Kala Patthar

March 26, 2015

The fingers were finally saved, by another expedition of all things! This one was to a pile of rocks and scree known as Kala Patthar. Kala Patthar is probably the secondary objective on the minds of most trekkers to the Khumbu. It is a peak that is 5550 m (18,209 ft) high, but is dwarfed by everything around it. It’s claim to fame is the incredible views of Everest and Lhotse from its summit.

Right hand, looking more normal.

Right hand, looking more normal.

People trek to Everest Base Camp for the bragging rights, to say they’ve been there; they go to Kala Patthar to actually SEE Everest. Both of these locations are reached by continuing up the Pheriche valley until you reach the small community of Dugla, which is really just a couple of lodges next to a waterfall.   Above Dugla you come to the Thokla Pass, where many of the souls lost on Everest have been commemorated, including Scott Fisher, owner and lead guide of the Mountain Madness expedition, who lost his life on Everest in 1996, as described in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.

The small community of Dugla.

The small community of Dugla.

Thokla Pass.

Thokla Pass.

A memorial to Scott Fisher, one of the climbers who died on Everest in 1996.

A memorial to Scott Fisher, one of the climbers who died on Everest in 1996.

Thokla Pass.

Thokla Pass.

At the Thokla pass, you reach the Khumbu Glacier, and which is followed to Lobuche. Krakauer described Lobuche as a literal shit hole in his book. In the ensuing 20 years, things have slowly improved. Indoor toilets have replaced the outdoor pit toilets described by Krakauer, but there is no question, this is still the fringe of civilization.

Entering the Khumbu Glacier

Entering the Khumbu Glacier

Lobuche, where I stayed on my way up.

Lobuche, where I stayed on my way up.

I choose the nicest looking lodge, mostly because the walls are plastered instead of exposed rock, figuring that the plastered rock would be less drafty. After dropping my HRA credentials a bit, I have a conversation with the lodge owner, who is father-in-law to the lodge owner in Pheriche who sent Reuben and I on that wild goose chase. As it proves wise not to make enemies among the Sherpa, my friendship with his son-in-law nets me a free room for the night (saving me $5). The main room is cozy, and soon a group from Portugal befriend me and invite me to eat with them at their table. The leader of the group has had some incredible experiences, including biking from Kathmandu to the Holy city of Lhasa, Tibet. He has also solo sea kayaked for a week on the Antarctic Peninsula. We get along well. As is typical around here, it is an early night, as I plan on getting up around 4am to start the next leg of my journey.

I wake to a world in darkness. I had asked my lodge keepers to keep out a bowl of Muesli and powdered milk for me, and eat a creepy breakfast in a cold and dark dining room that last night had so much life. I sneak out in darkness, leaving most of my stuff in Lobuche. Too many miles, and I have to travel light. Travelling alone in the dark along the Khumbu Glacier is an exhilarating experience. Somewhere behind me I hear the occasional bell of a Yak train, like me making early time on this frozen highway towards Everest, but I’m as likely to meet a Yeti or a Snow Leopard, as meeting anyone else at this early hour of the morning.

The trail from Lobuche to Gorak Shep.

The trail from Lobuche to Gorak Shep.

The desolate landscape above Lobuche.

The desolate landscape above Lobuche.

People in the know say you want to be on Kala Patthar at sunrise, but these people also start their climb from Gorak Shep, 230m higher in elevation than where I spent the night. I’ll wake early, and just hope for the best. The road gets rockier and more desolate the closer I get to Everest. Finally Gorak Shep appears below me, a desolate little place for people making the pilgrimage to EBC. My goal is not base camp, but Kala Patthar, whose steep slopes start at Gorak Shep. The route is steep, and the altitude excruciating. We advise the people who come to our altitude talks not to ascend more than 500m per day. Climbing Kala Patthar, I will have gained 1300m in 24 hours.

Panorama view.

Panorama view.

Gorak Shep (in shadow at bottom of picture) with Kala Pattar in shadow and the morning sun on Pumori.

Gorak Shep (in shadow at bottom of picture) with the top of Kala Pattar just getting a bit of sun, and Pumori in full sun.

I feel relatively good. No headache, no nausea, just the fatigue of climbing at this altitude. I can do this because my plan is to summit Kala Patthar, and then descend back to Pheriche in one day.

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The sun rises directly behind Everest, a moment of panic. I didn’t climb all this way just to have the sun right behind the mountain I wanted to photograph! But still I climb. What I think is the summit is of course a false summit.

Still I climb.

Taking a break as the sun rises over Everest and Nuptse.

Taking a break as the sun rises over Everest and Nuptse.

Finally reaching the top, in true Nepali fashion the summit is covered with prayer flags. Literally buried in them. The summit turns out to be a slab of rock jutting out into nothing.

Approaching the summit.

Approaching the summit.

Reaching the summit, full of flags.

Reaching the summit, full of flags.

With all deference to Buddhists, I grab handfuls of prayer flags to pull myself up to the summit, and have to sit among them as I turn to look at the top of the world.

The route to the summit of Kala Patthar, with Pumori in the background.

The route to the summit of Kala Patthar, with Pumori in the background.

Sure I’m surrounded by giants, but the view sure is nice! Snap a few shots, enjoy the view, eat my favorite English candy bar made of chocolate covered sea-foam. Then it’s the long journey down.

View from the top, looking at Everest (left) and Nuptse (right).

View from the top, looking at Everest (left) and Nuptse (right).

Everest and Nuptse.

Everest and Nuptse.

Panorama of Everest.

Panorama of Everest.

Enjoying my favorite English candy bar.

Enjoying my favorite English candy bar.

Back in Gorak Shep and I can already feel that a bowl of cereal 8 hours ago is not enough to keep me going, however the idea of eating food from one of the lodges in this forsaken land is not at all appealing. Just keep moving!

I meet up with my friends from Portugal, who are headed to EBC today, then Kala Patthar tomorrow. Wish them well, I’ve got miles to go. I don’t have time for EBC on this trip, plus I will likely go back to visit the Everest ER crew after they have set up, and meet some of the Everest players vying for summit glory.

The hike back is like all return journeys, and not really worth mentioning. Exhaustion has set in by 4pm when I am back in Pheriche. The trip was approximately 25 kilometers, with 1300 m (4,300 ft) of elevation gain and loss in a day and a half. Needless to say my wander bug has been satisfied for the time being. But I have fulfilled one more of my Nepal objectives, and have gained a significant altitude, which should help me reach further high altitudes later in the season.

View of Pheriche from further up the valley.

View of Pheriche from further up the valley, Ama Dablam on the right.

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