InformationThis mountain is also spelled “Jhomolhari". Chomolhari is the second highest peak in Bhutan lying on the western border with Tibet. Due to both technical difficulty, strong winds, and access issues, Chomolhari has seen only six successful ascents to date. As of 1996, no technical climbing is permitted in Bhutan. On the Tibetan side, climbers have reported difficulty in obtaining permits due to a large Chinese military presence.
One of the most popular treks advertised for Bhutan is the “Chomolhari Base Camp Trek”. Thousands of trekkers photograph spectacular views of Chomolhari from the camping destination Jangothang or “Land of Ruins” in Bhutan each year.
Chomolhari, according to Buddhist beliefs, is the seat or the embodiment of Tseringhma. The mountain is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists who make an annual pilgrimage from Phari Dzong to the holy lake Chomo Lharang just north of the mountain.
Jichu Drake (6794m) is directly east of Chomolhari.
History of Successful Ascents
First Ascent: The first ascent of Chomolhari was in 1937 by Englishman Freddy Spencer Chapman and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama. The five-member team expedition initiated in Sikkim and traveled through Tibet. The team reconnoitered the south ridge, but decided the route was not favorable. The team then traveled into Bhutan and climbed the southeast spur. The summit was achieved in seven days, an astonishing feat for the year 1937. The ascent is chronicled in F. Spencer’s book “Helvellyn to Himalaya”. A biography of Chapman can be read here: Chapman's biograpy
Second Ascent: To underscore the significance of Chapman’s 1937 summit, it took thirty-three more years before a climber would again stand atop the lofty peak. In 1970, the King of Bhutan sponsored a joint Indo-Bhutan Army expedition to repeat the 1937 route. Although two groups summited, only one group returned. Captains S.L. Kang and Dharam Pal were last seen 500 feet short of the summit. The climbers had reached a very difficult ridge at 22,000 feet above the final camp. It is presumed that the ill-fated climbers had a mishap on the summit ridge and slid down the Tibetan side of the mountain. A unique feature of this expedition was the extensive use of bamboo ladders, which proved “useful and economical”.
Third Ascent: 1996 saw the first successful summit from the Tibetan side. A joint Japan-China expedition fixed ropes through the icefall to the south col (which the 1937 Chapman expedition deemed unfavorable). The Japanese-Chinese team then ascended the south ridge to join the '37 route below the sharp crest of the summit ridge.
Fourth Ascent: On May 7 2004, the British climbers Julie-Ann Clyma and Roger Payne reached the summit via the south col in a single day's push. Attempts to climb the northwest pillar were thwarted by strong winds. Clyma and Payne placed a prayer flag at the summit “to honor Buddhist faith and appease the mountain gods”. They descended “the large avalanche below the seracs” and were transported to Gyantse. They reported, “The rapid transition in just over 24 hours from being on a summit over 7000m, to sitting in a restaurant drinking beer, was most bizarre”. British 2004 Expedition
Fifth and Sixth Ascents: In October 2006, a six-member Slovenian team climbed two new routes. Rok Blagus, Tine Cuder, Samo Krmelj and Matej Kladnik took the left couloir of the north face to the East ridge. In the lower part they encountered climbing of 45-60 degrees, while the exit steepened to 80 degrees. They graded the 1900m-high route TD+ (French Alpine rating).
Marko Prezelj and Boris Lorencic climbed a new route up the northwest pillar, reaching the pillar’s crest by way of a couloir where they “found knee-deep snow and on steep sections hard snow and ice. On the ridge we were welcomed with strong wind and challenging snow conditions – snow with a (breakable) crust,” over more than a foot of unconsolidated powder. The two men bivouacked at 6300m and returned to base camp the following day. The northwest pillar route was completed in a six days (round trip). Prezelj stated “In general it was a serious climb where logistics and choices of the tactics were probably more important than just ‘difficult moves of the body’. I led the entire climb and we graded the route ED2, M6+/30-70, c1950 m.” This climb earned Prezelj and Lorencic the Piolet d'Or in January 2007. Prezelj led the entire climb and compared the route to the Golden Pillar of Spantik. Alpinist
Getting ThereFrom the Bhutan side, Chomolhari base camp is a three day trek from Paro. Paro is the only airport in Bhutan, so you will be at this location when you enter the country. The "Chomolhari Trek" is one of the most popular treks in Bhutan, so there are numerous agencies available to guide your transport. The roads end in Paro, there is no "drive to the base camp" option. You must hike and use pack animals.
Horses are loaded where the where the trail starts in Paro at 7,500 feet. The trail is rocky and muddy, but never difficult. Pack animals share the same path, so you'll often have to make way as they pass. The first night of trekking is normally spent near an army camp at Sharna(9,203') in a clearing by the Pa Chu River. The next night was traditionally spent at Thangthanka (11,841'), where you would get the first glimpse of Chomolhari. However, this campsite is in desparate need of revegetation and the water sanitation is questionable. Many tour operators are finding alternative camping sites that tend to be slanted ground (i.e. tents on an incline). Your tour operator may switch from horses to yaks at this elevation.
An easy day hike on the third day leads to Jangothang (13,340') or Chomolhari base camp. An easy 30 minute hike north from this base camp will allow you to see Jichu Drake.
It is also possible to reach Chomolhari via a 14 day trek from Punakha (which was my route). Trekking this direction involves crossing two 16,000+ foot elevation passes. Very few tour operators offer trips in this direction. Almost all trips are advertised to start in Paro and end in Punakha, to take advantage of hot springs toward the end of the trek.
From the Tibet side:
The overland drive from Lhasa passes through the following villages: Lhasa, Gyantse, Kangma, Gala, Tuna. The turn off to Chomolohari base camp is approximately 2 km before Tang La. Difficulties which have been reported in camping below the west face include lack of potable water and shelter from “continuous” strong winds.
Red TapeClimbing in Bhutan was allowed for a short period between 1983-1996. As of 1996, no technical climbing is permitted in Bhutan.
Bhutan also does not allow independant travel. You are required to sign up with a group tourism agency, and pay at least $200 US per day tarriff. This must be arranged prior to your visit to Bhutan. The tourism agency handles the extensive paperwork for the Bhutan visa and arranges for a flight on the only air transport in and out of Bhutan--Druk Air. Druk Air flies from Bangkok to Kolcutta then onto Paro, Bhutan.
The Druk Air flights tend to be one of the most limiting aspects of the number of toursits who can visit Bhutan. Normally there is only one flight in and one flight out of Paro each day. The descent is by Visual Flight Rules only. If the clouds are thick, the planes may not fly. It may be wise to book at least one day in Bangkok upon your return, in case your Druk Air flight is not able to leave Bhutan when scheduled.
For the Tibet side: Permits must be obtained from the Chinese Mountaineering Association. The website is CMA, but it is written in all Chinese characters without an option to translate into English. The British Expedition of 2004 originally obtained a permit from the CMA in 2003, but were unable to obtain a military permit to enter Yadong County. The Expedition report also mentions time spent in Lhasa waiting for additional “local travel permits”.
The British 2004 Expedition used Himalaya Expeditions Inc for logistics and clmibing permits. Himalaya Expeditions, Kathmandu Nepal email: Infoguys@himexnorthepal.com
CampingYour Bhutan tourist agency will acquire the permit required to camp at Chomolhari base camp. The base camp on the Bhutan side is a popular trekking destination, so the camping area is very crowded and sanitation is becoming an issue. Yaks have overgrazed the surrounding area. The Pa Chu River runs beside the camping area. As painted sign indicates "camp firing is prohibited". There are some fascinating ruins of an old fortress (Dzong) which are interesting to explore when you're acclimatizing.
The Bhutan base camp was chosen at this location due to the surrounding hilly terrain. There is valley leading from base camp to the morraine beside the actual mountain. Hiking from base camp through this valley toward the mountain involved hiking large sections of a muddy creek. The sloppy conditions account for a hiking time of just over one hour from base camp to the actual mountain.
Tibetan side: Difficulties which have been reported in camping below the west face include lack of potable water and shelter from “continuous” strong winds.
Best time to climb:May and October have proven to be the months with the most successful ascents. In the spring, there is more sun on the northwest ridge, the temperatures tend to be warmer, and there is less chance of strong winds.
External LinksThis is an extensive report of the British 2004 expedition and includes beta from base camp explorations
2006 Expedition description