Day 11: Dzongkha to Gokyo – 15,580 feet via highest point on climb, Cho La Pass at 17,611 feet

Rose at 4:45am to eat breakfast at 5am (who is hungry at that hour?) and on trail by 5:30am. Key is to get over and down pass before sun starts to melt ice and release rocks. Numerous people have died over the years here using bad judgement either by going off trail (not obvious always and there are crevasses) or going through pass in afternoon. Trail up very steep in places and requiring bouldering at moments (using hands) and some quite narrow sections above steep gorges. Thankfully we had crampons. Makes the snow and icy sections much easier to navigate.

Summited at the pass in about 3 hours and oh what views! I placed a prayer flag on top dedicated to Amy and her recovery (still no internet access as I write this and not knowing her circumstance is killing me). I also dedicated to friend Craig and his mom, both of whom have had recent health issues. Sad not to have the Amy, Craig, Ross, and Roddy team with me to enjoy this so dedicated to dear friends from college days at the University of Vermont as well. I also dedicated the prayer flag to my family. They have been so supportive of their arguably crazy 55 year old father and I want them to know a piece of them is with me and now flies in the breeze at 17,611 feet in the high Himalaya of Nepal. My guide video recorded my dedication and I look forward to sharing. Love you Susan, Casey, Katlyn, and Koby!

After a long down (nice but just means additional ups to come), had lunch at a tea house in Dragnag (barely a few buildings below a shear cliff that seemed like a rock fall could take out all of them in one fell swoop) on route before final push to Gokyo. I have new climb mates now, Adam from Maryland and Sandra from North Carolina. They are doing the passes on same schedule as me and from the same company which was quite serendipitous. Sandra is especially inspirational at 65 and doing this. I hope I have her stamina in ten years. She is a nurse. Adam works at National Institutes of Health so we’ve been able to talk common ground on grants and universities.

As we were on way to Gokyo, suddenly the huge chasm of Ngozumba Glacier appeared below us. How the heck were we going to cross the thing? Well, somehow the Nepalese hacked a trail along knife edge cliffs, up and down through enormous glacial moraine piles, and in sections, across ice. If one had a fear of heights along snow tracks and 500 or more feet slide areas, this is not for them. I felt bad for the porters, but they navigated brilliantly. Took us 10 hours over the day, inclusive of lunch for 45 minutes. Our tea house is actually nice by comparison to some we’ve stayed in. Modestly cloudy at moment so can’t see the top of Cho Oyu, the big one visible from this area.

For dinner had pizza which was ok, but probably the highest restaurant offering such an item! Made with tortillas, mushrooms, and melted cheese. Also got to actually watch the mechanics of starting a yak dung stove. Imagine a round metal drum with a stovepipe straight up. Proprietor opens a hatch on top and drops in roughly 10 dried yak dung patties. Then he pours kerosene over the patties and drops a lighted match down the hatch, hoping not to get burned by the flare up. This one stubbornly wouldn’t start so he soaks a tissue in kerosene, lights it, and quickly drops it in. That did the trick. As fire smolders a bit to get going, room starts to stink. I’ve noticed many people coughing and hacking on the trail, mostly due to the dry and cold air, but probably heightened by yak dung fires. I have a modest cough myself. The downside of no wood anywhere since above timberline. Cooking is by gas that comes up in large red cans on the backs of yaks. I’ve been buying bottled water, and as one goes higher, the price goes up. No surprise there, but still less than cost at a US airport. Drinking local water is high risk for a bad reaction.

Before dinner, I invited our guide and Adam, my new climbing mate, to play a unique game of cards with questions designed to get to know one another better. Asis our guide wants to improve his English and we used this game to do that on Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, I discovered that Asis does not read English well so it was mostly frustrating to him. In sum, it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Asis is most congenial though and loves to talk and laugh.

In bed by 8pm. Leaving early again tomorrow for second of the two passes. Once over, we start the long down hill back to Namche and a shower two days from now! I might even treat myself to an Everest beer. While available everywhere in the teahouses, beer and altitude do not make good bedfellows.

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