The morning starts well. Wim brushes his teeth with eye ointment. That’s what you get when your husband starts messing around in your toilet bag. The decor in which we are brushing our teeth, however, is beautiful. A unique experience in itself.
But it will probably get even more unique today. After all, we have to cross the infamous Cho-La pass. A pass that other hikers have been trying to frighten us for since day one. Of course we know from experience that we have to take those stories with a good grain of salt, but still. We play it safe and gobble up a big breakfast.
We put on our beanies and gloves, as well as a baselayer, t-shirt, fleece and down jacket. The landscape is dotted with white spots of the night frost and the sun is not yet high enough in the sky to warm our cold walking feet.
It is 6:15 am when we take our first steps on our busy walking day. The path climbs immediately. We have to gain no less than 700 altimeters today. At this height, it feels like triple that. We follow a valley uphill, that is formed by a river. Our path itself runs more through that river than besides it and in most places the water is even frozen. A Tibetan snow cock flees off when we pass it. A few minutes later a whole group flies over, while they make it loudly clear to us that they are the bosses of the valley.
This morning we saw on the elevation profile map that we first have to cross a lower mountain pass. Afterwards we have to descend a bit to eventually take the last steepest – and therefore notorious – part. The first part goes pretty smoothly. Especially when the top of the first pass comes in sight. When I reach it, however, I notice that the top is still a lot higher and was hidden behind this mountain ridge. Almost immediately I get a mental blow and I need to really drag myself up to the “real” mountain pass.
My energy level has dropped below zero. I quickly refill it with a few dry cookies, which the owner of the lodge had given us. Since the view that we have here already is extraordinary, I wonder how it must be on the Cho-La pass itself.
When we both feel that we are ready for the last hours, we put on our backpacks again. The mountain pass that we need to cross is now right in front of us. It looks grandiose. It’s a steep, rocky mountain wall with snowfields here and there, which seems almost impossible to clim. At moments like these, I am glad that my mother can’t see me, because she would immediately arrange a helicopter to get me off this mountain of horror.
After the short descent behind the first ridge, we have to climb again over large boulders. The path isn’t clearly distinguishable everywhere, but we manage to find the trail just fine. After a while, the path (well, the rocks) becomes steeper, and it’s covered with snow and ice. Here and there it’s really a matter of clambering. At a certain point I have put my hands and feet in such a difficult position that I have no idea what my next move will be. Everything is covered in slippery ice and behind me I feel the deep ravine panting in my neck. But that could also have been Wim, because he screams to me that he’s stuck to the rocks as well, and he can’t go backwards to make room for me. A few meters above me a Spaniard is yelling that it only gets worse and we need an ice ax to climb to the top. Those “encouraging” words are obviously not really helpful at times like these. And certainly not if you know that a few days ago we left our ice ax in a lodge to pick up later, because some guides told us that an ice ax wouldn’t be necessary.
I try to stretch my hand to a higher rock and, in one way or another, I manage to pull myself back into a safe position. Wim follows effortlessly. I need a few seconds to catch my breath, after which I climb to the top in one stretch. Without ice ax. What an alarmist…
At the top of the summit the clouds are fighting with the sun. It’s unclear who will win the battle. Between the clearings we see that a completely new world reveals itself. Meters below us we see how a beautiful glacier wall sets foot on an icy lake. We don’t stay on the summit very long, because my head is pounding again due to the height. The Cho-La pass is located at no less than 5420 meters. That’s 600 meters higher than the Mont Blanc.
Just before we want to descend Wim tweaks the ears of a young sherpa. The sherpa emptied his bottle of water, and then shot it with a solid left foot swing like a real Messi down into the icy lake. Not exactly a place where someone will be able to collect garbage the coming years … It’s really unfortunate to see that the locals treat their own beautiful nature so carelessly.
The path downwards sets off very steep, but the slope decreases when we arrive at a vast snowfield. Wim is clearly enjoying the scenery and reinforces his body language with the words that he thinks this is the most beautiful part of the trip so far. I can only agree.
We cross a climbing sherpa with crampons at his feet. He advises us to tie them to our shoes as well, for the section to come. We follow his advice and quickly notice that the crampons indeed come very in handy.
Below snow level we sit down on a few rocks to have our picnic. I take my usual paracetamol cocktail and I’m jealous of Wim, who besides breathlessness isn’t affected by the altitude at all.
On the last stretch we feel all alone in the world. An endless valley, dotted with barren grass, offers us a relatively flat path where we can quickly progress. In front of us we see the highest mountains in the world with their rocky shoulders and snowy tops. Behind us we keep sight of the impressive Cho-La pass, which has now packed itself into a gray and moist mist. Headache or not. This is pure bliss.
A last little climb brings us to Dzongla. A place that to us shouldn’t have been any kilometer further. During a card game at the stove (where I of course beat Wim mercilessly) we look tired but satisfied back on a strenuous but oh so rewarding day…