Friday, 30 September 2011

Peaks and Quakes

Cairn at Gokyo Ri

We enjoyed our final week at the school and we had lots of fun with our new friend from Birmingham, Colette, who had also come to volunteer at the school. The girls had much fun chatting about Midlands life with Brummie accents! At school all was very busy as we finished the library, computers, resources and covered lessons for an absent teacher, see the charity blog Nursery classes, a room with more than 40 little ones that don't speak any English, was challenging and very fun! We came to realise that they were not all sugar and spice and all that is nice, and enjoyed the odd round of WWF wrestling!

We had a party night the evening before leaving for our trek - a splash of Whiskey on the balcony and some final Lukla fun times with Colette singing "what's that coming over the hill?". Guy got annoyed with Emma for being unprepared and tipsy when she should be packing and sober, but she insisted that having fun was most important! We set of late the next day...

Day 1 - Lukla (2800m) to Namche Bazaar (3440m)

Beginning the Trek in Lukla

After packing up our home for the last five weeks we began our trek at around mid day, a little stop at Sangay's shop for a Chocopie and we were set for the familiar route to Namche Bazaar. With Guy's previous weekend record time of 03:40 as the benchmark, we had rainy weather and heavy bags so set a target of five hours to reach Namche. After around 04:40 hours walking we reached Namche and returned to our favorite guest house - Hotel Tibet. We met Mingma, the owner, and again he was very generous - we had many free hot lemon drinks, a free room and as much dhal baat as is possible to eat! He informed us that he owns another guest house in the Khumbu region, Chukkung, where his wife was living and he suggested we should stay there. Though it is not on route to Everest, how could we resist the great hospitality so we agreed to stay there, at the foot of the famously beautiful Ama Dablam mountain in two nights time.

The First Glimpse of Everest on the way to Namche Bazaar

Day 2 - Namche Bazaar to Pangboche (3930m)

Another beautiful morning in Namche, we took a quick trip to the National Park headquarters for the classic Everest view then begun on the walk to Tengboche. We passed a group from the University of Bath down  a big valley after Namche, and pressed on up the steep other side, reaching Tengboche as the weather begun to turn. It an attractive Buddhist village with a significant monastery where most groups rest for the night, but we decided to press on to the next town of Pangboche - a recommendation of Mingma's. So we stopped for a quick Wai Wai noodle and onion campstove lunch and became disturbed by some inquisitive horses who nearly knocked off the pan and a trekking group from Nottingham we previously met in Lukla returning from basecamp. We reached Pangboche in the afternoon and stopped at a lovely little guest house for the night where we chatted to Brendan, a Geologist from a large group studying glacial lakes over near Chukkung. Unfortunately the altitude had got the better of him and he was descending the next day.

The Path to Pangboche

Day 3 Pangboche to Chukkung (4730m)

We set off in the sunny morning and passed through Dingboche - a large village full of guest houses for the Everest trekkers. Guy was allowed to buy two overpriced Marathon bars, as the further you go up into the mountains, the exponentially more everything costs (as it must be carried by porters on their heads)! The weather was good as we proceeded off the Everest path and towards Chukkung and Island Peak. We passed the base of Ama Dablam but it was shrouded in cloud so we could not appreciate its beauty at this point. Reaching Mingma's guest house, we realised we were also staying with about 30 Geologists from Brendan's group. Chindi, Mingma's wife, was as hospitable as usual and we had a jolly good dahl baat followed by an invitation to join the Geologists for a lecture about Glacial Lakes in Bolivia and another about damage to the ecosystem in the Everest region - Emma felt right at home, being back among fellow scientists at a conference!

Day 4 Chukkung to Gorak Shep (5164m)

Guy on a Snowy Chukkung Ri

We awoke early with the intention to Summit Chukkung Ri (5550m) before daybreak. Setting out in all of our layers with our headtorches, the snow was falling fast. We decided some way up that due to the clouds and snow, we would not see summit views of the top of the Himalayas. So with Gorak Shep as the destination, we headed back down, gleefully crunching in the fresh snow. Emma loved the "Christmas Yaks" in the snowy village. We arrived back at the guesthouse for a big breakfast from Chindi and headed on the way to Gorak Shep.Chindi came running out after us and gave us a packed lunch for the journey! Due to the weather we decided not to attempt the high Kumbhu Glacier pass, and returned to Dingboche, where we regained the trail to Everest. The valley cleared up in the morning ant we were presented with stunning views of Ama Dablam emerging through the clouds.

Ama Dablam (6848m)

The weather during the afternoon was good and we were back in shorts and t-shirts as we headed towards Labouche. We met a lovely group of Indians from Chennai (Where we first set foot in India some seven months ago) on the way and were reminded how smiley the Indians are! When we reached Labouche we had to decide whether to press on further - The evening was drawing near and the altitude was compressing our minds. After a decision cup of warm tea, we decided to make the push to the last village on the journey - Gorak Shep. The final two hours were particularly challenging - high icy terrain, river crossings and steep, rocky path but we made it before dusk and settled into our tiny box room for the night after our longest and hardest day yet.

Prayer Flags over the Pass near Dingboche

Day 5 Kala Patthar (5644m) and Everest Base Camp (5364m)

 Everest and Nuptse from Kala Patthar

05:00. We arose early to a misty Gorak Shep and begun the climb up Kala Patthar. In the morning frost, the curious alpine flowers of the highlands of the world amused us with their alien appearances. We took many photos in the short time window before the sun rises behind Everest and then continued our journey to summit. Guy was feeling light headed with the altitude and the last 100m was a struggle, but it was a glorious morning and well worth the early rise.

 Kala Patthar Summit 5644m - Our Highest!

Though it wasn't a crisp clear day it was very atmospheric the way the clouds moved and swirled around uncovering more and more giants in every direction. After a cup of Russian tea at summit (a disputed altitude between 5545 - 5644m) with some friendly folk we descended back to Gorak Shep. We had reached the highest point that we have ever climbed.

Up in the Clouds - Kala Patthar

After double breakfast we set out for Everest base camp. People along the trail had said base camp was a bit like the Effiel tower, boring but you have to go and see it. We felt differently, the views were amazing along the glacial valley. And surprisingly, the sound of the glacier was beautiful also - from complete crystal clear silence to the great rumble of a distant avalanche, the creaking of melting and moving glaciers and grinding of landslides. The ambiance was amazing. Emma discovered that she was not so fond of glaciers as she scrambled on hands and knees around the icy edge of a glacial lake, while guy decided he would like to run the Everest marathon next year as he skipped around the edge!

 The Kumbu Glacier Below, at the Foot of Lhotse - Everest in the Clouds

After about an hour of glacial scrambling we arrived at base camp. Interestingly it was busy for this time of year, there was a Japanese party spending the next month there to acclimatise before climbing Everest (this being his final climb of the highest mountain on each continent without oxygen). After poking around and with Guy admiring the tech gear and tents, we decided all looked rather civil at base camp and returned to Gorak Shep for the evening.

Old Everest Basecamp Rock (it moves constantly as it is on a glacier)

Current Everest Basecamp (5364m)

Day 6 Gorak Shep to Dzongla (4830m)

A Perfect Morning at Gorak Shep

We had been chatting to other trekkers and porters about crossing the Cho La Pass, renowned to be a difficult route requiring ice equipment at certain times in the year to cross the two glaciers. This route would eventually lead us to Gokyo lakes. Hearing that conditions on pass were  looking good we decided to take the pass route. We had a short day of walking from Gorak Shep to Dzongla, aka Hicksville! Dzonglaa was an essential overnight stop close to the Cho La Pass. There was just one guest house and it had all the charm of Royston Vasey! Luckly, after some depressingly misty cold hours we had the company of two great Israeli boys; Omer and David who were to become out Cho La Pass trekking pals.
Guy with Everest in the Morning

Emma Navigates our Route at Gorak Shep

Day 7 Cho La Pass (Highest Point 5420m)  - Dzongla to Gokyo (4750)

After our first good night sleep at lower altitude and feeling better for having half a days rest we were walking by 05.00am with our Israli friends. The route soon became challenging and the four of us struggled to spot cairns or any other signs of a path. So we were reliant on our slightly iffy Nepalise print 1:60000 scale map and a compass (a backward compass at that since Guy kept it near a magnet of the camera case and north became south).

Guy Scaling the Snout of the Glacier at Cho La Pass

We Trekked around one huge glacier and over another to reach the pass. Once again Guy the mountain goat (or mountain bunny to the Isralis) crossed an icy ridge above a frozen lake with ease. Emma almost took a
freezing swim as she landslid down the ice toward the lake, while David and Omer were saved by Guy who had firm footing and could  swing them across with walking poles. With the four of us safely across the snow began to fall, making the next climb up to the top of the pass more difficult. It was a steep, approx grade 3-4 climb but only about 20m high. Feeling wobbly, Emma had a little cry and claimed this was to be the last mountain she would ever climb! We made it to the top by 11.00am and immediately began the decent. Coming down the pass was equally treacherous, a steep and slippery scree, no path and the occasional landslide.

Emma, Omar and David on Top of the Glacier

Final Scramble to the Top of the Cho La Pass (note the icy lake of everyone's near demise)

We reached the village of  Thangna, a potential overnight stop, and used the last of our backpack rations to make a tasty lunch of Wai Wai noodles and boiled potatoes on the campstove. Powered by potatoes, the mountain bunnies were prepared to complete the trek to Gokyo, leaving our new friends to rest for the night at Thangna.
Wai Wai Noodles and Todays Special - Boiled Potato Slices!

The next leg of the Cho La Pass is crossing the enormous Ngozumpa glacier which happens to be the biggest glacier in the Himalayas! We followed our map to where the route across should have started but were confronted by a daunting sight; the glacier has receded considerably, leaving great pools of icy water in it's place. Confused, we headed back to the village to seek the help of locals who pointed us up the valley.

The Daunting Ngozumpa Glacier Crossing

Our map suggested it would take one hour to cross the glacier, but for us without a guide, a map and trying to follow the sporadic and indistinct cairns it took more than two. The great mounds of gravel moraine were a challenge to climb, and there seemed less icy patches than expected. We were quite amazed to see more strange vegetation growing on this hostile land. Our only real bearing was the great scar cliffs of the other side of the glacier so we scrambled in that direction. When we finally reached the other side, we climbed the walls of the glacier through the mists and beyond that we saw what we were looking for - a curious turquoise lake! Knowing that we were in the right direction for Gokyo we stopped for our last celebratory campstove nescafe. The walk to Gokyo from there that afternoon was fairly easy and the misty valley could be likened
to many in the Brecon Beacons. We reached the village of Gokyo, set around the third of six lakes in the region, and felt that we had made the best decision to conquer the infamous pass! We set up in a friendly guest house and spent the evening eating dhal baat with some Bristolian folk and a lovely American couple who were returning to Nepal after 30 years away.

Map reading near Gokyo

Day 8 Gokyo Ri (5483m) to Mong (3900m)

Cho Oyo (8201m) in the Morning from Gokyo

We were up at 4.30am to climb our final peak of the journey, Gokyo Ri (5483m). Although lower in altitude than Kala Patthar it is said to be a steeper climb and the starting altitude is lower. It was a stunning dawn, the full moon was still bright above the turqouise lake and the snowy peaks all around created eery shadows
in the still water. To the east the sky was already pink as the sun was rising and we knew we would have to be swift up the mountain to summit before the sun summits Everest. Unfortunatly we chased the sun  that morning and it won the race, though we still go stunning views photography of the top of the world was over. After 1h 13mins, precisely  we reached the summit. Decorated with rows of prayer flags, a Buddhist shrine and hundreds of cairns it was the most interesting summit we had ever seen, after much deliberation, Guy admitted that he preferred it to his beloved Crinkle Crags in the Lake District! We spent another two hours there after exploring the summit, walking along the top ridge and taking lots of photos, before descending to Gokyo.

Emma at the Summit of Gokyo Ri

Guy Climbs to the Highest Peak of Gokyo Ri

We had planned to take an afternoon rest day, but Emma became emotional about feeling so dirty (it had now been six weeks without a shower) and not sleeping well altitude. So we packed up, had lunch with our friends, including the Isralies who had reached Gokyo in the morning, and headed down...or so we thought!

Gokyo Lake (note the huge Ngozumpa glacier to the left that we crossed the previous eve)

The first few hours of walking we didn't stop, we passes through valleys (that were again comparable to those in Wales or the lakes), past tumbling waterfalls, the shrubs turned to trees and we walked through enchanted forests. The ground was wet and squelchy and we felt very at home. We also passed through quaint little farming villages, far more rural and Nepali than some of the purpose built Trekking villages on the way to base camp.

Yaks are Found all over the Khumbu Region

Emma found the first "missy dog" of the travels, an excitable Lhasa Apso Who followed us with her dingley bell until Guy had to pursuade her to head home with some expert growling.

Missy in the Mountains

We walked into the evening, and proud of our progress on the map we thought we could make it all the way to Namche. The next village was Mong, the only village on the map that strangely didn't have an altitude. The contour lines suggested an uphill climb and it certainly was! We climbed into the dusk, up the biggest hill ever that seemed as if it would never ever end to Mong La (3900) (La meaning hill, had this been written on the map we would have been more prepared!). Very tired and achey we rested at Mong La. Guy met his favorite climber in the little guest house. He was from Korea and stated, to Guy's evening of laughter: "I have a girlfriend - she is very ugly".

Day 9 Mong La to Namche Bazaar (3930m)

Ama Dablam from Mong La

We awoke to a lovely view of  Ama Dablam (Arguably the prettiest mountain of them all), ate breakfast in the morning sunshine and started walking. We passed through the village of Kumjung and within two hours arrived in Namche. Then we had a rest day! We drank real coffee, went shopping and Guy could finally have all the Pepsi and chocolate he needed (Emma put him on serious rations on the mountains as these luxury items cost up to £3 each!). We even went to the "cinema" to watch a true story about an fatal attempt to climb Everest, and came out feeling rather sad! That evening at hotel Tibet although Mingma was not home we did catch up with our friend Bharat from sunny garden in Lukla.

Day 10 Namche Bazaar to Lukla (2800m)

And so we began our final decent to Lukla, a path that we now knew in detail (there are 11 bridges, and 9  advertisements for Waves Pub Lukla which annoy us). The path was busy with "trekking dodo's" (groups of
westerners), their porters (each carrying several Westener backpacks weighing 30kg or more) and Sherpas stacked with supplies for the busy season ahead. We were very glad to be finishing our trek before the route became a motorway of human traffic! "Blooming Trekking Dodo's".

Sometimes you have to duck under the Sherpas huge loads, no pun intended

It turned out that Lukla had not changed much since we left - it was still shrouded in misty fog and raining...

 The Sign Reads; Welcome Back to Sunny Lukla

That afternoon we took a freezing cold shower for the first time in many weeks and headed up to the school to say our farewells. We ended up staying up at the school into the evening using the computers to write this blog. At around 6.30pm the ground began to shake and the power cut out. After so long surrounded by snowy mountains we thought it was an avalanche and darted for the door. The ground swayed beneath us for about 15 seconds and we realised that we were experiencing our first ever earthquake. The school building was creaking eerily and it was all rather exciting  (for Guy). Unfortunately, while running away from the building in the dark, Emma forgot that the playground was on two levels with a flight of steps between and she literally threw herself off the top layer. Guy saw her disappear into the darkness. Fortunately the fall only resulted in bruised and cut knees and a few days of limping to follow.

Emma's Earthquake Injury (She claims that the photo does not do her severe injury justice)

Back in the streets of Lukla, all was busy and the villagers were very frightened, most had never experienced an earthquake before. Although there was damage to some buildings and bridges, no one was seriously hurt (apart from Emma). We later learnt that the quake was 6.9 on the Richter scale at the epicenter in Assam, India. After the earthquake commotion we looked forward to escaping Lukla! The next morning we touched down safely in Kathmandu.

Our Private Plane - We were the Only Passengers!

Bonus Pics

 Christmas Yaks at Chukkung

In the mountains, the locals cook with ingenious methods - Solar cookers and dried yak poo coal predominantly!

Cairn in the Mist - Gokyo. Coming to a postcard near you soon!

The only Eat Natural bars to have ever made Everest Base Camp - Twice! Thanks Astrid - We enjoyed them very much.

1 comment:

  1. Hey folks, just found the card with the URL for your blog yesterday. Glad the cereal bars came in handy!