My Dad, Big Al, has just tipped over the 60 years old mark and he’s in pretty good shape for an old guy. Last year he decided that it was time to do less sitting and more trekking. So what better place to flaunt your physical prowess but the biggest mountains of all- the Himalayas!
Dad and the boys had gone to Nepal back in 2000 when I was 14 and far too young and angry to go on anywhere, let alone on a family adventure trip with my dad and two stinky brothers. This time though we settled on the Langtang Valley, north of Kathmandu.
This was my first time in Kathmandu but not my first in a massive, busy, dirty asian city. I was happily reacquainted with that dull ache that grows at the back of my head when walking through the streets of a big third world city. The smog, the cars, the bikes, the dogs, the souveniers and the beeping! My god the beeping! I knew I’d soon acclimatize and focused on that sweet sweet familiar asian street smell of something between dust, petrol and fish. I love cities because under all their mess and chaos there’s always life and colour hiding somewhere close by. I love Kathmandu for it’s traffic maddness, its dodgy vegetable stalls and it’s wobbly buildings made out of what seems like left over bricks, as if the whole city was an after thought.
Kathmandu – Dhunche – Thulo Bharkhu
Chandra, our lovely driver, sped us through the morning peak hour traffic, out of Kathmandu and rocketted up the hill/s towards our starting point of Dhunche. It was crazy to see just how massive the Himalayas are when even before we’ve started hiking we were already winding up and up and up. We left quite early so the morning mist was super heavy. We drove through the mist along steep, skinny, shonky roads littered with dogs, kids and pot holes. I must admit at first I was glad when the fog lifted but that swiftly changed when I realised this only made it more apparent just how many times we nearly hit a bus or rock truck or rolled of the edge of the road. The trip to Dhunche from Kathmandu took 7 hours which was much better than the bus which takes 14 hours and may involve sitting on the roof and/or next to a goat. I’m in awe of anyone who has does this.
Once we got to Dhunche we were all pretty ready to get started. It was only 3pm and Dhunche seemed like a bit of a hole so we hiked what seemed to be an easy walk to the next village of Thulo Bharkhu.
Rookie Error #1: things are always further than they seem.
Rookie Error #2: if you go down, you’l have to go up.
There was a lot of down, down, down to the river and then a lot of up, up, up along the road to Thulo Bharkhu. But alas it was good to finally get our packs on and laces tied up and be on the road.
Thulo Bharku – Thulo Shyaphru – Bamboo Lodge.
This was the hardest day by far. The first big day of trekking and it was crazy steep from Thulo Bharku. I’m talking a vertical track for fit mountain goats who have a keen interest in mountain climbing. After 8 hours of trekking, there was a clear distance between the boys and me and Dad. The boys were like puppies finally let off the leash, powering up the track, skipping down hills and “pushing through the pain”. Meanwhile about 45 minutes behind them Dad and I were a different story. We love a chat, a loose shoelace and a photo opportunity. We decided that a “flaneur” approach was more to our liking.
Hours trekked: 8
Times screamed “FFFAAARRRK!!!” in my head: 48
Bamboo Lodge – Lama Hotel
After the first mega day Dad started to doubt the strength of his knees, so the tactics changed to an easier approach of shorter stretches of hiking while we were going up the hard parts. I think this was the point when we decided that the next hiking trip would be on a yacht somewhere instead. It snowed that night t lama Hotel. Woot.
Lama Hotel – Gomnachowk – Thyangsyapu
After the snow the night before, the next part of the walk was incredible. A little winter wonderland by the river and up through the forest. Frozen water falls hung above and we slipped our way up and down icy stone steps and along “bridges” made of sticks and string. After a while the forest started to thin out and be relaced by spiky brambles. Less trees, more rocks..
(Above: Some snotty friends I made along the way)
Thyansyapu – Langtang – Kaynjin Gumba
We powered through Langtang village, stopping only for a cuppa and a snickers. I’m sure it’s lovely during the summer, but during the off season this place was pretty scary. A bit “Deliverance” country if you know what I mean. The terrain really thinned out to open dry fields where the wind whipped through. It was dry and dusty but we knew we were close to the end of the valley. Or so we thought…
This last little bit of the trail was getting a higher still and the air seemed to be getting thinner. We were only going up to 4000 m so we thought altitude wouldn’t really affect us. We thought wrong! The sun was belting down but the icy wind kept slamming down on us as we tried to find this last town on the map. We walked for what seemed like HOURS trying to just get to the end. The wind continued on harrassing us so Dad and I took a time out behind a rock and considered the cost of getting a helicopter to come and pick us up. Eventually we made it to Kaynjin Gumba and celebrated with some hot beverages and a round of cards. We know how to party.
Estimated Hours Trekked: (what seemed like) 782
Tantrums Thrown: 0.5 (it was an internal tantrum so it doesn’t really count…)
Kaynjin Gumba – Chyamki
We visited the yak cheese factory and got our first Nepalese job. Actually it’s Nak cheese, because naks are the lady yaks. We were asked to ferry 2kg of cheese down to our buddies at Bamboo Lodge and we happily accepted the challenge. And by we, I mean Joel. There was no way I was taking on extra weight, even for the way down!
I had our first and only casualty of the trip when I tripped myself and smacked my head on a lone rock. Nothing more than a grazed knee and a sore noggin. And lets be honest- if/when it was going to happen it was going to be me. I just expected something a little more dramatic. There were plenty of cliffs to fall off, ravines to fall into, icicles to be stabbed by or yaks to be charged by. But no. I tripped myself. Sigh.
Collective Nak Cheese Consumed: 7kgs
Sore heads: 1
Chyamki- Lama Hotel
We got up really early and set off on the road to Lama Hotel. Going down was so much easier and gave us time to reflect on just how shitty it is going up. In saying that though, I actually found that I enjoyed the challenge of going up. Yes it was hard. Yes I got sweaty. Yes I wanted to kick stuff and go home. But there really is a great satisfaction in being outside in the fresh air, doing something physical and challenging and then sitting down, all tuckered out. At the very least, when you’re dog tired you don’t seem to care that you smell like a pack of rats or that you did a wee next to a stinging nettle bush AGAIN. You’re just tired and satisfied and finally lying down.
Lama Hotel – Bamboo Lodge
We had to visit our buddies and drop off their cheese order. Plus we had some time up our sleeves and needed to pull back. Lama Hotel was an incredible tea house slotted next to the MASSIVE Langtang Khola (or Langtang River). Being in the valley, the sun only reaches them for 3 hours a day. The rest of the day they’re forced to sit and watch the sun dance across the mountain tops. Not a bad consolation though, it’s pretty pretty.
(Above: Danny and the river)
Bamboo Lodge – Shyaphru Besi
This was our last stretch of the trek (for me and Dad) and boy did it test us until the bitter end. More ups! More downs! More ice! More mud! More goats! We finally arrived in Shyaphru Besi to a beer and a soak in the sun. We had been promised hot springs but they turned out to be thick puddles reeking of sulphuric acid and nappies. We decided to pass….
Shyaphru Besi – Dhunche
From Shyaphrun Besi you can see the road to Dhunche. It goes up. Just up. It’s a massive road on a massive hill and I’m not going to lie- I wasn’t doing it. We’d spent some great times trekking through some amazing forests, by raging rivers surrounded by huge snow capped mountains. I didn’t want to end my trip by hiking to Dhunche via a steep dusty road. Boo. So Dad and I opted for the local bus (an experience in itself) while the boys went for the climb. Turns out the climb and the “short cuts” taken weren’t the greatest idea but the point was that we arrived happy, dusty and (somewhat) fit from a massive week or so in the mountains.
I really like hiking. I’m surprised I’d ever say that. I’m one for experiences and for interesting adventure but not so much on the active/physical side of things. I didn’t train for this hike so I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it was in trouble when I counted walking to get gelato as “training” and pretty much had to be forced to buy hiking boots (they’re. just. so. ugly.). I loved the variation of terrains on this trek. Thick jungle to rain forest to boulders and brambles to dusty fields to nothing much at all accept the snowy mountains and a glacier or two.
I also liked the fact that the Himalayas make it obvious that they’re not finishd yet. They’re constantly changing with the seasons but also just dropping chunks of their sides, causing massive landslides and wiping out the paths carved in the hills and the houses of the hill people. They really felt like a huge creature that we were quietly (or not so quietly in my case) walking up, over and around.