Stupa on the way to Machhermo
This day was just a couple hours of walking so we slept in a bit and left Dole late. we still arrived before lunch though. The guest houses on the south west side of the stream that divides the town appeared to either be under construction or had out houses, and for the extra 50 rupees or so I'd rather have the indoor toilets. So we headed across the stream and stopped in the very nice Namgyal Lodge which had impressive rooms and a very well maintained courtyard, but the food prices were a bit outside of the budget we were looking to stick to, so just beyond there was the Trekkers Lodge and Restaurant where we were ended up settling and were taking care of by Dawa Sherpa and her family.
Yak out Back of Trekker's Lodge in Machhermo
Now whether it is deserved or not, Israeli's have a very bad reputation in Nepal for taking bargaining too far. Now while my trekking companion certainly didn't mean to be rude, it was taken that way by the Sherpa running the lodge. In the exchanges that followed it was clear to that Ellie was not impressed by the way the lodge owners conducted themselves. These kind of cultural misunderstandings from both sides are painful to witness first hand and you really are powerless in many ways to stop the social mess that unfolds in front of you. Aside from this misunderstanding, the stay here was quite pleasant and the lodge owners were very gracious, first rate people in my opinion. The only thing that stops me from giving this place the highest endorsement is that the food was mediocre at best, but again the people made up for this.
Verification that Mr. Sherpa had been on top of Everest and Cho Oyo.
It turns out that the lodge owner is a two time Everest summitter and he topped Cho Oyo (the 6th highest) six times. I found this out by looking at some certificates that were hanging on the wall in the back of the dining area and then asking him as he passed by on the way to preform some chores. He affirmed that he was the one who had climbed the mountains, and in normal Sherpa humility he played it down telling me that, "Cho Oyo really wasn't that tough there is just this 50 meter vertical climb you had to get over that was tough." He showed me some pictures of the mountain taken from the Tibet side (where you do the ascent) and pointed out this difficult part. What he doesn't mention is that you are doing this and other parts at over 20,000 and exposed to whatever weather conditions come on by. Cool guy, and enjoyed talking to the people at this lodge.
Village of Phang
In the afternoon to keep boredom at bay and get my body use to the altitude I went for a walk up the valley as far as the small village of Phang, got a look at where the river cascades down from the glacier and headed back to have dinner and settle in for the evening. Even the next day would not be a challenge. From Machhermo we planned to head up to Gokyo village, something I figured couldn't possibly take more than a couple hours and after we got rooms, walk up to the lakes further up the valley. There are six lakes in the Gokyo region, but the sixth one by most accounts is too far north to make a reasonable visit from a day hike. I figured I'd go to the fourth or fifth depending on the conditions the next day.
Following the Trail Along Glacial Streams
Day five dawned in a fog as well, and as we moved up near the Ngozumpa glacier it looked to be thicker. That said a wind would pick up from down the valley and the sun was bright through the clouds with intermittent patches of blue, leading you to believe that at any moment they might lift. Passing the village of Phang the trail starts to ascend beside the glacier, eventually climbing stone steps that rise beside a cliff on one side and a steep drop to the rapids below on the other. Once up over this you are rewarded with views of the first lake. The water, as is usual with glacial melt, was that bright aqua bluish green and the near barren fields nearby were populated with stone cairns and the odd yak that gave it an almost otherworldly feel.
Yak Near the Shores of the First Lake
As you walk beside the glacier you can't actually see it due to the huge amount of earth and rock it pushed up on its way through, so instead on that side is a hundred or so foot tall hill of rock and gravel. On the other side is the water that flows between the lakes, or the lakes themselves that are up against the ridge of rocky spires and mountains that form the west wall of the valley. Continuing between these entities on the trail we came up to and passed the second Gokyo lake, Taboche Tsho, and not long after that we reached the the village of Gokyo which sits on the shores of the third lake.
Approaching the Third Lake and the Village of Gokyo
Once at the village we went to the Gokyo Namaste Lodge on the advice of some other trekkers we had talked to the day before, and I'm very glad I did. This is very likely one of the best run lodges in all of Nepal that charges as if it were just any other lodge. The food was spectacular...I would have even been happy with most of it if I had ordered in Kathmandu, let alone way up in Gokyo. The rooms were spacious, the common area was nice and heated, and was cozy with Buddhist manuscripts on display. Best of all the people were very friendly, and extremely helpful. I can't say enough good things about this lodge, suffice to say that if you plan on passing through Gokyo, go out of your way to find and stay at this lodge, you won't regret it.
Surface of the Ngozumpa Glacier
Anyway, after a very good lunch we made way north without our packs and checked out the glacier and the fourth lake. The weather continued to tease, and despite receding clouds here and there they continued to cover most everything above us. Despite this we got some great views of the lakes and glaciers up here, and the mist at times even seemed to enhance the atmosphere of being someplace unique. Some might be surprised by some of the pictures that glacier doesn't appear as one giant piece of ice, but looks more like an abandoned gravel quarry. The reason for this is that the ice moves and disturbs a huge amount of earth and rock, and as it melts these deposits sit on the surface. For those back in the North East of the US just think of the once massive pile of snow in the Mall parking lot that as June rolls around is quickly melting and covered in dirt. That's essentially what the glaciers are doing, still melting from the last ice age, though they continue to get new ice and snow thanks to the massive amounts dumped on the slopes of the high peaks during the monsoon period.
View of the Fourth Lake
Upon returning to the lodge we started talking to a pair of British guys who had attempted Gokyo Ri, the nearby viewing peak, that morning. Apparently there had been no view, as clouds covered up the top of the mountain, although apparently they had been able to make out some of the peaks on the way up. Ian had turned back due the the elevation getting to him, and Rob was quick to note that he hadn't missed out on a whole lot. They offered to have us follow them up in the morning, and we happily accepted. We set wake up time for 4AM with departure for Gokyo Ri at 4:30. After stuffing my face with a double decker yak burger, which was quite excelent I might add, I headed off to bed and quickly fell asleep.
Morning Climb: Looking up toward the top of Gokyo Ri.
Morning didn't come without waking up half a dozen times to roll over or deciding weather I really had to pee bad enough to justify getting up in the cold. Every time I woke up I would look out the window and see haze and could hear this constant dripping from the roof, which I assumed was from the excessive moisture outside. When the alarm went off just after 4AM I looked outside, still looked cloudy, and I could still hear dripping. Moving closer to the window I wiped away the condensation that had formed on the inside and was surprised to see that what I had taken for cloud had just been this condensation, I was also surprised to see the moon up over Gokyo Ri. A little more energetic now about the morning ascent I jumped up and got dressed. I mentioned to my trekking companions the conditions, and everyone seemed relieved. Trying to decide if I needed a jacket for the rain I went downstairs and stepped outside to see if it was rain causing that dripping noise. Nope. It was snow. About three inches had fallen at some point in the night, and what I was hearing was it slowly melting on the roof and dripping off. The skies were the clearest I had seen them.
Breath Taking Pre-Dawn View on Gokyo Ri.
We had a slight delay getting out of the guest house and left closer to quarter to five. Then we had to cross this stream and marshy area, which was quite tricky without trekking poles and with a headlamp that was low on batteries. I did well but eventually slipped a bit off a rock and got my right foot soaked. I don't wear heavy boots, so easily getting wet is one of the trade offs of light weight hiking. Then just as we reached the base of Gokyo Ri, I mistook a plant with some snow on it for a rock and got my left foot soaked. Oh well. Once we got to the trail we started up and slowly started to separate a bit. Just after five the sky really started to light up and for most of the climb it was quite easy to see. The new snow also made it easier to see, but a little tougher to find the proper trail at times. After a while I found myself in front of everyone and was having to blaze a trail through the snow and over the rocks. A couple times I lost it, but always managed to converge back to where it should be.
Yours Truly Enjoying the Morning on Gokyo Ri
At just about 6Am I reached the top of the steep climb to Gokyo Ri, and was rewarded with an absolutely breathtaking sight. The new fallen snow covered the rocks and prayer flags, and even more fresh snow had been dumped on the nearby peaks. Still alone at the top, the sun rose up over Mt. Everest in the East at just about quarter after six, and I considered myself a very lucky human being at that moment. Shortly after I was joined by about another dozen trekkers, many of whom had already made this trip once or twice, and everyone was excited about what a great view we got that day. Gokyo and the lakes below were tiny next to the massive scar that was the Ngozumpa glacier, and all of it was dwarfed by the massive mountains that surrounded us on all sides.
View on the Way Down
After about 40 minutes at the top I decided it was time to head down, my feet were getting really cold from standing on stone and in snow after having dipped them in the water earlier. As the sun cleared the mountains, it really warmed things up quickly, and the snow on the lower slopes had already disappeared, and once out of it my feet were quite warm again. Returning to the lodge we all settled in for a celebratory breakfast before setting off for the village of Dragnag which we figured should only take a couple hours to get to and there we could prepare for the Cho La pass. It turned out that Ian and Rob had the exact same itinerary that I had so we figured we could all team up to more safely cross what people were describing as a tricky pass. Ellie however was at an end with trekking, although thrilled with what he had seen on the mountain, he decided it was time to head back to Kathmandu. We all thought he was joking at first, but after packing we exchanged e-mail addresses and he headed for Namchee Bazaar.
Saying farewell to the Gokyo Namaste Lodge with Mountains in the Backdrop
So Rob, Ian and I departed the Gokyo Namaste Lodge, each with a pack of coconut crunchies courtesy of our gracious hosts and made our way south to cross the Ngozumpa glacier and find our way to Dragnag. This section of the trip really should get its own post, as it was quite a day, and this is getting long enough at this point. So next time I'll discuss the adventures that is crossing a melting glacier and how you can spend a 12 hour day, be exhausted and end up a two hour walk from where you started.