Ok, no time to be flippant today, very serious business is at hand…starting with a 3.30 wake up call.
Today is the longest and most difficult of our trek, and requires a very early start, i.e. 4.30am!
When we were at Machhermo a group of Aussies had just arrived after being up to Gokyo and heading down before making their way to base camp. We asked why they where backtracking to EBC, and the answer was so as to avoid the ChoLa pass…the very same ChoLa pass we are ascending this morning.
The reason for the early start?
To get to the top of the pass before the sun hits it and melts the ice covered path, which is solid and stable(ish) as the ice sets the loose gravel and stone rubble like cement, and then unstable and prone to slippage when the sun does its magic.
I must confess I didn’t realise this when I was convincing Rachael and Liz that this was the way to go to base camp.
Oh, and did I mention the climb to the pass was straight up!
Didn’t know that either.
Anyway, we spent the first hour or so under headlight torch climbing the valley steadily, which was made easier by not knowing what lay ahead, then when the sun rose we found ourselves at the top of the ridge looking across a valley to a bunch of mountains.
Dawa pointed out a tiny saucer like plateau at the top of what looked like a cliff.
“That’s the Cho La pass”, he said, with only the slightest smirk, “that’s where we are going”.
How is this possible?
Evidently it is, as only yesterday we were talking to a few survivors of this ridiculous obstacle at our lodge in Dragnag. Mind you, they had come from the other end, which is evidently a lot easier!?
We spent about an hour scrambling over rocks as we crossed the valley, then headed up the pass, on what seemed to be pretty flimsy paths, more like an afterthought than a viable plan.
We climbed, we slipped, we zigzagged up, we hopped from boulder to boulder, praying the silent prayer.
Eventually we spied the plateau, only for it to disappear under another pile of rock, seemingly blocking the entrance.
Finally, after about 5 hours we finally ducked under the prayer flags at the pass, collapsing on the first available rock.
Tough, bloody tough, but the view made up for the pain as we were presented with a magnificent ice glacier, and more glimpses of mountain peaks.
Unfortunately the clouds had descended, obscuring much that was promised.
30 minutes, and the best snickers bar of our lives later, it was time to descend to the glacier, cross it, boulder hop across and down the side of the mountain, till we stopped for a very early packed lunch on a ravine overlooking the valley we needed to get to.
More staggering over rocks, a couple of river crossing, a nice “Aussie flat” section, and the obligatory climb later, we reach our lodge at Dzongla after 8 1/2 hours.
The rest of the afternoon was spent feeling sorry for ourselves, regaling horror stories to the unsuspecting souls in the lodge doing the pass (backwards) tomorrow, and requesting dinner at 6 so we can be in bed by 7!
Sleep was delayed as the night brought beautiful clears skies and a full moon to illuminate the scene, forcing the tripod outside for a few attempts at capturing the nightscape, with breathtaking ranges you could almost touch.
I would have stayed out longer, but it was bloody cold and the camera was starting to freeze up faster than a kelvinator.
Just as I was about to pack up, a Lebanese trekker decided now was the time for an in-depth discussion on all thing photographic.
I think he got the hint I might be cold when my eyelids froze over!
Frostbite averted, just, I spent the next hour thawing out, with no assistance from the fridge (I mean room) we were sleeping in.