Everest, top of the world
The Trek to Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Peak is one of the most beautiful treks in the world.
Leading north away from Phortse village the journey travels into the high mountain summer
grazing pastures of the seasonal villages. Ever the sight of Cho Yho in the distance leading
As we set off from Phortse we left the familiar sights of the village behind weaving our way
between the stone walled fields. It always amazes me how thin the dry stone walls are in this
region of Nepal. It looks like a small gust of wind could flatten any one of them. We
descended down to the crossing point on the river Dudh Kosi below the village before climbing steeply
up the other side of the valley. This was the first serious walking we had done in days, and though
we all thought we should now be acclimatised having spent many days working in the village at altitude,
we were soon feeling the effects of thin air.
After half an hour of climbing we were all feeling dizzy with a weird sensation that you were watching
a cinema screen where half the images were missing. Whole chunks of perception passed by without noticing.
A quick break and a breather to regain our sanity and we moved on towards the village of Monzo. Monzo provided
a welcome break from the spells of dizziness giving us time for a popper stop and a cup of sweet tea and some
chocolate. By now we had reached 4300 m the highest so far in our travels and it was all uphill from here. They
say that it is above 4000 m that you really notice the difficulty of walking at altitude, and we all believed
it now. We were beginning to wonder whether we would ever make it up Gokyo Ri at 5480 m if we were having so much
trouble this early on. Hoping it was just the effects of a steep climb after little exercise we resolved to
In fact that short stop for sweet tea and chocolate seemed to do the trick quite nicely and as we climbed
away from Monzo we all felt much refreshed. The Trek continued past a lunch stop for some Noodle soup and on towards
our tea house for the night in Machermo 4730 m. As we steadily climbed the now gradually sloping path high on the side
of the valley we finally started to see a spattering of snow. It was something of a milestone to see yourself entering
the snowline. By the time we reached Machermo many of the shaded slopes were covered in old snow.
The tea house at Machermo looked more like a "Travel Lodge" than a traditional Nepali tea house, and was modern built and
quite cosy. After a long and tiring day we were glad to stop and rest up, eating some essential food for the journey
before us. An early night was had by all in preparation for an early start the following day to reach the village at
The next morning we were greeted by a different scene indeed from the one we left the night before. There was a
blizzard blowing outside and the whole valley was covered in deep snow. Panuru took one look at the whether and told
us we weren't going to continue up to Gokyo in this weather and there would be a risk of avalanches in the passes
ahead. If it hadn't cleared by 10.00am we would return to Phortse. We went to have some breakfast
while the snow continued outside. We trusted Panuru's judgement entirely but never the less
we were all bitterly disappointed and thought our plans to conquer a high peak had been thwarted. Suddenly out of the blue
at only 8.30 Panuru told us that the weather was easing and it would now be safe to continue. We took a look outside and
to us all it looked just the same, but if Panuru said we could go who were we to argue - whey hey and onto Gokyo Peak.
Unfortunately at this stage we lost two members of our party. Helen had been feeling rough the day before and was going down
with a cough. As the day and night wore on it got worse and worse and so before leaving Machermo that snowy morning it was decided
That Helen and John would head back down to Phortse with our only porter, whilst we redistributed the remaining load among ourselves
and headed off with Panuru. little did we know it would take Helen and John 2 days to make it back to Phortse, but that is another
We headed out of Machermo into the driving snow. Waterproofs and warm clothes the order of the day and a sadness in our hearts
as we left two of the team heading back the way we had come. To our amazement within half an hour of setting off the skies began to clear
and soon we were walking in bright sunshine and clear skies. Panuru was right about the weather clearing though how he knew I
will never know. Another half hour and we were stripping off and finding sunglasses as the heat from above and the glare from below
consumed us. We made good time up the valley and were soon passing the rockfall that marked the end of the glacier and making our way
to the first of the Gokyo Lakes.
The Gokyo lakes are quite beautiful and serene. And that day as the sun bounced off the snow perfect reflections could be seen of the
mountains in the smooth glassy water of the lakes. Yaks and people passed us by in the opposite direction leaving a high sided trail in the now
very deep snow, making our journey in their tracks that much easier. Within the hour we had made it to Gokyo Lakes village a permanent settlement now tourists regularly trek to the area. Before
the tourists Phortse used to be the highest permanent settlement in the mountains. By this stage we were begriming to feel the effects of altitude
once more and all of us felt a little unstable on our feet. But the village and warm toes were calling and our tea house had a lovely veranda
overlooking the largest of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. We stripped off our damp socks and boots and contemplated the Mountain of Gokyo Ri
As we recovered from the mornings exertion we began to have fanciful ideas about climbing the Peak in the afternoon. But sensibility prevailed and we
agreed to go with the original plan of watching sunrise over Everest from the top of Gokyo Ri the following morning. We had a quiet
afternoon instead climbing the ridge behind the village to look upon the vastness of the glacier running down the valley from the slopes of Cho Yho. This
Glacier is truly massive: many kilometres long and a whole kilometre wide, scouring out a path through the ageless mountains.
Early alarms were set and as night fell so did the cold. We awoke at 3.00 am to find our water bottles beginning to freeze and after a quick
breakfast of honey pancakes set off into the night head torches blazing. It was very eerie crossing the snow in near silent footsteps. Not a sound
could be heard apart from our own breath rising in the freezing air. At -18 degrees or so, we were soon feeling the cold in our bones
and as we climbed the slopes of Gokyo Ri in the dead of night, our fingers and toes could really feel the intense cold sapping away the heat.
We had been warned by Panuru to keep our fingers and toes moving to reduce the risk of frostbite, and worry certainly set in as you could feel
the extremities trying to go numb. The climb was slow but steady and seemingly never ending. Adèle's head torch had given up 10 minutes after setting
off and altitude was getting to us all as we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. False summit after false summit appeared as dawn began to seep
across the landscape and we feared we would never make it in time. But worse still Adele and I were getting stomach cramps that were increasing in
agonising intensity, but with grim determination we continued until finally we stepped on top the very peak decorated by prayer flags.
Having made it we were happy to stop for a while but the biting cold was ever present sapping at what little strength we had left.
We waited half an hour on that cold but beautiful mountain top and as the colours of the mountains changed from grey through shades of pink in the
glow of first light. Then finally the sun peaked its head above Makalu just to one side of Everest. For once our view of this mighty mountain showed it to be bigger
than all around.
With first light came the warmth of the sun and even low on the horizon it soon started to take the chill off our bones, though toes and fingers would
take some time yet to feel normal again. We headed off down the mountain happy that we had achieved our goal. While my stomach cramps eased off, Adèle's
continued to get worse and heading back down the mountain was slow going. We arrived back at Gokyo Lakes Village mid morning and stopped back at the tea
house for a second breakfast, before moving on to head back down the valley and cross the mighty glacier.
The glacier itself was a struggle to cross. The path across was not well worn and often seemed to disappear but with Panuru guiding we gradually
moved across it's width. Up and down we went through the stony moraine that covered its surface, until with one last effort we broached the
ridge on the far side. A short walk lead us down to the village of Thagnag where we were to stop for our third night away from Phortse.
After a relaxing afternoon the following day saw us on the move once more and we headed home on the long trek back to Phortse Village. Although this day never
seemed to end and Phortse was always just around the next bend we did eventually make it home to find Helen and John safe and well in Panuru's Lodge.
I will never forget my trek up Gokyo Ri. It was hard, it was agonizing at times but it was well worth the effort and the memories live with me still.
Trek To Phortse |
Gokyo Peak |