How hard is Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in Nepal?

Our experience of Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in Nepal

We have organised sixteen Dhaulagiri Circuit treks since 2008.  Out of these only two groups did not successfully cross the high passes over to Jomsom. This was due to earthquake in April 2015 and cyclonic storm HudHud in October 2014. I have also led groups on Dhaulagiri Circuit in May 2008 and October 2010. So I have based this article on first hand knowledge and experience.

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French Col at 5,360m on way into Hidden Valley on Dhaulagiri Circuit trek
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Descending French Col into Hidden Valley on Dhaulagiri Circuit trek

About Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in Nepal

This trek to Dhaulagiri Base Camp is sometimes called Dhaulagiri Round trek. The Dhaulagiri trek is shortish trek at 20 days ex Kathmandu. This compares to camping style treks in Nepal such as Kanchenjunga Circuit at 30 days. Our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek is 24 days and Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT is 30 days). Our longest trek is Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp GHT at 42 days. Followed by Lunana Snowman in Bhutan at 34 days. The number of days away on a trek is one factor that contributes to the difficulty.

Dhaulagiri Circuit is a camping style trek into a remote region of Nepal Himalaya. It follows a trail around Mount Dhaulagiri at a height of 8,167m. For information on this mountain range please read Dhaulagiri massif on Wikipedia.

This is a supported camping trek with comfortable mess tent and personal tents.  You will not get the same level of facilities as experienced on a lodge trek. Teahouse treks in Nepal include Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Base Camp. If you know what to expect for a camping trek it should be an enjoyable experience. Having said that camping in Hidden Valley at 5,000m is always cold. The overnight lows down to -12 Celsius there will be no heaters in the dining room as provided on a lodge based trek.

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On Dhaulagiri glacier on the way to Glacier camp at 4,200m
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Walking in Chonbarden gorge between Italian Base Camp and Glacier camp

How difficult is Dhaulagiri Circuit trek?

We have given this trek a difficulty grade level of Strenuous. This is the fourth most challenging grade in our portfolio of Himalayan trekking holidays. We have defined our grades based on four factors: 1) Daily walking times: 2) Maximum Altitude 3) Terrain:4) Remoteness. You can read the grade descriptions on our Trip Grading and Suitability webpage.

Dhaulagiri Circuit has a reputation for being one of the most challenging treks in Nepal. As explained above it is only four out of five on our difficulty scale so there are harder treks in Nepal. These are our Challenging/ Grade 5 treks like Makalu to Everest GHT or Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT.

Having said this you should not underestimate Dhaulagiri Circuit trek. As for any high altitude trek in the Himalaya one has to respect the mountains. You need to train for a hard trek like Dhaulagiri. If you book with The Mountain Company we will send our Trekking Fitness training plan.

What can go wrong on Dhaulagiri Round trek

We have met other groups on the Dhaulagiri trail that encountered serious issues. In almost every case the reason for this is due to poor planning, logistics and organisation. Or by the operators and guides taking shortcuts to save costs. These trekkers write blogs justifying why they were unable to complete the trek. This further enhances the reputation of difficulty of Dhaulagiri Circuit. 

The most common mistake is for trekking groups to ascend to Dhaulagiri Base Camp too fast. Followed by crossing French Pass before acclimatisation to the high altitude. If anyone has altitude sickness in Hidden Valley this is a serious situation. Especially not carrying a satellite phone to call for a helicopter evacuation.

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Crossing Dhampus Pass at 5,240m on Dhaulagiri Circuit
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Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m on Dhaulagiri Circuit

Planning considerations for Dhaulagiri

I have listed some planning considerations below for Dhaulagiri Circuit trek:

  • Our itinerary for Dhaulagiri Circuit has 15 trekking days. This includes two nights at Italian Base Camp (3,660m), two nights at Glacier Camp (4,200m) and two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp (4,700m). Having this number of days allows time for the group and trek crew to acclimatise to the high altitude.
  • Make sure you have qualified guides leading your group with previous experience of Dhaulagiri Circuit. We send international leaders working as a team with our Nepalese guides. This provides strong leadership and a high level of medical experience. Our leaders have knowledge of how to follow our standard operating procedures (SOPs). Make sure there are enough guides available to look after the group. Also find out what the contingency plans are if a member of the group or trek crew is sick and has to turn back.
  • This is a camping style trek because there are no lodges and shelter available for most of the trek. We need to provide the trek crew including the porters with tents and food for 15 days. We give the trek crew with personal gear and equipment suitable for 5,000m. There are no huts or natural shelter in Hidden Valley so we bring tents for everyone's shelter.
  • Get weather forecasts for the Dhaulagiri region before you cross French Pass. This is important in Autumn season when cyclones can impact the Himalaya. For example Cyclone Phailin in October 2013 and Cyclone HudHud in October 2014.
  • Bring a comprehensive first aid kit. This should include high altitude medicine and antibiotics for the group and crew. It is also essential to have a portable altitude chamber (PAC or Gamow bag).
  • Having a satellite phone is essential for reliable communications. This required for logistics, planning and group safety. Make sure you also have GPS. You need to give latitude & longitude coordinates to a the helicopter pilot for a pick up.
  • Bring expedition style tents for shelter as cheap tents will not survive high winds. We use Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents for our groups on Dhaulagiri Circuit.

Conclusion

Please do not let Dhaulagiri Circuit’s challenging reputation put you off. It is one of the best three week treks in Nepal. You will see an incredible diversity of landscape. There are fields and villages at lower elevations. Higher up you see the high alpine including glaciers and mountain passes. You can read feedback on our AITO Travellers Reviews for Dhaulagiri Circuit. I have copied one review below:

"A fantastic trek. It's got everything; terraced hillsides, bamboo woodland, spectacular valleys. Between even more spectacular mountains, high passes and glaciers. The only thing it's not got are crowds of other trekkers. This was my first Nepal trip and I will certainly return."

If you prefer to stay in lodges while trekking I recommend you take a look at Manaslu Circuit trek. You have good views of Mount Manaslu at an altitude of 8,156m.

Dhaulagiri Circuit would be a suitable goal for experienced long distance hill walkers. You should have a high level of fitness and previous experience of high altitude treks. If you have questions about your suitability please get in touch with us.  We can provide feedback as well as a training plan to help you get ready and prepared. 

We organise Dhaulagiri Circuit treks every year in April and October. Please get in touch with us if you like to join one of these groups.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter
The Mountain Company