Confessions of a Scaredy Cat on Top of Cho La Pass

Is Crossing Cho La Pass Dangerous?

In my opinion the answer to the question is yes. You bet it is.

  • 5 October 2018
  • Cho La Height : 5368metres / 17,611 feet
On top of Chol La Pass with the Porter Guide, Nepal

That is our porter guide on the left and that’s me with the worried look on my face. We are on top of Cho La Pass. Even though I had made it to the top with a whole lot of help from our porter I was feeling anxious. Very worried. And scared. Very scared. And just wanting to get off the top and safely to our lodge in Dzongla for the night and before any weather set in. I could include a bucket load of expletives in this post but I haven’t, I’ll just let you imagine them. Lots of them.

My husband of over thirty years took the photo and managed to get a smile out of me eventually. I wasn’t feeling too charitable towards him and had told him so earlier in the morning after we walked out of Thangnak. Just before what I think was my first ever panic attack. Not bad since it wasn’t the first time he had taken me out of my comfort zone. Except this time took the cake.

Trekker and Porter Guide on top of Cho La Pass Nepal
Our Porter Guide (left) and my husband on top of Cho La Pass

Saying I worry too much is a bit of an understatement. From a young age I had a keen sense of my own mortality. As a child, being in a head on car collision and later a narrow miss with a runaway speed boat didn’t help the cause. For me it spelt out “it can happen to you too.”

It was my husband’s idea to trek in Nepal. He had trekked the apple pie circuit in the Anna Purna area in Nepal the 1980s. He loved it and had talked about taking our daughters as young children.This never happened.Then in 2013 the plan was to trek with them as adults but it improved impossible to coordinate everyone’s various work commitments to find dates when everyone was available. In the end my husband decided to go anyway and I didn’t want to get left home worrying about him, so I went even though I was really scared about it.

Just what was I scared about?

I was terrified I would die somehow. I was worried I would

  1. fly to Lukla and crash into the side of a mountain and die,
  2. get lost and freeze to death,
  3. break an ankle on the side of the mountain, be stranded and freeze to death,
  4. get robbed and killed,
  5. get knocked off the side of the mountain by a yak and die
  6. fall off the side of the mountain and die
  7. be caught in a rock fall and die

so what did happen on the way to base camp?

On our first trek in 2013 I got a rash. Yes a rash. Because I thought the rash was cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection which can kill you) we turned back at Shomare or Somare. Had we been trekking with a porter guide instead of totally independently things may have turned out differently. We decided to return in 2015 and try again and this time we made it to EBC and Kala Patthar. I wasn’t worried about any of the things on the list above. I had a different list with just two dot points. Landslides and another earthquake.

Last year in September/October 2018 my husband wanted to trek to Gokyo a destination I was happy about. But he also wanted to go over Cho La Pass which I was definitely not happy about. I tried to talk him out of the idea. This time bullet points number two and number seven were high on my worry list. Rock falls at Cho La Pass are a real possibility as is freezing to death on top if the weather comes in.

what is the climb like to the top of cho la pass?

The next photo below really puts a bit of perspective on the climb. Click on the photo and it will open up so you can see people climbing about a third of the way up. Every picture tells a story as they say.

Trekkers climbing Cho La Pass Close Up Nepal
Trekkers climbing up Cho La Pass

Climbing this area was down right dangerous. Anyone who tells you differently is in denial. Climbing Cho La Pass made going to Everest Base Camp and climbing Kala Patthar put together seem like a picnic. And the thing is you don’t have a choice. If you start out you need to keep going. You just want to get over the Pass and down on the other side which is also dangerous and make it safely to your lodge to sleep. We trekked for ten and half hours on that day. We stopped for the briefest lunch on top of the Pass as it is so cold up there.

On side of stupa Lower track EBC trail before Phakding
Decoration on the side of a newly renovated stupa on Day One of our trek in Cheplung.

A woman recently asked me whether I was really scared because I went anyway. Yes I was scared about the idea of climbing over Cho La Pass. Really scared. Why did I go? I would follow that Trainer anywhere. Well almost. And clearly, I didn’t get my She – Lion on enough before we left Australia, when I argued constantly that I did not want to climb Cho La Pass because it sounded dangerous. I should have bared my teeth a bit more.

And yes we made it all the way safely and now I’m back home in Melbourne, writing about our third trek in the Everest Base Camp region. I can tell you we won’t be climbing Cho La Pass again nor trying our luck with Renjo and definitely not Kong Ma the other two of the three passes in the region either. However our love affair with trekking in Nepal continues and a fourth trek to another region is on the cards. We are addicted to Nepal.

My next post will be Day 1 and 2 from Lukla to Namche Bazaar as we trekked with our porter guide. I will revisit this climb and the whole of Day 10 as it unfolded from Thangnak, over Cho La Pass and to Dzongla in detail in another post but in order of the days as we trekked. Hope this is taster for you to following our journey.

Does anyone know the name of the animal on the side of the stupa?

46 thoughts on “Confessions of a Scaredy Cat on Top of Cho La Pass

  1. The husband wants to hike to EBC, even though he much prefers cycling to hiking. I keep hoping he’ll just forget about it. (Unlikely.) Good for you for facing your fears. We’re addicted to a place, too: the state of Colorado. Fortunately for us, it’s much easier to get to (a 13-hour drive) and probably a lot less expensive to travel to than your addiction. Looking forward to you future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Once you set yourself up with the boots, pack and gear it is not that expensive. For us as Australians Asian is a cheaper destination for flights too.
    Actually I would love to go to Colorado. But you know the difference with hiking there – I would have to carry my own large pack. And camping? Well something would obviously eat me in the night! No really I am not a camper. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog and new posts. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The animal on the side of the stupa is obviously called Louise! Look at her roar!Well done for doing something so scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Mel and I know your blog will be one of the spots I will research the Camino when we plan to go.
    Are you planning to trek with a company or take a porter and guide? Happy to email and answer any questions, give advice or thoughts. Main thing don’t book anything less than 15 or 16 ex Lukla for just to EBC. I will write some additional info about this.
    Yes Seize the day indeed. Louise

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  5. What a great post Louise. You’ve written it in such an honest (and fun) way. I can feel your fear and don’t blame you at all for being a scaredy cat. I would be too. I love your list. Perhaps it’s better to actually write it out than let it ruminate in your head (something I do a lot). Congrats for conquering the pass and living to tell the tale!

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  6. From one Louise who loves Nepal to another, you did great ! I managed Gokyo Ri but succumbed to HAPE up Cho-La Pass 2 days later. Piggy backed down by my porter when the chopper couldn’t find us in the snow, and then chopper from Thagnak to Lukla and Kathmandu, ambulance to hospital and 2 days in hospital. So perhaps my reality kind of matched your fear.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, Louise. You blow me away — good for you! Any one of the items on your “danger list” would have dissuaded me, but you faced them all and went anyway. And look at the reward you got, between that smile and that view! Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventure here.

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  8. Hi Louise Yes I remember reading your post. Yes that is a bit of a horror story there. They were probably taking you up ( as in from Lukla) too fast and you needed a few more days in the itinerary. Those porters are amazing with their strength and endurance, Did you recover completely after your stay in hospital in Kathmandu? thank you reading my post. Louise Senior (ha ha).

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  9. Hi Caroline, Thank you for your kind comment. I am way behind my own intentions for posting on this trek but life got in the way a bit. It was a beautiful area though, not specifically Cho La Pass, the view was not bad though, I am saving that shot for the second post and the tale of the whole day when I get to it. Hope you are well and the weather is getting warmer for you over there. Louise

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  10. Hi Mel, That’s going up too quickly. Of course they will tell you its ok. Can you change it?

    It’s all about how much your is altitude is increasing each day.

    And is that 11 days Ex Lukla some trekking companies count your arrival in Kathmandu as day 1 which is even worse. You know what I am going to make a change to my next planned post and also write about the number of days, on the trail, I should have written about it well before this anyway. If you want to email me theyearitouchedmytoes@gmail and send me your itinerary. Let me know if you have I am not always good at checking that account.

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  11. Hi Donna,
    Thank you. I am hoping the same stuff will get me through some of the Camino one day, a few years off yet. Of course the Trainer wants to go over the French Alps – more passes. He’ll get me one day. Did you do any of the passes on the Camino? Louise

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  12. What an amazing adventure.. and that photo really says it all, especially when you zoom in and can see the humans to scale. Well done! I have no idea what a 10-plus-hour hike like this will make you feel like, but I know how I feel like after an hour hike so I’ll just times that by ten and it’s not pretty 😀

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  13. Thanks Dee. Yes this day was out of the box a bit. And it was in the middle of three tough days. Haha believe me, initially that was me back in 2013. You build up to it and the trek themselves build up your strength as you go. Louise

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  14. I admire you for facing your fear, Louise. And also knowing that it’s not something you want to do again. It must have been an amazing feeling to have finished it. Bravo.

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  15. Self-preservation always makes us think the worst is going to happen and know exactly what you mean but at least you went ahead regardless – hats off!

    You must be so fit to tackle all these difficult treks. Hope the rash didn’t stick around for too long…

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  16. Hi Louise, I found this both exhilarating and frightening. And, also heartwarming that you expressed your own fears so beautifully. Congratulations on an impressive achievement!

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  17. What an incredible feat reaching the top of Chola Pass. Aside from looking worried, I also see a triumphant look about you with your hands up in the air 🙂 Congrats on making it to the top and your guide looks happy that you did. I think it’s wise to hypothesise anything that could go wrong along the way – if anything, that makes you more prepared and more alert about your foreign surroundings. Hope you are resting well in Melbourne and enjoying the cooler weather (I prefer summer here lol). Good luck planning the next trek 🙂

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  18. Hi Mabel, Actually that was the Trainer (my husband) taking the photo telling me to put my hands in the air. Yes I was very alert to lots of things possibly going wrong. I like to think that bears and animals who hibernate during the winter have the right idea – to rest. So I like that inside and keep warm aspect of the Melbourne winter. I enjoy the sun when we have it. Thank you for visiting. Louise

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  19. Animals and wildlife do seem to have the right idea in the cooler months – staying inside, keeping safe and avoid icy weather. That said, they come out during the warmer months and you do have to keep an eye out for so many of them…especially snakes and spiders in Australia 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m so impressed and honestly full of admiration for you Louise. Scared shitless or not, you made it and what a feat. Clearly you’re addicted. xx

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  21. I have done the Everest Trek four times. I did the 3 passes for the first time in early may 2019. The Kongma La pass from Dengboche is more physically challenging but the Chola pass is more hazardous. I was on my own with no guide although there were plenty of people already on the pass crossing from both directions. I didn’t have any crampons and I don’t think that they are essential despite the fact that the pass was covered with ice. There was a lot of ice coming down near the top of the pass but I think the biggest dangers was being hit by falling rock from the trekkers above you. Thankfully the group above me, mostly Israelis, were very responsible. I think there is a tendency to overestimate the dangers and the locals sometimes talk up the risks maybe because they want to sell you a guide. Common sense is your best friend. This is not Everest. The most frustration part for me was traversing the Ngozumpa glacier to get to Gokyo. This took me twice as long as it should have because I kept getting lost. I would do it again and probably will at some stage

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