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Everest Gokyo & Kala Pattar Trek
Kathmandu - Namche Market - Gokyo Valley - Kala Pattar - EBC - Chukhung - Christmas in Monjo
Trek with the Sherpas in their homeland, the Solu Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalaya; we head up to the spectacular Gokyo valley lakes as well as to Kala Pattar, Everest Base Camp and Chukhung, under clear, blue December skies without the usual hoards of tourists crowding the trails and lodges.
We visit many of Kim & Lhakpa's favorite spots in the Everest region; Lhakpa comes from Thame, just west of Namche, and has relatives throughout the Khumbu, and Kim has been coming to the Everest region for years and considers it her home away from home. We'll stay in cozy Sherpa lodges, stop at old Sherpa villages off the usual tourist trail, visit Buddhist gompas such as Tengboche, and experience the real Solu Khumbu during our favorite month in the Everest region. This all in addition to enjoying the Gokyo and Kala Pattar valleys, climbing Gokyo Ri and Kala Pattar, trekking up to the Renjo La for wonderful mountain views and staying in the Chukhung Valley.
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you should be met at the airport by someone from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready. See below for room options.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by Kim and/or a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign.
If Kim wasn't able to come to the airport, she will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
2 - Kathmandu 1350m
Today we explore the Kathmandu valley with Kim. Options (we usually have time to do three of these): Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and yellow sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and then for dinner wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
3 - Kathmandu 1350m
We have an extra day in Kathmandu, because it's one of my favorite cities.
4 - Fly to Lukla 2840m, trek to Phakding 2660m
A little after sunrise, we are indulged with a spectacular 50-minute flight over the Kathmandu valley and along the snow-capped Himalayan ranges to the airport at Lukla. After breakfast, we’ll take an alternative route towards Phakding via the quaint village of Chaunrikharka – this trail takes us through a mossy, rhododendron-choked forest, along boulder-lined trails, and past checkered fields of barley, spinach and potatoes.
We are trekking along the Dudh Kosi (river) along a centuries-old trading trail from Nepal to Tibet. It is well traveled by stout, heavily loaded Nepali porters and Tibetan traders (Khampas, most distinguishable by the length of red or black tassel wrapped around their heads) conducting business between the weekly markets of Lukla and Namche with Chinese and Tibetan goods brought over the 5700m Nangpa La (pass) from Tibet. More beautiful walking takes us through Ghat, the best-maintained cluster of mani stones and prayer flags in the Khumbu. The local lama, owner of the “Lama Lodge” in Ghat, is responsible for this magical setting. At Phakding, a lively village a half hour's walk away from Ghat, we’ll stay at Ang Sani and Jangbu's Shangri La Lodge, well deserving of its name.
Kim by Jim Wolff
5 -Trek to Namche 3450m
Shortly after leaving Phakding (if we have some extra energy before the climb to Namche) we leave the main trail to climb high above the Dudh Kosi to the monastery of Sano Gomila, a small, colorful gompa up in the hills, perhaps having some tea with the monks, and enjoying the view in the morning sun. This gompa as well as those at Thame and Pangboche are homes to small idols, housed in a metal chest, which are rumored to be made from the branches of a white tree which once grew here. We pass through Chumoa, where the apple blossoms turn the village pastel pink in the spring, and stop for tea at the Kailash Lodge in Monjo, a spectacularly situated Sherpa village where Kim taught English years ago. Just past the lodge we enter the gateway to the Sagarmatha National Park, and continue along a sandy riverside trail, the shores peppered with large, rounded rocks.
Bring your five-colored Tibetan prayer flags to hang on the long bridge over the confluence of the Dudh Kosi ('milk river') and the Bhote Kosi ('river from Tibet') and send prayers out into the Everest region! The steep hour and a half climb to Namche is broken half-way up the hill by our first view of Everest, Lhotse & Nuptse, and will prime you for the bakery once we arrive at this old trading village (you'll need the extra energy to reach our guest house, Natang & Pemba's Moonlight Lodge).
Namche Bazaar, and old trading village with Tibet, sits in an amphitheater surrounded by mountains, and from here on up we have million dollar views of Kongde Ri in front of us, Kantaiega, Thamserku and Kusum Kangaru to the east and Khumbila behind us. Down-valley, the hills and valleys of the route from Solu to Khumbu from Jiri sit shrouded in hazy shades of grey. The views are especially good at Natang and Pemba's wonderful Moonlight Lodge, scenically situated up a long flight of stone steps at 3500 meters!
6 – Namche
An acclimatization day, so you are free to explore or relax.
Options for the day include: visiting the local Namche Gompa perched on the hillside, the Sherpa Cultural Center, the Everest View Hotel or a viewpoint nearby (an hour’s walk straight up the ridge, but worth the effort for the panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam), the National Park Headquarters, or doing some wildlife spotting (musk deer, Himalayan tahr, spectacularly-hued danphe - the Nepali national bird, and also the name of the infamous local bar).
Those with energy to spare might wander the hour to Thamo village and nunnery for lunch, a great walk, on the way to Thame village.
Alternatively, you might choose just to indulge yourself at one of the two famous bakeries, shop for some yak bells or hand-woven Himalayan hats, chat with the sociable Sherpas in the village, or just relax in preparation for the trek. (Watch out for dzopkyos and cows wandering the narrow streets as well). The lodge has a warm shower, will do your laundry, a large library, even a TV with videos (Everest Imax, anyone?), beers in the cabinet and delicious home-cooked food, so there is really no reason to leave at all!
From here up, the acclimatization process dictates our itinerary, so we will have plenty of shorter days walking.
7 – Trek to Khumjung 3790m
It's Saturday, so we'll take a few hours to explore the bustling Saturday market, a feast of colors, smells (not all of them appealing), and colorfully-clad Sherpa women up from their villages for the weekly event. It’s as much a social gathering as a produce, meat and essential goods market, so the atmosphere is spirited and lively. Afterwards, it's a contour up the steep hill in back of Namche towards the lively, old Sherpa villages of Khunde and Khumjung. We may see some Himalayan tahr en route, as there is a large herd living in the vicinity. We have the morning to visit Khunde Gompa, perched high on hillside to the west of the village, and Khunde Health Post, where many cases of AMS have been treated. A wander through the 500 year old walls of Khunde, which border it's patchwork of potato fields, brings us eventually Khumjung Gompa, where we will stop and see the Yeti scalp. These adjoining villages are some of the original villages in the Khumbu region, and are wonderful examples of local Sherpa architecture with their winding stone walls, yak paddocks and wood and slate houses. If we are lucky, we will run into Sherpa friends who will invite us in for some salt-butter tea, climbing up a wooden ladder over the straw-lined manger to get into the main house on the first floor, and will be one of the many villages where we enjoy real Sherpa hospitality. Both villages sit below Khumbila, the sacred Sherpa peak, and near a famous rock-mural of Guru Rimpoche; and the views of Ama Dablam from Khumjung are unbeatable!
An option for the next morning's sunset is to climb up toward the Everest View Hotel ...
8 - Trek to Dole 4060m
It's a lovely walk out of Khumjung; Ama Dablam towers dramatically in front of us as we wind our way down the walled, rhododendron-lined trail back to main valley, and then contour up and around and newly built stone steps to the hill leading to Mong La. We have a hard climb to the tiny settlement of Mong perched on top of Mong La, but are rewarded by incredible views of Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Malan Palan, Taboche and the newly named Kamzang Peak once up top. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in ithe Everest region, is perched at the intersection of the Khumbu & Gokyo valleys in front of us. The misty layers of the hills and valleys south of us are visible down-valley, as are Monjo and the bridge to Jorsale.
After tea, we descend steeply to Phortse Tenga and start climbing on the west side of the river. The route up is beautiful, past frozen waterfalls, up cathedral-like stone staircases, through old rhododendron and Himalayan Birch forests, across small rivers and past tiny Sherpa settlements. We arrive a few hours later, having had our first view of the 8000 meter Cho Oyu, at the summer herding settlement of Dole, where we bed down for the night at Kami & Dawa Dolma's Himalayan Lodge.
9 - Trek to Luza 4360m
A shorter day, gaining elevation, along a trail high above the valley floor, Cho Oyu looming in front of us at the border of Nepal and Tibet for the later part of the walk. We pass some small Sherpa herding huts en route, and after a few hours of walking we arrive at the charming yak-herding settlement of Luza and our favorite lodge there, Lhakpa Nuru and Chomzi's Kangtega View.
10 - Trek to Gokyo 4790m
It's a truly beautiful trekking day, and we set off early at the walk up to 4800 meters can be difficult. After a few hours of trekking, once pasy Panga, the character of the trekking changes abruptly. We enter a valley defined by waterfalls and a sparkling stream, eventually opening up into the opaque powder-blue lakes that are often on the verge of freezing over and sometimes perform a Himalayan symphony of expanding and retracting ice. We have entered the grassy ablation valley running beside the Ngozumpa Glacier, and have our first sight of Gokyo, a seasonal village and grazing area built beside the third and biggest lake, Gokyo Lake. Gokyo Ri is also visible from down the valley. Gokyo has become something of a Himalayan resort without the crowd – at least in terms of the comfortable lodges with sunrooms, unbeatable views, excellent food and warm stoves. It is a great base to explore from, and we have plenty of time for it.
11 - Gokyo
The sunrooms are sunny and cheerful, and it’s easy to spend the day chatting with fellow trekkers, watching shaggy yaks amble their way around Gokyo (sometimes casually sticking their heads inside the lodges) and admiring the majestic lake and mountain views. For those with more energy, a must is an excursion up Gokyo Ri (5340m) for some Everest spotting and all-around spectacular views of the lakes, the glacial moraine, the Khumbu icefall and the Himalayan peaks surrounding us on all sides. It is fantastic after an early breakfast and wonderful for an Everest sunset (but don't forget to bring a flashlight if you're coming down after dark).
12 - Gokyo
What you didn't do yesterday, you can do today ...
Alternatively, we’ll set off for a day hike up the Gokyo valley, past two or three more glacial lakes. There are several trails that snake up this rocky grazing valley, one emerging on the ridge overlooking the creaking glacier, another passing the eerily deserted fourth lake with it’s white, stony beach, and all with unforgettable views of Everest and the Himalayan range. There is a great Everest view from Scoundrel's Point, just before the fifth lake, right down the glacier.
We have the option of climbing Nobby Peak once at the fifth lake – Jamie’s vote for the best view in the region - but it's a tough climb after a long walk out, so be ready.
Another option is to take a hike up to the Renjo La, Kim's vote for the best day trip in the Gokyo valley, for incredible views of the surrounding 8000 meter peaks. Again, it's a tough day, and we'll need lunch and snacks to get us up to the 5400 meter pass!
13 – Trek to Phortse 3810m
Trekking down valley is always easier, just as beautiful as coming up, and of course now we don't have to think about the altitude. We take the main trail back to Phortse Tenga, and then cross the bridge and climb for a bit less than an hour to Phortse village. On the way up, we'll see the ubiquitous Blood Pheasant, rustling in the undergrowth. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in the Khumbu, is a checkered plateau of potato fields and old Sherpa houses, and is a wonderful spot for sunsets. It juts out at the lower corner of the Khumbu and Gokyo valleys, and has a new gompa at the upper end which shimmers in the evening colors ...
14 – Trek to Pangboche 3930m
After a sunny breakfast, we head up the hill in back of Phortse until we can look down on Tengboche Gompa across the valley. Today's trail also has fantastic mountain views (Kim's vote for perhaps the most scenic trail in the Solu Khumbu), as we contour along for just over three hours to Pangboche, which homes one of the oldest gompas (500 years) in the Khumbu in the upper part of the village. We stay the night in lower Pangboche at Nima Lhamo's Sonam Lodge, and look out over Everest and the Nuptse wall up-valley, and Tengboche Gompa on the hillside across the river below. It's a nice walk up past the gompa to another hermitage, tucked away at the mouth of a narrow gorge, in the afternoon, and a good place to scour the small shops for left-over Everest supplies, as many of the Everest Sherpas come from Pangboche.
15 – Trek to Lobuche 4910m
A wonderful trek along the wide left bank of the Imja Kola along well used yak trails before crossing the small bridge to Dingboche, yet another old Sherpa village, the lower half of which is lodges and the upper half local Sherpa dwellings, fields, rock walls and yak enclosures. Turning left at the chorten overlooking Dingboche, we trek west past the deserted 'karka' of Dusa to Thugla, and then climb for another 1 1/2 hours up to Lobuche. En route, we pass the stone memorials to the climbers, Sherpa and Western alike, who have died climbing the surrounding peaks.
16 – Trek to Gorak Shep 5140m (climb Kala Pattar)
This morning we head up well-worn trails to Kala Patter, where we have time to climb Kala Pattar in the afternoon for wonderful views of the 8000 m giants, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Makalu to name but a few. The Himalayan lodge is newly expanded, and the dining room fire is warm in the evenings.
17 – Trek to Thugla 4620m
If we didn't get up Kala Pattar yesterday, we have another chance this morning before heading back down the valley, past the memorials to the climbers who have died attempting summits, to our Thugla, where Tsering Lhakpa's 'real' Sherpa Yak lodge at Thugla is one of the most hospitable lodges in the Khumbu.
18 – Trek to Chukhung 4730m
Today's trail passes the local herding settlement of Dusa, usually deserted, and continues through the old Sherpa village of Dingboche, where there are still many traditional Sherpa houses, tilled fields and stone yak enclosures. After passing the long stone trail through the village, we trek a few hour up along the Imja Kola on a day-trip to Chukhung, a herding nestled under Ama Dablam, Lhotse, the Nupste wall and in view of Island peak, to name just a few of the peaks that make this such a superb setting. We stay at a beautiful guest houses at the end of the valley, the Panorama Guest House, where Tenzing is perfect host.
19 – Chukhung
From Chukhung, there are some great options for day trips: climb Chukhung Ri, at 5550m , trek out to Lhotse or Nuptse face, take a walk out to Island Peak base camp through some wonderful Tibetan-looking landscape or enjoy the superb surroundings from the sunny deck or sun-room of the guest house.
20 – Trek to Debouche 3820m
Trekking back down the lovely Chukhung valley to Dingboche (with views of Lhotse, the Nupste wall and Ama Dablam behind and to the left of us for much of the day), we continue past Pangboche, thorough forests of rhododendron and clusters of ancient chortens lining the trail, to Debouche, where an old ani gompa (nunnery) is still active. Debouche is just 15 minutes below Tengboche, but maintains its charm due to its small size. We stay at the Everest View Guest House, a charming lodge at the base of the hill to Tengboche.
21 – Trek to Kyangjuma 3600m
After breakfast, we make the steep but short climb to the spectacularly set Tengboche gompa, before descending steeply to Phunki Tenga and the bridge across the river. A last steep climb and some contouring through scrub and pine forests eventually leads us to the Ama Dablam View Lodge in Kyangjuma, run by our good friend Tashi Sherpa. The dining room is warm, the food, excellent … and Tashi is one of the most welcoming hosts in the Everest region. (Another option is to continue on an extra 1 1/2 hours to Namche and stay at the Moonlight Lodge).
22 – Trek to Monjo 2840m
We follow the trail around grassy hillsides past the beautiful stupa erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of climbing Everest in 2003 before dropping to Namche for lunch, and perhaps some last minute shopping. Then the descent of that long hill that we plodded up less then a fortnight ago, which seems amazingly short and easy on the way down. In Jorsale, we’ll stop for tea with Phuru Diki, one of the two girls we sponsor in Monjo, and soon afterwards settle in for the night at the Kailash lodge in Monjo, run by our good friends Chombi and Kali Sherpa. The school kids will be out in force to visit, and we can take a look at the new gompa just below the school if anyone still has the energy. Dawa Yangi, the other 5th grade girl we sponsor in Monjo, lives just above Kailash Lodge, so she and Phuru Diki will probably stop by for dinner or breakfast.
23 – Trek to Lukla 2840m
We trek back to Lukla along the same trail, although it always looks different coming from the opposite direction, and the fruit trees will probably be in bloom.. We’ll stop for lunch in Phakding or Chuplung, and finish the trek back at Dawa Futi and Ang Pasang's Paradise Lodge in Lukla, where we'll have yet another Sherpa feast (after hot showers) and perhaps try some of Dawa's famous Sherpa 'tongba', or hot millet beer served with a straw. This cozy dining room is one the nicest in the Everest region, so it's always an added treat to return there after the trek. Ang Pasang works for the airport, so we are in good hands for our flight out the next morning.
24 - Fly to Kathmandu
Bags packed and ready to go early as we fly out of Lukla to Kathmandu on Yeti Airlines in the morning; taking off from the Hillary airstrip is just as exciting as landing! Flights out of Lukla are sometimes delayed by bad weather, so we have an extra day in Kathmandu just in case.
In Kathmandu, back at the Kathmandu Guest House, long, hot showers await, and grubby clothes can be dropped at the laundry. In the evening, we'll go out for a celebratory dinner at New Orleans Cafe or Fire & Ice, followed later by a drink or glass of wine at one of Thamel’s many cozy cafes ...
25 - Kathmandu
A free day for washing, shopping, cafe-ing and perhaps a visit to Boudhanath Stupa to do some ‘koras’ or circuits to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. Any sights we missed during our first two days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner together. This is also an extra day in case of delayed flights out of Lukla.
Day 26 - Farewell
We take you to the airport for your flight home. If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, a trip out to Bhaktapur or Patan, Kathmandu's other capitals, or a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and some expansive mountain panoramas, best viewed at sunset or sunrise. Kim can arrange any of these excursions for you ...
We hope you enjoyed the trek, and are sure you'll be back trekking somewhere in the Himalaya again; it's not good-bye just yet!