Our Favorite Places on Earth: Khumbu, Nepal
A trekking trip becomes a pilgrimage for one mountain lover.
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Mountains have always captivated me. From my childhood spent traipsing through the Adirondacks to my current explorations in the Rockies, I’ve sought them out. I’m drawn to their beauty which can be both impassive and tempestuous, the challenge of climbing them, their reward of summit views. More than any other environment (except maybe the ocean, but I’m not a water person) they seem unbowed to the will of humans: We can make it to the top, but they’ll always call the shots.
For the mountain-lover, there’s no place more jaw-dropping than the Himalaya. Take the tallest, wildest peaks you’ve ever seen, then double them in height. My travel M.O. is usually to explore a new destination on every trip, but I’ll go back to Nepal as many times as I can.
My most recent trek there was in May of 2018. Previously I’d only traveled solo in Nepal, but this time I went with a longtime friend; I was geeked on the idea of sharing the experience with someone else. After an initial reality check (“Wait, is this what it’s going to be like every day?” my friend asked on the first uphill of our two-week hike) we started our grunt towards the Gokyo Lakes, a string of turquoise tarns nestled among glacial moraines at 15,000 feet.
The best characteristic of the Himalaya is how dynamic its terrain seems as you trek among it. The Khumbu region’s precipitous valleys and the sheer size of its peaks—a “small” mountain here rears 20,000 feet into the sky—means that every bend of the trail acquaints you with a new angle from which to gawk at the snowbound heights above. By the time you’ve spent a week or so in the area, all the mountains seem like old friends: You’ve admired them from all sides, under clear skies and wreathed in clouds, and despite their intimidating heights they project comforting familiarity.
On our final day in the Gokyo area, we set out north along a moraine. The massive, 22-mile-long Ngozumpa Glacier stretched off to the west and the sharp, canted summits of Cholatse and Thamserku watched over us from the south. Ahead rose the massive south wall of Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak on earth. As we made our way up the trail the blinding white face grew with every step, until it filled our view ahead. It was impossible to look away, but then again who would want to?
Finally, we reached a destination for the day: A viewpoint out over the Ngozumpa. Everest lorded over the scene to the east, snow blowing of its summit. All around us, peaks coruscated beneath the cloudless sky. The way there hadn’t been easy. But just like every time before, it was worth it.