Everest region panoramas
14 minute read
Cicerone author and Himalayan guide Radek Kucharski gives a firsthand insight to the panoramas that can be seen by trekkers in the Everest region
Last spring's trekking season was the first since 2015 that I did not spend in the Everest region.
I miss it, and there has hardly been a single day when my mind has not wandered in the Himalayas and to the following fantastic panoramas.
All trekkers in the Everest region pass Namche Bazaar, whether they continue to the Everest Base Camp, Gokyo or follow the Three Passes Trek.
Namche is the first place en route where really good views of the region’s big mountains are possible, including those of Everest and Lhotse. And many mountains that are seen from here will accompany the route ahead in the following days.
The Sagarmatha National Park Museum in Namche enjoys a fantastic location. The view towards Everest and Lhotse along the Dudh Koshi–Imja Khola valley is open from here.
Lhotse dominates; what we see here is its South Face, which was one of the biggest challenges in mountaineering history. The ridge stretches from the top of Lhotse to the left (west) towards Nuptse through its numerous summits. Everest rises above that ridge, behind it.
Imagine the scale: we are at an altitude of about 3550m; the Dudh Koshi Valley bottom is at about 3300m and below the visible Tengboche Monastery; the lowest point on the Nuptse-Lhotse Ridge is at 7545m with Lhotse culminating at 8516m and Nuptse main summit at 7861m – the summit of Everest is almost 1000m above it!
Kongde, which is SW of Namche Bazaar, looks stunning from many places including Namche, but I particularly like distant views from the Imja Khola Valley or surroundings of the Ama Dablam Base Camp. From some of these points, not only is Kongde seen but the peaks behind it, belonging to the Rolwaling Himal.
If you are lucky to have clear weather at sunset, this is the best moment, when the ridges of Kongde and other peaks make black contours backlit by the setting sun.
Thamserku (6608m) and Kangtega (6782m) are the two mountains rising directly above the valley on the right-hand side as we walk from Namche to Pangboche. They are best seen from the alternative route on the western side of the valley, which itself is flanked by another 6000er: Taboche (6495m).
Most trekkers stop for a night or two either in Pheriche or Dingboche. Those who choose the latter have at least a short glimpse of the upper Imja Khola Valley with fantastic high mountain scenery all around, the Lhotse South Face just ahead and Imja Tse (Island Peak) in the centre.
Further along the main Everest Base Camp trekking route, Thokla (4825m) is another place of a marvellous panorama. This is where many memorials for those who died climbing Everest are located.
Looking down-valley, among many other 6000m-plus high peaks, Malanphulan (6517m) might attract your attention. The mountain has been summited only a single time and its beautiful north face – seen from here – hasn't had any successful climbs despite a few attempts.
As we advance into the Khumbu Valley’s head along the Khumbu Glacier, Pumori (7161m) dominates the view on the left-hand side. On its way from this mountain towards Everest the main ridge of the Himalayas culminates at Lingtren (6749m) and Khumbutse (6636m), before dropping to Lho La (6006m).
Everest Base Camp
Below the Lho pass and Khumbutse, on the sharp Khumbu Glacier’s curve, the Everest Base Camp is located with hundreds of tents pitched here during spring climbing seasons.
And at the foot of Pumori there is a rocky culmination: Kala Patthar (5645m), considered to be one of the best Everest viewpoints available to non-climbers. This peak together with the Base Camp are the main aims for trekkers in the Everest region.
Those who have enough time and strength to visit both of the places may do so, but acclimatisation must be carefully considered. For these trekkers who need to choose, Kala Patthar is recommended as the view from here is much richer than that from the Base Camp.
Everest appears very quickly as we climb and the look down-valley along the Khumbu Glacier should satisfy most mountain lovers’ appetites. Only the very top, however, gives the chance to see the South Col and a tiny part of Lhotse among all the other mountains, glaciers, sharp ridges and rocky walls.
Views along the main route from Namche to the Everest Base Camp unfold only a tiny part of the region’s visual offer. If you want more, plan enough time and be ready for more walks.
There are numerous peaks accessible to trekkers, off the main route and near to it, worth an effort of a half-day or a day-long side-hike; the Gokyo Trek offers marvellous views on every stage, and the Three Passes Trek lets hikers discover Khumbu like no other route here.
Among the side-hikes, the one that begins at Pangboche and leads to the top of the moraine above the Ama Dablam Base Camp is one of my favourites. It is located on the route to high camps and the mountain’s summit, and is followed by climbers, but it is accessible to trekkers as reaching it doesn’t require any technical skills or equipment.
Walking there feels like getting into the heart of the mountains, as the high peaks are very near. Ama Dablam is just above with her arms stretching towards us, Malanphulan is just in front, showing its attractive north face. The beautiful Pumori of the upper Khumbu is occasionally seen from a distance and the familiar Kongde ridge does not fail to absorb attention.
However, the distant views towards the north are the main reason I like the place. Cho Oyu (8201m) is just right of Taboche but much further, with its long ridge gently declining to the right.
On its way it rises again to Tenzing Peak (earlier Ngozumpa Kang; 7916m) and a bit further to Hillary Peak (7681m) – both named to honour the first Everest summiters. Right of them is Gyachung Kang (7952m), the world’s 15th highest mountain and the highest below 8000m.
Further along the Everest Base Camp route Dingboche is another place worth extra time and attention. Once there, you do not need to climb high above the settlement towards the Nangkartshang Peak to see Makalu (8463m), the world’s sixth highest mountain.
However, it is the summit of Nangkartshang that would allow you to see a large part of the Makalu’s West Face – another big mountaineering challenge – and Kangchungtse (7678m; Makalu II) with the long ridge connecting the two summits.
Makalu was first climbed during the 1955 French Expedition (Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray) and it was the last of the Himalayan 8000s to be climbed in winter (2009; Simone Moro & Denis V. Urubko). Its West Face was tried by the Kurtyka-MacIntyre and Kukuczka-Kurtyka-MacIntyre teams in alpine style in the early 1980s and it was finally conquered in 1997 by a Russian team.
Nangkartshang has also superb views of the upper Imja Khola Valley with the popular so-called trekking peak of Imja Tse.
On the opposite side, Taboche and Cholatse (6440m) – more 6000ers located just above the trekking route to the Everest Base Camp – seem to be at your fingertips. The first of the two was solo-climbed by Ueli Steck in 4hr 30min from the base camp by a new route seen from here.
To the right of the two peaks a large part of the way to Cho La can be easily identified and examined. And behind the sharp mountain edges and peaks, towards the NW, is Cho Oyu – sixth of the 14 highest mountains on Earth.
Imja Khola Valley
The upper part of the Imja Khola Valley above Dingboche is an attraction itself. I personally like it more than the upper Khumbu above Lobuche. Thereare fewer trekkers here and that definitely helps to experience the serenity, wilderness and the power of nature. The valley seems to be a bit wider giving broader views.
On the other hand, Lhotse with its awe-inspiring face is nearer to Chukhung – the valley’s highest settlement – than any other 8000er is from its nearest settlement in Khumbu. Imja Tse (Island Peak) waits for those who are eager to taste some climbing and micro-scale mountaineering as well as are ready to pay for the trekking peak licence and fee to an agency, who would prepare the expedition.
Trekkers are free to walk towards the peak’s base camp and that is definitely worth doing for the feel of this austere landscape, but the climb of Chukhung Ri (5550m) is the real hikers’ highlight of the area. The ascent of the mountain is not technical and does not normally require any special equipment, although it is a bit more difficult than that of Kala Patthar. From the top views are stunning all around.
Everest is not seen, but who would care about it, looking at three other of the six highest mountains on Earth (Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu)! And one of them is so near, you could almost touch it! Imagine: the nearest point on the Nuptse-Lhotse Ridge is in distance of around 4.5km and about 2.2km above you! If you are well acclimatised, you could spend long time at Chukhung Ri enjoying the views and very likely, you would not see anyone else on the mountain, like we did during our trek a few years ago.
Chukhung is the base for those who follow the Three Passes Route and intend to cross Kongma La. Difficult and high (5535m), the pass is another fantastic viewpoint and there are numerous reasons to like it. Probably the best of them are the lakes located just below the pass, which make a fantastic addition to the view of the high mountains including Makalu, Kangchungtse and Chomo Lonzo (7804m).
The last of these peaks is located in Tibet and was first climbed in 1954 on the French expedition. The pass also has a good view towards the West, where Cho Oyu and Tenzing Peak are seen among others.
I’m not a big fan of the second of the three passes – Cho La (5370m). It is difficult and dangerous if covered with snow, but is probably the most popular of the three, as it joins the upper Khumbu Valley and Gokyo. It is liked by many for its interesting route, which includes a glacier crossing, but it has a less interesting panorama than the other two passes.
Renjo La (5415m), the last en-route of the Three Passes Trek, is my favourite, but before passing it we reach the beautiful Gokyo and usually climb marvellous Gokyo Ri. (It is possible to follow the Three Passes Trek in both direction. However, I strongly recommend the order of crossing the passes mentioned here and this is the direction the trek is described in my Everest trekking guidebook. Acclimatisation is the main reason for that.)
I’ve been atop of Gokyo Ri both at dawn and sunset. If the weather is clear, the setting sun shining with its warm rays at the highest mountain on Earth in one direction, together with Lhotse and Makalu, make an unforgettable image.
Similarly, climbing the top at dawn and watching the contours of these mountains backlit by the twilight first and the rising sun soon after, create an atmosphere that will probably be remembered forever by those who were lucky to be there. And besides that, three 8000ers and many lower mountains, Cho Oyo is also visible from Gokyo and Gokyo Ri.
Together with the recently named Tenzing and Hillary Peaks they are near now, as they close the valley in which Gokyo is located. And their slopes source the Ngozumpa Glacier – the longest in the Himalayas.
Renjo La has similar views towards the East to those seen from Gokyo Ri. From here however, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu are a backdrop to the Gokyo settlement, the lakes and the Ngozumpa Glacier – all located below you.
The other, western side of the pass offers views of the peaks belonging to the Rolwaling Himal. Melungtse (7181m), the highest in Rolwaling, was first climbed as late as 1992 by Slovenians (Marko Prezelj and Andrej Štremfelj) in alpine-style after earlier attempts on British expeditions led by Chris Bonington. The panorama of this one and other distant peaks seen on the western side of the Renjo Pass is completed by a picturesque Angladumba lake, located just at your feet.
As we follow the long journey down from Renjo La toward Namche Bazaar, the settlement of Thame is the usual place to overnight. It is the place where Tenzing Norgay used to live and it was here where Apa Sherpa, often called 'Super Sherpa', grew up. In 2000, he reached Everest for the 11th time, setting a new record. In the following years he climbed the mountain on numerous occasions, breaking his own record a number of times, setting it finally at 21 in 2011.
Currently, the highest number of climbs belongs to Kami Rita Sherpa, who is also from Thame. In May 2019 he reached the summit of Everest twice, setting his record at 24. Being at Thame, before night falls on a clear day, we watch wonderful vistas down the valley.
After completing the major part of the Three Passes Trek or the Gokyo-Renjo route, which I was lucky enough to do a couple of times, before getting back to Namche and the main trekking path towards Lukla, watching this view is a kind of farewell accompanied by dreams of a return the following season.
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