Monthly Archives: November 2016

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Annapurna Sanctuary Trek

​November 15th, Day 1 (or 10), Tatopani to Gorepani.

After my whirlwind tour of the Annapurna Circuit I planned to use my fitness and acclimatization to easily cruise up to Basecamp in a few days. After a relaxing afternoon in Tatopani restocking, hot springing (worth the price), and planning I was all set to tackle the steep but short trek to Basecamp. Another casual 8am start down the road before the steep uphill started. The climbing was steady and relentless up through Ghara and Shirka (2:05). Views back down the lovely lush valley were quite expansive. The trail then mellowed for a bit through Phalate (3:10) and Chitre (3:50) before the final steep push to Gorepani.

I put my head down and hammered out this last section reaching town just before 1p. Gorepani was much larger than I’d expected with several small trekkers shops, bakeries and dozens of guesthouses. I took a free room with a view at the Greenview Lodge and spent the afternoon relaxing. For those searching for the best views in town head higher on the hill, you probably won’t get a free room, but those places had phenomenal decks from which to watch sunset/sunrise. 17km, 1700m+, 4:40.

Terraced hillside near Shikha.

Dhaulgiri views.

Lots of pleasant first hiking up to Basecamp.

Sunset and sunrise from Gorepani on Annapurna.


Day 2 (or 11), Muldai Tower dayhike.

I stayed in Gorepani for two nights so I could go for a trail run without the big pack. The goal was the Muldai Tower at just over 3600m, hopefully with some sweeping views. Waited until the warm sunny hour of 930a to hit the trail armed with my inov8 running vest and a hand bottle,  jogging past tons of people enroute to Deurali Pass. At the pass I refilled water and the fun began. I located the signed trail to Muldai behind the tea house and set off on the narrow single track all by my lonesome.

The trail was easy to follow, though narrow and steep at times, as it undulating along the ridge before sweeping around a massive rock promentory. After many switchbacks I was finally deposited back on the ridge as the views were just starting to get good. The climb kept rolling up up up, until the tower was finally in sight. At last I climbed the rickety steps to up the 10ft tall tower (2:10) and was able to relax and marvel at the views from 3637m.

Ahead were stunning views of Manaslu, Machhapuchhre, Annapurna and Nilgiri. Behind the entire sweep of the Dhaulgiri massive was visible,  and far below the Pokhara valley was shrouded in haze. After several photos,  some video and lots of gawking I trotted my way down the steep trail through Muldai and into Dobato (making a loop). I hung a left in Dobato at the guesthouse finally reaching the pass to Swarta… holy downhill. Before me lay 1400m of relentless downhill to the river far below. The trail was steep but offered good footing as I pounded down into Swarta (3:40). I briefly lost the trail before refinding it and reaching the crossing of the Ghar Khola at 2000m (4:40).

Note that Gorepani (and my bed) lay at 2800m, so with 1200m of climbing already on my legs I set out on the final soul crushing ascent. With only a small vest on this should not have been so bad,  accept I’d consumed 100g of cashews and one pack of crackers all day…oops. So head down and exhausted away I trudged. Some good old fashion type II fun, as I finally returned to Gorepani around 3p (5:32), thoroughly exhausted but satisfied. Ate some pastry, enjoyed daal bhat dinner with Ryan and Beth (from Philly), and crashed early after the long day. 30km, 2000m+, 5:32.

The tiny Muldai tower perched atop is view point with Dhaulgiri behind.

Just another afternoon trail run in front of Annapurna.

Panoramic views from the Muldai Tower.


Day 3 (or 12), Gorepani to Chomrong.

Slept in a bit after my longer than expected day and felt sluggish as I started up the trail toward Deurali pass. The descent from the pass followed a stream through a lovely green valley to the village of Banthanti (1:30) then dropped precipitously before the short 200m climb back up to Tadapani (2:40). I elected to take the high route from Tadapani to Chomrong, skipping Gandruk, but of course the first thing I did was descend 800m to the Kimrong Khola, before starting the slow climb back to Chomrong.

My legs were heavy and the hot sun definitely took a toll on me as I slogged past numerous small guesthouses, so I was very relieved when I finally arrived at the hill top restaurant (4:00). From here the views really started to open up and the terrain eased a bit before I finally descended into town. Chomrong is the village of 1000 steps (or more), so I settled in at the international guesthouse high on the hill in a pretty spectacular room with a view. My easy day had proved not so easy after all, so is trekking in the Himalaya. 16km, 900m+/1600m-, 4:53.

Lovely green forest on the trail from Gorepani to Tadapani.

View from the edge of Tadapani, not too shabby.

Views get good as you near Chomrong.

Room with a view in Chomrong, literally.

Fires burn bright on the shoulder of Machhapuchhre.


Day 4 (or 13), Chomrong to Deurali.

Down down down 200m of steps only to climb right back up to Sinuwa (0:45). Then the trail climbed much more slowly before turning straight downhill on steep stairs into Bamboo (2:15). I was very glad that the trail after Bamboo eased a bit and steadily climbed up through pleasant forest where I finally reached Himalaya (3:45). It was early so I continued to plod on up to Deurali where I took a dorm bed at the Deurali GH, as all the other places were full (first time). I did some laundry and enjoyed the sunshine the rest of the afternoon. Everything in this portion of the valley is ala cart, hot shower, wifi, battery charge all cost extra. 14km, 1500m+, 4:45.

Location of guesthouses in the upper valley.

Looking back at Chomrong and all the stairs from Sinuwa.

Fog creeping up the valley toward Deurali.

Day 5 (or 14), Deurali to Annapurna Basecamp (ABC) + Lookout hike. 

Was in no rush being I only had a few hours to reach Basecamp so got stated at the crack of 8:25a. The morning was still chilly but quite a few groups were already ahead of me, but I soon passed them and was hiking alone. The valley opened up and I was bathed in warm sunshine as I reached MBC (1:00). The final climb to ABC was quite mellow as I was now surrounded by the vast amphitheater of rock and ice. I cruised into ABC at 10:35a (2:10) and had the place to myself. I was able to enjoy a snack and relax before the masses arrived.

Just before noon I set out on the trail behind ABC bound for a high view point overlooking the valley. I made quick time up the several hundred meters and was soon perched high above ABC, but this wasn’t enough so I kept climbing the spur ridge toward Patal Hiunchuli. Stopping only once I’d reached the edge of the moraine and the vertical walls guarding the upper mountain at 4800m. It was a good lesson on feeling tiny, as I descended the lumpy grass tufts back to ABC. Sunset from the lodges was quite wonderful, consisting of pink and red hues on Machhapuchhre, followed by an equally spectacular night sky (though very cold). Another early night before sunrise the following morning. 

Views aren’t too shabby on the trail to ABC.

View from my high perch above ABC.

Evening clouds rolling up the valley in front of Machhapuchhre.

Packed house at ABC.

Sunset on Machhapuchhre.

Pretty spectacular night sky over Annapurna south from ABC.


November 20th, Day 6 (or 15), ABC to Jinhu.

Everyone was up early to watch sunrise on Annapurna, which was cold but quiet pleasant. I actually enjoyed sunset much more than sunrise, but both were lovely. After a quick breakfast I strolled back out for one last view of the valley only to run into Steven who had run up that morning from Himalaya. So we set off down valley together, picked up his bag in Himalaya (1:40), and cruised off on the long road to Jinhu. The steep climb out of Bamboo went by quickly, but the miles were starting to wear on Steve so we took a snack break in Sinuwa (4:10) before tackling the Chomrong stairs.

We ground our way up the stairs into Chomrong, checked in with the ACAP then continued up to the small German bakery for pastries. Clouds had settled in over the valley obscuring the views. Filled with pie and danish we finished off the climb through Chomrong and hit the cutoff down to Jinhu. The 400m drop into Jinhu went by quickly and we snagged a room at the Evergreen to colapse after our long day (6:42). Though we were both fairly tired we dragged ourselves out of the room and down another 200m to the Jinhu hot springs. The series of the pools along the river bank were bustling with people, but the warm water (body temp) and serene atmosphere was just the relaxation we needed. We soaked for an hour,  chatting with others and relishing in what an amazing day it had been. After trudging back up to the hotel we vegged out the rest of the night and crashed early. 22km, 400m+/2800m-, 6:42.

Morning silhouttes, pretty nice.

Avalanche roars down south Annapurna.

Back in Sinuwa at the Chomrong stairs.

Jinhu hot springs along the river, nice way to end the trip.


November 21st, Day 7 (or 16), Jinhu to Pokhara.

Started the day with a skype call to the family, while slow, it still amazes me this is possible in these remote regions. Then Steve and I set off for our last day on the trail, a nice mellow downhill to Nayapul and eventually Pokhara. The trail mostly consisted of gently rolling terrain along the river,  a nice change from all the steep stairs. We cruised through Kyumi (1:50) and just kept on walking. Soon after the trail ended and we were dumped out onto the road, so we began to prepare ourselves for the long dusty road to Nayapul when all of a sudden there was a bus in Siwar picking up tourist to Pokhara! Sure, why not. So for 400 rupees we hopped on the bus and ended or trek. The first part of the bus ride back to Nayapul was along a very bumpy dirt road and I was tossed around pretty good in the back. Finally at Nayapul we were back on ‘pavement’ and the drive sped up and smoothed out. After only 2:15 we were deposited at the Baglung bus station of the north end of Pokhara. Since we’d had such a short day of trekking we opted to walk the 3km to the hotel and to see a different side of the city. So ended my trekking days in Nepal. 9km, 100m+/400m-, 2:15.

Final view down valley as you exit the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. 

NOTES;

When it comes to bang for your buck the Annapurna Sanctuary is worthwhile. Beautiful forest, expansive views, waterfalls, glacial rivers and of course the amphitheater at the end all make for a spectacular journey. What you won’t find is authentic Nepali culture or much solitude. Most of the trek is set up purely around tourism, you will still meet many wonderful people from all over the world, but this trek is immensely popular (for good reason). Also this was the first time as an independent trekker finding a room wasn’t easy (from Himalaya up) and I didn’t get free rooms most nights. So if you’re looking for a one week trek with lots of wow factor this is it, but if you want a more authentic experience of Nepali mountain life and culture maybe check out the Langtang region instead (see previous blog). Overall each of my three treks offered something a bit different and made for a wonderful experience in Nepal. 

Annapurna Circuit 9 Day Trek

​November 6th Day 1; Besi Sahar to Tal

After catching a bus from Pokhara to Besi Sahar (550 rupees) on November 5th I’d intended to catch another bus to Nagdi, but when the driver told me 300 rupees for the 14km ride I said no thanks, checked in with the ACAP and stubbornly walked off. The road went by quickly and I soon found myself in Bhulbule and then Ngadi. These first 14km were pretty uninteresting and can easily be skipped, though I enjoyed the quiet morning stroll. Then began the climbing up through the terraced hillsides of Bahundande, Badalbisuanaa, Lili Bhir and Ghermu (which would be a lovely place to stay). At Syange I rejoined the road for the dusty climb up to a short bit a trail into Chamje. Here I missed the bridge so hoofed it along the road all the way to Tal as the valley was bathed in deep shadow. It had been a long 35km, 8.5h day, but the low elevation sections were behind me and into the mountains I went. 37km, 1400m+, 8:26.

Mountain views near Ngadi.

Terraced hillsides of Bahundande.

Looking down on the village of Tal from the road.


Day 2; Tal to Chame

A more causal morning start had me following the single track out of Tal past several waterfalls through the deep gorge all the way to Dharapani. The lush green trail was sunk deep in the river gorge, and I lost it several times as it was not very well marked. Finally I reached Danakyu and began the steep 600m climb up to Timang, where we were teased with views of Manaslu the whole time. After this exhausting steep climb I settled in for lunch on a roof top in Timang with superb views of manaslu. After lunch it was back on the dusty dirt road through Thanchowk, Koto and finally into the bustling town of Chame. I set up shop at the Tilicho GH for the night, a friendly and quaint lodge. Being my birthday I treated myself to fresh apple pie as I chatted with the other travelers. 23km, 1200m+, 7:15.

Views of Manaslu from Timang.

The Annapurna range finally reveals herself.

Birthday apple pie and custard.


Day 3; Chame to Gyaru

Another casual start in the chilly shade of the valley at 8:25, cruising up the dusty road. When I reached the lovely apple orchards of Bhratang I was overwhelmed by the 50-70 people lining the road in front of me. Apparently I’d found all the other trekkers I hadn’t seen the previous two days. I quickly passed them all by, arriving in Dhikur Pokhari around 11am. Here the massive sweeping face of the Swargadwari Danda dominated the skyline. The terrain soon turned very arid as I passed into the rainshadow of the Annapurna massif. As I neared Upper Pisang fantastic views of Annapurna II and IV appeared. I paused on the outskirts of Upper Pisang for lunch and to gawk at the views.  Till now the trail had been climbing pretty gently, then just 1km from Gyaru it jumped up in cruel fashion,  gaining 300m in a series of relentless switchbacks. I grunted up the slope reaching Gyaru just before 2pm. I settled into the Annapurna hotel,  basic accommodations but a million dollar view. Special thanks to Jessie Wilburn for the suggestion, as sunrise (and starry skies) from this village is a must see, best views around. 19km, 1100m+, 5:10.

Swargadwari Danda looming over the river.

View on Annapurna from near Upper Pisang.

Roof top view from Ghyaru


Day 4; Gyaru to Manang

This was to be my easiest day with the big pack on, but I also intended to throw in a side trip to Kicho Tal (Ice Lake), so it wouldn’t be much of a rest day. After watching a beautiful sunrise over the Annapurna range from my hotel rooftop I set off early across the rolling traverse towards Braka. The views across the valley and to the villages far below were quite spectacular. The terrain was pretty easy going until I hit a broad valley near Julu and stared across at the steep 300m decent and climb that awaited me, well damn. I flew down the hill as usual, then came the grind straight back up, ugh. I made decent time and was deposited in a high hanging valley on a gently descending trail, one of the most pleasant sections of trail I’d been on, fantastic views to boot. I cruised on over to the junction with the Ice Lake trail,  dumped my main pack in some bushes and with only a running vest set off up the 900m climb to Ice Lake.

I was huffing and puffing pretty good but made great time to the lake (1:30), and had it all to myself for 20min. The still lake waters reflected the Annapurna massif as some bighorn sheep bounded up the hill behind me. What a place to spend a morning. Then,  abruptly the wind picked (11:20) up and my scene was gone. I jogged back down the hill (0:45) picked up my pack and mosied on over to Manang. I settled in for the night at the Yeti hotel,  a decent but over priced large complex and just wandered town the rest of the afternoon. Manang is a nice place to grab a pastry and stock up on supplies as its the last cheap hub east of Thorung La. Then it was early to bed again. 25km, 1500m+, 6:25.

Sunrise from Ghyaru.


Cruising the trail between Ghyaru and Braka.

Reflection of the Annapurna massif in Ice Lake.

Descending from Ice Lake, there is a tea house half way with some lovely views.

November 10th, Day 5; Manang to Thorung Phedi
I took a slow and steady pace leaving Manang, climbing from 3600m up the valley. There were nice views of Annapurna and Gangapurna behind me, but I was slowly leaving them behind. I took a break for soup lunch in Yak Karkha (4000m), then continued my trudge up valley. The altitude was slowing me down but I kept slogging forward,  crossing the Kone Khola and taking one last tea break before the final push to Thorung Phedi. There are three guesthouses at 4500m set in a high arid valley. Not much views of the mountains here,  but a spectacular valley none the less. It was a chilly and restless night as I didn’t sleep well at the altitude which made me nervous for the following days climb to Thorung La. 15km, 1100m+, 5:06. Resting HR 64.

Views back at Annapurna from near Yak Karkha.

Tea house break just before Thorung Phedi. Nice views and thin air.

Looking up the endless switchbacks from Thorung Phedi to Thorung high camp. How many people can you spot out for an acclimatization hike?

Day 6; Thorung La Pass to Muktinath.

Worried about the altitude I awoke early and hit the trail at first light (6:15am), wrapped in my down jacket. The first part of the climb out of Thorung Phedi consisted of 400m of steep switchbacks up to Thorung high camp. As I slowly climbed upwards I felt OK,  winded but moving steadily. The sun began to illuminate the valley behind me and Annapurna III glowed pink in the morning light. Surprisingly after only 45min I crested the hill arriving at Thorung high camp (4900m), feeling fairly spry. The sun was slowly creeping down from the pass toward me, and soon I found myself bathed in its wonderful morning warmth. The rolling uphill to Thorung La seemed to drag on,  but finally I saw the thousands of prayer flags that adorn the pass, pushed the pace a bit,  and at last plopped down at 5416m atop the pass (2:15).
The pass is set between two sizeable mountains so the only views are backward and forward down the trail, still expansive. I put on all my clothing and proceeded to hang out on top for 1.5h, enjoying the scenery and people watching, in no rush to descend as the thin air felt good. After quite a few photos I decided it was time to go and bounced off down the steep trail toward Muktinath. The steep and dusty descent past Chambarbu and to Muktinath went by quickly and can definitely be a quad killer (1600m-). I strolled into the bustling voyage at Muktinath and took a room at the Hotel Caravan among a sea of local Nepali. I joined the locals and explored the sacred sights of Muktinath, I still feel strange wandering around holy sights of which I don’t have a particular affiliation, but the culture was intriguing and beautiful none the less. 17km, 900m+/1600m-, 4:30 moving.

Morning light creeping toward Thorung High Camp.

The final portion of the climb toward Thorung La pass. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the scenery.

Atop Thorung La pass amongst the prayers flags at 5416m.

Nepali pilgrims bathing in the sacred fountains at Muktinath.

November 12th, Day 7; Muktinath, Upper Mustang, Jomsom.

I set out on the trail toward the villages of Jhong and Putak to explore these traditional Mustang villages. As I climbed away from Muktinath following a well beaten path and a series of red arrows (not the red or blue flags) I had the suspicion that my route was taking me a little deeper into Mustang than I’d initially anticipated. Soon I was 500m above the valley, looking back at the expansive views, and forward into a deep valley surrounded by rock towers and massive desert mountains. A couple of Nepali confirmed that if I went down and turned left at Chhuksang I’d reach Kagbeni….I was totally about to descend into the Forbidden Kingdom of Upper Mustang.

I descended the steep trail past several small groups, finally reaching the small village of Tetang with its terraced hillsides,  mud huts, gompas and isolated silence. After another 45min I reached Chhuksang and the headwaters of the Kali Gandaki river. I turned left onto the road and began the long (2h) walk to Kagbeni. The surroundings were surprisingly arid and reminded me of the Native American reservations of the SW. Mudstone towers lined the road, deep canyons reached back from the river and views stretched for many miles. Finally after almost 15km I reached Kagbeni, exhausted. The forray into Upper Mustang had been a wonderful glimpse into a life style long forgotten. Kagbeni was interesting,  but after Mustang didn’t have the same intrigue, so I quickly set off for Jomsom along the wind blasted dusty road. This was by far the most miserable section of hiking. 6km of dust storms in the wide open valley, so i was very excited to pull into old Jomsom and find a place for the night after my long day. Jomsom is the bustling hub of the circuit compete with airport, markets (in new Jomsom) and the bus stand. I was just glad to relax and take a load off, enjoying my first yak burger of the trip. 35km, 800m+, 7:00.

Sunrise from Muktinath over a temple with Dhaulgiri in the background.

Looking back from the high pass to Mustang toward Muktinath.

Descending into the Mustang village of Tetang, born of a different Era.

Looking back at the village of Chhuksang along the Kali Gandaki.

November 13th, Day 8; Jomsom to Kalopani.After some debating I decided to close the loop and walk the western section of the loop to Tatopani. From old Jomsom I headed up the hill following the trail on the east side of the valley. I made a short side trip to Hutsapternga Gompa(1:00), perched high on a hill with superb views of the valley. I stayed on the trail,  bypassing Marpha, couldn’t handle more road, eventually reaching the Tibetan settlement at Chhairo (2:00). I paused briefly to listen to the school children reciting the morning prayer and talked with a few locals at the school.

The trail continued to climb and descend along the east side of the valley, avoiding the dust bowl and visiting numerous small settlements. The people all seemed much friendlier and more open, maybe because the new road has left them to a quieter and less tourist riddled life? Views of Dhaulgiri are phenomenal on this part of the circuit, and I mostly had the trail to myself. After many ups and downs I finally rolled into Kalopani/Lete and the See You Lodge. This town has one of the better all around views on the circuit, Dhaulgiri behind and Nilgiri and Annapurna I across the valley. It’s a shame so many people skip the Western portion of the circuit. 27km, 600m+, 5:57.

Hutsapternga Gompa shining in the morning sunlight.

Dhaulgiri towering above the Kali Gandaki river.

 

Sunset on Nilgiri and Annapurna from Kalopani.

Day 9; Kalopani to Tatopani, the end.

My last day on the trail, up and our early to avoid traffic on the first section of road to Ghasa. I then rejoined the trail East of the river for the rest of the day, avoiding the road again. Walking through the now lush forest was very pleasant as I passed countless small villages, a few waterfalls and lots of view points. I paused in Gharpad to enjoy some fresh oranges and guavas with some locals before descending into Tatopani. Tatopani was a small village with plenty of small markets,  a nice hot spring and an interesting mix of Western and Nepali travelers passing through. It was a nice place to relax after my long days in the circuit, but not much more than a way station with fresh fruit.

Lush forest enroute to Tatopani.

Nice little trail side cascade.

After 8.5 days of hiking I’ve reached Tatopani and the end of the Annapurna circuit. Up next a trip to Basecamp.

So ended my 9 days whirlwind tour on the Annapurna circuit. Full of amazing scenery, wonderful people, and some eye opening experiences. I’ll leave you with some final thoughts and notes before signing off.

NOTES; 

Trekking on the Annapurna circuit is not a wilderness experience, you’ll see tons of other travelers,  jeeps and motorbikes. In every village you can find both hot food and snacks to carry away. So technically you could probably carry almost no food and be fine (though you pay for it). It’s easy to simply fall in with the travelers and not meet the locals, so take the time to branch out.

I did the entire 190km loop in 9 days, definitely not recommended for most people. I’m extremely fit and I spent time elsewhere in Nepal acclimating. Climbing over 5400m Thorung La is no joke and should be treated with respect. My short time also only allowed me a few side trips, something many people would prefer to take more advantage of. Though I did walk the western part of the loop from Jomsom to Tatopani, something I highly enjoyed and recommend not skipping by using the bus. Lastly,  always remember to look around and keep an open mind. You never know what each day and experience will bring, so try to soak in as much of it as possible. It’s a fantastic journey that has not been ruined by the roads, the experience has just changed a bit over the years, but in the end it is what you make of it. Stay tuned for the next blog detailing my quick adventure up to Annapurna Basecamp. 

Running the trail down from Ice Lake with. Annapurna in the background.

Langtang Trek post-Earthquake

After meeting up with AJ in Kathmandu to plot or Annapurna trek we parted ways for a week. She was off to Bhutan while I decided to use my flex time to make a quick jaunt into the Langtang valley on one of the lesser traveled trekking routes.

By all accounts the Langtang adventure starts with just getting to the trailhead. Online I read of horror stories about 9-10h bus rides to Syabrubesi (trailhead) that only covered 120km! I will say, the ride lived up to the hype. As soon as I was dropped at the bus station I realized I was in for an adventure. The bus station consisted of a road side shack where guys were shouting in Nepali, passing out tickets and pointing at various busses parked along side the road. Thankfully my nice taxi driver helped me get a ticket then instructed me where to find the correct bus. As we loaded on the bus it was evident that other than one girl from Canada it was all locals.

A little bus on truck action along the road. The usual passing entailed 2-4″ to the cliff on one side and a couple inches in between the two vehicles.

The not so smooth road to Syabrubesi.

As we pulled out of Kathmandu in the jammed traffic weaving around motos, parked busses and people, I started to understand the adventure that is ground transit in Nepal. We slowly weaved our way along the mostly paved two lane highway to Trisuli Bazaar where I bid the Canadian woman farewell and it was me and all the Nepalis for the next 4 hours, and the fun had just begun. From Trisuli Bazaar the road turns to half paved half rough dirt and only 1.5 lanes wide. Our driver navigated the rough dirt road,  passing other trucks and busses with inches to spare on all sides. Finally reaching Syabrubesi after 7.5h of some very impressive driving. This is one you have to experience for yourself to truly understand it.

Lovely trail through the forest.

Finally in Syabrubesi I found a quiet room for the night and enjoyed a nice meal with the local family (as I was the only guest, a trend). After the earthquake of 2015 this region has experienced extreme hardship,  both in the form of lost lives and homes and in lost revenue. The main trail through the valley only reopened in the last year, and the tourism still hasn’t returned. I set off early the next morning making my way up the rocky staircased trail into the Langtang valley. I hike passed several small villages (tea houses) in route my lunch stop at Lama Hotel. I ate a huge lunch of vegetable fried rice with fresh chili yak cheese, all locally made. After lunch I sluggishly plugged my way to the guest house at Riverside for the night as clouds filled the valley. Again I sat with the owner and his family for dinner and watched a few Nepali music videos, as I was the only guest (notice a trend). Then to bed early (8p) as darkness settled in around 530p.

Early morning light on Langtang Lirung from the Riverside guest house.

Earthquake ravaged Langtang, much still lies as rubble.

I awoke at sunrise to clear skies and views of Langtang Lirung looming above,  why hello there, ate and set off on the trail in shadow. I rolled passed several more tea houses finally reaching the avalanche at Langtang, where in 2015 half of the town had been buried under thousands of tons of rock. The village is slowly rebuilding, but less than half the structures have been fixed and many are still piles of rubble. I quietly slipped through and as I climbed higher in the valley views began to widen and the mountains got bigger…wow. I took a break at the village of Sidhum for some Seabuckthorn juice and talked with the owner about the slow rebuilding process, as several locals hammered away on his new guest house (previous one destroyed).

High mountain views and yaks on the way to Kyanjin Gompa.

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View out the back window and front door from my room at the yak hotel.

The village of Kyanjin Gompa.

Then it was off to Kyanjin Gompa where I was greeted by panoramic mountain views, prayer flags and desperate guest house owners. Within 10min of arriving I’d  already been offered and shown accommodations at five different places, when one woman showed me a room at the yak hotel with panoramic mountain views and said as long as I ate my meals there I’d stay for free, I couldn’t say no. So I settled in for two nights at my high altitude accommodations (3800m). Once again I sat with Pema and his family in the kitchen for dinner as I was the only guest in the 20 room hotel. After star gazing for a bit I again went to bed early.
I watched sunrise from the comfort of my sleeping bag, Langtang Lirung out the back window and Langshisha out the front,  wow. Pema suggested I go up Tserko Ri, as it had the best views in the area,  so I donned my running vest and warm clothes and set off for the nearby peak. After a short flat section it was the business, 1100m in 5km, topping out at 4984m high. The thin air was pretty crushing above 4300m, but I just kept slogging away reaching the summit just after 10am in 2:15. I’d had great views the entire hike up but was still awe struck by the 360 degree Himalayan panorama that presented itself. Besides being short of breath I felt pretty decent and spent over an hour up top chatting with two other parties and snapping photos. I finally gave in that I couldn’t stay up there forever so jogged back down the steep trail,  returning to town in just under an hour. I spent the rest of the day mingling with locals over a piece of cake at Dorje bakery, learning about the rebuilding procees and the troubles since the earthquake. Sunset arrived with more clouds, but they lifted just at the last minute revealing Langshisha bathed in lovely pastels. The trail up Tserko Ri, 1100m of relentlessly thin air.

Panorama from the summit of Tserko Ri looking west.

View from Tserko Ri looking east.

I even got to run a little bit. Downhill of course.

Sunset on Langshisha from the village.

Clear and starry night sky able Langtang Lirung

The next morning I took a short jog into the basin below Langtang Lirung before breakfast, then bid my hosts farewell and headed back down the valley. As I walked down the valley I tried to process all the highs and lows of the past few days and to understand all the struggles these people had endured, and most still put on a smile. I stopped in Ghodatabela for lunch before continuing down to Lama Hotel for the night.

Early morning trail run. 

Views from the high route just past Sherpagaon.

Another quiet night, but this time I had a chance to chat with two other guests (from Germany and Indonesia). My final day on the trail I opted for the high route through Sherpagaon and was rewarded with wonderful views from this high trail carved into the side of the steep mountains before making my final precipitous drop down 1200m of switchbacks into Syrabrubesi. But the adventure was not finished,  oh no. It was Tihar, one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year so there would be no busses for two days,  well damn. Thankfully I found a nice Nepali (nira I think) who got me a ride back to Kathmandu on the Jeep he had called. So we squeezed in the trunk (yes seats in the trunk) of the Jeep and sped off. Because of the festival there was no traffic on the road, and our driver took advantage, whipping around turns, flying over bumps so we’d catch air. Poor Nira got sick and I don’t blame him,  as we did the drive in just 4.5h. Safely back in Kathmandu I was able to relax and enjoy the Tihar festivities that were everywhere.

Happy Tihar. Lights and colored designs decorated all the doorways.

So if you’re looking for a tea house trek without the crowds, but with all the culture, mountain views and a little adventure, then Langtang is for you. Since the earthquake the valley had been very quiet,  even though the tall is open and plenty of infrastructure is available.  The people of the valley need the tourism and their valley deserves it. The feeling of desperation was evident among many of the people and it really breaks my heart. You want to help as many people as possible, but there is only so much one can do. For now I’ll leave you with all these photos and say that you need to visit this wonderful place for yourself. 

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Cambodia,  Malaysia and the road to Nepal

​After my world wind tour of the Angkor temples things slowed down a bit (relatively speaking). The nice long bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh gave me a nice glimpse into the rural Cambodian life, lots of small wooden shacks,  rice paddies, and an overall quiet life. Phnom Penh is an interesting city, coming into modern times, but with an infrastructure that can’t quite keep up, but still some pockets of traditional life along the waterways and in the markets. 

The madness of Phnom Penh where bikes, mptos, busses and cars all mingle with markets.

Slower pace of life along the rivers of Phnom Penh.

I only passed through then was soon off to Sihanoukville, the launching point for the beaches and islands along the Gulf of Thailand. In my short time there,  sihanoukville didn’t have a lot of character. Split into an industrial warf area and a tourist party zone, bleh no thanks. I was glad to catch the boat to Koh Rong the following day for some more relaxed beach side living. When I was dropped at Ramdoul pier and slogged it through the jungle I wasn’t sure what to expect. Basic wooden shacks, mosquito net beds, cold showers, and no need to wear shoes or change out of one’s bathing suit. My kind of digs, so I extended my stay to 4 nights.

Basic beach side living, all one needs to relax in style.

Lazy living beach side in hammocks, I could get used to this.

Beach sunsets are one of my favorite things.

Stroll to palm beach with Pascal, Ann-Christin and Mario.

Cambodian fishing village in the north shore of Koh Rong.

Not much to say about the next four days except I spent most of the time lounging in hammocks,  waking the beach looking for seashells (and swimming), and hanging out with lots of cool people. Oh,  and there was our nightly swim with the bioluminescent plankton that always made me a bit giddy and never got old. They are only visible once you’re away from all light and you have to get in the water,  waist deep or deeper is best.  Diving underwater with my goggles on was like swimming through a sea of stars,  so surreal! When my four nights were up I was definitely sad to go,  but Nepal was waiting! So I caught the slow bus back to Phnom Penh with Mario (from SOB), where I bid him farewell.

Ocean side sunrises are pretty nice too

Lounge area at Sons of Beaches, lots of hammocks and lots of sand.

On the 24th I was dumped into Kuala Lumpur for a one night layover which I spent wandering Chinatown (bao!) and relaxing by the iconic Petronas towers. Lovely very clean and modern city,  Malaysia, I will be back. Then it was off to Kathmandu, and I was dropped right into the madness. Made it through visa applications and out of the airport, right into the hectic traffic of the dusty streets, more semi-organized chaos. Kathmandu feels less like SE Asia and more like what I imagine India to feel like. Really nice people, densely packed brightly colored houses and really really cheap outdoors gear. AJ (new friend and travel companion) and I spent the next few days working on our bargaining skills (need work) and getting all the permits settled. I am taking gear orders for those interested 🙂

Kuala Lumpur, a blending of the old and new.

Petronas towers and all their glory. Lovely place to relax for an evening.

Sunset over the colorful houses of Kathmandu.

Momos and Naan for $3? I could get used to this.

Then she (AJ) headed to Bhutan for 6 days while I went off for a solo adventure into the Langtang Valley. Stay tuned for a ton of photos and sad stories from my trek through the Langtang Valley, a place heavily ravaged by the 2015 earthquake and still struggling to recover. Hope your life is an adventure,  no matter where it leads.