An acclimatization day on the Everest Base Camp Trek, as on any trek at high altitude, is essential for a successful trip. Even physically fit people must ascend slowly, so as not to risk getting altitude sickness. On the Everest Base Camp trek, two to three acclimatization days are factored into the itinerary, typically in Namche Bazaar and Dingboche. This year, I took a different approach when climbing to Base Camp and took a detour from Dingboche to Chukkung on the way up. This extra day of acclimatization, in which we climbed Chukkung Ri, was not only a beautiful day trip, it also ensured we were appropriately acclimatized for the rest of the trek.
To reach Chukkung from Dingboche, we followed the valley east instead of turning west like all other trekkers heading towards Lobuche. Immediately after leaving the village, we noticed how many fewer people we encountered, as this side trip is not included in most of the tours up to Base Camp.
The best treat of this trip for me was the spectacular view of the Ama Dablam. When we had reached Dingboche the day before, the weather was terrible and we didn’t see the views. But the next day, getting up in the morning, I was blown away: the amazing mountain was right there, and looked like we might be able to touch it. Its very distinctive peak looks different depending on the angle, and we would get many different perspectives throughout the next two days.
The way to Chukkung is easy and only ascends very gradually. Two columns of porters with climbing gear passed us at a much faster pace, as the trail also goes to Island Peak Base Camp. After three to four hours we reached the small village of Chukkung, and were very happy to notice that we were the only people up here. After a couple of days in very crowded guesthouses further down, this was a welcome change.
After a quick lunch of garlic soup and Tibetan bread, we decided to take a walk to explore the area before it got too cold. We started along the trail that goes towards Island Peak, which follows a moraine. We stopped after about an hour as the wind was picking up and we all felt exhausted. But, already after this short walk, the view of the Ama Dablam and its glaciers was totally different to the one from the valley.
After an icy night in which our water bottles froze solid, the next morning we started our attempt to climb Chukkung Ri. At 5,546 meters, it is almost as high as Kalar Patthar, and also offers amazing views. After the first two hours, the climb started to get very difficult for me, and I felt the altitude. I had to rest after every couple of steps. Slowly but steadily, I made my way up, while my father was always ahead and took in the scenery while waiting for me. In front of us, a panorama of Island Peak, Ama Dablam, and Nuptse unfolded, and the higher we got, the more peaks we could see. We only met to other people the entire climb, so were basically alone. It was pure magic.
We did not make it all the way to the top, but decided to turn around when we reached the ridge. I was feeling the altitude, and it was getting late; we had to get back to Dingboche the same day. But nevertheless, the view from up there was already breathtaking, and on the other side of the ridge, we got a perfect glimpse of a long glacier making its way into the valley. After a short break with some cookies and water, we turned around and went back down, which was so much easier. But with our faces towards Ama Dablam, we were able to take in the view again.
After a quick lunch at the guesthouse, we made our way back to Dingboche, where we spent the night and then continued towards Base Camp. The side trip to Chukkung only took us two additional nights, but it was terrific, as it led us around Ama Dablam and gave us some time alone with the mountains, away from the crowds. I had some issues with the altitude up there, but I had no problems further up. These two extra acclimatization days were not only extremely beautiful but also helpful on my way up.