Today we woke up at 7am which meant we had a bit of a sleep-in (only half an hour), we then enjoyed our usual cup of tea and washy washy. We headed down for breakfast at 7:30 and were excited for a day of relaxing in Gokyo. We finished our breakfast and awaited the arrival of Doug and Ryder back from a sunrise walk up Gokyo Ri. Once they arrived back and enjoyed their breakfast we all headed out for a walk around Gokyo Tso (the third lake). We walked for a little while before we came across a beach where we took a break and enjoyed playing with the ice that surrounded the lake. We then continued our walk and took many photos and pano’s. Once we arrived back at our Inn we enjoyed a yummy lunch and spent a lot of the afternoon relaxing. The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting an art gallery and playing games. We then had our usual hot drink and biscuits for afternoon tea and our usual washy washy. We are now eagerly awaiting our dinner.
This year’s Nepal expedition has been noteworthy because of the good health of the participants. There have been a few minor illnesses but nowhere near what it can sometimes be like. Consequently, every student managed to summit Gokyo Ri.
Early in the expedition some students were asking whether it was possible to climb Gokyo Ri for the sunrise or sunset. At that time, I cautioned them to worry about getting to Gokyo Lakes in good health and then the logistics of the climb could be considered. So it was that on the descent of the usual daytime ascent, I dared to ask the students “Is anyone keen to climb Gokyo Ri a second time to see the sunrise?”
Most gave an unequivocal “No thanks” but a few answered, “Ask me again after dinner time”. As soon as dinner was completed I raised the topic. “To be certain of getting to the top by sunrise, we’ll have to wake up at 3:00am and start the climb at 3:30am”. This information was met with “I’d love to but…” from all but one student, Ryder who was keen.
We arranged for some left-over vegetable curry and rice to be saved from dinner so that we could have it for breakfast the following morning. Backpacks were prepared the night before, batteries for headtorches were checked and an early turn-in was had to ensure some reasonable sleep before the early start.
I woke an hour before and then half an hour before the agreed 3:00am wake up. We were out the door promptly at 3:30am and were greeted with an amazing night scene. The waxing gibbous moon was large and high and the stars were bright. The snow-clad mountains were in stark relief to inky sky. If it wasn’t for the uneven track there would have been enough light to walk by but we switched on our headlights because the consequences of a twisted ankle outweighed the desire to walk by moon and starlight.
The air was very cold but the night was windless. We crossed the creek that flows from Cho Oyu Base Camp and started the ascent. With just the two of us hiking and the tunnel-vision of the headlights to distract us from how much climbing lay ahead, we maintained a fast pace. Periodically we rested to get our heartrates down and each time we would switch off the headlights to enjoy the view which included several shooting stars.
We had allowed 3 hours for the ascent and were a little surprised to reach the summit in 1 ½ hours, just before 5:00am. That wasn’t a problem except that for each 100 metres we ascended the temperature dropped noticeably. At the summit, it was very cold and we had two hours to wait in darkness before sunrise. We put on down jackets and sat in a crouched position which conserves heat. Soon my feet were freezing. Having carried a sleeping bag in case of emergency, I decided I might as well slip off my shoes and put my feet into the sleeping bag. I quizzed Ryder and he wasn’t much warmer so we moved to a more comfortable position amongst the innumerable prayer flags which provided cushioning and insulation. For about an hour and a half we waited in conditions that could be described as the lowest limit of comfort. Fortunately, the total absence of wind, and the knowledge that the sun would eventually rise, meant that it was one of those experiences we wouldn’t have traded for anything. To see the first rays of sun hit the peaks of four 8000m mountains: Everest, Cho Oyu, Makalu and Lhotse; and to feel the immediate warmth as those same rays hit your face after a freezing night is an experience I will never forget.