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Langtang Lirung peak in the distanceMar. 22-26, 1999  Langtang Himal Trek II, Nepal

Syabru Village to Ganesh View, Ganesh to Langtang
Knock, knock, knock.
"Good view".
"Excuse me?"
"Give good view now" explains our guide Dawa, in an almost apologetic tone.
"Oh, uh O.K. be right out".

Just another friendly face in the mountainsAnd 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.

In the shade, but still huffin' and puffin'"Well, 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.

Up the mountain with 100 lbs on their backs"Only 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.

An ice cold river splashes through the gorgeWe 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 with moisture.

Ah, the unmatched beauty of NepalPockets 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
Beautiful, serene, and deceptively dangerous"One 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.

Suspension bridge above the rushing watersEven 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.

Only way up, only way downI 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 fast?

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!

Should've seen their smiles AFTER we gave 'em the chocolate!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.

The rugged, treeless terrain of Kyanjin GompaScattered 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.

High amongst the ridges and almost there!It's 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.

Surrounded by snow-capped peaks (and clouds)It's 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.

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Last modified: June 05, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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