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.
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.
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!)
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 –
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.
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!