|October 17, 2006:
Dzonghla to Thagnak via Cho La Pass
Woke up at 5:45 am and got ready. Breakfast was supposed to be at 6 am, but it took a little longer.
Beautiful sunrise on Cholatse behind the lodge. We left around 6:45 am and the porter was the
cook. He wore sandals (nice pink ones) and only a T-Shirt with a vest. He was going to accompany
us to the Cho La Pass in these clothes, but I guess he was used to this. I asked him about this and
he said no problem, he goes up there to the pass many, many times and weather was not going to be
a problem that day.
Went up the ridge behind Dzonghla and then through the valley towards Cho La Pass. Slowly the
trail started to gain altitude. After about 45 minutes, the trail became steeper. We continued on the
trail until we were right at the rockface. At the rockface, we turned to the right and boulder
scrambled up the face. As I did not have anything to carry, I had no problems getting up there.
After about 2 hours since we left Dzonghla, we were up the rockface and hit the glacier.
For another 40 minutes or so, we walked over the glacier on a well-trodden trail until we were at the
Cho La Pass. Looking down the west side of Cho La Pass, we saw that this side was considerably
steeper than the side we came up on. Also, ice and snow covered the trail. There are beautiful views
from atop Cho La Pass, including the Kangchung Peaks and Arakam Tse. We took a few pictures
Then we started our descent. Steep and icy. Some of the porters coming up had real issues and were
slipping and sliding all over the place. Also, Bharat had a couple of falls in his worn out boots. I
had no problems at all and our porter in his sandals looked like he was on a Sunday stroll. I don't
think he ever slipped in his sandals. He insisted to accompany us a little further down until we
would leave the snow/ice. Then we said our goodbyes and he went back to Dzonghla to prepare
dinner for the next guests. As I said before, I liked him a lot, a great person!! But now it was time
for me to shoulder my backpack again.
At this time, I want to write some kind of personal assessment of which way to trek up/down the
Cho La Pass. Most of the people I met (especially the groups) tend to do the clockwise hike
(meaning the buddhist way) from Namche to Gokyo and then Cho La to Lobuche to Kala Pattar
and then down via Tengboche back to Namche. As the altitude changes pretty rapidly from Namche
to Gokyo in a short distance, the Gokyo valley is the scene of many altitude problems by hikers and
porters. I really don't understand why not more people take the opposite way, i.e. the route I took.
You have much more time to get acclimatized to the altitude as one does not hit 4,000 meters until
you get past Pangboche, whereas you go the other way, i.e. first to Gokyo, the first night past
Namche for many people is at Dole, already above 4,000 meters.
Also, Cho La Pass itself is in my opinion much much easier when coming from Dzonghla, i.e. from
the east. Yes, one has to scramble up the rockface, but it is a short, albeit steep climb, and you are
still in good shape as it is early and the hike to there from Dzonghla was easy. On the opposite, if
you come from Thagnak, first you have to climb out of the valley, then make several crosses of
ridges and then, only then, after a few hours of hiking, will you go up to Cho La on a quite steep
trail. But that's just my opinion.
After eating our packed lunch, Bharat and I hiked another 3 hours until we were in Thagnak. We
went over several ridges and then the last couple of kilometers we descended steeply down a valley
to Thagnak, also called Dragnag. What a difference 24 hours can make in terms of lodges. We
stayed at the Cho La Pass Resort in Thagnak, which is very nice when compared to the spartan
lodges at Dzonghla. Had a nice late lunch, tomato soup and potatoes with egg. Then I just relaxed
for the rest of the day. Sitting in the dining room, reading, talking to other hikers. Bharat wanted
me to go up the ridge and look at the Ngozumpa Glacier, but as we had to cross it anyway the
following day, I did not want to. I am sure the glacier wouldn't go anywhere.
One of the people I talked to for a long time was an Israeli. He arrived some time after us. He tried
to get a room, but as the lodge was full by that time, he went next door and got a room there. But
then he made a big mistake: He came back to our lodge as he liked it better and ordered food. He
had a snack and then he also had dinner in our lodge. Around 8 pm, he said good-bye and went
over to the lodge he checked in earlier. Well, 5 minutes later he was back. The other lodge was
closed and nobody opened him. He was pissed. Lesson learned: Never eat in another lodge you
don't sleep in. As the lodges charge very little for a room, food is where they make their money, and
therefore they want you to stay and eat in the same lodge. Makes sense to me. I learned the next
morning that they finally let him back into the other lodge.
This was the first time I ran into a group of Germans, who also stayed in this lodge. Maybe I should
retract some of the things I said earlier about the Italians...
I had some trouble breathing when I went to bed and couldn't fall asleep which I thought was odd
as I had no problems the previous nights which I spent at higher altitudes.
Bharat and I continued to scramble down until we found a safe spot far away from being a potential
rockfall target and ate our packed lunch. Sitting there next to the trail, quite a few porters were
coming by. Most of them struggled with the altitude and their loads. As Bharat and I were the first
ones to come down that day on that side from Cho La Pass, many of them approached and talked
to Bharat. Quite a few of them had headaches because of the altitude. We gave them ibuprofen.
They didn't even have water to jug down the pills and in general lacked clothing for the kind of
weather they were to expect (unlike our porter who lives up there at Dzonghla for many months and
knows the conditions). One of those porters was carrying 30 kgs and was 15 years old. He was really
struggling and close to exhaustion already even before the actual climb up to Cho La Pass.
Whoever employed these porters (apparantly a French trekking company) should be ashamed of
Above and right: View from top of
Cho La Pass, 5420
Bharat and the "cook". Unfortunately I forgot his
Two more pictures of the Cho La ascent from the