On March 2021, I along with Himalayan Passion trek leader Sourav Ray took a challenge to complete the Goechala trek within 3 days (Yuksom to VP1 and return to Yuksom) and ended up finishing the trail in almost 60 hours. Here is how you could do it as well.
‘Goecha la’ is the only hike in India that can bring you as close as possible to one of the fourteen eight thousanders without actually climbing on it. So no wonder this is one of the most popular hiking trails in India. Although the name of the hike suggests a pass crossing trail but it has never been so. Earlier people could reach up to the pass Goecha (4,960m)(View Point 3) but now one can only reach up to the viewpoint 1 (4,500m). The trail starts from a tiny village Yuksom of West Sikkim, situated at an elevation of 1,780m from the sea level, and within 32kms the trail leads to viewpoint 1 which is situated at an elevation of 4,500m, in the lap of the highest peak of India, Mt. Kanchenjunga (8,586m), the furthest one can reach these days. In this blog, I'll try to share our story of hiking Goecha la in three days. From the beginning, I would like to share the purpose of this blog. This blog is not about our achievements, it’s about why and how we did it and how you can also start thinking about doing something similar. In this blog, I will also have the opportunity to share my motivation (or madness whatever you can say) behind the particular style of hiking I am (or we are) trying to do. All the distances and altitude in this blog are from the GPS-based app maps.me. Sometimes these measurements are inconsistent with local people, but this is what I believe to be more accurate rather than depending on some verbal source.
Why Goecha La?
After so much unsuccessful planning for the Sandakphu hike starting from my college days, last January I finally got the opportunity to reach there. Although I had been to Darjeeling and Gangtok, several times I haven’t been able to see the mighty Kanchenjunga till then. I saw it for the first time from just above Dhortey, on my hiking day to Sandakphu. The next morning from Sandakphu I saw the sun rising on the Sleeping Buddha range and from that point, I was thinking about seeing Kanchenjunga from a closer point. The day I reached home I bought return tickets to Siliguri around the Holi long weekend, thinking about going around PhokteyDara region, to get a closer view of Kanchenjunga. Then I called Sourav asking about the connectivity to the trailhead Uttarey and asking to give me his tent for three days. In the conversation, Goechala comes out and he insists that it’s doable in three days if we plan and prepare well ( and of course if the weather doesn't play a part!). Then after dropping his call I started reading about the trail and mostly tried to estimate the number of days it will take me to complete the trail. I started marking the trail on the Maps.me reading blogs, watching videos on youtube, and talking to some people who went on this trail. After gathering enough information I realize Goechala is doable in four days if the weather stays decent, but in three days it is challenging.
So it was Sourav's long-term idea to fast hike Goechala, but he was not finding a suitable partner. Although he was not that much choosy when it comes to choosing hiking partners but I am very much in this department. But in the case of Sourav it was rather an easy decision. We knew each other very well, in fact, last year we went to the Mayali pass Trek. And though our motivation towards hiking/climbing came in different ways we both love hiking independently, taking on new challenges and what we both believe is that the way we are going to do it is more important than the summit itself. So I have less reasons to dislike him which is the key for me to choose my hiking partner as if I don’t like him in the planes then I'll definitely not like him in the mountains. So it was an easy decision and we don't want to increase the number in our group so it was only both of us this time.
Making itinerary and its difficulty
It's fair to say the Goecha la hiking trail is mostly straightforward till Lamuney. By saying that what I mean is that you will get a well-marked trail all the way, with no bouldering or loose rock sections. The main challenge of this trail is rapid altitude gain and according to me, this is the reason why Goecha la is considered as one of the medium-difficult hikes and not recommended for first-timers. From the fourth bridge after Sachen (2,220m) till Tshoka (2,950m) the altitude gain is approximately 740m in 3kms, and a similar kind of altitude gain from Tshoka to Phedang as well. So in Layman's term, we are about to hike Manebhanjan to Sandakphu in only just 6kms instead of all 28kms and that's where the problems with altitude starts. So while making an itinerary, coping up with this rapid altitude gain was our main priority. On the other hand we needed to keep an eye with the availability of tea houses, as if we missed one then we will have to carry tents which will slow us down. Also we don’t want to compromise the view from viewpoint 1, reaching at the middle of the day. Due to permit issues we cannot start in the early morning on day one, so we choose to hike till Tshoka on our first day. Sourav suggested that we should bypass Dzongri via Phedang to Kokchurang route, which I completely agreed (until I was on that route in itself ). So our day two was from Tshoka to Thangsing (3,950m) via Phedang (3,680m) and Kokchurang (3,700m) . On our third day we planned to start at night and climb to VP1 at sunrise and back to Thangsing. After having some food at Thangsing we will move towards Tshoka and on our fourth day we will hike down to Yuksom to end our journey. After telling this tentative itinerary to Sourav, he kept encouraging me to accept the challenge of a day three itinerary. So to make this four days itinerary to a three days itinerary the only safer and realistic option which I could think about is to combine day three and day four, but that will give us a long hiking day of around sixteen hours. So we decide on day three we will start from Thansing for VP1 and try to hike down to Tshoka. If we reach Tshoka by 3pm then we will go down to Yuksom on that day itself else we will rest and move down the next day.
My motivation towards the kind of hiking we did
I always enjoy peaceful silence in nature. Visiting places independently gives me enormous joy and a sense of freedom, which no one takes back. I love challenges when it comes to adventure. Seeing people carrying my stuff for my comfort always discomforts me. What I always believe carrying the required stuff is a part of my hiking/mountaineering. So what I prefer is to train and make myself as strong as it is required to complete the hiking, rather than take down the mountain to my comfort zone with the help of other supporting people. Yes there will be limitations with the way I am following, but I will be happy to leave those dreams untouched, for which I can’t prepare.
This was the most important part of our hiking. By preparation what I believe is studying routes is equally important as mental and physical preparations, in particular when it comes to hiking independently. As initially it was Sourav’s plan he already made an tentative itinerary, but studying the route I made some changes and pushed our longest day towards the end. This gives us enormous advantages. We get more time to acclimatize, on the longest day we mostly go downwards, and after the hardest day of our hike we are supposed to rest in a warm bed at Yuksom instead of in a cold sleeping bag at some tea house. Our physical preparations were different. Sourav has the opportunity to expose himself at the higher elevation quite regularly (around a week in every month). So he can rely to maintain or improve his fitness on the long distance workout once a week. For me I have to train everything staying at the sea level. So I have to work more systematically. For acclimatization we need more oxygen to our lungs and heart. Red blood cells work as oxygen carriers in our body so if we can increase the amount of RBC in our blood then it will definitely help us to acclimatize quickly (but this doesn’t completely out run the question of altitude sickness! It only gives us more chances to acclimatize quickly). One can increase his/her RBC in many ways without any supplementation. But each way needs time from six to eight months at least. In my case I have been training since November to participate in my first full marathon. Also before that I trained and ran a half marathon as well, so I was already on the course of maximizing my RBC. After sorting out this issue I mainly focused on the event specific training. If we have to complete this hike within three days we have to hike down almost 2800m in a single day after reaching VP 1, and that's a lot of stress on my legs. So I began to prepare my glutes and calf muscles. I added heavy weight (around 30 to 35kg) lunges, squats and calf workouts twice a week for the remaining two and half months, together with my running, core and weight training. So yes although we planned it to complete in four days I mentally and physically prepared to finish it in three days and I am sure Sourav did the same as well.
My packing was simple, as for the warmth I was depending only upon my down jacket, a rain / windproof, couple of t-shirts and hiking trousers, microspikes, poncho, sleeping bags, mattress, butane, utensils and food for a day, as we were unsure the availability at Thansing this early of a season. With two liters of water, my rucksack weighed around 12kgs. We divided our common luggage such as food, utensils, butane. Sourav carried two more kgs of filming gear.
Day 0 A bridge collapse just before Yuksom made it difficult for us to find a direct shared vehicle from Siliguri. We reached Yuksom in the late afternoon via Jorethang on a shared vehicle. We get basic but decent accommodation near the Yuksom bazar. Later that evening we met our Local Support, a local 23 years old very shy, polite kid, taller than both of us. We rediscussed our plan, gave him necessary documents for the permits and some advance.
Day 1 From the first day I could not point out a single flaw of our guide. As promised yesterday he reached our hotel at 7am sharp. After finishing our breakfast with a glimpse of Mt. Kanchenjunga, we went to the police station for the permit purpose. I must confess I'll never believe on duty police personnel can speak so politely to a normal person if I haven’t visited the police station at Yuksom. It was swift and took hardly 15 to 20 minutes and we were through to the checkpost for the Kanchenjunga national forest permit. We waited for 10 minutes, for the person to arrive. After he came it took another 20 minutes to complete all the formalities and around 8:15am we started our hike. Within 30 minutes we reached the first bridge.
At the second bridge we crossed a group of local kids, going for the Dzongri hike. Around 11:15am we reached Sachen, where we met a group of people from Maharashtra, coming down from Tshoka. As I am about to gain rapid elevation I tried to drink more water. So at this point I was about to finish my 2 liters water bladder, which I refuel before starting hiking again. After 15 minutes of hiking the descent for the fourth bridge starts and we finally crossed the fourth bridge at 11:40am. Sourav already told me the steep ascent from the fourth bridge to Tshoka, it's 740m in around 4kms. So we decided to take a snicker break for 15 minutes. This was our second break apart from the 5 minutes water break we took at Sachen. From the fourth bridge we started around 12, hoping to get our lunch at Bakhim (2,650m). After an hour we reached Bakhim, but the only shop was closed. We also find the broken bungalow at Bakhim, is no more. So without wasting any time, we moved towards Tshoka. For the last 15 minutes of reaching Tshoka, we took a steeper short-cut where we started to listen to our stomach growling. At last around 2:15pm we reached Tshoka, where we had our lunch. Then later in the afternoon we walked around the pond nearby, enjoying the meadows and talked about random things called 'life'. In the evening around 7pm we had our dinner and went back to sleep early.
We woke up with a view of the sun rising over Mt.TinchenKhang (6,010m) from our window. The weather remains clear at dawn but later everyday it becomes cloudy and no exception on today as well. We had our breakfast and got ready for today's hike to Thansing. We started at 7:30 am from Tshoka. After Tshoka the trail ascends almost 740m in 3.2km till Phedang, which took two hours. Although the pink and white rhododendrons were yet to bloom, we witnessed some trees full of red rhododendrons in the lower regions. The lonely wooden trail, occasional trees blooming with red rhododendrons and random birds’ whistles make the steep ascends comfortable. We reached Phedang at 9:30am. At that point we were happy with our performance and did underestimate the journey from Phedang to Kokchurang. In the map this was probably the most decent looking trail, only 150m of elevation gain in 6.5kms. So we estimate it should not take more than two hours and by 12 we were supposed to reach Kokchurang where we planned to cook our lunch. But then the most irritating part of our hike begins. In every 15 minutes we were about to go 30m uphill followed by 20m of downhill on a snow patch and this destroyed our rhythm completely. After struggling for almost three hours we heard the sound of the Kokchurang river, and a few minutes later saw the infamous Kokchurang bungalow. And we took no time to realize this will be the hardest challenge on tomorrow’s descend to Yuksom/Tshoka. At Kokchurang, inside the Bhoot bungalow, we cook maggi for our lunch. There we met another group of kids from Delhi, facing altitude issues, abandoned their hike to Gocha la. It took 50 minutes for us to cook, eat and clean our utensils before we started moving. The trail passes by a temporary wooden bridge (better to call it ‘log’) on the Kokchurang river. After waking 15 minutes on the riverbed we start gaining altitude. Although the trail to Thangshing (3,950m) was fairly short but at that time we started to feel it a bit steep. In about 2km it gained 250m, which reminds us of the thin air we were getting into. The new route to Thansing passes through some small steep, loose rocky bouldering section which we negotiate with the help of our guide. At last we reached Thansing around 3:15pm.
By that time the cloud covers Mt. Pandim (6,691m) completely and we can only witness nothing but a large playground at the lap of Himalayas. After reaching we got the good news. The hut was opened for fooding just a week before. So we don’t have to cook and most importantly don’t have to clean our utensils at the freezing sub zero temperature. After reaching, we have a cup of tea. We put our down jackets and gathered at the caretakers’ bed room/kitchen near the fire. Later they gave us hot rice, dal with alu bhaja (potato fry) and papad for dinner around 6pm, and we proudly ate two plates each. Around 6:30pm we filled our water bottles and went to bed, hoping to get a good sleep before we started the longest day at midnight. Although we haven’t felt any altitude related symptoms throughout the hike, I was going through pretty bad sleeping issues. Last night at Tshoka I also had problems with sleeping and the woodworm at the bed made it worse. Tonight after trying to sleep for an hour I realise I can feel my heart bit, and damn! it's beating fast. I measured it was 105bpm. First I hesitated then called my doctor partner, Sourav and told the issue. He replied by saying he was having more than 100bpm as well. Although I am not sure whether it was real or he was just trying to make me believe it was not that an issue. But things won’t go worse that night, in fact within a couple of hours it reduces to 80bpm. Although Sourav already explained to me how acclimatization works, later I realized it was quite normal what I felt. The problem might come if that heart rate won't reduce after a few hours of rest. So this controlled slowdown of my heart rate signifies my body has done the initial acclimatization and was mostly not in danger of having altitude sickness at the moment. After this I looked at my watch, it's 10pm and I was still awake! This reminds me of my last midnight push for the Pangarchulla, which I couldn’t complete due to lack of sleep. But I quickly reminded myself that in 2018, after that I significantly improved my strengths, stamina, and mental toughness. Sometime after 10 I fall asleep.
We woke up 30 minutes earlier than our scheduled time, due to Sourav's mobile alarm buzzing before time. Then again I took a nap for 30 minutes and woke up at 1:30 am. On our butane we started to make hot coffee and then milk-cornflakes. After finishing those we make another flux of coffee for the VP1. We started at 2:40 am with another couple and their guide. Unfortunately the sky was cloudy at that time and I was thinking, I have to come back again to see Kanchenjunga. Within half an hour we had to cross several streams. In one of which I slipped and just in time our guide saved me out from letting my shoes wet. But in the process he slipped and wet his shoes. Around 3:40am we reached Lamuney (4,175m) and the sky got clear and we could see Mt. Pandim standing tall on a full moon night with dazzling stars all over it.
Our guide removed his socks and we provided some tissues to put into his shoes. We can see from far the other couples’ headlamps. By this time our pipe of the water bladder got frozen. As there was no sun I was sweating comparatively less, so I can maintain my pace without having that much water. After Lamuney the trail gets steeper, but we were maintaining good pace and reached Samiti lake (4,300m) at 4:40am. From there we started to run on our adrenaline and why not? The first time I saw a completely frozen lake at full moon. I can't describe the beauty of the place. Mt Pandim, standing tall just behind us and we were in the region of the world's third highest mountain. As the scheduled time for sunrise was 5:41am, we decided not to waste much time near Samiti lake in the darkness. We started our final ascent towards the VP1. Although adrenaline pushed us to our limits, we still felt the thin air. But by that time we accept the fact that this is a thing we have to take with us in this kind of hiking experiment. In the last two days we gained almost 2,600m and still have to climb for another 200m. Soon the darkness started vanishing and the snow capped peaks revealed themselves at the twilight. The feeling was unreal, water running through every holes of my face but still can't stop smiling.
The VP1 is a ridge top which gets steeper by each step. But at 5:39am we reached VP1 and witnessed one of the best sunrises at Mt. Kanchenjunga. With clear sky and no wind we saw the Kanchenjunga main, standing tall with Kanchenjunga central and south. Beside Kanchenjunga, the Kabru range and ofcourse behind us Mt. Pandim and Mt. Tenchenkhang. We stayed there till 6am, enjoyed a sip of hot coffee, half of a snicker and started descending.
And now the actual challenge began. The 32 kms trail from Yuksom, which we managed to hike in two days and three hours, needs to be hiked down again by today itself. Our descent till Thangsing was smooth.
We took some pics near the frozen Samiti lake then almost ran through the steep part and reached Thangsing within 8am. Where we pack rucksack, eat our breakfast. We giveaway our remaining foods to the caretaker of the tea house so that we carry least. We were actually ahead of our estimated schedule by an hour. We started at 9:05am, reached Kokchurang within 40 minutes. And now the ugliest part of the trail was waiting for us. On the trail between Kokchurang and Phedang I was getting significantly slow, almost at snail’s pace. Most of the time our guide was accompanying Sourav (as he was filming) and I was leading the trail, but this time I felt fatigued, getting slower and losing mental toughness. And occasional snow / rainfall making it more difficult. I remember telling Sourav probably I might make it till Tshoka only today. He kept encouraging me and telling me not to decide before reaching Tshoka. Then after three long hours of hiking my nightmare ends and I can see Sourav sitting at the Phedang hut. I felt exhausted but relieved as I knew this was the toughest part of today's hike and we did it! So I sit for 15 minutes, take some water and the remaining half of the snicker. At that point what pleased me was with this much struggle we were still one hour ahead of our estimated time. At 1 pm we started descending to Tshoka. I don’t know whether it was the half piece of snicker or the belief that we did it on time or the downhill trail of Tshoka or mixture of all, I gained some tremendous energy. Again I started to maintain my pace on the downhill trail till Tshoka. Just before reaching Tshoka Sourav slipped and that time the only thing hit my mind was his previous knee injury. I asked him “is your knee alright?” He replied ‘Yes’ and I felt a breath of relief. As I know there was no way we are going downwards with an injured knee (or shall we?). Then I ran down to Tshoka to order food for us. In the meantime our ordered wai wai as well as Sourav with our guide came down to the tea house and it was 2:15pm. Tshoka was crowded and the tea house was busy. We talked to many hikers, going towards Gochala and Dzongri. Most of them were coming with one of the agencies and few of them had no idea what route they are going to face in terms of elevation gain or difficulty. So If you are wasting your time reading this, I would request you please know the route you are going to walk. These days from youtube to GPS based apps you can find every tiny detail of such a popular hike as this. Coming back to our story we started at 3pm from Tshoka, hoping to reach Yuksom by 7pm. We reached Bakhim within half an hour. From there I noticed Sourav was getting very slow, especially on the downhill. I asked him, in which he replied causing injury to the same knee. At that time we were nowhere to back as we had already reached near the fourth bridge. It was around 5pm. So as the time passed by it started to get darker and after 6pm it got completely dark. But as the trail was well marked, having a confident guide with us and the inactive wildlife in this particular trail gave me confidence that we will reach Yuksom sooner or later. Every time I see a downhill my mind gets relieved, but at the next instance I feel sorry for Sourav. Atlast with our headlamp on, we reached Yuksom at 8:30pm, one and half hours behind our estimated schedule. It took more than five hours from Tshoka, for our tired legs to reach Yuksom. When we came down, we believed apart from us only dogs remained awake. But sooner we proved wrong when the hotel Pradhan greeted us with warm foods and comfy rooms. At last in a cosy warm bed we rest our tired legs with no worries left behind.
Enjoy the Documentary of the Goechala Speed Hike Journey, in our YouTube Channel
For Details Regarding Goechala Trek, arrangements and itinerary check the link below:-