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.

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 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 11 – Chukung to Island Peak base camp

And so the day has come to set off on the climb of Island Peak. At 6189 meters Island Peak (locally known as Imja Tse) is a popular climbing peak, and features many mountaineering challenges, including rocky scrambles, a glacier walk, ladders crossing crevasses, a near vertical wall of ice and a tiny ridge to walk along the width of 2 boots all leading to a summit that is the size of a dining room table, not to mention high altitude where oxygen levels are half that in Cayman, climbing for 5 hours during the night by torch light and temperatures expected to plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius. A true Himalayan adventure.

The summit team of Cayman Turtle Trekkers set off for Base Camp. The trail wound its way up the banks of the Imja Khola river with Lhotse on one side and Ama Dablam on the other side of the valley, but all pointing to Island Peak, which as the name suggests stands alone like an island between these mountain ranges.

After a three hour hike, we arrived at the Base Camp at the foot of Island Peak and on the banks of Imja Tsho lake.

Base Camp is a collection of large dining and kitchen tents and small two man sleeping tents. It made for a colorful interlude amongst the barren glacial moraine. We were greeted by the camp chef handing out hot mango tea and a bowl of delicious pasta.

Then it was time for the Turtle Trekkers to wish the summit team good luck and begin the return journey to Chhukung and for the summit team to prepare their sleeping bags and gear for a night in the expedition tents, where temperatures in the tents were expected to drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow the summit team will do some climbing training and then move to High Camp , half way up the mountain.

Day 10 – Dingboche to Chhukung

Our day today is relatively relaxed with a 4km hike covering an altitude increase of 300m to Chhukunk, which is predominantly a Tea House stop at a junction of trekking routes. Chhukung is our stepping off point for Island Peak where tomorrow the summit team will set off for Island Peak Base camp with the remaining Trekkers either trekking local trails and passes or just taking advantage of a rest day.

The route today followed a barren but picturesque valley and river at a steady incline with an unexpected cafe appearing half way providing a now staple and refreshing honey, lemon ginger tea.

Along the way we are again reminded of the realities of life without roads or any form of mechanized transportation when a man passes us carrying a huge piece of slate on his back and strapped around his forehead. There are no roads at all in this region of Nepal and haven’t been since we landed in Lukla.

We also trek through an abundance of fragrant Juniper bushes making the chefs in our party envious.

Our Tea House is one of the more comfortable we have encountered with truly spectacular views all around. Comfortable doesn’t extend to any heating, showers, toilets in the room or even sinks but it’s all relative. Behind us is the mighty Lhotse casting shadow over the valley. Nothing however can increase the temperature which at night is well below freezing. All the Turtles are feeling the cold and longing for the Caribbean sun.

Tonight those preparing to summit receive a final briefing from Sherpa Mingma ready to trek to Base camp tomorrow. The following day will be an ice climbing skills course followed by a trek to High Camp and then finally in the wee hours of the following morning the assault will commence.

Day 9 – Gorak Shep to summit Kala Patthar and back to Dingboche

As Mingma had promised at last night’s dinner it was a long day.

Our day started with a 4.00 am wake call so we could climb Mt. Kala Patthar in time for sunrise. Gorak Shep, altitude (5140m), is one of the highest in the world and not surprisingly a cold place to stay besides the Khumbu glacier. The hotel rooms were below freezing and when we left the hotel to set off for the climb the temperature was a frigid -16 degrees Celsius.

Mt Kala Patthar at 5540metres sits above Gorak Shep and provides an incredible panarama of the Everest Massif trek up. Sunrise is the best time to photograph this incredible scenery. Some of our intrepid Turtle Trekkers braved the cold and the steep slopes and climbed the mountain and an hour or two later. The Cayman Turtle Trekkers summited. Spectacular views and photo opportunities were are reward.

If that was not enough exercise for one day, after breakfast we set off on the Long road home to Dingboche retraced our steps from the outbound which took us two days.

Arrived in Dingboche late having spent 45 mins in the clouds and arriving to a smoke filled village. Being above the tree line there is no wood to burn but fortunately there are many yaks who produce something ideal to burn as fuel. The scent does permeate the village early evening.

Day 8 – Lobuche to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and on to Gorak Shep

At today’s 5:30am wake up call the dawn was breaking clear and a crisp -10 degrees Celsius in Lobuche. Our first stop after a 4 kilometer hike was to drop our bags at the tea house in Gorak Shep, a small village closest to Everest Base Camp. It sits at 5200 meters on the banks of the Khumbu glacier and under the majestic Lhotse (8,516m) the worlds 4th highest mountain.

After lunch we set off for the 8 kilometer round trip trek to Everest Base Camp. Every spring the base camp becomes a teeming tent city with expeditions from all over the world coming to chance their luck at scaling Mt Everest. it has become a pilgrimage for Trekkers as just to reach the BaseCamp, as we are finding out, is a mighty physical and mental achievement.

Fortunatelay for us we had the ideal guide to show us the way. Sherpa Mingma is our guide for the whole trekking trip and the climb of Island Peak.

Sherpa Mingma was born in Lukla and as a boy saw the constant flow of trekkers and climbers arriving in his home town and heading for the high mountains. As a boy he had a dream of climbing Everest. His father was a climbing guide. At 18 he started started trekking as a porter. His brothers were also trekking guides and soon realized Mingma had the talent to be an assistant trekking guide. For 2 years he did this and also started learning and training to acquire the skill sets as a climbing and guiding professional. He took many many climbing and guiding courses with the Nepali Mountaineering Association and the Khumbu Climbing Centre. He stated leading clients on the leading 6000m. peaks as a trekking leader. Finally his big chance came in May 2018 when his brother told Mingma he could guide on Everest with Himalayan Trailblazers. On 21 May 2018 Mingma summited Everest for the first time. Mingma has many fascinating tales about his climbing experiences and we are lucky to have him leading our team..

The trek to the base camp was an undulating walk along and across the side of the Khumbu glacier, one of the biggest glaciers in the world, and finally we crossed the glacier to the Base Camp at 5250m. We were all elated at reaching one of our primary goals of the trip. It sits opposite the Khumbu Ice fall which is the gateway to the route to the summit. It sits on the glacial moraine in a spectacular amphitheater of the worlds highest mountains. An expedition member can expect to spend up to 60 days at this base camp when they attempt an Everest climb.

With the sun starting to dip behind the mountains, we headed back along the ridge walk and got back just in time as the sun set and the temperatures started to plummet. It had been an exhausting but rewarding day.

And our prize for achieving one of our goals…… Mingma telling us the plan tomorrow is a 4.00am wake up call so we can climb Mt Kala Pathar (5650m) by torch light to watch the sunrise over Everest. We should dress warmly as it could be -15 degrees Celsius and following the climb it will be a15 kilometer hike back down to Dingboche. Quiet Sunday in prospect for the Cayman Turtle Trekkers.