With a pocketful of potato momos (that would come in handy in an unexpected way) I was up at 5:45 and out the door 5 minutes late. We had a long flat walk as the light grew in the beautiful mountain valley.
The first hour was very pleasant as the climbing was gradual and the cool morning air felt nice. Once we hit the climbing though…it was hard. My legs were utterly useless–they felt lifeless and devoid of all power and energy. Not so much macaroni legs as instant noodle legs. I had to stop for a breather every 5 minutes, gasping for air as we climbed up and up. I fell out of sight of everyone, even the other group of 5 that had left after us. My only companion for a while was a cool dog who had joined us just outside the lodges.
It was beautiful though, and I had good music. Today was the day that Ashraf and I traded playlists. While there were a few songs that I didn’t dig (Dave Matthews is not my favorite) it really helped me push up toward the pass. The snow grew deeper and as the sun shone I began to seriously posthole through meter deep crust. Even music wasn’t doing it for me and so I turned it off and trudged one step at a time. Finally, at about 8:30 in the morning, we made it to Cho La.
And well worth it it was. Bad sentence construction aside, the views were out of this world. The dog had come all the way to the top with us and I fed her some potato momos, which had frozen in my pocket. Max, who worked in Antarctica, was taking photos of the dog when Jaimie walked up to him.
“Need something, bro?” Max asked.
“I wanna take a picture of the dog,” Jamie said.
“Cool, I’m getting some good ones,” Max said. The dog was posing with great mountain backdrops behind her.
“Yeah, I know. You’re in the way of the picture I want to take,” Jamie said.
Max stared at him and then kindly moved out of his way. To his credit, Jamie did offer one of his two power bars to Ashraf but after the controversy of the previous night no one really wanted to take it. (Plus Ashraf found his stash of gummy bears and took them down.)
We all sat up there for 20 minutes or so, but it was chilly and we still had a long way to go. Equally importantly, the longer we waited, the more the snow and ice would melt and the rest of the day would grow more difficult. As we descended, a guy coming up the other way complimented me on my yeti beard.
We went down a steep scree slope, covered with now melting ice and snow. There was lots of slipping, sliding, and near ankle breakers. The landscape was now less beautiful and more primordial–dark black boulders, big mountain peaks, snow as far as the eye could see, a few puffy white clouds in the stark blue sky, and little else.
We followed cairns across the landscape, descending for hundreds of meters before groaningly seeing the path climb back up again. We crosses several moraines this way and hours passed. The wind picked up and the bright sun melted the ice, creating an icy river for us to walk through. It was exhausting work, but eventually the four of us passed our dopplegangers and, somewhat unexpectedly, we never saw them again. Finally we reached a steep climb down to Dragnag. Here the wind stopped for the first time since the top of the pass, and when it picked up again it was mellower, and softly carried the scent of pine trees.
We could (and probably should) have stopped in Dragnag, but it was only noon and the weather was fine. To be honest, we thought it was only about 45 minutes to Gokyo but actually it was more like 3 hours. To get there, we had to cross a glacier with lots of ups and downs, amidst rockslides and avoided holes that were up to ten meters deep.
Tempers flared again, and Jaime ended up shouting fuck you to Ashraf for reasons no one really ever figured out. The three of us walked ahead of him for a while, and then when he caught up he ran out of memory card storage. This was funny because he had mocked me earlier in the hike for not taking my photos at max capacity. So while he sat and deleted photos we pushed on.
Mads of course was flying Legolas-style over the glacier. Ash and I were both lagging behind (all of this day was at close to 5000 meters), but even as depleted as we were it was hard not to marvel at the crazy formations on the glacier. The day never seemed to end and it was more mental powers than physical that got us across. Finally, some 7 hours after we’d left, on a day that had seen heights of 5368 meters and lows of 4700 meters (which had felt quite warm!) we came to the steepest climb of the day.
It was icy and muddy and so steep that it took hands and knees to slowly climb up. There were rockslides galore, many not far away from us, and, tired as I was, I decided that if one came after me, I’d duck and hide like a turtle and hope that my backpack could protect me. From all around us, we could hear huge falls of snow and ice and rock. Luckily, it was only 25 or 30 minutes to the ridgeline.
Mads had gotten to the top long before and had gone ahead to scout. He was back by the time we got to the top with good news. Nay, great news! Gokyo was in sight! We walked along the ridgeline and then descended into tiny Gokyo, which is a mere cluster of buildings on the side of the glacier. From above it looks so precarious that a large yak sneezing would blow it away, but it ended up having the nicest lodge of the trip.
For some time I had been fantasizing about the cup of hot lemon I would order when we got there. What did they do upon our arrival but give us a free cup of welcome hot lemon! We bargained a bit and got free rooms, and though my bed had some poo on it when I found out it was pikka poo I kind of didn’t care.
In the end it took over 8.5 hours of pretty tough walking. Maybe not a top 5 toughest hiking day for me, but for sure a top 10. But the views were incredible and the would-you-rathers and hypothetical animal fights kept us all entertained. We sat next to a warm fire and met all kinds of cool travelers. We met two ethnically Filipino girls from Montreal who live in Oz, the English couple we had heard rumors of back when we were trying to cross the first pass (they climbed for 4 hours and then turned back, so we chose well on that front), and a fascinating French Canadian who has biked across countries like India, Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia, lived in Bhutan for 2 years, and works as a tour guide in the Himalayas!
The food was good too. I got spaghetti arrabiata, which came with tons of garlic and onions and was improbably delicious. And the guys got yak steaks, which they said were good. We have 3 nights in Gokyo and there should be lots to do. Now it’s 8 pm and dark and cold and time to sleep the sleep of the dead!
From/To: Dzongla to Gokyo
Elevation: 4790 meters
Lodge: Gokyo Namaste