Three High Passes of Everest
AN ADVENTUROUS EXPERIENCE
Himalaya. Beautiful, deadly, awe inspiring and always the greatest mountain range on earth. Still a wilderness.
Kathmandu. Crowded, fascinating, dusty, dirty, polluted, historic and a religious icon. Totally absorbing. One for the bucket list. This is my incense infused journey to see Sagarmatha.
Sagarmatha (Nepali), Chomolungma and Qomolangma (Tibetan) and Zhumulangma (Chinese) all mean the same thing; Mount Everest.
Land at Lukla airport (an experience itself) and you’re in a different world. After formalities and tea, the trek begins. 18 days on foot, ascending three 5000m passes and a couple of side trips if you’re up for it. A true classic.
Our first night stop is Monjo. No hot water here as for most of the trip but it’s all part of the adventure. Early morning and we are back on the trail to the one and only Namche Bazar. Climbing higher, we enter the Everest National Park and cross the Hillary Bridge, after Sir Edmund of course. Several hours of views later we stumble into Namche. Colours, noise and unfortunately smell, greet us. We have two nights here and an important acclimatisation day. On our ‘day off’ we hike up to the Everest View Hotel. Simply, a must do and see.
Leaving Namche we follow the delightful Bhote Khosi river in the Nangpo Drangpo valley to Thame. Look out for (you can’t actually miss them) boulders decorated with Guru Rimpoche and Om Mani Padme Hum. On reaching Thame we spend time visiting the monastery above the village. Monks chant and read from tablets then spoil us with edible offerings. A lovely moment.
Off again, this time to Langden. We leave the trees behind as we lose the main trail in this lovely valley. We are gaining height now, over 4000m but due to ‘no room at the inn’ the group splits into two and we stay at Maralung. Next morning we make the quick hop to Langden to prepare us for the first pass, the Renjo La 5340m.
It’s a beautiful morning. Eight hours to Gokyo over the pass and we are eager to get started. Sadly, one of our party is feeling very unwell and lags behind. Our sirdar, sherpas and porters rally round but for some, the day’s hike is over 12 hours. The altitude is not the only thing to take your breath away. On reaching the top you hit a long narrow ledge with a view that stops you dead. In front of you, above Gokyo, is Sagarmatha in all her glory. A panorama you’ll never forget.
Descending, which my knees hate, runs alongside the stunning glacial Gokyo Lake. Tired but happy we find our tea house. A day off tomorrow but there is always Gokyo Ri or the Fifth Lake to explore.
From Gokyo we cross the wide Ngozumba glacier. The moraine is not as easy as it looks as we slide backwards and forwards in the dust to Dragnak.
Disaster strikes. At lunch, I and two others, eat plates of food poisoning. Sorry, I meant egg and chips. It’s a bad night. The toilet in the morning is a no go zone. We’re so ill we have to spend the night in Dragnak while the party crosses the Cho La 5420m.
Morning brings new hope and we’re off to cross the pass. A slow affair not being 100%, we climb the grey clouded pass and slip slide on a glacier down to Dzongla.
Our companions have moved on and we have a delightful night in a dorm with 13 other people and a pack of rats. The views though are simply gorgeous, while breakfast in the glorious morning sun set us up for the day.
Return to Lukla
Feeling better, the three of us, porters and sherpa make our way past Cholatse Tso, a small glacial lake, pass the few houses that make Duglha then on to Lobuche. Here, we are re-united with the others. Some are not well and others have made the trip to Kala Pattar 5545m, for another fantastic view of Everest.
The following morning, sherpa Tenzing kindly agrees, on his day off, to take me to Kala Pattar. It’s a glorious blue sky morning but sadly by the time we have ‘peaked out’, the cloud has moved in and Sagarmatha is shrouded in cloud. The tents of base camp Everest are just specks of colour and as the wind starts to bite, I’m not sad to call it a day. We still have another long walk tomorrow.
An early start sees us crossing the Khumbu Glacier on our way to the Khongma La 5535m. It’s our 3rd high pass and it’s starting to tell. Easy going at first then the going gets steep. Ice is everywhere but we finally reach the prayer flag bedecked top. The view is wonderful. More rugged than the others which makes a nice change.
A gradual but long and dusty descent finally brings us to Chukhung, our bed for a couple of nights. A free day so I start to make my way to Island Peak base camp. Clearly marked with glaciers and peaks all around, the grey weather gives everything a foreboding feel. The cloud descends so I feast on chocolate and return.
Snow! A couple of inches fell while we slept and we wake to a winter wonderland. Snowing, we pull on waterproofs and march off to Pangboche for lunch. My stomach is still not happy so it’s chicken soup for me, again! Lower and lower we arrive at Tengboche, stow our gear and shoot off to the monastery. It’s shut. But opens again due to a mass of trekkers.
Back to Namche
It was a cold night. Ice on the inside of the windows confirms it. We’ve left the snow behind and it’s warm again. The trail is good and the view behind memorable. Around several corners Sagarmatha appears again and again. Very unexpected but spectacular in the sunshine. Night at Namche and time for last minute shopping and sending emails.
No overnight on the return leg, so a longish day. Personally, I would have loved a few more days but the dreaded work is calling. Beautiful day walking along side the wide river and I have to smile at the fresh faced and clean ‘newbies’ going against the flow. With our beards, dirty clothes and limps, they must wonder what they’ve walked into!
Overnight in Lukla. We tip the crew who seem pleased enough. I don’t think we realise how hard they work. Myself and two other guys have a couple of beers in a bar. We were colder than the drinks! Our flight is delayed but the eventual take off worth waiting for. The views from the plane are priceless and I can’t believe it’s over.
I’m looking forward to a whole day in the city. Three of us jump in a cab and hit Durbar Square. No disappointment here. There’s a crowd and we think a protest is happening. Turns out they are promoting a mountain bike race. That’s Kathmandu! Temples, rickshaws, feeding eagles and crowded streets later, we are back at the hotel. A fantastic 23 days.