||Mar. 22-26, 1999 Langtang Himal Trek II, Nepal
Village to Ganesh View, Ganesh to Langtang
Knock, knock, knock.
"Give good view now" explains our guide Dawa, in an almost apologetic
"Oh, uh O.K. be right out".
with that we begrudgingly crawl out of our sleeping bags to get our first good glimpse of
Langtang Lirung peak in the distance - its magnificent snow covered peaks glowing in the
morning sun. "So all we have to do is walk to that big ol' thing, right? No
problem!" I nonchalantly dismiss thinking about the next few days worth of peaks and
valleys standing between us and our end point, Kyanjin Gompa. We're both a little
stiff, but not too terribly sore from yesterday's walk. Laura had slipped and slid on her
hip and butt down one of the many the dusty slopes. A slight groin pull, but nothing else
a little dusting off didn't cure up. I've seemed to have really shanked my right knee
walking around the village last night. Never had problems with it before, but who knows.
at least it's cool in the shade." That's our petty consolation for having our nearly
straight vertical ascent made only slightly more comfortable by the sheer rock walls,
raising almost 200 stories high on either side of the gorge, politely blocking the energy
robbing rays of the sun from our backs. Each time I stop for Laura to catch up with me, I
feel my heart beating hard and fast. "Out of curiosity, is this tougher than
aerobics?" I ask. "Oh definitely. And aerobics only lasts for an hour!!"
she huffs back. It's relatively cool in the shade, but my shirts are still both soaked
through to the skin with sweat.
an hour for aerobics huh?" I think to myself as a contingent of local porters passes
us going down the hill like they're in a race. Another group is coming up the hill, so we
decide to follow them, and let them pass. Each of them are carrying 80-120 lbs. on their
back in woven bamboo baskets. Some, like the one directly in front of me, are even wearing
flip-flops for this grueling and treacherous work. Thump, screeck, ka-pap; thump, screeck,
ka-pap; thump, screeck, ka-pap. Step by step they progress, with us just behind them,
slowly up the mountainside.
keep our pace as the river roars below us, its thunderous echoes bouncing off both sides
of the canyon on their way up to the open sky. Aside from the trail, the ground is covered
mostly with moss covered rocks and fallen trees, their uprooted stumps slowly rotting away
Pockets of bamboo, or beds of dried ferns,
conceal the remainder. We eavesdrop on the many choruses of birds and tree frogs singing
for one another. A frail white Napalese butterfly flutters over to me and flitters on my
cheek like a gentle kiss - it's a just little something, but enough to keep me going for
another few hours.
Langtang Village to Kyanjin Gompa
of our party died yesterday. We're trying to keep it quiet, so please keep it to
yourselves" she whispered just before excusing herself and retiring for bed. Laura
and I just looked at each other in shock and amazement. It was at that exact moment that
we began taking this Altitude Sickness thing seriously. We'd heard the horror stories,
read about it in books, seen the warning postings, even visited the Himalayan Rescue
Association whose primary mission it is to help trekkers like us avoid it.
so, we thought they were just being extra cautious, sort of like the 'don't go in the
water until an hour after you eat' kind of thing. But going in the water too soon never
caused anyone to run down a mountain spitting up blood as they went (like happened to an
unfortunate trekker from Japan day before yesterday). Nor had it ever caused someone's
brain to fill up with fluid and drown itself (as happened to an unfortunate porter on his
way up to Kyanjin Gompa yesterday, he died 12 hours later). And as far as I knew, they've
never had to evacuate five people from a mountain village by helicopter because of it (as
was the sad case for a quarter of an Australian group in Kyanjin Gompa yesterday). Yes,
Altitude Sickness was a real threat, and I'm not ashamed to admit that it crossed my mind
once or twice that evening before WE were scheduled to trek up to Kyanjin Gompa.
I remember the first rule of avoidance:
never ascend more than 1,500 feet in a single day. Hum, we had just come up 3,200 feet
that day, and were going higher tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow - our morning's starting
pretty early. I decide to lay down and try to think of other things. I close my eyes only
to realize that my heart is really working overtime. It's beating hard and fast - and I'm
just laying here, completely still! Am I just anxious, or have we climbed too high too
I wake the next morning at dawn, thankful that my heart hadn't exploded in my
chest after all. I dress and head out to wash up and brush my teeth. The frigidly cold
water, on and around the village's communal water spout, has frozen absolutely solid. The
wind is whipping HARD through the ravine. My fingers are numb after just a few strokes of
my toothbrush. Man, it's cold! What a day for a trek!
After a few hours of hiking, the fierce wind has died
down to a moderately stiff breeze. The sun is high in the sky, and helps warm things
(including us) to a comfortable level. We continue up through the middle of the valley,
jagged, naked, brown walls of rock rising up to either side. The treeless wasteland around
us is carpeted only with blades of light brown grass, blown over by the wind and trampled
upon by herds of yak, giving it the appearance of short, trodden down hay.
sprigs of dark brown scrub brush shake violently in the wind. The trail is fairly straight
and level allowing our pace to be regular and steady. The relative ease of our stride lets
my mind wander to other things. For the first time since our trek began, I enjoy the quiet
walking time to be alone with my thoughts, and spend the next few hours musing a little
over everything, then contemplating a great deal over nothing.
mid-afternoon when we crest the edge of the little crater that nestles Kyanjin Gompa. It's
here that we're treated to the trek's most spectacular views, with towering snow covered
peaks surrounding us on three of the four sides. We're both happy and relieved as we turn
slowly round and round, taking in the awesome beauty and silently congratulating ourselves
on making it to the 'top' of our planned ascent.
certainly no Mt. Everest, but it's enough of a personal challenge to give us a taste of
the sense of accomplishment that so many 'real' climbers must find so addicting. I'm not
sure whether it's an abundance of adrenaline, a lack of oxygen, or a combination of both,
that's giving me this dizzying high, but for this feeling, I'd make the climb again . . .
in a jump-out-o-my-chest heartbeat.