My Near-Death Experience on Cho La Pass (5420m)

During 2018 I embarked on a trek to Everest Base Camp during offseason. I’d been excited for so long as it had been at the height of my bucket list. I had been put in contact with a friend of a friend who was a ‘guide’ to take us on tour of Everest. What you need to realise is when you visit Nepal everyone and anyone is a guide. However, that matter is for another post.

Gokyo

I didn’t just want to trek to Everest Base Camp, I wanted to visit Gokyo. Because of this, it turned into a 15-day trek making me reach Gokyo on day four. Unfortunately, we had ascended to Gokyo very quick and the altitude had gotten the better of me.

Giving me little hope in February the whole area was desolate with only one tea house open. There I scrambled with all of my belongings to my room. It was -15 degrees and no matter how much hot water I consumed to keep me hydrated it froze over in just a few hours.

Altitude Began to take effect

I had to take a furthers days rest at Gokyo as I felt extremely ill. It looked like we had ascended too quickly the day prior to getting to our destination. At this point, it was so cold I looked at the thermometer in the teahouse and it was minus 15 degrees!

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My heartbeat was thumping heavily so much I could hear it pulsing in my ears, even my head was pulsing and aching. Likewise, I kept feeling faint and my anxiety surged so much I literally thought I was about to die. Whilst trekking I depended on wifi cards as there was no mobile phone reception.

Dying Wishes to loved ones

However, due to the weather and the demand for cards, the amount available was scarce. Luckily I managed to get a 250mb wifi card which allowed me to distribute voice and WhatsApp messages to my loved ones. The worst thing was, only a small portion of them was sent. As the weather was so cold the nearest telecom tower froze over due to the ice.

Over the following day, I managed to adapt. However, it was not on our side as there were heavy hail and snowstorm. Which trapped us for another day. Whilst we were stuck there we encountered some trekkers who came the proposed way we intended.

Words of Wisdom

They warned us about the danger of the route and that there was a glacier. We all thought “A glacier? Noooo, let’s not take the risk.” Until my guide, the next day decided to proceed that direction.

Luckily it was an easy day of trekking for me as it was only four hours through the snow. Until we reached Dragnag the bottom of Chola Pass. That day we had to prepare for an early night at 5 pm. As we were to set off from Dragnag at 3 AM to climb the mighty 5420 metre Chola Pass.

Bathroom Troubles

What no one told me about trekking at high altitude is how many times you will need to use the bathroom. That evening I must have gone about six times. Even better there was no power, I nearly faceplanted due to the ice and the toilet had frozen over! Just imagine a single bathroom shared by twelve people and frozen water inside the toilet. It’s safe to say the bathroom floor was covered. It was not pleasant…

Climbing Cho La Pass

Begining of the pass.

After my toilet trips I probably had about three hours sleep and then the next thing I know I was up ready to begin the trek. It was a day full of hiking and we intended to reach the top of the pass after around six hours of trekking.

However, we were all unsure if we were going to make it on time. On the pass, I blacked out and nearly passed out. My 16kg rucksack caught me from behind saving my head from being cracked open on a ginormous rock. My friend then offered to carry mine in addition to his meaning he was carrying of 30kg on his back. His words were “guys we have no time to get stuck on this pass as the weather is that bad.”

This gave us a hint that we needed to get a move on and make it to the top as the weather was getting dangerous… So after a couple more hours, we reached the top. “Hurray I thought, we can now rest.”

So, I sat myself down on the top of Chola Pass about to demolish my energy bar. Then I heard a fellow trekker said to me

“Alex, you have no time to eat. We need to get down, the worse is yet to come.”

It wasn’t until then, I looked down and noticed a whopping dangerous glacier we had yet to conquer. Thankfully, we managed to purchase crampons from previous trekkers. They were our saviour as otherwise, we couldn’t make it down the glacier.

Down Climbing Cho La Pass

It wasn’t until then I noticed my guide display a tremendous amount of fear in his eyes making me pray for my life. He began to descend first and told us to climb down sideways one at a time. There I was trembling, watching my breath before I took those dreaded kicks into the ice.

Crunch crunch crunch the ice crumbled at my feet.

I began to kick harder into the ice. One foot sunk in and the second slipped. I slid down the glacier. Luckily my guide managed to grab me. I regained my balance.

From there, I managed to get my flow and slowly descend down the glacier. No other humans in sight apart from the three of us. After a further two hours, we managed to get down.

We had all survived. Then we had to endure a further four hours of trekking. That day we did over 11 hours of trekking to get to our teahouse for the night. Even though I had a near-death experience climbing Cho La Pass little did I know, over the next few days the worst of my trek was yet to come. All will be revealed later…

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