I never considered myself a ‘hard’ trekker (I still don’t) and the thought of going ‘high’ never really appealed to me. In the summer of 1991 I asked Greg (Alfred Gregory), in passing, where his 1992 ‘Foothills Trek’ was going. His reply was that he didn’t now yet, but he suggested I consider the ‘Everest’ Trek that he was organizing, with Ted & Jean Courtenay as ‘Leaders’. Well, I suppose I had to accept the challenge.
The first thing to say about the 1992 ‘Everest’ is to repeat the warning about travelling on Friday 13th., especially if the airline involved is Royal Nepal Airways Corporation… (RNAC : Royal Nepal Always Cancels). We eventually arrived in Kathmandu… 24 hours late: tired, but relieved to be there. If you’ve travelled in India and Nepal you will know the need to remain patient, and on this trip patience was a necessity.
Arriving early the next day at Kathmandu airport for the flight to Lukla we sat and waited- six hours later we returned to the hotel. ‘Wind is bad, sahib – no more flights today. Do not worry, you will be on the first flight out tomorrow morning. All flights are fully booked for next two weeks, but you will be on the first flight tomorrow morning’. The next morning the first flight took off at 07.37 and at 08.12 we landed at Lukla. (The above story is true, but first timers shouldn’t think that this degree of luck will attach to them…unless they have a fistful of dollars).
From Lukla (9350′) we followed the switchback trail through to Phakdingma (8661′) where we camped for a night and then followed the long climb up ‘Namche Hill’. After spending one night at Namche Bazaar (11391′) (for acclimatization) we walked on a little further to Khumjung (12434′) to spend a further two nights of all – important acclimatizing. Our trek was not a straightforward ‘out and back’: we were scheduled to visit other places and so, from Khumjung we walked up the valley of the Dudh Kosi to Gokyo (15584′ – taking four [short] days – to acclimatize; camping @ Dole, Machermo & beyond Pangka), arriving in gently falling snow. Rather than camp we were put in a lodge, but remember that lodges in 1992 were rather different from today. The experience was interesting – the lodge was cold – the atmosphere was wonderful. Next day we made the ‘Royal Progress’ to the summit of Gokyo Ri (17519′) – the view was superb; the climb, in soft snow, less so! (I do believe that the trek up the valley towards Pt.5000 [16404′] is a much better walk).
It had been originally planned that we should cross the high Chugima (or Cho) La (17782′), to reach the upper reaches of Khumbu but snow had made the pass difficult and, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, we retraced our steps down the Dudh Kosi and up to Phortse (12467′). From there we walked via Pangboche, Orsho, Pheriche and Dzonghla to Lobuche (16207′). Those of you who have trekked in the Khumbu will know that walking in this area is very easy but the altitude affects your progress. The walking is easy… provided you don’t try and put one foot in front of the other… and so our ‘motley procession’ made its way to Gorak Shep (16962′). We arrived in ‘good time’ and some of the group climbed up to the summit of Kala Pattar (18373′), intending to visit Everest Base Camp the next day. The remainder of us sat in the sun and took it all in…, with the firm intention of doing the climb next morning.
That night we had the one really red sunset of the trek, but waking the next morning we saw that winter was coming. It was cold, gray and misty, and getting worse. Reluctantly we decided to go down, initially to Lobuche but, in fact, we went a lot further – all the way to Dingboche (14270′).
The next day was fine and we walked up the Chhukkung valley but by this time on the trek I was suffering with a bad cough and the walk was purgatory. From Dingboche we dropped further, before climbing to Thyangboche (12664′- ‘Cold old place, Thyangboche’) where we saw the gompa being rebuilt after the 1990 fire. From there we made our way to Namche and then back down to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu.
The trek was voted a great success by all, and the inability of the group to ‘do’ the high pass and Kala Pattar did not detract from that success.
They could wait for another year…