BLOG: EVEREST HIGH PASS TREKKING
MATEVŽ KONJAR & EVA RUSTJA – Bovec, Slovenia
November 5th – Himalayan eco resort Lobuche, Lobuche 4910 m – 4 hour hike
Finally we’re back in the warm lodge, after a day that seemed too long. Many things have happened on this wild day.
Eva and I began our adventure at 4.30 AM. We crawled out of our sleeping bags facing “Siberian” temperatures (even though our sleeping bags preserve warmth excellently, we preventively clad ourselves with an extra smelly blanket that did the trick in this cold). The temperature in the room was -10 C while outside it was a piercing -22 C.
We slept all dressed up, caps, down jackets and cold walking shoes. I had a severe headache through the whole night which I managed to “tame” with 1000mg of Aspirin in the morning. I might add that we take these pills every morning.
Nabin was waiting for us outside the lodge in the moonlight. We quickly began our ascent. It was freezing and the cold pierced through the gloves, down jackets and caps. I had been in a similar situation before, so I faced the cold easier than Eva, who became exhausted and burnt out due to the conditions.
Walking behind her, I saw her shaky movement and quickly realised that something was very wrong. Her condition didn’t improve in the next half hour, so we discussed to adjust our expedition. The plan was that Eva and Nabin return to the lodge while I continue to the top. When Eva began walking back I whispered instructions into Nabin’s ear and asked him to look after her. As a true mountain guide would, he simply nodded and went after her. Thus, we split our group.
I continued on my way reluctantly and pushed the tempo. The hike was easy at first, as my body warmed up, but I had to put in a lot of effort under the top, because the combination of thin air and an upset stomach (the momo dumplings apparently hiked with me to 5550metres) made my day much more difficult. Despite all this, I managed to get to the top quite quickly where I was welcomed by bitter cold.
The temperatures were so low that everything kept freezing; the backpack, thermal container and phone battery (the phone battery, 30% full, died already after 3 minutes and 5 photos). After I reached it, the top was covered in the shadow of Nuptse, so Pumori rising behind me, seemed all the more glorious and bright. Even less surprising was the view of Everest, as it was illuminated solely on its eastern side, due to the early hours and completely covered in shadow on our side.
One can certainly cope with the cold but some things are more difficult, however. On my way up, I was haunted by the thought of Eva’s condition. So I went down from the top in race walking manner. The descent went by quite quickly, compared to the climb up. Already after a couple of minutes I saw a figure standing in front of the lodge. It was Nabin keeping an eye on Eva and myself at the same time (I have no idea how to express my gratitude to Nabin for his exemplary kindness and the help he was to us this day). When I, completely out of breath, came to him, I inquired about Eva’s condition, to which he reluctantly responded that it wasn’t good. I rushed to our room. I wasn’t at ease at all when I saw her. The room was completely frozen from the inside (the walls, any and all liquids, handkerchiefs and Eva’s sleeping bag…). She was lying in her sleeping bag in a very weak state. My head started to spin at that point. I called Nabin to the dining room where we hatched up a plan while I was nervously swallowing large chunks of Tibetan bread. We decided to get the hell out of these altitudes as soon as possible. I started packing while Nabin accompanied Eva to the table so she could have some breakfast which did her good.
We were all set to go in half an hour.
We began walking very slowly and carefully and crossed the glacier rapidly with a bit of luck on our side. When we crossed the moraine it was evident that Eva felt much better, so we could reach Lobuche and there decide how to continue. Upon reaching the lodge where we are situated at this moment, it became clear that we are going to stay here for the day.
Nabin arranged for a nice and warm (warm according to Nepalese standards – heating is scarce here) room. We treated ourselves to a snack and had some rest. That put our wild day back on track. We are now sitting in the living space and laughing at the whole ordeal.
With a bit of luck, we managed to overcome a big hurdle and we’re so excited about tomorrow, when we plan to do a short hike to Dzongla, but mostly rest and regenerate for our trek over the second pass – Cho La.
November 6th – Hotel Zongla Inn, Dzongla 4830 m – 2,5 hour hike
Our laid back day started with a combination of Nepalese popular music, the best chocolate pancakes in the world (!!!) and instant coffee. For a change, we planned a light walk from Lobuche to Dzongla hamlet, which is our last stop before the pass to Gokyo valley.
We started our hike by the glacier, crossed a small creek and traversed on a path leading us westward, enjoying the view of Lobuche East Peak. The views were fantastic to behold. At first we saw the peak of Cholatse, after which, gazing down, we beheld the emerald lake Cho (both names starting with the same letters, coincidence?). The only things thwarting the idyllic feeling were the helicopter flybys and a tranquil view of the field littered with mounds in remembrance of all who dared to push their luck on Everest and failed.
The trail led us to a cosy lodge where we had the time to wash and air our sleeping bags, you know, mostly getting rid of the bad smell from the fabric. The warm weather even made possible a short shower that, however, let me down in the process (covered in soap and all), so I was forced to use snow water that Eva had to bring when she heard a torrent of Yugoslavian profanities.
We’re now sitting in a crowded lodge (the first time that we’re feeling packed like sardines) in which the two smaller in stature heads of the lodge (both women) decided to cook for us. They keep on putting yak pies into the stove while we’re panting by our plates of dal bhata. In the middle, closest to the stove, in down jackets and flip flops (if anything applies here it’s that the Nepalese have broken thermostats), the guides are waiting for their turn to eat while everybody else is finishing with their meal.
This small group of wiry men in the middle represents the backbone of local economy, and from my perspective (as an outdoor sports instructor), they are role models for every outdoor guide in the world. I am fascinated by the fact that despite a modest budget, difficult working conditions and great responsibility they manage to present themselves as proud, attentive, and open, but still as professionals who don’t deviate from their roles even when the day’s work is done and duty doesn’t call. Sure, they might fail sometimes. While it’s true that in Europe and North America there are guides who are great professionals and wonderful people, I feel that what we can learn from the Nepalese guides is mostly the consistency over the whole day, which adds to their credibility and establishes a dividing line between a profession and life mission.
November 7th – Himalayan eco resort Gokyo, Gokyo 4790m – 7,5 hour hike
Hikers started to fill the lodge dining area in early morning hours, all dressed in down jackets and desperately desiring some tea (proper coffee is a fool’s hope up high in the mountains 🙂 ). It has been a while since we crossed the first pass and is high time we get on going again. The climb up the Cho La pass (5420m) started very early in the morning. When trekking in the Himalayas, the rule is to start as early as possible to make the most of the window of opportunity when there’s good weather.
We began hiking on flat terrain riddled with semi-frozen streams while illuminated peaks were raised high above us. The flat terrain enabled us to warm up a bit, but the first ascent, with the sun shining, warmed us up thoroughly. It was interesting to notice how the “Siberian winter conditions” gave way to “chilly summer morning conditions” in just 200 metres.
The trail was moderately inclined at first but rapidly continued in a steep manner. We soon reached a steep granite edge, riddled with rocks. These “meter high steps” led us (slowly but surely) to a rocky edge where we saw the glacier for the first time. We had a short reprieve at the top and observed the glaring differences among other hikers on the pass.
While most of the hikers were out of breath and well equipped, the porters, wearing used clothes and sneakers that we, at home, usually shelve in the beginning of autumn (not for a second does it cross our minds that sneakers are suitable to cross a 5000meter high glacier), were evidently bored, observing the surroundings, smoking cigarettes and listening to music (porter logic 101: a speaker – obligatory; water – optional). All that and carrying a backpack that is seldom lighter than 25kg and frequently weighs up to 40kg.
These people are a riddle wrapped in an enigma. While it’s understandable that an athlete, well equipped, nourished and rested is capable of great physical feats, these boys (aged between 16 and 60+) on the other hand, who do not undergo rigorous training and are likewise subjected to arduous hikes on a daily basis seem do their job without much effort. An onlooker is perplexed at their abilities, to say the least.
When we regained our strength, we “went for” the glacier. Since the trail wound along the shady mountainside, we quickly put on our crampons (chain crampons with rubber fitting). They weren’t that much necessary, but they did hasten our step and made us steadier on our feet. In just a few minutes of hiking on a well trodden trail, we reached the last rocky “step” that “propelled” us to the top of the pass.
A large crowd awaited us there. Since the Cho La pass represents the fastest route between EBC trek and the popular Gokyo valley, there were many more hikers here compared to the trek to Kongma La pass.
They were a colourful bunch, these people, but some of them, mostly from the East (Asia), stood out with their improper behaviour. The surrounding terrain showed that they have no respect toward nature, as there was no shortage of trash (we later found out that the porters actually litter quite a lot; maybe because they have no education and, therefore, lack respect).
Because of all this we decided to head down. The descent was similar to the previous one. The trail, seemingly without end, wound along a steep and icy mountainside (doing summersaults is not recommended here) and later crossed long plains of steppe, before we, walking along a small stream, reached the village Thagnak. We had some lunch and continued toward Gokyo.
The last obstacle on our path was a glacier, very similar to the one by the village Lobuche. This one is more frequently trodden and to top it all off we had beautiful sunny weather. Time went by quickly (we met a group from Catalonia that looked as if they were straight from Woodstock). We passed some icy walls, emerald little lakes and suddenly we could see the giant Gokyo lake, with the village Gokyo standing by it. We descended to the village and quickly found our lodge.
It’s interesting to note that today was a milestone. With the successful crossing of the second pass came a feeling of calm and tranquillity, as Eva and I feel that the altitude doesn’t have much an effect on us and that one must listen to their body and use common sense to explore these parts in a pleasant manner. We are looking forward to the challenges and adventures coming in the next few days.