Wednesday 29 March

Beginning the ascent of Gokyo Ri

A very cold night. I am wearing my thermals inside my sleeping bag. I try to snuggle up as warmly as possible and pull the drawstrings on the sleeping bag tight. I wake a few times, but it is too cold to contemplate going outside to the loo.

The wake-up call comes at 4 am with hot sweet coffee. The inside of the tent glitters with ice crystals. Terry’s watch tells him that inside the tent it is ten degrees below.

There isn’t much to do to get ready for the off at 4.45 am so there is no real rush. But finally we are all ready and assembled, head torches casting a cold blue light on the frozen ground.

Purba leads us slowly down to the river and across the stepping stones. We then start climbing. There are many criss-crossing paths up Gokyo Ri, but they all seem to climb as steeply as possible. As I plod slowly in the darkness behind time seems to slow down.

(magnify) View back over the lake down the valley
(magnify) View to the west

A soft glow begins above the distant peaks behind us and soon we can dispense with our torches. We cross patches of snow. In front of us, high up, is the first orange glimmer – a promise of dawn. The light continues to grow as we labour upwards.

Without warning the first direct ray of sunshine breaks through to where we are climbing and the skyline becomes a silhouette. Everest itself is now visible, sandwiched between Nuptse on the right and lesser peaks on the left.

(magnify) Ngozumba glacier from the summit
The summit

But it is still one hour to the top. We continue onwards and upwards. Each step is an effort. The sky continues to brighten. Now I can see the golden sunlight on mountain faces to the west. Ahead, I can just make out flags, which indicate what I passionately hope is the summit. The last few steps, and I finally heave myself up onto the top – 5483 m. Purba is waiting there and gives me a handshake and a bear-hug. It has taken about three hours to ascend.

(magnify) Group photograph on Gokyo Ri (magnify) The descent

The view is awesome. The white peaks over the other side, the valley looking back towards Namche, including the third lake deep blue and sparkling in the sunshine, and beyond that the second lake. The glacier – rugged, pitted and peaked, in stark relief in the sunshine. The summit itself has enough flat ground so that everyone can stand there together and take photographs without fear of falling over the edge. We spend a good while up there. I lose track of which photographs I have already taken.

Going down is the reverse procedure of ascending. Actually, it is a little less difficult, but we reach the campsite quite exhausted nevertheless. There is hot orange squash, but all too soon we must clear out our tents before an early lunch is served. I am absolutely famished.

Return down the valley

But even after lunch we don’t have much time to digest and recover before we must get going for our next camp at the foot of the Cho La.

We trek back down the valley just past the second lake. There is a strong wind blowing up the valley into our faces and it is bitterly cold. The ice on the lake has increased significantly in size since we passed it yesterday. The trail is quite hard to walk – again it is a narrow channel in the snow barely wider than a boot and the ground is very uneven making balancing difficult.

(magnify) Crossing the glacier

We turn left off the main path and begin climbing the side of the glacier on the trail to the Cho La. There is more heavy going, but all of a sudden we step onto the ridge and look down onto the glacier itself. It looks like some kind of vast quarry. Rubble and bounders lie strewn around and piled in heaps. Elsewhere, snow lies in deep fields and over flat frozen lakes. The archetypal glacier-blue ice is nowhere to be seen.

(magnify) Frozen lake on the glacier

Our crossing is quite tortuous. We ascend and descend steeply on scree, rubble, or deep snow, where the track as usual is one boot-width and very uneven. At one place the going becomes easier as we cross a short spit of fine sand, brought to the surface by some great upheaval. It really is geology in action – God’s building site.

We finally struggle up the ridge that bounds the glacier on the east side and a cheer goes up as our lodge for the night comes into view. It has been an epic journey and we are all utterly exhausted. The last few minutes to the lodge are across a scrubby barren plain. I go inside, get out my KE mug and collapse on the bench that runs around the walls of the dining room. I am not disappointed; tea and hot water arrive shortly.

(magnify) The lodge comes into view

This is the Tashi Friendship Lodge, at 4690 m. It is situated west of the glacier against a towering cliff to the north. East, the steep valley of the Cho La looms menacingly. There’s not much to do now except wait for dinner.

Dinner is served at six. We have soup and three different carbohydrates that don’t go at all together but somehow taste delicious.

Sadly, Graham, who has been off his food for a few days, is still not eating and Dan makes the decision that he should return down the valley to Machemo to be checked out by the medical staff there. After the tough day all of us are feeling a bit sub-par. Ramkrishna has been to check out the route to the pass and reports back that we are on for it. I have a slight headache and feel completely drained. The thought of another 4 am start and a full day of strenuous walking isn’t right now especially appealing (not though that I am considering going back).

As I go to bed at 7.30 pm, it is snowing very lightly outside. But this does at least mean that it is considerably warmer than last night.