Chola Pass

I opened my eyes at 5:30am. I immediately thought it was oddly light outside considering sunrise is about 5:45am. I rolled out of bed and looked out the window, “another foggy morning” I thought. Still half asleep, I wiped the condensation off the moisture-laden window and realized I was wrong. It was a bit foggy, but a fresh 4 inches of snow covered the village and mountains around Gokyo! Like a kid on Christmas Morning, I hurriedly got dressed and ran outside to play in the snow and take photos. During breakfast, the same feeling of a powder day coursed through my body and I was itching to start hiking. Today we were supposed to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier, taking us to Thaknak before Cho La Pass. Fresh snow and low visibility made traversing the glacier a daunting task. As our guides led the way, a few other independent trekkers tagged along to ensure they were able to cross safely. I helped forge the path and do some route finding, looking for cairn after cairn to lead us across. Glacial ponds were frequently pummeled by collapsing rocks under the weight of the wet new snow, as we heard a number of large avalanches propagating from the big mountains above.

After 3 long hours of slow moving through undulating glacial terrain, we made it to Thaknak soaked to the bone. Every trekker in the Teahouse huddled around the small furnace fueled by dried yak dung. Slowly drying our gear, we enjoyed many cups of hot tea and fueled up with Dal Bhat before our big climb over the pass tomorrow.

The 3:45am wake-up came quickly as we made our way to the dining hall for breakfast. By 4:30, we left the Teahouse traveling by headlamp under a misty morning. We quickly gained altitude, temperatures dropped, and the rain/snow mix gave way to light snow. Traveling in snow is always more pleasant than rain, as the snow usually sloughs off your jacket leaving you dry and warm. As we crossed 16,000’ the snow got deeper and deeper. We were the first team to make our way up the pass and were dealt with the task of breaking trail and opening the route. With the forecast calling for a 95% chance of snow and low visibility, breaking clouds at sunrise was a very welcomed sight. We saw big snow-covered peaks revealing themselves for the first time in days and we stared in awe at their beauty.

By 8am, we found ourselves below the crux of the climb, a 1000’ push to 17,800’ up steep terrain accompanied by stone stairs and steel cables for handrails. The weather held for the climb and the snow deepened to nearly a foot as we climbed. By now, several other larger parties had taken the lead and broke trail to the top of the pass. After enjoying some Tibetan bread at the top, deteriorating weather and wind forced us to hurry down the other side. The lower we got, the worse the weather became. Warming temps and increasing precipitation soaked us all to the bone as we moved as quickly as we could to the nearest village of Dzonglha. Slowly but surely, structures appeared through the fog and rain and we made our way inside for another yak dung drying session.

The whole team was tired after an 8-hour hike with nearly 3,000’ of elevation gain at high altitudes. Radha soup and veggie momos replenished our bodies as we had completed the most strenuous day of the trek. After a long night’s rest, we moved to Lobuche at 16,100’. After several days of no sun, the clearing clouds and views of Cholatse, Tabuche, and Ama Dablam lifted our spirits. As we made our way into the main Khumbu Valley on our way to EBC, we saw more people than we had at any other point of the journey so far. As we settled in for some welcome tea and more soup and momos, more snow began to fall.

We are on day 11 of our trip, signifying the halfway mark. We have come so far, but looking at the map, it’s obvious we still have a long way to go. Poor weather certainly makes it more difficult to stay positive, but we are taking it day by day and trying not to get ahead of ourselves.

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