Thursday 30 March

Arrival at the first col

A 4 am wake-up call for a second day running, and then breakfast half an hour later in the lodge’s dining room. Finally we are ready and away just before six. There is already enough light to see by. The valley is not as steep as I first thought. We follow Ramkrishna along a rocky snow-strewn path next to the river. On the left are the black cliffs, and to the right, a steep snow-covered slope. The ground steepens and the valley widens, and we arrive at a col. Unfortunately, this is not the Cho La. The Cho La itself, high above us, is now visible on the other side of a small valley of moraine and snow.

The Cho La ahead…

We wind down into the valley and around mounds of rubble. It is rather distressing to be losing height even before we begin the pass itself. Finally we begin the attack on the pass proper. It is incredibly steep. It is not quite a scramble over bounders, but that is mainly because the snow that covers them is compacted into steep steps, which do at least give a reasonably secure footing. It is one step at a time, and I find myself leaning heavily on my trekking poles. This is the first time I have really used them.

The climb goes on and on. We meet a couple of Americans coming down. They tell us that the views are amazing, and rather less encouragingly that we are only about a third of the way up. There is nothing for it but to keep going.

I can just make out a flat horizon of snow above, and it is with considerable relief that I find the true col, 5420 m, is only slightly beyond this. I scramble onto the top and am rewarded with a bear-hug from Purba.

(magnify) I made it!
(magnify) Group photograph on the Cho La
Edge of the glacier
(magnify) Peaks south

It is just starting to cloud over, but the glaciers on the far side are indeed stunning. There is a low wall of ice bisecting the col from left to right, which is the start of the glacier that flows down the far side. Above us to the left and right there are jagged peaks with their own hanging glaciers.

We have a group photograph at the top, for which I screw one of my trekking poles into the bottom of my camera and plant it firmly in the snow. As I set the timer going and lunge through the snow to get into the picture, the camera evidently decides that the view the other way is preferable and swings round. A second attempt is more successful. But Dan is keen that we should not stay here for too long.

We follow a narrow path against the left-hand rock up and onto the glacier. Here we ready our ice axes. Dan showed us last night some basic braking techniques – we probably won’t need them but it is better to be cautious. In fact the top of the glacier is completely covered in thick snow and there is no difficulty with grip, though off to the side of the path there are a few crevasses visible.

(magnify) Down the edge of the glacier

We carefully follow the narrow trail across a nearly level plain before bearing round to the left and the descending steeply next to a bank of curious ice strata, like multiple baroque stone windows set in a wall.

We take lunch on a wide rock ledge overlooking the Chola valley. Directly ahead, dominating the view, is the chisel peak of Ama Dablam. To the left are dark sheer walls of rock. Right, the dark crags give way to story-book snow-covered mountains.

(magnify) View back towards the pass

From there we descend steeply into the valley. There is much less snow here, and more bounders and rocks. After what seems an age, I spy something orange in the distance. Is it a tent? No it turns out, but there is a large blue groundsheet laid out and the crew have boiled up some hot lemon and noodle soup. I stagger up and lie down on the ground sheet, then, when my energy returns, turn my backpack over and pull out my mug.

After a good rest we begin the final stage of the day. There is about an hour of stumbling along a narrow uneven track in the snow, and finally as we come around a gentle rise, the Green Valley Lodge appears (4843 m). We assemble in the dining room, which is tiny. There is barely enough room to squeeze past the stove in the middle of the floor. A couple of other trekkers have beaten us here and squeeze up to make room. The ground outside is snow-covered, and the owner offers us use of the dormitory instead of using the tents. We readily agree to this. Rachel is particularly keen – I think she is expecting a midnight feast St Trinians style.

John only just made it over the pass, after Dan took his backpack, and now he is looking extremely unwell. Dan is quite worried about whether he will be able to continue tomorrow. I’m suffering slightly from a dry cough, something David has had for a few days. Time for an early night.