The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 4- Lobuche to The Gokyo Lakes via Cho La

Previous Post: The High Passes of Everest Trek – Part 3 – Chhukhung To Everest Via Kongma La

the twenty-kilometer hike from Lobuche to Gokyo via Cho La, the  second of the three High Passes of our Everest Trek – click here for the interactive Google map

I didn’t know this at the time but our departure back down the Khumbu Glacier from Lobuche was not a good-bye to Everest and Nuptse and Lhotse after all.  In the days to come we would have views of the peaks that would rival (and maybe surpass?) those from Kala Patthar!  We spent three days to hike to Gokyo from Lobuche, stopping on the first afternoon just before Cho La (5420 m/17, 782 ft), the second of the three high passes of our trek.

The photo below shows the scene at the point where the cairn marks a fork in the trail. Following down the Lobuche Khola valley in the image below and you are heading for Pheriche and back to Namche.  Turn right as we did and you are heading for the trail above the lake called Chola Tsho (labelled Chola Pokhari on the Google map) and then for Dzonghla, a stopping point with a couple of lodges for teahouse trekkers.

cairn marking turn in path to the right and to Dzonghla and Cho La

early morning at 5000 m high camp just before Cho La

We walked up a beautiful valley to our campsite for the night.  Ahead of us was Cho La; behind us Ama Dablam poked into the heavens. We also got a nice view of Chola Tse’s north face on our left and the Lobuche peaks to our right. Unfortunately, I was not feeling my best –  some sort of stomach ailment, probably from the food at the Lobuche lodge, but who can say for sure. In any case, I certainly was not walking at my usual tempo and missed more than a few photo ops as just getting there became my sole priority!

When we got to our tent site just below the final ascent to Cho La I crawled into the tent and into my four-seasons’ down sleeping bag and tried to get some sleep.  More than once, one of the Exodus team came over to my tent with  a hot cup of tea.  The spare one-liter Nalgene bottle that I had brought along as a pee bottle for tent use came in very handy.

mid-morning break on the way to Cho La- facing Ama Dablam from NW

As with our crossing of Kongma La, we were fortunate to have excellent weather as we went over the ridge between Cholatse and Kangchung that is the pass.  The following pictures will give you some idea of what Cho la can be like on a sunny and windless morning in November.  No mountaineering snow storm drama here!  (YMMV!)

our guides wait patiently while we catch our breath below Cho La

the final climb to Cho La – watch for the bergschrund!

approaching Cho La on a beautiful morning on fresh snow

our porters taking a break on the other side of Cho La

coming down the west side of Cho La

the west face below Cho La on a sunny day in November

The descent from Cho La was just one of the many occasions that I was happy to have embraced the concept of trekking poles.  I will admit that I was not always a fan.  In fact, the first time I saw them in use (in the Chamonix area of the Alps in the late 1990’s) I remember thinking – “What a bunch of wusses these Euros are!”  Well, it is always nice to have a strong opinion but when it based on nothing but ignorance you’ve got a problem!  I have since come to thank the use of trekking poles – two of them and not just one –  for extending my hiking life by taking a lot of stress off my knees, especially in situation like the descent in the above image.

I was perplexed, though, to see one of my fellow hikers (an engineer by profession, no less!)  actually shorten his poles instead of lengthening them as we headed down the slope.  He ended up turning face into the mountain side as he negotiated his too painful-to-watch descent to the bottom of the initial 60-meter steep stretch.  Trekking poles, properly used, should help with stability and balance and even add to propulsion when you’re going uphill (or as a break when you’re going down). My aluminum Leki Super Makulus or my Black Diamond carbon poles have become an essential part of any trek I do!

Buddhist prayer flags flutter over the trail beyond Cho La

the lodges of Dragnag and the trail from Cho La tumbling down to them – a snapshot taken the next morning after moving on towards Gokyo

Dragnag lodges with our tents in the front yard of one of them

Dragnag – another lodge available to teahouse trekkers

“happy campers” greet a new day in Dragnag

Our next day’s destination from our camp just before the Cho La  was Dragnag, perhaps a four-hour walk.  (Dragnag sits at 4690 m/15,387 ft)  We put up our tents in front of one of the three lodges found at the bottom of the steep and narrow gorge seen in the image above. The next morning we finished off our trek to Gokyo with another three-hour walk  by crossing Sagarmatha National Park’s longest glacier (Ngozumpa stretches 20 kilometres) )  and hiking along its western side past the first couple of Gokyo lakes to the lodges found on Gokyo Lake #3.

As the following images try to capture, the stark and desolate landscape had a majestic beauty that a pilgrim passing through feels blessed to experience.  As awesome as peak experiences are for trekkers, there is so much more to inhale and appreciate as you walk through this world.

view from the trail between Dragnag and Gokyo

the world of Gokyo in an image

the way to Gokyo

trekkers stop to take in the view while crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier

approaching the first of the Gokyo Lakes

These lakes are the source of the Dudh Khola, the river we had followed all the way up from Lukla to Namche Bazaar to the point where we turned east and  ascended the Imja Khola valley for Chhukhung.  It’s always neat to see all the pieces fall together – and a sweeping trek like this one certainly makes that happen!

walking on the west side of the Ngozumpa Glacier

our incoming  yaks and a porter leaving Gokyo cross paths on the trail – that’s my red NF duffle bag on the lead yak! The Exodus-supplied duffels are blue.

Gokyo teahouses (i.e. lodges) and Dudh Pokhari (third of the Gokyo lakes)

The Gokyo lodges sit at about 4750 m/15,584 ft and provide teahouse trekkers with a base from which to further explore the upper Gokyo valley.  I would again leave the confines of my tent for a couple of nights for the luxury of a room in one of the lodges.

Gokyo Guest House – my home for two nights

Cough, cough…cough.  the Khumbu Cough!   Sitting in the warm dining hall of the guest house, I was struck by how many of us were hacking away. We were all exhibiting to some degree that high-altitude persistent hack which trekkers can expect to  experience as they spend time  in the upper Khumbu region. The cause is a combination of the low temperatures and the low humidity;  i.e. cold and dry air.   When you add over-exertion to the mix there is a danger of the cold air irritating  and damaging  the bronchial membrane.

Perhaps we did not have the  not the full-blown hack that Everest summiteers develop after spending six weeks at Base Camp and above, but it was still an issue.  Throat lozenges and hot drinks seemed to help, as did this treatment that the trek guides resorted to on a couple of occasions. Here is a pic of one of those times –

inhaling steam to alleviate the Khumbu Cough

trekking tents up behind a Gokyo lodge

looking south to the lodges and the third of the Gokyo Lakes

the view from Gokyo Ri- looking south to the second lake

I spent the day and half at Gokyo getting over my stomach problem.  I did find the energy to walk to the top of Gokyo Ri for stupendous views of the neighbourhood! I also walked up the valley towards Cho Oyo and to the next lake; a third night at Gokyo would have allowed more time to explore the second most popular trekking area in Sagarmatha N.P. after the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse peaks from Gokyo Ri- an amazing sight

on top of Gokyo Ri- Everest and Lhotse two valleys  away

on top of Gokyo Ri- Everest and Lhotse two valleys away

same, same but still a big wow!-another peak and more prayer flags

my Exodus trekking crew chillin’ on Gokyo Ri

descending Gokyo Ri to Dudh Pokhari and the teahouses

The stay at Gokyo had equalled if not surpassed our time at Lobuche and above on the Khumbu Glacier.  However, it was time to move on.  Next Stop- Renjo La, the third and last of our high passes of Everest and the gateway to the Bhote Kosi valley which would take us down to Thame and back to Namche Bazaar.  We were in the home stretch!  The next post will  cover this last part of the trek.  Take a peek here!

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11 Responses to The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 4- Lobuche to The Gokyo Lakes via Cho La

  1. Mary says:

    Hello – I wanted to ask whether I might be able to use your ‘Cairn’ picture in a slideshow I am preparing for my small business/startup called ‘Carin Biosciences’? If so, please could you let me know how I should attribute the image. Thanks!

    • true_north says:

      Mary, of course you can use the image. As for attribution, I am not sure what to say. Maybe a note to the effect that “internet image found at albinger.me”. If that is too much trouble, then just go ahead and use it.

      BTW – good luck with your new venture which -in its own way – is just as exciting and challenging as a walk up the Khumbu Valley.

      • Mary Ludlam says:

        Wonderful – thank you so much. Greatly appreciated.

        Hopefully I will make it out to take some of my own photos soon, but with a new business and two small children to care for, it’s looking like it will be a while before I make it out on my next wilderness adventure.

        One more question, could you confirm which mountain this is – Ama Dablam?

        Many thanks again!

        Mary– Mary Ludlam Sent with Sparrow (http://www.sparrowmailapp.com/?sig)

      • Mary says:

        Many thanks – I really appreciate this and will definitely attribute.
        One question – what is the main mountain in the picture? Ama Dablam?

        ps: am so glad to have stumbled across your blog – wonderful pictures of amazing adventures!

      • true_north says:

        Mary, that is indeed Ama Dablam. For a week of our trek we got to take it in from all sorts of directions. It always looked beautiful!

  2. Sudip says:

    Hi, Di you visit the 6th Gokyo lake?
    I visited Gokyo and EBC during 2010 but couldn’t go as far as the 6th lake. Everyone tells me it is too far and couldn’t return on the same day.
    One other question. How difficult the Renjo La pass from Gokyo?
    I was planning to do Annapurna trek but changing my mind and want to go to Gokyo via different route.
    Regards
    Sudip

    • true_north says:

      Sudip, namaste! I did not walk up to the sixth lake – I was dealing with a bad case of travellers’ stomach upset at the time and not feeling my best! I did walk up to the fourth lake by myself. If you are fit enough to walk ten hours – six up and four back – and experienced enough to recognize the trail or to get the company of a guide if you aren’t – you should have a fantastic day. As you can guess, very few people walk that far up. Most are happy to walk to the top of Tokyo Ri.

      As for Renjo La, it will be less travelled than Cho La or even Kongma La. As long the path as clear and it does not snow just before or during your crossing you should be fine!

      Enjoy your walk.

  3. Nat says:

    Hi there,

    Just wondering how strenuous you found the trek? And was this through a tour company or did you hire private sherpas etc?

    Nat

    • true_north says:

      Natalia, I was 56 when I did the trek. I will admit that it takes a certain level of fitness to do it – and enjoy it! Anything you can do to increase your cardio endurance and strength (legs, shoulders, back) will make the walk that much easier. I did the trek with Exodus, a UK adventure travel company that I can highly recommend, having used their services at least a dozen times over the past twenty years. Their trip is described here –

      http://www.exodustravels.com/ca/nepal-holidays/walking-trekking/high-passes-everest-base-camp/tng-0

      Our Sherpa team had done this trek together often; they were incredible professional. Our guide grew up in the Khumbu and seemed to know everyone on the route- and everyone greeted him with obvious affection! We finished the trek by visiting his father in Namche – he showed us pictures of him and Hilary from the famous ascent that our guide’s father was part of as a porter. It was magical – as was the entire trek.

      If you are not in the best of shape right now, I can’t think of a better reason to up your fitness level than to do this walk. Since October and November are the prime time to do the trek, you’d certainly have enough time to get in even better shape.

      One last thing – as I note in my series of posts, the itinerary is set up in such a way that acclimatization issues are minimized. Daily elevation gain is conservative with very sensible altitude gains from day to day and with rest days built in to further the process. Even the least fit person – even the guy who had me wondering how he could even have considered the trek given how poorly prepared he was, both in terms of fitness and proper clothing – well, everybody made it just fine.

      It will be a trek you will never forget. Enjoy!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi There,

    Can you tell me when did you crossed the “Cho La” pass?
    I have crossed it on OCT 15th 2012, and there was not so much snow there – as you can see here:
    http://www.facebook.com/yehuda.unger

    I am intending to do the “EBC 3 passes” this year starting on OCT 1.
    This will be my fifth trek in Nepal – once the “Langtang”, twice the “Annapurna circuit” and once the “EBC + Gokyo trek” (the short version!!!).

    Alough I gained some experiance , I must say that your post was very helpful and I learned some new things!!!

    I would like to thank you for excellent post and the wonderful pictures.

    I will probably will have some more questions!!

    Meanwhile many thanks.

    Yehuda,

    • true_north says:

      Yehuda, it’s nice to hear that my post was of use to you as you plan what will be yet another memorable Himalaya ramble!

      Of all the walks I’ve done over the years, the Three Passes Trek is the greatest – also the most challenging and the longest. It has everything a trekker could ask for, including a cultural overlay that elevates the experience to an even higher level. I’ll admit it – I love seeing those Buddhist prayer flags fluttering from the chortens. I plan to return for one last time one of these years but I won’t ever match your soon-to-be five visits!

      Re: my Cho La crossing. We were there in mid-November. The three days we spent waking from Lobuche to Gokyo co-incides with a severe case of stomach upset so I really wasn’t at my best! Your early October timeframe is really prime time. As you can tell from the pix, the descent down to the Gokyo side is somewhat steep. I do know that some trekkers bring lightweight crampons for that section although I did not find them necessary; the trekking poles were sufficient.

      Enjoy your return to Nepal. I do hope the government gets its act together and shifts its focus from constitution-building to managing the reconstruction of actual houses for those still left out in the cold from the earthquakes a year ago.

      I was thinking of the region just yesterday as I read this article on the impact of warming global temperatures –

      http://www.outsideonline.com/2067651/climate-change-melting-everest

      It did make me think about the many challenges – political, economic, demographic, environmental – faced by the mountain republics in the coming decades.

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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