Gokyo is a village located on the eastern shores of Dudh Pokhari lake (4700 m / 15420 ft), also known as Gokyo Lake. The six Gokyo lakes are lined along the Ngozumpa glacier in the upper part of the Gokyo Valley. Dudh Pokhari is the third lake - in the middle of the line. This has to be the second most visited destination in the Everest region after the Base Camp itself as it offers superb alpine views and scenic trails in all directions. Most trekkers stay at least two days in the village to rest and to get some of the beauty of the place. Our group had two nights there too. The crowds usually heads for the nearby Gokyo Ri (5357 m, 17575 ft) on the second morning but but we had come from Renjo La on the previous day which offers a similar view so I had something else in mind for a half-day side trip.
Just two and a half hours (more if the altitude gets you) north from Gokyo lies the fifth Gokyo lake - Ngozumpa Tsho - at 5000 m / 16404 ft. Five minutes east from the lake on top of the moraine is the so-called Scoundrel's Viewpoint. For me that was one of the highlights of the entire Everest circuit trek! This is a place of rugged beauty and harsh scenery. It is also very little visited given the proximity of such a popular place as Gokyo. If you prefer green landscapes with trees and warm colors stay away for all you will see here is ice and rocks in every direction. The good news is that some of these "rocks" are three of the highest mountains on the planet: Everest (8850 m / 29035 ft), Lhotse (8516 m / 27937 ft) and Cho Oyu (8201 m / 26906 ft). It is a high-altitude wasteland, almost desert-like. Three glaciers join nearby to form the mighty Ngozumpa glacier - the longest in Nepal (36 km / 22 mi).
The trail from Gokyo is well-beaten and starts from the northern end of the village. It goes parallel to the Ngozumpa glacier, gradually climbing up in the valley. An hour and a half from Gokyo is the fourth lake - Thonak Tsho - the largest of the six. An hour later you will reach the fifth lake but before that turn right to the east and on a clear day you will see Everest and Lhotse from a very unique angle. At Scoundrel's Viewpoint the border makes a curve north and part of Nepal gets into Tibet. Standing there you will be at an actually slightly northern latitude than Mount Everest. From this place you will have an unobstructed view of some of the most famous features of the great mountain: the North Ridge, the North Face, the West Ridge, the South-West Face, the South Ridge, and the South Col. Just make sure you bring a long lens or some better zoom to get all that!
Tagnak (Crossing the Ngozumpa glacier)
Gokyo village is built on the lateral moraine of the Ngozumpa glacier. From a distance the outline of the moraine looks like a small hump above the Dudh Pokhari lake but from the village it is a good 5-minute sprint uphill to the top. I took this sprint on our last morning in Gokyo as I had decided to do what real photographers do: rise very early and wait for the good morning light. So the old masters weren't lying: it really pays to get up early, who knew... An orange Cho Oyu, a brightly-lit rim of the Gokyo cirque, some morning reflections in the lake made this trip totally worth it!
After breakfast we headed to Tagnak - a small village on the other side of the glacier, just south-east from Gokyo. Almost the entire walk was on the glacier's surface but that surface wasn't icy at all! Almost all of it is covered with dust and rubble as the mighty Ngozumpa glacier moves slowly down the valley scraping rock material from the sides of the mountains around it. Karma (our guide) told us that the trail looked differently every time he passed it. The glacier's movement causes ice cornices to collapse, hills to rise and new lakes to form in the ravines.
Tagnak, a.k.a. Dragnak, is a group of several lodges on the eastern slopes of the Gokyo Valley. It only exists to support trekkers on their way across to the Khumbu (Everest) Valley through the much-feared Cho La pass. The place doesn't offer any particularly interesting views but the lodge we stayed in was excellent and we used the afternoon to shower and rest - preparing ourselves for the long walk on the next day.
Pictures from this part of the trek can be found in the Gokyo Valley and Cho La album.