EBC Day 14 – Gokyo & Gokyo Ri

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The Ngozumpa Glacier

I slept for ages that night, going to sleep around 18:00 just after dinner and waking up around 06:00 the next morning. I am accustomed to getting about six hours of sleep every night, so such a long duration is very unusual and was an indication that the Cho La pass must have taken a toll on me. The 'Khumbu cough' had also finally caught up to me, leaving my throat not just dry but also a little phlegmy. I decided to have macaroni and cheese (NP450) once again for breakfast and had three cups of coffee (NPR100x3) in an attempt to shake off the grogginess (although the coffee probably did not help too much with the cough, nor the cheese with the phlegm!).

The walk up to the Ngozumpa glacier was a slow one, and my body felt a little indolent, almost as if it were saying that the last two weeks of hiking were enough. My backpack seemed to be heavier than ever before, but all I could do was keep going north and up the moraine of the glacier. I bumped into a Canadian called Florian then, who had apparently been separated from his mother and was walking around looking for her. He told me that they had plans to stay at the Cho Ryu lodge in Gokyo, as the sister of the owner of the previous lodge, Tashi, had (undoubtedly) recommended the place.

gokyo glacier rim

Looking southward along the glacier rim; twisted bands in the rocks

The start of the crossing was easy to spot as there was a little flag fluttering on the edge that indicated the location of the trail head . This surprised me however, as the trail across the glacier is constantly changing due its shifting terrain over time. As I rounded the moraine, the entirety of the massive glacier slowly came into view. Before me lay the Ngozumpa glacier--the longest glacier in Nepal. Its huge mass (with an area of 61 km2) descended south for 18 kilometres from the upper reaches of the valley: the mountains of Gyachung Kang (elevation : 7922m) and Cho Oyu (elevation : 8188m).

The glacier did not look like a body of ice at all, as its surface consisted of a dark layer of rock and gravel. This was because debris-covered glaciers tend to pick up rocks as they make their way slowly down the slopes. This increase in mass also means an increase in thickness towards the terminus. When I finally stepped on the glacier, the surroundings seemed almost otherworldly. Between the mazes of rocks and gigantic boulders, there were huge ice cliffs that descended precipitously down to the ice lakes below. I found navigation to be a little bit of a challenge as the trails sometimes lead to dead ends or to the edges of drop-offs. The strange sounds were also a little unnerving, as groans and pops echoed around me as the mass shifted and caused rocks to move and fall.

gokyo glacier ice cliff

A Ngozumpa glacier ice cliff...

Rising temperatures have caused most glaciers around the world to shrink and to retreat. The melting ice causes a formation of 'perched lakes' that lie on the surface of the glacier, and much larger 'spillway lakes' further down the glacier as the ice melts from underneath and the glacier channels the melt-water downwards. Some measurements suggest that the Ngozumpa glacier could be declining at a rate of almost two metres every year!

gokyo glacier lake

...and one of the many perched lakes

It took just over an hour to cross the glacier despite my slow pace, a pace that was compounded by my (glacier dust-agitated) Khumbu cough. Soon after, I was greeted by the glorious sight of the lake of Gokyo Cho (aka 'Dudh Pokhari') as I rounded the moraine on the west side of the glacier. The lake is a part of the world's highest freshwater lake system, and gets its water from water seepage from the Ngozumpa glacier right beside it, as well as streams that run down from the Renjo La pass. The water of the lake is also very clear due to the low algal production, which is a direct result of the low nutrient content of oligotrophic lakes like this. The low algal production also happens to make them good sources of drinking water!

I sat on the side of the moraine transfixed, watching the sunlight twinkle off the vibrant turquoise body of water. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got my feet to move once again and began my descent down to the village of Gokyo (Nepali : गोक्यो) (elevation : 4750m).

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Gokyo Ri

Difficulty Rating : 4.4 / 10.0 (Class 6 - Fairly Challenging)

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As I gazed out of my room window at the Cho Oyu Guesthouse, slight movements caught my eye as plump snow cocks (Tetraogallus himalayensis) scuttled around in the near distance, dashing from cover to cover. The views here were absolutely stunning as the guesthouse overlooked Gokyo Cho, and had a common room that was decked out with large windows to showcase this. I thought to myself that the NPR200 that I was spending to stay the night was serious value for money!

The Perilapche peaks (elevation : 6017 & 5839m) overlooking Gokyo Cho (hover over the image to change the lighting)

I still felt a little weary but decided to give the short Gokyo Ri (Nepali : गोकयो री) hike a shot anyway. As I made my way up the 45-degree incline, a rather depressing realization hit me--there were other hikers that seemed to be much fitter than I was. This had not been so obvious before as the few who had passed me over the last two weeks had mainly been porters, and they had always seemed as if they were in a great rush. I tried consoling myself with the thought that most of these other hikers had started the Gokyo Ri hike fresh that day, and had probably made their way to Gokyo via Machermo, so had only been hiking for a week or so. Most of them had also employed the services of porters to carry their heavy bags for them. Nothing I told myself seemed to console me though, and the pain that had begun to shoot up from my feet due to my worsening blisters did not help matters in the slightest.

Gokyo Ri's cairns

Countless cairns tarnishing the landscape

View from Gokyo Ri

Looking back during the ascent to Gokyo Ri

The incline just did not seem to let up. I realised then that I should instead have hiked to the 4th and 5th lake, and only hiked up to Gokyo Ri the next morning after I had gotten some decent rest. My cough had been exacerbated by the effort so I decided to just stop where I was (elevation : 5244m) and just enjoy the views all around me. The views at the Renjo La pass were bound to be as good, if not better, than whatever Gokyo Ri could offer at the top anyway. Nonetheless, I reminded myself that I should eat lunch before a hike like this in the future.

An almost 180-degree view from Gokyo Ri looking south-east (hover over the image to see the labels)

I met Florian and his mother on the way down from Gokyo Ri. It turned out that they had the same itinerary as me but had managed to cross the Kongma La pass. They told me that other guides and hikers had tried to dissuade them from attempting the passes but that they had gone ahead and done them anyway. I was very glad that they did, and even more glad that they had been reunited with each other!

View from Gokyo

The peaks of Kang Taiga (elevation : 6685m) and Thamserku (elevation : 6608m) framed nicely by the Ngozumpa and Perilapche moraines

By the time I reached the lodge, the sun was setting and I found myself to be completely famished. I ordered dhal bhat (NPR500) and a fried egg (NPR200) for dinner. It seemed that my body must have been craving electrolytes as the salt on the egg was absolutely scrumptious. I ended up having a chat with a Japanese hiker that I had bumped into on the way to Dzongla about his Buddhist mask that he brought everywhere with him. A fairly strange way to end the day!

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Next (Day 15) : Lakes of Gokyo
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