Day Ten: Gorak Shep (Elevation 5665m at Kala Pattar, sleeping altitude 5164m at Gorak Shep) Walking time: two hours)
It was another bitterly cold night in Lobuche and Laura was less than impressed that the posh expensive lodge did not stoke a fine fire in the morning. It is a short walk through meandering moraine to Gorak Shep, at 5164m the highest place we slept on the trek. This was the first day that the trail felt crowded. At times there was a conga line of yaks, guides, porters, and trekkers. It was difficult to get into a good walking groove. We were glad that we were here on a low traffic year since we heard that this type of traffic jam was typical for the Everest trek. We stayed at the Himalaya Lodge, which was a hive of activity with lots of hustle and bustle, doors slamming, and trekkers bumping into each other. More annoyingly, you had to go outside for a pee since they only opened the internal toilets at night. You pee a lot at altitude so walking out into the freezing cold is not appreciated!
Gorak Shep is a godforsaken place so we decided to stay only one night. This meant that we had to haul ass up Kala Pattar to get our classic views of Everest. Kala Pattar tops out at 5665m, so it is a tough 500m up from Gorak Shep. Hopalong Cameron decided to join us. Will nothing stop this guy! The views are utterly sublime though from the top. Magnificent 360 degree views of the best that the Himalaya has to offer. You have seen the photos a million times but nothing prepares you for the scene from the top of Kala Pattar. No wonder it is the most popular trek in Nepal. Even better, the weather was as clear as a bell. We couldn’t have asked for better views. It’s damn windy on the top so eventually you have to relent and descend.
Everest (8848m) is the black pyramid at center and Lhotse (8516m) is the pointed peak on the right. The Khumbu Icefall, the main mountaineering route to Everest, is visible angling up from the glacier.
However, Laura wasn’t finished there. We ran to the lodge, guzzled down some hot tea, restocked on water, and headed part of the way back up for the sunset spectacular. OMS! (Oh My Satan!). The alpenglow was beyond sensational. The peaks glowed yellow, then pink, and finally, a deep red.
It was dark and cold by the time we got back to the lodge, but as we turned to look back up Kala Pattar we saw the tell-tale signs of folks hardier than us. A snaking train of flashlights heading down from the top. Brrr!
We had dinner with Bart the Krakow Mountaineer that we met on Day One. He had hooked up with a tough couple of guys from Montreal and New Zealand who were doing the Three Passes. He still looked bloody awful but he was soldiering on.
A lot of people link the EBC trek with the Gokyo trek with a high traverse over Cho La Pass. People make a big deal about this. However, despite the sniffy attitude of the Pass Crossers we decided to partially retrace our steps down the trail and connect the two treks at the junction at Phortse. Cho La has become particularly unstable over the years and we just couldn’t be arsed with the stress of high glaciated passes. Particularly as we didn’t have good boots for glacier travel, ice axes, or a guide. Guides can be picked up en route and, for sure, plenty of people still cross the pass. It just wasn’t for us this time.
(Breakfast $17.50; Lunch and Dinner $31.60; Tea $5; Room $3)
Day Eleven: Dingboche (Elevation 4400m; Walking time: Six hours)
No one sleeps well at Gorak Shep. Breakfast was a sea of groggy hikers. Laura woke up with a recurrence of her sore throat and congestion, and added a side order of dried snot on her face to gross me out! Heading down meant more oxygen and better sleep. We were glad we were heading down but our trek buddies decided to double the pain and stay on to hike to Everest Base Camp. An avalanche in the area caused a bunch of trekkers to flee for their lives a few days earlier so we were doubly keen not to go. Sounds boring anyways. You cannot see Everest from EBC, and since this is not climbing season there is not the hustle and bustle of mountaineers’ camps. And, most people confirmed that when we caught up with them a couple of days later.
The day was fantastically clear again so we retraced our steps all the way back down to Dingboche. The scenery is like the Scottish Highlands but with peaks on steroids! To complete the sensory overload, the ground is covered in parts with a shrub that smells like apple pie with cinnamon.
The weather was good for the entire trek but started to get even better around now. The fog stayed far below us in the valley tonight and we got a fantastic sunset from the hillside above the lodge.
(Breakfast $15.90; Lunch $16.30; Dinner $11; Showers $8; Tea and Pancake $5.80)
Day Twelve: Phortse (Elevation 4000m; Walk Time 7 hours)
We were really looking forward to the second section of the trek heading up to Gokyo. Firstly, we had heard the views at Gokyo were even more amazing than from Kala Pattar; and, secondly, we could walk more hours per day since we were now acclimatized for the rest of the trek. Oh, and sleep should be better too. We headed out of Dingboche just as the sun peeped up over the high peaks. This cast beautiful early morning light on the already picturesque stupa at the entrance to the village. Laura shot the stupa from every conceivable angle delaying our departure by several hours! Great photos though!!
We headed back over to the Pangboche side of the valley for two main reasons. Now I had lost my love handles I was allowed apple pie at the German bakery at Pangboche. In addition, we could check out the oldest monastery in the area in Upper Pangboche. The apple pie was, indeed, delicious but the sudden upshot in sugar intake sent Laura’s system into sugar-induced meltdown! After some amateur dramatics and Laura putting me back on a diet (hey, I thought YOUR belly ached not mine!), we managed to struggle up to the monastery. Upper Pangboche was utterly delightful. Maybe the nicest Tibetan-style traditional village on the whole trail. We will definitely stay here if we visit again. A young boy let us into the monastery. There were some fabulous old thangka paintings and a genuine yeti skull in the main building.
We spun a bunch of prayer wheels and armed with extra merit we headed on to Phortse. The trail was sparsely trafficked and much tougher than we expected. It was not a trail for those with vertigo either. It was a narrow path cut high into the steep hillside thousands of feet above the river. It took a lot of energy to keep our footing and negotiate the endless ups and downs. I thought the extra red blood cells would give us X-Men like powers but, alas, it was not to be today.
About an hour before reaching our destination, I saw a familiar figure through the mist. The unmistakable lurching pained gait told us Cameron was back on our schedule. We caught up with him just above the drop to the village. We were surprised to see him since he should have been at least a day behind us. He told us that after he had walked to EBC from Gorak Shep, he decided to walk down to Dingboche. This man is truly ridiculous in the best possible ways! It was tough enough for us and we have two legs to walk on!
We stayed at the lovely Peaceful Lodge in Upper Phortse. The main entertainment for the night was an unbelievably obnoxious group of French speaking Aussies. They gamely switched between French and English all night. I wracked my brains to figure out a French speaking community in Oz. The best we could come up with was that they were French Foreign Legionnaires. That would probably explain the loutishness too! Bit dumb though. They switched to French when they were being rude about someone. As if nobody else in the room could understand French. Thanks Laura and Cameron for the translations. There was also an odd Indian Holy Man who would only drink extremely well filtered holy water from Gokyo. Later on, Kate strolled in. Whoo-hoo! The team was back together!
(Breakfast $13.20; Apple Pie and Coffee $9.60; Lunch $7.80; Dinner $12.40; 2 battery charges $3; Room $2)