Friday, 27 November 2009

Gokyo Jiri Trek

7th to 18th November 2009

Back in Glasgow now with horrible sinusitis and chest infection after recent 12-day trek in Nepal's Everest Region with David Riach. This was my 6th and possibly final trip to Nepal, having visited every year since 2004, which was a Jagged Globe group for climbing Island Peak.

David hadn't been before, so I thought the Everest Region (or Solo Khumbu) would provide a useful introduction. We stopped one night at Hotel Thamel in Kathmandu on arrival, then flew straight to Lukla the following morning where most people begin trekking.

Day 1 - Lukla to Namche Bazaar 3440m (Nov 7th)
Not desperately warm as we touched down in Lukla, but we were hiking soon after 10am and gradually the temperature improved. We hiked past Phakding to the National Park entrance and stopped briefly in Jorsale for some soup and tea before crossing the final exciting bridge over the Dudh Kosi and flogging up the hill to Namche. It was quite cold and grey by the time we arrived around 4.30pm.

Day 2 - Namche to Thame 3850m and back (Nov 8th)
For acclimatisation and something to do, we hiked to Sunshine Lodge in Thame for some lunch. However on the walk back the altitude suddenly caught up with me and I felt dreadful, and could barely make it back to the Lodge in Namche before starting to throw up and felt awful all night.

Day 3 - In bed in Namche all day (Nov 9th)
I felt awful with altitude sickness and stayed in bed and ate nothing all day. David went out and pootled around Namche and along the trail towards Sanasa.

Day 4 - Namche to Phortse via Tengboche (Nov 10th)
Still feeling weak, but reluctant to spend another day festering in Namche we plodded up the steep hill to join the Sanasa trail and immediately bumped into the Everest Sky Race runners, some of whom I knew from the 2005 event. After crossing the Dudh Kosi at Phungi Thanga we plodded up a steep dusty 600m climb to Tengboche, overtaking hundreds of Japanese trekkers who were barely moving. Once at Tengboche, we got the stunning views of Ama Dablam and Everest peaking over Lhotse's shoulder. However the place was totally mobbed with trekkers, so there appeared to be no point in hanging around looking for a room, so instead we made a sharp exit stage left and dived down a steep narrow trail through the rhododendrons, crossed the Imja Khola and flogged up the other side of the valley to drop over a ridge into Phortse which was more or less deserted. That evening we had entertaining chat with 3 Americans: Bill, Margery and Dianne, plus the lodge owner who had climbed Everest 3 times.

Day 5 - Phortse to Dhole (Nov 11th)
Without question this was the shortest and most mind-bogglingly dull day of the trek. We only hiked about 2 hours to reach Dhole at 4110m, but didn't want to go any higher so found a nice quiet deserted lodge. However with minutes of arriving we were totally overrun with French people - in fact 2 separate groups that took over the lodge, crushed us into a corner, and did the usual French thing of pretending they don't speak English and totally ignoring us for the 8 hours as we sat there trying to protect our space from total invasion.

Day 6 - Dhole to Na (Nov 12th)
It was with some considerable relief to be back on the trail after the mind-numbingly dull previous afternoon being invaded by the French groups. The trail was pretty easy going and didn't take long to reach Machhermo just as the Everest Sky Race runners came jogging through again. I decided to jog along for a bit with a French guy who didn't seem to know where he was going, and I showed him the cut down to Na where their next checkpoint was. We then decided we might as well head to Na as well, since it appeared to have a lodge, and is off the beaten track to Gokyo. This plan worked well at first, with just a polite friendly group of 3 French folk to chat to before in the afternoon an appalling boorish group of Austrian piss-heads turned up and decided to spoil it for everyone, except perhaps the lodge owner who managed to sell her entire stock of San Miguel at 700 rupees per 330ml can.

Day 7 - Na to Gokyo and Gokyo Ri (Nov 13th)
The previous afternoon rain had been drizzling down at Na, but when I awoke I realised everything higher was under a blanket of fresh sparkly snow with fantastic early morning colours in the sky. David was more interested in getting his 13th hour of sleep, so I just got up and left and wandered up to Gokyo on my own in the fresh snow which was starting to melt fast. After finding a lodge and hanging around for an hour or so, David arrived and we then plodded up Gokyo Ri 5300m to get fairly good views of Everest and Makulu, although neither were totally clear.

Day 8 - Gokyo to Thame via Renjo La (Nov 14th)
Once again I got up and left just as the sun was coming over the hills. The route up to Renjo La isn't that obvious at first, but I eventually picked up a line of cairns and footprints in the snow. I'm pretty sure I was the first person to reach the pass that morning, closely followed by a German couple with a guide and no rucksacks. I waited at 5340m for almost an hour getting blummin cold before David arrived, and then promptly dived down the other side for a very exciting descent down steep steps banked out with hard icy snow. I waited for more than half an hour at Lungden, and then headed on alone towards Thame in fairly grey cold windy conditions. I had to stop and precariously teeter off the path several times to allow massive Yak trains to go through empty of their goods sold at Namche. Just before Thame David finally caught me and we arrived together back at Mingma Rita Sherpa's Sunshine Lodge.

Day 9 - Thame to Surkhe via Kongde View Hotel (Nov 15th)
This was not a trail I'd been on before, or even known anything about. It's basically a high-level shortcut to Phakding without returning to Namche. Mingma's son Lhakpa Tenzing Sherpa put us on the right trail out of Thame, before leaving us to our own devices. I was feeling tired with a horrible headcold, and David vanished into the distance, so I just plodded along at most own pace around the endless re-entrants. Eventually the trail took an exhausting upwards sweep across icy ground with wire cables for protection before arriving on a high shoulder overlooking Namche with 2 brand new hotels at Kongde Mountain View for rich Americans or Japanese, but selling nothing to passers-by. From Kongde we had a 1500m descent to Tok Tok where we picked up the regular tourist trail back to Lukla. Shortly before Lukla we cut off this trail in "Direction Jiri" and found ourselves instantly away from the tourists, stopping for the night at Surke - we were of course the only trekkers at the lodge.

Day 10 - Surkhe to Ringmo (Nov 16th)
Once again David was not for getting up in the morning, so I set off on my own for the surprisingly long and tortuous route around to Kharikhola. It looks nothing on the map but seems to go on forever. After Kharikhola there's a steep descent to make the final crossing of the Dudh Kosi before a 1400m climb up to the Taksindu La at just over 3000m. Luckily this time I made it to the pass whilst it was still daylight, so this made the rocky descent to Ringmo a good bit easier. We had a great evening in the "Central Hotel" sitting in the kitchen for warmth and drinking the local plum wine.

Day 11 - Ringmo to Kenja (Nov 17th)
The day dawned cold grey and misty, but I set off anyhow towards Junbesi since it's fun watching the school aerobics if you get there before 10am. The trail along past Salung was shrouded in thick hill fog, and I almost took a wrong turn that would have dropped to the Phaplu trail but was shouted back by a local. I was also feeling washed out and tired so stopped for some yak's cheese and crackers. I only just made it to Junbesi to see the pupils dancing along to Bob Marley's "No woman, no cry" in the school yard before disappearing to their classrooms. David arrived an hour or so later and we climbed together to the Lamjura La 3500m which was cold and misty. We stopped for tea and soup at a basic shack on the pass, then headed on to the Himalayan Lodge where we needed to decide whether to stop for an ascent of Pikey (pronounced P.K.) Peak tomorrow, or to just keep going. The weather was cold and grey, so we just kept going and dropped the best part of 2000 metres down to Kenja.

Day 12 - Kenja to Jiri (Nov 18th)
The final day of the trek was from Kenja out to the roadhead at Jiri. The section leaving Kenja is through fantastic lush plantations of oranges trees, banana palms, and all types of cultivation. Descending towards me I saw 2 French-looking sportif trekkers who said "hello Chris" in English accents. The Raidlight clad runners turned out to be Ross and Catherine Litherland from Macclesfield on a Round the World ticket. We stopped and chatted for a while before heading our separate ways. Once over the Deurali Pass I stopped in Shivalaya for a few minutes for refreshments, then marched on for the finish at Jiri. There's a very scenic section on the way to Mali that I'd forgotten. Rushing water and cascades, followed by picturesque terraced farming up to a small pass. Then it's downhill all the way to Jiri on a mix of bashed in new landrover track, and older trails linking farmsteads. The trip was rounded off with beer and crisps at the bus station bar, complete with obligatory power cut and candles.

2 comments:

pb said...

Hi Chris,
Really enjoyed reading about the Gokyo trip. It sounded great though reading between the lines it sounded like you were both suffering from the altitude. Which makes sense given the speed you went round. We did it more slowly in 2007 (Everest Marathon) and it still knocked us for 6 on the bad days. The photos were great and made me want to go back, though I was disappointed no photos for the last few days entries. (We helicoptered out of Namche so never saw below) Did the camera batteries die or what? Sorry to hear you have sinus problems. Expect to see you back to form for early next year. (Tortoise and Hare in Fife? Though neither you nor Ellie qualify as Tortoises)Have a good christmas (if there is such a thing.)
cheers pb

Chris said...

Thanks Pete, and thanks for the prompt about the missing photos! Don't worry, I do have hundreds more where they came from, I just ran out of steam with the blog post and haven't got round to adding any of them to my Flickr sets. As it happens this time I took a spare camera battery to Nepal so there was no chance of the camera packing up. On the acclimatisation side of things, David had no problems whatsoever, but I had seriously problems from Day 2, although I'm not sure it was just the altitude. I think it was a mixture of AMS and a cold virus that got into my system. I had blinding headaches every night from Namche to Gokyo, far worse than my previous trips. And I'm still feeling exhausted several weeks later, with ongoing sinus pain and migraine-like headaches, so any running is out of the question, and it's unlikely I'll make the Portobello Prom on NYD, however I'm sure I'll catch up with you in the new year. All the best, Chris