Rolwaling Valley and Teshi Labtsa Trip Summary


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October 21, 2010 Kathmandu - Dolakha 1,000m

David, Tony and I left for Dolakha, the starting point of the trek the day after arriving in Kathmandu in a small bus that Rajendra rented for all of us.  We had a lot of gear and a large crew:  Kumar the guide, porters, cooks and us.  We knew Kumar from our 2009 Langtang trek.  He is a great guide with a good sense of humour and perpetual smile on his face.  We also had the same two porters (among others) from our 2009 trip:  Kamsing and Suri.  The drive was 7 hours long broken by a lunch stop in a spot that we knew from eben earlier visit back in 1996.  The town where we stopped for lunch was very busy and noisy.  The market and the streets were lined up with vendors selling Chinese goods.  We had lunch at a very dirty restaurant serving local food.   I did not want to risk getting sick at the beginning of the trip so I decided to pass on lunch.  After lunch, during the drive, one of the young porters puked his guts out on a particularly twisty part of the road.  The puke landed right in front of me and stank up the entire bus. 

We arrived in Dolaka and set up our tent on the edge of town by the busy road.  The tent bacame an instant focal point for the local kids that were attracted to the white guys like bees to honey.   It was October 21, my 40th birthday.  I had a bottle of a surprisingly good Indian wine that we shared in the evening while relaxing by our tents.   Although I felt sorry for myself to be turning the big 40, I could not imagine a better way to spend it than hiking in the Himalayas.

October 22, 23, 24, 25 2010 Dolakha – Singati Bazar 950m – Suri Dobhan 1,030m – Gonggar 1,440m

The trek started in the village of Dolaka with a 900m descent to the river flowing from Tibet down a deep., narrow valley between Langtang Himal and massif of a large mountain named GauriSankar.  We trekked along the river for 3 days. The campsites were: Singati Bazar, Suri Dobhan and Gonggar.  At first, our route was along a dirt road that was built for the purpose of developing a hydroelectric plant in a tunnel drilled into a solid rock.    The area is poor but not too remote as it is relatively close to Kathmandu with a daily bus connection.   The lowland towns of Nepal seem very far removed from the clean world of ice and snow that is visible on the horizon.  Unfortunately, many of the inhabitants of those towns have never ventured into the high Himalaya. 

October 25, 2010 Simian 2,100m

On the fifth day of our trek in the sunny weather, we passed series of spectacular waterfalls dropping steeply from the high hills above straight into the Tama Koshi River.  We crossed a hanging bridge and climbed steeply out of the Tama Koshi River valley with north to south orientation in order to join the Rowalling Valley with East to West orientation. 

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The climb out the narrow valley was up a steep staircase that in places seemed to ascend almost vertically.  The stairs were wet from the mist and overgrown with lush vegetation.  We arrived in a small village of Simigaon at the mouth of the Rowaling Valley.  From that spot we could see a 7,143m high mountain called Menlungtse in Tibet behind the ridge of lower peaks.  The main backdrop however was GauriSnkar, a massive 7,183m high peak dominating the head of the Tama Koshi Valley.  Although located close to Kathmandu and the road, it is not climbed often.  It is imposing and steep with granite walls too vertical to permanently hold ice or snow. 

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The people of Simagaon were very friendly. Our crew had a night party with porters from another group that was also going up to the Teshi Labtsa Pass.  We purchased a small goat for the porters who killed it and cooked the meat for all of us.  Since I saw the goat before it was killed, I could not eat it after.  The porters were totally drunk on chang (the local beer) and the party got rowdy after dark with much dancing and loud singing.  At sunset, we had a great view of GauriSankar from the village when the entire mountain was glowing bright yellow and then orange. 

October 26, 2010 Dong

On October 26th we trekked to Dong with a nice relaxing camping spot by a river.  It was an uneventful walk in the forest.  The weather was nice and sunny, a perfect day for hiking.   We enjoyed the relaxing pace and the sound of flowing river.  The river we were now following originates at Tso Rolpa Lake formed high up the valley by a collapsed moraine.  We would pass that lake in a few days and venture into the realm of ice beyond.  The lake presents a grave danger to the entire valley in an event of an earthquake.  It is constantly monitored and flood warning sirens can be seen in each village along the valley.  Although it is hard to believe that any of them work and that the local people, in case of an earthquake, would have ample time to run for a higher ground. 

October 27, 2010 Beding 3,700m

The following day we trekked to Bedding situated at and elevation of 3,600m.  Beding is the last major village before the trail ascends steeply to the Tso Rolpa Lake and the Teshi Labtsa Pass.  Bedding is situated at the bottom of the southeast flank of GauriSankar.  The steep rock of the mountain loom above the village with white glaciers high up.  At the entrance to the village, there is a small temple (gompa) at which David and I stopped to check it out. We were pulled into the gompa by a half drunk local guy who offered us boiled potatoes.  The man claimed to have been an extra in the Sven Years in Tibet movie and have met Brad Pitt.  He was missing all of his fingers and apparently lost them on a climb of Manaslu.  He also claimed to have climbed on Dhaulagiri with Chris Bonnington.  Inside the gompa, a group of old ladies were cooking up a storm.  David and I provided them with a welcome diversion and much laughter.  It seemed that we did not need to say or do anything to make them explode into fits of laughter just by looking at us.  After our visit to the gompa we walked around the town where we encountered more drunk locals, one old lady particularly drunk passed out in the middle of the road.  The village was quite poor and dirty with houses shared between people and animals.  The usual setup is for the people to sleep upstairs and for the animals to occupy the lower floor.  The flies from the animal quarters migrate to the upper salons and make the living conditions rather biblical.

October 28 and 29 2010 Nagaon 4,180m

From Beding, we ascended to Na at 4,180m where we spent two nights.  Na (or Nagaon) is situated directly at the base of Kang Nachugo, a prominent peak of 6,737m that is situated on the border between Nepal and Tibet.  Na serves as a summer pasture for the villagers from Beding and as such is not a permanently inhabited on year round basis.  In the winter it must receive significant snowfall blocking all access from the valley below.  Mount Chekigo 6,257m and Mount Kang Nachugo 6,737m form a steep rock wall hugging the entire village.  Looking at these peaks it is deceiving to assume that they are easy to climb and accessible.  The scale of the terrain is so massive and everything around is so big.  Without any point of reference, things look closer and smaller than they really are.  I experienced the same illusion during my travels in the high Arctic.  A valley that looked small and near, required an entire week to traverse.    Mt. Menlungtse in Tibet, is just behind Na and is accessible by an ancient pass between Mt. Chekigo and Mt. Kang Nachugo.   I would like to visit this area one day if possible.

On the way to Na, we passed an isolated Buddhist hermitage with a spectacular view of the entire Rowaling upper valley and the snowy peaks above it.  It would be a fantastic place to spend a week or two contemplating the nature of OM.  We passed by large boulders with paintings of Tibetan deities and guardians.  The prayer flags were also more common indicating that we were now entering the realm of Buddhism. 

The following day, we did an acclimatization walk to above 5,000m beside the Yalung Glacier in preparation for the time required at higher altitudes in the days ahead. The walk was very tiring as we ascended 1,100m to above 5,000m in short time.  When I get to 5,000m for the first time, I find the effort quite exhausting.  The tiredness creeps up quite suddenly and all of a sudden I am out of energy.  Every step higher is quite an effort and all I want to do it just sit and rest.  I do suffer from serious FOMO in situations such as this and the desire for a better view propels me higher despite better judgement.  Pushing harder, I hit the wall for the first time on the trip.   The views from the 5,000m spot were fantastic though and worth the effort.  We had clear blue sky and no wind.  On the left side was Mt. Chukiyma Go 6,258m, in the distance the backside of GauriSankar 7,135m.  Kang Nachugo blocked the view of the Menlungtse in Tibet.  We could see however, directly into a valley that is crowned by Dranag Ri, a 6,800m peak.  The glacier that flows from Dragnag Ri is called Rowaling Glacier like the glacier that we are going to follow to the Teshi Labtsa pass.  The valley we were looking at had many high peaks that lined the east side of the glacier.  On the east side, Tsoboye, a large 6,000m peak that was climbed by Tomas Humar dominates the confluence of the two Rowaling glaciers.  Had we climbed a little higher to a Yalung La pass located at 5,310m, we could had seen the summit of Cho Oyu peaking on the horizon.  Frankly, I did not have enough energy to go that last 200m.  

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After we got back to the tent in Na, I was very tired and all I could think of was drinking water.  In the evening we hiked up above the campsite to the bottom of Kang Nachugo to a spectacular waterfall.  We watched the clouds swirling up the valley from below.  The sunset was fantastic.  It illuminated the entire wall of Kang Nachugo in a full spectrum of colors from yellow to maroon. 

It was a fantastic spot to spend the acclimatization day in.  We were full of anticipation for what was ahead of us.

October 30, 2010 Kabug 4,561m

On October 30th we trekked to the last camp before the Rowaling Glacier that leads to the Teshi Labtsa pass.  We started ascending the old moraine leaving the Rowaling valley down below.  We could now see down the entire valley with the peaks of Jugal Himal forming the backdrop on the western horizon.  The trail climbs to the Tso Rolpa Lake and then snakes behind an old moraine that flanks the lake on its south side.  Mt. Tsoboye flanks the north side of the lake.  Tsoboye drops to the lake in loose and unstable slopes that bombard the trail below with rocks and ice making it impassable (an old apprach trail to the Teshi Labts pass was located on the north side of the lake long time ago). 

We reached the camp called Kabug at an elevation of 4,560m.  The camp is located behind the old glacier moraine by the Tso Rolpa Lake. The lake is formed by the melt from the Rowaling Glacier and is blocked at the west end by an old landslide.  The lake presents a danger to the settlements below.  It would flood the valley if that barrier was broken in an event of an earthquake.  There were some scientific instruments on that old landslide measuring the integrity of the wall blocking the lake.  In theory, If the instruments detect a leak, the settlements downstream would be alerted for immediate evacuation up hill by a system of sirens similar to tsunami sirens.   

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We shared this camp with a French group that was heading in the same direction.  We never saw them again, and later found out that they were evacuated from that camp due to problems with high altitude.  In the evening we made a fire that warmed us up during the freezing evening.  We were now well above 4,000m and the evenings and nights were quite cold.   As we were standing by the fire, suddenly we saw lights in the distance flickering in the dark coming from the direction of the Teshi Labtsa pass.  A porter and a Sherpa guide from yet another group were coming down from the Teshi Labtsa pass and seemed quite distraught.  Kumar and the guys from our crew carried on an agitated conversation in passing with them.  We later learned that two of their crew died during the crossing of the pass due to problems with altitude.  Kumar did not share this information with us right away, as he did not want to alarm us before the crossing. 

October 31, 2010 Camp at the head of Rowaling Glacier 4,900m

The next day we had to ascend the moraine and find a way down to the Rowaling Glacier.  The trail ascended steeply towards a side valley (Valley of the Panga Dinga Glacier) that was flanked by the peaks that we saw from the other side on our acclimatization climb just two days before.  One of those peaks was Chukyima Go 6,258m.  The valley looked interesting but in order to get a full view, we would need to ascend higher.  We had no time to do so as our objective was the camp at the end of the long Rowaling Glacier.  We had to gain the glacier to approach the basecamp for the crossing the Teshi Labtsa pass.  The descent to the glacier was quite tricky down a steep, sandy and very unstable moraine with loose rocks.  I would encounter this type of terrain many more times.  The glacier was quite broken and required some navigating to get across.  Steep Ice ridges rolled up and down with many loose rocks of various sizes ready to dislodge on us.  We saw the head of the glacier valley in front of us, a great wall of ice falling from Mt. Bigphero Go Shar 6,799m.  This was our destination for the day.  The weather was sunny with fantastic views all around.  The scenery was reminiscent of great Pakistani glaciers.  Steep mountains with massive snow and ice slopes surrounded us and we felt dwarfed by the enormity of the terrain.  

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When we stopped for lunch on the glacier, we noticed horsetail clouds forming in the southern sky indicating a change in weather.  The weather change was coming from the southwest.  This was quite unfortunate as the difficult crossing of the pass was ahead. 

We made it to the campside at the end of the Rowaling Glacier by late afternoon.  The campsite was located on a flat spot on the glacier surrounded by large rocks and ice.  To the left of us was the steep icefall of the upper Rowaling Glacier which we would need to ascend the following day.   To the right, we we surrounded by the steep ice walls of Gakosir Himal.  We were now at 4,980m and the surrounding peaks were 5,598m, 5,811 and 5,700m high.  They were not that much higher than us at this point and it all seemed very alpine.  We were literally right in the middle of the high and wild Himalaya.   

We set up our tents next to two guys from Australia that just arrived from the Makalu BC via Sherpani Col, West Col and the Amphu Labtsa Passes. Their trip was 30 days long and started at the Makalu BC and crossed via Renjo La Pass (the same pass we wanted to cross as well).  They liked the alpine feel and the remoteness of the Sherpani Col crossing and the fabulous views from the Renjo La Pass (Tony and I later concurred with their opinion).   They were tired, rugged and happy to be going down.  I was quite envious of their trip and the experience.  I would cross the same passes two years later.  I still would like to do the entire crossing as one long traverse though. 

During the night my mat deflated and I was forced to sleep (not much sleep though due to altitude, cold and rocks poking my ass from below) on the sharp rocks of the glacier and with no insulation from the freezing ice below.   I put on everything I had but it was still cold like a freezer. 

The evening was spectacular as the setting sun illuminated an ice walls around our camp.  The snow and ice had the most vivid glow of orange that I ever saw in the high mountains.  I was hoping that this impressive sunset would indicate clear weather for the following day. 

November 1, 2010 Top of Teshi Labtsa Pass 5755m

After the cold and sleepless night we got up at first light, packed up and started our ascend to the Teshi Labtsa Pass 5,755m.  At first we walked up a flat part of the glacier towards the headwall leading to the continuation of the Rowaling glacier coming from the valley above that would take us to the Pass.  The headwall was immediately next to the spectacular icefall coming down from Mt. Bigphero Go Shar.  We were right next to it and could almost smell the cold coming from the jagged and broken ice.  

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The sky was grey and monochromatic.  The grey of the ice merged perfectly with the grey of the sky enveloping us in the cold aura. We needed to climb up a short but steep (almost vertical) section of rock to gain access to the glacier above, a continuation of the Rowaling Glacier ( number 3 of them in this area!).  The climb was difficult for the porters carrying heavy loads.  Our Sherpa guide set up ropes for the porters as the wall was around 20 meters high.  The aura was becoming more grey and gloomy as we climbed higher.  Low clouds were now descending towards the snow covered sharp peaks that now encircled us.  Ahead was a big icefall forming the head of the upper Rowaling Glacier.  We could not see what was ahead as the icefall formed a steep barrier blocking all views.  Behind us was a wall of rock, ice and snow crowned by Mt. Bigphero Go Shar 6,729m and Gakosir Himal.  We were now well above the 5,000m mark and the tops of the peaks of the Gakosir Himal to the south looked almost at the same level as us.   We climbed up the rock gully and passed by the Teshi Labtsa Phedi camp perched on a rocky shelf overlooking the glaciers below.  We then ascended another narrow rock gully to the ablation valley next to the upper Rowaling Glacier.  Due to loose rocks we decided to put on helmets.  We gained the upper Rowaling Glacier and started to our walk towards the base of the pass. 

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We followed the side of the glacier in progresively deteriorating weather.  The wind increased, the clouds came lower and it started to snow.  The snow was blowing hard with increasing intensity.  It got grey and gloomy.  We could not see the surrounding peaks or the view at the head of the valley.  The way to the bottom of the pass was still a few hours of walking away but we did not have a sense of distance or the time required to get there.  I doubt that Kumar or anyone on our group had any idea of the time required to get to the top of the pass as they have not done this route before.  Since the wind picked up and the snow started to fall quite heavily, I put on my gortex pants, crampons and a wind jacket.  The walk was of the "head down" variety to avoid the blowing snow and hoping for the best.  The entire area was covered in fresh snow.  We proceeded slowly, walking on the east side of the glacier under spectacular icefalls coming from Pancharmo Peak to the east of us.  We were walking on snow covered icy rocks that required us to focus and pay attention.   

The views were not to be due to low clouds and the blowing snow.  We still could make out the surroundings of the Rowaling Glacier though that we were walking on.  The head of the glacier falling down from the Teshi Labtsa pass was ahead of us. 

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As we go closer, we passed by a camp spot that is used by some groups before ascending the Teshi Labtsa Pass.  From his camp spot, the trail to the pass takes a 90-degree turn and starts to climb from the Upper Rowaling Glacier to the pass 500m or 600m above.  The terrain was now getting steeper on snow and ice.  We could not see the trail nor had any path to follow.  Everything was covered in fresh snow and we were enveloped in a blowing snow from above.  The Sherpa guide set up ropes for the porters.  The climbing was difficult for the porters due all the fresh snow and most of them had only running shoes.  The porters were not dressed or equipped for the weather and conditions at all and honestly, we did not anticipate the weather to deteriorate this fast and this bad.    

The ice slope ascending to the top of the Teshi Labtsa   Pass had huge crevasses that required crossing by narrow ice bridges.  This was quite unnerving, as a slip would result in a 30m fall into a cold crevasse on either side.  The bridges were narrow with not enough space to use trekking poles for balance.  They were not solid and were partially broken as well.  We were not roped and had to concentrate hard to maintain balance with the wind and blowing snow.  The ascent took some time due to fixing of ropes for the porters.  Their progress was slower due to loads, inadequate gear and really shitty conditions.  In Calgary I would not even think of venturing to the mountains in such weather but here we were ascending one of the most dangerous passes in the entire range in a snowstorm and diminishing daylight.  The new snow covered a lot of smaller crevasses that were now completely obscured from our view.  It felt like we were crossing a mine field.  We were unroped which added to the excitement and made me feel rather exposed.  The snow was getting deeper, the wind was increasing higher we went and the amount of falling snow was now in a full-on blizzard mode. 

It started to get dark as we slowly ascended the slope to the pass. We were now 30 minutes away from total darkness and still not at the pass. The sense of panic set in in our group.  The wind was increasing and the snow was now blowing horizontally right into our faces burying the trail behind us in minutes.  The increasing intensity of the snowstorm and the impending darkness made the porters and Kumar drop their packs and just run across the pass.  We passed by a deep crevasse that I briefly considered for an emergency camp to wait out the tempest.  Due to the wind and panic though, there was no one to discuss it with.  Kumar left his pack in the snow and run for the camp on the other side of the pass.  The situation seemed dire and we were now in a twilight and in a raging storm that was getting stronger by the minute.  In 20 minutes we made it across the pass, literally running at 5,900m and totally out of breath. 

With my peripheral vision, I noticed the prayer flags marking the top of the Teshi Labtsa Pass  arching in snow in the gale wind.  We crossed the narrow pass and run downhill to an overhanging campsite just before it got completely dark.  We quickly pitched the tents in the snow just to get away from the ferocious wind.  The wind picked up after dark, the blizzard and snowstorm intensified even further.  The tents were battered by the wind and the snow would blow into them through even a minor opening.  I got inside the tent with crampons on and just sat in the tent tired and cold. I was exhausted and high on adrenaline from running across the pass over hidden crevasses.  I was also becoming anxious about the weather conditions that we were now in.  Thankfully there was some food and the “dinner” consisted of one small cup of instant noodles.  It was a miracle that the guys had enough energy to even make it in these conditions.  After the long day of climbing in the cold and not eating anything, the noodle cup was hot and it felt good.  By that time, the strong blizzard and the wind were raging around us and I was dead tired as the run across the pass just finished me off.   We had a 14 hour day full of excitement! 

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I tried to sleep but the mat was broken.  Sleep on sharp rocks, snow and ice was impossible due to cold, altitude, adrenaline and the noise from the storm.  When I opened the zipper of the tent the wind blew the snow in with force.  I kept the headlight on to feel more comfortable.  I could hear Tony panicking in the other tent that he shared with David and proclaiming that we were all going to die!  I was not that worried and found Tony’s musings rather funny but I had some anxiety about our predicament. How will we get down from the pass with all the fresh snow?  Obviously, climbing of Panchermo was out of the question due to the possibility of avalanches from all the new snow.  We did not know what was causing the sudden change in the weather and how long it would last.  If the storm lasted 48 or 72 hours, then what?  We could also encounter avalanches on the descent from the pass. 

We were perched on a ridge that was the pass with steep drops to the valleys below on both sides of the pass.  We were trapped high at 5,900m in the raging storm.  We gained the altitude to 5,900m quite fast.  In retrospect, the proper way to cross this pass and climb Pancharmo's 6,300m summit would be to camp at the bottom for at least one night to properly acclimatize. 

As the night went on, I was getting more and more dehydrated.  My tongue felt like a dry stick in my dry mouth.  I wanted to drink my remaining water but it half frozen.  We had enough food and fuel for all but we could not cook anything in this wind.  I was thinking of the steep descent ahead of us.  I was also concerned about the new snow covering the hidden crevasses along the way down.  It was a long sleepless night with ample time to think about all "whats" and "ifs". 

November 2, 2010 Teshi Labtsa Pass 5,800m – Thyangbo 4,230m

During the night on Teshi Labtsa pass the snowstorm was raging on with blowing snow and gale strength wind.  The tent zipper broke, and allowed me to open a 20 cm long sliver in the tent's door.  I needed to get out of the tent and pee.  If I broke the door and forced open the zipper, the tent would not zip up again.  With all the blowing snow and wind, the tent would fill up with snow quickly and the wind would make me even colder than I already was.  Since I had a metal cup from the noodle soup, I decided to pee in the cup and dump it outside.  I had to pee one small cup at a time.   It was a challenging task as the cup fills up fast and necessitates  “relay peeing” to empty the balder.  The main objective was not to urinate all over myself or the tent.  I must have done this relay 5 times in the night due to all the water I drank as one is supposed to do at the high altitude.  I could not sleep as the wind was howling loudly all night and rattling the nylon tent.  I also had to keep shaking off the snow that was accumulating fast and pressing on the tent walls. 

The following day, Kumar told us that two porters from another party died from altitude related sickness (AMS) on the Teshi Laptsa Pass two days before we crossed it.  We passed their bodies covered by blue tarps at the bottom of the pass without realizing it.  They developed an AMS quickly and due to the remoteness of the terrain, they were unable to go down or be evacuated.  All escape routes from this pass are high and long:  the route to Khumbu/Thyanbo is via avalanche gully that is steep and requires fixed ropes, the route we came from required two days of travel and many kilometers on walking on glaciers.  

We got up before sunrise.  The snow was still blowing and we were in a thick cloud.  When the sun rose, the clouds parted quite fast and it became all clear.  The view, that we had not seen the evening before, was spectacular.  Panchermo was right in front of us glowing with all the fresh snow in the intense rays of the rising sun.  The air was cold, crisp and clear at this altitude.  The peaks of Kongde Lho and Kongde Nup around 6,000m were almost at our level all covered in bright, thick fresh snow.  The rocks were plastered with white and everything looked high and alpine.  It was just the way the Himalayas are supposed to look.  Perfect.  We could also see into the Khumbu region that was hidden behind many peaks down below.  The Tengi Tagi Tau 6,938m was right behind us as we camped on its flank on a rock shelf that protected us from falling ice or rocks. 

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We cooked up some breakfast while Kumar with the crew went back over the pass to retrieve the backpack that he dropped in a panic retreat the night before.  I followed them for a while but fear of hidden crevasses under the fresh snow prevented me from going further.  Kumar did not locate his pack under the snow.  The area was all white and covered with waist-deep snow.  In the panic of the night before, he did not even remember exactly where he dropped his pack. 

We packed up the camp and started our descent to Thyangbo at 4230.  A drop of 1670m.  At first we had to traverse a rocky shelf above the icefall falling from the pass. Everything was snow covered and icy so the porters had to be very careful.  The walking was on iced rocks hidden under the fresh snow.  I had to concentrate on where to step as it was easy to slip and break a leg or twist a knee.  I had blood in the sinuses and each time I would blow my nose the tissue was red with blood. 

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After crossing the shelf, we had to abseil down a narrow gully to the glacier below.  The snow was literally waist deep in places.  The Sherpa guide fixed the ropes for the porters so that they could come down safely.  The total descent took us 7 hours.  By the time we got lower, I was exhausted.  Even walking down was tiring.  I walked very slowly and I was very tired due to 3 sleepless nights.  I also developed a usual cough (as I always do at these elevations) that I could not shake off.  The cough got especially intense in the cold morning air.  The cough made it difficult to walk, as the cold air would aggravate it. 

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As we reached the glacier below, the trail started to undulate.  It would come down and then climb back up like a roller coaster.  I could not go fast and had to to rest often when going up hill on the moraines of the glacier we were walking on. As we progressed, I also started to rest when going downhill.  After a long walk on the flatter section we finally ended up in the single teahouse of Thyangbo.  It was a 1,670m descent and a few kilometers of distance.  It was another long day. 

A friendly sherpani lady ran the teahouse. We met two Polish climbers who were attempting Mount Kongde (a 6,000m wall immediately behind the tea house).  Due to the storm, they got stuck and had to wait out the avalanches.  One of the nice and friendly Poles, Krzysztof Sadlej,  died in 2012 on a rock climb in the Carpathian Mountains in Poland on a peak called Zamarla Turnia.   Krzysztof climbed Huascaran and Peak Lenin before he died.   Another life lost in pursuit of mountain glory. 

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Some random thoughts about the realities of trekking in Nepal:  Nepal trekking consists of waking down and out of deep gorges from 900-1,000m to above 4,000m before being able to see any alpine scenery.  For the true alpine scenery (ice, glaciers, peaks) one usually has to go above 5,000m.  There is a lot of up and down referred to as "Nepali flat".  The main trekking routes are crowded.  On the popular trekking routes, the tourists are mainly older people.  Food and drinks in teahouses, especially in the Khumbu are more expensive than in Canada.  Phone calls are 300R ($4.5) per minute.  Rooms are very basic, concrete floor, plywood walls (can hear everything form adjacent room).  Inside, the room is as cold as a tent as the walls are not insulated.  The toilet is usually outside, cold, and often just a hole in the ground.  Sometimes it overflows.  The toilet is flushed with a water bucket but the water in the bucket is sometimes frozen.  It is difficult to sleep at the altitude above 5,000.  I usually can’t fall asleep until midnight, wake up at 4am can’t sleep until dawn.  The nights are long as the sun sets at 6.30 and rises at 6 am.   In the teahouses one can sit in the dining room until 9 pm or so to pass time.  While camping though, short days make for long nights in the sleeping bag. 

November 3, 2010 Thame 3600m

We got up to a brilliant sunshine and beautiful winter aura all around us.  We were right in the front of Mt. Thyangboche 6,482m and Mt. Kwngde 6,086m.  Those two peaks rise vertically right behind the teahouse.  Their walls were plastered with fresh snow from the storm we just experienced.  It was still and quiet.  We have not hit the main Everest trekking region yet so in the teahouse there were just us and the Polish climbers. 

From the teahouse in Thyangbo, we walked to Thame on a good trail with wonderful view of Khumbu peaks in front of us.  On the way, we stopped at a local gompa that was well taken care of with numerous prayer flags fluttering in the wind.  From the terrace of the gompa, the backdrop of Mt. Thamserku 6,618m and Mt. Kangtega 6,783m dominated the view.  Two huge peaks, very steep and standing tall above the Dudh Khola valley in bright sunshine and clear sky.  In Thame, we stayed in a teahouse owned by a Guinness record holder who climbed Everest 21 times.  He now lives in the US.  His certificates were displayed on the wall of the dining hall.  The teahouse was very clean, well built and organized.  Thame was very built up and developed compared to the villages of the Rowaling Valley.  The tourist dollars were all around us and many of the teahouse owners live permanently in Europe, US or Kathmandu. 

In Thame, we parted ways with David who had to go to Lukla to catch his return flight home.  Tony and I continued on to Renjo La and Gokyo Valley.

November 4, 2010 Thame 3610m - Lungdhen 4380m

We walked up the valley that leads to the Nangpa Pass and Tibet.  On the way, we had lunch in a great teahouse run by a friendly Sherpani girl who Kumar attempted to connect with David.  Kumar claimed that we can just make the offer of marriage to her and that and she would abandon her job and go with us without hesitation.  How hard the life must be here if this is indeed the case which I found difficult to fathom?  The life in the valley is hard.  The lady we met, is up at 5 am attending to animals and fetching wood and water.  She basically runs the teahouse all on her own.  Her dad, who owns the teahouse, climbed Everest 3 times and had a little wall of fame in the dining hall.  He was a very small older man with very pleasant disposition like most people of Nepal. 

Along the way to Renjo La pass at 5,360m, we had a great view of the front of the Bhote Kosi Glacier.  I was yearning to go there and explore the valley all the way to the Nangpa La Pass.  This will have to wait for another trip though.

At this point, the trail turned to the east and led to the basecamp for the Renjo La pass.  The basecamp for the Renjo La pass is called Lungdhen and it is located at an elevation of 4380m.  It consists of a few teahouses built near a small lake.   The teahouse we stayed in was busy as Renjo La Pass is on a popular trekking route.

November 5, 2010 Renjo La 5,360m – Gokyo 4,750m

We were up early for the passing of the Renjo La at 5,360m.  This pass was much easier for us than the Teshi Labtsa.  The ascent of the pass is just a walk (with stairs) and we were already acclimatized to the altitude.   After leaving the teahouse we passed a small lake and climbed the stone stairs directly to the pass.  The pass is at an altitude of 5,360m.  From Thame we climbed 1,750m.  We moved quite fast and ended up on the pass quite early.  The views in all directions were absolutely stunning.  The weather was just perfect, sunny with no wind and almost no clouds.  To the east we could see the most magnificent Himalayan panorama ever. 

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The Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse were dominating the skyline.  The steep south side of Lhotse wall was clearly visible.  Down below, the Ngozumba Glacier and Gokyo Village.  In the distance was Makalu, then Cholatse, Chamlang and Tamaserku.   On the opposite side of the Renjo La Pass, looking west, Tengi Tagi Rau, Menlungtse, and all the peaks lining up the Bhatekoshi Glacier were visible.  This must be the best panorama in all of the passes in the Himalaya, not only Nepal.  We spent quite a lot of time on the top of the pass admiring the views and taking photos. 

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All the way down to Gokyo, the views were absolutely magnificent.  We passed the incredibly green Gokyo Lake that contrasted with the white fresh snow of the recent storm.  The entire surroundings were stunningly beautiful.  We stopped many times and took many photos  arriving in the Gokyo Village in late afternoon.  The original plan was to cross the Cho La pass next.  We were getting tired though and Tony decided to take a rest day.  The rest was well deserved after the Teshi Labtsa adventure, the 1,600m descent from The Pass to Thame and the 1,700m ascent from Thame to the Renjo La Pass.  It all happened in a span of a few days. 

I, on the other hand, decided to go to the north side of Cho Oyu to a spot called Ngozumba Tse (Cho Oyu basecamp) located at an altitude of 5,550m.  It would be another ascent of 800m over a distance of 12km. We spent a cold night in a comfortable teahouse with many people as we were now in one of the most popular trekking regions in Nepal.

November 6, 2010 Gokyo – Cho Oyu BC 5,550m

We left quite early to hike up to the Cho Oyu BC.  Surprisingly we were almost alone on the trail for the entire day except some climbers going to Kangchung Peak.  The wall of Cho Oyu 8,201m and Gyachung Kang 7,922m was directly ahead of us.  We walked fast on the trail along the moraine of the Ngozumba Glacier.  The higher we went the better the views.  By the time we reached the fourth lake (there are five consecutive lakes in the Gokyo valley), the views opened up.  The Ngozumba Glacier widened up at the spot where the Gaunara Glacier joins it at a 90-degree angle. 

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To the east we could see Everest and Lhotse with the good view of the South Col and the north face.  The peaks were now very close and spectacular.  We made it to the fifth lake and the Cho Oyu BC at 5550m. The spot was outstanding.  In front of us a steep and spectacular south wall of Cho Oyu 8201m with massive glaciers flowing down. 

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The entire area was snow covered from the recent snowstorm so the scenery was very alpine.  It was clear that one could continue on to the west to hike along the great peaks of the spine of the High Himalaya.  I wanted to linger and take it all in.  We are in a great amphitheater of the highest peaks on Earth.  The weather was spectacular and clear.  There were only limited high clouds obscuring only the very top of the peaks.  The time was running out though as it was starting to get late and we had a long way back to the teahouse.  As we were hiking back, it started to get dark. The sunset however was truly spectacular and we could admire the wall of peaks lining the Ngozumba Glacier all the way down.  We arrived in back in the teahouse after sunset.  It was another full day and a magnificent one.

November 7, 2010 Gokyo – Dhole 4110m

We left Gokyo early in the morning in a brilliant sunshine and blue sky.  We were on the main trail linking the Khumbu region with the Gokyo Valley.  The trail was busy.  We walked passed the Gokyo Lake perfectly still reflecting the surrounding peaks.  We walked by the first lake in the Gokyo Valley and down to Dhole.  We walked fast and did not stop much.  Many helicopters flew above us transporting those afflicted with the altitude issues or just tired. 

Dhole was another busy village with many teahouses that start to look all the same in this region.  They all serve the same food, have the same photos, are frequented by the same looking western and Asian trekkers going to the same places and taking the same photos. 

November 8, 2010 Dhole – Namche Bazar

An uneventful walk to Namche following the main trail network.  We walked passed the spectacular backdrop of Ama Dablam with its perfectly shaped ridges and hanging glaciers.  We arrived in Namche quite fast.  Namche was a busy spot with all the trappings of a well-oiled tourist industry:  German Bakery, horses for rent, Internet cafes, souvenir shops and calculated mamas running teahouses. 

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November 9, 2010 Namche Bazar - Lukla

Since all Khumbu and Gokyo trails converge between Namche and Lukla, the trail to Lukla is very busy.   It is full of large groups mainly going to or from the Everest BC.  It is a long way (at least 10km) and quite boring.  Given what we have seen, the views are pleasant but nothing special.  We arrived in Lukla by the evening and checked into a hotel right by the airport.  The following day we had to reconfirm our tickets.  We spent the day admiring the landings and takeoffs from Lukla airfield (quite a spectacle).  We had good food, drinks, visited a fake Starbucks, had a haircut and just hang out.  The following day we flew out and landed in Kathmandu after 30 minutes.  An end to an epic adventure. 

I got seriously hooked on Nepal and the Himalayas…

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