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Published: September 19th 2010
CHO-LA PASS (5330m high) from DZONGLA TO THAGNAG
5/6/10: Dzongla was around 4850 high, a lot lower than what we had been but we still didn't sleep that well. Worried about the rain we had that night we all got up at 4:30am with mixed feelings about what was in front of us. The only one that didn't seem nervous was Shanker but after we started walking it was hard to keep up, he too wanted to get over the pass ASAP. Leaving Dzongla by 5:30 we all powered up the hill. James and Shanker walked a lot faster than all of us and it was tough to keep up in the high altitude, I later found out that he is a professional cyclist. As we gained altitude the weather started to clear from the surrounding mountains. The sun came out increasing the chances of melting glacial ice that would release massive boulders and rocks onto the pass. Jacinta and Azeret struggled to keep up; they lagged behind giving us boys a rest until they caught up, then we would carry on giving the girls no chance of any recovery. We scale up a 25m high rocky crevice that led to
the top of the glacier. The men found it easy to climb, our long legs provided the extra length to reach the next rock above and once again the girls struggled to keep up. We were up 5300m high by this time and it was hard, harder than EBC and Kala pattha. Both times we had be up this high we weren’t carrying our backpacks, the extra 10-20kg really sapped the energy. By the time we sumiated, all of us were sweating and panting hard from the high altitude and stress of climbing, our chests pumped in rhythm with our hearts, breathing rapidly was all we could do just to keep from fainting. The oxygen was 51% compared to Kala Pattha’s 50% but this climb was much harder. We summated around 8:30am and looked back to a stunning view of the valley below. Aba Dablam was a prize with incredible views of cloud bands layering across her. We had to rest 5 minutes before we even had the energy to take out our cameras for photos. At first I didn't even realise that the edge of the glacier finished right below us. We took more photos until the girls finally
summited in the same breathless fashion. Shanker broke out the whip saying a word in Nepali that indicated “Let’s Go!” the girls hardly got a rest. We then walked to base of one of the most dangerous part of Cho-La, this is the hill face on the left hand side that contained a quarry of pebbles, stones, rocks and boulders, some as big as a car, even Sir Edmond Hilary said this was a dangerous pass. The early morning sun heated the hill slowly melting the glacial ice that held rocks and boulders like glue to the glacial surface, there was a very real possibility of this happening as the temperature climbed to an unimaginable 18C. There was debris everywhere from previous rocks falls, they littered the glacier surface below and it looked a lot more frequent than what I had originally imagined. By the time we were at the base of the hill we were already exhausted again, with no time to think and unsure of what to expect I followed James and Shanker. I struggled over the rocks like a wounded animal while keeping one wary eye on the hill above, I tried to remain calm, I wanted
to rest so bad but had to keep pushing, pushing, and pushing, I was so tired, it felt like I had a clear plastic bag over my head, I could not get enough oxygen into my body, my chest felt like exploding. I could hear little stones tumbling down as if somebody was throwing them from the top. Just above me a small landslide the size of two wheel barrows slide down the hill, it stopped only two meters in front of me and spilled over the bigger boulders I was using to take cover, I could see ice underneath. Some of the smaller rocks carried on, tinkering off the rocks below like bouncing marbles. This made me realise that I was best to get out of here quicker than what my body would let me. I had to hurry before one of the bigger rocks come crashing down. I was three quarters of the way when I heard I rock bouncing above me, I turned around and dropped behind a larger boulder for protection. I caught site of a grapefruit size rock skating down the hill so fast that it barely touched other rocks while it bounced. The rock
missed me by a good five meters or so but it felt closer than that. The rock carried on pass until it smashed on a huge rock resting on the glacier. This was enough to find some extra super human strength skipping across the next 15m of boulders just like the falling rock. Once I knew I was in the clear I collapsed on the slushy glacial ice trying to get my breath back. I lied on my side all too aware that the ice was I was getting wet, I managed to roll over and laid on my pack that was still strapped tightly to my chest. I shut my eye’s as the bright intense glare was too much to bear I could hear James panting like a dog not far from me. I lay down for as long as I could until I remembered that Jacinta and Azeret still needed to cross. I unstrapped my pack before even getting up leaving it in the exact same place as where I had rolled. As soon as I got up Jacinta and Azeret just started to cross. I yelled to Jacinta to go as quickly as she could. I watch
her cross, it was so painful to watch and she was so slow that it looked like somebody had hit the slow motion button on the DVD player. I yelled again “hurry up!” I heard her say something but she was so tired that she could hardly breathe let alone speak. She was half way across and I couldn’t take it anymore, I was so worried that a rock was going to wipe her out that I yelled it again “hurry up!” She looked in my direction and yelled back “I’m going as fast as I can!” It wasn't fast enough, I think that even if I had of seen her scurry across the rocks like a mountain goat it still wouldn't be fast enough. I wanted Jacinta to be out of there as fast as possible. She was so tired and I was so anxious; it looked like she was resting and not walking. By this time she was more than half way across. I could see the distress on her face and realised she was upset. I didn't want her to break down in the middle of one of the most dangerous passed in the world. I yelled
out again, this time it was words of encouragement not words of distress “Your almost there!” Azeret followed closely, she too was painfully slow to watch. Writing this I wonder how painfully slow I must have looked from someone else’s eyes. James, Shanker and myself all started to yell “your almost there” “not long to go” “just a little further” Jacinta was 90% of the way through and stopped to catch her breath. I had to yell at her to get moving as she was still in the danger zone. After she had crossed she collapse and cried her little heart out, it had be so physical demanding that she could not go any further if she tried. I made the mistake of saying that she should have never stopped where she did. She lashed out at me in her fragile state saying that she couldn't go any faster. I was probably a bit too hard on her while she crossed but that's only because I was worried. Her chest pumped hard trying to get as much oxygen in her as possible. Azaret was right behind Jacinta, her face said it all, we all knew how she felt.
a rest for 5-10mins reflecting on how hard to day had been. We understood how easy it was to have a life taken and we also understood how a porter lost his life only two weeks prior when he stopped to light up a cigarette. We weren’t out of danger yet. We still had to cross the glacier that we were all standing on. Shanker gave the order to hurry up and get moving; I didn't know Shanker that well and later I would get to know him a little better finding out how anxious he really was on that day. The minute we were all safely passed Cho-la he sung for the next four hours all the way down to the lodge where we would stay that night, there was no singing before Cho-la, only after and for the rest of the time we saw him on the trek he would sing the same song. I can’t even remember how it went but I do remember that it was a Nepali song about a lady that dropped a handkerchief and a man found it but wouldn't give it back. How you can put all this into a song is
beyond me but he seemed to like it. After a day or two of listening to this song I even started to sing the words not really knowing what the words meant exactly, but it was catchy enough to take my mind off the exhaustion.
We all followed Shanker, foot step by foot step. The top glacial ice crust was extremely thin; following each other’s footsteps was the safest way to not fall through the ice. The crust was made up of a series of holes almost like a honey comb. The ice crust was taxing to walk on; looking down all I could see was a river of melted ice under my very feet. It was an unnerving feeling walking and seeing the evidence of past trekker falling through the ice. James followed Shanker, I followed James, Jacinta followed me and Azeret followed all of us. Each step was place carefully and neatly into the next footprint, if the footprint was too deep we would make our own next to it. The crunching of the collapsing ice sent a shivers up our spines, almost like scratching a chalk board with fingernails. Every step made me grip my trekking poles
tighter just encase I fell through the ice. We did this for 500m or so until we reach the base of the base. By the time we arrived at the base we were stuffed, it was like walking in soft sand, it sapped the last little bit of energy out of us. We had one more hurdle to cross, this was an ice cliff and it was faced with loose boulders putting us in danger once again. We had to cautiously climb the slippery path being careful not to dislodge any boulder or rock, if we f#$%up our ankles would be crushed from a displace boulder. Jacinta was the last to cross safely, for the past week we have heard terrible stories about the Cho la, it played on the back of all our minds. We all managed to get through unscathed; we were all so relieved that we had conquered the mighty Cho la pass and congratulated each other. We set the cameras up and posed for a group photo. We relaxed under the gleaming sun, we all were smiling. Spirits were high, it was all downhill from here but it wasn't over yet, we still had another 4hrs
of walking and now a 100m cliff to scale down. It wasn't clear to us as first but the track was covered in invisible ice due to the rain we had the night before. It glazed the outside of the rock face like silicone. One misplaced step and it would be all over. We were on the very edge of a cliff face that had ice everywhere, after Chola we laughed this off, it was just a minor hindrance but it was still dangerous. The next three hours were tough; every time we crested a hill it turned out to be one of those cruel jokes. We started to get tired and wondered when we were going to finally see a lodge. I was getting tired, Jacinta was getting tired and Azeret was getting tired, Shanker and James were 100m ahead desperately trying to get to a lodge so they could rest, everyone just wanted to be there. We crested another large hill thinking once again we might be able see the lodge, all we saw was huge valley that disappeared around a corner. Jacinta, Azaret and myself power walked down the valley, we set an Olympic pace, we covered
3km in under half an hour. When you consider our average walking speed was 1-2km/hr this was fast. We finally made it to Thagnak, it was a small village only consisting of 3-4 lodges, and only one was open being the end of the season. That night we dined on Mac and cheese while we sat around the dung heater.
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