At the moment we’re in Chukhung, less than a two days hike to get to the Everest Base Camp . But first we would have to get over the formidable Kongma La Pass at 5,500+ meters; a nice 800m ascent from Chukhung. We were relatively confident that we would be able to handle the altitude as we had hiked up to the top of Chukhung Ri at 5500m during our acclimatization day.
After a mostly tasteless breakfast of Tibetan bread and porridge we set out on our way. The problem was we didn’t really know where the trail was. We had a good general idea from our map, but we were finding no sign of a trailhead. Eventually we asked a yak herding woman where the pass was and she just pointed directly up the mountain. Ok good! Except there was definitely no trail where she pointed, just hills and rocks and scrub. But if yak lady says that is the way to Kongma La, then damn it, that’s the way to Kongma La!
So we headed up the rock field following a small stream hoping to stumble into the trail. I had my compass out and was figuring that if we kept heading NW then eventually we’d have to run into it. After walking for a bit we scrambled on all fours up a steep (and exhausting) hill hoping to get a better vantage point of the terrain and walla! There it was. Onwards and upwards! The going wasn’t easy though. At over 5,000m you can really feel the effects of the altitude. Well, I was feeling pretty good. Jesper, who had hiked faster than me at lower altitudes, was sucking wind pretty good. After a couple hours he mentioned in between breaths “I think we’re getting pretty close to the top” HA!
Fast-forward another hour and we reached a spot with rock walls on all sides and a scree field leading up between two of them; leaving only one way to go but up. We assumed this was the top of the pass… ASSUMED. The trail disappeared into a menagerie of rocks of boulders, making it part scramble part hike, constantly going up and up and up. What doesn’t look so difficult from far away is another story when you’re actually doing the climb. I was breathing heavy, but moving at a steady pace while Jesper trudged along further back. When I would rest and let him catch up I couldn’t help but laugh at how miserable he constantly looked. But we were moving forwards and almost at the top!
Except the top was not the top. We stood atop the scree field panting and looking off in the distance we could see a ridge snaking its way up through the peaks. Well that’s got to be the top! Home stretch baby! Another 45 minutes later and we were getting to the top of that section, worn out, but optimistic that the affair would be ending soon. As we reached the apex of the hill we were expecting to look down and see the mountaintops over looking the valley on the other side of the pass. With rainbows and unicorns frolicking. Is that what we saw? No! Of course not! A large snowfield lay ahead of us ending with an almost vertical looking rock face. Fuuuu. It never ends. We were too tired to grumble that much. You just have to keep going. No sounds except for the wind and the crunch of snow under your boots. Well that and the hum of your thoughts, re-examining your sanity for this choice of a holiday destination.
As we got closer the seemingly impenetrable vertical wall revealed a steep switchbacking trail. There were prayer flags at the top indicating this was indeed the top of the pass. The final push. One step after another. Keep breathing. They call mountaineering the art of suffering and I can understand why. 30 or so minutes later (it felt like much longer) I was standing at the top. Jesper managed his way up a little later and we stayed and marvelled at the view for a bit before getting too cold and deciding to head down. We could see the village of Lobuche down in the valley, so close, yet so far!
Now you would think it would be a nice little stroll down to Lobuche, but it was anything but. First we had to meander our way down a path of icy rocks before descending to the bottom of the valley. From there it was steep uphill AGAIN to get to a huge glacial moraine covered with loose boulders, just waiting to sprain someones ankle. It took forever to carefully cross this section before stumbling our way into Lobuche, thoroughly worn out, at around 2:30. Just in time to eat some cheese sandwiches and crash into our beds! What a bitch of a day. The Kongma La certainly gave us a good test. Off to Gorak Shep and the Everest Base Camp the next morning!