Day Nine – Gorak Shep (5180m) up Kala Patthar (5550m) and on to Dzonglha (4830m)
We woke up at 5am after a TERRIBLE night sleep – a combination of minus temperature in our room and the altitude left us really struggling to catch any z’s. This was the morning that we climbed Kala Patthar for sunrise, the highest point of our trek and, in retrospect, definitely the most physically and mentally challenging part of the whole thing. 5180m to 5550m in under two hours. Minus temperatures, no light, snow, slippery conditions and loss of feeling in my fingers and toes meant that tears were involuntarily sliding down my cheeks. Liam was faring a little better, but there were definitely times when we were a hare’s breath away from calling it at different times. It’s funny – at any lower altitude it would have been a relatively easy slope to climb to watch a sunrise, but in the dark and freezing cold at 5000m+, it was nothing but pain. I tried counting to 100 steps before taking a short break to catch my breath, but could only ever make it to around 60 steps.
Thankfully we made it to the top after a lot of slipping and sliding and took in the view of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and the surrounding range as the sun poked out from behind the peaks. As stunning as the view was, the cold soon catches you after you stop climbing and it’s not easy to find any warmth. We took in the view for ten minutes or so, took some photos, and I tried (unsuccessfully) to regain the feeling in my toes. After that we decided to make our way back down which was a lot easier but still tricky in the increasingly slippery snow. The two hour accent was only 45 minutes to climb down but it took another hour with my feet on a metal bottle full of boiling water for me to get the feeling back.
After eating some food and recovering for an hour or so, we set off on another (relatively) easy four hour walk to Dzonglha (4830m), a place that can scarcely be called a “town” as it consisted of only 3 or 4 tea houses and not much else. It felt fantastic to be heading down in elevation – we could actually breathe, headaches abated, and the nausea was gone. We also were lucky enough to have a room that had a double bed, blankets, decent pillows, and even a toilet attached to the room…. no seat on the toilet, but we’d learned that luxury on this trip was a relative thing. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Day Ten – Dzonglha (4830m) to Thaknag (4700m) via the Cho La Pass (5386m)
Easily one of my favourite days of walking. After a cloudy night the previous evening, we woke up early to beautiful sunshine and set off with two Kiwi’s (brother and sister Harry and Anna) and two Dutchies (Jelske and Gils) in tow. We’d met these two pairs along the road separately and were super happy to have some company along the road… as much as we lovely each other’s company, there’s only so many games of cards in a row that a couple can take.
Today was the day we climbed up and over the only pass that we were attempting on our trek and was actually a really enjoyable day of walking, even though it was physically challenging – I think we were a little more mentally prepared for this one compared to our Kala Patthar efforts. The path climbed up a switchback trail before changing to a hill of boulders that we needed to clamber over any which way we could. Once we reached the actual pass, we walked through a foot of snow on the side of a glacier, careful to stick to the path in order to avoid falling into an unseen chasm. It really was beautiful at the top – leaving the view of the valley that we’d walked through for the previous week and passing under hundreds of prayer flags into a different valley that would lead us back to Kathmandu.
The way down was a little steep and slippery, but relatively easy. We were just glad we weren’t coming the other way, as it looked ridiculously hard. A lot of groups with *ahem* older members decide to come this way for reasons unbeknownst to me because it really is that much harder.
After a picnic lunch at the bottom of the mountain we made our way downhill for another few hours to Thaknag (4700m) where we stayed for the night, playing cards (for a change) with Khare and the awesome new friends we’d made.
Day Eleven – Thaknag (4700m) to Gokyo (4790m) via the Ngozumba Glacier
An easy few hours walk over the Ngozumba Glacier took us from Thaknag to beautiful Gokyo, the most picturesque place we’d visited yet. Our guesthouse was right on the shore of Gokyo Tso (lake) and we were lucky enough to have a room that looked over the lake and had the sunshine through the windows for the afternoon. Harry, Anna, Liam and I all went for a walk up to the next lake (you know, because we felt like we weren’t getting enough exercise). While the walk and views were nice enough, the cold soon got to us and we decided that our time was better spent in the teahouse dining room eating popcorn. Definitely the right choice.
Day Twelve – Up and down Gokyo Ri (5360m) and onto Phortse Thanga (3690m)
Up at 6.30am for our last big climb of the trip from Gokyo to the summit of Gokyo Ri for even more beautiful views of the Himalayan range (truth be told, Liam was up earlier to take photos because he’s weird like that). While we made the very smart choice of starting this climb later than we did Kala Patthar, it was still by no means easy – still a 600 meter gain in 2 hours of non-stop uphill. Poor Jelske from the Netherlands had been having trouble with her achilles tendons for days and had to call it on the way up. The rest of us were lucky enough to make it up with just enough time to take in an amazing view of Everest and snap some photos before the clouds rolled in. Downhill, while a lot easier, still felt endless and we were all happy to roll back into the guesthouse for a hot cup of tea.
After having some lunch, Anna, Liam and I continued on our trek down to Phortse Thanga, the start of the way home. If coming down Gokyo Ri felt like it would never stop then this walk was the never ending story. On top of our 3 hour summit walk, we did an additional 6 hours of non-stop walking in some seriously cold and windy weather. It was, however, lovely to see the landscape change from barren and snowy to green and overgrown as we reached the lower altitude and it felt good to finally feel like you could take a proper deep breath.
Day Thirteen – Phortse Thanga (3690m) to Khumjung (3790m)
While on the way up we only visited Khumjung for the afternoon, on our way back we stopped in for a night… we’re 90% sure that Khare was just killing time, but it was a lovely place to stay all the same. The walk from Phortse Thanga only took us a few hours because we took a local’s shortcut down a cliff disguised as stairs. We (quite rightly) made the call that thirteen days of trekking with only three pairs of socks each was probably pushing the limits of what was socially acceptable no matter where we were in the world, so we used our free time to do some laundry down at the town’s communal laundry basin. As lovely as the thought of clean socks and underwear was, the water that came out of the tap felt like it was made from frozen daggers of ice that left our hands red raw so our socks were left more a mix of cold water, dirt and sweat than they were clean.
The clouds rolled in nice and heavy that afternoon and snow started to fall, so we tucked ourselves away and read for the afternoon, happy to not be too cold or out walking still.
Day Fourteen – Khumjung (3790m) up and over to Namche Bazaar (3400m) with a visit to the Sir Edmund Hilllary memorial
We rose early and met Anna the Kunde hospital in the neighbouring village where she is doing her final placement as a very soon-to-be doctor. Anna led the way up and out of the village to the memorial for Sir Edmund Hillary, the Kiwi who was first to summit Everest (with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa) and philanthropist for many decades in the Himalayan region. The memorial was built by the women of the region when Sir Edmund passed away in 2008, and joined memorials for his first wife and daughter, who were both killed in a plane crash in Kathmandu in 1975. Snow had fallen the night before, so the valley and villages were covered white, which made for an amazing view from the top of the ridge where the memorials sit covered in prayer flags.
Cloud quickly rolled its way in, so we made our way back down to Khumjung and packed our bags for the (thankfully) short little hop back down to Namche Bazaar, a virtual metropolis compared to the other towns we had visited over the past two weeks. The six of us – Australian, Dutch and Kiwi – got together that night for a couple of glasses of wine and a few beers at the local “Irish pub” celebrate… we didn’t make it to bed until after 9pm. I guess you could say things got a little crazy.
Day Fifteen – Namche Bazaar (3400m) to Lukla (2860m)
After saying goodbye to Anna, Harry, Jelske and Gils, we legged it back from Namche Bazaar to Lukla. What took us two days to cover at the start of our trek took us only around five and a half hours on the way back. Earphones in and head down except to catch our last glimpse of Everest, we had no tolerance for the slow goers and overtook wherever the opportunity arrived. We’d booked an “expensive” US$10 room in Lukla and our first shower in ten days was waiting for us.
The last two hours of the walk was a steady uphill, and it really felt at some points that we weren’t going to get there. Finally, however, we walked over our last ridge and through the archway that leads into Lukla, aware that we’d had an amazing trip but feeling nothing but gratitude that it was over.
After sitting in the shower and scrubbing ourselves clean until the hot water ran out, we spent our afternoon not really doing much at all until it was time for our last dinner with Khare and our porter, Raj. We presented the guys with a tip, some chocolate bars and a photo of all eight of us in front of Gokyo Lake. Khare and Raj in return presented us with white Tibetan prayer scarves, which are often given with the departure of guests and symbolises the pure heart of the giver. It was a really lovely way to end the whole trip and give thanks to the two guys who helped us get through the whole thing.
We were early to bed and, luckily, early to rise as Khare had managed to get us onto the first flight out of Lukla so our goodbyes were hasty, but it was all very lucky as the clouds set in once again and a lot of flights out of Lukla were cancelled. Once again onto the tiny little planes that somehow manage to take off from the tiny runway. I seriously thought the plan was just to run the plane off the end of the cliff and hope that it took to the air, but they actually push these little death-canisters hard enough that they leave the runway before it ends. Wonders will never cease. I can say I was pretty happy to touch down in Kathmandu.
We’re back to reality now and, besides one night of catching up with Mark and Grace that involved questionable drinking choices, we’ve been keeping it relatively low key. We’ve got three weeks in Pokhara for R&R, though we are going to do another “short” 5-day trek to see the Annapurna range from Poon Hill. For the time being, however, we’re just enjoying warm weather, hot showers and high oxygen levels.