The ascent to the Goecha La Pass has a multifaceted meaning for me – on the one hand the experience of nature in the middle of the mountain landscape, so to speak a holiday before the big run. Or to look at the easternmost of the 8.000m peaks (Kandzenchunga – 8.586m) from the east and to get an ideal preparation for upcoming challenges. In any case, there is still an open bill to be settled: The first attempt 5 years ago had failed due to the ignorance of the guide at that time, who was simply too lazy and with flimsy excuses had only led the group up to about half of the distance to Dzongri.
The Goecha La Trek is the tourist trekking highlight of Sikkim and by Indian standards excellently organized. It leads from Yuksom through the Kandchenjunga National Park up to the foot of it, a permit is required and it is not allowed to enter by foreigners without a local guide. The second half of the route to Goecha La Pass at 4900m is free of infrastructure – this means self-sufficiency and therefore with all the services – the mountain guides, porters and yak caravans – it is the economic lifeline of West Sikkim.
Sporty the first challenge
It was eight days of hiking, whereas 6 days would be enough for this trek. Provided you are sufficiently acclimatized.
The first day was cruel.
From Yuksom at an altitude of about 1700m we walk 17 km at 2900m to Tshoka, one of the last Tibetan settlements in Sikkim. Sounds not so bad. Nominally it’s 1200m altitude difference – but in reality it’s 1700m, because the first 4-5 hours you oscillate with a slight upward tendency. A rising up and down, which wears you down. Until at the end you have to climb another 800m in height – subjectively perceived as vertical – but in any case very steep. So only up, no more down. This is also exhausting.
3 Malaysian marathon runners and I started on 11.4. at 8:30 a.m. as a group for the next 8 days – they were intelligent enough to load their luggage on Dzo’s (Yak’s), while on my back about 30 kg were hanging tightly and securely strapped (some not needed things for this tour like laptop, crampons, etc. stayed in Yuksom). If preparation, then at least under halfway authentic condit
My Asian mountain partners took a pretty sporty approach, sprinting right at the start as if it were a championship.
Somehow understandable – they were in the mountains for the first time ever, so the horses can get to you. As an ambitious herd animal, I was of course at the back, but with the load on my back, this meant that the rev counter hit the red zone from 2 minutes on. Basically a quite unfavourable starting position when it comes to a longer endurance performance.
After the first hour my competitors were out of sight and the red lantern was with me. By the way, this was also the time when my water supply for the day ran out – you can do without food anyway with such an effort.
Unfortunately I had eaten a Thukpa (a Tibetan noodle soup) two days before, which limited my radius of action on the day before the trek to only 20m around the next toilet and made sure that almost all electrolytes ever present left the body involuntarily but quickly.
Just in time for the last big ascent I was ready – it started to rain and cramps in my thighs started. On the one hand the lack of electrolytes and on the other hand a crash course in muscle build-up – caused by stone steps with 20-30 cm higher step heights than in the preparation – ensure that the cramps continue for the next 4 hours until the finish. Together with the rain of course. A picture-book start – everything that doesn’t go wrong by itself is consistently spanked by its own misconduct.
But nevertheless, after 8,5 hrs, arrived in Tshoka and with still trembling thighs, looking down into the cloudy valley, the last hours are immediately forgotten. The positive feeling to finally be on top is by far stronger than the memory of the previous efforts. Although this was the first, at the same time quite extreme day, similar, probably even harder consequences will surely follow.
It was clear to me at that moment that this tour needs a motto, a motto. A “spinning wheel” that lets you hold out or push forward when things get tough. For the time being, I have found one that best reflects this day and probably also the expectations for the coming weeks:
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
If someone finds a more suitable suggestion, please immediately reach into the keyboard and write a comment. I am happy about every message.
The further ascents from the second day on went better. Sufficient electrolytes and rest periods gave enough power to complete the further ascents with decency. From an altitude of 4000m the air gets thinner, breathing and legs get heavier. Only the gravity does not decrease noticeably – unfortunately. 30 Kg remain 30 Kg.
Daily clouds are gathering in the early afternoon and depending on the altitude it starts to rain or snow. This is a circumstance you have to be prepared for – i.e. getting up at about 5 o’clock in the morning and then leaving at about 7 o’clock. On tours to special viewpoints (Dzongri Hill and Goecha La) it gets even earlier, around 3 o’clock. There you should be at the respective summit at sunrise. At that time the air is clearest and the view is most beautiful.
A highlight was certainly the trip to Dzongri La, because to get a box seat at the 1st Open-Air Zipfl-ääh-Gipfl-Fest on this pass is something very special. Especially because this event will probably remain unique.
The basic travel destination of my 3 Malaysian mountain witches was not the much quoted Confucian way, but was clearly the snow. With 27° in the South East Asian winter rather sparsely in free nature to find, they had to go only far ways around him also really find. In wonderful sunshine at 4400m above sea level and surrounded by white splendour, it was all about each of the three – the gentlemen sought contact. Intensive, sensual and in a kind of kinaesthetic sensory intoxication of course completely and completely (physically).
But in the evening in the domestic tent it was over with fun. Collective gnashing of teeth was on the programme again – and at a volume that would make any stork in Burgenland green with envy. As over-motivated as the three gentlemen were about their childish snow games, they were correspondingly careless in their choice of equipment. Namely, as if they were going to a rainy children’s camping in the city park of Kuala Lumpur. Umbrella, a sturdy rain jacket, running shoes and a summer sleeping bag were uniform high mountain standard. With nightly outside temperatures of -8° to -10° a certainly hearty experience.
The ascent to the Goecha La was then (purely by chance) for ego-polishing. Not that I need it, but it is good in between. At 3:30 in the morning we left together from the tent camp on a starry night towards the pass. This time I was the first day without luggage only with photo equipment and after I had the feeling that my mountain friends were dawdling a little, I grabbed one of the two guides and picked up the pace a little.
The reason was actually the fear that the weather might change and I would reach the viewpoint overcast and without a view of Kandzchenjunga. In the end, I took more than an hour off their hands, the men’s competitors – and after an extensive photo session I was already on my way back when they met me on the way up. The positive thing I noticed afterwards was that it was no longer necessary to constantly compare the times of who had taken how long for which section of the course.
One of the three had fallen behind completely – he had worn out running shoes, i.e. the grip had come off him. Therefore he wanted to climb the pass with his leather-soled (street) shoes first. Fortunately we could talk him out of it. As an alternative, he borrowed his bright yellow rubber boots from the Dzo-man (yak guide) for the ascent for a hefty tip. Admirable and at the same time a self-flagellation of the special class – to climb with thin, not reinforced rubber soles over 8h through icy cold and snow, sharp and sharp rock edges to a sea level of approx. 4.900m.
The days until the return to Yuksom were completely relaxed, in the daily routine of getting up, eating and walking. The mood in the group was excellent, the team (guide, porter, dzo-man) was satisfied because they had received enough tips on the last evening.
The 3 Malays had received a cake because it was their first time on a pass of this height.
I was happy to be back in the valley, with a number of new insights for the rest of the tour and finally also to have the Kandzchenjunga in its full size seen from the east from Goecha La. Now I continue by jeep to Darjeeling (West Bengal) and from there as soon as possible to Kathmandu to organize the necessary permits for Nepal.