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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Gokyo Ri Trek

NEPAL | Monday, 1 April 2013 | Views [2604]

Lobuche 4910m > Shomare 4010m > Upper Pangboche 4000m

We awoke in such painfully cold conditions that we didn’t hang around.  I was feeling rotten again but in a different way – I thought I’d had an allergic reaction to something but now felt like I was coming down with a cold.  Hanging around at 5000m wasn’t helping so it was time to move down the valley.

The trail was pretty much straight down to Dingboche 500m lower in a valley that felt decidedly warmer.  Dingboche is a major place in these parts as many people choose to use this as a further acclimatisation base.  Obviously we didn’t and nor did we use Namche Bazar – did we go up too quickly?  Possibly, and hence my immunity being so low.  But, by this stage we’d already completed two high points of the trek and now have plenty of time to enjoy more.  There are various trekking options allowing you to enjoy the breadth and scope of this national park area.

We’d hoped to pass from one valley to another using passes but the weather forced us to alter our plans.  We’d spoken to people who’d used these routes and assured us the passes were open but only if you were prepared to wade through knee and waist deep snow.  It had taken groups 8 – 10 hours to plough their way through a route that usually takes half that time.   We decided to give it a miss as we were there to enjoy not endure the mountains.

Following lunch where the prices were noticeably lower now that we were too we decided to push on to Phortse.  However, by the time we reached the upper area of Pangboche an hour later I’d had enough.  In the end it turned out to be a good move as we found ourselves in a real village.  Obviously there were lodges too with ours being Gomba Lodge but most of the buildings were private homes and farms.  The more popular trek route is lower down the slope near the river so the bulk of the teahouses are down there too.  It was such a treat arriving somewhere feeling warm enough for a quick wash and not having to jump straight into our sleeping bags.  We spent the afternoon catching the sun’s rays and relishing not being cooped up in an ice box.

We weren’t fooling ourselves as we were still at 4000m and knew that as soon as the sun dipped the temperature was sure to follow.  However, it was good to enjoy an afternoon of relaxing having had a couple of quite tiring days at high altitude.  Mila then confessed that he’d also had a headache up at Gorak Shep and he too was pleased to be a thousand meters lower.  From our lodge we enjoyed very fine views of Ama Dablam 6814m until the usual afternoon cloud moved in.  This is one of the peaks you can obtain a climbing permit for but it looks very challenging.  The rock and glacier contour lines marked on our map look closer together for this peak than those on Everest.  Having seen both of these mountains in the flesh we have to say that Ama Dablam looks by far the more difficult to scale.  However, that peak plus a Tibetan Gompa made for a damn fine view from our bedroom window.

P.S. Happy Birthday Peter – sorry I couldn’t e-mail on the day but there’s not much in the way of internet cafes in these remote villages!

DAY 8

Upper Pangboche 4000m > Phortse Thanga 3680m > Dhole 4110m > Machherma 4470m

The day dawned perfectly for our 5th wedding anniversary with the sun rendering the high white peaks subtle shades of orange and yellow.  Or as Steve put it: A million dollar view from our $3 room.  We even had the treat of breakfast alfresco feasting on the perfect mountain vistas.

The early morning walk took us back down the opposite side of the valley we’d been on almost a week previously.  As ever the scenery was spectacular with a constant backdrop of dramatic massifs.  On reaching Phortse (which took longer than anticipated making us very glad we’d stopped in Pangboche) we stopped for a quick brew.  We then bid farewell to the Imja Khola ravine, plummeted 200m to a bridge and promptly crossed the Dudh Koshi Nadi.  From there it was straight back up the valley side to join the ridge walk; somehow the 300m ascent seemed disproportionately longer than the 200m descent.  Anyway we made it to Dhole in good time so only stopped for a bite to eat.  It was tempting to stop for the night as the sun was shining and we had new peaks to stare at.  However, we didn’t warm to the lodge we’d eaten in and Mila said it would be 3hrs maximum to Machherma.

What we hadn’t realised was this 3hrs also involved going up 350m starting with what felt like a virtually vertical section.  We hoped the going would become more Nepali flat once we were higher up on the ridge.  Sure enough it was but the snow melt and mud had been nicely churned up by yak hooves into a thick gooey mess.  So, instead of striding along this section we slipped, squelched and squirched gathering a thick layer of muck on our boots to trample into the next lodge.  None-the-less we were progressing along another of those impressive and stunning valleys.

About an hour from our day’s destination the wind picked up, the cloud thickened and the temperature dropped.  As we approached Machherma we were virtually in the cloud and it was trying to snow.  We reached Yeti Lodge without the weather declining further but spent the afternoon periodically encased in cloud.  This lodge was another with few guests but was well geared up to cater for our needs.  Obviously EBC is a major draw and the bulk of trekkers only venture into that area leaving the valley we were now in much quieter.  Sagarmatha National Park is stunning in its entirety and it would be good if the trekking traffic was shared out more evenly.  We expected to be rather chilly again that night but the lodge had provided us with thick warm blankets to complement our sleeping bags and thermal base layer.  What a romantic way to celebrate our anniversary!

DAY 9

Machherma 4470m > Gokyo 4790m

In theory today’s walk was a pleasant morning’s walk up a beautiful valley.  For Steve it was but for me it felt like I had to push myself every step of the way.  Yep, I still wasn’t feeling well and whatever I had was making me feel utterly lethargic.

Today we entered a valley dotted with lakes but unfortunately the bulk of them were still frozen solid.  The area felt much more dramatic that the Everest side with narrower valleys and a total lack of foliage.  It’s almost impossible to say which one is better but we felt this one had the edge although we can’t articulate the reason why.  Arriving in Gokyo felt quite similar to reaching EBC in that you’re faced with a wall of granite rock faces.  The trail continues up the Ngozumbu Glacier towards Cho Oyu, another of those peaks topping the 8000m marker.

Gokyo is made up of a sizeable collection of teahouses as a selection of trails pass through here.  We stayed in Gokyo Resort which was another lodge that excelled in catering for the needs and whims of trekkers.  We were very pleased that Mila had suggested this place as it would be our base for a couple of nights.  To be honest I don’t think you could choose a bad place to stay as they’re all positioned to give outstanding views from every window.  On saying that, it would be exceptionally difficult to build a lodge without it offering superb views. 

Gokyo is located on the edge of Dudh Pokhari (Lake No 3) but it was about 95% frozen over too.  A couple of ducks had flown in for the season and they didn’t sound impressed with what they found.  To be honest it’s amazing any wildlife survives in these desolate, harsh conditions but we’ve seen a number of species of birds and a rather cute hare.  Across the lake Gokyo Ri 5357m was looming large willing us to trudge up it for yet more views of that oh so famous mountain.  What we hadn’t realised when planning this trek was that the area would be gearing up for the 60th anniversary of the 1953 summit of Mount Everest by Hillary and Tensing.  It seems we’d be in and out of that valley in the nick of time as the crowds and expedition groups would start arriving on mass the following week.

DAY 10

Lodge 4800m > Gokyo Ri 5357m > back to lodge

I awoke feeling much brighter within myself but exceedingly uncomfortable as I’d blown up like a balloon.  Again I could barely open my eyes and I felt I had to hide my face away.  Some may say I’m not cut out for this altitude trekking but it doesn’t seem to stop me!  Mila decided he would join us on our virtually vertical ascent of Gokyo Ri.  We indicated that he was entitled to a day’s rest but the lovely fella doesn’t relish sitting around doing nothing. 

We’d pencilled in a steady 3 hours to reach the summit so didn’t need to set off at the crack of dawn.  We’d heard people setting of an hour or more ahead of us but we chose to wait for the benefit of the sun’s rays.  As soon as we’d crossed the dam over the lake the track started to ascend.  We knew it was going to be very steep initially and in actual fact it never really got any easier.  It was tough going but very doable and looking back down towards the teahouses helped to spur us on.  I was amazed when less than 2 hours after setting off Steve pointed out the prayer flags that marked the summit.  In fact we reached those very same flags shortly afterwards and had ascended 600m in less than 2 hours.  I reckon 300m/hr at an altitude of 5000m is good going.

So there we were atop Gokyo Ri which at 5357m goes straight into our top 10 of highest places we’ve stood on the planet.  More importantly, and this is always difficult to decide, it goes straight to Number 1 for best mountain panoramic view.  We felt much more on top of a summit that we had on Kala Patthar and were looking at even more stunning and dramatic scenery.  Just to top it off the views of Mount Everest are far superior from here.  From the angle we were at it finally looked like the world’s highest massif as his friends Lhotse and Lhotse Shar were slightly to the right.  This also meant we had perfectly clear views of the South West face and, as peer as it as I did, I couldn’t see if anyone was on their way up or not!

The weather was 100% in our favour which always helps when making a decision as to which view from which mountain was superior.  That said, we feel this one has to win as the scenery was so utterly spectacular for a full 360o.  Looking at the roof of the world, whilst feeling like you’re stood on a section of it, is an incredibly special moment.  To illustrate how fabulous the conditions were we ended up staying on top for about an hour simply gawping at how dazzling the Himalayas truly are.  This was the ultimate highlight of the trek so far – would anything be able to beat it?

We returned to the lodge before lunch time and felt we’d had a most satisfactory morning’s jaunt.  Following a nice rest sitting in the sun we went for an afternoon stroll.  We had initially planned to go a little way up the valley but ended up on top of the low ridge behind the lodge.  There are supposed to be beautiful lakes in the area for those reflections photos but they were all still iced over.  In the end we were very glad we’d opted for the ridge as from there we looked down onto the Ngozumbu Glacier.  Although this is predominantly rock and scree covered we could see mini glacial pools, caves, crevasses and other ice sculpted features.  We didn’t wander far but it was lovely having the time and the weather to enjoy this area to its absolute maximum.  From the spot we chose to sit a while we couldn’t see another soul.

Since we’d had such a remarkable and memorable day we decided to toast it with a tin of beer and belatedly celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Yes, even at 5000m and in the middle of nowhere you can buy booze!  Sitting outside on the terrace watching others begin their trudge up Gokyo Ri was splendid.  People like to go up to watch the sun set but considering the typical mountain weather patterns I would say that’s a risky ploy.  Sure enough by 4pm (later than usual) wisps of clouds began to appear.  By 5pm the top of Gokyo Ri ws hidden beneath grey clouds and we did not envy those that were up there.

Gokyo Resort proved to be an excellent place and the family who own and run it are lovely.  They’ve developed just the right set up and deserve all the business and success they receive.  Mila even turned up with a new, and much better, coat which we think he was given in return for his helping out.  I’ve already said that he hates to sit still and at one point we saw him collecting water from the stream that leads into the lake – what a sweetie.

DAY 11

Gokyo 4790m > Dragnag 4700m > Thore 4300m > Phortse 3810m

Considering today’s final stop; Peaceful Lodge in Phortse saw us 1000m lower than where we’d breakfasted we seemed to walk up hill an awful lot!  We never like going back using the same route and had to go over the Renjo Pass.  However, we’d heard so many conflicting accounts as to the state of the path and how long the trek over would take, we decided to go back down he Dudh Koshi Nadi valley.  The stories ranged from; the pass was shut, it would take 12 hours through deep snow through to its easily walkable now and will take 5 hours.  Which one were we supposed to believe?

Walking back down the opposite side of the gorge gave us a different perspective and the highlight of the day was the first section to Dragnag.  This involved crossing over the Ngozumbu Glacier where we got a close up view of the features we’d looked down upon from Gokyo.  After that we seemed to spend far too long ascending since we knew we still had a long way to go down.   I think this shows that we were both now feeling pretty tired and mentally know this is the last section of the trek.  We knew there wouldn’t be much scope for altering the route from this point on as we were basically heading back to Lukla.

The beauty of using the trail on this side of the gorge was that very few people use it an in fact we only saw 4 more trekkers all day.  It does mean that you have to plan your walking times quite well as there are limited places to stay and eat.  We hoped that Peaceful Lodge in Phortse would be just that and we’d be able to get a restorative night’s sleep.

 

 

DAY 12

Phortse 3810m > Mongla 4000m > Khumjung 3780m > Namche Bazar 3440m

 

We did indeed get a good kip and we awoke with a renewed bounce in our step ready to tackle the last few days of the trek.  Today we were mentally prepared for a Nepali flat day and knew there’d be much undulating before ending up 400m lower.  From Phortse we went straight down 200m to cross the river.  From there it was a steadily steep path up 400m to Mongla which is perched atop a crest diving two valleys.  It turned out to be a small collection of teahouses located with fine views all round.  From here we could clearly see a huge chunk of the trail we’d used the previous week. 

Since we had plenty of time we rested and watched the comings and goings.  It’s always fun watching people huffing and puffing their way up the lower reaches of a trek when you’re on your way back down.  We’d had a late start to the day to make sure we didn’t break for lunch too early and to ensure we didn’t reach our final destination too soon.  From Mongla the path gradually worked its way down the slope and we were amazed at how many people we passed going in the opposite direction.  Not only had we been and gone before the expeditions arrive in force but we were also ahead of European school holidays.

We reached Khumjung by early afternoon and were shocked to see the size of the place.  We thought we’d stumbled into Kathmandu until we noticed how eerily quiet the place was!  Most trekkers pass through, if not stay, here at the beginning of their trek for acclimitisation.  So why did if feel so devoid of life or atmosphere?  We broke for lunch but stuck with our plan to carry on to Namche Bazar.  It had been cloudy all day and the temperature dropped markedly by mid-afternoon.  We were surprised when Mila announced we were now in Khunde and pointed out the track to take us down to Namche.  Neither of us could discern where Khumjung ended and Khunde began although we had wondered why there were two significantly large stupas.  This second one is accompanied by a very impressive and lengthy mani wall; the longest in the Khumbu area we’re led to believe.

As we approached Namche Bazar we came across of strip of cleared land – the airport.  This one isn’t for commercial flights so to describe it as a hut at the end of an upward sloping field will give you a clearer picture.  This is where supplies for general use and expedition gear land plus emergency helicopters use it.  It was interesting to see all the activity going on and it truly hit home just how much stuff is transported into the mountains.  Once again we were awed by the strength of the porters and quietly thanked them for their back breaking work.

Namche Bazar is a rabbit warren of inter-connecting streets with the town built around the horseshoe shaped dale in which it sits.  Here the teahouse system of; we’ll give you a cheap room (i.e. Rs200) if you have all your meals with us, falls down.  There are some places that operate like this and there are very expensive hotels ($50 a night) but middle ground options are available.  The trouble is it’s difficult to find somewhere offering private facilities for less than $20 – why prices are suddenly quoted in dollars is a mystery.  In the end Steve managed to track down a Rs1200 room at the top end of town in Hotel Tibet.  So mid-range options do exists as do prices quoted in rupees but you have to be prepared to ferret them out.

It was so, so, so good to have a looong hot water shower and feel properly clean for the first time in a fortnight.  We were now looking forward to the double delight of hot water shower and clean clothes on getting back to Kathmandu!  Slightly premature thoughts as we needed to phone the agent in town to see if they could change our return flights.  It wasn’t a fruitful phone call and we won’t be entirely sure which flight we’re on until we get back to Lukla.  Hopefully we won’t have to hang around there for too long.  When we were planning the trip in Kathmandu it was difficult to know how long we would take to do the trek.  We only booked Mila’s services for 15 days so we have to get back to Lukla by 31st March to say farewell and thank you to him.  However, we erred on the side of caution and booked our return flights for 3rd April.  Hey ho!

Meanwhile back in Namche; we enjoyed choosing where we wanted to eat and had hoped to stay up past 8pm.  The clouds steadily thickened and it started to rain so we ended up beating a retreat indoors and were still in bed very early.

DAY 13

Namche Bazar 3440m

With time on our side and feeling quite tired we decided to have a rest day.  As I’ve said most people so this on the way up so we decided to have a de-acclimatisation day instead!  As you know I’d not been feeling 100% fit and healthy during the trek and we reckon I’d had EMS (Emma’s Mountain Sickness) as opposed to the commonly known AMS.  We’d read some information on altitude sickness in one of the teahouses but my symptoms didn’t conform to any of their descriptions.

Should you find yourself with the following you know you’ve got a good dose of EMS:

  • Horribly bloated body especially hands and feet
  • Fat and numb face including very swollen eyes
  • Hollow head on tapping forehead
  • Water blocked ears (like after having dived into a pool)
  • Persistent cough
  • Disproportionately breathless
  • Fighting for breath when lying down – convinced your sleeping bag is suffocating you
  • Aching thighs
  • Dry skin akin to a snake about to shed
  • Purple and white fingers and toes

Remedy?  Keep trekking preferably the higher the better and push yourself to the limit!  Then when you’ve had your fill of the glorious, fabulous and stunningly beautiful mountains you came to see – descend.

What made me suffer this time when I’ve always been fine at altitude?  In truth we don’t know but I suspect it may have been my fault for going up too fast as I was so keen to see Mount Everest.  My other thought is that my poor circulation has got worse over the years plus, your body changes as the years tick by.  We’ve read accounts from serious mountaineers who’ve jogged up high peaks in their youth but later in life have found even 5000m a struggle.  In short no-one really understands altitude sickness.

Now you see the need for a reverse rest day!  On returning to Kathmandu I did a quick internet search and it seems there are 4 mountain sicknesses related to altitude, with AMS and HAPE being weaker versions of CMS and HACE respectively.  The latter two are potentially fatal and I was relieved to find I fell into the HAPE category but, not impressed to suffer from an altitude related illness.

Anyway, having a late breakfast and a slow wander round the shops, all at a much lower elevation, helped to eliminate some of my symptoms.  It took a few days longer for me to feel fully fit again.  In the end we decided to celebrate our trek and have a few beers slightly early.  Namche is a peaceful town with a mountainous backdrop – much nicer than the fumes and chaos of Thamel, Kathmandu.

 

DAY 14

Namche Bazar 3440m > Monjo 2835m > Phakding 2610m

Other than the slight up and down involved in crossing the river (which we did several times) today was as down dominated as those figures suggest.  Descending a further 800m and being below 3000m helped to see off my EMS!

This section of the trail was very busy as everyone covers it at least once while in the area and like us most people use it twice.  We definitely timed our trek well as we got to be in the Everest and Gokyo regions while they were still relatively quiet.  Today it took us just as long to walk down hill and it took us to walk up a fortnight ago.  There was a constant stream of porters, trekkers, yaks and mules and many was the time we had to stand aside to let loads and animals pass.  Plus we often had to wait for our turn to cross the suspension bridges.  Not that we were in the least bit bothered as we had all day to cover a relatively short distance. 

It’s always a shame to leave mountains behind but we enjoyed being back in the forest.  The spring blossoms and rhododendron blooms were in full colour making the villages look even more picturesque.  To make sure we didn’t reach today’s destination too early be didn’t leave Namche until 9am.  We’d read that the Saturday market was worth a visit so went to have a look.  There was a limited range of goods on offer; locally grown veggies, meat and seeds along with dried packaged goods.  To be honest it wasn’t particularly interesting but the setting was superb so we were glad we’d popped along.

Not long after setting off we saw some people peering into the shrubbery and taking photos. It turned out there was a little musk deer close to the path and it was brave enough to stay there munching away.  Usually deer are very skittish so it was lovely to get the chance to observe and photograph this one.

To break up the day further we called in Monjo Guesthouse for a brew and this time we got to enjoy the views from their garden.  It had been raining when we stayed there so it was good to enjoy the sun for a while.  In fact as we continued the clouds began to gather and it was spitting by the time we reached Phakding.  It hadn’t been a long day’s walk but at least we were settled into our room in Namaste Lodge before it started raining.  Once again we’d been lucky in our avoidance of adverse weather as it was quite heavy.

DAY 15

Phakding 2610m > Lukla 2840m

We knew today would only be a short stroll back to the beginning so as yesterday we didn’t set off until 9am.  Unusually for a trek the last section was uphill but we only ended up 200m higher than the previous night.  The walk only took us a couple of hours and once again we passed loads of big groups including school parties.  We’re glad we’re not going up now.  More importantly than missing the crowds, the weather hadn’t been as good over the last couple of days.  It was good to think that we’d been in the heart of the mountains at the right time to see them so perfectly clearly.

We ended up having to stay at Himalaya Lodge in Lukla as its linked with the agency we used in Kathmandu.  The place was perfectly fine and the boss managed to get us onto flights for the following morning.  The lodge is slightly out of town but incredibly handy for the airport, like it’s next door.  In fact the lodge virtually doubles up as a departure lounge and the staff tell you when we need to walk the few yards down the hill!

We’d had a fantastic trek but of course it was a shame we were in the area slightly too early to go over one of the passes.  Plus I would have been much happier to have not had my bout of EMS!  The scenery was stunning and dramatic in the Everest region and, we feel, even more so in the Gokya area.  In among our pottering we attained a high point of over 5000m on 4 separate occasions:

  • Kala Patthar 5550m wins for being the highest
  • Everest Base Camp 5364m wins for being the most famous
  • Gokyo Ri 5357m wins for being the most spectacular
  • Gorak Shep 5140m wins for being the highest point we slept at

We had a superb time and it was a privilege to experience this oh so famous part of the world.  Now that the trekking was finally over we were keen to get back to Kathmandu as soon as possible.  Why?  For a long thoroughly cleansing shower and to put clean clothes on!

P.S. Happy 40th Birthday Michael – we may not have e-mailed on the day but we did raise a glass to you.

DAY 16

Lukla > Kathmandu

Depending on your thoughts on flying in small planes and your comfort levels with heights you’d find this flight either exhilarating (me) or decidedly unnerving (Steve).  Steve doesn’t seem to think that planes should take off by; accelerating along a downwards sloping runway, launching themselves off the mountain side and soaring into the valley ahead. 

The weather was much better than when we’d landed so we got fabulous views.  The snow-capped peaks were set against blue skies and we could see right down to the glacial rivers in the valleys below.  A grand finale to what has probably been the best trek of our lives. 

We worked out that it cost us around $100 per day as a couple and that included; return flights (Kathmandu – Lukla), porter including tips, permits, airport transfers & taxes and lodge food and accommodation bills.  If you’re into trekking – go for it! 

 

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