upper dolpo trek difficulty

Dolpo lies in the remote north west of Nepal between the Tibetan Plateau and the Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. Only opening up to visitors in 1989 this remains a remote and rarely visited area. Being a restricted area, requiring a special permit to enter, also contributes to it remaining pristine and seldom visited by outsiders.  

A film directed by Eric Valli in 1999, knows as Caravan in Nepal, and Himalaya in the rest of the world, brought Dolpo to the attention of both cinema goers and adventurers. Nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards Himalaya showed the beauty and hardship of Dolpo to the world.

Today Upper Dolpo remains an area of high altitude desert like landscape offering a challenging trek with steep ascents which should only be undertaken by those with extensive trekking experience and a great level of fitness.  With two passes to be climbed which are over 5,000m and several nights being spent at over 4,000m you can understand why this is a trek not to be undertaken lightly.

In addition, it is an expensive trek.  Partly due to the cost of the Nepal Government levied permits (over $500: Check here for information about the cost of an Upper Dolpo Trek) and the fact that it is a camping trek. There are no lodges or teahouse in this area. So everything has to be catered for by the trekking agency.

That said, the rewards are astounding!  Experiencing an area of Nepal that few outsiders discover; witnessing the culture of the Dolpo people in their daily Buddhist lives; flying into the high mountains from practically sea level; marvel at Phoksundo  Lake; trekking through Shey-Phoksundo National Park, and challenging yourself!

What you can expect to see and experience here include: the amazing high altitude lake of Phoksundo; Shey Gompa; Bon practitioners (a pre-Buddha yet Buddhist type of religion); Buddhist monasteries; stunning  mountain views; the Crystal Mountain, and unique wildlife. You will be within the Shey-Phoksundo National Park, home to the elusive snow-leopard Himalayan blue sheep, goral, thar and Himalayan black bear, as well as many other mammals and flora. 

Read on to discover more about the difficulties and rewards of the Upper Dolpo Trek! 

Trek Duration

dolpo trek duration

The length of the trek in Upper Dolpo will depend on the route taken.  But regardless of the route, it would normally be around 20 days. But if you really want, you can combine Upper Dolpo, Lower Dolpo and Upper Mustang and spend a month in this interesting arid landscape. Please ask us about this option.

Magical Nepal offers a great 24 day Kathmandu to Kathmandu Upper Dolpo trek which includes 3 acclimatization days.  Which are essential at this high altitude.

Weather and Temperature

upper dolpo trek difficulty

It’s not easy to give an easy answer to the question “what is the weather and temperature like in Dolpo?”  With elevations ranging from 2,500m at Jhupal (where you flight lands) to 5,000m plus passes the temperatures vary widely during the standard 3 week trek period. 

During the best trekking seasons (later spring and early autumn) we can give you an idea by saying the temperatures will range from around minus 10C on the high passes to around 14C at lower altitudes.  

During the monsoon season (June to August) because Upper Dolpo lies in a rain shadow and being a desert landscape, there is no rain.  However, during this season there may be flight cancellations due to bad weather conditions at Nepalgunj. 

If you are thinking of trekking in the winter – forget it!  Regardless as to how experienced you are at snow trekking at high altitudes, the passes will be closed as well as some of the trails.  We do not recommend trying to trek in this region from December till end of February. 

Best time to trek?  Spring and Autumn. 

See here for more information about the seasons of Upper Dolpo.

Altitude Sickness

dolpo trek altitude sickness

The Upper Dolpo Trek is a high altitude trek with many days and several nights being at altitudes higher than 4,000m.  There are also a couple of very high passes at over 5,000m. In general it is said risk from altitude starts at elevations over 3,500m.  Therefore with this trek it is very important to acclimatize. We have built this into our itinerary.

No one knows who will be likely to suffer from altitude sickness.  But we do know if you stay hydrated, take your time and be aware of your body, you will reduce the chances of serious altitude problems. 

As a quick reference guide, below are some of the early symptoms of altitude related problems.  Most of the symptoms will go with the correct treatment (rest, medicines, hydration and descent to a lower altitude).  But if you ignore them they will increase and develop into more serious, possibly fatal, altitude sicknesses.  

  • Feelings of uneasiness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Intense headaches
  • Increased heart rates
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light-headedness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Trek Logistics

dolpo trek logistics

Unlike the majority of other trekking routes in Nepal, there are no teahouses or lodges in Dolpo. Therefore, this is a camping trek.  That is, we will prove all the gear, including tents, and do all the cooking. Obviously transporting camping gear and enough food for this number of days requires a large trek crew, including porters.  As a rule of thumb, for two trekkers there can be up to 10 Nepali staff consisting of the guide, cook and porters. And naturally they require all the same gear and equipment to survive the trek too. 

For the trekkers, camping can add physical challenges and discomfort.  Whereas on another trek there maybe be a soft(ish) bed and a hot water shower at the end of the day, on this trek there will not be.  We do everything possible to make our clients as comfortable as possible but camping is… well, camping! But this can also add to the excitement and uniqueness of your trip and there is something magical about sitting around a camp fire gazing up at the star filled skies. 

Conclusion

As discussed above, this is a challenging trek.  The atmosphere of the area is dry, the altitude is high, the trails are rough, and there are no lodges.  But we think the experience is totally worth it! With few trekkers reaching this area the wildlife, local peoples’ culture and the trekking routes are pristine.  This trek is not for everyone but for those who have completed it Upper Dolpo is an area they will never forget

We strongly suggest you do some training before you come to build up your overall stamina and fitness level.   We also suggest you research the weather at the time of year you are planning to trek. In addition, ensure you buy the right gear for your trek.  Don’t scrimp on quality. Your trekking gear, including your boots, will be your best friends on the trail… buy wisely! And finally, to get the most out of your trek, follow the guidelines on how to avoid altitude sickness.

About Author

Pradeep is the co-founder of Magical Nepal. He has trekked to almost all the trekking places in Nepal. He has been to Everest base camp more than eight times. He is the one who mostly answers your queries by giving the personal touch and experience.