Way to Gokyo

After 6 days in a haze of clouds and illness, we were blessed with healthy bodies and the sun burning the low clouds to flaunt the deep blue Himalayan sky. “Today is the day,” I thought as I took my first steps outside to see 6000m peaks Cholatse and Taboche slicing through the dissolving clouds. The day where I would finally feel my normal energetic self, the day where we would see what we came here to see, the day where we would truly believe we can do this!

For breakfast, I had a hearty bowl of Chompa, a blend of Nepalese grains mixed with hot water to form a sort of cement-like porridge to provide that long-lasting “Sherpa Energy”. Without hesitation, Dad went for French Toast and a fried egg, his favorite breakfast anywhere in the world. Feeling fueled and excited to see the blue sky, we shouldered our packs and started walking from Machhermo at 14,440’. Despite being at such high altitudes, the blazing sun at a latitude of 28° north quickly had us stripping layers and moving as light as possible.

The first couple of miles were “Nepali Flat”, little up, little down. Walking due north, we were blinded by the enormous Ngozumpa Glacier, the main glacier on the south side of the mighty 8000m peak, Cho Oyu. Just 12 miles from its summit, the 26,906’ mountain towers over its surrounding peaks and provided breathtaking views of white contrasted by the brilliant blue sky. As we ascended the valley, views of Cholatse, Taboche, and Arakamtse dominated the skyline to the East, separating us from the main Khumbu Valley. As predicted with any Himalayan hike, Nepali Flat gave way to a stair climb along the raging glacier-fed river. Stair after stair began to take its toll as we crested 15,000’, the air becoming increasingly thinner and thinner. As we topped out of the climb, the first of the world’s highest freshwater lake system revealed itself. Turquoise waters glistening in the sun and a gentle breeze revitalized our spirits as we neared our destination for the evening. Another 30 minutes of Nepali Flat and we were blessed with an even larger, more spectacular turquoise lake, staged in front of the craggy 19,741’ Machhermo Peak. We ditched our packs and practically ran to the water’s edge, as if we forgot we are breathing in less than 50% of the oxygen available at sea level.

One final push brought our team to Gokyo Lake, the ancient glacial tarn at 15,600’ with a quaint little mountain village clustered on its northeastern shore. After hiking for 4 hours at altitude, we were hungry for Dal Bhat at the Gokyo Namaste Lodge. After settling in and enjoying much-needed hot showers, we rested and sipped ginger lemon tea before our big climb up Gokyo Ri in the morning.

Chanit and Sonam met us at our room at 4:50 am, just as we were lacing our boots and finishing packing. Headlights lit, we made our way out of the lodge into the crisp morning air and began our way up Gokyo Ri. A hill by Himalayan standards, Gokyo Ri climbs nearly 2,000 vertical feet in just over 1.5 miles, topping out at 17,580’. Providing an excellent opportunity for an acclimatization hike and outstanding views of the region, the Ri is attempted by nearly every Gokyo trekker. The trail is relentlessly steep, each breath becoming slightly more difficult. My dad had some doubt the evening before about how well he would do on such a steep trail at this altitude. The great thing about an expedition like this, your team will never let you down. The slow, steady pace and frequent breaks to absorb the breathtaking views were our keys to success in pushing higher and higher. Once we broke through the 17,000’ contour line, we were engulfed by the cloud. The views eluded us, and all we could see were the prayer flags flapping in the wind at the summit 500’ above us. Head down, focused on breathing, placing one foot in front of the other, we reached the summit. Celebrating with a thermos of strawberry tea, snowflakes began to fall on our down jackets ahead of the anticipated storm moving in. After snapping some summit shots and cranking out 17 push-ups in honor of the 17,000’ peak, we hustled down the mountain with relative ease.

Refueling with more Chompa and fried eggs at the lodge, we rested the remainder of the day as the weather turned and rain began to fall on Gokyo. Tomorrow we move east to the small village of Gragnag, our final staging point before we attempt to cross Cho La pass into the main Khumbu Valley.

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