EVEREST HIGH PASSES TREK – March/April 2016
This is one of the greatest treks in the world. The Everest High Passes encompasses
all there is about trekking. Firstly, the mountains, these are the Himalaya, the biggest
mountains on earth, and they are enormous. Secondly, the local people, the Sherpa’s,
they are friendly, unique and helpful. Their spirituality, their culture are all there on display.
However, the reality is that the big drawcard for this trek is Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world.
People want to not only see the mountain, they want to experience a piece of how it feels to take on
this peak. They want to live parts of the Everest story, visit Base Camp, talk to the climbers walking up
to Base Camp, chat to trekkers from other parts of the world also taking on this challenge.
Front and centre when you first arrive in the Khumbu (the Sherpa name for their home region) is the
Buddhists religion and their culture. This is manifested in their villages but also their monasteries and
the Mani-walls that split the middle of most trails in the region.
The villages like Namche Bazaar, trading capital of the Khumbu, pay respect to the spectacular views that
surround them. Everywhere you look there is another amazing view.
Everest is not the only mountain in this region, it’s not even the most recognisable, or obviously the highest.
Mountains such as Ama Dablam feel like a constant friend, looking over your shoulder as you trek among
these giants. Benign and good natured on some days, violent and malevolent on others.
The trek starts down in the valley after you land at Lukla, falsely denigrated as the most dangerous airstrip
in the world, they put at least 20 flights a day into this airstrip with a minimal amount of fuss. I must
admit a real sense of adventure always pervades this trip when it starts with a Lukla flight.
Then you get to walk for a couple of days, on our specially designed itinerary at least, through low
land Sherpa villages staying around 2,800m, passing through villages like Phakding and Benkar.
This helps the acclimatisation process, you are eased into the altitude so your body has time to adapt.
Once you cross the Hillary bridge over the Dudh Khosi you then start the steep climb up to Namche
Bazar (3,400m), it takes about 2 hours from the river, but it’s 2 hour up! The bottom bridge is the
old one, the top bridge the new one, don’t get them mixed up!
Walking into Namche is wonderful particularly if you’re feeling healthy and you have no headache!
Now you have to spend the time to acclimatise, stay here for 2 nights. On your acclimatisation day ascend
the hill behind Namche up to the Syangboche airstrip, then climb a bit further up to the Panorama Hotel
for a hot drink. This is a very worthwhile view of the Everest massif and is the same altitude as the place
you are going tomorrow (3,800m), Thyangboche monastery, excellent acclimatisation.
The trail to Thyangboche from Namche contours around the mountain side before dropping down into the
river valley. A good place to have lunch before you have to ascend the other side. The climb to Thyangboche
takes about 2 hours from here.
We stay in Thyangboche for only one night, the water supply here is not so good, so we move
further up the valley to Pangboche. It’s only 100m higher in altitude but it’s a 3 hour walk, and
closer to our next day’s accommodation. We attend a monk’s prayer session in the evening and
spend time wandering in the serene surroundings. The view of the Everest massif is superb.
Stay out of the way of the Yak trains, always get on the uphill side of the trail as they come past, trekkers
have been pushed off the trail by the wide yak loads.
The trails from Pangboche to Dingboche now feels much higher, the tree-line is left behind, the mountains
feel even closer. Himalayan Thar can be spotted in this region, along with Musk Deer and Danphe Pheasants.
On our walk into Pangboche we saw a herd of Himalayan Thar, big, heavy mountain goats that nimbly
move over the hillside grazing on impossibly steep cliffs. Plus the view of snow blowing off the summit
of Everest were sublime.
The trail to Dingboche is now well above the tree line, it’s quite dry, sparse and barren, nothing to block
the views of the huge massif surrounding you. A lot of the walking is now on old glacial moraine.
The village of Dingboche is a welcome sight. Tomorrow we will climb the hill behind Dingboche, gaining
about 500m as part of our acclimatisation regime. There are some good views of Island Peak up the valley.
Village life goes on even though trekkers are meandering past.
We headed off the next morning for a climb up the hill behind Dingboche, everyone handled the height well.
We all went to differing heights, to where each of us felt comfortable before heading back down.
The views of Ama Dablam were different now that we were behind it.
And Island Peak looked dwarfed beside Lhotse, standing at the head of the valley.
From here we trekked to Lobuche 4990m, our highest place to sleep yet. We would really start to notice
the altitude from here.
Far below we could see the village of Pheriche.
Looking up the trail towards Lobuche we could see the trail we would be taking to the Cho La, you can see it
contouring around the mountains ahead.
Finally arriving in Lobuche after having lunch in Dugla and climbing the Dugla hill. Here there are many
Chortens erected in memory of the Sherpa’s, and now some Western climbers, who have died on Everest.
After just the one night in Lobuche we moved up the valley closer to our twin goals of Everest Base Camp (5350m)
and Kala Pattar (5550m). We’ll do EBC first that afternoon, after an early lunch at Gorak Shep (5250m),
our destination for the night. Then we’ll get up early the next morning and climb Kala Patar before
heading back down the valley, through Lobuche again, then to Dzongla for the night, below the Cho La (5420m).
It’s a busy few days ahead.
Kala Patar is the brown hill behind us, it doesn’t look like much, but wait til you have slog your way up there!
Gorak Shep is hidden just below it and behind the trekkers.
Looking up the valley towards EBC, Nuptse dominates the view, the Lho La and the Tibetan border are to
the left. The picture below is looking back down the valley at the way we’ve come up. Hard to see a way through!
Finally in Lobuche for a hot cuppa! Off to EBC after lunch.
Even at this altitude we keep up the ritual of “washy, washy”, antibiotic hand sanitiser to ensure good hygiene
and that germs aren’t passed around.
That afternoon we left the porters and our overnight gear at the Lobuche lodge while most of the group
went up the glacier to visit Everest Base Camp, a solid 3 hour round trip.
Even yaks can get to Base Camp! You can see the yellow tents in the distance. And the Khumbu Icefall
to the right of the Lho La, below the western shoulder of Everest.
Made it! Goal number one done. Now the good part starts, high altitude for the next 7 days!
The weather turned on us on the way back, just to remind you to always, always carry your Gore-Tex in
your day pack – at all times!
We head back to Gorak Shep for the night, our lodge is surprisingly comfortable and warm. Tomorrow we
begin the climb of Kala Patar (5550m) the highest point of our trek. We do it in the early morning to see
the sunrise over Everest – and to give us the best chance of having cloud free views. We were not disappointed!
It was a cold start, but when the sun came out it was greatly appreciated!
The views of Everest started from part way up, sunrise on Everest, not many people see that.
The summit seemed to be elusive, the trick was to get into slog mode and just put one foot in front of the other.
Don’t give up! The rock scramble at the end.
We hang around on the summit for some time before heading down.
Then we started down for breakfast, we still have some way to go today.
A two and half hour round trip, maybe allow 3 hours for extra time on top, bend the knees on the way down!
This is where your walking poles start to come in handy.
Breakfast in Gorak Shep, lunch in Lobuche, then we leave the traditional Everest Base Camp trail, instead
of going down the same way that we came up – like most others were doing – we contoured around the
mountain to the lodge of Dzongla.
We left the lodge in the early morning dawn, hoping to get over the pass before any bad weather might
set in. This is the ‘key’ day, once we get over this pass we can do a Grand Circle of the Everest region.
A beautiful valley, no farms or settlements up here, isolated and remote. No other trekkers in sight – yet.
The pass gets closer.
It’s always important to look back at the view of where we came from – they are often spectacular.
The trail up the pass gets steeper and steeper, but at no time do we need ropes.
We made to one end of the pass, now we just have to traverse the old, crumbling glacier to the other end
of the hanging valley, then pop over the other side and descend – easy!
Entering the ice filled valley, Dorjee and our Sherpa team are picking our path through, making sure all
the porters are travelling well too. There is a short, tricky bit, easily traversed on the left of the pass though.
The end is in sight, and the weather is still brilliant. We cross the icefield to the right hand side of the pass.
On top of the last part of the pass, ready to descend to warmer altitudes to eat our packed lunch.
Heading down, the first part is a bit tricky, lots of loose scree and rocks, best to take it easy for the first two
hundred metres or so, then the path is less steep and rocky. We’ll cross this valley to the right side.
Up and over into the next valley, make sure you look back.
Follow the river down into Tangnak, again, a surprisingly warm and comfortable lodge.
It was a longish day yesterday crossing the pass, so we only take a half a day to cross the glacier to Gokyo.
But it starts out quite steeply when we drop down the side of the moraine and on to the glacier.
Then we start to work our way across, zig zagging through the mounds of rock, ice and melting pools.
Cho Oyu, the sixth highest peak in the world, is constantly in the background at the head of the valley.
You’re looking into Tibet from here.
Finally, we climb up the other side and look down on the Gokyo Lakes.
And then make our way down into Gokyo Village (4720m), everyone looking forward to an afternoon to relax.
It is one of the most picturesque places in the whole Himalaya, certainly one of the most remote.
The next morning (not too early!) we start our climb of Gokyo Ri (5360m), the fourth goal of this trek.
It’s a three hour round trip, crossing to the other side of the lake, we’ll be back for a well deserved lunch.
Another steep start to get the blood pumping and the heart thumping, it soon turns just ‘regular’ uphill.
There’s a plateau about three quarters of the way up.
The views from here include not only Everest and Lhotse (4th highest), but also Makalu (5th highest)
and Cho Oyu (6th highest). Plus a plethora over ‘lesser’ peaks like Ama Dablam, Pumori and thousands
more. Some believe this is the best view of Everest, better even than Kala Patar.
Gokyo village is so small below.
And you’ll never guess who met at the top of Gokyo Ri, Peter Hillary, son of the first person to climb Everest
in 1953, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary. Peter has climbed Everest himself several
times now, but his most important work these days is as a director of the Australian Himalayan Foundation,
delivering much needed aid and help to Nepal. The Kiwi’s among us (Mike?!) were particularly excited!
We left at a respectable hour the next morning to start over our last goal, the second of the Everest High Passes,
the Renjo La (5420m). It took us about 4 hours to get to the top of the pass so snacks were required!
Remember to look back from where you’ve come. You can see Gokyo village in the distance.
The approach to the Renjo La was much more remote, we passed no other trekkers until we reached the top.
Finally, we gain the top, Renjo La, our last pass. It’s all downhill from here!
Get a little bit excited guys!
Have a wander around, but be careful, this is one of those up and over type of passes, not much room.
Then down the other side, heading towards our lunch spot by the lake, packed lunches never tasted so good!
Lunch spot next to the lake.
The trail gets easier as we get closer to Lungdhen (4380 m), it’s almost barmy weather at this altitude.
The next morning was a luxuriously warm start, we changed into our lower altitude walking clothes in
anticipation of it getting much warmer as we lost altitude on our way down. We were heading to Namche.
It looks a long way on the map but we were very fit, and very motivated, as were the porters and Sherpas,
so it only took us 6 or 7 hours. You can see Lungdhen village in the sun on the right side of the pic below.
It was a beautiful walk down the valley, through traditional Sherpa villages
Passing though the village of Thame, birth place of Tenzing Norgay and home to Appa Sherpa who has
summited Everest 22 times at last count.
Everyone was out in the fields getting them ready to plant the potato crop as the ground was warming.
Traditional Sherpa house and dry stone walling.
The trail was getting wider and we were seeing more cultural references.
Lots of Buddhist paintings and references on the trail
We had lunch in Thomo and really started to notice the villages were getting larger and the houses bigger.
Turn some pray wheels for good luck, we need the weather gods on our side.
Until finally, we rounded a corner and there was Namche Bazar.
And when you get to Namche, it might even be time to shop?
Or visit one of the many bakeries, cafes or bars!
Heading down the Namche hill the next day. But don’t look too smug at all the newbies coming
up the hill. You know what they’re in for, but you still have to get the flight out of Lukla. Pray to the
weather gods that it’ll all be well. Make sure you go around the correct side of the marni walls!
And turn lots of pray wheels too!
Finally back in our lodge in Lukla, the Numbur Hotel, our final meal, give out our tips to the
Sherpas and porters. They have bent over backwards to make this trek successful.
With good weather the next day, we get our flight out from Lukla on schedule and back to Kathmandu.
This is one of the best treks in the world. We made some great friends on this trip, worked with
some incredible Sherpas, like Dorjee, and the other staff. An experience that will never be forgotten.