The longest day – Chhukhung to Lobouche over the Kongma La Pass
26.03.2012 - 26.03.2012 18 °C
We’ve been picking up a few words of Nepali but the one that had been used as a mantra time and time again is ‘Bistarai Bistarai Badar Samatne’ which simply translated means ‘Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey’. You can’t hurry anywhere in the high mountains, it’s not possible you just get short of breath turning over in bed, or tying your shoes.
So it was with some trepidation that we faced our toughest day of the whole trek, the Kongma La Pass. Sallis reckoned it would take up to 11 hours to complete and we needed to carry plenty of water as well as a packed lunch. From Chhunkhung at 4730m we set of at 6 am in the early morning light climbing steadily, Bistarai, Bistarai. The first part of the climb had a reasonable gradient and although we were breathless we could still walk at a reasonable pace. After about 2 hours we hit the first steep section we had already been warned about. 300 m of zig zags up a rock face slowed our progress considerably by half way up we could just about manage 5 steps and then a rest. It was impossible to drink while you were walking, trying to gulp water down and walk at the same time was too much effort. With some great relief we hit the top of the slope and followed on for another mile or so of gentle gradient.
I have to put some balance on this after complaining about the effort required, the scenery was just stunning. We were the only people in this world of ice, rock and mountain it was truly sensational.
We walked on for another hour and then the top of the pass at 5535m came into site over a great ice lake. After circumnavigating the lake the path grew steep once more with some scrambley sections that required hand on rock before the top of the pass festooned in prayer flags was attained. We had the customary group photos with the group and sherpas and then looked down to see our destination for the night far below in the distance.
Lobouche didn’t seem that far away initially but distances can be really deceptive up here. We set off at a pace down the rock strewn mountain side without the small lodges seemingly getting any closer. The uneven surface started to take a toll on our feet and it was a massive relief when we eventually got to the bottom of the valley. However there was one obstacle left that we hadn’t really appreciated – The Khumbu Glacier.
The Khumbu Glacier stretches down the valley from Everest Base Camp and climbers attempting Everest from the Nepal side will almost certainly have to tackle the infamous Khumbu Icefall. Further down the glacier is not as extreme as that but if you imagine an exaggerated top of a lemon meringue pie with rocks all over it; that is what the Khumbu Glacier is like. It moves about 10 cm every day so paths across can disappear in a blink of an eye and crevasses can suddenly open up beneath your feet. Sallis went cautiously before us marking out a route, sometimes obvious, sometimes not, past ice cliffs and holes that just disappeared into unfathomable darkness. Finally after an additional agonising hour when our destination had seemed so close but unobtainable we cleared the glacier and a short 15 minute walk took us to Lobouche.
It took 8 and a half hours which was a good time and I don’t think I have been so physically exhausted before in my whole life. Everybody went to their rooms and collapsed many only appearing like grey shadows for our evening meal and then quickly retreating back to their bedrooms to get as much rest as possible for the following day which for many would be the highlight of the trek – Everest Base Camp.