We had one more high pass to conquer, the Kongma La, to complete what is known as the "Everest Three Passes Trek". Most of the group opted out of climbing the third pass so one of our Sherpas, Ongchhu, accompanied us and another client over the pass. From Lobuche we had to cross the Khumbu Glacier before starting our ascent.
|Marc Crossing the Khumbu Glacier|
The approach to the top of the Kongma La was straightforward and we had a good trail most of the way. It took us three hours to reach the summit at 18,160 feet where views of a vast frozen lake and high mountain peaks lay before us.
|View from the Kongma La|
We didn't linger on top too long as clouds were quickly building up. We could see Pokalade, a trekking peak, at just over 19,000 feet with its double-peaks looking close enough to touch.
|Peggy on the Kongma La|
We descended past the large unnamed lake to yak pastures and finally down to the Imja Valley. We didn't go all the way to Chunking but took a steep shortcut through grassy fields to the valley floor and down to Dingboche. We arrived just before the snow began to fall and settled into our quaint lodge. The next morning the weather had cleared and we left Dingboche under clear skies.
The weather remained good until we reached Pangboche where we stopped for lunch.
|Peggy Approaching Pangboche|
Pangboche has one of the oldest monasteries in the Khumbu and we paid it a visit after lunch.
A woman unlocked the door so we could go inside where burning butter lamps softly illuminated the interior.
|Butter Lamps in Pangboche Monastery|
We continued our descent to Deboche past porters who were still hauling up heavy loads for NBC News. When we finally had Internet access we found that the Discovery Channel plans on airing the first wing suit flight off Mt. Everest ("Everest Jump Live") on May 11. Climber Joby Ogwyn will make the attempt in a custom-made wing suit with cameras to capture his 10,000 foot plunge. We figured it had to be a major production based on the tons of equipment being hauled up the mountain for a 2-hour broadcast.
|Porter Hauling More NBC News Equipment|
The next day we resumed our descent back to Namche Bazaar stopping to visit the famous Tengboche Monastery.
|Gateway to Tengboche Monastery|
The monastery is the largest gompa in the Khumbu region and was originally built in 1916. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1934 and rebuilt. It was destroyed a second time by a fire in 1989 and built for a third time. Inside the monks were preparing to resume their morning prayers. After a quick cup of tea they began chanting in guttural tones.
|Monks resuming their Morning Prayers|
I wanted to stay longer but we had to continue our trek back to Namache Bazaar. I spotted some Himalayan Tahr grazing on the slopes above the trail. The Himalayan Tahr is a large ungulate (hoofed animal) related to the wild goat. They allowed us to approach quite close making for a good photo.
We arrived back in Namche in the early afternoon in time for a cold Everest Beer! It was nice to be back in the "beer-drinking zone" where we didn't have to worry about the adverse effects of high altitude.
|Back in the Beer-Drinking Zone!|
We checked into the Holiday Inn and settled into our basic but comfortable room.
|Our Room in Namache|
This was our first lodge-based trek (we usually camp in tents) and I was concerned about being able to sleep and stay healthy but we didn't have any problems. I could get used to this cushy lodge-based trekking. The next morning we headed out through the bustling streets of Namche back to the village of Phakding.
|Leaving Namache Bazaar|
On Day 18 of our trek we arrived back at our starting point in Lukla.
|Gateway to Lukla|
Upon our arrival Rinij informed us about the disaster unfolding just above Everest Base camp. At 6:45 that morning a huge ice avalanche swept down from near the top of the Khumbu icefall killing at least 6 Nepali Sherpas. Throughout the morning we watched from our lodge room as the rescue helicopters stopped at the Lukla airstrip to refuel as they brought the injured and the bodies of the deceased back to Kathmandu.
|Nepali Army Helicopter used in Avalanche Rescue|
Unfortunately the death toll has continued to rise to 13 Sherpas with 3 still missing making this the worst single climbing accident on Mt. Everest. It was a sobering end to an otherwise great trek and a poignant reminder of the danger inherent in mountaineering. Our deepest condolences go out to the families that lost a member on this fateful day. I have the deepest respect and admiration for these brave men and women who risk their lives to support the hundreds of Westerners that attempt to climb Mt. Everest every year. Unfortunately, the allure of climbing the World's highest mountain will never go away. I will continue to spin a prayer wheel that all who make the climb will stay safe.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc