In 1950, Maurice Herzog and his team reached the Tilicho Pass in the hope to locate elusive Annapurna I. To their surprise, they found before them a gigantic wall and a big frozen lake (Tilicho Lake) standing on their way to the mountain. This wall was given the name "La Grande Barriere" or "the Great Barrier" by Herzog. Here's how he described it in his book "Annapurna":
"We were completely overwhelmed by the Great Barrier whose average height I put at nearly 23,000 feet. Its defences culminated in a gigantic and inaccessible keep, right in the center, and its precipitous walls rose 10,000 feet above the camp. The rock was smooth and offered no irregularity, no line of weakness on which the trained eye of a mountaineer might hope to trace out a possible route. Annapurna was a giant fortress and we were still only on the outer defences."
Tilicho Peak is the highest point of the Great Barrier which links Khangsar Kang (7,458m) and Nilgiri North (7,061m) together. It was first climbed by a French expedition led by Emanuel Schmutz in 1978 via the North West Shoulder.
The information presented on this page is mostly geared towards trekkers wanting to visit Tilicho.
Normally this trek is done from east to west (i.e. from Manang to Jomsom). Doing it in the opposite direction is difficult because 1) it does not provide enough time for acclimatization 2) the approach to the Meso Kanto La from the west presents a significant challenge to ordinary trekkers. In any case, you need to be well equipped for this trek, be prepared!
Getting There And Away
In Kathmandu, you can hire a private taxi to Besi Sahar for around US $70. There are also daily buses (from Bboth KTM and Pokhara) to Besi Sahar which are a lot cheaper.
There are daily morning flights from Jomsom to Pokhara(around US $70). As with all mountain flights in the Himalayas, these are highly "weather dependent". It's not unusual that you get stuck in Jomsom for a few days, especially in the monsoon season. Schedule 2 to 3 extra days for bad weather.
From Besi Sahar to Manang, you simply follow the well beaten Annapurna Circuit. Since you will be sleeping at 4,900m for at least night, you MUST acclimatize properly before heading up to the lake. There are many day hikes you can do around Manang. If you have ample time, consider making a sidetrip to the Thorung La in around 3 days. It also helps if you take the high route (via Ghyaru) on the way to Manang.
Leaving Manang, it's a 2- to 3-hour walk to Khangsar, the last settlement before Jomsom. Inquire at the local guesthouses about the availability of the Tilicho Base Camp Hotel. If it's closed, the owner is likely to send his assistant to open the hotel for you.
From Khangsar (3,700m), there are two routes to reach the Tilicho Base Camp Hotel. The lower route stays at around 4,100m and traverses some unstable scree slopes. It is not recommended when there's snow cos the risk of avalanches is high. The upper route climbs all the way to 4,800m and then makes a steep descent to the Tilicho Base Camp Hotel at 4,100m. From the safety and acclimatization point of view the upper route is the preferred one, not to mention the more spectacular scenery offered.
The climb up to Tilicho Lake is steep but pretty straightforward and takes around 3 to 5 hours. There's a camp site at the east shore. You can explore the surroundings of this magnificent place in the afternoon. Throughout the day, you can see/hear avalanches tumbling down from the surrounding mountains continuously.
In winter and early spring, the lake surface is frozen hard and you might be able to walk across it! (Maurice Herzog did)
To reach Jomsom from the east shore, two high passes (around 5,100m) will need to be crossed. The trail is steep, rough and not obvious so it's essential to hire someone who knows the way. The descent of the Meso Kanto La is especially treacherous.
Check out Per Löwdin's site
for a detail description of the approach to the Meso Kanto.
(See Andrées de Ruiter's excellent page
for an easier alternative to the Meso Kanto)
It's possible to get around the west shore of the lake over a heavily crevassed glacier, but unless you are experienced in glacier travel and are properly equiped, this is usually not a viable option.
About 1.5 hours down the Meso Kanto La, there are a few kharka (yak pastures) at 4,000m where you can put up your tent. If the weather is clear, you can enjoy some superb views to Dhaulagiri. From the camp site, it's 4 hours to Jomsom (all the way down, yeah!)
You can fly out of Jomsom to, or better yet, walk all the way back to Pokhara along the Kali Gandaki for some more nice mountain scenery.
For detail route description, check out the sites listed in the "Links" section.
You need a trekking permit for the Annapurna Region, which can be easily obtained in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The cost is Rs 2,000.
After crossing the Meso Kanto La, there are two trails (pretty hard to find, that place is like a maze when there's mist and fog). The south(left) trail to Jomsom passes by a Nepali army camp and a shooting range so stay away from it.
When To Climb
The normal climbing/trekking season in Nepal is March - May and October - November. However, summer is probably the best time to visit Tilicho Lake because the weather is considerably wamer and the trail easier (no ice and snow). Outside of summer, you might need some basic mountaineering equipment for the stretch between Tilicho Lake and Jomsom.
If you are just visiting Tilicho Lake on a day trip, there's no need to bring camping equipment. If you decide to go all the way from Tilicho Lake to Jomsom, then you must be self sufficient since there are no facilities between the Tilicho Base Camp Hotel and Jomsom.
The first night you camp by the east shore of the lake, where there's a huge flat area. The second night you sleep at around 4,100m at some yak pastures (some 1.5 hours down the Meso Kanto La). It's possible to trek to Jomsom in one very long day (10+ hours) from the east shore.
The Lonely Planet Nepal Trekking Guide contains a brief description of the Tilicho Lake trek. The classic "Annapurna" written by Maurice Herzog is also worth reading.
In Kathmandu, you can easily get a map of the Tilicho Area published by Nepa Maphouse. Another popular map is the "Annapurna" published by Nelles Verlag. However both maps are not very useful for route finding around Tilicho (IMO, of course)