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May 5th
Gokyo-Thame
Distance: 13mi/21km* (mileages likely +10% underestimated)
Trip Total: ~270.5mi/435km
Teahouse Elevation: 12,533ft/3820m

We got our regular 6am start so that we could a) hopefully make it over Renjo La Pass before clouds come in to see the view, and b) make it to Thame in plenty of time to meet up with our hoped guides for the intimidating pass of Tashi Labsta. It was a great clear morning. Not as cold as yesterday which was below freezing. Our jackets came off surprisingly early. Somehow, in the first 45mins, Buck-30 lost his sunglasses! It wasn’t me! He walked back a bit, but no luck. He will need to have a pair for Tashi Labsta for sure, so he figured he’d just ask around the villages today and at Thame tonight until someone is willing to sell him a used pair.

The hike up to Renjo La was straightforward with a clear path and then tight switchbacks toward the top. It is said by many to be the best pass of the Three Passes Trek. I agree, it was a great one!

We leapfrogged with a young group of porters for a pretty good sized trekking group it seemed. They had yellow uniforms that looked very hot and like they should be in a science lab. The route got pretty steep in this section.

As we climbed, Mt Everest came into view behind us. Buck-30 was glad he didn’t go out of his way to do Gokyo Ri, which I did yesterday, since it was almost the same view today. I agree, that if you’re strapped for time or energy, it’s a lot of the same view. However, I was appreciative of my experience on my own yesterday and doing Gokyo Ri as a side trip without a full pack. It gave me a chance to just take it in in a less strained and rushed manner. I would just forewarn anyone on the fence that it’s a lot of effort for almost the same view.

We got to the top of the pass while it was still clear, yay! Buck-30 has fully recovered from being terribly sick the other day, and wasn’t phased by the altitude. I was in sloth motion, but made it up. Renjo La is our highest point yet, 17,585ft/5360m. The young porters were really cute. They were taking more photos of one another than the actual tourists. It is a pretty cool spot, I have to agree.

The first mile or so of the backside of the pass was snow covered steps. It was soft enough not to need traction devices, but exposed enough to make your head spin a bit.

We had a long gradual descent of 5,000ft/1524m the rest of the day down to our destination of Thame. We’d heard this descent was a really enjoyable one, and it was. The path was quite possibly the most extended cruise we’ve had the whole hike. As a bonus, the day stayed amazingly clear. It really doesn’t get much better.

We stopped at a village for lunch, and then continued the cruise down. It was quite cold and windy despite the sun and clearer skies, but still really enjoyable.

Some low clouds moved in and we dropped below them as we neared Thame. We hiked with a young Israeli couple the last hour, which really helped to pass the time. I think that’s the most we’ve overlapped with anyone while hiking the whole trip. We arrived in Thame at 2:30pm. We were glad to get there early as we had arranged to meet our guides for Tashi Labsta at the Everest Summiter Lodge at 4pm.

Just as a precursor to the following long story, arranging a guide for Tashi Labsta while doing the GHT is notoriously difficult. We don’t know of anyone who had success. It is a pass that can be done without a guide, and those with more technical experience have done it on their own, but not without difficulty. We had all the beta we could possibly get, and knew the crux of it was the backside. This is why we’ve been carrying the ice axe and crampons this past month. Snow, ice, and falling rock are to be expected. There are sections where anchors have been placed to use ropes. I knew there was no way I’d be going over without a guide that was experienced and knew the pass.

The problem is that finding someone experienced enough to do it in the height of the trekking season is really difficult. Any really qualified guide is likely on a more lucrative and less dangerous expedition. The pair of GHT hikers ahead of us by a week or so couldn’t arrange a guide, and ended up having to detour down to the low route to go around the pass. We know that last year, at this very same lodge, a trio of GHTers paid a guide $500 up front to take them over, only to be left alone to fend for themselves when the guide unexpectedly turned back early before getting them past the danger zone. Let’s just say we entered this negotiation with our possible guide(s) very apprehensive and bracing for it to fall through. Still, we held out hope and decided to give it a shot.

Since Buck-30 and Griggs had been sick, we messaged (through my inReach satellite messenger) the contacts for the guide(s) two days ago to ask if we could push back a day. The response was that it wouldn’t be a problem. Our random arrangement was a shot in the dark. While in Namche 5 days ago, we got desperate and just called random guide companies in Kathmandu. One responded saying that some guys could come that happened to be in Lukla just finishing an Everest Base Camp trek with another group. What was odd, but not too out of the ordinary, was that I was then called by a man claiming to be our guide’s brother and acting as a translator. He told us his brother had not done Tashi Labsta, but that there was a man he knew that had. The two of them would come and guide us over for $500, but since they were coming off another trek, they needed us to rent the gear in Thame (a tiny village). Still skeptical of the whole thing, including the availability of gear, we had no other options pan out, and just decided to see this one through.

The guides apparently arrived a day ahead of us possibly not getting the message of our delayed arrival. For some reason, they were staying a village away. They arrived at the teahouse with a third man who had a strong physical presence that was quite evident. None of them knew much English, so for two hours, we had an awkward combination of loose translation through the teahouse owner (who presumably is the same one to arrange the unreliable guide that left the trio last season high and dry) and then satellite calls with the brother who spoke English. The brother on the phone was the main negotiator. Somehow, the price was now $800 (we were a day late and they claimed to have not heard of the main man from the guide company I had cleared our timing with) and now the guides were not returning to Thame, but wanting to hike through to Kathmandu, so we needed to BUY them their gear. WTF!?

The teahouse owner had a tent and rope we never saw that they were wanting us to full out buy. Also, the men had no ice axes, crampons, or screws needed for the rope. Somehow this stuff was to magically appear in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village for us to buy. We got the price down to $700 including all gear (that now would be “rented” and hiked back to Thame once over the pass) and food, but the men were firm we were to pay upfront tonight….seeing no gear, just men claiming to be guides and staying a village away from us. Two hours of this, I kid you not. Passing a satellite phone from person to person to negotiate with the one English speaking mediator that was quite demanding. He told us this was high season and that this was Everest Region and that’s just how it is. Their body language was not friendly as they stood far away and would not make any sort of kind gesture or eye contact. They did not look like any kind of professional guide we’ve seen thus far. How was I supposed to trust these guys with my life if I couldn’t even trust them to return in the morning? Both of us had stomach aches.

Was this all just cultural difference? Were they really qualified and trying to work with us or trying to scam us? We openly told them we’d show them the cash and that we wouldn’t be ripping them off. We outright said we needed less than 48hrs of their time and that it was a more than fair price we knew. Could we trust them? We were really doubting that. However, this was our only option. We couldn’t advance without a guide. I absolutely wouldn’t.

We held firm that no money would be given until they arrived in the morning with all the gear ready to go. Then half the money would be given as we set off and the other half once we were safely over and out of the danger zone. They didn’t like that at all. Then they had one final conference and changed their mind on how far they’d take us. They wanted to turn around before we were out of the danger zone just like the guide did for the trio last season! Absolutely not. Negotiations were over and we said we were done. Another guide was at the teahouse who made us feel better about our decision that these were not men we felt we could trust. They left, and we went over our options. There was no way to find a guide, the pass was not an option. We counted up the miles for the low route option around. It was doable, but would be really unenjoyable, and likely would push us out of our schedule to finish before monsoon season.

The low route was not what we came here to do. We agreed that we’d rather break the hike than walk what we don’t want to walk just to say we did. We’ve both done enough thru-hiking to be confident in our abilities and have no need to prove anything. That’s not where our motivations lie regardless of how many are following or watching. In the end, it’s our trip, our “vacation”, and we are the ones out here doing the walking. We are the ones in discomfort, getting sick, and dealing with high altitudes. Why go through all this to be in low wooded conditions dripping sweat for more than 50% of our remaining miles? What’s the point in that? Just to say we did it? That’s just not us.

In the end, we looked ahead, and saw that there were three GHT sections that we were interested in traveling through that were consecutive. Makalu, Annapurna, and Dolpo. Our plan has now changed from a thru-hike, to a section hike. Since we just completed a tourist loop, we are actually just one day’s hike from Namche, and another day from Lukla, where we can fly out to Kathmandu to arrange all this. Our original plan was to bus back to Kathmandu after Tashi Labsta anyway, so back to Kathmandu we will go. Griggs is already in Namche, and headed to Lukla to fly to Kathmandu as well, so we are pitching this idea to him (using the inReach) if he’s somehow feeling up to it, and should hear from him tomorrow.

To cap off this stellar evening, I got an inReach message from the man who ran the trekking company (that these men tonight said they didn’t know). He let me know that we needed to pay the men for their time and work something out or my passport information (which he had) would be given to the porter union. I replied explaining that what we had agreed to via email was nothing like what was presented in person, and that we did not feel safe using their services. He never replied back, and the men returned in the dark as we were going to bed. We went into our room and locked the door not feeling good about this at all. We both just don’t want to be here. This is not a good feeling.

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