Trek to Swiss Base Camp: sights and games

Posted on 09 Apr 2018

Today was a short day, but it was challenging as we hiked through boulders covered with about an inch of new snow and climbed to abound 5,200 metres. We could feel the altitude already with around 1,000 metres still to climb to reach the high passes of Sherpani Col and West Col in the next few days.

The weather has been pretty good and we’re hoping it holds out, at least until we pass through this section. The trails have thankfully improved.

Trail images

Walls are closing in

The black walls are all around us. Water has left stains that will never come out and continues to streak down and paint abstract figures. Large house size chunks of what were once vertical walls lie haphazardly along the valley floor. The clouds have come in now and put a moving ceiling on our space and we can’t see a way out from here; everything looks vertical as we move upward. 

The constant background noise of the river below is only occasionally interrupted by the call of crows riding the wind drafts along the canyon walls high above us. There’s not a lot of conversation as we all focus on the task of climbing into the thinner air. 

The Makalu valley was recently scoured by the bursting of a glacial lake and if we weren’t already awed by the glacial formations, the power unleashed by the flooding is hard to describe as debris of all sizes strewn for miles. 

As we arrive at our camp, we’ve risen above tree line and into the clouds. Visibility is down to a few metres and we can’t tell for sure but suspect tomorrow morning’s views will be spectacular. 

Cathedral of the Giants

We are in the cathedral of the giants now. Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Cho Ohu, Nuptse, Ama Dablum and Baruntse are just some of the names in the climbing hall of fame, but just walking in their shadows and crossing the passes that separate them makes us feel like we’re on the roof of the world. 

We climbed through the frigid morning to get to a vantage point where we could watch the morning show. We have to sit and stare when the first sun hits the summit of Everest and then slowly traces its way down the ridges and snow flutes of the East face. Then it’s Lhotse’s turn, and the alpenglow of the morning shines bright for a few seconds and is gone.

Tomorrow will bring another day to see this magnificent show as we move further into the cathedral. This is the short somewhat technical section of the GHT where we’ll use climbing boots, crampons, ice axes, and ropes to cross the high passes.

We practiced ascending and descending with ropes at Makalu base camp, with the mountain towering over us, to make sure we’re ready. We also had a Buddhist ceremony to ask for blessings as we go through this area of such beauty and awe. 

Degree of difficulty

With time on our hands and imagination to spare, we’ve had daily discussions about the trails of Nepal and decided a rating system for degree of difficulty similar to many sporting events is necessary. Here is our criteria for deciding on the difficulty level of a day’s trail:

•   Climbing or descending – how much elevation was gained and lost during the day?
•   Steepness –  would this trail be challenging for goats and yaks or only people?
•   Ruggedness – how many contortions were required to get through and around obstacles, across boulder fields, through rhododendrons, etc? Or, was it a walking trail?
•   Altitude – are living things able to live here?
•   Danger risk – were there conditions that made you fear for life and limb? Plunge to raging river below? Climb or descend snow chutes that disappear into fog below? Rock hopping on snow or moss-covered boulders for trail?
•   Environmental conditions – snow, rain, cold?
•   Other factors – length of day, interesting sights, other people/animals sharing trail. 

Each trekker can rate the trail but must defend their rating. We haven’t yet gotten to scoring of individual performances but needless to say some of our artistic delivery could use some work. We've had difficulty ratings as high as 7 and 8 – we're reserving higher ratings but hoping not to need them.

As always we’re chasing our dreams on the GHT.

Jim, Ken, Mick, Ricardo, Steve, Vince, Tsering

world expeditions