The Gokyo Ri Trek is in the Solu Kumbhu region of Nepal, known more commonly as the Everest trekking region. From Luka Airport to Namche Bazaar the trail is shared with the other Everest trekkers; and climbers if it is the right season. North-west from Namche lies the Gokyo trek, while the famous Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek entices the majority of trekkers north-east. What attracts people to Gokyo is the summit of Gokyo Ri – a peak that soars above the village below at 5,357 metres. From this point you have one of the best views of Mt Everest in Nepal, as well as three other 8,000 metre plus mountains, and in the foreground, an almost unspoilt view of the majestic Ngozumpa glacier which is the largest of the region. The views on this trek were stunning from beginning to end, a truly magnificent environment. A number of people I spoke with along the way who had done both the EBC/Kala Patar trek in addition to the Gokyo trek were glad they included Gokyo in their itinerary.
We did this trek over 11 days between late January and early February 2014, towards the end of the winter. It was a low season, so there was barely anyone else on the trail. Sometimes we were the only two people staying in some of the guesthouses and only in Namche Bazaar were there more than six of us under one roof. Being winter, it was quite cold in the evenings, particularly at higher altitudes. In Gokyo it got to -15 Celsius! However, the days were almost all clear and sunny which contributed to overall pleasant and enjoyable trekking conditions.
I would thoroughly recommend this trek and I would also recommend doing it in the low season when you have almost the whole trail to yourself.
Day 1 – Kathmandu (1,400m) to Lukla (2,860m) and then onto Phakding (2,680m)
It was an early start from our guesthouse in Boudha in central Kathmandu. We sought to arrive at Tribhuvan airport one and a half hours before our 6:45am flight as advised, however, once at the airport we discovered that the domestic terminal didn’t open until 5:30am. After a thirty minute wait outside in the cold we were finally let in along with all the local Nepalis with their boxes of apples, bags of onions and other goods that would also be transported by air to Lukla.
By 7:00am we were on our small twin-propeller plane and heading east, parallel to the Himalayan range which were viewable from the plane’s left-hand side windows. It was a short but dramatic flight to the mountainside
village of Lukla. On approach, the plane descended through a number of deep valleys with snow-capped peaks before it made a smooth and thankfully non-eventful landing on a runway of only 500 or so metres – with a cliff face at one end and the terminal at the other. After collecting our baggage from trolley on the tarmac we were on our way.
The trek from Lukla to Phakding was picturesque and easy-going, it wasn’t at all difficult and only took just over an hour. It was a crisp morning but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the surrounding mountains looked amazing. The path hugged the eastern side of the valley, which was divided by a raging icy blue river below. We often had to make room for packhorses and Yaks that were returning from transferring goods from higher up the valley. We met a solo New Zealander along the way who accompanied us the rest of the way to Phakding and tomorrow, to Namche Bazaar.
After deciding on a guesthouse and lunch we had the afternoon free. So we took some advice and set out on a short hike to visit a local monastery that rested on a ridge on the other side of the valley. It was a few hundred meters higher than Phakding so it was a good outing to assist with acclimatisation, although we were still under 3,000 meters. We crossed the swing bridge at the northern end of Phakding and continued north towards Namche Bazaar, after about five minutes of walking we took a left and started heading up the other side of the valley. We passed through a small cluster of houses and traversed the hillside a few hundred metres up to Pemachholing Monastery. It was pretty quiet at the monastery with only a few novice monks and two dogs in sight. The complex consists of a small gompa, a school and monk residences. In the high season it looks like there is also a small restaurant that would be open for tourists and other visitors. After a look around we then headed back to the guesthouse, but not before making a quick detour to dip our fingers in the irresistibly clear waters of the river below which was, as expected, freezing.
Day 2 – Phakding (2,680m) to Namche Bazaar (3,445m)
We were greeted with another beautiful morning and although it was once we were layered up we no longer felt the cold. After the “Set Breakfast” which consisted of chapati’s, an omelet, fried potato, juice and tea we were on our way to Namche Bazaar just after 8am.
The trail continued to follow the river through the valley for a few hours. There were a few ups and downs but nothing to dramatic for the time being. It was hard to dress for the temperature as one minute we would be walking in the sun and would start to sweat and then the next minute we were in the shade and we would start to freeze. There were a few water falls, suspension bridges and stunning views of some surrounding snow-capped peaks on the way to Jorsale, the final village before Namche Bazaar.
After Jorsale we crossed another suspension bridge and took the lower trail through the valley floor, after walking for about 20 minutes the level ground ended and we started our ascent up to Namche and the two massive suspension bridges we could see up above. It was solid two hour slog up from here but we were treated with amazing views down the valley, onto some local peaks and from one point our first glimpse of Mount Everest.
It was a bit after 2pm by the time we made it into Namche Bazaar which sprawls across the south-west facing mountain side. After some lunch I headed up above the guest house to the Everest View Point which offered stunning views up the northern valley towards Everest and great views onto the surrounding mountains and the valley from which we had come.
Day 3 – Day trip to Thami (3,750m)
There was quite a lot of high cloud around this morning but the local peaks were all visible, by about 10am it had largely cleared up and it was another nice day. Today was set aside for an acclimatisation day in Namche so the plan was to do a day hike out to Thami. There are a couple of options for acclimatisation around Namche Bazaar but if you have the time I definitely recommend heading out to Thami and if time permits, spending the night there as it is really quite beautiful.
It took us about 4 hours to walk to Thami, the trail begins up behind the Namche Gompa and hugs the side of the mountain almost all the way. The roar of the river far below is always in the background, we saw a number of different types of birds and some yaks grazing the hillside. You pass through a few small villages with most offering places to stop for lunch or a quiet place to spend the night. The view both up and down the valley is stunning with massive mountains covered in snow dominating the background.
In hindsight we should have arranged to leave our gear in storage at our Namche guesthouse so we could have stayed the night as it was a really nice place to stay and it was a solid day trip with the return journey taking around two and half hours as well (8 to 9 hour round trip including site seeing and lunch).
The trail isn’t that challenging, there were only a few sections that were a little steep, it is just the distance that needs to be considered if you plan to do it as a day trip.
Day 4 – Namche Bazaar (3,445m) to Khumjung (3,780m)
A visit to Khumjung and Khunde, Kumbhu villages, is the standard acclimatisation day trip recommend from Namche Baazar but we decided to stay in Khumjung which is on the way to Gokyo anyhow. We took it pretty slow, the walk up from Namche and then across the right ridge that leads down into Khumjung took us about two hours with stops included.
From Namche it is straight up the hill all the way until you get to the airstrip, it is a very steep ascent and along the way there are great views down on to Namche, down the valley towards Lukla and up the western valley towards Thami. Once at the airstrip we kept right (east) and pushed up the hill some more until we reached the edge and we could see up the northern valley towards Mt Everest. We then cut back across to the west and then down through a snow covered forest of Junpier bushes to the valley floor and the entrance to Khumjung village.
Khunde and Khumjung villages occupy the same flat valley with a stunning view to the west of Ama Dablam. These villages have benefited a lot from the Sir Edmund Hillary fund and Himalayan trust with the area including the original Hillary school (Khumjung School) that Sir Edmund Hillary established in1960. Khunde village in particular is a maze of stone walls that house fields for yaks and some crops. Khunde is also is home to a hospital that was built and is maintained by the Himalayan Trust, it is largely for the locals but trekkers can also seek treatment for US$50, a tour of the facilities is available during certain hours.
In Khumjung we stayed at Sherpa Land Lodge & Restaurant (e: firstname.lastname@example.org ph: 038540018), it is owned by Ang Tshering Sherpa and his wife Pasang Sherpa. Ang has lived on the property his whole life, attended the Hillary school opposite the guesthouse, and is an electrician. Together they run the guesthouse and sometimes Ang will also work as a trekking guide. We had a great stay here and I would defiantly recommend this guesthouse if you are looking to spend a night or more in Khumjung. From the dinning room and our bedroom we had a direct view out to Ama Dablam.
Day 5 – Khumjung (3,780m) to
Dole Phortse Thanga (3,680m)
We woke up to a clear but cold morning, it was -2 degrees celsius according to the thermometer in the dinning room of the guesthouse. It was Losar (Tibetan New Year) so our hosts offered us a plate of goodies each which contained some Tibetan biscuits, Tibetan Bread, sweet biscuits and a Mandarin. We didn’t set off until just after 10am so the sun was high in the sky and day was warming up, at least, if you were in the direct sunlight. The guesthouse dog followed us for the first thirty minutes despite our attempts to turn it back.
The trail left the village and then hugged the mountain around to the left, after some ups and downs we then started the ascent up to Mong La (3,980m) which took about an hour and a half from Khumjung. There are a few restaurants and guesthouses here along with a Chorten, we stopped only briefly and then started the decent down to Phortse Thanga.
It took about half an hour to get down the 300m decent to Phortse Thanga where we stopped for lunch. During lunch we learnt that all of the guesthouses in Dole were closed, there are also no guesthouses between Phortse Thanga and Dole and the only guesthouses after Dole were apparently at Machhermo which was to far away to make it today given the time. Although we were a bit concerned with the altitude gain we would now face tomorrow, ascending from 3,680m to 4,410m we didn’t have a choice.
Day 6 – Photse Thanga (3,680m) to Machhermo (4,410m)
We knew it was going to be a long day so we set off just after 8am. It was a bit chilly but once we started to head up out of the valley and we were in the sun it was much warmer. The trail climbed through the forest and past a number of frozen waterfalls and streams. The trail was steep in some parts but it wasn’t that difficult of a climb to Dole at 4,090m, it took us around two hours. Here we found that there was one guesthouse open… We’re not sure whether the guesthouse owner in Phortse Thanga lied to us or was just misinformed, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
After a snack we continued on, the next section of the trail was quite steep and took some time. We had left the forest behind and now it was just a dusty orange sand and small shrubs that covered the mountainside. It took about an hour from Dole to Lhabarma at 4,330m. There was a restaurant and guesthouse here that was open but we only stopped outside for a rest. From here the trail weaved in and out following the contours of the mountain. At one point a few massive eagles sailed past us and then not long after numerous crows that eventually formed a huge swarm off on the horizon.
It was a relief to come up over a small hill and to see Machhermo below. The way down was icy but not difficult to negotiation. Machhermo is set in a small valley with a river and outstanding views. The whole hillside to the south west was covered in snow and once the sun went behind the mountain it got very cold, very quickly. We both felt a bit sick that evening, mild altitude sickness, which I almost expected given the gain in altitude, precisely the reason why Dole would have been the ideal place to stay the night before.
Day 7 – Machhermo (4,410m) to Gokyo (4,750m)
We woke up to a chilly but clear morning with all signs of altitude sickness gone so after some breakfast we were on our way at about 8:30am. After a steep climb out of the valley it was a fairly easy hike all the way to Gokyo.
Large sections of the trail were covered in snow even before the first lake. There was one final ascent before we headed into the Gokyo valley that was a fairly steep stone staircase that in one part was iced over. At the top of the stars we crossed a bridge across a half frozen stream and the first lake of the the Gokyo valley was waiting for us, glistening in the sun. This was the only lake that wasn’t frozen over and there were two ducks swimming around and bobbing for food.
From the first lake to Gokyo the trail was almost totally covered in ice and snow which made it somewhat slippery and slowed us down a bit. It was a fairly flat trail the rest of the way to Gokyo passing countless rock cairns and the next two of the Gokyo lakes which were both about ninety percent frozen, only where they were fed and at there respective outflows were they not frozen.
By the time we had lunch it was just too late to head up to Gokyo Ri that afternoon so we just relaxed and I hiked up the small ridge behind the guesthouse which gave way to a stunning view up the glacier valley and down onto Ngozumpa Glacier below which was constantly creaking and cracking. It wasn’t a clean icy glacier, sections of ice where visible but it is largely covered in dirt and rocks from where it has and is carving its way through the valley.
Day 8 – Gokyo Ri Summit (5,357m)
It was a cloudy morning and I was wishing that we had of climbed up to the summit the day before. It was cold and windy but we put on our warmest gear and braved the subzero temperatures and began our ascent around 10am.
As we climbed blue patches of sky started to appear and the weather, although not as good as the day before, was pretty good and clear. It was still quite windy and cold all the way up to the summit but the sun was making a huge difference. It was a fairly steep climb with the trail going almost straight up ridge all the way to the top. There were a couple of false peaks on the way up but after around two hours we made it to the top.
Although there were some clouds the entire range was visible with four 8,000m peaks; Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu all in clear view.
We stayed up on the peak for a couple of hours, we had a small lunch, enjoyed the view and added some Tibetan Prayer flags to the summit’s collection.
By the time we started our descent back to Gokyo it was quite a clear afternoon. It only took about an hour to get down. Tomorrow morning we would begin our descent out of the Gokyo Valley and on towards Lukla.
Day 9 to 11 – Gokyo to Namche Bazaar to Lukla to Kathmandu
It was a long day from Gokyo to Namche Bazaar but we thought we’d just get the whole thing out of the way rather than stopping for the night. It was only a couple of hours down to Machhermo and then only another hour to Dole, so it was a bit early to stop at both of those places anyhow. It was largely a day of heading down until we hit Phortse Thanga at 2pm, from here it was a solid ascent up to Mong La. This slowed us down and what took us half an hour to get down took one and a half hours to get up. From there we took it fairly slow on the mostly light descent back to Namche Bazaar. The whole day took us about ten hours.
The following day we walked all the way to Lukla and the step ascent that took us at least two and a half hours coming up from Jorsale only took an hour to get down. It then took another hour and a half to get to Phakding where we stopped for lunch. The trail from Phakding to Lukla seemed much longer than it did coming the other way, I think we forgot that we were desending the whole way so now it was a gentle ascent the whole way. The trail just seemed to go on and on until finally you turn a corner and see some final steps leading up to an archway topped by Pasang Lhamu Sherpa who was the first Nepali women to summit Everest. Seeing the stairway was almost heavenly and it was a great feeling to finally be back in Lukla where we started our trek ten days earlier.
From here it was a short flight back to Kathmandu the next morning.