THREE PASSES TREK + EVEREST BASE CAMP - UNGUIDED
Following a scenic drive up into the mountains we reached a small lodge (Hilltop Guesthouse) at the Taksindu Pass (3000m), where we had arranged with the friendly owner, Pasang Sherpa, to leave the Troopy under his watchful eyes for the duration of our trek.
Before leaving the Troopy behind and setting off for the epic month ahead of us we had a few things to get sorted; repacking our packs, charging batteries (a costly exercise in the lodges), and packing down the Troopy, making sure everything was going to be secure and safe.
The following morning we managed to get away by about 10am for the first part of the trek; Taksindu to Namche. Most people (95%) usually fly into Lukla and hike for two days to reach Namche; we decided to trek the extra few days because we could drive there as well as get some (much needed) fitness preparation for what was to come.
To reach Namche we took 5 days, covering 50km of constantly changing terrain, approximately 4km of elevation loss and gain, a million farting mules pushing their way past, and glimpses of the snow capped mountains peeping their heads out ahead of us.
The twin suspension bridges - the last bridges before Namche
Following a killer and dusty hike up the mountain to Namche (3,440m), we arrived at lunch time and found a small lodge to stay at, the Valley View Lodge, with a very friendly host. After 5 days of trekking it was nice to take the boots off! We spent 2 nights here, taking the next day as an acclimatisation day. The air traffic in Namche is non-stop with helicopters landing at one of many helipads, bringing supplies in and taking tourists on scenic flights (or picking them up when they've had enough with trekking!). Being with 2 males who take an interest to these sorts of things, we spent a good chunk of our day off at one of the helipads getting right up close to the action. So close that you can just walk up to the helipad at anytime!
Okay, okay now for what this whole episode is about, our UNGUIDED 3 PASSES TREK + EVEREST BASE CAMP! A 130km trek that includes visiting the bustling Ama Dablam Base Camp (4,570m), climbing Chukhung Ri (5,550m), crossing Kongma La (5,535m), ticking EBC (5380m) and Kalapathar (5,643m) off the bucket list, crossing Cho La (5,380m) and its slippery glacier, explore Gokyo and its beautiful lakes, and finishing it all off with an amazing view of Gokyo and Everest from Renjo La (5,388m).
Hiking out of Namche the change in terrain is dramatic, the trees start to disappear and the ground becomes barren; which was the case at our first stop in Pangboche (3985m), a 14km climb from Namche. We stayed here for 2 nights (at the Wind Horse Inn), hiking up to Ama Dablam Base Camp the following morning to acclimatise as well as check out the bustling city of tents filled with climbers waiting to summit the (in my opinion) most breathtakingly beautiful mountain in the region. We were lucky enough to be invited into a blessing ceremony for the climbers and their equipment as well as be shown around their camp set up. Leaving my pack behind in Pangboche, I felt as light as a feather in my almost jog up to base camp!
Hiking back down from Ama Dablam
Getting back to the village we bumped into an Aussie/Canadian couple, Aaron and Kara, who we met back at Taksindu on day one. Their plan was to do the same trek as us, so from here on our group of 3 became 5! You'll see them pop up/hiding in the background in the episode from this point!
One of the locals
From Pangboche to Chukhung (the village before crossing Kongma La) is only 10km. We could of done this trek in one day as it's a very gradual climb up to Chukhung (4,730m), though we had a midway stop at Dingboche for 2 nights due to Mitch coming down with the flu. Thankfully we didn't have any restrictions surrounding how long we took so having a day off to rest wasn't an issue (I certainly wasn't complaining!). We stayed at the Green Tara Guesthouse hosted by a charismatic Tibetan man, Tashi Lama, who happened to be a pretty good baker. Staying an extra day I couldn't not treat myself to a delicious piece of chocolate lava cake! Dingboche was also the first place that our water began to freeze overnight.
Walking in Dingboche
With Mitch feeling a bit better we walked the short 5km to Chukhung and arrived at lunch time to the Panorama View Lodge, where we spent the afternoon in the sun filled dining room watching the mountains surrounding us change as the sun slowly set down the valley that we'd just walked up.
Beginning to feel the early signs of a flu (thanks boys!) I sat it out for the climb up to Chukhung Ri, leaving Mark and Mitch to go on their own. From the village it's a steep climb up to Chukhung Ri, ascending approx. 800m over 2.7km. To get to the summit they scrambled over very loose shale for the last few hundred metres and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, the glacier and its beautiful lake, and views all the way down the valley.
The view from the top of Chukhung Ri
Now it's time for the real fun to begin! Our first, and supposedly "hardest" pass of the three was before us! We set off early from Chukhung, first meeting Aaron and Kara (or Karen as we nicknamed them) at their lodge, for the 12km trek over the Kongma La (5,535m). The trek to the pass was long and steady; not overly difficult (just put one foot in front of the other!) though the shortness of breath makes for a whole new challenge.
Half way up Kong Ma La
The final climb up to the pass was quite steep and dusty though with the "end" in sight we all smashed through it. From the pass you've got an amazing view over the lake we just walked past and on the other side down to Lobuche (4,940m), the village we were going to, sitting just on the other side of the Khumbu glacier (the world's highest glacier) that we had to cross to get there!
The top of the first pass - Kong Ma La
After a quick bite to eat of our packed lunch (veggie spring rolls) and a few photos, we begun the slippery descent to the edge of the glacier, feeling like we were skiing at times over the loose shale and dirt.
The 'path' down to Laboche which is off in the distance
On the way down all we could see ahead of us was what looked like the gate to Mordor. With sunlight running out we pushed our fatigued bodies to move a little faster as we climbed it's walls, navigated our way over boulders and ice filled streams before climbing back up the other side, reaching Lobuche just as last light disappeared.
The Khumbu Glacier
We'd heard many stories of Lobuche filling up and people not being able to get a bed; as such we were a little worried it would be the case for us, though we were pleasantly surprised to find somewhere to stay straight away. We got a triple room at the Sherpa Hotel, dropped our packs, ordered a big pot of tea and devoured a Sherpa Stew before putting ourselves to bed at about 7:30.
From Lobuche it's a 3 hour trek up to Gorak Shep (5,164m), the village you stay at to visit Everest Base Camp and Kalapathar, and also the highest altitude that we'd be sleeping at during our trek. We'd rang ahead to the Buddha Lodge to reserve a room for us and Karen as we'd also heard how busy it gets there. Arriving at lunch time we decided to chill out for a couple of hours while we waited to walk up to Kalapathar for sunset. Unfortunately Mark came down with a migraine so it was just Mitch and I. We ended walking up about 2/3 of the way and decided to watch the sunset from there as I too begun experiencing a bad headache. I also forgot to take my trekking poles and had a mild meltdown fearing I wouldn't be able to get back down without them and break the camera in the process. Sorry Mitch! You'll all be pleased to know that I was able to walk without them and no cameras were broken. Although we didn't get to the top the view was still spectacular, more so of the vista as a whole and not just of Everest; that particular view is yet to come!
Setting off straight after breakfast, leaving our packs at the lodge, we begun the trek further up the valley to Everest Base Camp; a relatively easy 3.5km walk each way.
Crossing the glacier to Base Camp
Being out of season there were no tents at base camp; just some prayer flags, a sign telling us this is where it is, and many people throwing out high-fives left, right and centre followed by a photo shoot with the sign.
Everest Base Camp
To be honest, this part of the trek was a bit underwhelming, especially compared to the Kongma La that we'd just crossed a few days earlier. Though in saying that, we're glad we done it and crossed off the list!
The token shot.
The same day we made it back to Lobuche just as some bad weather started rolling in. We walked into the wind the whole way down and there was a thick cloud was settling in, fast. One piece of gear that we used daily was our Buff (neck warmer) with a fleece lining. Not only does it work as a neck warmer, you can use it to protect your ears and face from the ice cold winds that roars up these valleys like it did on this afternoon. We stayed at the Sherpa Hotel again that night, in the same 3 bed room. This lodge actually had a good restaurant with really friendly staff. If you're staying here make sure to order the egg and cheese toasted sandwich for breaky! Delishhh!
Dzongla (4,830m) was our next stop; we'd spent one night here before crossing Cho La the following day. The walk from Lobuche to Dzongla is 6.5km, quite easy and has amazing views of the valley and the bright blue Chola Lake.
The walk to Dzongla.
Taking only a few hours we settled in to the Himalayan Lodge that had a picture framed view of the beautiful Ama Dablam. Although only quite small and basic, the views from this village were some of the best of the trek.
Pass #2! Feeling fresh we set off early to cross Cho La (5,380m). Climbing up to the pass was noticeably easier than crossing Kongma La a few days earlier, most likely due to being better acclimatised and also being fitter as we were now about midway through the trek. With a bit of climbing up rocks we had reached the bottom of the glacier. Here we had a quick bite to eat before putting on our mini spikes and crossed the huge mass of slippery ice, which was a piece of cake to walk over thanks to the spikes digging themselves into the ice every step we took. The pass was exceptionally busy that day and about 50% of the people there had no mini spikes, which although was quite entertaining to watch, we were surprised to see guides taking whole groups (20+ per group) there without them, especially seeing that they couldn't walk more than one metre without assistance. You can pick them up for about $10 and it's 100% worth buying them if you're thinking of doing this pass, especially if you're carrying cameras!
At the top of Cho La with the glacier in the background.
The trek down from Cho La descends 700m to Dragnag and goes through a mix of terrains, beginning with a rocky climb/slide down from the pass, to a grassy hill and finishes with a long walk down the valley hugging a small stream. We stayed the night at the Tashi Delek Lodge before finishing off the trek over Ngozumpa glacier, the longest glacier in the Himalayas at 36km, to Gokyo the following morning.
Making the climb down into Ngozumpa glacier.
Arriving in Gokyo (4.750m) we were blown away at how picturesque the village was, nestled by the edge of Gokyo Lake. In Gokyo there is a plethora of accomodation options; we chose Namaste Lodge because we'd heard some great reviews of their food, which didn't disappoint! The following day we set off to do the day trek further up the valley to see the 4th and 5th lake. About 6km each way it's an easy walk and you get a great view of the lake, glacier and surrounding peaks. By the time we arrived back to the lodge the wind had picked up and the clouds had settled in; making for a not so enjoyable walk back, we were famished and ordered lunch. That veg burger was the most delicious thing I'd eaten in weeks!
We'd originally planned to spend 3 nights in Gokyo and climb Gokyo Ri, though due to the clouds making a much more common appearance we decided to skip Gokyo Ri and leave the next morning for the third and final pass, Renjo La (5,388m). With our lunch packed (more veggie spring rolls), a Snickers bar each and plenty of water we began the climb up. The trek up was of similar difficulty to the other two passes, maybe even a bit easier. Mitch might disagree with you on this though as he unfortunately started showing signs of altitude sickness, giving him a headache, dizziness and finding it hard to breath. Reaching the top we were extremely lucky with the weather, clear skies with a spectacular panoramic view of the region including Mt. Everest (8848m) and Mt. Lhotse (8516m).
At the top of Renjo La.
After taking it all in we started down the other side on the way to Lungden, and to our surprise/amusement we found that stairs had been constructed the whole way down the pass! About halfway to Lungden we came across a young Japanese solo trekker who had fainted by the side of the track. He was showing acute signs of AMS and we needed to help him back down. Unable to walk unassisted Mitch helped/carried our new Japanese friend down the mountain, at some points actually piggy backing him. Not moving at any speed Kara and I decided it best that we go ahead and make sure we all got a room in Lungden, which was still 5km away. Arriving about 2 hours after us, Mark and Aaron showed up first looking slightly more overloaded than usual as they'd each taken on a new pack (both Mitch's and the Japanese guy) in addition to their own. They both expressed how much respect for the Sherpas they had! Mitch and our new friend arrived shortly after; thankfully showing signs of improvement and ate some food, drank some tea and got some sleep before going back down the following day to a lower elevation to acclimatise before attempting the pass again.
The boys with our new Japanese friend.
We're on the home stretch now! All downhill and only 18km back to Namche, we smashed it out in about 6 hours. Getting to Namche the streets seemed a lot quieter and colder than last time because winter had begun to settle in. We then spent 2 nights in Namche, having a rest day before we begun the 3 day/50km trek back to the Troopy.
As Mitch and "Karen" were flying out of Lukla back to Kathmandu we decided to go for a celebratory drink in Namche to close off the epic month we'd spent together. With the weather so cold we ordered a hot chocolate with Baileys. Trust me, you need to try one of these! Cheers to an epic month of trekking!
Here's a few extra pieces of information:
Accommodation: Total accommodation costs were NPR 4300/USD 38 for 3 people over 27 days. Most lodges have triple rooms, which we opted for. Between Tengboche and Lobuche you are required to pay the Khumbu Hotel Association room pass which is 500 rupees/room except for Lobuche and Gorak Shep which is 700 rupees/room. You can usually come to an agreement with the lodge owners regarding the cost of the room if you eat all of your meals there; thus reflected in our total accommodation costs. Tip: bring your bartering A Game! Don't forget to stay respectful when bartering, as remember these guys make your food!
Food: Food on the trek gets expensive the higher up you go, though it's generally pretty good and of big servings (it's amazing how much food you consume!). Between Mark and I we spent an average of NPR 3400/USD 30 per day on food. Some of our favourite meals were:
Breakfast: pancakes, chapati with omelette, and egg and cheese toasted sandwich.
Lunch and dinner: Sherpa stew, garlic soup (your body will need these!), macaroni with veg and cheese and dal baht after a long day trekking (the dal baht is usually a bit more expensive though it's a lot of food and you always get a second serving!) Disclaimer: the dal baht on the trek is a much more basic version than what you'd get in Kathmandu.
Packed lunch: Veggie springs rolls were a great option as they weren't very expensive and stayed nice and neat. They're not a typical spring roll, more of a half moon pastry the size of a plate with veg filling.
Medications: We took with us; Diamox for AMS prevention, Buscopan for relieving stomachs pains (side effect of Diamox), Paracetamol for general pain, Codeine for stronger pain relief, Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE) for a decongestant, Gastrostop for well, you know what, Azithromycin for treatment of a number of bacterial infections, and some multivitamins.
Drinking water: Bottled water is available the whole way, though please don't be that person. We bought 6 packets of water purification tablets (between 3 people) which lasted us the whole month with no problems refilling out water bottles at the lodges for free. There is no running water in Gorak Shep so you will need to buy bottled water here, for which they sting you a hefty 400 rupees per bottle. Try and plan your visit here to only stay one night to avoid the high food prices as well as having to buy bottled water any more than is necessary.
Battery charging: The price and structure varies depending on where you are and from lodge to lodge. Some lodges will charge per item and some per hour. A full battery bank recharge can cost as much as 1500 rupees or up to 500 rupees per hour. Tip: try bartering with the lodge owner to include the charging in the room rate.
WIFI: We used Ncell SIM cards which only worked between Lucla and Pangboche, and Mitch had a Namaste SIM card which only worked up until to Lucla. You can always buy prepaid internet (Everestlink) cards for 600 rupees/1GB at the lodges. Although you can get online so easily, it's a great opportunity to disconnect from technology (one which we took!).
We completed the walk back to the Troopy in two days shorter than the way up, feeling much fitter than what we had 4 weeks earlier. Arriving back to Taksindu we were feeling pretty excited to see our little home again! Feeling famished from the climb back up here (1500m elevation gain!) we devoured 3 lunches each, much to Pasang's surprise.
The weather had changed significantly since we were last there; colder, icier and cloudier. Unfortunately for Mitch, Kara and Aaron who planned to fly out of Lucla 3 days earlier, were still stuck there due to the clouds stopping all flights. They only ended up beating us back to Kathmandu by a mere 24 hours.
The notorious Lukla airport - (Tenzing Hillary Airport)
If you've come this far, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this episode/blog as much as we did filming it!
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