Day 8 is when SHIZ GOT REAL, with the trek over Renjo La Pass. The the top of the pass was the highest point on our trek (along with Gokyo Ri – same height), at 17,585 feet!
Day 8: Gokyo to Renjo La Pass to Lumde
- Distance: about 13 km / 8.1 miles
- Starting Elevation: 4790 m / 15,715 ft
- Elevation at top of the pass: 5360 m / 17,585 ft
- Ending Elevation: 4368 m / 14,331 ft
- Net Elevation Gain/Loss: gain of 570 m / 1870 ft to top of the pass, then loss of 992 m / 3255 ft to Lumde
- Time: LITERALLY FOREVER (almost 8 hours)
The day I was dreading had finally come – the hike over Renjo La Pass. I was having flashbacks of Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit, recalling dragging my feet like a slug, nauseated, exhausted, and frozen (SPOILER ALERT: RENJO LA WAS VERY SIMILAR! AHAHAHA ::CRIES::).
The ascent to the pass can generally be broken up into three parts: The start of the day is relatively flat for about 45 minutes. Then there is a steep uphill section that takes about an hour. The last bit is more “rolling” in elevation, and the final ~100 feet transitions into steep switchbacks.
Right out the gate on the flat-ish section I was already slower than the others, and Sudip mentioned a few days later that he had been concerned already about my pace (THANKS, SUDIP). At any rate, we trudged on, slowly heading towards the start of the real uphill climbing. When we got to the steep uphill part, the terrain was a bit rougher, comprised mostly of sandy scree and boulders. I slowed to basically a “mountaineering pace”, huffing and puffing and pausing with each step! I somehow made okay time on this section, stopping once we reached a plateau to admire the view. The weather was holding and I could see an unobstructed view of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, and a bunch of other mountains whose names I don’t know. We also saw a FREAKIN’ PIKA, which I unfortunately failed to get even a semi-decent picture of.
At this point the wind was blowing and the temperature dropping, and everyone bundled up good. I had every layer of clothing on, including my giant Rab down jacket, but wasn’t walking fast enough to stay warm. I was super thankful for Kim’s low oxygen chemical warmers, which actually surprisingly worked at high altitude!!! As we resumed walking on the “rolling hills” section, I started feeling nauseated and my spirits sank… it was happening again! Based on a handful of experiences at this altitude, it seems that around 17,000 ft I hit an “altitude wall”, after which my body is even more unhappy than usual and begins rebelling.
Feeling increasingly nauseated and about 10 times more sluggish than usual, I plodded along miserably, while Kim and Glenn plowed ahead and widened the gap between us. Sudip took my backpack at one point, though I can’t say it was super helpful, since the decrease in weight didn’t add any more oxygen to the air 😦 😦 😦 .
Frequently breaking and stopping to suck in air, the last section of trail to the top of the pass probably took twice as long as it would have if the person hiking it wasn’t me. I was feeling really defeated, y’all. Even though I wasn’t that far from the top, it seemed so impossibly far away, especially at the pace I was moving. I pushed forward because there was no other option. I made it up the final few switchbacks torturously slowly, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath no matter how long I stood still.
Somehow, the prayer flags indicating the top of the pass appeared around the corner, and I pretty much collapsed at the top. Everyone else got there way before me, enjoying the views from the cooperative and patient weather, which was still holding! Some quick snacks were eaten and many pictures taken, but it was very cold and windy at the top and everyone was keen to drop down the other side of the pass.
The beginning of the descent down the other side of the pass was rapid and quite steep! The terrain was rugged with a mix of scree and large boulders. Feeling tired but recovering slightly with every step down, my pace recovered to semi-respectable. Huzzah!
Everyone agreed that the very long descent from Renjo La Pass to Lumde had some of the best scenery on the entire trek. There were (different) mountains! There were glaciers! There were rivers! There were lakes and rolling hills! We had it all! While I was certainly enjoying the views, I was also quite nervous about our teahouse accommodations for the evening, as Sudip warned that all of the teahouses in Lumde might be closed since it was the off-season. If this were the case, we would have to walk an additional 2 or 3 hours to Thame! Feeling quite tired already and very much NOT wanting to walk an additional 2+ hours, I prayed to whatever deity might listen, hoping a lodge in Lumde decided to stay open through the cold winter months!
As we got closer to Lumde the clouds descended, shrouding us in a fog and making our arrival in Lumde all the more suspenseful. Pasang and Prakesh had hiked ahead of us and were nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad sign. We walked through the eerily quiet town past shut-up lodges and empty fields with creepy scarecrows. We reached the last lodge in town… this was our last option! WAS IT OPEN!?!?
Pasang appeared around a corner sans giant backpack. “IS IT OPEN!?!?” I sputtered deliriously. He smiled and said yes and I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER BEEN HAPPIER IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, Y’ALL. We all collapsed into the lodge, SOOOOOO thankful we didn’t have to walk any more! Glenn immediately fell asleep on the dining benches while the rest of us scarfed down tea and snacks. There was only one other lodge occupant that evening, a brit named Colin who had crossed over the pass with us – a very friendly fellow (fun fact – Colin had CAMPED in Gokyo the night it was -20°F …NO THANKS!!!).
We spent the evening in the lodge dining room, sitting as motionless as possible while scarfing down luxurious foods like popcorn and apple pie. LIFE WAS GOOD. And I decided I was retiring from high altitude trekking 🙂 .
PS – Of the three Everest region passes, Renjo La, Cho La, and Kongma La, Sudip said Renjo La is the easiest. WOMP WOMP.