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?

Nepal Captures Your Heart Forever

Himalayan Landscapes Are Forever in Your Heart

I have become addicted to wanting to walk in these landscapes. Forever.

Main Everest Base Camp Trail

Well at least one more time. But then I know it will be one more time. Again.

That’s me on Day 13 of our Mount Everest Base Camp trek returning to Lukla. From the top of Kala Pattar we had the closest view of Everest, two weeks before I turned 58. That was October 2015. Now, we just have to go again. Back to see, and be a part, of these massive landscapes.

Flying to Lukla

All my reservations  left me when I saw the first vista from the plane flying to Lukla.  And my eyes filled with tears. In 2013 it was the first time I had ever done anything like this – hike or trek. Me, walk all the way to my next destination? Never.

EBC Trek Day 2

On the lower part of the trek the vistas are smaller. Remember it’s all relative. The noisy river, the trees, the small villages along the trail. And the bridges which cross back and forth over the river. The blue roofs are at Benkar and our porter is a little up ahead with the orange pack.

Then there is the iconic bridge which features in in the movie Everest. After crossing the suspension bridge and the fast moving Dudh Kosi river below there is the steep big climb to Namche Bazaar.Bridges across to Nacmhe Bazaar hill

Day 4 Above Namche Bazaar heading towards TengbocheIn the photo above look closely at the bottom point of the river to see the two bridges. Looking back at different points and seeing how far you have come gives you a great sense of achievement. It’s all part of the addiction. Lodges in Nepal

There can be amazing views even from your room. The climb to Namche Bazaar is worth the view. You can even climb higher, pay more and stay at the Everest View Hotel and get a view of Everest.  Above Namche Bazaar on Acclimatisation Day

I love the view of the two rivers below. The two bridges in the photos above cross where the two rivers meet. The day before I had walked alongside the river. There was a bit of cloud and rain as it was the very end of September. But we didn’t get wet.

Namche Bazaar to Tengboche EBC Trek

When we flew to Lukla the first time there was an man sitting next my husband who was on his seventeenth trek to Nepal. I told you it was addictive. He pointed out the mountains by name. I want to be able to recognise all the mountains and name them too. The one above is Ama Dablam, she is distinctive and easy to spot.

EBC Trek Walking to Dingboche

Above the tree line and blue skies. The track levels out in places.

Day 7 EBC Trek to DingbocheLittle hamlets and big views. Part of the attraction is no crowds. I loved Dingboche and the acclimatisation day walk above it. Half way up the hill you can see the C-shaped track above the stupa and to the right. That’s about 400 metres above the town and where the flag pole below was. The views were stupendous. I loved it.

View of mountains above the small village of Dingboche on the EBC Trek

There are walks to be taken from Dingboche so I just have to go back…

EBC Trek Dingboche to Lobuche

EBC Trek Dingboche to Lobuche

The massive landscapes put things in perspective.

Above Pheriche, Everest Base Camp trek

You could look at the view forever but you have to move on to the next amazing vista.

EBC Trek near Gorak Shep

And the views feel so special because you have “worked” and walked to get there. Note the people in the bottom left hand corner.

Gorak Shep and Kala Patthar

And when you get to your final destination and climb that final brown hill and stand in front of Everest and above Everest Base Camp…

On top of Kala Patthar in October

you understand it’s not just about getting there. The whole journey and the effort to get there is special. But be warned. It’s addictive.

Everest Base Camp in the morning

A morning view from Mount Everest Base Camp.

Posted on February 1, 2018 by Louise Terranova

Our Porter Guide

He met us at the baggage collection at Lukla airport. After a cup of tea and sorting our packs at the Paradise Lodge we were ready. He tied our bags together with his ropes, positioned the load on his head and led us out of Lukla, stopping every now and then to check we were following.

Consulting the map
Consulting the map

At first from his lack of response to our questions and attempts at conversation I thought he had limited English. But as he tuned in to our accents and we started to get to know each other, he spoke more.

On the second day he seemed a bit more relaxed and he started to teach us some Nepalese words. Jum jum, let’s go and appropriately on the hard climb to Namche Bazaar bistari bistari, slowly slowly. Jokingly he taught us quickly quickly. When we climbed to Khumjung the thick cloud forced my focus to my feet and the spider webs covered in dewdrops, he told me the words for spider and spider webs too.

Alpine flower Solukhumbu
Dew on spider webs

Familiar with the trail, he pointed out things I would never have seen without him. He pointed out birds and bee hives hanging in the crevices of rocks on the other side of the river. Sometimes he sang his Nepali songs. We watched fascinated by his animated conversations with others along the track and picked up his sense of humour and friendly nature.

At the end of the day when I wrote in my small diary, he reminded me of the things we had seen on the trail. He spelt out the Nepalese words I had learnt during the day and I helped him with some new English words in our guide books.

In Dingboche, surrounded by magnificent mountains he taught me their names. He helped while I practiced naming them in order, like a child reciting their abc, learning the Himalayan range spread before me.

Many times we waited together for donkeys and yaks to pass. Once I was caught in a tight spot and I turned away when I shouldn’t have. Fortunately Basanta was watching. I turned around in time to see him pushing a donkey away from me. If he hadn’t of done this the donkey’s side load would have pushed me over the small wall.

He pulled me up the huge black boulders to reach the top of Kala Pattar. Took photos of us together and celebrated with us at Everest Base Camp.

At Everest Base Camp

He called me Louise, sometimes jokingly Mom and sometimes Didi – Big Sister.

Sometimes he led. Sometimes he followed. And sometimes we walked side by side.

Khumjung Village Everest Base Camp Trek
Porters climbing up to the bridge to Namche Bazaar
Dingboche to Dughla Everest Base Camp Trek

On the last day, walking back to Lukla a woman coming the other way silently pointed at the porter right behind me as if she thought I needed to move aside and let him pass. Yes I know, I thought, he is my porter and he has been close by for sixteen days. He has carried our load making our trek to Base Camp easier. He guided, pointed things out and watched out for us. He was our companion, Nepalese friend and shared his country with us. Thank you Basanta.

The porter guide and me
Saying goodbye at the Paradise Lodge in Lukla