A helicopter whirls dust circles below us, in a first of its kind where I see helicopters flying lower than the height I was hiking at. A block of ice, the size of a refrigerator calves out of the Khumbu glacier. It comes down blowing plumes of snow down the mountain face accompanied by a jarring sound that’s hard to ignore. A disarranged bunch of nylon tents in hues of red and yellow spread on the far end at the edge of the Khumbu glacier. Most climbers in those tents were still preparing for their big day while for me this was the big day, attempting to summit Kalapatthar. Barely halfway to the top and my toes were freezing even under the woolen socks and sturdy hiking boots. The gutsy morning wind and the accompanying chill of Kalapatthar that I had been reading of was real and I was almost surrendering to it. I stop to put a second pair of socks, but before that I had to rid my legs of the hiking boots in the frigid morning cold.
We woke up to a knock at the door at 5am and convened at the dining hall with a day pack for a hike up the Kalapatthar, the highest point on our Everest high passes circuit. The trail went up the rocky hill right next to Gorakshep, where we based ourselves for two days. We could see a train of people with beaming headlamps further up the hill while we made a slow but steady trudge. The steep trail then opened up to a flat pasture frequented by touring helicopter who often make a landing here before continuing on to the base camp. The path continued up another hill after this. Although the morning was cloudless and clear, the air was nippy enough to freeze my fingers secured under the gloves, it didn’t take long for the toes to team up and make it unbearable to walk. I decided to put on a second pair of socks and trailed way behind the rest of the group.
Note: This is the final part of our Everest three high passes journey. You can find our full account of starting from Lukla (part 1), crossing the Renjo la pass (part 2) and then the Cho la pass from Gokyo (part 3)
Pumo Ri looking down upon the Kalapatthar peak
After gathering some determination to keep going up, I tried to catch up with my friends farther up on the trail . When I eventually made it to the 5645 mts brown peak of kalapatthar just under Pumo Ri the sun was already gleaming behind the south face of Everest. Ama Dablam and Pumo Ri looked majestic in all their glory, while further behind the unnamed peaks of Khumbu valley glistened in orange tones.
Good morning from paradise!
We munched on a packed breakfast of fruits and energy bars. Way down DB mentioned how it was one of the calmest days he has seen at Kalapatthar. After having freezed my toes earlier that morning, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it would have been on one of those days he would label wild. Further down, I see a bunch of local teenagers playing football in the flattened dried up lake bed at the edge of which the village of Gorakshep stood. A tiny cluster of handful houses standing the withering weather, the elements and the looming mountains.
The trail to Kalapatthar from Gorakshep, the looming white peak is Pumo Ri
Kalapatthar to EverestBase Camp
Once at the tea house in Gorakshep, we took a rather long break before setting off for the major highlight on this hiking trip, Everest Base camp. With no day pack and not much vertical gain this part of the day was the easiest as we started from Gorakshep. The rawness of the mountains was only interspersed by the distant thunder of glacier blocks calving and coming down the slopes. The glacier is an ever moving beast and its impossible not to feel the sheer forces of the unmovable mountains and these rivers of ice. We arrived at the base camp to the sight of fluttering prayer flags strung to a pile of stones bearing signature scribbles of the hikers who arrived before us. The Khumbu icefall extended within reach and to imagine that climbers navigate these huge chunks of ice brought goosebumps. Getting here marked the finale of our long hiking trip for us, but for most others in the neon orange tents spreading before us it was just a start for their ambitions to get to the top of Mt Everest. The peak of Mt Everest isn’t really visible from the base camp, but it does steal intermittent glances on the trail towards the base camp.
A river of ice? the Khumbu ice fall stretches out and the neon orange base camp tents line the edge.
Mountains are considered abodes of Gods according to Indian mythology and being at the foot steps of Everest, encircled by the giants of Everest felt nothing short of experiencing that zen. After days of the back to back assault on the legs, the raging ache in the head, seeing the base camp and the Khumbu icefall so up close was a fitting end and a high point on our trek before we tread our way back to Lukla.
Everest Base camp strewn in prayer flags
Turning back to take in the view of these Himalayan mountains
Gorakshep to Tengboche
Early morning we set off from Gorakshep and ambitiously planned to get as far as Tengboche. At Dhunghla we met a professedly fit hiker who narrated how he intended to make up to the Kongma la pass but unmarked trails forced him to turn back from the top of the pass and come back via Chukkung. We were glad we didn’t choose to do the third pass but at the same time were curious how it would have been to have completed this challenging high pass. We lunched at Pheriche at the guesthouse of Nirmal’s friend. Soon after the clouds rolled in and it was likely it would start raining any moment. We contemplated whether to conclude the day at Pangboche but decided to keep pushing our way further down to the valley. The vegetation got denser as we kept losing altitude. The last section before Tengboche was a steep uphill passing through the dense of pine trees and Rhododendrons.
If teabreaks were always this good, this is at Dhunghla
Watch the below video for some epic moments flying a drone during this trek through the Everest region
Reaching Tengboche almost as the day was coming to an end, it felt great to take a warm shower after three full days and recede into the warmth of the dining hall. We made the most of being worry free about altitude and ordered food and drinks that could feed an elephant. I dragged along Praveen and Chaitanya early the next morning for a quick visit to the Tengboche monastery. An intricately designed gompa gate followed by a short flight of stairs led us into the monastery. Sounds of Tibetan chants echoed in the main hall adorned by colorful murals illustrating life of Buddha. We sat there for sometime observing the men in orange robes, the white devotees who seemed to be lost in trance and the giant figure of Buddha overlooking all the proceedings.
The colorful mani gate at Tengboche monastery
Tengboche to Monjo
From Tengboche after a straight downhill with barely any switchbacks we went down the valley, crossed a bridge and and hiked back up towards Namche Bazar. It felt like a deja vu with the trail curving along a mountain slope with a stupa at the far end. I kept anticipating I would see Namche at the next turn. But it took us a good three hours before we made it to the lunch stop at Namche. We went straight to our favorite food shack for some Alu parathas and momos. The sherpa lady let us help her again and learn some kitchen tricks alongside. After lunch as we made our way down towards the Hillary bridge we were blocked numerous times by a seemingly endless train of mules, donkeys and a trail of dust and turd. My troubles with downhill were back and the legs continued to hurt.The whole group had to slow down and take multiple breaks to keep me assisted.
The majestic Ama Dablam presents a sight to behold when hiking back from Lobuche
We couldn’t get to Phakding as planned and stopped at Monjo for the night in one of the cleanest tea houses we stayed at in the entire trip. But the kitchen was nothing short of a fashion backstage with half a dozen employees busy chopping veggies, cleaning, shuffling dishes, mashing, cooking. All this on an evening when there were no more than 10 guests. The energy here was baffling but didn’t translate to tasty food on the plate. Praveen was unhappy with the steak he ordered that seemed to be made of minced meat and my steamed vegetables had nothing but mushy green mustard leaves. The coffee, french toast and porridge the next morning were delectable to our surprise.
Monjo to Lukla
We followed the familiar route from Monjo to Lukla. At the lunch stop we got to sample chhurpi while waiting for the food to arrive. This dried cheese made from the left overs after churning nak milk for butter was rather too chewy and didn’t taste any good. I later found out that it’s famous outside of Nepal as dog food. I don’t feel as bad now for having trashed it without our hosts noticing. Lunch was the usual dal bhat, except that there was a pumpkin stew too.
Rhododendrons in full bloom take over the valley
The scene at Lukla when we arrived later in the evening resembled as if it was just plucked out of an Ibiza club. A huge group of trekkers were celebrating their successful expedition, dancing and drinking merrily while the speakers blasted Nepali folk music. We had a rather sombre dinner in comparison, eating the mountain meals one last time with our guide and porters.
The security at Lukla next morning was primordial with the guards rummaging through the bags and occasionally simply orally questioning what the contents of the bag are. After the security check we sat anxiously staring at the stained windows watching flights disappear at the end of the short runway. Our boarding call was finally announced, Sita air again. Even after all the tough hiking done in the last few days I dreaded getting into the rattling flight. I kept repeating to myself that I wouldn’t have to take such flights anytime soon and fastened the seat belt.
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