The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 3 – Chhukhung to Everest via Kongma La

Previous Post: Parts 1 & 2 = From Kathmandu To Lukla To Namche Bazaar to Chhukhung 

Part 3 – From Chhukhung to Kala Patthar


After spending a couple of nights at Chhukhung it was time to move on.  The walk up to the top of Chhukhung Ri had extended our acclimatization further; we would be ready for the crossing of the first of the High Passes of our Everest trek, the Kongma La  (5535 m) between Kongma Tse and Pokalde.

While the crossing to Lobuche can be done in one long day, we divided it into two shorter days. Then, having set up camp at Lobuche, we spent a day to walk up the glacier towards Everest Base Camp and Mount Everest itself. After walking to the top of Kala Patthar, we returned to Lobuche for the night and then continued on to Gokyo the next morning. This post will focus on the three days we spent getting to and walking up the Khumbu Glacier, as shown on the map above.

on the way to Kongma La and looking down on the Imja Khola valley and Chhukhung

Our objective for the day was an easy one – to walk up the west side of the Nuptse Glacier and camp below the pass at the high camp for summits of Pokalde (a 5806 m trekking peak).  The next morning we would cross Kongma La and walk down to Lobuche on the west side of the Khumbu Glacier.

This meant another day to enjoy the views of the Imja Khola valley and – as in this image – of Imja Tse.  The north face of Ama Dablam also continued to draw our eyes – and our lenses!

the Imja Khola valley and Imja Tse (Island Peak) at the top left

our yaks heading up to the campsite for the night below Kongma La with Ama Dablam in the background

An early arrival at our camp for the night meant there was time to walk up the steep slope below which we were camped onto the plateau and towards the pass for some late afternoon views of what we – and the yaks!- would be doing the next morning.

campsite before Kongma La with Ama Dablam in the distance

morning camp on the Imja Khola side of Kongma La

approaching Kongma La on a sunny morning in November

small lake on plateau just before Kongma La

looking back towards Ama Dablam as we climb towards Kongma La

looking back from Kongma La with the Nuptse ridge in the background

looking down at our yaks as they get ready to ascend to Kongma La

our six yaks being readied for Kongma La ascent

Kongma La- mandatory “I was here” pose  with Nuptse behind 

looking down towards Khumbu from Kongma La

looking down at the Khumbu Glacier and Lobuche (left of the center of image)  from Kongma La with the Lobuche Glacier  just to the right (i.e. north)  of Lobuche, a very small settlement with a few lodges

Looking back towards Kongma La from the Khumbu side

yaks descending Kongma La to the Khumbu Glacier

We crossed Kongma La on a beautiful sunny morning in November.  Unstated but necessary to remember is what some mean, nasty weather would have done to our little walk at high altitude.  Imagine a heavy snowfall and add strong winds and visibility of no more than thirty feet – or twenty – and all of a sudden it isn’t a moderately challenging walk anymore. Now it is a full-out mountaineering challenge that you’re facing.

This is one of those situations where I am glad to be guided by local professionals who have done the trek many times before and have probably faced the scenario I just described.

our yaks continue their descent to the Khumbu Glacier from Kongma La 

“downtown” Lobuche with trekkers’ tents and lodges

When we got to Lobuche I decided that for a couple of nights I would splurge and, instead of sleeping in the tent, I would take a room in the lodge in whose front yard our tents were set up.  It would cost about $3 a night and in truth the room was no warmer than the tent – i.e. about -5˚ C.  However, it was nice to have that extra space over my head and the sleeping bag was definitely not as damp in the morning from the condensation which drips down from the tent walls.  I even had a night table – all in all, pretty plush given where we were!

It would be the first of more occasions when I would abandon the tent and my tent mate – my hat goes off to those trekkers who spent every night in their tents but I figured that having spent $4000. + on the trip, even thinking about the extra $30. spent on more luxurious accommodation was a bit ridiculous.  Enough said…

November 8 in Lobuche – Exodus tents in a fresh dusting of snow

going up the west side of the Khumbu Glacier to Gorak Shep and Kala Patthar

Above Lobuche, there is one last settlement (Gorak Shep) where lodge accommodation and tent spaces are available. There was a time when Gorak Shep served as Base Camp for summit attempts up the Khumbu Icefall to the south col.   Beyond that are, on the Khumbu Glacier itself, Everest Base Camp, and to the NW of Gorak Shep the trail up to the top of Kala Patthar.  There are reasons for including both in a trek to the top of the Khumbu.

Everest Base Camp or Kala Patthar – Which One to Do?

To visit Everest Base Camp (5364 m/17,598 ft) – and to see the tents of the climbing parties readying themselves for an upcoming summit attempt – certainly has that “cool” factor associated with it. It should be mentioned that the actual climbing groups at Base Camp cannot be too thrilled at the thought of being a tourist attraction as a stream of day hikers come up and gawk at the proceedings.

And Kala Patthar (5644 m/18,519 ft)?  Well, the panorama from the top of the “Black Rock” is unmatched.  You’re actually about 300 m higher than you would be at Base Camp.  In fact, since you can’t actually see the summit of Everest from Base Camp on the Glacier, it is the place to be for the best views.  The cost? One and a half hours to climb the 500 m from Gorak Shep (5164 m).

Our itinerary included only one of the two objectives – Kala Patthar.  In retrospect, it was the right choice given the schedule we were following.  Independent trekkers could always visit Base Camp one day, stay at Gorak Shep for the night, and then climb to the top of Kala Patthar the next morning before walking back down to Lobuche.

approaching Gorak Shep from Lobuche – notice the trekkers setting off for Kala Patthar top

Gorak Shep with Kala Patthar and Pumo Ri in the background

one of the lodges of Gorak Shep

junk food on display at Gorak Shep tuck shop – a Mars Bar, anyone?

Gorak Shep- ladders waiting for Sherpas to carry to the Khumbu Icefall

Everest summit and Khumbu Glacier from Kala Patthar slopes

Kala Patthar view of Khumbu Glacier and Icefall 

Everest Base Camp sits at the top of the Khumbu Glacier – the left lower middle of the image above.  Walking to the Base Camp would give you a great close-up view of the Icefall that represents the first significant challenge faced by summiteers. One thing it doesn’t give you is an actual view of the summit!  Given the reality that most of us will never stand on the top of Everest, hiking to the top of Kala Patthar is the best vantage point.

gorakshep to everest base camp

If you want to check out a remarkable panorama, then this one by David Breashears, stitched together from 400 images he took from a viewpoint above Everest Base Camp in 2012, is a must-see. The detail is so fine that you can zoom in on the tents of Base Camp and, if you go back down the Khumbu Glacier, you can see the buildings which make up Gorak Shep. You can even see the trail leading down to them.

Everest up close from Kala Patthar slopes

Everest summit with Nuptse to the south

If you want some help visualizing the ascent from Base Camp to the top of Everest, this 3D recreation of the route will give you a wonderful perspective on what people are paying agencies $60,000. to experience.

The Khumbu Glacier and Ama Dablam from Kala Patthar

The view south from Kala Patthar top

The new-for-this-trip Sony H2 camera that I shot most of these images with also had a video mode; being a recent convert from film SLR I rarely even remembered to use the video format and when I did the results were pretty amateurish.  Here is my effort from the top of Kala Patthar, panning north and east over the most impressive mountainscape in the world; this definitely goes on that list of moments I wish I could do over again so I could do it better.

looking up to Everest summit from Kala Patthar with Pumo Ri in the background

Everest pilgrims and Pumo Ri

We couldn’t have had better weather for our day up-close-and-personal with Sagarmatha (Mount Everest).  After over an hour on top of the “Black Rock” (which is what Kala Patthar means in Nepali), we made our way back down- first to Gorak Shep and a cup of coffee and then down the trail back to Lobuche, where we’d sleep a second night.

Again, there is a logic to walking high during the day and descending to a lower altitude to sleep and the itineraries the various trekking companies follow are designed to minimize altitude sickness.  The trekkers most frequently complaining of problems with the altitude were those intent on racing up and down the Khumbu instead of giving their bodies the time needed to adapt to the higher altitude.

The next morning we’d be moving on from Lobuche to the next valley to the west via our second high pass, Cho La.  The next post will cover this terrain, as well as the trail back to Namche Bazaar via Renzo La, the third and last of our three High Passes of Everest.

It is now day 13 on this epic trek. Ready for the next four-day chunk of our walk? Part Four – the walk from Lobuche over the second of the high passes, Cho La, to the Gokyo Lakes and then our ascent of Gokyo Ri can be seen by clicking on the title below…

Next Post: Part 4 – Lobuche To the Gokyo Lakes Via Cho La


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1 Response to The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 3 – Chhukhung to Everest via Kongma La

  1. Courtney Knauth says:

    Hi – I did much of this trek en route from Kathmandu to Darjeeling in 1956 when I was secretary to the American AID Mission. Found you while trying to get the name of the pass that you call Kongma La, and that I was told by my Sherpa was Dolma Pass (I wanted the name in order to relate to the planned trekking itinerary of friends who are going to Nepal). I’m amazed that you did your trek in November–I did it in early July, and I still have the edelweiss (dried) that I picked in the meadow near the pass. In summertime, nothing about the entire trek was very difficult, and I’ve never thought I was particularly hardy. There was surely an advantage to having lived several years at 5,000 feet and to being young. Also, I had trekked north to Lang Tang Valley the year before and often hiked the hills around Kathmandu. …As you can imagine, I much enjoyed your photos. Thanks for posting them.
    Courtney Knauth

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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