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Published: March 27th 2014
12-14 March Days 8-10 Machherma(4470m) to Gokyo(4790m) via Gokyo Ri(5360m) to Dragnag(4700m)
We set out from Machhermo after less than an inch of snow from the night before. The weather is clear and sunny and the clouds don’t set in until around 3pm today. The first 45 minutes or so were straight up hill again and then the next 1.5 hours were relatively flat. At this point we reached the river and a series of quite steep climbs up slate rock stairs that took around another hour. Then it was a 45 minute slog through snow to reach Gokyo. Suz and I were both feeling pretty flat today. It was probably our worst day yet in terms of our mind set, right next to day 1. I think the altitude is finally starting to catch up with us, not to mention the 8 days of straight trekking above 2,500m. We were both moving quite slow and needed many breaks. In saying that the thing that picked us up and kept us going time and time again was the stunning scenery.
If it weren’t for the mass of snow on the ground, I would almost describe the setting as arid.
The landscape was filled with large boulders and rocks, and even the river bed was completely rocky. An environment we have never seen nor ever imagined, and the whole time with snow capped 6000m plus peaks dominating the skyline on all 4 sides along the way. We passed 3 different lakes along the way, however 2 of them were frozen over and covered in snow. This is when it pays to have a guide, as being simply Australian’s unfamiliar with the terrain there would be nothing but I guess the well trodden snowy path to prevent us from wavering off course and crashing through the ice into the subzero Himalayan waters. The 3rd of the lakes we came across was Gokyo Lake, sitting proudly at an elevation of 4734m, with a length of 1km, width of 855m and a maximum depth of 43m. At the frozen waters edge were hundreds upon hundreds of neatly stacked rock pyramid piles. I believe the purpose of these rock piles is that they are formed in memory of someone or perhaps something. However I’m sure the majority of them up here are simply made by tourists for a bit of fun.
way there was a lot of stopping and talking to people coming down in the opposite direction. Our guide is still trying to ascertain the condition of the Cho La Pass and whether it is going to be safe for us to cross or not. At this point it is still a little unknown. So the plan is to head further towards the pass and make a final judgement when we get to Dragnag. Gokyo town itself has a stunning setting on the side of the frozen Gokyo Lake, completely surrounded by mountains. To the West is Renjo Pass and to the East is Cho La Pass. We have seen a few trekkers coming down Renjo pass which gives us some confidence that Cho La Pass may still be a possibility, but we will have to wait and see. We are staying at Cho Oyu View Lodge, a quaint little place right down next to the lake, out of the biting wind. The restaurant is only 9 months old and sucks up the suns solar heat, so it is so toasty and warm to sit in the afternoon. We rest up in the lodge for our early morning wake up
call to hit the blistering frigid temperatures and climb Gokyo Ri for arguably some of the best vistas of the Himalayas anyone could hope to find.
We woke early at 5.30am, of course it was bloody freezing, we ate warm porridge with honey (that was actually frozen into a large blob a bit like toffee). Then by 7am we crossed the small river feeding the Gokyo Lake and started the arduous task of reaching the peak of Gokyo Ri. We could see this “hill” from our room’s window and it really didn’t look too bad. However were we in for an extremely rude shock! The climb, that was supposed to take at most 2.5 hours, actually took us 4 hours to conquer. We were both feeling a little worse for wear, Suz was definitely feeling worse than me. She had freezing cold hands even under 2 pairs of gloves, she was feeling a little ill in the stomach, coughing constantly and she was just really lethargic and heavy. However she didn’t have a headache, which our guide was really looking for. I think if she had, he would have pulled the pin on us for the day. But to
Suz’s credit she just put one foot in front of the other, time and time again, minute after minute, hour after hour, vertical metre after vertical metre. 570 vertical metres later we had reached the top. We were both extremely proud of each other, and especially myself of Suz. I have to admit I really thought she was on a tethers edge from packing up and turning around back for Gokyo. But she didn’t, and we made the top, and boy are we glad we did.
After 8 days of straight trekking we had made 5360m, and were literally sitting at the foot of heaven, we felt on top of the world. The panoramic views afforded by the effort were simply spectacular, words can’t describe, as hard as I may try. You will just have to view the photos for yourself and start drooling over the insanity of the mountains. Prakash was so motivating and so nice to Suzanne throughout the trek up the mountain. Without his support, perhaps we may not have made it. Just things like rubbing Suz’s hands vigorously to keep them warm, he also gave her his warm outer gloves and went gloveless himself. He
carried her bag for her. When she stepped in a big pile of mud he got down and grabbed some snow with his bare hands and rubbed all the mud off her boots and pants. A completely amazing, happy, and generous individual.
Then it was a slick one hour slide and jump down the mountain to get back to the lodge for a scrumptious lunch. I’ve been about 8 days without meat, and last night I discovered Nepalese canned tuna! Well canned tuna has never tasted so bloody good. So I also had tuna momo for lunch, and tuna fried noodles for dinner. I’m just a little addicted to the protein hit. The afternoon was just spent relaxing, and Suz had a snooze while I went to successfully find her some strepsils, but unsuccessfully find her warmer woollen mittens for her hands. We also borrowed some ice crampons from one of Prakash’s work mates who we happened to run into on the top of Gokyo Ri. We were pretty well defeated by the fact that it took us such a long time to haul our arse’s up Gokyo Ri, that we had already given a shot at the Cho
La Pass away. However after actually making the top of the Ri, no matter how long it took, our motivation was again on the rise. That and the fact that the guide we had grabbed the crampons from had just come over the pass in the opposite direction with a couple of Aussies and they said it wasn’t technical at all, it was definitely possible for us, but it would just take time. So now we are pumped again to give it a try, even if it turns into a 10 hour trek. We really think we can make it with our trusty guide. But only time will tell. We will wake up in the morning and just see how Suz is feeling. If she is feeling okay, we will make the 4 hour trek over the Cho Oyu Glacier to Dragnag, where we will spend the night and then again see how we feel, at which point we will make our final decision on whether we head over the pass or head back down the way we came.
Come the next morning, Suz’s condition wasn’t a lot better, but also wasn’t a lot worse. Although I too was
now getting pretty harsh signs of a decent cold with a sore throat and my nose dripping like a tap also. Suz’s cough was just so persistent, especially at night and in the mornings. It just zapped any energy she had stored from a good nights 11 hour sleep. We decided to make the 4 hour trek over the glacier, and again see how we were both feeling the next day before making our decision on Cho La, if nothing else we were holding on to hope!
The day’s trek involved a lot of ups and downs as we ascended and descended layers of snow, rock and dirt that were all hiding the true icy body of the glacier below. At various points the glacier broke out of its earth encrusted coat to reveal beautiful hues of bright blue crystal ice. In most locations this took the form of large vertical corrugated walls, with a slight overhanging lip at the top, almost like the shape of a perfectly unbroken wave in the ocean. From the lip hung thousands of delicate clear stalactites, a bit like a chandelier that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Gatsby’s mansion. As we
trekked through this strange environment, that really did look out of this world, we would continuously hear the cracking of ice and also the falling of many small rocks from the slopes that provided shelter for our trail from the blistering winds above. As each rock fall broke the silence of the trek, our heads would snap around and our eyes would fixate on the slopes directly above us to make sure we weren’t about to be buried by a landslide. It was a little bit of a precarious situation to be in, as we knew we were in constant danger, but then we really had no other choice of path to take.
Thankfully after 3 hours we popped out the other side of the glacier unscathed and headed for the small gathering of buildings that is Dragnag. When I left for this trip, my boss back in Oz had told me that Lobuche was “the arse end of the world”. Lobuche was due to be our stop on this trek in a couple of days. I’m not sure if it was just because we were both feeling like death warmed up, due to our physical conditions, or because
it was the first place where the lodge owner did a worse job of cooking and keeping the lodge clean than even that grotty 18 year old that you house shared with during your University days, or perhaps even because it was constantly subzero temperatures (the room was -8 degrees at night) and the place was literally desolate of living flora, but to us Dragnag wreaked of “the arse end of the world”. After fighting through our lunches, almost dry reaching trying to get their food down, we both turned in for the afternoon to get some sleep and to attempt to fight off our colds, which were unfortunately rapidly deteriorating even further, especially Suz’s.
By the morning we had made the inevitable sad decision to turn around and start heading back down the mountain. Suz’s cough was just getting worse and worse and had no chance of recovery at this thinly oxygenated altitude and in these cold conditions. We were worried that firstly we both had no hope of dragging ourselves 700 vertical metres up and over the Cho La Pass, but more importantly that Suz would develop pneumonia if we continued on. Our guide was in complete
agreement, and actually said that if we hadn’t of pulled the pin on Cho La this morning that he would have pulled it himself anyway. So we decided to give Cho La Pass and Everest Base Camp a miss altogether and start descending back down to Lukla via Phortse Thanga, Namche Bazaar, and Pakding. Thankfully we had already made the highest point and best view of our trip (the day earlier at Gokyo Ri), so choosing to head back now (although sad not to say we've been to Everest Base camp) wasn't too disheartening. We are confident that richer oxygenated air and warmer temperatures will give us a much better chance of recovery. Although we still had a 4 day trek (with an average of 5 hour trekking days) to get back down to Lukla!
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