On the north shore of the turquoise Gokyo Lake is a mountain called Gokyo Ri. Though dwarfed by the surrounding glacial mountains, the top of Gokyo Ri provides a 360 degree panoramic view of some of the highest peaks of the world. On a clear day, you can see four 8,000 meter peaks from the top of Gokyo Ri: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu. Putting these snowy peaks and a turquoise glacial lake at sunrise in the same picture is like a dream for an amateur outdoor photographer like myself. If I could catch the moment of sun rising over Everest on my camera, I could only imagine how amazing the pictures would look.
In order to capture the sunrise from the top of Gokyo Ri, we had to start the day super early. Since both of us had been waking up before 4am every morning due to the high attitude, we really had no problem setting an early alarm. Tricia bolted up from her bed immediately when my alarm went off. I suspect she had been awake waiting for the alarm for a while. Since we were the only guests when we were checking into Lake Side Lodge, we got the room with lake view from one window and Gokyo Ri view from the other. Tricia eagerly wiped the condensation off the window and announced excitedly, “It’s a clear day!” It was indeed a clear morning with full moon. From our second window, I could see a string of headlamps moving slowly up the slopes of Gokyo Ri. People were already climbing by 4am.
We packed up our layers for hiking in the cold, had a quick bite to eat and headed out the door by 4:30am. The air was chilly and crisp. No wind. The moonlight reflected off the glaciers of the mountain tops all around us. Gokyo lake was absolutely still like an enormous blue mirror on the ground. The view was breathtaking. We marched up the steep slope of Gokyo Ri while quietly admiring the stunning pre-dawn mountains around us. The climb was tough. Being the weaker climber, I led the way of our party of two. I did my best to maintain a pace of one step per second. It’s slow enough that we didn’t need many breaks on the way up but it was fast enough that we quickly took the lead of the pack going up Ri that morning.
By 5:30 am, we had made significant gains towards the top of Gokyo Ri. In the distance, some clouds started forming. I did not like the look of those clouds. They were still far and thin but they moved quickly. They already obscured the view of Mt. Thamserku. We kept climbing at a good pace. The dawn was about to break. I knew the sun was ready to climb above the horizon at any second. I kept an eye on the top of the mountain, sizing up our morning adventure’s prize. All of a sudden, I occurred to me that the visibility had significantly decreased. I halted my steps and looked around. The clouds had moved in all around Gokyo Lake. We could no longer see the lake below us!
It was almost 6am. We kept climbing but our enthusiasm was draining. The fog got denser with every step we took. I could almost see the flags on the top of Gokyo Ri. That was supposed to be victory but what’s a victory without any visibility? Tricia was silent most of the morning. She was tired. As we stopped for a breather, she broke her silence, “Should we come back? We won’t see anything up there.” Those words put an end to all the drive and hope we had left in us. I had one last peek at the top of Gokyo Ri and knew there was no point going up there this morning. We will have to come back… tomorrow or in ten years or whenever we make it back here.
We turned around full of melancholy and defeat and started our slow descent. The groups we passed on the way up were now passing us face to face. We exchanged polite greetings with each group with an inevitable sense of disappointment. We will come back, we told ourselves. The sky brightened up when we were halfway down the mountain. The clouds scattered some and we could see Gokyo lake again. It was beautiful. The clouds hid some of the peaks of the surrounding mountains but created a sense of mysteriousness to this jagged landscape. We decided to sit and enjoy the view. Tricia brought out her sleeping bag which was a trick we learned in Patagonia’s cold mornings. It was a perfect way to stay warm to watch the sunrise.
We took our time coming down from Gokyo Ri. Other early climbers were slowly coming down the mountain too while late climbers were just making their slow ascend up the slopes. We got back to our lodge by 8:30am. We had our late breakfast and headed to our room for a nap.
I could not fall asleep. Tricia was more tired and fell asleep almost immediately. In my half unconscious state, I heard Tricia sitting up from her bed. “The sky is clearing up. Do you want to go up again?” I looked at my watch, it was almost 11. I wanted to say no but how could I? How likely am I to return here in my life? “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Gokyo Ri continued to be difficult the second time around. Gokyo Lake continued to be beautiful from up high. This time we didn’t even need to take breaks. We marched straight up to the top of Gokyo Ri in an hour and twenty minutes, but we did not find a cloudless sky at the top. It was meant to be a cloudy day that day and most of the mountains peaks were enshrouded in clouds.
We lingered for half an hour on the top of Gokyo Ri where cairns and flags were piled up high from years of visiting tourists. We were tired but satisfied by the time we got back to the lodge the second time. The teahouse hosts looked at us like we were crazy people. After all, who goes up to Gokyo Ri twice in the same cloudy day.
We planned to go to Cho Oyu base camp on day 6. But we changed our minds in the morning. We ended up embarking on one of the most dangerous journeys in our lives. Keep reading my next post on our adventure in the Himalayas on day 6.
Interested in reading about our food adventures in Kathmandu? Click here.
Are you planning a trekking trip of own? Check out my packing list.