The trail became steeper and narrower after we split from the main EBC route and headed up the Gokyo Valley. We were rewarded with a far less crowded area and some truly stunning vistas.
We glimpsed our first Himalayan tahrs (like wild mountain goats) with hair that Fabio would envy, as well as these beautiful birds that we swear our guide called Mountain Patricks, but Google knows of no such thing. Maybe they were partridges? Whatever their name, we began seeing and hearing them a lot. Especially as we huffed and puffed up the side mountains and high pass, these birds would always be squawking and we detected a hint of laughter.
While we’d planned to trek a bit further before stopping for lunch, the views from Mong La, a small village en route to our first night at Dhole, were too good to pass up. The weather was still warm enough for us to sit outside and so we enjoyed a tasty meal here with this phenomenal view.
The trails and trekking days became somewhat more difficult here, as the ups and downs increased. For example, I think our first day out of Namche had us starting at 3440m, ascending to 3980m where we lunched, descending to 3680m and then rising again to 4110m.
It was also here that the creature comforts began disappearing: no more free battery charging (only for a fee, and only when there is power, which often is generated from just a few solar panels), no more rooms with private toilets, and in general, say goodbye to western toilets. Hello holes in the ground and getting out of your warm sleeping bag and into your freezing cold boots to pee at night! At most tea houses there is no heat source except for a stove (yak pie fueled!) in the common room which is usually turned on around five at night and stoked through dinner. This common room is where we tend to spend most of our non-trekking waking hours as it’s warmed by the body heat and/or the fire. The rooms are far from the stove and have plywood thin walls (freezing. literally. your water, contact lenses and toothpaste all freeze overnight). Also, the common room is where we do the only three things we do aside from trekking: eat, drink tea and play cards. Rishi taught us how to play dhumbal, which is a Nepali game that’s easy to learn and a great way to pass the time. Lots of rounds were played over the next week and a half, lots.
Leaving Dhole the views up-valley became more expansive: Cho Oyu straight ahead, Cholatse and Taboche off to the right and Thamserku and Kangtega behind and to the right. A relatively easy day of hiking took us to our next destination of Machhermo (4470m). But there is acclimatization to be done, so the day wasn’t quite as easy after an afternoon hike up the ridge behind town where the winds were gusting and again we saw Everest beyond Cholatse plus great views of Cho Oyu.
Having been delayed a day due to weather canceling our scheduled flight into Lukla, we had to find a way to make up a day. We decided to wake early the next morning, get to Gokyo quickly and try to see as much as possible that day so we could skip our “rest” day there. Wikipedia says the Gokyo Lakes “are the world’s highest freshwater lake system comprising six main lakes.” We passed “first lake” on our hike and it was thawed though tiny. Second lake was mainly frozen, as was third lake (i.e. the Gokyo Lake), which is where the town of Gokyo sits. Bummer because the pictures we’ve seen of the turquoise lake look gorgeous.
Thus we decided to skip the optional hike up to fourth lake (it was higher and certainly frozen) that afternoon and instead we did a quick hike up to the ridge behind town from where we had great views of Gokyo Lake, the tiny hamlet of Gokyo and Gokyo Ri (to be hiked the next morning) to one side, and the Ngozumpa glacier (to be crossed after hiking Gokyo Ri) to the other.
Our tea house at Gokyo was another one of our favorites. It had lovely views, a warmish common area, and one of the toilets was western (although no western flushing mechanism, don’t get too excited now).
By now it’s getting colder but it’s still bearable. Neither of us wore multiple layers on the bottom until Gokyo. After that Jenni rolled three pants til Namche.
Our first of the “big four” destinations was Gokyo Ri. I call them the big four because they are the highest points on our trek, generally the most difficult to climb, and sort of the highlights of these treks. The big four are: (i) Gokyo Ri – a 5357m peak abutting Gokyo town and lake and which affords mind-blowing views of Everest and everything else; (ii) crossing Cho La Pass – maybe not so much a destination as a necessary evil to take you from Gokyo back to the EBC route; (iii) Everest Base Camp – self-explanatory; and (iv) Kala Patthar – the mountain near EBC and the highest point (5545m) on our trek. It’s clear that the altitude started getting to Jenni as she requested the “Call of the Mountain Goats” song as climbing inspiration (it’s In The Hall of the Mountain King).
It took us just about two hours to summit Gokyo Ri (and about an hour down). Damn these mountains for looking so easy next to the mammoth peaks around them, because it is not a walk in the park. The climb alone is not terribly difficult. It’s an ascent of a bit more than 1800 feet, which would normally be a pretty breezy hike, were it not for the fact that you’re going from ~15.7k feet to ~17.6k feet above sea level. You don’t realize how much you appreciate oxygen until you trek at these heights! Jenni was definitely feeling the altitude at this point, and to top it off she somehow managed to ram her head into a rock a few feet from the top. Needless to say she wasn’t the happiest camper up there. (Alan had in his notes: “She didn’t even take chocolate from Andrew at the top!!” So. You know it was serious).
Check out these views of Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Renjo La pass etc… from the summit.
After relaxing over lunch, we crossed the Ngozumpa glacier to get to Thangnag. At about 22 miles, I think it is the longest glacier in Nepal. While the glacier doesn’t look wide (you can see the town of Thangnag from the ridge just behind Gokyo), it’s not so easy to traverse, made difficult by the up and down plus loose rock and snow. The surreal landscape felt lunar. Two hours scrambling across the moon later and we made it to Thangnag where we were literally the only guests in our teahouse. We watched the snowfall as we (what else) enjoyed tea, cookies and several rounds of dhumbal. It was an early night to bed so we could rise early and face the beast: Cho La Pass. (P.S. a “late” night while trekking is 8pm, so…).
Accommodation: In Dhole we stayed at Alpine Cottage Lodge. I think we saw a sign that a room costs 200, or 1000 if you do not take meals there. In Macchermo we stayed at Trekkers Lodge. In Gokyo we stayed at Gokyo Resort, one of our favorites. Our room #17 overlooked the lake and mountains. Here we charged batteries for 300/hour and the WiFi worked pretty well and cost 500/day. In Thangnag we stayed at Thangnag Guest House.
Food and Drinks: Lunch on the way to Dhole in Mong La was on the patio at Bouddha Lodge, next to Hill Top Guesthouse and near the Viewpoint Guesthouse. We thought the food at Gokyo Resort was some of the best. They actually seasoned dishes the way we might at home (much of the food served while trekking is uber-bland, requiring boatloads of assistance from the salt and pepper shakers).
Activities: We did not attend, but we saw signs for the free altitude talk daily at 3 pm in Macchermo. I think this is run by the International Porter Protection Group, whose website is http://www.ippg.net.
April 7-10, 2014 (Monday-Thursday)