hours’ walk north of Namche Bazaar, the largest town in Nepal’s Khumbu region,
there is a fork in the trail. Veer right, as the vast majority of trekkers do,
and you are headed towards Everest Base Camp.
however, ascending stone stairs that seem to almost hang off the mountain’s
edge, and the trail follows the course of the Dudh Kosi, or Milk River, into a
valley that is more remote and less trafficked by trekkers than the “Everest
Highway” into Base Camp.
who take this left turn, there is one destination in mind: Gokyo Ri mountain.
From its summit, 5,360m above sea level, four of the six highest mountains in
the world -- Everest (8,848m), Lhotse (8,516m), Makalu (8,485m) and Cho Oyu
(8,188m) -- are visible.
Gokyo Ri is
the trekkers’ other Everest. For many, it will be the highest point to which
they ever ascend, providing a view across to Mount Everest that arguably
surpasses the scenes even from around Base Camp. Stand here and it becomes
clear why one trekking guidebook goes so far as to describe Gokyo Ri as having
“the best accessible viewpoint in Nepal”.
The trek to
Gokyo Ri, however, is not all about the final view. Once past the turning
beyond Namche Bazaar and into the Gokyo valley, the spread of settlement
diminishes and a more natural Nepal appears.
is the trail an endless line of teahouses and lodges, and the villages are well
spaced to assist trekkers with altitude acclimatisation. Spending nights at the
villages of Phortse Tenga (3,700m), Dole (4,200m), Machhermo (4,500m) and Gokyo
(4,800m) offers a comfortable four-day approach to the foot of the mountain
from Namche Bazaar, ascending gradually through the thinning air. In between
the villages, the slopes are covered in rhododendrons and the peeling, papery
trunks of silver birch trees. Waterfalls skid down from the mountains, and far
below, the Dudh Kosi wriggles its way through inaccessible gorges. On the
trail, yak trains amble down from higher villages, and porters sprint past with
seemingly impossible weights hanging from their heads.
It is as
you leave Machhermo, the final village before Gokyo, that you get a sense of
entering mountain royalty. Ahead, Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest mountain,
shapes the northern horizon, and the trail climbs beside the snout of the
Ngozumpa Glacier. This is the longest glacier in the Himalayas, stretching
around 25km from its beginnings on the high slopes of Cho Oyu.
glacier’s edge, the trail comes to the first of the Gokyo
Lakes, a chain of six lakes spread over more than 10km that form the
highest freshwater lake system in the world. It is here, over the tops of the
inevitable ducks, that Gokyo Ri first comes into view, its brown rounded form a
contrast to the snow-covered, sharp-tipped lines of Cho Oyu beyond.
shores of the third lake is the village of Gokyo, a collection of weatherbeaten
trekking lodges peering out onto Gokyo Ri. Inside the lodges, trekkers rest up
ahead of their final climb, conserving their strength and yet still burning
energy just trying to breathe and function at such an altitude -- at 4,800m,
oxygen levels are only about 55% of those at sea level.
The Everest of views
oldest of mountain traditions, the summit day on Gokyo Ri begins before dawn,
strapping on a head torch and heading out into darkness. After crossing the
often-frozen lake inlet to the base of the mountain, the trail begins
zigzagging up the cold slopes.
It is a 2km
walk that can take hours, as trekkers stop every few steps to gather precious
breath. Such regular stops are also a chance to pause and soak in the view,
with the lakes and Gokyo shrinking below and the distinctive arrow-shaped peak
Cholatse (6,440m) rising above.
prayer flags appear ahead on the trail, waving trekkers on towards to the
summit. Rock cairns crowd the final climb -- it is like a mini Manhattan of
high-rise stone towers -- until the trail rises over the ridge and onto the
summit, which is smothered in prayer flags.
conditions are favourable, the scene from the summit is a dream mountain view.
The rubble-covered Ngozumpa Glacier gouges its way through the valley below,
Cho Oyu stands nearby and endless lines of mountains stretch away to the
horizon, where Makalu rises.
over it all is the mountain everyone has trekked so far to see, the tallest and
most famous peak in the world: Mount Everest. Viewed from here, Everest is
bewilderingly tall, rising another 3.5km above the point on which you stand. It
is a scene so vast, so much wider than the outlooks near Base Camp, you cannot help
but be glad you turned left when you walked out of Namche Bazaar.