There is something magical about the mountains. Sharp snowy peaks cut through the blue sky, either silence or gusty wind rings in your ears. You look up and realize that one is drawn not just to look at the beauty created by nature from below, but to surpass oneself, to step on the summit and raise one’s hands victoriously.
Some people say that mountains are soulless boulders, others are drawn to them every year, and only in mountains such people feel real. In the mountains, the inner dialogue is silenced, or on the contrary, you can think about your life, values, and future plans with a sober mind, unmarred by the bustle of the metropolis. The mountains are an opportunity to be alone with yourself, even if you go hiking with your wife or a noisy group of best friends. Mountains give you a chance to look inside yourself while you walk 5-6 hours a day from one village to another struggling with height and hardly moving your legs. A kind of dynamic meditation often at the threshold of your physical capabilities.
We were able to fly to Lukla only on the second attempt. The first day we spent 8 hours in the waiting room, until the airline representative informed us that all flights to Lukla were cancelled. Lukla is the penultimate corner of civilization before the Sherpa capital.
In acclimatization terms, the descent from Lukla, with its average altitude of 2,840m, to Phakding at 2,610m was of little importance – it was the only way the trail went. Mountain sickness at such low altitudes catches few people, usually its first symptoms show up above 3,000-3,500m. Along the route of the trek to Everest base camp there are only a few Buddhist monasteries. So it was nice to see in the villages along the way walls with prayer drums, which are usually rotated clockwise with the right hand. Inside are scrolls with mantras; it is believed that by spinning the drum, you are reciting a mantra.
What I did not like on the first day of the trek was the stone-paved trail. Walking along the smooth surface without thinking where to put my foot, was tolerable, but when the steps of different heights began, my knees began to groan: “Boss, where did you take us? We didn’t sign up for this kind of exertion!” We could only hope that there would be fewer stairs, and we would be able to wander leisurely and admire the scenic views. That’s about how one participant “sold” the trek to her husband. “There will be green valleys all around, yaks grazing, the snowy peaks of Everest and Lhotse on the horizon, and then we’ll get closer to them…” My husband believed it, and only on the plane from Delhi to Kathmandu did he find out what he had actually signed up for, and that the difficulty of the trek was labeled “high” on the website. By the way, he had lost 10 kilos in weight after the trek.
After descending in a few hours to Phakding and ordering dinner, we went on an acclimatization hike up a nearby hill to the monastery being rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake. The guide said he’d managed to catch a puja there last time. We walked light, carrying only our phones and cameras. Porters were dragging heavy loads past. We went up almost before sunset, so we had to walk down by darkness, lighting the way with flashlights. We were late for the puja, of course, even if it was held that day. The monastery is being actively rebuilt, but so far the area is deserted and not very comfortable.
The night before we collectively agreed on the mode of the day due to the specifics of the weather conditions. The first half of the day in the spring in Nepal’s Himalayas is usually clear, but in the afternoon the sky is overcast, the temperature drops, and there is a high probability of rain or snow. That is why we decided to have breakfast at 7 a.m. and when we were ready to start our trekking, so by 7 a.m. the bags should already be stowed in the hall of the lodge to be tied up by the porters who were leaving a little earlier than the rest of the group. You carry a small backpack with water, snacks, sunscreen, and other little things.
The first part of the trail is relatively easy, the trail meanders up and down from one bank of the stream to the other through the coniferous forest. Now and then we pass through small villages, where at any time you can buy water, a chocolate bar, or stop for tea.
Around the next turn on the horizon we see a snow-covered peak. The first six-thousanders on our route is Tamserku, 6608, quite a difficult mountain to climb.
It’s warm, green, and there are no snow-capped peaks on the horizon. What is great about trekking in Nepal, despite the difficult physical component, is the opportunity to visit different climatic conditions in a fairly short time interval, warming up day by day and putting on a new layer of clothing. So far it was quite comfortable in a T-shirt and rolled up membrane pants.
Quietly we gained about 200 meters and in a couple of hours we reached the large village of Mongeau at an altitude of 2,835 meters. Our guide promised a steep climb uphill in an hour or two, so we stopped there for some tea and sunbathing.
Several times we had to cross from one side of the gorge to the other over suspension bridges – sometimes stretched over the river, sometimes over vegetable gardens. Walking on a suspension bridge is quite easy, if it doesn’t sag too much and doesn’t spring from the large flow of people. Much nicer for the knees than stone steps.
By 1 p.m. we reach Hillary Bridge, stretched over the river bed that springs from Everest. The railing of the bridge is hung with prayer flags – it is believed that when the wind rattles them, it reads the mantras written on the five-color flags and takes them directly to heaven.
Just beyond the bridge begins a tiresome uphill hike: worn-out steps alternate with a broken forest path and large rocks. Bleeding with sweat and not noticing how my hands and nose and ears, uncovered with T-shirt, are burning in spite of sunblock, slowly but surely we crawl up the hill, where Namche Bazar is at hand.
In about 15 minutes after a short but steep ascent we reached the capital of the Sherpas, Namche Bazar, which is stretched in a semicircle on the hillsides at an average elevation of 3440 meters. We checked in, had lunch, and immediately ordered dinner. Our guide Taras drove everyone to a short acclimatization hike up to the top of the memorial to Sherpa Tenzing Norgey, who with Sir Edmund Hillary (May 29, 1953) climbed the highest peak for the first time in human history. In clear weather behind the statue there is a panorama of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam and other peaks. We will see them tomorrow, but now in the evening the clouds have covered everything, and there is no trace of the heat of the day either.
From Namche Bazaar there is a long steep ascent uphill of several hundred meters. From the first steps it was clear that today’s acclimatization walk would not be easy. We decided not to break the schedule and had breakfast as usual at 7:00 am, and then warmed up in the cool of the morning sun we went up.
At last we reached the observation point and the long-awaited panorama of one of the highest mountains on the planet Earth opened before our eyes. To the left is the dream of all mountaineers, Everest. It is better to enjoy the Himalayan panorama in the sun from the terrace of luxury (by local standards) hotel Everest View at the altitude of 3880 m, built by the Japanese in the early 70s.
The weather in the mountains changes with amazing speed. It happens: you sit down to rest, get distracted by conversation, then turn around and the mountains are already covered by clouds.
After drinking tea at luxe prices, we descend to 3780 m to the village of Khumjung, where there is a low-interest mountaineering museum and a Bigfoot scalp. Khumjung presents itself as a rather large settlement. The paths that cut through it between the rock-lined fences were fairly clean.
After spinning the prayer drums and making wishes to all the creatures, we turned off in the direction of the neighboring village of Khunde. Our way in Khunde is up to the monastery. We just happened to be at the puja – the monks were reciting mantras from the new books, accustomed to us by the format, as well as from a very old, stored in the monastery for more than a year.
It was half past two, we felt like wrapping up and heading back to Namche Bazaar to visit one of the local bakeries and treat ourselves to some apple pie. But Taras ordered us to go up. It was getting cloudier and cloudier. It was a good thing we were out walking early today. And we were going up to the three stupas erected in memory of Edmund Hillary and his family.
“Today’s hike will allow us to get a good acclimatization and tomorrow it will be easier to walk,” read the description of the route on the website of our tour club. We were beginning to get used to the fact that “not far” and “not steep ascent” in Taras’ understanding did not coincide with our ideas about the terrain.
No questions about the altitude, “go higher, sleep lower”, the ascent to 4000m was useful, but the descent from the stupas to Namche Bazaar up the steep slope and then along the favorite stone steps totally killed my knees, so that I limped in the evening and my right knee was rattling with pity.
At Namche Bazaar, a well-deserved pastry and coffee awaited us. Namche Bazaar was also the last opportunity to buy some chocolates and dried fruits and nuts for the trek if you forgot to bring them with you or buy them in Kathmandu. There are no stores beyond that, and candy bars increase in price as you gain altitude.
We take the familiar steep path from yesterday’s acclimatization hike up the hill from Namche Bazar, leaving the Kongde Ri massif behind us. The weather is still nice with light cloudiness, but it’s already too cool to walk in a T-shirt during the day. Light fleece is enough, but Taras advised to take a membrane jacket, as in Dole we will come closer to the evening, there is a probability of rain, and at 4000m climatic conditions are a little bit different.
After a difficult ascent it was very pleasant to continue our way on a flat unpaved road. For a moment it seemed that after Namche Bazaar we would not see any more paved steps. Tourists make their first stop at a Buddhist stupa. It is customary to walk around the stupas in a clockwise direction, as well as to turn the prayer drums.
On the horizon are sun-drenched Taboche and Lhotse and the smoking pyramid of Everest. Yesterday the summits received a fair amount of attention and remained imprinted in the memory of cameras and phones. Today they do not evoke such childish enthusiasm, you want to get closer.
If this is your first time to go trekking, don’t spare the money for trekking poles. At the very least, you can buy them for a bargain price in Kathmandu. Trekking poles make walking on uneven terrain much easier, help to transfer your weight from your feet to your shoulders when climbing; your knees will be very grateful for the partial relief on the damn stairs. On scree and snow, the poles will help you keep your balance.
In 2-2.5 hours we reach a forest fork, we turn left and go up the slope to Gokyo going by the classical route – straight to Tyangboche and further on. We stopped for lunch in the afternoon in the village of Mongla, next door to the old chorten that was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake.
By 3 p.m., it gets dramatically colder, and we only gained about 300 meters. The trail goes into a mysterious forest, with flat sections alternating with steep climbs up hollowed out steps in the rocks. After the heat and the hustle and bustle of the number of trekkers the first couple of days, the feeling of coolness was a pleasure along with the absence of passing and oncoming groups.
At about three o’clock the weather turned bad, and a nasty wind blew in. The membrane jacket strapped to my backpack came in handy again. Day by day, the “cabbage” grew additional layers. Absolutely, after a day or two I’ll have to wear thermal underwear under the pants, then change the fleece for a thicker, and then wear thermal underwear instead of a T-shirt.
Without snowy peaks the landscape became mediocre and quite dull. We crawled along the edge of the slope, expecting rain or snow at any minute. Sometimes it seemed to me that I was not trekking in Nepal, but in late autumn I was rambling somewhere in Norway.
At the next halt Taras promises that there is nothing left to Dole. Soon we see the roofs of the houses and go down to the village. The walking day was coming to an end, we wanted to relax and spend the evening in the warm kitchen of the lodge. However, no one cancelled the radiathlon to the neighboring hill. Mountain sickness can catch us at any moment, so, having spent the night at 4200m, it is useful to go up 100 meters.
After having breakfast at 7:00 a.m., according to our usual schedule, we hit the road. When we looked back all we had to do was to raise our hands in silence. Yesterday’s afternoon overcast hid the very familiar Kangtegi and Tamserka – the “snow saddle” – from us.
After Dole the trail climbed sharply upwards. The scenery became more and more harsh and wild, half destroyed houses were seen ahead and there was a snow wall far in the horizon. Saying goodbye to Tamserku and Kangtega – so open we would never see them again. And Dole is a surprisingly large settlement. And despite only one day’s walk from Namche Bazaar, the price for a liter bottle of water has doubled, to $2.
Stone steps also remained as if left behind – how nice, though climbing a steep slope, but not to get high feet. Vegetation is gradually becoming scarcer, we will no longer see large trees – they are replaced by low shrubs.
After another ascent to the ridge, the snow wall of Cho Oyu, 8201 m, the sixth highest peak in the world, opens up. On the descent we see a few huts in front of us – did we come so early? But we are still an hour and a half away from Machhermo, while we only got to Luza.
Tea, chocolates, protein bars, cheerful bikes – we weren’t in any hurry. However, cool and relatively strong wind was not conducive to sitting in one place for a long time. We tried not to linger, it was better to get to Machermo as soon as possible, unpack the bag and sit in the kitchen of the lodge waiting for dinner. It was not hot to walk, we could forget about the heat for a week, and it was not cold, and there was a flat wide trail underfoot. A blessing for a trekker!
Machermo, like Dole, turned out to be a relatively large settlement. For better acclimatization, Taras drove us up the hill to the stupa. In the meantime the weather was beginning to turn bad, in spite of the early hour. We could get into a snowfall again, as we had done the night before in the Dole. My knees had not had time to recover from the steps on the walk around Namche Bazaar, so the desire not to walk anywhere outweighed the common sense of following the principle “Hike higher, sleep lower.”
Meanwhile the wind picked up and we wandered further up for some reason, another 30-50 meters to the next stupa or flags. Not the most pleasant end to such a relatively easy day of hiking. If we have to do it, we have to do it. Maybe all the preparation will have a positive effect on the approaches to Everest base camp, and it will be easier to hike.
There was no trace of yesterday’s bad weather. From the depths of the blue sky the scorching Himalayan sun from the early morning was not sparing the trekkers’ skin and tried to dry it as much as possible. The morning began with packing in bags, eating (but not tasty) breakfast and smearing a thick layer of sunscreen with factor 50 on our faces. Hands, nose and forehead managed to burn on the approaches to Namche Bazaar, when we were walking in t-shirts and rejoiced at the warmth, knowing that soon we will dream of going down lower, hiding our hands in our pockets and huddling in the lodge kitchens waiting for a hot tea.
The trail after Machermo steeply climbs up; we went up to the same stupa where we went for acclimatization. After the pass we dive down again, and the air temperature is slowly creeping up thanks to the generous sun. The jacket can be removed and secured to the backpack. Unfortunately, gusts of wind force you to unhook and put it back on after about half an hour. So much hassle – put the poles away, take off the camera, take off the backpack, put on the jacket, put on the backpack, hang the camera on your chest and take the poles. Everyone’s susceptibility to cold is different, in general, I recommend dressing for the trekking so that you are a little bit cool, but comfortable.
It took us about an hour to get to a small lodge. It’s still three hours away from Gokyo. Drinking tea with the views of the sun-drenched six-thousand meter peaks of Tamserku and Kangtega, which we had already said goodbye to, but they wouldn’t let us go. To the east on the right we saw Cholatse, 6440 m, from the observation point near Namche Bazaar. I’ll tell you honestly: nothing makes you happier while trekking in Nepal than new mountain peaks you’ve reached, walked to, seen and photographed. You came to a faraway land for them, and you sweat for these views. You risk either to fall ill with mountains and come back to the Himalayas year after year, or not to come back to Nepal any more, but delight of the sharp peaks covered with snow will stay in your memory for many years.
By 11 am we had reached the first of the three lower lakes of Gokyo, Longpungu, which stretched as a narrow strip at an altitude of 4,650m. The Gokyo Lakes are considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Nepal. To see their beauty, you have to put it in your mind beforehand on one scale and additional days of trekking with a tram to the difficult Cho La Pass (5420m) on the other. It should be said that it was the announced in the program beauty of the lakes and the possibility to pass the route in a circle, instead of up and down one road to the Everest base camp, that won us over. Though the level of difficulty of our program was high and the cost was a little bit higher in comparison with the classical route, which is obvious.
The Gokyo Lakes are the highest freshwater lake system in the world, fed by the melting Ngozumba Glacier, which rises from the enormous Cho Oyu Mountain; kilometer after kilometer we were approaching the 8,000-meter peak, and we couldn’t wait to see its wall as close as possible. Meanwhile, the too brisk participants of the group had, as they say, sped ahead in fifth gear, so we had to catch up with them. I couldn’t even smell the morning heat, a strong wind blew in, and I kept putting off the moment to put on a membrane jacket over a thermal t-shirt and a light fleece. In the end I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped to put the jacket on. Took off the camera, took off the backpack… and in reverse order. Nevertheless, I managed to catch a cold, which I found out in the evening in Gokyo.
When I reached the lodge, I realized that I had caught a cold after all. I had no problems with my appetite, but the thermometer read 38 degrees. A couple of packets of Antigrippin and Teraflu along with a thermos of ginger and lemon tea brought me up for the evening and night. By the way, maybe it was not a cold at all, but my body reacted in such a way to the altitude.
The radial is not an excuse to get up late. If you take your time and let yourself sleep an extra couple of hours, at the fifth lake of Gokyo you can see not a picturesque panorama of the Himalayas, but an opaque cloud of milk. In this case, the point of the hike is practically null and void. After breakfast, right from the doorstep of the lodge we, fascinated, admired the water surface of Dudh Pokhari Lake and the teeth of the six-thousand meter high Phari Lapcha.
Our way passed Gokyo Ri, which remained on our left hand, and which one climbed not only for acclimatization purposes, but also for breathtaking pictures – on a clear day you could see Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and all the other lower mountains. Along the wide valley, filled with rocks, we walked in the direction of Cho Oyu, which gave us no rest and constantly attracted our eyes.
Fortunately, the fever broke overnight. This was not the first time I had caught a cold while in the mountains, and I had never managed to be sick for a long time; half a day or two in the lodge and I was ready to move on. Staying in Gokyo while everybody went to look at Everest was not one of my plans. So on the moral will, “bear with me, Panda, I will make a warrior of you”, according to the standard scheme, slowly but surely I followed, trailing the line.
After a short climb, the other peaks of the snow-covered ridge appeared from behind the ridge. We continued our leisurely ascent. Little over an hour passed since leaving Gokyo and not far away we could see the first of the two upper lakes – Tonak Lake, 4,840 meters above sea level. It is the deepest of the Gokyo lake system. We didn’t see any channels between the upper and lower lakes along the way. Most likely, they are connected by underground waters.
I was the last one to wander, barely moving my legs. Allena’s acclimatization problems and mountain sickness were expressed, mainly, in restless sleep and even insomnia. I slept like a corpse at night, and I had almost no energy after a cold that had caught me at a bad moment. I did not understand why my body was so sluggish. It’s much harder to walk when my head is pounding.
We indirectly judged the altitude gain by the ice cover that had not melted on Tonak. All three lower lakes are completely free of ice crust. But the difference with the third lake, Dudh Pokhari, is only some 50 meters. On the approach to the fifth lake Ngozumba, 4980 meters, the trail went to the right. Meanwhile, we had been walking for 3 hours, the end point of the radial, pardon the pun, was just around the corner.
There was a lifeless valley around, studded with rocks. On the horizon besides the horns of Gyachung Kang the foothills of 7000m high Chukhung Peak were seen. We walked up the slope a little bit and saw the first explorers of our group. Meanwhile the changeable mountain weather gave us a present by covering almost the whole panorama with clouds.
The return to Gokyo was extremely difficult for me. I hadn’t expected such a trick from my body. Every time in the mountains you feel different, the mountains are unpredictable.
At 5 a.m. Taras knocked on our room to check on how we were feeling and to see if we were going to Gokyo Ri. I didn’t have a fever but I still had a general weakness. Alena, being in the mountains for the first time, suffered from insomnia and leg muscle spasms, so she usually fell asleep only toward morning. We wished Taras and the others good luck and went back to their sleeping bags to sleep for an hour or two more. We didn’t sleep for a long time anyway. About 7 a.m. we crawled out to wash and found that the water in the sinks was frozen outside. We waited for them to break the ice and pour in new water. And while our braves were not seen descending the slopes of Gokyo Ri, we wanted to walk around Gokyo for a while and look around. There had been quite a bit of snow overnight, and the boulders of Phari Lapcha had gained some extra texture and volume.
Today we said goodbye to Cho Oyu 8,000m, we had been admiring its difficult for climbing south face for several days in a row. Now our way was to the east; it was just a few days to the Everest base camp. Exhausted, our guys descended from Gokyo Ree, sharing only their impressions, except that the ascent and descent were not easy. But Taras didn’t care – as soon as we got to Gokyo, he ran upstairs alone in the evening to take pictures of the sunset timelapse.
Ngozumba glacier stretches for 36 km and starts at the foot of Cho Oyu. It is the longest glacier in the Himalayas, but by no means the most beautiful or the most visually interesting. Almost all the ice is hidden under the gray mass of hummocks and rock debris from the mountains surrounding Ngozumba. Only the gaps peeked through here and there, exposing the white essence of the glacier.
The weather had finally turned bad, a pall of clouds and fog hung over the mountains, and we had several hours of climbing and descending up and down the glacier hills, where the narrow trail was often lost among piles of rocks.
The romance of the hike evaporated as it was blown away by the strong Himalayan wind. Snow had fallen. The overnight stay in tiny Dragnak promised to be very cold. The mood was lifted by a pizza at the lodge for dinner, which was posh by Nepalese standards. The fresh tomatoes in it seemed like a gift from heaven, and the chefs were not stingy with the yak cheese. As a result, the good half of the group ate pizza for dinner and then ordered it for breakfast, praying that the tomatoes would not run out in the godforsaken wilderness.
After a cold sleepless night we left the lodge at 7:30 a.m. breathing in the frosty Himalayan air and watching our porters go up in the snow. Behind the gray stripe of the Ngozumba Glacier, illuminated by the first bright rays of the rising sun, were Phari Lapcha, 6017m, and the neighboring 5,000m peaks overhanging the lower Gokyo Lakes. From the very first meters, the trail climbed sharply upwards, so I could not relax and let my body gently build up momentum. From the first meters I had to hitch up, grit my teeth and go upward. The lack of sleep and the general weakness were the reasons for which could only be blamed on a cold in Gokyo, but it was impossible to pinpoint why the body had behaved in this way on this trip. Well, it was going to be a busy day. The only option was to climb Cho La. We’ll make it on our own, it’s not the first time.
As soon as we stepped out of the shadow of the mountains, it was noticeably warmer. The sun was warming and reflecting off the fresh snow that had blanketed the rocky terrain with a soft blanket during the previous day and night, it tried to warm up to redness and dry skin on the faces of travelers.
I recommend not economizing on sunglasses when going to high mountains. You will flaunt in the fashionable frames bought on AliExpress in your own place, in the mountains, in order not to get a burn of your retina. You should buy Spectron 4 glasses with lenses, it would be better if the glasses have removable shutters which protect your eyes from the reflected rays. Of course, more than once I’ve seen people who have passed the tracks in penny glasses, either making a visor out of the lap of a hat, or wrapping up to the maximum with an Arabian-style buff. Sight is not something to be trifled with or risked, after all.
A few hundred meters ahead there is a deceptive intermediate pass, which unknowingly can be mistaken for the same Cho La. Behind the snowy ridge we could see only distant peaks of six-thousanders, it seemed that the trail would go downhill and it was unclear why they were so frightened by the pass, it was only an hour and a half uphill from Dragnak.
It was hard to walk, I honestly admit, we were the last ones to walk. In general, it’s better to walk at your own pace in the mountains: if you can run – run, if you can’t or don’t want to catch up with rushing people, walk slower. Some people must be the first or one of the first to go, others do not want to be the last.
After the intermediate pass the path really went downhill and our way lay to the opened mountain ridge where among hummocks and big rocks was the Cho La Pass. It was in no way picturesque. On the other hand, from the pass there should be a panoramic view of the peaks that we had not previously had the opportunity to see from the trail. To the northeast of us are Lobuche, Pumori. What if Everest shows up?
There was no trail for most of the climb. We looked up, saw somewhere in the distance an imaginary pass and the chaos of large, slippery rocks from melting snow that preceded it. A couple of people who had never been in the mountains before confessed after the ascent that they did not believe they could crawl up such a steep wall at all.
However, there were some trampled sections where we were able to maintain at least some pace. At such difficult moments on the track it’s better to mark a stone in front of you in a dozen or two meters and reach it, stop for a minute, take a breath, mark the next stone ahead. So, step by step you can slowly climb any pass.
The altitude of Cho La on different maps varies from 5330 to 5420 m, at the top are stretched Buddhist prayer flags. According to tradition, it is necessary to pass under the stretching of the flags, in any case do not step over it. Mantras are written on the flags and it is believed that the wind carries the prayers directly into the sky.
The group greets us with welcoming applause – a standard practice in trekking to cheer up tired of a long climb, take it for yourself. We are not going to stay at the pass for a long time, it is time to have a look around. There is nothing new behind us, and ahead of us there is Lobuche East Peak, 6119m, cutting through the sky.
I managed to make a few pictures and sit on the rock for about five minutes, then the command to descend followed. We said goodbye to the pass, we will not be bored for sure. Somebody would like to forget about it, as if it was a bad dream. Ahead of us there is a steep descent through stones and snow again.
Any steep descent means additional load on your knees, and they already have a hard time. Some people wrap their knees with elastic bandages, others use special kinesiology tapes, while others do with trekking poles.
Back in Kathmandu we received simple “crampons” along with our bags in order to safely pass the short section covered in snow on the descent from the pass. In the sun the snow melts quickly and can be quite slippery. Taras personally checked with each group member to make sure the “cat” was properly attached to the shoe. It did not take long to walk in “cats,” half an hour at most. I like walking on such snow-covered trails in the mountains much better, when you can’t see the bare ground even on the horizon.
Soon after a string of unnamed five-thousanders and not very popular among climbers Arakam Tze 6423m, on the right side of the hill, appeared the huge Cholatsze 6440m. We stopped for a short break with views of the East Lobuche summit before the long descent to Dzongla. The roofs of the lodges of the village were not yet visible, but in an hour and a half we would surely reach our destination.
We headed southeast toward Ama Dablam. After hopping on the rocks of Cho La slope it was very pleasant to walk on the obvious trail, even though a lot of energy had been expended. Thoughts of soon hot Sherpa soup or local mo mo dumplings warmed the mind.
When we went down to Dzongla yesterday, we were surprised at how warm the rooms were. The hot Himalayan sun had heated the lodge to a pleasant temperature, but as darkness fell, it began to drop rapidly. The lodge turned out to be extremely cozy and clean. And everyone was already dreaming about “The Pyramid”: about advertised hot showers, warm rooms, free wi-fi and unlimited tea. How can there be warm rooms at almost 5000 meters above sea level in the mountains? We would see in a few hours, doubts and hopes struggled in our heads, and we had last bathed a week ago, in Namche Bazaar.
Somewhere out there in the distance remained Cho La Pass, which most trekkers prefer not to remember. The impressions of Cho La are not the most pleasant. Now, sitting at home and having already digested the realities of trekking, it would seem, throw your hands in the air with the words “We did it!” You definitely don’t want to go to the pass again someday.
From Dzongla the path went up abruptly, we had to gain about 100-150 meters of elevation and walk along the edge of the hill along the dried up river bed, leaving the Arakam Tse six-thousanders on the right side and proceeding parallel to Cholatsze and Taboche stretching to the sky on the other side.
Since we were in no particular hurry, about an hour after we left, Taras took a break and read us an article about the legendary Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck, the author of many high-speed climbs and unreachable records.
We gained sufficient altitude and almost reached the junction of our trail with the classic route. Another peak – Pumori 7161m – emerged from behind the hill and stunning with its grace and regularity of geometry. The black snowless spur of Pumori is the same Kala Pattar from where you can see the black triangle of the summit of Everest. If we are strong enough, we will soon try to climb Kala Pattar, at least meeting the sunrise at the summit was one of the highlights of the trek.
With such scenic views on the horizon, we descended the hill into the Khumbu Glacier valley and merged with the main stream of trekkers and porters carrying baulks and loads to Lobuche and on to Gorakshep to Everest base camp. After so many days of essentially walking alone, it was a little unaccustomed to seeing other large groups. After all, after Namche Bazaar, deviating toward Dole and Gokyo Lakes, we encountered only single trekkers or groups of a few.
We would have spent the night in Lobuca if we hadn’t been told earlier about a secret luxe place just to the north, the Pyramid. As we were about to go on, one man of the group stopped at a nearby coffee shop, and the others followed him. A short talk over a cup of tea or coffee stretched as at our table sat a colorful man, whose fleece and jacket had almost no empty place – they were all covered with stripes with logos of different brands. We got to talking. It turned out that we were talking to the famous Hungarian mountaineer, David Klein.
Emboldened by this unexpected, but such a pleasant meeting, we finished our tea and headed in the direction of “The Pyramid”, just a kilometer or two from Lobuche under quite simple terrain at an altitude of about 4950 m. The lodge is part of an observatory and research center built in the late ’80s and early ’90s by Italians. In the pyramid itself, clad in solar panels, there is a laboratory; no one will let you in. But in the lodge conditions are not luxurious, but compared to the rest of the track royal. Covered with planks walls, soft beds, badly working, but really hot shower, a very slow, but free wi-fi. And the pasta “carbonara” that was served for dinner, our comrades praised and recalled for the rest of the track, even though the Ukrainian part of the group had already been indulging in the lard they brought for days. “Salo is better than chocolate,” we could not break the stereotype.
A lot of snow fell during the night, and the landscape began to play with new colors. It became clear that today for sure would be one of the most beautiful and memorable trekking days in terms of views. And not only because we would get to the base camp and maybe see Everest.
From “Pyramid” to Gorakshep only 4 kilometers walk, by experience of the previous days it was foolish to believe that we could pass them in an hour or an hour and a half. Leaving snakes of boot prints on the freshly fallen snow and holes from the sharp tips of trekking sticks, our group advanced in single formation to the exit of a small valley, where the observatory and the lodge “Piramida” were hidden next to the main trail.
After the turn, the trail follows fairly flat terrain for a while, giving the hikers a chance to get into walking mode. The first serious ascent is to the Lobuche Pass at 5110 m. The amount of people on the path was comparable with the first days of the trek to Namche Bazaar: first we passed other groups, then they passed us, and some trekkers who had already been to Everest Base Camp and now were going back to Lukla and further to Kathmandu with a feeling of accomplishment. Turning back to the valley and the Khumbu glacier moraine off to the south, I could see the main summit of Kangtegi from this vantage point to the left of Tamserku.
At the Lobuche Pass, trekkers traditionally hold photo sessions or just rest. About half of the way to Gorakshep is passed, but the rest part obviously would not be an easy walk – the altitude above 5000 m would be felt every 50 meters, and the relief is not easy for trekking.
After the pass, the trail goes up and down along the edge of the Khumbu Glacier descending from Everest. Perhaps it was because of the snowfall, but Khumbu was much more impressive than the Ngozumba Glacier. The second reason was that in the distance you could see powerful blocks of ice dotted with cracks, and from the Lhotse slope another glacier was also pouring into Khumbu. The stunning views, not the altitude, made me dizzy. On the left was Pumori Beauty, further on was Khangri Shar, and still to the left was Chumbu Peak hidden in the clouds, which we had partially seen from the edge of the Ngozumba Glacier during the radial foray to the upper Gokyo Lakes a few days ago.
The narrow trail leading to Gorakshep looked like a roller coaster with its elevation differences and in the morning there were occasional traffic jams. Sometimes one had to step aside to make way for the dense stream of oncoming trekkers or a caravan of loaded yaks and their herders suddenly appeared out of the bend. Then the trail practically disappeared, and we had to gallop over snow-covered slippery boulders. Only four kilometers from the Pyramid, about three hours’ walk nonetheless.
After climbing another hill, we saw less than a dozen houses below – it’s Gorakshep, which means “dead crow” in Nepali. It’s not the most auspicious name for the last settlement before Everest base camp. Nothing grows on the frozen land around Gorakshep; all the food is supplied by porter trucks and yaks. Prices for chocolates, water, and regular food are the highest here. A few kilometers away, on the glacier, we could see a scattering of yellow tents of the base camp.
It was going very slowly above 5000m. It was the last descent to the lodge and we would have a break for lunch. Raju distracted me from my thoughts about hot tea and food. “Look up there, you can see Everest.” And indeed, from this point on the trail, the black triangle of the highest mountain, 8848m, could be seen above one of the Nupjie cogs.
On the other side we could see Pumori and the spur of Kala Pattar at 5645m, slightly covered with snow, where the most courageous members of our group would go in the morning to see the views of Everest and Lhotse at dawn.
We had a good lunch, then headed for the final part of the trek, to the base camp. Meanwhile the weather had suddenly turned bad and it took about 2-2,5 hours to get to the Base Camp from Gorakshep over the ridge of the Khumbu glacier. The blue sky became covered with ashy gray clouds, a veil of clouds appeared on the mountains, strong wind blew and it started to snow.
The trail became even worse than on the way to Gorakshep in the morning – there were a lot of boulders and we had to keep maximum concentration and lean on the trekking stick in order not to stumble in any way, which is fraught with injuries. Everyone was forced to make a helicopter rescue, but no one was willing to use it.
There was still about 500 meters to go down to the tents from the ridge when my wife and I, evaluating the situation soberly, decided to turn back. Acclimatization was not good for both of us, and here we would have had to find some breathing room, having wandered in the dank cold and grayness among most likely empty tents, then to stomp up to the ridge again and return to the uncomfortable and simple (in comparison with “Pyramid”) lodge. Just went back, we were overtaken by another member of the group – he reached the descent and decided that it was not worth it, and turned back. If we had had the strength and a little more desire, we probably would have come down and taken commemorative photos with the sign and the tents.
The difficult way back was brightened up by the sun breaking through the clouds and illuminating the Lhotse pyramid. We could not see Everest itself from the base camp, the wall of Nuptse hides everything, so at least nobody forbids to admire Lhotse. We even saw how an avalanche rolled down the slope of Lhotse with a noise. We stood mesmerized, imagining the speed of the mass of snow and ice rushing down.
The guys who came back in an hour or two told us that there were practically no climbers in the base camp, just Sherpas. All the climbers had a rest after spending nights in high altitude camps and acclimatization trips much lower – in Namche Bazar. After all, there the body can rest for real, plenty of oxygen.
The night before, on the way back from the expedition to Everest Base Camp, realizing the trip had not gone quite as planned, I wondered if it was worth making myself climb Kala Pattar at night, given the lack of acclimatization. Taras had asked all the participants in advance in the evening: who was going to climb and who, if anything, to wake up. I answered that I would be able to go up, albeit slowly, but I would climb. Only then to go down the whole day, 18 kilometers. In Tibet I had walked more than that in one day, and more than once. Now the Himalayas did not accept me, so I decided to stay in Gorakshep. The overnight stay was hardly pleasant: a cold hostel, “cardboard” walls, an annoying cough, and a desire to return home or to Kathmandu, for starters.
The horses, living in harsh conditions all their lives, ignoring the morning frost, were munching their morning feed, while we waited for those brave enough to go up to Kala Pattar. A few more people didn’t go in addition to us, later it turned out that someone had gone out with everyone else, but turned back and came back. Two thirds of the group had gone up and were able to see from the summit of Kala Patthar not only the tip of Everest, but much more. And afterwards would shock friends and acquaintances with an answer to questions like, “And what was the maximum altitude you climbed to?” – 5645 м.
After breakfast we headed back to Lukla. However, about half of the way is new for us as we walked through Gokyo Lakes and the Cho La Pass. The cobble-strewn hills near Gorakshep were much faster traversed than they were just yesterday. While climbing, I kept looking in the direction of Lhotse and the Nupjie peaks in order not to miss the small piece of Everest Peak accessible to the eye from such a height and angle. On the approaches to Namche Bazaar there is a chance to see the highest mountain of our planet again.
The main part of the group, as if they had not climbed in the morning, habitually ran ahead a few hundred meters. And I lost any desire to hurry. I wanted to go and digest the experience, the unrealized points of the program, to understand why I needed it all. Towards us came the trekkers who were breathing heavily, but extremely excited – for them Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar were still ahead. And down we went, south to the smoking Cholatse and Taboche.
We passed the “Pyramid” turnoff on the approach to Lobuche, remembered the delicious pasta we had been treated to in the evening, and the hot showers. You know, in the mountains, you get used to the basic necessities – you wash once a week, and that’s it. Girls, of course, would not agree with me – then they do not comb their hair.
The seven- and eight-thousanders in our neighborhood were quickly replaced by six- and five-thousanders. There were only a few lodges and a bakery in Dugla, a settlement that seemed to come alive only during the trekking seasons. After catching our breath and drinking tea, we continued our descent. We had 400 more meters of elevation gain to drop before lunch. It was so hard to gain them, and now we were literally running downhill.
After Dugla there was another sharp descent into the valley, somewhere in the distance loomed the roofs of the large village of Ferice where we planned to stop for lunch. As we descended below 4,600m, I could feel my breathing becoming much easier. I could not keep up with the sprinters, but at least I had the feeling that my legs were kiking confidently and could do so for more than one hour.
It was quite a long walk today, Taras promised about 8-9 hours, so we didn’t deviate from the schedule and set schedule and got up early. In the distance we saw the massif of Kongde Ri in the south, which is well visible from Namche Bazaar – we went there. The coolness of the morning quickly gave way to heat. I still wore a membrane jacket, but soon took it off and then a fleece, and walked in a T-shirt and rolled up pants, so that my legs could be cooled as well. A couple of the hot guys in the group wore shorts first thing in the morning.
And the Nepalese, which never ceases to amaze me, wear wool sweatshirts and hats even in the heat. And in the cold they may well walk in a down jacket and rubber slippers when their toes get cramped. From Pangboche the path went steeply down to the river and we were soon met by lathery trekkers who continued their way to the base camp.
In the first half of the day the trail would wiggle from one bank to the other, so the joy over the sharp and rapid drop in elevation did not last long. We descended down to the river itself, and now be kind enough to crawl up again. Unfortunately, there was no other way, the Nepalese would not build such long suspension bridges.
A long climb up the forest path brought us to the gate of Tengboche Monastery. After the sudden puja that we caught in Khund on the third day of the trek, we did not want to give up hope that we would be lucky in Tengboche. However, we found ourselves at the gate of the monastery at the very wrong time; a lone monk opened the main hall to us and waited patiently while we looked at the murals on the walls and statues.
From Tengboche the views of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse. It seems like just yesterday we were so close to the mountains, and now it’s as if we are running away from them. Shortly after leaving Tengboche, the weather by tradition, i.e. in the afternoon, began to deteriorate, and thoroughly. It rained for the first time during the whole trek. In Kathmandu we were caught in downpours in the cafes, but on the trek it did not drop from the sky, only sprinkled with snow a couple of times. Bought raincoats were left in the bag at the porters, so we had to hope that the membrane jacket will save. So we walked almost all the way to Namche Bazaar in the rain, which stopped and started to drizzle, in anticipation of apple pie, croissants, coffee and warm showers at the lodge.
During dinner, the lodge was overcrowded, barely able to fit the entire group at the table.
This time we climbed the Hillary Bridge bravely, no one was frightened or looked down, as on the second day of the trek. After the ascent to Cho La Pass there was nothing to be afraid of. We crossed the bridge as if it were an ordinary bridge.
No more snow, green forests, hundreds of different smells, the sense of smell as if we almost had time to become weary of such diversity.
Giving way to caravans of mules and dzos with loads, we reached Lukla by the middle of the day. We had to do hard work after Phakding where we stopped for lunch – after dropping altitude to 2610 m, and it was more than 800 m for half a day, we had to climb up again and win back 200 m. We had almost got home; it was the last spurt, the last walking hours, especially in the warm.
The next morning, without any delays or fuss, we once again tickled our nerves and flew from Lukla to Kathmandu on the small plane. I wanted an added thrill, so I jumped on the front row and sat right behind the pilots to see the moment of takeoff from the short runway of one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
See the original and full version of the track report on the LiveJournal page of Sasha_Lotus.