Enough about extracting surveillance photos from outlandish regions of the planet, let’s get back on the trail out of Khumjung. Most hikers will take the low road out of Namche and pass up the encounter with the Everest View Hotel and the village of Khumjung. I couldn’t say which is more challenging between the very steep route straight up, or the seemingly endless though more level trail out to the east and then north. That’s really a pointless topic to consider because you should just resign yourself to facing and overcoming never ending inclines anyway, especially the types that take you high up into the clouds, to soon slip down for a splash of the rushing river below, then back up. Regardless, once we get past Namche and Khumjung there is a nice rise up to Mong La, a brief break in the trail to sit down and gaze across the valley to Phortse. Mong La is at around 13,000 feet, and the trail down again to the river is 1,500 feet below. 1,500 feet up again on the other side brings you to the lower edge of Phortse village.
Another option though, if it’s not urgent to aim for Mt. Everest is to head north from Mong La to Machermo and Gokyo. I didn’t try that out myself, so I can’t tell you much of what to expect, but can tell by looking at my map that it involves a lot of up, up, up, as well as a bit of down, down, down. That trail parallels the flow of the Dudh Koshi and leads up to a rocky, cold, desolate glacial terrain similar to that of Lobuche. Back to Mong La. I remember this as being one of the most openly dangerous trails since we were climbing along sections that were quite narrow, steep, and open to steep drops. My map shows a lot of contour lines bunched close together, as well as the shift from verdant vegetation to the open landscape of dried grass and rocks with colorful colonies of lichen. Simply for the joy of reaching a high outlook point it is a pleasure to reach Mong La, to sit down on the edge of a stupa, and to look across to the terraced farmland of Phortse and to catch a glimpse of the grand Buddhist monastery at Thyangboche. The faint roar of the river and the healthy vegetation are soothing to take in, but it’s hard to enjoy the view once you realize the hiking ahead.
I know I’m a tenderfoot hiker if even now, months after the experience, I’m still whimpering over the trauma of a little physical challenge. I just remember the feeling I had at the end of that day as I made it across to Phortse, staggered up to the top of the village to reach Pema’s lodge, and having a clear view across the valley before the fog rolled in for the evening. I could clearly see Mong La and the arduous trail up behind it, then down, down, down to the river. I thought to myself, “Wow, I did that…! Ugh, why?!” It didn’t help to hear Pema smugly boasting how easy the walk was between Khumjung and Phortse, and then seeing our porters and the yaks tirelessly charging in behind us, certainly not complaining. Thanks to their determination, discipline, and respect for their homeland I felt an appreciation for the challenge and reward for walking from point A to point B that day. It was a beautiful view, and if I was just going to walk on flat ground what would be the point?clouds exercise hiking landscape