Rich in costume and culture, the villages we pass through on our way to Namche Bazaar allow us peeks into this famous Sherpa lifestyle and culture. Buddhist prayer flags, the hallmark of all Sherpa and Buddhist communities are found in every village. Mani stone walls and prayer flag poles that line our trails should all be passed on the left, in a clockwise fashion, as it is believed that this generates good karma for the journey ahead. The colorful Saturday market in Namche Bazaar shows off the busiest commercial center of the Khumbu region.
At Sonasa, the Gorko valley separates from the main Khumbu valley and now, instead of the view being dominated by Everest, it is Cho Oyu that catches our eye. Cho Oyu is the world’s sixth highest mountain and one of the less technical 8,000m peaks to climb. Early ascents were made from the Nepal side; now the usual way to the summit is via the north side in Tibet.
Once in the upper Gokyo valley, the trail passes the Gokyo lakes. Their vivid turquoise-blue color gives a spectacular foreground to the sharply pointed mountains to the north. An ascent of Gokyo Ri provides breath-taking views of the mountains straddling the Nepal – Tibet border. The great British explorer Bill Tilman referred to this area as, ‘The grandest 30 miles of the Himalayas’.
To reach the main Everest valley we now cross the Cho La Pass, a truly memorable experience as we cross this 5,420m (17,782 ft) pass that connects the village of Dzongla (4830 m) to the east with the village of Thagnak (4700 m) to the west.. From the Gokyo valley side it looks to be an impossible barrier. Here the trail winds its way through glacial debris, climbing steeply toward the pass that suddenly appears festooned in prayer flags. The trekker gets a real feeling of being amongst the great Himalayan peaks before dropping down to the Everest valley.
Once on the Khumbu side of the ridge, the trail winds through barren landscape for another two days to Gorak Shep, the site of the 1952 Everest Base Camp. With the retreat of the glacier, today’s base camp is another short day’s walk to the foot of the Western Rim and the Ice Fall. However, the best view of Everest from this valley is from the top of Kala Pattar. The climb looks easy but the altitude makes it quite an undertaking; however, the summit views make it a very worthwhile effort.
This trek is absolutely considered an experience of a lifetime!