Chola Pass

Despite EBC garnering most of the attention, The Himalaya certainly are not a one-trick pony however, with treks and walks all over Nepal to be enjoyed. The Khumbu region, where Everest is situated, has a number of beautiful, challenging and exciting excursions to add to your EBC trek. For those who want to push the boundaries past merely walking along a path to Base Camp, traversing the Chola Pass towards Gokyo is the next logical step, and one I personally think you absolutely should not miss.

Standing at 5,420 meters and 17,782 feet, the Chola Pass has an altitude slightly higher than EBC, although having already (hopefully) made the walk to camp, and hauled yourself to the top of Kala Pattar at 5,545/18,192, the altitude won’t be an issue. However, it still remains the most challenging day of the trip.

The nature of a pass is to cross between a small mountain range, from one side to the other. That means you’re generally going up a long way, and then down a long way. Trekkers having completed the pass would speak of their effort with a tone of pride, and those still to make the journey talk of it with a serious inflection: come hell or high water, this would be their crowning glory. We had recruited two Canadians and two Kiwis to our cause, and so our little expedition totalled seven.

The Chola Pass is definitely going to add a challenge factor to your trip. The entire trek from Lukla to EBC might aswell resemble Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road. After a short walk from Dzongla, the Chola Pass becomes a hike proper: some simple boulder climbing after a steep switch-back ascent, followed by a glacier you’ll likely need cramp-ons for. Ascending the pass was far and away the most enjoyable part of the trip; challenging enough to ask you questions yet never steep enough to worry about serious injuries. Just as pleasing as the trip up was the view just prior to the glacier: with mountains along the skyline to either side lining down the range to Ama Dablam, majestically sitting in the middle of the horizon.

Crossing the glacier is uniquely the only time you’ll get the opportunity to walk on snow during the trek during the spring. In May, it can be possible to take the pass without cramp-ons - I used mine, but the rest of our crew went spike-less. I don’t recommend it at any other time of year and even at the end of spring, only if conditions allow. Ice also begins to play a role: it’s bloody slippery. A few times along the small cliff-side paths our guide, Biswa, took my arm to help me along. Arrogantly, I asked him not to help me, before realising this is exactly why we had a guide; to keep us safe. 

Ama Dablam in all it’s beautiful glory sitting at the back of the shot.. The most beautiful mountain in the Himalaya.

At the top of the Pass, it’s time for morning tea to replenish the energy. It takes two energy-sapping hours to get to the top of the pass, and once you’re there, it’s a long way down to the next village for lunch - between three and four hours - and I was already out of water.

Getting down the pass presented pure treachery. This side of was far more slippery, with clear ice layering over a difficult rock half-path down the mountain. What should have been a brisk one hour descent slowed to a snail’s pace, with every step requiring sure feet and an intense maintenance of concentration to guard against a slip. Every time my foot hit the ground, my brain went into overdrive. Where can I step next? Did I just stand on ice? Am I going to slip? It took every ounce of concentration I possess to make it down without falling.

Two and a half hours after the first step down the pass we reached the bottom, energy-depleted, both hot from the sun and cold from the wind, out of water and dehydrated. The next village was now not only rest for tired legs, but now a source of much needed water. With dismay, I realised we were still another two hours away from water at a decent pace. The Canadians were out of water too, and the New Zealand pair powered toward to village to fetch water whilst the rest of us took off at a veritable dawdle.

Anuj, brandishing his flag atop the Chola Pass. I couldn’t even haul myself up there.

There’s little to say about the next hour and a half. It sucked. Flying overhead, you may have mistaken the scene for the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, three corpses ambling towards the nearest smell of living flesh. Balking at every hill, willing ourselves not to stop, we pushed on. Como, one dehydrated Canadian, swore he saw our New Zealand saviour's returning multiple times; a proper mirage born from lack of water. Arth, the other from the North, fell so far behind us, lying flat on his back and tipping his Camelback to the sky, just hoping for one more drop of H2O. My voice was gone, spirit fading, back about to break, legs protesting for something, anything. Come on, Michael. You can do this. Every time I told myself, I got less certain. Como broke a trekking pole, I booted a rock and Arth was nowhere to be seen. Not only were we at an altitude with 50% of the oxygen present at sea level, now our bodies had sweat out all the moisture available in our bodies. By the time water came sprinting up the hill in the form of one of our Kiwis and a strange British man, I’d started to believe perhaps I was imagining it too.

I need a hero.. Aquaman, to be specific.

I’ve never had such an acute experience as to the value of water to the human body. If I was a beaten-up Daihatsu Charade prior to water, I now felt like a modified Porsche 911. Legs turbocharged and mind refuelled, the forty minutes to the next village were comparative paradise. With another 3 hours to Gokyo, the day was hardly through, though I was able to sit back with a small satisfaction, having completed the most arduous ask of physical endurance thus far. The Chola Pass is an adventure in and of itself, connecting the traditional Base Camp trek with the beautiful lakes of Gokyo. A hike which will ask you questions, to which the answers are hidden within yourself.

The Chola Pass represented one of the most challenging periods of the trek, and largely due to a lack of water, so pack extra. Now we move onward to the second part of this day. It is a tale of deathly beauty and the glamour of heaven; Gokyo and its lake.

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