We huddled around the fire and stared at the map. Everyone thinking the same thing; nobody wanting to say it.
Vincenzo broke the silence — “We could die.”
The snow falling outside wasn’t making our task any safer. I looked back at the map, tracing the glacier we’d have to cross with my finger as it ran down the Cho La Pass.
My finger stopped at the map’s bold warning. “Do not attempt in heavy snowfall. Crampons and ropes recommended.” But it was the next line that worried me — “danger of crevasses!”
Connor and I were in Dzonglha, the last stop before the Cho La Pass. We’d walked from Gorak Shep, diverting off the Everest Base Camp trail as it crossed a frozen lake and climbed a rugged side-valley.
We’d arrived to find only a single trekker in Dzonglha, an Italian named Vincenzo. That nobody else was planning to cross the glacier did little to settle the nerves. I went to sleep that night, anxious about what awaited.
The morning brought clear skies and an iron chill. We traipsed across the frozen fields, boots crunching in the snow. The Cho La Pass towered above us, a narrow canyon wedged between icy peaks.
To reach it, we clambered up a boulder wall, an arduous task in the thin air. From the top we watched the valley waking in the pale light. Ama Dablam rose imperiously in the distance.
I turned around and started walking up the Cho La Glacier, a kilometre long stretch of ice. Its sloping surface was littered ominously with stones that had broken off the mountainside. But at least last night’s snowfall hadn’t concealed the path.
Walking on a track carved by previous trekkers, I knew that a wrong step could have me plummeting down a hidden crevasse. The glacier was moving, the ice’s integrity changing. I simply hoped that it would be strong enough.
I inched up the glacier, testing the surface with my trekking pole. The snow had melted in places, revealing smooth blue ice. Staring down the glacier, it looked like a giant slide; a slide that ended at a cliff-edge.
As I got nearer the top, the glacier curved around like a scythe; a barrelling wave that was frozen in time. This was one of the most spectacular sights I’d ever seen. The mix of danger and raw beauty was intoxicating.
This didn’t stop me from feeling elated when the end of the glacier beckoned. Obligatory prayer flags flew in the wind, marking the 5,420 metre high Cho La Pass.
We descended into the next valley, which was brown and lifeless, a barren world of scree and dead grass. Every stream was frozen, a consequence of the perpetual cold at this altitude.
But our trials weren’t over. The clear weather disappeared and was replaced by snow, which started falling right as we reached the Ngozumba Glacier. We needed to cross this glacier to reach the village of Gokyo.
Unlike Cho La, the Ngozumba Glacier was a grey wasteland. Low clouds made it hard to tell where the ground ended and the sky began. I felt like I was walking in a volcanic crater; a prehistoric world after a meteor strike.
We scrambled across it for an hour, afraid of losing the path and getting lost. My body started to freeze every time we stopped to check the map. This worsened as the snow intensified. With deep relief we climbed out and were presented with a winter wonderland. Gokyo stretched before us, beside a giant white lake.
Yet I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad. For Gokyo marked the symbolic end of my trek. From tomorrow, I’d be turning around and starting the long walk back to Kathmandu. It was nearly all over.
If you missed the other parts of the trek, you can find them at the links below:
Some really great shots in this post – love the one of the curving Cho La Glacier!
Cheers Eli, it’s an incredible place
All spectacular Dan but spooky spooky. Curved Cho La Glacier, brilliant pic!
Love always, Gma