“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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.