Category Archives: Gokyo Trek
So, this was gonna be the big day, that would bring me so close to Everest.
Lonely Planet says that the trek from Lobuche to Gorakshep is about 2 hours. I should have added in a buffer of another 2 hours, because at that altitude I would definitely have been slower, and I would also have needed time for photography.
I left the lodge around 830AM, much later than the rest of the folks. It was a gentle gradient all the way, until it was time to go over the Khumbu glacier. I stopped at several places to make images and kept asking Bibek “when would I be able to see Kala Patthar ?”, as that would mean that I wasn’t too far from Gorakshep. Bibek replied that we would see Kala Patthar just before reaching Gorakshep.
Lila kept telling me that he wasn’t feeling well and that his chest felt heavy and he was having difficulty breathing. I told him that he needn’t climb Kala Patthar, and that he could rest at the lodge at Gorakshep.
Anyways, we finally reached Gorakshep around 1130AM or so. We decided to stay at the very first lodge that we encountered – Himalaya lodge. There was a statue of Shivaji, that kinda tilted in its favour. Some of the folks who had stayed in Peak XV lodge too were staying in this lodge.
Promptly ordered Dal Bhat for me and fried noodles for Lila and Bibek. It was decided that Lila would descend to Lobuche or Thukla, and Bibek and I would stay at Gorakshep for one night, and climb Kala Patthar that afternoon and visit Everest Base Camp the following morning, and then descend to Lobuche.
After lunch, I said my goodbyes to Lila, and got ready for the ascent to Kala Patthar. Packed my camera bag, two tripods, two headlamps, took my down jacket and some food. Made sure that Bibek was adequately covered for the drop in temperature, as the plan was to stay till sunset and photograph last light on Everest. The weather Gods would have the final say, but at least I wanted to do my part.
Bibek and I left the lodge by 130PM. I had set myself a stop time of 4PM, which I could extend by 15 minutes, by when I would stop wherever I would have reached and get ready to photograph. If all went well, I would make a time-lapse of the shadows receding from the glacier and last light hitting on Everest.
Some other people from the lodge had left at 2PM, and they soon caught up with us. I was making very slow progress. In hindsight, I should have left Lobuche much earlier, and left Gorakshep much earlier for the Kala Patthar climb. The air was so thin, and every step up was a torture. The climb was not so steep, but still it was very tough for me.
We looked back and saw clouds approaching at break neck speed from the valley. They had already reached Lobuche. I cursed. Why were the weather Gods so pissed with me ? I prayed and asked the clouds to stay where they were.
And then, something magical happened. The moon rose from behind Everest. It was spectacular. I stopped in my tracks and made several images, and then continued.
Time was going by fast, and I wasn’t making any progress. The people ahead of me had also slowed down, clearly everyone was struggling.
By 415PM, I was still around 50-80m from the summit of Kala Patthar. It would easily take me another 30 minutes for the final push. I decided that it wasn’t important for me to make it to the summit, rather I wanted to use the time to make some memorable images of Everest.
Bibek took a detour to the right and found a flat spot from where I could shoot sunset. It was in the same line of sight as the view from the summit. I somehow dragged myself there, and collapsed to the ground.
I wore my down jacket first. Then setup one tripod and mounted the 6D with the 17-40mm lens to shoot a time-lapse. Once that was done, I setup the other tripod and the 7D with the 24-105mm lens on it. I kept another 7D with the 70-200mm on standby. Took couple of photos of Bibek and I with my iPhone, and just when I was making a video, it died. The temperature was dipping drastically. I could feel my fingers going numb. The Icebreaker base layer gloves were of no use at that temperature. Thicker gloves didn’t give me the dexterity to operate my gear. I alternated between shooting and stuffing my hands in the pockets of the down jacket to keep the fingers from freezing.
By the time the sun set around 515PM, Bibek and I were the only ones left on Kala Patthar. I continued to make images till 530-540PM and then packed up. The light was magical. I could have continued there for another 2-3 hours and made some star trail images, if I had some company. I would have certainly needed chemical warmers too, as by now my fingers and toes were already getting numb. It was probably -20 degrees and the mercury was dipping fast.
Bibek and I donned our headlamps, and we started the descent. I told Bibek to go a bit slow and followed in hot pursuit. We made it back to the lodge in less than an hour. I promptly ordered a pot of ginger tea and some french fries, even as a tomato cheese pizza would come later. I knew Bibek would have been famished by then. We gorged on the fries and the plate was cleaned up within 5 minutes.
Dinner came and I finished the pizza as well. Bibek would eat his Dal Bhat with the rest of the guides and porters. We talked for a bit, and then I went out to make some images of the landscape under moonlight.
By 8pm or so, I was done. I was exhausted and we still had a long day the next day.
There was an American couple with whom we had been crossing paths, all the way from Kathmandu airport. The husband was clearly suffering from AMS. I think the pace at which they came up to Gorakshep and then climbed Kala Patthar, must have got to him. He was vomiting and getting delirious. Another reminder for me to take AMS very seriously. Nothing could be done until the next morning, when the sun would be up, and the lodge would make contact with a rescue helicopter. I prayed for him, and went to bed.
Second half of Dec 2015. OK, so I survived the EBC and Gokyo Trek. The conditions tested my physical and mental limits. I thought that I had a high tolerance for cold, but trekking for 2 weeks in sub-zero temperatures during the day and -20 to -30 degrees Celsius at night, gave me a taste of how much my limits could be stretched.
Some random thoughts ran through my mind after completing the Everest Base Camp and Gokyo trek, and I thought I would start off with those before working on my images and blog posts.
First, an image that made this trek worth it.
1. Without doubt, this is one of the most spectacular treks in Nepal, and most probably in the world.
2. It’s hard, especially if trekked in winter. The terrain is harsh, the temperatures are always sub zero even during the day and -20 to -30 degrees Celsius at higher elevations at night.
3. If the weather cooperates, which means clear blue skies, you will be treated to spectacular sunrises and sunsets. With clear skies, night photography is an absolute delight, as long as you can drag yourself out in the cold, and are equipped to deal with the temperatures. As a landscape photographer, this is as good as it can get.
4. I didn’t do any of the three passes – Kongma La, Cho La and Renjo La. The first was too tough for me, so I didn’t even bother. The second had some risks because of the hardened ice, snow and not a clear trail. My guide decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. I kinda disagreed, but I didn’t want to push it too much. I was too exhausted to do the Renjo La, so I left it at that. In another season and better fitness, I might attempt all three passes.
5. This is a very expensive trek. Other than guide and porter charges, permits etc, be prepared to spend at least USD40 per day at the lodges. In winter, there is no way I can drink icy cold water (it’s also harder to treat cold water to drink), so I ended up buying small pots of boiling hot water. Each pot of water used to cost any where between USD 4-6, depending on lodge and location. Higher you go, higher the prices. A small pot of ginger tea would also cost USD 5-6. So, just the fluids cost would be between USD 15-20. Add to that food and snacks. And you are easily looking at USD40 per day. A plate of dal bhat costs USD5-6. Likewise for any other dish – be it a pizza or macaroni or potato fries etc.
6. Charging of devices will also set you back by USD4-6 each time you charge your devices. I carried a Powermonkey solar charger, on a full day’s exposure to sun, I would get 50% charge on my powerbank. I was then able to charge my iPhone, GoPro and Petzl headlamp with it. But for charging the Canon LP-E6 batteries, I had to pay from USD3.50 at Lobuche to USD 6 at Gokyo. Don’t bother with any third party batteries, mine didn’t even last for a few seconds. The moment I inserted a fully charged 3rd party battery and powered on the camera, the red icon for battery indicator started flashing, and the camera shut down. A fully charged Canon LP-E6 battery lasted 3 hours or so at night, when I made some star trail images at Tengboche and Gokyo.
7. Hot showers. Solar power heated hot showers were available at almost all the lodges. Above Namche, the costs varied from USD 5-8. I didn’t use this facility, so I can’t vouch as to how good they are. In hindsight, I should have used the shower facility at one or two lodges. The shower areas were quite basic, and you would need to change into something very warm immediately after showering as the outside temperatures were always below freezing.
8. The lodges and their owners, with a few rare exceptions, are extremely impersonal. They are not interested in knowing you. They just give you a key to your room and they will collect money when you check out. They will rigorously maintain a list of all the items you would have consumed, including even a cup of hot water. Nothing is free on account of goodwill, neither should you expect any compassion for trekking in the off season. To me, this was the most disappointing part of the trek. As such, I don’t see myself coming back to trek in this region anytime soon. I expect things to get worse.
9. Acclimatization. Read up on all the information that you can find online. And use your own judgement and listen to your body as you trek. Plan for an additional acclimatization day at Namche Bazaar and Dingboche/Pheriche. I have seen some people gain 1000m in a day and not had any symptoms of AMS. I have seen some trekkers succumb to AMS at Gorakshep after coming from Lobuche and climbing Kala Patthar for sunset. Please take AMS seriously, as it can be fatal.
10. Keep some buffer days during the trek. You could use those to rest on some days at a lodge that you get to fancy or maybe you get bad weather or you fall ill.
As long as you set these expectations accordingly, you can have a great time on this trek.
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