Previous Post: Namche to Chhukhung – Days 4 – 7
This Post – From Chhukhung to Kala Pattar
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 walking up the glacier towards Everest Base Camp and Mount Everest itself. After spending an hour on the “top” of Kala Patthar, we returned to Lobuche for the night and then continued on to Gokyo the next morning.
kml file of the route: The file is in my Dropbox folder. Click on the download prompt in the top left-hand corner and open in Google Earth
Day 8-From Chhukung to High Camp Before Kongma La
Our objective for the day- it was November 6 – was an easy one. It began with a 1.5 km walk down the Imja Khola valley. Then we began our walk up to the pass on the west side of the Nuptse Glacier. Below the pass is the high camp for summit climbs of Pokalde (a 5806 m trekking peak). It served as our campsite for the night.
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!
Early arrival at our camp for the night meant there was time to walk up the steep slope below which we were camped. I made my way to the pass and the small puddle of a glacial lake on the plateau but left the view of the Khumbu Glacier and Lobuche for the next morning!
Day 9 – Kongma La Camp To Lobuche
A slight dusting of snow had fallen overnight. It gave the neighbourhood a different look! There is a plateau that we walked across, skirting the small lake on our way to the prayer flags on the west side that marked the actual pass.
An added element of excitement was added by our yak caravan. To see these seemingly ungainly and awkward beasts dance their way up the slopes is always a reminder not to judge too quickly. The Canadian bush equivalent is the moose, the ballet dancer of the boreal forest, also much more agile and graceful than you’d expect! Unlike the moose, the yak gets to have a load strapped to his body. In the image below you can see our caravan approaching the steep part of the climb up to the pass.
In no rush on this day, we sat down below the prayer flags at the pass and looked west and down at the Khumbu Glacier. Our destination for the day was on the other side of the Glacier – Lobuche (also Lobuje). It is located just to the left of the foot of the Lobuche Glacier which comes down to the Khumbu Glacier in the image below.
Eventually, we made our way down from the pass and then stopped again to watch the yaks as they made their descent. I wonder how many trekking groups still make use of yaks, given the ready availability of teahouses along almost all of the route we followed. Of our 19 nights out, we only camped away from a teahouse – or anything else! – on three occasions. Had we don the Kongma La crossing in one long day, that would have been one less need for tents.
We crossed Kongma La on a beautiful sunny morning in November. Unstated but necessary to remember is what some serious 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.
We crossed the Khumbu Glacier and came to Lobuche, a small trekker/climber settlement to the south of the toe of the Lobuche Glacier.
Taking A Room At The Lodge/Teahouse
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 thanks to the two people per tent. I even had a night table – all in all, pretty plush given where we were!
From this point on I would abandon the tent and my tent mate whenever possible for the comfort of a teahouse bed. Some of the trekkers spent every night in their tents and were fine with it. My rationalization: having spent a total of about $4000. on the trip, an extra $3. a night on more luxurious accommodation was an easy upgrade to make!
Day 10 – Up Khumbu Glacier To Kala Pattar
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 Pattar – Which One to Do?
- Everest Base Camp 5364 m/17,598 ft
- Kala Pattar 5644 m/18,519 ft
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 Pattar (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, Kala Pattar 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 Pattar. 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.
Kala Pattar is a point on the south ridge of Pumori. The landmark is festooned with prayer flags and takes a couple of hours to get to. It is also the best spot for views of the neighbourhood with even climbers at Everest Base Camp walking up to get views that they cannot get from their tenting location on the glacier. The satellite image below shows its black top. [Kala is the Hindi word for “black” and pattar means “rock”.Pattar is also spelled Patthar in some guidebooks and on the map above.]
There was a light dusting of snow the morning we were there. We had a clear blue sky on our visit; the later in the day you go up the more likely it is that things will cloud over.
The View From Kala Pattar:
Everest Base Camp sits at the top of the Khumbu Glacier on 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.
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.
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 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.
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”, we made our way back down- first to Gorak Shep and a cup of coffee in the lodge restaurant 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 trekkers 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 our two-day stay in the Gokyo lakes area with its views that rival those of Kala Pattar.