It was with trepidation that we set off at 4:30 am to the airport to take us to the start of our next hike in the Everest region of Nepal. There have been many crashes on this route and neither of us were relaxed throughout the flight. That aside it was a specular flight, following alongside and weaving through the Himalayan mountains. Lukla terminal was organised chaos…bags dumped on the trolleys for anyone to grab, porters milling around looking for a day’s work and sleepy eye tourists frantically putting jackets on, freezing in the higher altitude.
The itinerary for our trek was to head up through a valley to Gokyo (4,798 meters altitude), cross Cho La Pass to the next valley and make our way across to Gorak Shep (5,140 meters altitude) where we could make side trips to Everest Base Camp (5,364 meters) and Kala Patthar (5,550 meters) for a close encounter with Everest.
We made our way through beautiful pine forests, small farming villages following Dudh Koshi river to the glacial source at Gokyo. The valley was ringed by some of the highest mountains in the world with their black jaggered peaks capped in snow. As we climbed each day it got colder finally waking up to a heavy dumping of snow in Gokyo one morning.
It turned the glacial lakes from a shimmering turquoise green to slate grey with heavy mists hanging overhead. It was extremely beautiful but scuppered our plans to cross Cho La Pass as it was now too dangerous to cross. We made the decision not to wait for a break in weather and head back down the valley the way we had come up so we could walk around to the next valley, taking us closer to Everest. The walk back down was magical and one of the highlights of the trip….. powder snow softly falling still and total silence. We felt like the only people in the world. The pine and birch forests with juniper bushes bursting with red berries made it feel like Christmas and we were both excited at the thought of future winter hikes in Canada.
Dropping into the next valley on our quest to see Everest up close the change in landscape was stark. Quickly gone was the alpine forests replaced with a rocky harsh landscape ringed by black mountain peaks covered in snow. The snow was still welcome as it made everything beautiful.
The trekking got slower and slower as the altitude and cold increased and the mule trains were replaced by hairy slow moving Yaks packed with fuel and provisions. We had a surreal night in Pheriche with jazz music and dinner by candle light in our lodge before heading back to our sleeping bags.
Staying in Lobuche was hell. The temperature dropped to -10 degrees as soon as the sun dipped behind a peak and it continued to plummet the rest of the night. Hell continued with the loudest snorer ever heard sleeping next door which stopped either of us sleeping the whole night. The room was so cold, in the morning we could not see out the window for the amount of ice and frost that had accumulated on the glass inside the room. The toilets had frozen solid and some smart chap left a turd to freeze in the bowel. The floor was covered in a thick layer of ice, making the trip to the bathroom a slippery encounter that was only undertaken in desperate times. We could not wait to escape.
A quick couple of hours trekking we scrambled up the rocks to Gorak Shep, a humming lodge town. Helicopters flew in and out taking trekkers down who has succumbed to altitude sickness. The number of helicopter trips were worrying. Trekkers in organised groups were pushed to their limit to make it up and down the mountain within a tight schedule causing sickness for many. The air was one of jubilation for all other trekkers as we had reached the final town and were in good health. All that was left was a short easy side trip to Everest Base Camp to see the sign and avalanche where ~ 27 Sherpa’s lost their lives last year and steep 400 meter climb to witness Everest in all its glory at sunrise and sunset on the top of Kala Patthar, 5,550 meters up in the air. Sunset was a non-event, after a two hour climb a snow storm came in bocking our all views, a total white out. The crashing of avalanches was all we heard and it was quite daunting to be the only people this high up in a snow storm. Phone reception worked though receiving a SMS from Shalome…. one for the record books at 5,550 meters up!! Sunrise viewing was successful and we managed to see the black granite pyramid of Everest in sharp relief from the surrounding mountains.
Belting out two long days in hiking we managed to make it down the mountain valley in record time. The views were specular; we could fully appreciate the sharply ridged peaks around the valley and watch the colour change in the glaciers. Before dropping back into civilisation we are reminded of the unforgiving nature of Nepal. Memorial’s to all the Sherpa’s and people who have died in the mountains made us appreciate just how fragile human life is in Everest.
Back in the pine forests we enjoyed a celebratory beer sitting outside in the falling dusk, appreciating the warmth of the evening. We were in luck to make it to Lukla in time to change our flight out to the next morning as we were returning early due to not making it over any of the passes due to the weather. We were happy to call it a day, we were in desperate need for a hot shower and clean clothes. The dogs would follow us around smelling appreciatory at our bodies. The flight out proved to be dramatic with no one knowing if the plane could land before the cloud and mist would creep up the mountainside and shroud the airport, resulting in flights being turned around. There was a cheer from the passengers as a plane landed four hours late and we were over the moon it was our carrier. Back to Kathmandu, the city of warm showers and clean clothes for us.