The following day we left our lodge in Gorek Shep for the 5550 meter peak of Kala Patthar, the famous viewpoint right outside the village. It was only a 200 meter ascent and somehow we lucked out again in missing the usual hordes of people who flock to the summit every day. During the first stages of the breathless ascent several Tibetan snowcocks whizzed right over our heads at terrific speeds, looking and sounding somewhat like small missiles cutting through the air on their way down the mountainside. Several times during our ascent the silence was broken by low rumbling sounds. I looked eastward across the Khumbu Valley to see small avalanches making their way down the slopes of Nuptse. To my bewilderment Emily could hear the alpine disturbances but couldn’t see them to save her life. Finally, close to the summit of Kala Patthar we both looked on as an enormous chunk of ice and snow broke off a high slope on Nuptse and thundered downwards, the rapid descent terminating after a sheer vertical drop several hundred feet down a cliff. Soon after we made it to the summit where the blazing sun had taken the morning chill out of the air. With only a few other trekkers, we took in unobstructed views of Everest to the east, Base Camp and a couple of bright blue lakes below us, and the distinctive Ama Dablam and Khumbu Glacier to the south. Behind us to the west a vast debris covered glacier dotted with yaks stretched away toward the Gokyo Valley, while the pink-hued Pumo Ri towered over us a stone’s throw to the northwest. A few bright red little birds started landing among the prayer flags, making for some good photo opportunities.
After a half hour or so soaking in the views at the so called top of the world we made our way down, past Gorek Shep and Lobuche, bearing right toward the Dzongla valley at a fork in the trail. Making our way along the trail was almost hypnotic, as it was cut in a roughly horizontal manner across the brown alpine slope; a trail characteristic we had become quite unfamiliar with in the last few weeks. We could follow the trail with our eyes running flat for kilometers ahead of us and behind along the hillside. Eventually it wrapped westward around the hill above a mesmerizingly blue glacial lake. A vertical rock wall emerged straight out of the southern edge of the lake, soaring skyward several hundred meters to form part of the dark mountain ridge that marched downward from above Dzongla all the way to Dingboche. From here we could see a huge portion of the valley below us through which we had ascended several days before. From our lofty viewpoint Dingboche and Periche, connected by sections of trail, looked just as they did on the map, albeit on a much more massive scale. By that time it was late in the afternoon and we had to hurry to beat sundown.