To Infinity and Beyond – until next time

It’s time to go home. We pack up in Namche ready for the two day trek back to Lukla with a wealth of unforgettable experiences from the past three weeks. The town clock tolls it’s simple bell chime telling us it’s 9 O’clock. Fittingly there are yaks in the passageway by our Tea House leaving gifts, I assume to wish us well on our journey?

After an arduous three and a half minute descent it’s time for coffee.

Our four guides throughout the trip have been just fabulous. Primarily they have ensured our safety but each of them have looked to make each day as comfortable as possible, helping those that need help, advising us as to local custom and making sure we achieve our goals. They are there to help in difficult situations and none more so than on the more challenging summits and treks. These guys and the many Sherpas and guides throughout the mountains are without question the hero’s. Thank you!

As we retrace our steps to Lukla we look at the faces of those fresh off the plane and starting their adventure and in turn them looking at us. What do they see? They are bright eyed, healthy and strong and by comparison we must resemble the walking wounded. In some way each of us is unwell, with many coughing and spluttering and we have three weeks of beard growth (it says something when after just three weeks my beard is longer that the hair on my head!). I asked the Turtle Trekkers to sum up the experience and the following words and phrases were used; dream come true, amazing, exhausting, incredible, challenging, gratifying, adventurous, memorable, exhilarating and cold. I do hope that the fresh faced walking the other way can read the more rewarding emotions when they look at us. My words are “eternally grateful”. Grateful to the simple kind generosity of the Nepalese people, grateful to have experienced such a magical adventure and grateful for the genuine friendship and companionship.

Sincere thanks to those that have taken the time to follow, comment, or message, your support means a great deal to the group. Thank you!

Finally, we are very much looking forward to getting together for coffee at Bruno’s next Monday morning.

Day 19 and 20 (Group 1) – Gokyo Lakes to Namche via Renjo La high pass and Thame

With thanks to our guest blogger and photo credits Micheal Testori.

This section covers the experience from the group who traversed the Renjola Pass and made their way to Namche Bazzar.

We awoke at 5am to witness the sun barely touching the top of the Renjola Pass that we aimed to traverse later that day.

As we started to cross Gokyo Lake at 7:30am, crossing the ice-scattered path, we started our ascent to the top of the pass standing at 5420m.

We never lost view of the deep turquoise Gokyo lake as we ascended, only to be greeted by another stunning view of Everest and its surrounding peaks. The path to the top was a combination of dirt, rock and ice. Yet, by 11am we had reached the top, admiring what can only be described as one of the most breathtaking views of our journey, breathtaking in every sense of the word.

After a quick snack, we began our descent to Thame at 3800m. Unbeknownst to us, there were two sides to Thame and of course or lodge was at the further side. Yet, the sun setting on the mountain peaks towering over the valley leading to Thame made it all worth while. We arrived to our lodge in Thame at 5:30pm, only to be greeted by a foreign phenomenon, TV. Many of us at this moment realized how long we had been away from what we know as civilization.

Over dinner, we happened to be discussing the pictures of the Buddhist high priests mounted on the wall and learnt that one of them lived in a monastery 45 minutes away in the mountains. So, in the morning, we began our unexpected side trip to visit the monastery to visit the high priest to receive a blessing. Did I forget to mention he was 6 years old??!! As we arrived, he greeted us, blessed us individually, wrapped our necks with a shawl and tapped our heads with a piece of wood used traditionally to give blessings. We were then given a tour of the monastery which sat on the side of a mountain with a glorious panoramic view of the valley Thame sat within.

After our tour, we began our descent to Namche, which was “Nepali Flat” where we met up with our fellow Turtle Trekkers. The descent included picturesque views of roaring sky blue river, local wildlife and the towering mountains leading us to Namche. It was the perfect way to finish the loop of the journey back to Namche.

Days 19 – 20 (Group 2) – Gokyo Lakes to Namche via Phortse Thanga

As I elected to take the more direct route down to Namche (avoiding the high pass) this review covers our journey. With the help of the other group we will compile an additional Day 19/20 from their persepcetive.

Leaving our Gokyo Lakes Tea House we follow the Gokyo Valley south, and the Dudh Koshi Nadl river (which will be accompanying us for the next three days). As we move away from Gokyo village we quickly find Lake 2 in the Gokyo lake string. Slightly smaller but no less stunning.

We continue to follow the river and notice that instead of passing the spent and recovering we are now passing those in meditation or contemplation. The scenic beauty of the trail inspires thought rather than exhaustion.

Crossing the river one last time we slowly climb leaving the river far below as the trail grips the hillside along the top of the valley affording amazing views far down the valley and beyond.

By afternoon we find ourselves in rhododendron groves and shortly thereafter we feel as though we are re-entering earths atmosphere as at long last we fall below the tree line and rediscover the world of shade and light, cool and hot, shadows, birdsong and the crunch of leaves underfoot. The Rhododendron (meaning Red Tree) is the national flower of Nepal and is widespread throughout the region.

As the light fades we find our Tea House in Phortse Thanga next to the river. Throughout the day we have enjoyed the river as a companion from all levels, from very high up looking down in to the valley to being able to feel the cool of the rushing water from the bank and it is fitting that we now sleep to the sounds of our companion. We have descended 1,000m today and the air here is richer and warmer so sleep comes more easily.

With morning comes a 300m climb back out of the valley and away from our rushing friend. We take the climb at a leisurely pace and enjoy the views of the mountains above and the river below both through the lush vegetation. We are surrounded by huge pine trees and the powerful scent of millions of pine needles on the trail. As we pass the temple at the top of the valley we know it’s downhill to Namche.

I have learned over the past two days that for me it is most certainly the journey rather than the destination that gives me the most pleasure. Oftentimes we have walked alone with not a soul in sight and the pure beauty and tranquility is precisely why I travelled over 9,000 miles to be here.

We meet up, as planned, with our fellow Turtle Trekkers in Namche in time for lunch to share stories of our two paths. Everyone is excited and in good spirits.

Day 18 – Rest Day at Gokyo Lakes and a little piece of Cayman.

Today will be a short report as the rest day at Gokyo Lakes was just that. Some chose to walk around the lake others chose to stay in the warm making the most of real coffee and pastries and one intrepid member chose to hike up Gokyo Ri and admire the views.

Photo credits and thanks to Craig Burke.

Before leaving Cayman I was entrusted with a small piece of Caymanite to place somewhere appropriate on our journey. Gokyo Lakes seems perfect so a tiny piece of Cayman now sits peacefully on the shore of this sacred lake.

This was also a day to plan the remainder of the trip. It was decided that we would split in to two groups for the following two days and regroup in Namche. The larger group are to take the high pass Renjo La and take the route via Thame down to Namche. The smaller group will head south past Gokyo lake 2, on to overnight at Phortse Thanga and meet up in Namche. From Namche we head to Lukla and on to Kathmandu.

Day 17 – Thagnak to Gokyo Lakes – Glacier crossing, sacred lakes and the Birthday Boy

Today was billed as an easy 2 hour trek to Gokyo Lakes

We set off at an easy pace admiring the 8,188m Cho Oyu in the distance on the Nepal Tibet border. Cho Oyu is known as the easiest 8,000m+ peak and is only climbed from the Tibet side and even from this distance is an impressive peak.

The majority of the trek today traverses the mighty Ngojumba Glacier, the largest glacier in Asia. Whilst the rim to rim distance is 2km, the distance travelled up and down and zig zagging the lakes exceeds 3km. There is nothing easy about crossing this glacier in all its remote desolate beauty. This time of the year the glacier is covered with a thin crust of rock, sand and dust and dotted with lakes. The ice is only 10 – 20cm below the surface and can be seen easily around the lake edges and is often exposed.

The glacier is huge. As we traverse the ice we can hear it crack underground with huge force and sometimes see the surface move and shake. Descending down from the rim and climbing back out up to the rim on the other side proved, for me at least, terrifying. Oftentimes on a ledge one boot wide with a near sheer drop down into a freezing lake. It was at this point I remembered that today was an easy 2 hour trek! The experience however was truly wonderful and unforgettable.

Being on the glacier was almost like being on another world and once back up on the rim we were returned to Planet Earth. From here it was a short trek to what can only be described as an oasis. Stunningly beautiful blue lakes, the best accommodation we have seen since Kathmandu and best of all we have two days here to rest.

Gokyo Lakes are a system of six lakes and are the the worlds highest freshwater lakes situated between 4,700m and 5,000m. The lakes are considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists. The site is worshipped as the residing place of ‘Nag Devata’ (Snake God) and a temple of the Hindu deities Lords Vishnu and Shiva is situated at the western corner of the lake. The belief that birds and wildlife in the area should not be harmed continues to protect the fauna.

Our Tea House provides us with our first hot shower for two weeks and the best food since Kathmandu ….. bliss.

As if the day couldn’t get more exciting, it was also Vico’s birthday. Supper time included red wine and Birthday cake accompanied by a rousing rendition of “happy birthday” by all those in the Tea House. Vico was moved to tears. It was also the first time since early childhood that Vico spent his Birthday with his older brother. “Happy Birthday Vico, we appreciate all you have done to pull the adventure together”.

Sherpa Mingma presented Vico with a traditional Sherpa Khate in celebration of his Birthday and to bring him good fortune.

Day 16 – Dzongla up through the Chola High Pass and on to Thagnak

The Chola Pass connects Everest valley with Gokyo valley and is a demanding day trekking, rock climbing and negotiating a glacier. The direction we are approaching the Pass is acknowledged as the slightly easier.

The start is early to ensure the glacier crossing is complete as early in the day as possible. As we walked past the Base Camp for Mt. Cholatse (6335) we were in awe as to the day that the climbers were already dealing with and we plodded on toward the Pass and the steep incline. The pass tops at 5,420m (17,782ft) which translates to a relentless 600m climb fo the turtles today. The steep incline morphs into a rock climb and after a brief rest at the top of the rock face we head to the glacier.

By the time we arrive the glacier is slick and a few Bambi moments become inevitable. We’re told to avoid the slick ice and to focus on that we can crunch down. That’s easier said than done as what we could crunch down was separated by swathes of shiny polished ice. Thankfully, with the help of our Sherpas, a couple of pairs of temporary crampons that we ferried back and forth, and a degree of bad language we arrived at the final rock face and then the top of the pass. It’s unfathomable how the many porters carry their large loads up and over the pass.

At the top!

After a stop for rehydration and energy bars we begin the 700m descent to Thagnak, the first village the other side of the pass. A mixture of scrambling down a boulder strewn face followed by undulating open stretches of steep inclines and declines.

The final stretch down to the village follows a fast flowing half frozen stream of glacial run-off where we encounter many of the sacred birds that resemble large quail (I must find out what they are called). We smell the village a good while before we see it with that now all too familiar scent.

We arrive some 10 hours after leaving Zhongla thoroughly exhausted but with a feeling of accomplishment. Chola Pass is considered one of the more challenging treks on the circuit. Not climbing, but definitely extreme trekking. Very rewarding by way of scenic magnificence and personal achievement.

Day 15 – Dingboche to Dzongla – off the beaten track

We say goodbye to Dingboche for the third and final time and climb the now familiar hill behind the village up to the Stupa, then it’s out into the valley and on to Thukla for lunch.

After lunch we divert away from the popular Everest Base Camp trail and tread new ground toward the Chola Pass. The 3 hours from lunch to the Tea House at Dzongla we didn’t see another trekker. We are taking the High Pass and Lakes route anti-clockwise which is also the less popular direction. As we left lunch we faced a steep 150m climb after which the landscape changed to barren beauty similar to the moors with low shrub fragrant sunpatsi bushes that are used for incense. The weather pattern has been consistent with clear skies bright sun until about 2pm then the clouds roll in and the temperature drops. Being at 4,500m+ we are in the cloud line and often find ourselves playing cat and mouse with the clouds but when they clear for a moment you glimpse the rock, snow and ice of the giant mountains above. Below are the deep turquoise blue lakes catching the glacial run off.

Tomorrow we head to the Chola Pass. 5am start from our current altitude of 4,830m and a long hard day ahead climbing to 5,400m at the Pass and then down to 4,700m for our evening stop.

Day 14 – Chhukhung to Dingboche – Porters and Illnesses

Following the exertions of yesterday an easy day was in order and a relatively short trek back down the valley to Dingboche, our third and final visit. The wind was brisk but progress was almost all downhill made for a leisurely time.

Now is a good time to recognise the hard working group of porters that have been with us since day one. One of the the key rules of the organization that we chose to travel with, Mountain Monarch, is “One Porter One Trekker”. So, each trekker is assigned a porter who carries the majority of his or her baggage from place to place. These guys are amazing. They virtually run from place to place be it a short distance or a long high altitude climb. Below is a photograph of our fantastic Porters. Some companies use Porters to carry two or even three Trekkers bags.

Unfortunately one of the realities of mountain living is illness. For several days now a few of the Turtle Trekkers have been suffering with a variety of ailments, some more serious than others. Hygiene in the mountains is a huge challenge and at night in the Tea House there is a cacophony of sneezing, wheezing and coughing. Once ill it is then very difficult to recover as there is no opportunity to get warm and no where to really wash and get clean. A few of us have really struggled these past days, none more so than Henry, and today he made the tough decision to leave the trek and get back to Kathmandu. He left in style by helicopter which took 10 minutes to cover the distance it had taken us 5 days to walk. We already miss him and wish him a speedy recovery.

The sink pictured serves an entire floor, probably 30 people and is situated in an open corridor.

Tomorrow it’s onward to Zhongla and then the High Passes.

Day 13 – Island Peak summit day returning to Chhukhung

And ……. they’re off …….

Wake up call at 1am with porridge, toast, boiled egg and coffee served tent side at 1:30am … what a life! Oh yes, it’s minus 15 degrees Celsius and a 5+ hours steep ice ascent awaits.

The first half of the climb is on rock, a difficult hard upward struggle negotiating boulders and ledges. Half way up, Crampon Point is where, predictably, crampons are attached, and climbing essentials such as harness, helmet and jumar are added and the group are roped up with each other and the three guides.

From here on it gets tough and it’s still dark so each relies on their head torch to illuminate the way. Several crevasses needed to be navigated around and there are many beautiful natural ice sculpture landmarks known as Seracs and can be dangerous as they can topple with no warning.

Before the ice wall there is an 8m ladder climb which fortunately was almost vertical making it somewhat less scary than a horizontal ladder across a crevasse.

The ice wall is approx. 150m high and at a 75 degree gradient (but appears vertical) . This is why all the jumar training was so important and the team start the long haul up. There is no turning back now! This is truly exhausting, the sun was up so it was warmer, and the head wall climb took about an hour of relentless hauling up and front pointing crampon hammering in to the ice.

The feeling of relief (and exhaustion) at the top of the head wall was quickly replaced with concern as a ridge walk awaits to the summit. Upon reaching the small summit (about the size of a snooker table) there is an overwhelming feeling of relief, accomplishment and elation. All four Turtle Trekkers made it to the small summit at 6,189m at about 7:30am. A fantastic and admirable achievement. Congratulations Vico, Keith, Craig and Marcos. They join many that summit this peak each year although the first ascender was the famous Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (of 1953 Everest fame).

After enjoying the views, the accomplishment and taking many pictures it was time to come down. Descending a mountain is notoriously more dangerous than ascending as the body is exhausted and mistakes can be made.

Thankfully the descent was largely trouble free but due to fatigue seemed way longer than on the way up. Coming down you can also enjoy the landscape views, seracs, and understand more the terrain.

The journey down took the team through high camp, Base Camp and all the way down to Chhukung. Arrival was at 5pm (some 15 hours after hitting the mountain) where the Turtle Trekkers were reunited and stories shared around the Yak Dung fire.

Day 12 – Climbing clinic at Base Camp and climb to high camp

Life at Base Camp was cold, quite quiet but gloriously sunny. Shaking the tent at wake-up time caused a shower of ice crystals to fall down on the occupants, two per tent.

The summit team had now settled to Vico, Craig, Marcos and Keith and Chef Shetty attended Base Camp and the climbing clinic. Climbing clinic was after breakfast and just behind base camp and covered a thorough examination of all the necessary equipment, ascending with jumar and abseiling with a number eight.

After lunch it was off to high camp. This was a 2 1/2 hour 350m vertical climb and scramble over large boulders and validated the decision to utilize a high camp rather than start the summit assault from Base Camp.

On arrival the team prepared for the summit attempt which was to commence with a 1am wake call for 2am departure. Sleep at 5,650m is patchy. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold and the forecast was for perfect conditions. The team were ready but understandably apprehensive. Tomorrow would be the big day. Island Peak awaits and as Sherpa Mingmas T-shirt says, “The mountain doesn’t care”.