherpa guide, we suddenly had noth guides to accompany us during the crossing of the cols.

After the climb there were some porters hanging around in Baruntse BC. They were hired and with them we crossed Amphu Lapcha pass and hiked back to Lukla.

The liaison officer.

For these type of expeditions a liaison officer (LO) is appointed by the Ministry of Tourism. The LO's task is to look after the expedition and keep contact between the base camp and Kathmandu. An LO is very expensive:

  • wage of $10 per day, i.e. $310
  • air fare, $55
  • food at $11 per day, i.e. $341
  • equipment money, $1300
  • medical insurance, $50

This adds up to $2000!

But what happened? There was no LO in Baruntse Base Camp. When we debriefed in Kathmandu he told us that he flew to Lukla but then got sick and had to return! Apparently this is common practice. LOs never go to Baruntse Base Camp. Our impression is that those people do not even like being in the mountains. So they come up with a story about being sick. But you pay 2000 dollars. That is a lot of money for doing nothing. So we complained at the Ministry of Tourism when we debriefed. This caused a lot of embarrassment, but ultimately we got a refund of $400.

To put is mildly, the LO thing is a total scam. Unfortunately one cannot not use a LO. It is compulsary to employ one for an expedition. There is only one good thing about not seeing him in base camp: we secretely used a sat phone. Normally you have to pay an awful lot of money to the Nepalese government for using a sat phone. So most expeditions do it secretely and make sure that the LO (if there is one in base camp) does not see it.