Bhuwan and I discussed our plans as we settled into dinner at Leboche. We were on a high given the excellent weather and views we had experienced of Everest during the past couple of days. The weather was looking good and stable, so Bhuwan and I decided to gear up for the long day to pass the Cho La. The Cho La, a high pass between two major valleys in the Everest Region, serves as a short cut saving several days walk but it's also a challenge in its own right. I knew it would be difficult as Bhurwan insisted on good weather and that the summer is the right time of year to be attempting the pass. He also grumbled a little that the lodges at a high camp on the way were shut, which if they would have been open would shorten the day by some three hours.
At some point Mathias burst into the lodge with Yuki. Mathias and I were soon talking about our time in India and then we drifted onto our trekking plans. At this point the soft spoken Yuki, a pHD student from Japan quietly asked if he could join Bhuwan and myself on our attempt of the pass. We explained it was tricky; a long day, likely to be 10 hours, hard going, probably some snow and that a packed lunch was needed. Yuki said no problem, he'll be fine and he'd take care of a packed lunch ! I conferred with Bhuwan a little ... he's better off not going alone, so he's better off joining us !
Yuki and Bhuwan. Check out the clouds rolling into the valley
So off we traipsed, at 7am the next morning, towards the Cho La pass. Its was another blue sky morning with a few small clouds lower down the valley. And off traipsed Yuki with us, in the attire of; a pair of cheap trainers, corduroy trousers, (what appeared to be) an English hunting jacket, a old canvas bag, all topped off with a neatly wrapped silk Buddhist scarf round his neck. He also didn't seem to have much in the way of wet weather gear, other than a bright orange plastic bag, draped over his shoulder in a superman style. He sported a pair of bamboo poles as trekking sticks. It was at this point that I started to realized that I was actually starring in some surreal Flintstones adventure.
Quite quickly it was apparent that Yuki was not that fast. Nor that he actually had a packed lunch. He had some bird mix. Really, I've seen parrots eating that stuff.
And using the term 'Lunch' was a little off the mark. It was a bird mix break every half an hour. Really. At lunch time proper, I felt a bit guilty when Bhurwan and I got stuck into our Egg and Nak cheese sandwiches, while Yuki pecked at his bird mix. I found out afterward's that Yuki picked up his bird mix, in bulk, at the start of his trek, as a means to keep the costs down. As you get higher, so does the price of supplies, especially food. Everything is brought in by foot, and at Kalar Pater, your around 12 days walks from the nearest road head. The food had reached European prices by this point.
The going then started to get tough. We started to scramble over sections and met snow. At first it was small sections of snow which could be avoid by sticking to rocks. But soon it was deep, wet snow, as the terrain leveled off towards the pass. Bhuwan was doing a fantastic job of breaking a trail. At first he broke the trail in some old snow-prints. Then they disappeared, presumably that group having turned around. I wondered if we should.
We kept having to wait for Yuki. Unfortunately when he did appear out of the mist, in our tracks, so did lots of questions; Where are we ? am i going the right way ? Is the pass near ? I kept having to tell him; 'all you need to do is follow our footsteps'.
By this point the pass was covered in cloud and mist. Breaking the trail in the snow was hard work and I was really beginning to wonder if we would succeed. Bhuwan was doing a magnificent job of trail breaking, while passing comment that it was 'incredible' to be encountering so much snow in June. We passed a massive Bergshund and what seemed like an hour later we were standing on the pass itself. I was dead impressed by Bhuwan's navigation. Yuki stopped for a bird mix celebration.
We carried on and 50m over the pass we faced a fiercely steep slope, our way down and covered in deep snow. After a bit of discussion we made the decision to turn round. It was too dangerous to carry on without Ice axes and crampons.
And then the Flintstone wheels came off. Bhuwan started to feel unwell. And then me. Stuck on a 5400m high pass, cold and wet we knew this was not good. We needed to get down fast, which was hard as we kept having to wait for Yuki. I was shocked as he appeared out the mist and almost took a big fall; he was using his bamboo poles to 'walk' down a scramble. I told him to ditch the poles. Well, I think I might have also sworn at this point.
We made it past the climbs. Another bird mix break. For some reason Yuki also offered me and Bhuwan a clove of garlic. Really. He then explained that he had a dodgy knee and was not very fast. No surprise there Sherlock.
With Bhuwan and myself feeling rather awful we continued to limp back with Yuki falling further and further behind, the waits becoming longer and longer. We kept calling to Yuki. He never replied. We needed a better flintstone ! Thankfully the tricky sections were over and Yuki kept proclaiming he knew the way, asking us to continue at our speed. But we kept waiting every 20 minutes or so.
Several hours later, we arrived at the nearest lodge of Thukla. Yuki was probably no more that 10 minutes behind and of course he knew the way ! So feeling tired and unwell we quickly had a hot drink and some dinner. A hour later we began to wonder where Yuki was... and sure enough we started to hear cries of 'Hello' ... 'Hello' ... 'Hello'. Yuki was lost in the mist and could not find the Lodge. We had to go and find him. He crawled into the lodge, took a bed and was off to sleep in a flash. No dinner and no breakfast. I suspect he was at his bird mix. Must be good stuff.
We later saw him in Tangboche on the way down. He was merrily on his way to Gokyo,the only way he knew ... an unnecessary detour of several thousand meters in height and a few miles extra walking
Its amazing what you can carry after a few Changs !
Bhuwan and I made our way back to Lukla over the next few days, so I could fly back to Kathmandu. After our epic I was not feeling great and the enthusiasm of going to the Gokyo valley had waned. Bhurwan obliged on the last day of my trek with a Chang tour. Chang, the local rice beer was rather good. I tried the Rice, Barley and Millet varieties and then floated into Lukla, quite merry. A suitable end to my trek.
I've spent the last few days chilling in Kathmandu and am off to Beijing on Sunday.