25 July 2009

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 20

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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With the ridiculously gullible optimism that only first time travellers to Nepal can have, we got to Lukla airport at 8.30am, well in time for our promised departure of 9.30am. We discovered how cold the airport terminal building is over the next five hours as we waited and waited for our plane to come in. We were luckier than many, as some folks had been waiting for their plane since the previous day. Welcome to Lukla Airport!

Lukla airport

In the end, the Nepal Army bailed us out with a loan of what seemed to be one of their paratrooping planes, an M28 SkyTruck, hailed by some as "ultimate tool for aircraft operating under severe conditions", and very suitable for the Himalayas. With packs at our knees and sideways bench seating, it marked an appropriate end to our trekking trip. At least we had seatbelts, though Helen and I had to share, and at least we didn't have to wait overnight.

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 19

Phakding to Lukla

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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The main reason we were taking it easy and making such a short day was that we had to be in Lukla in time to confirm our plane tickets out, and the ticket office has fairly random opening hours. As such, we arrived in Lukla for lunch, and spent the rest of the day playing pool, listening to the lodge's sound system, mooching around the few useful shops, and of course waiting for the ticket office to miraculously open. Like many bookstores in Nepal, the bookstore had stacks of postcards of thangkas (Buddhist sacred paintings).
To the right is a picture I took at the Tengboche ghompa. Sadly, I can't tell you anything more about it, except that it is in the entrance on the left hand side.

That's a lot of beer...

The Porter's Progress Association held a film night which we got along to, where they present suggestions on how to make a better lot for porters in Nepal. Sadly, that group has folded during the turmoil of the Maoist time, but the Himalayan Humanity website has some information to help you engage porters fairly.

You can see from these pics that porters in Nepal have to work hard. It's a little sad that so much of their work is to lug cases of beer up the mountains for consumption by tourists.


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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 18

Khumjung to Phakding

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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We hurtled into - well, skated into - Namche, but not before stopping at Everest View again (Glen had missed it on the way up). Nabin took the best family snap of the holiday. With Taboche and 5610, Everest/Chomolungma and Lhotse pretending to be volcanoes, Ama Dablam and Tengboche monastery (not visible) behind Glen, we award Nabin with “Best of the 1000”!

Family portrait #5


A baby dzho - a cross between a yak and a cow, on the snow just entering Namche.

The boys literally skated all the way down from Namche to the Dudh Koshi river (and part of the way back up the other side, too!). By now the snow had had several days of thawing and refreezing overnight, rendering the whole track as a skating rink.

On this day particularly we noticed many Khumbu kids having snowball fights, skiing down slopes on pieces of wood tied to their feet, luging down on sheets of plastic, skating on their shoes, and generally having a fantastic time.

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

22 July 2009

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 17

Luza to Khumjung

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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Looking back from just outside of Luza, we see Kyajo Ri (6186m), Cho Oyu (8201m) with the long snowy eastern wall, and probably the Kangchung Peaks, and of course the Dudh Koshi valley. We spent most of this exquisite morning traversing up high (400m above the river) on the western flank of the valley. Helen went absolutely berserk with the camera (fortunately a digital), taking 143 photos in one day! (We had previously averaged about 35-40).


I love this picture. It depicts the glorious conditions that we walked in that day. So long as we stayed on the track, we didn't have to bother about the foot of snow that had fallen. The constant grey and yellow-brown of the cold and barren winter landscape had been hidden under a white fluffy duvet. This part of the upper Dudh Koshi valley is superb. The feeling of height above the valley floor is significant and exhilarating. One thing that really improved our experience of this place was that we were walking downhill instead of climbing uphill!

Caution, steep verge.

Kangtega and Thamserku above Phortse, itself above the Dudh Koshi. Andrew and Glen are on the right hand side. We descended over 700m from Luza to Phortse Tenga, only to find we now had to ascend 300m to Mong. Mong is a brilliant place, perched like an eagle eyrie 700m right above the junction of the Dudh Koshi and Imja Khola.


Panorama from the eagle eyrie which calls itself Mong. Perched 700m right above the junction of the Dudh Koshi and Imja Khola.
Cholatse, Taboche, the village of Phortse, Ama Dablam, Tenboche (the monastery is partially hidden by the near trees), Kantega and Thamserku, and to the right, the Dudh Koshi Valley and the Everest View Hotel beyond the obvious tree. If you're not sick of QTVR panorama's, here's yet another one.

The day was getting on (you can see the low angle of the sun) and we had to keep going to get to Khumjung. We grabbed a quick family holiday snap (left), and decided to take the high road again, to see what "the stone steps" were like.

This was probably the worst day to do it, because the snow had turned each step into a luge track, with ice rendering every tread on an outward angle. Despite this treachery, we made it to Khumjung in time to find a lodge.


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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

21 July 2009

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 16

Gokyo Ri, Gokyo to Luza

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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The father of the household which runs Cho Oyu View Lodge returned from Namche that evening, with yaks laden with wood for the winter's heating. His smiles and laughter added to the already great good humour of his wife and daughter. They were really a delight to stay with. He is also a tuneful whistler when herding his yaks.

About twelve to eighteen inches of snow fell over night. The only trail that was clear was the one trodden to the outside toilet (there were several parties at the Cho Oyu View Lodge - including John and Gayle, who had caught up with us again the previous evening, having crossed Cho La and the Ngozumpa Glacier before the snow hit). It was still snowing on and off the next day. Despite the capricious weather, and the effort needed in pushing a path through fresh snow, Helen and I decided to have a go at climbing Gokyo Ri.

Gokyo & Snow from Gokyo Ri

Roof of the world

120° view left to right: Peak 5940m (surrounded by Gaunara (Gyubanare) Gl, not visible), Cholo (6089m, snow above the black face), Peak 5655m directly in front of Everest / Chomolungma (8850m) and Lhotse, three dark peaks leading to the prominent Jobo Lhapshtan (Arakam Tse, 6423m) and Cholatse (in cloud), Kangtega and Thamserku are in the south-south-eastern distance. Snow is coming in from the direct south over the flanks of Pharilapche. To see a QTVR panorama of this, click here.

Mt Everest from Gokyo Ri

The climb up Gokyo Ri through the snow was really hard work, and we'd skipped brekky, and I was now feeling absolutely stuffed. I didn't quite make it as high as Helen, but still managed to snap a few brilliant close ups of Everest/Chomolungma in a very rare showing through the cloud. Behind Peak 5655, the South Summit is clearly visible, as is the steepness down to the South Col. The Nuptse Ridge is leading to Lhotse.

Shower anyone?

We got back to breakfast, hot tea, cards and an hour's rest and recuperation before heading off. Gayle and John had been teaching new card games to the boys, which we made great use of for the rest of the trip.

Right: Nabin, Glen, Gayle, Andrew, Helen, John, and Joseph.

The gang's all here!

The stream that runs into and out of the Dudh Pokhari and onto the second and first lakes becomes the Dudh Koshi. Here, we are crossing the bridge over it before it descends about 200m in 1km at the end of the Ngozumpa Glacier.

Whilst it snowed on and off most of the day, it made for quite novel trekking for us, so we sort of enjoyed it. Our gear stopped us from getting cold, and we felt smug at spending so much money on acquiring it. All the trekkers had abandoned Gokyo at the start of the day, stamping down the snow to make quite a track for us. So whilst we enjoyed a relatively painless (though at times icy) descent, we marvelled at the ability of the first party to find the exact path through at times deep snow.

Dudh Koshi

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

20 July 2009

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 15

Gokyo Lakes

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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If you would like some more background sound from Taboche Tsho whilst you browse, then click here. The other lakes sounded similar, but Lake 2 was probably the most "Bel Canto" of the lot.

As we wandered up the Ngozumpa valley, we encountered some very strange ice formations, created by water pooling around rocks and then shrinking sufficiently to break free. Here are Glen and Joseph playing with Elvis. The King is not dead, he retired to the Gokyo valley in the Himalayas.


Thonak (Donag) Tsho

Thonak (Donag) Tsho, the fourth lake.

Opposite the fifth lake, Ngozumba Tsho, is an eastward pointing glacial valley, Gaunara (Gyubanare) Glacier. By a stroke of luck, this aligns directly with Mt Everest/Chomolungma. On this day, however, the mountain was in cloud, so we could only see the base of the west ridge, and bits of Tibet/China. If you follow one of the left hand ridges upwards, you will reach Changri La (5812m), which we thought sounded pretty good! On account of having a good view of Everest without climbing anything, this point was dubbed "Scoundrel's View".

Scoundrel's View


By now, it had started to get quite windy and very cold, so we made our way back to Gokyo village (about 1½ hrs from Gyazumba Tsho, the sixth lake). By the time we had arrived back, it was starting to snow...

And the snow got heavier and heavier...

Yaks in the snow

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 14

Dragnag to Gokyo

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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If you would like a background sound of the ice-covered lake Taboche Tsho ("Lake 2"), then click here. More about them below.

The Ngozumpa glacier is the longest glacier in Nepal (about 23 km). It is covered in so much detritus that you feel like you are walking through a quarry. Only this quarry has frozen lakes and ice cliffs scattered throughout (see above), so watch your step! The route changes fairly frequently, and it is not unknown for people to get lost trying to cross it to Gokyo, especially after snow. Fortunately, we had an easy time getting across.

Right: a view northwards up the glacier (which begins up at the white cliffs on the right) towards Cho Oyu (8153m).

Cho Oyu

Once we had crossed the glacier, we encountered our first Gokyo valley lake, Taboche Tsho (Lake 2). Normally sparkling blue in all the photos we had seen, it was covered in about a foot of ice. Nature is beautiful, even when it is not sparkling blue, and we were rewarded at this time of the year with the privilege of hearing the lake "sing". A similar haunting sound as whale song, though closer to a cross between stomach gurgles and light-sabre sound effects. You should be able to pick out the sound of stones being skipped across the ice, lending their own stimulus to the constant creaking and groaning of the ice.

Gokyo Village

Having arrived at Gokyo and had lunch, Helen and I went for a wander around Gokyo's sacred lake - Dudh Pokhari ("milk lake") - vaguely heading for Renjo La. Rounding the lake is very easy, and well worth it for the photogenic views of Gokyo village from across the lake, and some very interesting cairns...

Stone Bishop Praying to the Buddhist Lake Goddess


At the back of the Gokyo lake is what appears to be a Hindu shrine to a goddess. I have not yet been able to find out much about her, but I believe it to be the only Hindu shrine I found in the Everest region. Apparently the Dudh Pokhari (holy to both Buddhists and Hindus) is visited for Janai Purnima (August full moon = Rakhi Day?) for ritual bathing in the sacred waters! Brrr! At least the water would be liquid at that time of year.

The sunset that night was particularly beautiful. The view is west towards Renjo La, divine in its own right.

Gokyo Lake

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

19 July 2009

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 13

Christmas Day - Over Cho La (Chhugyuma) Pass to Dragnag

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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Much to our relief, the day dawned clear and sunny, as most days do in the Everest region in winter.
We were all keen to see whether we could get over this pass. Going east to west, it was a climb of 580m followed by a descent of 720m. We much preferred going this way.

Right: Glen and Joseph are girding their loins in front of the lodge at Dzonglha. An unnamed 5940m peak and hanging glacier tell of what the day might bring.


Cho La Pass glacier

For some reason, we all had a great time climbing the 580m to Cho La Pass. One contributing factor would be the fact that we had all climbed higher than this only two days before, and had had an easy day the previous day. Secondly, the climbing was more varied, firstly through upper mountain vale, then glacial scree, then rocky scrambling, then glacier. Weirdly, it seemed more like Australia. Go figure...

The Cho La (Chhugyuma) Pass (5420m) was dazzlingly beautiful. By far the cleanest glacier I had seen, on account of having few mountains above it to rain rocks, dirt and glacial flour onto it. Its pristine nature made it a superb way to celebrate Christmas Day.
Cho La Glacier - Christmas Day

The descent to Dragnag followed a gorgeously active alpine stream, much of which was frozen. You can see some buildings in the top right hand corner. Dragnag was hot and dry when we arrived, and wind gusts whipped the ubiquitous dust up into our eyes, nose and mouth. Not a nice reception! However, the Tashi Friendship Lodge (the only one open) was very comfortable, with the warmest dining room of the walk so far. Very popular, with parties going in both directions, it was also the most crowded dining room we were in, which may have helped the warmth. The owner closed up for the winter two nights later (Dec 27).

The river to Dragnag

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

Everest Region December 2003 - Day 12

Lobuche to Dzonghla

You can see a slideshow of my best pics from Everest on flickr.
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Angels at my Window

We got back to Lobuche after Kala Pattar to find an English couple, Gayle and John, had come to visit. They were on the end of a 'round-the-world tour, had walked in from Jiri, and were planning to walk back out again (which they did) after visiting Gorakh Shep. We had a great night talking about movies, learning card games, and catching up with each other as if we had known each other for years.

The morning broke sparkling, and we had decided that rather than walk around from Lobuche to Gokyo via Phortse, taking about four days, we would go over the Cho La (Chhugyuma) Pass. Hopefully, if the conditions were good, this would only take three days (Dzonghla, Dragnag, Gokyo) and give us another day for the Ngozhumpa glacial valley. If we couldn't cross the pass, we'd be stuffed, and would miss out on Gokyo altogether.

Heading back down, we took the high road west of Dughla, and skirted around the 5245m hill - Awi Peak - that separated Lobuche from Dzonglha. It was a beautiful "side-of-the-mountain" walk, much like walking out from Namche, or north of Pangboche, or towards Chhukhung, or the high road from Dingboche to Dughla. There is no dearth of beauty in the Everest region.


Taboche and Arakam Tse
The Tshola (or Chola) Glacier spills around the corner below Taboche Peak (6367m), adjacent to Cholatse and a truncated Jobo Lhaptshan (Arakam Tse, 6440m), above the frozen lake Tshola (Chola) Tsho. The range above the valley heading to the right includes the Cho La (Chhugyuma) Pass, the last two bits of snow on the right.

Two ways to keep warm

Cow dung wallpaper. When it's not being burnt in a pot-belly stove to keep us warm, it is being used to insulate the walls of the dormitory wing. Despite being sunny at midday, Dzonglha was a depressingly cold place, and with ice flitting through the air in the late afternoon, we wondered if we had done our dough on the Cho La Pass gambit/gamble (two totally different words having strikingly similar meanings in this usage). We spent a pretty glum Christmas Eve in the dingy dining room, hoping the stove would keep us warm.

“Oh, and I s’pose I should say ‘Merry Christmas’”

<grunt> ( = “You needn’t bloody well bother”)

Even at 4843m, it was the nadir of our trip...

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As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.