Monday, October 4, 2010

Everest Trek Part 3: Crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier

I love writing in this blog and I've rarely gone this many days without writing in it, especially after getting back from such a great trip in the Himalaya. The thing is that there has been numerous things conspiring against me. First I've been busy selling and making salsa for the last few days, and I've also come down with a mild head cold that has been making me quite tired. Anyway on to the story.

Horses relax at the edge of the Ngozumpa Glacier

So After climbing up Gokyo Ri the plan was to head a little ways south, take the trail that crosses the Ngozumpa glacier and end the day at the base of the Cho La pass in the village of Dragnag. I had talked to several people who had come across the pass from the other direction and had said it was a little tricky but they had just followed the cairns and had been able to get across. The pass itself was said to have had some snow on it and to be very steep from the side we were approaching from, but to be otherwise uncomplicated.

Trail Descends Onto the Glacier

So the three of us headed out for what we thought would be an easy couple hours of walking and made for the trail just south of the second gokyo lake that headed across the glacier. At first it seemed simple enough. Sure you were walking over some fairly large rocks and gravel and the terrain was a bit odd but the trail was well worn. Then the trail suddenly came to an end, where the stone and gravel suddenly had toppled into a pool of water that had resulted from a good deal of melting.

End of the Trail

From here the plans got a little confusing. with the clear trail gone we looked on some of the nearby side trails. We followed some yak poop which looked fresh, but these trails also ended in similar collapsed gravel, rock and a sudden drop into water. So we took some time to survey the surroundings, as it was hard to tell which bodies of water were connected, and many large piles of rocks and boulders obscured views of what was beyond. After a good half hour of looking over where we had to go and deciding how we were going to get there we started out across the loose rocks, most of them being about the size of a basketball.

Ian and Rob Navigate the Glacier

It's slow going as you have to avoid the areas that look a little unstable, avoid the water and try to stick to the more stable high ground. Eventually we made our way to the a rock that we had picked out from the first dead end and as we got on the back side of that rock pile I picked up another trail and a couple cairns on the pile to the east. Our big smiles faded immediately as we reached another dead end, which again ended in a sudden steep drop into a pool of water. From this point we again surveyed our position, and picked out a route across some increasingly sketchy terrain. At one point we had to traverse a scree slope, and descended to a very large pool of water that had water and debris falling into it on a regular basis. There was even a trekkers pole floating in this one.

This Pool Even Had a Trekker's Pole Floating In It

On the other side of this pool we came across a large sand dune, that from across the way I had thought was snow from a distance. There were plenty of cairns on the far side of the sand and even some rocks lain out to spell something, though we couldn't read it. We made out across the sand, but my companions were uncomfortable with the cracks in the sand that showed where it had shifted due to the glacier had melted underneath. We made it over to the other side and climbed over more rocks, only to see a huge body of water. This body of water seemed to snake a couple hundred meters north of us, and connected to the large glacial wake that had formed on the glacier just to the south of us. There was no way we were getting across this. It looked like you could possibly cross a ways to the north, but the route passed over some unstable slopes that were getting ready to fall into the watery pool that was in our way.

Sand Deposit On the Glacier

All hopes dashed of crossing this glacier from where we were we moved back across the sand dunes, took out our coconut crunchies that had been given to us by the good folks at the Gokyo Namaste lodge and got to thinking about how we could get over to the village of Dragnag. It occurred to me that if we travel south past the end of the glacier we could cross the river at the bridge that goes to the village of Nha, and from there we could turn north and head to Dragnag. Sure it would take us at least three hours to get there from our current location, but at least it was a route that we knew would eventually get us to the destination we were headed for. We consulted our maps and trekking books to make sure I was remembering correctly and with everything looking good we set off to retrace our steps and get off the glacier.

Trail Back South

Taking every step carefully over this terrain is a bit draining, and I was mentally and a little physically tired by the time I got back on the main trail. Happy that we were at least getting somewhere we set off with a little vigor southward toward the bridge. As we passed the end of the glacier we found the trail signs that pointed toward the crossing to the village of Nha, and we could see the village not too far ahead of us on the other side of the river. Th problem was that we couldn't see any bridge. I was a bit perplexed as we couldn't even find what looked like a bridge that had been washed out...there were trails along the high flowing river but no bridges anywhere to be seen. Some locals in Nha watched us from the far banks of the river, but they were much to far away for us to try to communicate with them in any way. Feeling thoroughly defeated and the time now closing in on 3PM I was out of suggestions.

Our options it seemed were to try and make it back up to Gokyo, at least a two hour walk when you're in a good mood and rested, or head up to the village above us, Phang. We all hemmed and hawed for a bit. In Gokyo we could get a guide to bring us across the glacier and possibly over the pass, in Phang we could rest. I voted for Gokyo and the others agreed that they thought they could make it. On the way up to the main trail we spotted the bridge to Nha, it was up and there was no crossing this river. Getting back to the main trail my companions decided they just didn't have it in them to make it back to Gokyo, and to be honest I was quite tired myself, so we turned south and made for Phang.

Once in Phang we were told that none of the lodges were open. That was about par for the day's course. So we continued south to the village of Machhermo, where we staggered into the friendly  Trekker's lodge that I had stayed in previously. Once there we happily had some soup and conversed with the lodge owner about the days events. He informed us that the glacier had "broken" and that you had to cross it a ways to the north now. Increased water flow from the glacier meant that the bridge to Nha was up more often. It would be some time before people could cross that bridge, maybe another month. With this day completely shot, and not enthused at the prospect of spending another day to possibly attempt the glacier again only to stop in Dragnag before heading over the pass, we seriously looked at taking the southerly route through Phortse and on over the high trail to Pengboche.It would be a long day but it would be possible to make it as far as Dughla.

As disapointing as it was to not get to where we were trying to go, I had no regrets on the day. We had made good informed decisions, it's just that the goal we were trying to accomplish was impossible from the points that we attempted it. Later in the trek we would talk to several trekkers and guides who said the Cho La had received a good amount of snow and was very tricky at the moment. Apparently some things are blessings in disguise. Besides having another pass up that way that I haven't done gives me an excuse to go back up there! The next entry will cover the long day that took me over the high trail to Pengboche, onward to Dughla and onward to Gorek Shep, Base Camp and my one epic day that brought me from the top of Kala Patar all the way to Lukla.

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