8th May, 2016
I woke up at 3.30 AM. Dhananjoy was already strapping up his backpack. I could hear him speak in the next room. His words revealed that Sidhhartha da was yet to start his proceedings. After completing the natural duties, the next thing I looked for was my head torch. I purchased it from the Decathlon store at Noida before the trek. Today it was going to be put to use for the first time. I strapped it around my forehead, dressed on with the inner thermals, the trek pant, down jacket and covered my neck and ears as far as possible. Others did their best to put off the biting cold and then we ventured out. It was pitch dark. We crossed the bed of sand once again, but this time in the direction of the mountain walls on its edge and then started climbing up the slope. In the light of the overhead torch, we could follow a narrow trail created by footsteps of other people who might have traversed the route. When it comes to walking up such slopes, I normally try to stay away from thinking about the distance and concentrate only up to the next bend and once I reach there, I fix my eyes on the next one and so on. It was still dark. The height of the place didn’t allow us to talk much and after sometime, we got separated from each other by our respective speeds and each one of us was on our own. Though I’ve been going by the bend, I did have the thought in my mind about reaching the top just in time to see the first rays of sun on the surrounding mountain ranges and the Khumbu glacier, the entire panorama which is visible only from Kalapathhar top. With height, our speed slowed down and pretty soon the pattern changed to walking a few steps followed by a few gasps of breath, at times a few gobbles of water down our throat. We could sense the dark outlines of the mountain ranges against the sky. Darkness gradually started to subside. The outlines of Nuptse became clearer and other mountain peaks started to appear from behind it. The pyramid just beyond the Nuptse wall was Everest, unmistakably.
It started to gain in size and stature as we continued to move up. So did Mt Pumori, with a greater magnitude. Pumori lies on Nepal-Tibet border, just 8 km to the west of Everest. The word “Pumo” means a young girl or daughter and “Ri” means a mountain in the Sherpa language. Because of its proximity, Pumori is often referred to as Everest’s daughter. The name, interestingly, was given the famous mountaineer George Leigh Mallory.
Kalapathhar (meaning black rock in the Nepali/Hindi language) is located on the southern ridge of Pumori in the Nepalese Himalayas. It’s popularity among the trekkers is mainly because of the close view of the Everest summit. Because of the structure and location of the Everest massif, it lies hidden behind Nuptse from much of the trail to and at Everest base camp. Kalapathhar is the place which offers its best possible view to the trekkers, apart from views of Lhotse and a panoramic view of the Khumbu glacier. We were actually walking along the slopes that led to the southern ridge of Pumori, on which the summit of Kalapathhar lay.
The sky brightened up with morning rays of sun, which was yet to be seen. But its presence could be felt behind the Everest summit as its rays spanned out illuminating the outline of the summit from behind. Signs of gold started to appear on the outlines of some of the peaks.
Pumori too started to acquire a golden touch on its upper horizon. As I turned my head clockwise, I saw the rays have now fallen on the beautiful peak of Ama Dablam where a huge plume of snow and cloud emerged from the top forced by the morning winds sweeping its top. It appeared like a bright silk scarf flying around it.
As I looked around, the distant mountain peaks were illuminated by the morning sun. We could see a 180-degree panoramic view of Himalayan peaks around us. Pumori appeared like a huge wall just beyond the ridge that we were climbing with its outline acquiring a golden tinge.
As I turned my attention back on Everest, the sun appeared like a diamond ring from behind the summit illuminating its entire outline. The Himalayas were gradually awakening from sleep. The Everest massif stood upright as a huge block of pyramid. It’s edges were getting clearer with the rising sun. A plume of cloud hung above its head, looking like an umbrella. Looking at the summit, I thought that somewhere up there, lay the south-east ridge route which has been taken by numerous climbers. Not everyone of them have been fortunate enough to reach the top. Others did, but some of them couldn’t come back. Up there on its slopes, lay Rob Hall, Scott Fischer and many others. So does Doug Hansen, Yasuko Namba and Andy Harris. On its northern flanks, which wasn’t visible, lay Mallory and Irvine, lay Paljor and the other Ladakhi climbers from their fateful 1996 climb. Lopsang Jhangbu, the charismatic sherpa from Fischer’s team, also lay somewhere in the deep gorges after falling off the ridge, attempting the summit in the autumn of 1996. The Goddess mother of earth, Chomolungma keeps providing shelter to them. As if she repented after unleashing her wrath on her helpless children and now keeps coddling them in their last abode hidden from the eyes of the world.
By this time, the sun was up in the sky and it illuminated the peaks all around us – a true silver blaze! We kept plodding upwards towards the summit of Kalapathhar. We could see the prayer flags on the top. However, it was still a long way to reach there.
Assessing our speed and the remaining distance, our guide Raju suggested to turn around. The other reason was that the day was going to be long for us. We had to go back to Gorakshep, pick our bags and then head back to Lobuche for lunch and then all the way to Dzongla. I couldn’t accept it at the first go. How could we turn around from here? But a careful thought at the day that lay ahead for us told that it was just about time that we turned around if we were to reach our destination at the end of the day. Even on descent, I kept looking around to capture the last glimpses of the mountains from this height. There aren’t many places on this route that offer such a wide range of views.
It appeared that the mountains were towering from all sides to carefully guard the place from intruders like us. It’s their place and we begged for a glimpse into their interiors. The towering snow peaks, the huge swathes of snow coming down their slopes in the form of glaciers, the hide and seek of their appearances between the clouds, all seemed out of the world. We were standing on one of the highest amphitheaters of the world. The huge Khumbu glacier traced its way down through the gorges till it disappeared into the fluffy clouds that clad the distant valleys. I wished if we could have climbed to Kalapathhar in the evening as that’s when it offers the best views of sunset, provided clouds stay clear off the mountains. It’s also very windy at that time and that’s one of the reason, trekkers prefer the morning to do the hike. But there’s no point ruing about what could have been. What was there at our disposal, was no less spectacular.
We descended to Gorakshep, had our breakfast, packed our bags and hit the trail once again. It was about 12 PM when we reached Lobuche and ordered our lunch. After that, it was the familiar trail back to the wide valley of rocks from where our path deviated from the Everest Base camp trail and moved along the slopes of the mountain on the other side towards Dzongla. The trail moved up the slopes from the valley and after sometime it became gradual and walking was easy. Though we always had to be careful as the path wasn’t wide enough to allow even two persons to walk side by side. Like every other day, clouds started appearing and the weather changed immediately. A mild drizzle started but we kept on with our speed. So far, on the trail, we didn’t have to cope with rain or snow as we were lucky enough to reach our destinations “just in time”. However, today, the dark clouds looked ominous. We couldn’t see any shelter nearby. The trail descended the slopes of the hill into a valley. But we could see it moving up the other side. Dhananjoy was ahead of us and I was with Niladri. We could see the huts of Dzongla in the distant horizon up on the slopes on the other side of the valley, but there was a long way to go. The drizzle by this time intensified and showers of snowballs started coming down. We decided to stop as visibility was reduced almost to zero. Niladri took out a sheet of plastic and we both cuddled beneath it, while the showers continued. After sometime, the intensity reduced somewhat but it was still enough to drench us. But we decided to move on as it was getting dark. We finally reached Dzongla, which was a mere collection of a few lodges with towering snow peaks overlooking it. The dining place was cosy with the owner making sure that enough yak dung gets poured into the fire-place.
While I ventured out into the surroundings to take some snaps, rest of the group concentrated on playing cards. The guide and porters joined them.
Guide Raju was a tad nervous about the next day, which was the day to cross Cho-la, the highest pass that we’d have to cross on our trail. The amount of snow on both sides of the pass would be crucial. Though I tried to keep tensions at bay, but they kept coming back. I started to think, the next night, if everything goes well, we’d be sleeping at Dragnak and the woes of Cho-la pass would be behind us. But why only think about the dangerous, the pass would also offer some of the breathtaking views on this route and beyond it, lies the Gokyo lakes! Why not think about them? We needed to start early the next day so as to cross the pass within the first half. No one dares to face the weather in the later half at the heights of the pass. We were sleeping at 4830 m.