From high passes to trekking central: Gokyo

Posted on 19 Apr 2018

As I struggle the last few metres and the wind funnels through the gap in the peaks, half my vision sees the gathering clouds behind and the other half sees towering flutes of snow rising to the top of the peak; the bright sun on the other side of the pass. There is symbolism all around me: storm clouds, wind, drainages going different directions, the struggle to reach the top and teamwork, so that we all make it safely. Each pass seems to have its own special blend of pain and pleasure to make it hurt so good.

We’ll cross our third high pass in four days at Sherpani Col and West Col which is at nearly 6,200 metres (20,400 feet) with Amphu Labsta awaiting. We are camped a couple of hundred metres below it's 5,845 metres. Two nights ago we camped above 6,000 meters at Baruntse Camp 1 between the two Cols. 

Though we’ve had relatively good weather and conditions for the crossings it has been a struggle. Our teammate and friend Ricardo became unwell when we were at the Sherpani Col Base Camp and he had to be helicoptered out to Kathmandu. We hope he’s doing well and that he will be up to rejoining us for stage three of the GHT. The rest of us are doing well and enjoying the challenges of travelling through one of the most unique landscapes in the world. It’s not to say we aren’t ready for some warmer nights, hot showers and favourite foods!

As always, the staff are fantastic. At the end of each day, we all feel as though we’ve been pushed to the max but can’t think of any place we’d rather be. 

Amphu Labsta Pass

As I turn 360 degrees, the spires of unnamed mountains tower above. Snow and ice cover nearly the entire scene, some from last night's brief dusting which will make the morning travel that much more difficult. There's blue ice which flowed from the mountain heights and some chunks which precariously hang waiting to fall to the rocks below. 

Others have passed this way but there are no trails to speak of. There are campsites used by climbers; at the base of big mountains and mountain passes, and occasionally vague paths between the boulder fields we hop across.

The passes we’re crossing move us from one glacial base to another. Time hasn’t had a chance to smooth the shoulders of the mountains that define the boundaries and make it into walkable terrain. These are passes crossed with ropes to help us get up and down the other side. Once across, we look back and wonder, 'Did I cross there?'

We wait and watch as the porters scramble down the same line we did. Next the bags are lowered down the nearly vertical blue sheet of ice and climbing Sherpa’s struggle to keep them from an icy crevasse. Then we’re off again, crossing the remnants of a glacier that once filled a basin that stretches for miles. The ice gives way to boulders piled into ridges that we must cross to get to the next pass and do it all again. 

Yellow beaked alpine crows join us at each camp looking for the scraps from dinner. Not much lives here this time of year. Moss hang on in some bare spots and scrubby grass will turn green in a few weeks, but there’s no evidence of yaks in these high basins. Just us, and we’re very temporary; just passing through. 

The five of us sat purched together at the top of the pass – Ken, Jim, Mick, Steve and Vince. Old prayer flags lay half buried in the winters snow and the ever-present crows enjoyed the fine sunshine and light breezes. We waited for the porter jam to clear from the steep descent below us as they lowered their loads and carefully made their way down the fixed ropes. 

As we enjoyed friendly banter, we watched the rescue helicopter make multiple trips to the pass area we had travelled through in the last three days. Proud that we had made it but knowing also that these passes challenge everyone and it could have easily been us being taken off the mountain. This route through Nepal tests your physical ability and our fortitude for dealing with challenges and hardships. 

We all agreed today was probably the hardest of our trip so far, but also the most rewarding. We’re looking forward to a rest day. c

Gokyo

We have left the isolation of the high passes behind and are now passing through the heavily travelled Khumbu region of Nepal and it is one of the peak seasons for visitors. On the trail, it can be a bit challenging with all the traffic to get that same feeling of connection to your surroundings, but the mountains and snow cocks and yaks are still there, you just have to block out some of the distractions. 

There are advantages to the fellow trekkers in that there are bakery shops and warm lodges and hot showers and WiFi. We have taken advantage of all the above.

We’re in Gokyo at the moment and spending our second night at a lodge here. The rooms are all full and the shared dining room is warm and filled with people from all over the world sharing stories, reading books, writing diaries, eating meals and generally being social in a unique environment. Not a bad way to spend a rest day. It’s cloudy and a bit windy outside, but the view from the dining hall of the glacial Gokyo Lake is beautiful. 

Our typical afternoon snow flurry is right on schedule. The tents have been pitched and gear has been arranged by each of us according to our own systems; sleeping pad and bag ready. Extra clothes tucked as a prop for the right reading angle. Everything just right to spend a little personal time in my own space after a challenging 6-7 hours getting over a pass. It’s surprising how warm and cozy you feel tucked into that little space hidden from view, out of the wind and snow. 

But wait, the snow has stopped and the clouds are parting. There are those mountains again calling to come and look at how far they reach into the sky – and how colorful they are with the last day's light playing tricks with the shadows on the ridges. Maybe just a short walk up that small hill will show me something I haven’t seen before.

The snow cocks are excited that I’ve left my little dome and accompany me as I wander up and over the rocky ridge to see what’s there. 

Next Up

Tomorrow we leave Gokyo to head over Renjo pass. Only three more days with the Everest/Makalu group. We’ll be sorry to see them go as it’s been a blast working together and sharing experiences with a diverse group. Ken and I are already counting the days to Kathmandu for a little R&R. We can’t get ahead of ourselves though, as we still have two weeks and two big passes before we get there. 

As always, we appreciate the comments on the blog. We read them every chance we get. We are feeling in the “zone” now being 50-plus days on the trail, though we’ve dropped some weight and the altitude isn’t a major factor from when we first started.

We hope to connect to some of you and hear what’s happening. Ken sends happy birthday wishes to Jen in Calgary. 

We're still chasing down those Himalaya dreams. Seeing all the beauty around us is keeping us humble and makes us realise how lucky we are.

All the best from the GHT.

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