Trekkers Huts at Samiti Lake
New Videos - scroll to the bottom of the pictures to see a couple short videos of the Goeche La pass and surrounding mountains as well as an avalanche.
It wasn’t too difficult to wake up early and prepare to leave at 4:00am since we went to bed so damn early. Hopefully when this trek is done we can go back to sleeping in a bit. Bebe “knocked” on our tent with his typical “Hallo. Tea!” which we drank and then donned our boots and packs and headed out with Thupten in the lead. I knew from the hike yesterday with Carl and Karin that it would be a tough start as it was very steep.
What I didn’t count on was Cindy’s pounding headache, I guess from the altitude. She rallied strong however and we made it up first to the sacred Samiti Lake again. Everything was very still and cold and you can see the reflection of the mountains in the small stream by the old, abandoned trekker’s huts.
Talung and Khangchendzonga from the first viewpoint
From the lake, another steep trail leads up to the first viewpoint, about two hours of walking and scrambling amongst the boulders. We did get to see lots of very pretty birds and really pretty, often tiny little mountain flowers (pix on the last day of the trek…)
Even from before the viewpoint, the stellar views of the Khangchendzonga Range get more and more spectacular the closer you get, especially at sunrise.
Karin, Carl and their guide caught up with us just before reaching the first viewpoint and we all walked up there together and hung out marveling at the mountains and snapping photos. As you can see from the picture of Cindy, Thupten and the other guy (Karin and Carl’s guide who strangely enough had the identical REI jacket that I have) it was pretty cold but exhilarating. I know that the shot of Thupten Cindy and I in front of Kangchendzonga looks about as realistic as the one of that Crystal Cathedral guy in front of the Great Wall of China (which was faked…), but I swear it is just the fill flash on my camera - we really were there and looking fashionable in my Peruvian hat purchased en-route to our trek to Machu Picchu last June.
First Viewpoint View
Well now it was decision time - do we go on to the Goeche La pass another couple hours of hiking or return to Lamunie happy to have incredible close up views from this viewpoint.
My money was on Cindy bailing. Karin was still not feeling well and was somewhat tired from the hike up. In addition, they were not returning to Lamunie that afternoon but hiking all the way past Thangsing to Kokchurong probably three hours out of Lamunie. She didn’t think it made sense to go (and everybody said that the views from the first viewpoint were so fantastic that you can’t get much closer without climbing Kangchendzonga so decided to head back. I could tell that Carl, who is a very strong hiker and healthy to boot, was feeling torn and she told him to head on if he wanted. At this point, I figured that it would be Carl and I and whoever lost at Rochambeau, Thupten or their guide, going to Goeche La. Needless to say, I was wrong - Carl did the polite thing and said he would head back with Karin and Cindy surprised me and said she was ready to push on to Goeche La.
Prayer Flags and Pandim from First Viewpoint
Thupten gave her no time to change her mind, grabbed his pack and started off. We said quick good-byes to Carl and Karin but plan to see them in Darjeeling and promised to take a video at the pass.
Mt. Talung and Mt. Khangchendzonga
The next part of the trek involved a fairly precarious traverse of a glacial scree path followed by a steep descent (thankfully, Cindy was concentrating hard on not falling and didn’t bother to ask Thupten if we had to come back up this way - we did..). Once down the switchbacks, we came out onto a glacial moraine - basically looked like a flat, dry lake bed covered in several inches of fresh snow! The storm last night brought new snow and we were tracking across it. I was kind of wishing that I had real boots instead of just trekking shoes which aren’t exactly warm but loving the bizarre and beautiful scenery.
We were the only people on the moraine (the Alabama group had headed out earlier and were already making their way up the pass) and it was truly incredible to walk in the valley surrounded by Pandim, Talung, Kabru and Khangchendzonga mountains so early in the morning. Yesterday, I neglected to mention that I met two European guys coming back from the pass who said it was incredible but new snow covered the ground and the pass itself was a bit slippery. I figured that Cindy didn’t need to hear about the snow so…..I just kept my mouth shut J
Cindy and Thupten at the first Goeche La Viewpoint
As the sun started coming up (see the pic with the sun just behind the mountains) it started warming up and we started shedding layers. After crossing the long moraine, we took a rest and then started up the pass itself, Cindy saying “Go ahead in case I don’t make it” but Thupten was hearing none of that and stayed behind, calmly pushing us on.
The path was a very steep, billy goat path, still covered in snow and frost and still a bit treacherous. Most of the way up to the pass, off to the right was what looked like a spectacular ski run (OK needs more snow and perhaps a lift…) that I decided to name “Carl’s Run” in honor of Carl (who is a Ski Patroller at Homewood in Lake Tahoe). I took a brief video and decided he and I should head back here to make a first ascent and descent and then he can practice his EMT skills and fix my broken body at the bottom. There are actually three saddle entries and it is a fairly steep pitch, but wide open, so I am confident we can make it - call me Carl!
Thupten, Cindy and Larry at the first Goeche La Viewpoint
Another fifteen minutes of labored breathing (the altitude is over 16,000 feet) and we could see the American group from Alabama as well as three Indian guys who have been on our circuit hanging out at the pass which was of course strewn with prayer flags.
We hung out talking with them and taking pictures for quite a while. I did talk to Paul, the Dr. who summited Everest as well as a hell of a bunch of other impressive mountains which was pretty interesting. I snapped some photos for them of the group with Khangchendzonga in the background and they obligingly snapped the one of Cindy and I in front of the third highest peak in the world. At one point, there was a loud cracking sound and suddenly, an avalanche when careening down the rock face you see in the picture. At the bottom of that rock was a huge pile of glacial avalanche debris (could it be global warming?). This ended up being a frequent event, the roar of the snow and ice rushing down the mountain is pretty impressive. Looking back over the pass you can see several brilliant blue glacial lakes which are really pretty. Pandim was also providing spectacular views. Cindy decided that, based on the looks on my face, she may have more trekking and camping in her future J
Thupten and Cindy tromping through snow on the Goeche La Moraine
The Alabama group left and we had the pass to ourselves for another 30 minutes or so, spent mostly just staring at the incredible mountains.
Thupten, who is very under spoken, reiterated how lucky we were that, not only was the weather great, it wasn’t windy at all. Apparently lots of times it is so windy on the pass that people hike up there, snap a few pictures and turn around to head back down. We on the other hand were so warm that I had to sneak behind a prayer flag covered rock and take of my long undies. Maybe getting naked in front of Khangchendzonga brings good luck (but seems perhaps a tad sacreligious…)
Goeche La Moraine covered in snow
It was long hike back and as you can see from the shot of Cindy with Thupten behind her trekking across the moraine, the snow had melted. Thupten’s eagle eyes spotted some “Blue Mountain Sheep” far across the valley which we stared at through binoculars for a bit. There were also tons of mountain flowers (again, see the last day for consolidated flora and fauna pics).
Everything was fine until we got to that precarious part back up to the first view point which was pretty steep. Cindy’s altitude sickness came back with a raging headache but Thupten quietly said “not so far” and I counted the 200 steps up the switchbacks till we made it to the flatter part, close to the first viewpoint. 200 steps doesn’t sound like much but after six hours of trekking at over 16,000 feet, it is enough. I am sure that Dr. Paul (sorry, don’t know his last name) from Alabama’s last 200 steps up Everest was a bit tougher, but these were tough enough and I don’t think I am convincing Cindy to head to Everest (maybe at least Nepal…)
Larry on trek to Goeche La Pass
We made it back to Lake Samiti and saw some really pretty golden ducks from afar (sorry, my Tamron 200mm lens just wasn’t enough to make them look that good but maybe we will add them to the “Flora and Fauna” pix on the last day of the trek - stay tuned…).
After traversing the lake, we scrambled down the last descent to Lamunie where Lapa, Bebe and Mundar were preparing tea (mandatory!) and lunch. We took a nap and doled out another chapter of the audio book (batteries on the Ipaq are running seriously low) and then managed to sort of bathe, Cindy in the tent and me standing up in the bright yellow toilet tent (carefully trying to not fall in the little hole…). The Bhutanese man made it back from the pass and the cave (we were a bit worried about his stamina…) Cindy is very excited because this is to be the last night of tent camping - tomorrow and the next night are trekker’s huts at Kokchurong and Tsokha. It is kind of cool because with the Sleep was evasive due to the constant dinging of the horses and the Dzo bells. At least it didn’t start raining (yet) since Mundar managed to break the zipper on the rain fly on our tent. Tomorrow we head back down through Thangsing to Kokchurong which is alongside the river and should be a bit warmer.
Sunrise hits Goeche La Pass
Carl's Run at Goeche La Pass
Even though I am supposedely "verbose" I didn't write enough to have all of the pictures show up here in-line so scroll down and click on a thumbnail for full size views and click on Next to see all the photos (hint - the photos of the mountains from the pass are at the end and not displayed inline...)