Fortunately for us the organised groups made their way up towards Everest Base camp. We however diverted off towards the village of Gokyo. Set at 4800 meters it is home to six sacred lakes a s well as what everyone we spoke to before hand described as the best panoramic view of the Himalayas available.
The increased altitude slowed what had otherwise been an impressive pace. In total from Namche to Gokyo it is a seven hour climb. In reality it took us four days due to the need to acclimatise properly. On arrival to Gokyo the air felt noticeably thinner and the head veered towards a headache. However as we settled into the lodge we met up with a variety of fellow independent travelers who persuaded us to make an attempt on Gokyo Ri the following morning. So at 4:30am, with the head torch on, we navigated across a large bog by the side of the third lake and up 600m to 5400m. For Ian the altitude took its hold and he had to turn back. Luckily I seemed to feel stronger the higher I climbed and make the top in under two hours. The reward for the early morning excursion? Blanket cloud and freezing temperatures. The mood was only slightly lifted by an impromptu performance by the two Japanese ‘underground’ musicians who decided only their own songs could help the clouds to clear. It was a bizarre moment.
We spent the rest of the day getting over our disappointment by holding skimming stone contests on the sacred lakes. The fifth lake stands at 5000 meters. A good two hours away from Gokyo it was probably the most isolated that you could ever feel. Stood still there was not a sound that could be heard.
The following day followed a similar pattern with both high and low points. The good news was that we met and indeed led a new party of independent trekkers up Gokyo Ri. We awoke to the sounds of dripping water outside the window. Frustrated and annoyed by the rain we poked our heads outside to call the trip off to find that it was not rain but melting snow. With a light dusting on the ground and stars in the sky we walked as quickly as possible through increasing depths of snow, creating new paths up the mountain. This time the views were breathtaking. I was third up to the top. Standing on a boulder, I span 360 degrees. I was entirely surrounded by snow topped peaks. For the next hour I relaxed taking in the utterly spectacular views in front of me. A good half an hour of this was taken with debating which one was Everest. At first it was the small one in the distance, then it was the one to the right of Nuptse. It turned out it was the tallest one, right in front of us. So close in fact that you felt like you could reach out and touch it.
Triumphant, we reluctantly made our way down as the clouds moved in. After a good breakfast our trekking party of two became three as Brian, an American, entrepreneur, impending novelist and blogger joined us. The Cho La Pass is well known for being challenging so we were delighted to be in each others company. For the rest of the day all we had to do was follow a path over a glacier for two hours.
The problem? Our map and the latest edition of the lonely planet was out of date. The well trodden path that we followed soon led to a 20ft drop off into a huge lake. Not to be discouraged we spent three to four hours attempting to plot our own path over the glacier. Three quarters of the way across we realised our attempts were hopeless. We were greeted by a huge lake that showed no possibility of getting across. With sand cracking beneath our feet and the sounds of the glacier moving all of the time we agreed it was time to make a quick retreat.
There was an alternative. A small bridge further back down the route would allow us to navigate around the glacier. The next problem. The monsoon. The heavy rain that had fallen prior to our arrival had washed the bridge away. We were stuck with either a retreat to Gokyo and to hope to hire a guide for the following day. Or alternatively to attempt a mammoth day looping back round and as far up the Everest path that we could.
With acclimatisation no longer an issue we raced around and made fantastic progress. In two days we made it to Gorak Shep and collapsed in a heap. At 5100 odd meters it is said that very few people sleep well there. I had no such problem. From there we did another early morning ascent up to Kala Pathar (Everest’s Gokyo Ri) where we saw more incredible views from the top. Most pleasing was completing the ascent in under an hour, overtaking the couple of groups that were half way up it when we started, including one Australian group much to their frustrations.
We then did the unusual act of going to Everest Base Camp in the same day. A lot of people run EBC down saying it’s not interesting, you don’t get a view of Everest etc. However I found it fascinating. Again we had to navigate over a glacier, but this time it was successful. There were three expedition parties waiting to go. It was great watching the Czech group prepare and just sit, drinking a cup of tea thanks to a kind Aussie we met and viewing the Khumbu ice fall in all its glory.
From then on we sprinted back down as quickly as we could back to Jiri. Again it was a painful experience but highly rewarding. Encouraged by the discussions of chocolate and beer we came down in great time and rode the gauntlet of the bus system back to Kathmandu. There we ate cheese burgers, snickers bars, various biscuits with peanut butter in them and lastly a few Everest beers.
It was an amazing experience and one that I would recommend to everyone.