Aarthi, one of our close friends, accompanied us on the trek. The trio started off our mornings with an early trek. We’d eat whenever hunger pangs hit, indulging in chocolates and protein bars, all while staying hydrated with at least three liters of water. And, of course, we made the occasional pit stop for nature’s call. We crossed several waterfalls and hanging bridges along the way and happily greeted the locals who passed by. We soaked in the breathtaking scenery and enjoyed the amazing views it offered. We got acclimatized to the altitude and slept well at the tea houses. This was usually our daily routine while on the trail.
The first few days of the Everest Base Camp (EBC) and the three-pass trek went smoothly as per our plan. We enjoyed every day to the fullest. It started getting challenging right when we hit the Chhukung village, and the most difficult part was crossing the glaciers.
Our Glacier Crossing Experience
Khumbu Glacier Crossing
Reaching Chhukung & Hiking Chhukung Ri
On Day 6 of our trek, the 11th of September 2023, we reached Chhukung and did an acclimatization hike to Chukung Ri during the second half of the day. We arrived at the tea house to rest. We all knew that we had a long journey ahead of us the next day, crossing the Kongma La Pass and the Khumbu Glacier on the same day.
We ordered dinner and also lunch for the next day, as there were no villages en route in our journey. As the food was being prepared, we calculated the distance and time using maps.me for the next day. Our journey to Kongma La Pass was estimated at roughly 7 hours, while the descend and Khumbu Glacier crossing to reach Lobuche was approximately 3 hours. The challenge of the glacier and the underestimated crossing time led to unexpected twists in our adventure. Dive into the story to unravel the intriguing turn of events.
Hike To Kongma La Pass
The next day (Day 7), we had breakfast at 5:30 AM, packed our lunch, and started our hike at 6 AM sharp. The start of the hike was pretty flat, filled with amazing views of Ama Dablam, the most technical mountain in the Himalayas, Nuptse, Lhotse, and the other peaks. Surrounded by lush greenery, stream crossings, and the spell-binding view of the snow-capped mountains, we witnessed our journey. We spotted a distant waterfall that instantly transported us to the grounds of Iceland. The remoteness and the landscape further added to this.
Gradually, the trail slowly started to get steeper with more boulders and loose rocks. We had to take multiple water breaks in between and were able to maintain a steady pace of progress. A few meters ahead, we crossed a clear water lake and, immediately after, a marshy lake, which was far less pleasant and had us carefully watching our steps. We were tired and hungry by this time and required way more energy. We huddled behind a rock to ward off the cold winds and ate our lunch, plain tomato sauce pasta, hands down the best thing we had ever tasted.
A little further out the trail, we spotted a helipad at a height of 5400 m. The view only seemed to get better, like something out of a Pinterest image, with the mountains reflecting the shimmer of the alpine lakes on either side. Our last climb to reach the Kongma La pass was a steep ascend. The ground shuddering sound of falling rocks from the nearby mountains every ten minutes frightened us. We could hear them and see them happen in front of us. This made us climb much faster, and we finally reached the peak at noon.
And, well, no journey is complete without photographic evidence anymore, and we began our descent after clicking some lovely shots.
Descending & Reaching The Khumbu Glacier
Since we thought the descent would be easy, we were in for a rough surprise. It was filled with challenges in the form of steep terrain and loose rocks that gave away under our feet, prompting a split-second terror in the pits of our stomachs. Only the cairn stones, offline maps, and the visible trail served as our guide. We could spot the Khumbu glacier at a distance, but our journey seemed endless. A while later, the trail eased up. With the freshwater stream running down our left, our hike took a joyful vibe. We picked up our pace as time passed, and the mists started covering our paths.
Pretty soon, now looking back, we were on the ridge of the glacier overlooking the directions to Lobuche. We could see similar orange half-white flags en route and followed them. We frequently checked the route on our offline maps and could spot a flag near the glacier and one on the other. We hiked towards it and found that the stones kept for crossing the paths were all washed away since the water flow was high.
There existed no path beyond this point. Disheartened, we looked around to see other pathways. The constant sound of the melting glaciers, the occasional thud of rocks dropping, and the icy flowing stream made us anxious and trapped. This was the first time we had crossed a glacier, and the novelty hit us in full force.
At 5:00 PM, we still had a few hours of daylight left, but we hadn’t yet figured a way out. So many cairns (piles of stones) were lying around, some old and some new, making it difficult to find the right trail. We checked all the available maps, both online and offline, to locate the nearest shelter or campsite, but there were none. We considered going around the glacier, but with limited daylight hours left, we didn’t want to take the chance. We traced our way back to where we started, near the Lobuche-direction flag, climbed down to what looked like a valley that blocked the wind from two directions and looked for a place to settle in for the night.
The Real Challenges, The Good & The Bad
It was too late to go past the Kongma La or the Khumbu Glacier. We were struck between both places, with no network or help. And owing to the early September time, we could not find other hikers either. Camping in for the night was our only safe option. We checked on our food and water supply – a meager quantity of dates, some chocolates, mixed dry fruits and nuts, and a single bottle of water was all we had, in addition to a lack of proper camping gear like tents or sleeping bags.
We located a few boulders big enough to block the wind and decided to camp cowboy-style for the night. We layered ourselves with as many clothes as possible between the three of us and huddled close for body warmth. We prayed to the mountain gods, hoping it wouldn’t rain or no wild animal decided to make us its next supper.
Far too soon, it was night, and the terror of the dark and cold came with it. We tried to keep busy and discussed the probable routes we could take the next daybreak to cross the glacier.
However, the real terror began at eight, when we could hear the howling of animals, feeding into our imaginations, as neither of us could discern whether it was a dog, a fox, or a wolf. Maybe it came up to drink water by the stream we crossed during the Kongma La descent.
We stayed as still as humanely possible, barely even breathing. Two hours passed before the sounds started again. It was a frightening night with the sound of wilderness and the shudder of rocks tumbling down from the Khumbu Glaciers.
The skies were littered with faraway stars. Despite being 16240 feet above sea level (4950 m), the stars looked beautiful and bright. Nature truly is amazing, frightening, and astonishing simultaneously, making hope bloom in our chests.
Gradually, a veil of mist descended, making us worry if it would rain. With no shelter to shield us, the prospect of rain spelled doom, not to mention the plummeting temperatures were of no help. Nevertheless, we clung to our optimism, passing the night through a shivering vigil. At 4 AM, the haunting calls of wildlife resumed once more. As the morning broke, clearing the skies, we gazed at the stars one last time before the sun’s arrival.
Crossing The Khumbhu Glacier
On Day 8, the 13th of September 2023, the early beams of sunlight pierced the horizon, signaling the end of the long, cold night and the beginning of a new morning. We ate our little food, shed our layers, and stood up, heads high, prepared to face the challenge ahead.
We decided to hike towards the end of the glacier and take our exit from there. But when we reached the destination after an hour, we were surprised to find that the accumulated glacier water was flowing with full force down the valley.
We ran out of drinking water soon as the dry air makes you thirsty often. We had to detour over a long distance, traversing through the moraines, sands, loose rocks, and boulders. One of our challenges was the abrupt, steep ending of the moraines. Every time this happened, we had to retrace to get on a new track and proceed.
We were happy to find an alternative route where the stones were laid continuously. This made us think that we could cross the water, and we set sail towards this. We trod carefully, placing our feet on stones slowly and surely. We hiked another couple of hours after crossing the glacier water.
When we eventually descended, we were ecstatic to see people walking down the trail at a distance towards Lobuche. But first things first, we were parched and needed water. And let us tell you, there are absolutely no words to express how it felt to have the water run down our throats finally. It was funny how all that frozen water surrounded us, and yet it was useless to us. We filled out bottles, took a moment to sit down, and just breathe. We deserved that. After thirty hours, we could finally take our shoes off and peel off the two layers of socks that were stuck unpleasantly.
The quiet atmosphere, the relief of making it through, and the horses quieting grazing about made us think about the roller-coaster of an adventure we had on our first high-altitude trek and crossing the glacier. Waves of gratitude washed over each of us.
We finally reached Lobuche, freshened up, had lunch, and what a hot, delicious treat that was, and rested for the day. We were so completely knocked out and slept like babies.
Later, we continued our journey to the Everest Base Camp and the rest of the three passes trek.
Ngozumpa Glacier Crossing
The Ngozumpa Glacier crossing near the Cho La Pass was equally challenging owing to its long distance, about 3 kilometers. When we enquired with the guides and locals, they told us that crossing the glacier post noon is challenging as the mist affects the visibility. After what we’d been through, we were not ready to take the risk a second time so soon and opted to stay at Dragnag after crossing the Cho La Pass. We decided to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier the next day.
After the experience of a grueling and indescribable experience in our stint of crossing the glacier, we wisely went with hiring a local to aid us in crossing the glacier. We were behind our initial schedule and running out of time by this point.
Hiring a local was a smart decision, as the trail they led us on differed from the ones on the lap. The locals and guides, it turns out, were familiar with the routes, no wonder, and we faced no problems in safely crossing the glacier.
Ngozumpa Glacier is the largest glacier in the Himalayas, and the probability of getting lost is high, especially if you are trekking off-season. We highly recommend you hire a local to cross the glacier because safety always, and we cannot stress this enough, always comes first. If you’re trekking during the peak season, you might want to get help from the people on the trail, but take only calculated risks.
This guide just reminds us that nature is a beautiful but deadly force. And it is our responsibility to equip ourselves with the right knowledge to overcome challenges before we venture out into the wild.
If you’re doing the three passes trek, plan well by referring to our other guides. If you have any queries or need help, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or drop a comment below. We’re always happy to guide you! 🙂