August 2002
Nangpa La
A Monsoon Trek to the Tibetan Border

In the summer of 2002, Dana and I returned to Nepal for some unfinished business with the Public Interest Law Firm at Pro Public and a monsoon season trek to Nangpa La. Our son Darby and his friend Sabrina joined us for the trek, as did Monkey Pete, by special request of his person Susan Bennerstrom. See note. If you look carefully, you will see Monkey Pete in several of the pictures.

We were issued Nangpa La trekking permits #1 through #4, the first permits given to westerners to trek to the pass separating Nepal and Tibet at the head of the Nangpa Glacier. This ancient trade route is thought to be the point of entry for the Sherpa people when they entered Nepal some 500 years ago.

The short runway at Lukla (9,317 feet) tilts sharply upward for landings to help planes stop before they run into a mountain. (The downward slope for takeoffs launches planes into the deep valley, even if the engines stop.) From Lukla we started walking north on the main trekking route to Everest. Even in the high Himalayas, you meet people on the trail with an attitude. (1)

We stopped in our guide Kamiís home village of Ghat for an acclimatization hike up to the Lumding Danda (Ridge), a party with Sherpa dancing and a visit with Kamiís special lama. (2) We were also lucky to meet a beautiful 82 year-old villager with close kinship to the Hobbits of the Shire. (3) From Lumding Danda we could see Everest (8848 meters) and its sister peak Lhotse (8501 meters). (4) After bright mornings, we walked in afternoon clouds. (5)

North of Namche Bazaar, we forked to the left and walked up the Dudh Koshi River Valley toward Gokyo. A herd of yaks thundering down the valley were brought to a halt by the yak herder with a promise of salt. The lead yak gave Monkey Pete a ride. (6) Taujun Tsho (Lake) near Gokyo reflected the changing light of the monsoon clouds. (7) Early in the morning some of us accompanied Monkey Pete to find prayer flags on Gokyo Peak (17,988 feet). (8) 8153 meter Cho Oyu looms over Gokyo. (9)

From Gokyo, we headed west toward 17,519-foot Renjo Pass. Even with porters carrying our loads, passage looked impossible. (10) But we made it, and in celebration, Kami held high Monkey Pete. (11) From our camp on the other side, Renjo Pass still looked impossible. (12)

The Jacks with the rock strewn Nangpa Glacier in the background. (13) The monsoons create dramatic scenes in the mountains. (14) and (15) Tibetan traders stop for tea at our 18,300-foot high camp beside the Nangpa Glacier, the last flat land before the pass. (16) and (17)

Heading down the Bhote Koshi River Valley, some of our porters warm their hands in a Sherpa house south of the seasonal village of Thokchambo. (18) Further down the valley we stopped in the village of Thame, which marks the boundary of the special permit trekking area. The lama at the Thame Gompa welcomed us. (19) We spent the night in a small guest house owned by Apa Sherpa. Stacked in a corner were twelve bulky sleeping bags, souvenirs of his twelve successful assents of Everest. (20) and (21) Rolex sponsored his twelfth climb in 2002 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a very nearly successful French climb of Everest the year before Hillary. A clunky gold Rolex watch dangled from Apaís wrist. As proof that time doesn't matter so much in a 12,500-foot Himalayan village, the watch was off by 6 hours and 11 days.

We joined nuns for a small part of a several day puja (worship service) at the Kari Choling Nunnery. (22) One of the nuns tries to help Dana with the complex finger configuration that is part of the puja. (23)

Nearing Lukla, we stopped at the small Rangdok Samden Chole Ghompa embedded in a rock cliff above Chheplung. (24) and (25) The keeper of the gompa, a nearby farmer, was as beautiful as the gompa. (26)

Our plane successfully launched from Lukla as our journey started home.

Note: Susan just said that Monkey Pete wanted to go on a trip to Nepal, so we took him. There was no purpose behind it. But Monkey Pete turned out to be a fun focus of interaction. Probably the reason he worked as a focal point point for interaction is that people in Nepal don't think to much about "why" questions. That is a western bias. Top of page.