Everyone goes to Nepal to do the Everest Base Camp Trek but let me suggest an alternative for your hiking trip in Nepal. The Gokyo Valley Trek follows the next valley from the EBC route and avoids the ‘trekking highway’ that blights the walk from Tengboche to Everest Base Camp.
The Gokyo Valley is much quieter, just as beautiful (if not more so) and the ascent of Gokyo Ri affords better views of Mt Everest than the equivalent Kala Pattar ascent at EBC. So let me tell you more about the 16-day Gokyo Lakes trek…
For a start, Nepal’s Khumbu region is a very different landscape from the Annapurna region where I had previously done the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. Vertiginous craggy hillsides and glossy coniferous forest; pink and white blossom trees in the lower reaches and then arid alpine wilderness above Namche Bazaar.
Everywhere around Namche the Sherpa people carry their loads manfully, and womanfully, everything from food supplies and trekking equipment to industrial ovens.
It is important to take your trekking very slowly to allow your body acclimatise to the altitude. The rule of thumb is not to ascend more than 300 metres in a day. Quite often that means a short trekking day so there is plenty of time for enjoying the views and the cosy tea houses at the end of the day.
We took a full seven days to walk from Lukla (where we flew in from Kathmandu) to Gokyo village. The tea houses are basic but friendly and serve a range of hot food and drinks. Make sure you keep hydrated as you trek at altitude. Drink as much as you can. We got into the habit of ordering a bit thermos of hot tea in the late afternoon and downing all of it. I found that I started to get altitude headaches at night if I wasn’t sufficiently hydrated.
As we approached the Gokyo Lakes there was enough snow to make everything look beautiful, although higher up a couple of feet of the lovely stuff up in the valley itself made the going a little slow as we passed the string of pretty lakes.
Gokyo is breathtakingly beautiful, literally. At 4,800m there is only approximately 55 per cent of the oxygen available at sea level. As a visual treat, the tiny village is on the shores of a deep turquoise lake and surrounded by snowy hills and mountains – only “subsidiary features” in the greater landscape of course!
We stayed here four nights, enjoying the beauty, the food, and doing day trips that must be some of the best in Nepal. The climb up to the Gokyo Ri summit at 5,300m was very hard work. Nothing more than a snow plod with a few steep slippy bits but it is quite alarming when you stop for a breather but your respiration does not normalise.
The view from the top was spectacular and I didn’t know where to look first. Up to Everest and Lhotse rearing up beyond a closer but still enormous mountain range. Down into the valley behind Gokyo Ri with its perfect nameless lake. Across to Cho Oyo, magnificent with its glittering fluted cirque. Across to the Rowaling and impressive Pachermo. Back down to the Gokyo valley, through the fluttering prayer flags to the village and the three lakes we passed on the trail yesterday. Down to the huge glacier, peaked and rutted, with its own lakes.
It seemed impossible to top this vista but the next day we trekked up the valley towards Cho Oyo, crunching frozen juniper under our feet on the flat and then travelling along the moraine wall. From the “scoundrels’ viewpoint” at about 5,000m it is difficult to describe the landscape of lakes and mountains.
Sitting on top of a boulder looking down at the glacier and up at the range of peaks – from Cho Oyo around to the enormous bulk of Everest and Lhotse – it felt like being on the very edge of the earth, or at least of Nepal. Beyond that knife-edge sharp line of fluted mountains is surely an endless void!
We had been lucky in getting a porter – our flight from the Nepal capital Kathmandu to Lukla was cancelled and we were bundled on to a cargo plane – but our fellow passengers were bound for the cook tent of an Everest expedition and one of them volunteered his son, Lhakpa Sonam Sherpa.
He turned out to be a reliable and friendly young man, we very much enjoyed his company. Initially I thought he looked about 12 years old but carried the full 80 litre pack no problem. So I only had to carry a day pack with my waterproofs and hat/gloves as well as food and drink for the day. He was a bit of a Sherpa lothario, always seemed to stay on chatting at the guesthouses with young ladies on staff. Of course he caught us up easily.
As we descended back towards Namche there were more signs of spring’s progress: stunted rhododendrons flowering and tiny irises cropping up beside the path.
Once we got to Tengboche we hit the main highway of trekkers and saw for the first time how busy is this popular Nepal trekking route followed by big groups going up to Everest Base Camp with massive baggage trains. I felt very thankful we had chosen to trek Gokyo instead!
At last the satisfaction of reaching Namche, a hot shower and a sit down toilet (and one that doesn’t have a smooth sheet of ice surrounding it).
By Natasha von Geldern
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