Day 9: Gokyo and the Fourth Lake

Today we’d intended to hike to the fifth lake and/or Cho Oyu base camp. We got a pretty early start, with breakfast at 7:30am or so. Since we went to bed so early last night, it was really easy to get up with the dawn. The main dining room was cold as the staff they hadn’t really gotten the fire going much at all. Since the nights get cold (-15 to -20 degrees Celsius) and Gokyo sits in the shade until around 9 or 10, it stays really cold in the lodge until later in the morning. Both of us ordered hot tea and soon we were warming ourselves from the inside out. We both had a quick breakfast and we gathered some boiled eggs for lunch since they packed relatively well and don’t crush easily. Then we headed out.

We made the fourth lake in good time under an outstandingly beautiful and blue sky. Just past the fourth lake, we were walking along in a nice flat section and Anne took to opportunity to blow her nose. At this point, with the cold evenings and dry air, we were both suffering from runny noses. Anne had a worse time of it than I, suffering something much closer to a full blown cold. Anyway, as she blew her nose, she also passed out for a second causing her to careen over to her side only barely catching herself before hitting the ground. I’m sure it was more shocking for me than her, she actually described it afterwards as “quite peaceful,” and while she made a case for continuing on I insisted that we head back and get some rest.

We got back to Gokyo quite quickly (always stunning how quickly you can go downhill) with Anne feeling great and me wondering if I’d done the right thing by turning us back. Anne did, however, take the afternoon to rest while I explored a little of the lateral moraine to the glacier that sit just behind Gokyo. I walked a couple kilometers up the valley on the moraine ridge, looking over the glacier and surrounding peaks up to Cho Oyu. The glacier itself was pretty hard to comprehend in terms of size. It’s also hard to comprehend the mass the glacier has lost and how big it once was as you look out and see the “high glacier mark” etched into the wall of the valley across the glacier. It was several hundred feet from the high point to the surface of the glacier today, and this pretty much constant up and down the miles of glacier to be seen.

I got back to town about one and a half hours after leaving and dried some clothes in the remainder of the sunlight, we both washed off using our trekking wipes (baby wipes for adults), counted our money and sorted out tips for our guide and porter. I also prepped for some evening photography, getting out my tripod, changing filters and the like.

When coming down from Gokyo Ri the previous night, I’d wanted to take some twilight shots of the surrounding mountains but the light was too low. This evening, my intent was to head up Gokyo Ri about 100m or so, break out the tripod, and go crazy. That would allow me a nice overview shot of Gokyo, the lake, and the peaks beyond. Dorje caught me as I was leaving, insisting on coming along and also on carrying my pack. It was a gesture I certainly didn’t turn down! Without the extra weight, we both made really short work of the climb and spent the extra time working our way over the hill and away from the trail to find a nice vantage point that allowed me to see both Gokyo and Cho Oyu. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the sun to set and in that time, the clouds started to roll in. They provided a nice scenic flooring to the valley, but also threatened to obscure the shot entirely in addition to just making it plain cold. Frost quickly started growing on everything exposed to the air. I was able to get some shots before getting completely socked in and bailing for the comfort of a warm fire.

Tomorrow, we’ll head to Phortse, circumnavigating the Cho La pass. Anne and I both don’t think it wise to head over the high pass given her blackout today. It’ll be a long day, but it won’t take more days to get to Gorek Shep and we’ll have the advantage of heading downhill and getting to thicker air, so it’s really no loss at all.