Renjo Pass, Cho La Pass, Kala Patthar.
Article and photos by Gerard Horsman.
Temperatures plummet as the sun drops and the moon rises into a cold night across the Everest Range.
Renjo Pass, Cho La Pass, Kala Patthar
This trek takes you on a looping journey through the Everest region alongside the world’s highest peaks, offering some of the most imposing mountain views on the planet.
Whilst the Everest region is one of the most spectacular and awe inspiring places for a photographer to visit, the altitude and environmental factors also make it incredibly physically and mentally challenging.
When to go
There are two distinct trekking seasons in Nepal. Your best chance of clear skies which allow the mountain peaks to be visible, are in Spring (March, April, May) and Autumn (Sept, Oct, Nov).
Trekking outside these months is also possible and you may be rewarded with dramatic winter skies, however you also run the risk of more challenging weather conditions, limited visibility, and the highly sort after view of the mountain peaks being clouded over.
Most trips in the Everest (Sagarmatha National Park) region start at the mountain side village Lukla. The most convenient way to access Lukla is to fly from Kathmandu. Try hustling for a seat on the left hand side of the plane which offers the best views of the Everest range flying in. The Lukla airport has one of the most dangerous landing strips in the world and clapping the pilot on landing is a tradition as you set down on the airstrip that runs into the side of a mountain.
In Lukla you may see people loading up yaks in preparation for a Mt Everest summit, people getting excited for the classic base camp trek or other mountain destinations in the region.
Namche Bazar, the first acclimatization village sits silently beneath the towering peaks as the evening fog rolls in.
The first two days walking from Lukla to Namche Bazaar is shared alongside many other tourists, porters, pack animals, and locals. There is no shortage of places to stop and grab a convenient cup of tea, bite to eat or place to sleep.
Namche is the first acclimatisation village to Everest and offers last minute shopping for trail snacks, extra warm socks or a cold beer in the Irish pub.
A short hour’s walk from Namche is a lookout giving uninterrupted views of Mt.Everest (8848m) and Mt Ama Dablam (6814m).
Two days on from Namche is the start of Renjo Pass. There are opportunities to capture monks in their mountainside monasteries, long winding valleys and of course the towering mountains.
The mountains start to show their shape over Renjo Pass as dawn breaks after a 4am start.
The next leg of the journey takes you from Renjo Pass (5860m) to Gokyo Lake (4790m) and requires a 4am start to ensure you reach your destination before night fall. The serving of plain toast and black tea for breakfast brought little comfort from the cold of the black frozen morning.
Once you start on this section of the trek there are ample photo opportunities such as abandoned stone houses, alpine beaches, lakes and even your frozen breath.
At the top of the pass, you will be rewarded with views over Gokyo Lake with Mt Everest in the background. The massive scale of the landscape gives the illusion that destinations are far closer than what they are, and you are left physically and mentally exhausted after this section of the trek.
Gokyo is a great village to visit by itself, spending a few days exploring its surrounding trails.
Gokyo is a great place to rest up for a few days and there is a village bakery which adds a little variety to the choice in food. Many people simply rest their legs here, but there are some great short walks surrounding the village.
If you head north alongside Ngozumba Glacier you are able to get views across Thonak Lake and Mt Gyachung Kang.
Many choose to rest in Gokyo, but rewarding views can be found on the Cho Oyu base camp trail if you choose to brave the wind and cold.
Some people will also opt for a sunrise of Everest from Gokyo Ri (5357m), whilst others make the most of the resting around a combustion stove in one of the many tea houses.
Whether you decide to take a sunrise, sunset or anything in between, you will not be fighting for turf to place your tripod on this trip.
Crossing over Cho La Pass mountain range and across a slippery glacier brings weary trekkers into the high altitude village Dzonglha.
From Gokyo, the trail then leads you over a rocky glacier to the beginning of Cho La Pass (5868m).
Another 4am start is necessary for this leg of the journey. The mornings can get terribly cold in this part of the world.
Crunching over the frozen ground as the cold air burns the back of your throat is not much fun, but when you reach the top of the pass a track heading south east gives some of the most impressive photo opportunities of Ama Dablam and Cholatse (6335m).
Descending from Cho La Pass gives commanding views of Mt Ama Dablam.
I opted to spend a night in the high-altitude village Dzonglha, which approaches the main Base Camp Trail. (All the tea houses were booked out further ahead in Lobuchee due to a busy climbing season.)
This set-back paid off as I woke to a beautiful sunrise over a fresh dump of snow. It pays to have a flexible itinerary as the mountains can seriously dictate your movements on a daily basis.
Towards Everest. It can feel hard to sit still and concentrate on using a camera as the freezing conditions soak through your winter clothes.
The next part of the journey approaches Everest itself. A half-day trek from Dzonglha is Lobuchee, a bustling town offering many options for short treks and climbs delivering spectacular panoramic mountain views in all directions. From here trekkers and climbers alike will venture onto Everest Base Camp itself. A classic view of Everest can be seen at sunrise from Mt Kala Patthar (5550m).
On the return trek from Base Camp everything seems to get a bit easier as you start the descent on the way back to Lukla. There are still many great opportunities to get the camera into action as you wind your way around Mt Ama Dablam and get a different perspective of Mt Cholatse.
Fog settled in early morning offering a one and only glimpse of Ama Dablam for the day.
Cholatse North Face. Heavy snow settled in stopping trekkers from attempting to cross Cho La Pass.
Looking back towards Lobuchee, the last main village before Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp.
Another early start was needed to get clear skies over Base Camp and towards Mt. Everest.
Try looking up on the way back down to Lukla. You may see things most will miss.
There is an air of relief and reward as visitors spend their last night in Lukla waiting to fly out the next day. The small cafes and bars seem bustling as people share stories and pictures of their epic hikes and climbs.
Gear to take
Travelling light takes on a whole new meaning when travelling at altitude for weeks on end. Let’s not forget the added weight of water bottles, cold and wet weather gear, plus snacks. During this trip I carried a Nikon D810, 2 Carl Zeiss Distagon Lens, 35mm and 85mm, full size Manfrotto tripod, circular polarizer, ND grads and 3 spare batteries.
For easy access I kept all my camera gear in a small waterproof case packed at the top of my larger day pack. A Porter carried my clothing, sleeping gear and chocolate bars for the duration of the trek.
Things to know
One of my biggest challenges was the cold. The ability to charge your camera batteries mountain side is a luxury; don’t rely on charging your camera anytime you wish. Some tea houses are limited by battery power. A fee applies to all battery charging and gets more expensive the closer you get to Mt. Everest. The overnight temperatures in teahouses will drain all your batteries overnight. I slept with my camera batteries nestled in the pocket of my down jacket which I then slept in to keep myself and the batteries warm. I left the batteries in my pocket when composing pictures and waiting for the right lighting condition. When I was ready to press the shutter, only then would I load the battery in the camera.
It’s a long way to go not to see the world’s biggest mountains, so before committing to this trek, ensure you have a couple of contingency days up your sleeve. On the hike I encountered many people who missed the opportunity to see the mountain views due to a rigid schedule. Many trekkers arrived back to Lukla ahead of schedule and had minimal trouble changing their flights to Kathmandu on a first come basis.
Keeping healthy means keeping your hands clean before meal times. Carry sanitiser gel to keep the bugs away. Always treat your drinking water – I used a SteriPen (portable water purification pen) which kept me well for the entire trip.
Article and photos by Gerard Horsman
Join Gerard on his Tasmanian Photography Tours with: www.southernwildernesstours.com