The Kongma La is the highest, longest and least used of the three high passes we hope to traverse on this trek. That’s a good thing, as our transit of it yesterday was the toughest day’s walk I can ever recall.
The walk did not start on an auspicious note. The braided stream that we had easily crossed the previous afternoon had partially frozen overnight, creating a swollen mix of ice, water and slippery rocks. Bruce did slip, soaking himself to the waist and doubling the weight of his boots. It took some time to wring out his socks and get underway again.
The climb to the pass was challenging, with the altitude, our packs and our less than outstanding physical condition slowing our progress to a crawl. There were two sections that are so steep and rocky that we were scrambling.
It took us five hours to reach the 5535 metre pass, a notch in a knife edge ridge. The views were spectacular, with 8,000 metre Lhotse so close you could almost touch it.
We were exhausted when we reached the pass, but the day’s work was far from over. We could clearly see our destination of Lobuche, but it took us another five hours to reach it. We first descended through a boulder field described by the guide as the toughest part of the hike, then steeply through softer material with hidden bits of ice.
Wobbly on our feet, we then faced the final obstacle, described by the guidebook as a sucker punch, a traverse of the kilometre wide Khumbu glacier. You can see little of the glacier’s ice, but there were hillocks of glacial till to be climbed and lakes to be walked around. When we reached the top of the lateral moraine at the other side of the glacier and found ourself looking at yet another large moraine, Matthew said “Oh, shit”. Fortunately, a few steps to the side revealed Lobuche only a half kilometre away.
Matthew and I walked for 9 1/2 hours yesterday, and when Bruce arrived a half hour later it was almost dark. We were all so tired we just gobbled a quick dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags at 7:00.