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Gokyo Lakes

Gokyo Lakes

Gokyo Lakes
Gyokyo Lake under snow, and Everest

Gokyo Lakes is a set of 19 high mountain lakes in Sagarmatha National Park.  It is one of the destinations on the Gokyo Lakes Gokyo Ri Trek.  This lake complex is a must see to anyone on their way to Everest Base camp, because it is extremely close.  Gokyo Lakes is the worlds highest freshwater lake system at an elevation of 15,400 ft to 16,400 ft above sea level.  The lake complex covers a surface area of 30 square miles. In 2007, it was designated an area of international importance by UNESCO’s convention on wetlands.

I could only find the sizes of 6 of the largest lakes in the system.  In order from largest to smallest the 6 Gokyo Lakes include, Thonak Cho (161 acres), Gokyo Cho (106 acres), Gyazumpa Cho (72 acres), Tanjung Cho (42 acres), and Ngojumba Cho (36 acres).  These lakes receive water from glacier ice melt such as Ngozumpa glacier, and others.  They also receive water from precipitation in the form of rain and snow.  Their water flows out forming the Dudh Kosi River

How to get there

The easiest way to get to Gokyo lakes and back is by taking a direct trail there and back bypassing Everest Base Camp completely.  If you want to include Everest Base Camp, make sure your trail passes the lakes, because there are 2 primary trails to Everest Base Camp.  The Everest Base Camp trail that passes Gokyo Lakes is named Everest Base Camp via Gokyo Lakes.  Other names include Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri, Gokyo Lakes trail, and other variations.  This trail is about 4 days longer than the standard Everest Base Camp trail and has the advantage of being a circular route.  The Itinerary below is for a direct route to Gokyo lakes and back.

 Gokyo Lakes Gokyo Ri Trek:

Day 01: Meet guide in Kathmandu and check into a hotel.

Day 02: Go on a sightseeing tour and prepare for the trek

Day 03: Travel by plane to Lukla and trek to Phakding. -04 hrs, 2,652 m/8,700 ft

Day 04: Trek to Namche Bazaar. -06 hrs, 3,440 m/11,283 ft

Day 05: Acclimate in Namche Bazaar

Day 06: Trek to Phortse. -06 hrs, 3810 m/ 12,496 ft

Day 07: Trek to Machhermo. -06 hrs, 4,470 m/ 14,663 ft

Day 08: Trek to Gokyo Valley. -06 hrs, 4,800 m/15,744 ft

Day 09: Climb Gokyo Ri and hike to Gokyo lakes. -06 hrs, 5,357 m/17,570 ft

Day 10: Trek to Dole. -04 hrs, 4,038 m/ 13,248 ft

Day 11: Trek to Namche Bazaar. -05 hours, 3,440 m/11,283 ft

Day 12: Trek to Lukla. -08 hrs, 2,800 m/9,184 ft

Day 13: Take an airplane to Kathmandu to Finish the Trek

What to bring and where to stay

gokyo lakes
Gokyo Lake and a cairn

No matter what season, make sure you bring sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, water filter, and a sleeping bag.  All other gear is entirely dependent on the season and if you plan on tent camping or staying in a tea house.  I also recommend bringing some chap stick.  In general, dress in layers and you shouldn’t have a problem staying warm.  Sherpa Adventure Gear has great quality products that were designed to be worn in layers.  Their selection features garments for men and women, which were sustainably sourced from Nepal.

The trail to Gokyo Lakes is, for the most part, the same trail to Everest Base Camp.  Being on the same trail as the 2nd most trekked to destination in Nepal, there are a lot of facilities available to trekkers.  These facilities are the tea houses/ overnight lodges lining the trail and offering hotel style accommodations.  In my opinion though, they can better be described as glamping sites.  If you are into tent camping though, there are plenty of unobstructed areas to throw up a tent for the night.  If you need supplies, Eastern Mountain Sports has a great selection of camping gear available online.

In place of a water filter, you can use a SteriPen.  I have had friends use it without any problems.  I prefer a water filter though.  Make sure your sunglasses are UV A and B protected.  Tinted glasses that are not protected can be more damaging to your eyes than not wearing glasses.  Take a guide with you too.  They can help you out of a bad situation should one arise.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to bring extra money.  Trekking poles can help too.

When to go

gokyo lakes
Gokyo Lakes in the fall

If you would like to see the lakes frozen, you should go late fall to early spring.  If this is your preferred time, you will have excellent views of the mountains and may have to walk through snow.  There will be more people on the trail in the late fall, less so in the spring and even fewer in the winter.  The summer is probably the worst time to go, but it depends on what you’re looking for.  I don’t like the summers because of the increased risks associated with monsoon rains, landslides and poor road conditions.  During the late spring to early fall seasons the trails are almost void of people.

Ok, so if the above paragraph didn’t answer the question of when to go, keep reading.  I will break down the tourism population for Sagarmatha National Park by season and month.  The stats provided were collected in 2017 by the tourism board of Nepal.  I then took the data and split it up to match the Gregorian Calendar.  To summarize the data below, in order of decreasing visitors, the seasons with the most visitors are, spring, fall, winter, summer.

The summer season saw the fewest visitors.  The grand total of the number of visitors entering Sagarmatha National park from June through August of 2016 was 1,464 people.  July had the fewest visitors with only 212 people visiting.  August had the second greatest number of visitors with 317 people.

The winter season had the 2nd fewest visitors.  Only 3,480 people visited Sagarmatha National Park from December through February.  The majority of the visitors came in December (1,407 people).  In February, 1,138 people visited the area.  January received only 935 visitors.

Fall receives the second greatest surge in visitors.  From September through November, 10,132 people visited the Sagarmatha National Park.  October had the greatest number of visitors at 4,524 people.  November had the second greatest number of visitors at 3,413 people.  And September had 2,196 visitors.  Fall is often quoted as being the primary trekking season but it receives 2,587 fewer people than the spring.

The spring trekking season, March through May, received 12,719 visitors in 2017.  During that time, most travelers who entered Sagarmatha National Park came in April, 5,580 people.  March had the second greatest number of visitors, which was 3,844 people.  In May, 3,295 people visited the area.

Expenses

A 13-day Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri trek will cost $1,990.  This includes all expenses from airport pickup to drop off.  For the more budget minded adventurer, a trip to Gokyo lakes can cost about $675.  The price might be a little bit less, depending on dietary needs.  I would highly recommend hiring a guide and porter for many different reasons.  Even though it would increase the cost of the trip it could be a life line.  A following is a cost breakdown to trek to Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri.

  • $25/day guide
  • $15/day porter
  • $30/day food
  • $30/day room board
  • $40 licenses
  • $180 to $200 transportation

Theoretically guides, porters, rooms and board are not needed for this trek.  It can be done legally as a “free individual trekker”. The required items are the food, licenses and the transportation. You don’t really need transportation either, but it sure saves time.

Historical significance

Gokyo Lakes are considered sacred and holy by Hindus and by Buddhists alike.  The area is believed to be the house of the snake god ‘Nag Devata’.  There is also a temple on the western shore of Gokyo lake dedicated to Lords Vishnu and Shiva.  I couldn’t find any reasons behind this, but from what I could piece together, the lakes could have been formed by Lord Shiva when he formed Lake Gosainkunda.  This would explain why people visit the lakes during the Jannai Purnima celebration.  It might be a bit of a stretch but it might explain why Gokyo Lake is home to Nag Devata.

Before the lakes were formed Lord Shiva gave advice to some other gods to help them fight some demons.  He suggested that they stir the ocean with a snake.  The snake released its venom, which threatened all of humanity.  Upon finding this out, Shiva drank the poison. After the gods stirred the ocean, the story doesn’t say what happened to the snake.  It instead goes on to talk about Shiva stabbing earth with his trident forming Lake Gosainkunda and maybe Gokyo Lake.

If this is true it would make sense that the snake god would take up residency at the lake.  It would signify the yin and the yang or the venom to the antivenom.  But I can’t confirm this.  If you know the story of what happened to the snake after the gods used it to stir the ocean with, please leave a comment below.

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