Planning for the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge

I’m a big fan of goals, especially at the start of the new year.  That said – I am terrible at keeping them.  So SoCalHiker‘s Six Pack of Peaks Challenge sounded like just what I need.  I am good at planning though, so I’ve been thinking about which routes and seasons I want to tackle each of the peaks.

Mt. Wilson

So many choices here!  There’s the route I did a year ago, fondly called The Goat Trail, which was very demanding but very beautiful.  There’s short shuttle route we’ve aborted twice (first illness, then weather) that goes up Bailey Canyon, hits Jones Peak and then Wilson via the Toll Road.  Or any of the trails from Chantry Flats.  I’ve also come up the north side via the Rim Trail, but that trail was banked and murder on my knees.  I wound up hitchhiking to the bottom.  There’s also an 18-mile out and back on the Toll Road.  How to choose?  This will be the easiest to complete, as snow doesn’t stick around here.

Cucamonga Peak

This will be fun – I haven’t climbed this peak before.  There isn’t as much choice here, so probably we’ll climb via Icehouse Canyon.  Snow will determine the time of year we try this one.

Mt Baldy (officially Mt San Antonio)

A year or so ago I climbed this via Bear Creek, 6 miles up and 5800 ft of gain.  It was harder than day hiking Mt Whitney – almost the same elevation gain but in half the mileage.  I was thrilled to take the Ski Lift down.  I summited because I could not will myself to tackle the steep downhill of back tracking!  This time I’m thinking it will be a loop out of Manker Flats.  Unless I save it for last, and then maybe I’ll be masochistic enough to try Bear Creek again.

San Bernardino Peak

This one is also new for me.  I’ll probably stick to the SoCalHiker recommend route.

San Jacinto

I’ve done this once before as well.  We took the tram up in winter and did a a snowshoe to the summit.  It wasn’t exactly on trail, and it was a lot of fun. San Jacinto

I would really like to repeat this trip.  And if not – maybe via Marion Mtn  or from Idyllwild via the Devil’s Slide Trail, potentially as a backpacking trip.  My friends have been wanting to do Cactus to Clouds for years now, but I don’t think I’m interested in summiting the same day I do the rest of that slog.

San Gorgonio

Last time I hiked this we did a lollipop route via Dollar and Dry Lakes.  Since then, the Lake Fire has scarred the landscape.

San Gorgonio via Dollar and Dry Lake

My first choice is a Dollar/Dry Lake repeat, but as a backpacking trip.  My second would be to try the Vivian Creek Trail.

I have until the end of October to complete all six.  Can’t wait to see how these adventures shake out!

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28 Apr 14, Back to Namche Bazaar (3440m)

We didn’t have far to travel today, which meant we could just enjoy our walk.  We circled to the east of Khumbi Yul Lha, the mountain that dominates Namche’s views.  One early stop for some honey ginger lemon tea and a last good look at the most beautiful of mountain, Ama Dablam, and we were back in Namche Bazaar.

Phortse Tenga to Namche 13

The trail back to Namche

Phortse Tenga to Namche 1

Looking across to Phortse

Phortse Tenga to Namche 11

Enjoying a honey ginger lemon tea while admiring Ama Dablam

It was good to see Wes and Tom again, reassuring to know they had survived their adventures on Island Peak. While Cho La Pass had been my sickest day, Wes had his climbing Island Peak.  Nothing like tackling the hardest things you’ve ever done at far less than 100% to build self confidence.

 

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27 Apr 14, Gokyo (4790m) to Phortse Tenga (3680m)

The exhaustion was starting to set in – obvious because my journals stop here.  We were due to meet Wes and Tom in Namche Bazaar on the 28th.  This meant we had 2 days to travel roughly the same distance we covered in 4 days on the way to Everest Base Camp.  Not unreasonable – unless you have a history of knee trouble and dislike downhill even more than Nepali up.  Working in our favor – traveling through a different valley and all new sites between Gokyo and Phortse Tenga.  We started out slow, stopping at Taboche Tsho (Second Lake) and the First Lake for pictures as we travelled.  We even happened upon the same pair of ducks that had greeted us at the Third Lake the day before.

Gokyo to Phortse Tenga 2

Looking back at Gokyo with a view of Cho Oyu behind us.

Gokyo to Phortse Tenga 9

 

Gokyo to Phortse Tenga 4

Looking back at Gokyo Ri.  Still wishing I had the energy to climb it.

Gokyo to Phortse Tenga 14

A familiar pair of ducks at the Second Lake.

Gokyo to Phortse Tenga 16

First Lake

We said goodbye to Gokyo’s lakes and the Ngozuma Glacier and headed for Pangla, our first tea stop of the day.  With miles ahead of us we chose not to linger, making Machermo in time for lunch.  As we lost elevation we traveled a ridge on the western side of the valley, a nice Nepali Flat full of climbs in and out of river valleys that fed into the Dudh Koshi.

As we wandered through Dole and on to Phortse Tenga the landscape began to shift – waterfalls appeared, as did trees and soon we were back in the Rhododendron Forest that we had seen across the way in Tengboche on the way north.  The weather also shifted and rain began to fall.  We made it to our room for the night by mid-afternoon and spent the afternoon enjoying hot showers and games and feasts in the dining room.

This was perhaps my favorite lodging on the whole trip.  I awoke in the middle of the night, looking out the window my cot sat in, reached for my glasses, and just stared at the milky way for what seemed like an hour.  Magnificent.

 

 

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26 Apr 14, Gokyo Lakes (4790), Dudh Pokhari (Third Lake)

Heading down the lateral moraine toward the Ngozumpa Glacier

Heading down the lateral moraine toward the Ngozumpa Glacier

Today was an easy day – Karma even called it Nepali Down* – sleeping in late and reading in bed until after 7 am!  We made our way out of Dragnag and up to the Ngozumpa Glacier.  It was stunning, even though it is covered in debris (a whole lot of supraglacial moraine?).  Very similar to the Khumbu glacier.  As we approached, Karma constantly watched the lateral moraine piles for potential rock falls.  Fortunately, there were none, but it was enough to keep me on my toes and moving as fast as my body would manage.  Now we were on top of the glacier, picking our way across and stopping often to enjoy the views.

Hard to believe - but that's all glacier.

Hard to believe – but that’s all glacier.

Photogenic meltwater on the Ngozumpa Glacier

Photogenic meltwater on the Ngozumpa Glacier

Ngozumpa Glacier

Ngozumpa Glacier

About 2/3 of the way across, we encountered a traffic jam climbing down a rocky section – over a dozen trekkers insistent that they go up even though we started down first.  It was a reminder of how happy we are to have done a small, private trek rather than be part of a large group.  Folks were rude and it seemed like much less fun.  Two and a half hours (and one close call with a wind-induced rock fall) later we arrived in Gokyo.

Karma welcomes us to Gokyo

Karma welcomes us to Gokyo

Gokyo and Dudh Pokhari

Gokyo, Gokyo Ri, and Dudh Pokhari

Every day has brought new views on this trek, but this is our first real exposure to Himalayan lakes.  Gokyo is stunning – windy and the clouds rolled in quickly, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to stay inside.  Instead, we meandered along the base of Gokyo Ri until we reached the far side of the lake.

Caren and I on the far side of the Third Lake

Caren and I on the far side of the Third Lake

Our post-lunch stroll was a nice excursion in an overall lazy day.  After two 10+ hour days in a row (and the 3rd day wasn’t much shorter) we deserved it.  With the clouds blanketing everything I couldn’t justify the slog up Gokyo Ri, imagining that at 5360 m it would be just as miserable as Kala Patthar.  Having only just started to recover, it didn’t seem wise to make the trek at sunrise either.  It will go unclimbed, and give me a good reason to come back to this corner of the world.

*Nepali Down is very similar to Nepali Flat – mostly uphill but a net elevation loss for the day

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25 Apr 14, Tashi Delek Lodge, Dragnag (4700m): Over the Cho La Pass (5330m)

Snow Everywhere!

Snow Everywhere!

“Well, at least I’m not coughing up blood!”

So maybe this hasn’t been my best day on the trail.  In fact, this was by far the toughest day of the trek for me.  The first inauspicious sign of the day was waking up with my throat so sore it would hardly open and I could barely speak.  I ordered a hot lemon with honey – great for the throat, but leaving me a bit lagging without my morning shot of caffeine.

I tried to put on a good face as we set off for the Cho La pass at 6:45 am.  The first few hours were tough but manageable.  We started bundled for the cold – snow had covered everything the night before, creating a white wonderland for us to cross.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

The downside was that as the sun got higher, the reflection from the snow got hot quickly.  Before I knew it we were desperate to shed layers.  Knowing it would be a tough day, Karma took our jackets from us.  He had already been carrying all of our water.  Soon we were heading up, up, up – not an unreasonable trail, and if I had not been so sick it would have been perfectly reasonable.  I might have been able to enjoy it more!

Still happy - no real climbing yet!

Still happy – no real climbing yet!

Next was a long scramble up the rocks to the edge of the glacier.  I tried not to think about all the “Caution.  Rock Fall” warnings on my map.  By this point I was struggling, and Karma took my bag from me.  That helped.  I still made him nervous using my hands on the rocks to help me.  Constant caution not to press on anything too hard and start a rock fall.  Karma and Mingma – in much better shape than me – started a bag shuttle up the mountain.  First our duffles, then the day packs, then us if we needed it.  We repeated this until everything arrived at the top.

Headed up to the glacier.

Headed up to the glacier.

Looking back toward Dzonglha

Looking back toward Dzonglha

Next was the glacier crossing.  This required carefully kicking steps into a steep snow slope and picking our way across – hugging the mountain wall and taking care not to slide down.  This was the first time I felt at home – 22 years of Upstate New York winters made me far more comfortable in slushy deep snow than I am on the rocks.

crossing the glacier

crossing the glacier

glacier crossing

glacier crossing

After a last traverse of a snow field on the glacier and a quick scramble we were on top of Cho La Pass.  The views were magnificent – better than Kala Patthar (although with less Everest).  From our perch at 5420 m we could see the clouds starting to form.  The toughest part was still ahead of us.

Caren, Karma, Mingma and I on top!

Caren, Karma, Mingma and I on top!

View from Cho La Pass

View from Cho La Pass

View from Cho La Pass

View from Cho La Pass

We arranged a similar person/bag shuttle down from the pass, picking our way through a precarious and snowy rock field.  Down is far more nerve-wracking for me, and I had plenty of adrenaline surge to keep me going.  Life got easier as we reached the final snow field that stood between us and the lunch our hosts in Dzonglha packed.

The climb down from Cho La Pass

The climb down from Cho La Pass

Caren crossing the snow field.

Caren crossing the snow field.

Having survived with only one rock fall (and no injuries) and across the snow field, we found ourselves on a hilly moraine.  We stopped for lunch at a frequent campsite location and enjoyed our still warm boiled eggs, potatoes, apples and juice.  From there we followed a drainage down and down until we reached Dragnag.  My cold was much worse, and the lack of caffeine was taking its toll.  My body shut down into what I refer to as “zombie mode” – one foot in front of the other and as few stops as possible, just wanting to survive the rest of the journey.  All I could think of was a warm fire, a bottle of coca cola, and tissues.  On arrival (10 hours after we started) I splurged on just that.

splurging on expensive coke and tissues - well worth it

splurging on expensive coke and tissues – well worth it

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24 Apr 14, Kala Patthar (5540m) and Dzonglha (4800m)

Halfway Point - Sunrise on Kala Patthar

Halfway Point – Sunrise on Kala Patthar

When the alarm went off at 4 am I spent a full 5 minutes laying in bed and debating how badly I wanted to climb Kala Patthar.  Wes didn’t give me a choice, dragging me out of my warm cocoon against my will.  Caren won her fight with Tom though and stayed behind sick.

The boys set off in the dark at such I pace that I was fully winded before taking a single step uphill.  As soon as we did, Tom dubbed the climb the “Nepali Iron Mountain,” and I knoew I was in for a long and painful uphill.  Iron Mountain (in LA) features a series of steep climbs, culminating in a summit push of about 2,000 feet of vertical gain in the final mile.  For this I had a little over 400m (1312 ft) in about 2 miles.  Not nearly as bad, but still very steep for the first half of the climb.  And of course, you have to factor in starting around 16,800 feet!

It was also pre-sunrise and ice cold.  I had bought a heavy down jacket a few months ago and barely used it on the trek.  Today I decided it was an amazing purchase – keeping me toasty throughout both the ascent and descent.  My mittens, however, need an upgrade, forcing me to shove my hands under my arms periodically to thaw them.  My camera batteries were tucked inside my parka to preserve warmth and life.  About halfway up, my willpower waning, the sun lit up the back of Everest.

Sunrise on Everest

Sunrise on Everest

Wes, Karma, Mingma and I stopped for some hot ginger tea (thanks Mingma for carrying it!).  We felt bad for poor Tom, probably already on top, and sent the rest up to him with Mingma.  A grueling 2 plus hours later, Wes, Karma and I finally joined Tom and Mingma on top.

Finally on top of Kala Patthar!

Finally on top of Kala Patthar!

Obligatory Kala Patthar Selfie

Obligatory Kala Patthar Selfie

By the time we arrived the sun had risen just high enough to ruin the views.

Sun drenched Everest and Lhotse

Sun drenched Everest and Lhotse

Sunrise Panorama of Everest and Nuptse

Sunrise Panorama of Pumori, Everest and Nuptse

We toasted with the remaining ginger tea, snapped a few obligatory shots, and made our way back down to breakfast.

Celebratory Tea

Celebratory Tea

The path was full of loose stones and very slippery from the frost.  Not fun for my knees – I hyperextended the right one while slipping on some pebbles.  But nothing that would cause permanent damage.

Kala Patthar Trail

Kala Patthar Trail

Breakfast was beyond tasty after 4 hours of morning exertion.  It was hard to believe though that this meant our day was just starting.  We packed up and set off for tea/snacks/lunch in Lobuche before parting ways with Wes, Tom and Raz about a km past the town.  It was hard to say goodbye for a few days, and I’m sure I will worry about their Island Peak climb.

Looking back at Pumori and Kala Patthar

Looking back at Pumori and Kala Patthar

Caren and I wound our way into the Cho La valley along a Nepali flat contour, sometimes with extremely steep drop offs.  But the views were spectacular.  It turns out though that I was too tired for pictures, and I’m left with just the mental images – harder to share.  From Lobuche we wound our way around Awi Peak.  We could see the Stone Memorials from our trek in (and, we think, Wes, Tom and Raz) as we split off and started to make the turn.  Looking out into the valley was Chola Tsho Lake and the Chola Glacier below Taboche Peak.  As we approached Dzonglha we started to climb through some mist, emerging at the top of a flat area and our lodging.

Evening in Dzonglha brought thunder, lightening, and a snowstorm that blanketed everything in white.

 

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23 Apr 14, Everest Base Camp (5364m) & Gorak Shep (5125m)

Today was a long day.  We befriended a trio from New Zealand/Australia/Great Britain at breakfast who we had seen a few times before.  I would be surprised by how few friends we’ve made, but we don’t often travel with other couples.  It’s made us pretty insulated, and it’s nice to meet people who we have seen throughout the trip.

some views never get old

some views never get old

A couple of hours of Nepali flat later we arrived in Gorak Shep – about an hour later than we anticipated.  Most of us have some sort of ailment now.  This morning it was nausea for me.  Probably from not realizing the momos are as poisonous to me as the flour in the soup.  I can’t seem to catch a break on food here!  Karma spoils me at least – always negotiating ingredients with the kitchen.  I don’t know how a celiac would survive here.

this about sums up how I was feeling

this about sums up how I was feeling

Our walk today followed the long tongue of the Khumbu glacier.  It’s hard to see the ice beneath the debris for most of the walk, but we finally can spot blue among the crevasses.  The glacier separates us from the tall wall of Nuptse and we hike along under the shadow of Lobuche.  The elevation is now over 16,000 feet.  It’s hard to move at anything faster than a shuffle.

following the Khumbu glacier

following the Khumbu glacier

After lunch in Gorak Shep we piled on the layers and set off for more Nepali flat on the way to Everest Base Camp.  Most of the trek involved rambling over either moraine debris or actual glacier – an uneven and rocky mess.  It was also insanely crowded.  We had braved the Namche superhighway through most of the trip, but the final mile was jammed with trekkers.  By the time we arrived at EBC (per trekker slang) we had to wait what seemed like an eternity to take a picture in front of the sign.  Even Mingma jumped in the picture though.  Raz had stayed behind, and was missed.

the whole gang at EBC

the whole gang at EBC

SUCCESS!

SUCCESS!

EBC is a collection of yellow tents (easier to find after a snowstorm) sprawled across the glacier below the Khumbu Ice Fall.

EBC

EBC

We could see climbers fixing ropes in the Ice Fall – it didn’t look fun.  We also saw a steady stream of sherpas hauling gear out of EBC and back toward Namche.  Some were marked with the Discovery Logo – the wing suit jumper they were there to film was forced to abort after the avalanche tragedy.

ropes in the ice fall

ropes in the ice fall

 

Despite guidebooks which warned otherwise, from certain angles you can see Everest peaking over the NW shoulder.  Everything about the climb looked difficult and unpleasant.  So far I have no idea why people see it and want to get to the top.

looking back at Everest peaking out

looking back at Everest peaking out

At this point, a combo of crowds, yaks and rapidly deteriorating weather (and oh fine, fatigue) convinced us we should turn around and head back to Gorak Shep.  On the way back the momos won.  Nothing like welcoming your first snowfall in Nepal huddled behind a rock that’s hanging over a glacier.  At least it was scenic?

traffic at EBC

traffic at EBC

As we passed by more Discovery and NBC equipment, we witnessed a small avalanche on Nuptse.  At dinner we spotted a much larger avalanche on Nuptse – visible through the window in the dining room.  It seemed to validate the decision to abandon the climbing season.

Early to bed tonight – we have a 4 am wakeup to climb Kala Patthar in the morning!

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