Note: This is part2 of our Everest three high passes travelogue where we crossed Renjo la pass. If you haven’t already you can read part1 here.
The dining hall conversations at Lungde ranged from how idyllic this side of the Bhote koshi valley was to how dangerous each of the Khumbu high passes were. We attentively heard a fellow hiker going over his first hand experience of crossing the three passes, the treacherous hiking paths and the occasional falling rocks he had to dodge. I tried to drift my mind away from these thoughts and admired the unfolding snow flurry outside turning the barren ground a soft white.
An early morning start from Lungde
We started at dawn the next day for the Renjo La pass crossing. The mountain peaks were just beginning to shine a bright orange while the valley down below still sobered up from the night. It was a continuous uphill trail for the initial couple hours that left us exhausted. We took a breakfast break, emptied a trail mix and gobbled up a bunch of fruits next to a frozen lake. A spectacularly clear day where we could see the mountains all the way to Tibet. The morning sun was already melting most of the snow from the previous evening and by the time we reached the Renjo lake our path was snow free.
Breaks enroute Renjo la pass
We could see the final section of the uphill scramble and the tiny prayer flags far up on the mountain side at the end of the lake. The air started to get thinner, the trail much steeper and the walking was getting harder. At over 5000mts where we were at, each step we took, each breath we drew in were so much hard on the body. The constant banging in the head didn’t help. The last few meters felt endless and I felt my mind was constantly negotiating with the legs to make that next move.
A flat section of trail before the steep hike up Renjo La pass
At the end of what felt like an eternity the prayer flags were finally at a touching distance. I saw DB saying a prayer and arrange a few stones one over the other in what felt like some kind of a ceremony to the mountain gods. I was just thankful I made it to the top without coughing up a lung or slipping away in my dizzy stride up. I take few long breaths before I begin to admire what I was seeing. All along I was hiking up in an anticipation to see the Biggies of Himalayas from the heights of Renjo La and it was now finally a reality. Although Everest was shrouded in clouds Lhotse and Makalu were standing in their full glory. Far below was the Gokyo lake and I almost missed the handful of tiny stone huts on the lake shore that made up Gokyo village, such was the scale of the Himalayas. Our guide elaborates that this pass offers the best view of Everest and the other mighty mountains but today it was obscured by clouds.
So contend I was with the lineup of the mountains that I could only take a few bites of our packed lunch, or maybe it was a sign of altitude sickness. The way down towards Gokyo was much steeper than what my legs could take. I was slow as a snail and laid my foot very cautiously while holding tight to my pole. The exhaustion of the day seemed to show up and I was lagging behind the rest. Clouds started encircling us and it started to fog up. Nirmal and Chaitanya made frequent stops on the misty trail to keep a check on me while Praveen stayed in close. We negotiated a few icy sections after which the trail followed the contours of the lake shore. The visibility worsened so much that we didn’t realize we got to the Gokyo village almost until we were few feet short. The long day finally comes to a much looked for end. It was the first of the days I was thankful of having the luxury of Sherpas to carry bulk of our load allowing us to hike with only a day pack.
Steep descent from Renjo pass towards Gokyo
We stayed at the Fritz roy run by the Tenzing brothers who wanted to name their lodge uniquely and not the usual Everest view hotel, Sagarmatha tea house, Sherpa Lodge etc we had been seeing. The kitchen here had every meal one could fancy from typical European to local Nepali. We tried the thupka for the first time, a warm vegetable stew with noodles. We watched snow flakes falling from the sky as we drifted to an early sleep that evening.
South face of Cho yu
The calm jade green waters of Dudh Pokhari were gleaming in an early morning sun when we woke up. The lake is flanked by a handful of lodges on one side and peaks that rise over 6000mts on the rest. We could see the dip in the ridge which we had crossed the day before to get to this side of the mountains. As per our hiking plan we were scheduled for a rest day after having crossed the difficult Renjo La pass. But we found out that the nearby Gokyo Ri peak is renowned to have some great views of Everest. Sure it wasn’t going to be a rest day after all.
Few puffy white clouds sprinkled on an otherwise clear cobalt blue sky looked promising and we were confident nothing would stop the views if we got to Gokyo Ri. We were accompanied by our sherpa, Db for the hike up. He regards this peak to provide better views of Everest than what Kalapatthar offers. Considering we missed out on Renjo la pass the previous day we were looking forward to the Gokyo Ri summit. But the summit wouldn’t come so easily, it was over 5000mts. After an exhausting day crossing the Renjo la pass, we planned to turn back as soon as we see Everest which according to Db was only halfway to the top. It took us about an hour to get the first glimpse of Everest and we couldn’t just be content and pushed for the summit.
Gokyo village covered in a snow sheet from the previous evening
From the top the south face of Cho Yu looked impressive and the from it the glinting blue Ngozumpa glacier spread out down the valley as far as we could see. It shifted from the vivid blue to ash and rock filled as it moved away from Cho yu. The mountains rose from its edge in layers beginning with black, followed by browns and then white snow covered peaks. Db sat down naming them all from Lhotse, Makalu and Mt Everest itself. Even from where we were we could see plumes of snow rippling from Everest’s west ridge and disappearing into the blue sky. Far below us the tiny settlement of Gokyo village on the edge of the Gokyo lake could easily be missed out, if not for a keen eye. There was an air of freshness although it was thin and chilly. We spent over an hour slowly biting into our food while our hearts took in all the grandeur laid out perfectly in front. The way down was much easier and faster.The turquoise blue water of Gokyo lake were shimmering in the mid morning sun that we couldn’t help but keep saying wow. We stopped by at the lake before heading to the tea house for our well earned lunch and some rest before crossing the Ngozumpa glacier the next day.
Mt Everest with billowing snow
View of Cho yu from Gokyo Ri
The shortest route towards EBC from Gokyo without having to go down the valley all the way to Namche and back up involves crossing another 5k+ meters high pass. But first we had to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier that originates from the sixth highest mountain, Cho oyo. Most parts of the glacier as it leaves the mountain are covered in debris and huge rocks falling from the nearby cliffs. A grey glacier isn’t the most glamorous to watch but there were interesting patterns to this ever shifting body of ice. Superficial lakes dammed by moraines are formed as the glacier thins out.
Superfiical lakes at Ngozumpa glacier
We woke up to a clear bright day and set out on the dusty trail. We quickly came to the top of the hill behind the Gokyo village. Here on the trail went up and down the contours of the Ngozumpa glacier. Our stride was only interrupted by the roaring sounds of rocks coming down the adjacent scree slopes and uniting with the rubble that lay on top of the glacier. It was scary to imagine being anywhere close in track of these stones crashing down. A moving and ever shifting glacier lay below the stone and mud path we were walking on. We got to the village of on the other edge of the glacier in a couple hours. It was a short hiking day to allow us to be rested before crossing the next high pass, Chola pass the following day. Bad weather got ahead of us this time and we were lunching at the tea house with snow for company.
Happiness at the Gokyo village
Crossing the stone ridden Ngozumpa glacier
A group of Germans were monitoring their health stats using a tiny tracking device and offered to check mine. I slid my finger in what looked like a stapler with an analog screen. The oxygen meter read 62%, my eyes popped. The thoughts of having to do the much harder Chola pass with such a low oxygen reading sent my confidence down the drain. The Germans said the device isn’t always reliable and I tried convincing myself to believe them. Sleep didn’t come easy that night.
(continue reading the next part…)
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