Do you have a Bucket List?  I do…and it’s long. I won’t begin to tell you the list except to say, it involves a lot of international travel. One of the places high on my list was Nepal, land of the Himalayas, Sherpa, yaks and Yeti. I had to go there no matter what.

My first challenge was getting my non-hiking wife to agree.  Well a 60th birthday was the perfect excuse. She thought this was a wonderful idea as opposed to hosting a HUGE birthday party. So now, the fun begins with the planning. This is one of my favorite parts of a trip. It gets me just a little more psyched.

Nepal is just about on the opposite side of the world from here and almost 12 hours time difference. It took about 38 hours to get there. I couldn’t imagine sitting in coach for that long so I decided to go 1st class. Pajamas and real flat beds with sheets, pillows and comforters along with gourmet cuisine and free booze… this is the real way to go.

So after many long hours I got to Katmandu, a fairly large city tucked down in the valley with towering mountains as a backdrop. I didn’t even get out of the airport before being accosted by pitchmen trying to sell me guided tours. All I could think about is crashing and adapting to the time change. I was dead asleep by 4 PM…and wide awake at 2 AM!  Now what? OK, I packed my gear in my backpack…2:30 now. Great!  Well, thankfully I brought a book and was able to read until breakfast. After I ate I had to find the Tourism ministry to get my TIMS Card (Trekkers Information Management System Card), and a National Park Permit. You have to be crazy to take public transport here, so walk or take a taxi. I needed exercise so I walked. LOOK OUT! Oh my gosh, I forgot they drive on the left side of the road here and I forgot to look right for traffic as I step into the road. Almost road kill already.

My trek started just 70 miles from Katmandu at a little town called Syabru Bensi. No problem, right? None at all, as long as you  don’t mind riding for 14 hours on an old unreliable bus with 97 of your new friends, goats, chickens, etc., over the roughest road construction you’ve ever seen. Great. I sure hope the people riding on the roof don’t steal anything out of my pack…but do keep it from bouncing off!

At Syabru I met with a guy from Dubai who was planning to climb one of the peaks beyond where I wanted to trek. So as a part of his trek, he had a true Sherpa with many peaks including several up Everest and K2 under his belt. He also had two porters. Just as I was about to leave them to start my trek, the Sherpa asked if I would like to have his porters carry my pack. I was shocked having never considered this option. “How much”, I asked timidly, expecting it to be a lot. “Fifteen dollars per day”, he said. My chin hit the ground. So without hesitation, I agreed. I know, I know, wimp, loser, lightweight. Sure, go on all you want. After having done this trek and only having to carry a small day pack with water, jacket, camera and … nothing else, I can only say this was the only way to go. I had an aggressive schedule planned with lots of elevation gain and I may not have been able to make my goal if I had carried my pack. Beyond this, It made the trek fun, not grueling. It is also safer as no one should trek alone, and it provides much needed work for the locals.

I was filled with anticipation. My trek started at Syabru Bensi at 1,472 meters (4,829’) elevation. One thing I found a bit frustrating was no one could tell me how far anything was. I’d ask, “How far to Bamboo”? The only answer I would get is ”4 hours”. Well, is that granny time or Sherpa time? It seems no one cares. It is just 4 hours to them. I was also to find that 4 hours includes tea breaks, potty breaks and photograph breaks.

Before I even got on the trail, I came to a military/police outpost and needed to register and show my TIMS and National Park pass. If I hadn’t had them I would have had to stop there or go back to Katmandu to get them. After checking in, I crossed one of many suspension bridges on the trail. As I climbed the trail, which has many ancient stone stairways, I began to notice the jungle I was walking through and how different it is than the other side of the Langtang River. This side is lush and wet with many streams and the other side is dry brown grass and drought tolerant plants. The difference is striking. I decided it was because the jungle side was north-facing and the dry side south facing. I was contemplating this when all of a sudden there were noises and something above me was crashing through the brush! I almost shit my pants as a large group of monkeys came charging down the hill all around me at breakneck speed. I couldn’t tell if I going to be attacked, or if they were simply passing by and happened upon me. Then it was all over as fast as it had begun. I had to rest a moment to regain my composure and check my undies.

After about 4 hours walking through the jungle up and down many hills and a ridge, I reached Bamboo at 1,930 meters (6,332’).  I got a late start and this was a good place to stay for the night. The river and waterfalls were beautiful here. The power of the river makes the ground tremble as if some angry demon were trying to erupt from underground. The trembling could be felt 100’ away in my bed that night.

The next morning I started at dawn. This would be my longest hardest day. The goal was to get to Langtang before nightfall. Almost immediately, I see bigger waterfalls and of course this means steep and long hills to climb adjacent to the river. After what seemed like a monumental climb, I finally reached Rimche, where I needed to stop, rest and have a good cup of black tea. It is amazing how a good strong cup of tea can rejuvenate your body and your determination to reach your goal. As I sat down I realized the views of the valley and the mountains had become clear through the clouds. This is a mystic place full of spirits you can feel, but not quite touch. I saw the village sign and realized I’d reached 2,400 meters (7,874’). Some people begin to feel a bit shorter of breath while hiking here, but so far all I felt was achy muscles and more determination to move on. The jungle became more sparse here and I began to see the famous rhododendron forest. Although this is not their season of bloom I could imagine the bright reds and pinks that would come out next spring.

The trail continued at a steep incline as I continued up to Gumnanchuk at 2,229 meters (8,953’). Sweating and hungry, I sat and relax as lunch was being prepared. Chow Mein is full of calories and would keep me going through the rest of today’s climb. Sitting in the sun, I saw lots of smaller peaks all around and almost none of them had snow which seemed odd at this time of year for peaks that are higher than Mount Rainier.

Above this point the landscape seemed even more surreal. Views opened up on all sides as I reached the army outpost at Ghora Tabela at 2,970 meters (9,744’). What a striking contrast to the jungle below. Magnificent views of Langtang Lirung at 7,246 meters (23,773’) become visible. The whole valley ahead is open and dry as a desert. The river was my constant companion and its sound was clear and powerful as I made my way along the dusty trail. The Tibetan prayer walls seem filled with the ghosts of countless generations past who somehow survived the dry summers and bitter cold winters here.  Many small glacier fed streams tumble down sheer almost vertical rock walls and make their way to the river. From this point on, I found myself stumbling over rocks in the trail because I couldn’t take my eyes off the myriad of huge peaks all around me. Finally, exhausted at dusk, I reached Langtang at 3,430 meters (11,253’). Even though I climbed 1,500 meters (4,921’) this day, I felt uplifted and a bit exuberant.  Maybe it’s the elevation, maybe it’s the beer, but I think it’s the awe inspiring beauty and grandeur of the place. They say every place has a spirit, but this place has many spirits. I think to myself:  I will sleep very well tonight. Tomorrow I will reach my destination, Kyanjin Gompa.

After a good bowl of porridge, I was off. This morning I only had 430 meters (1,410’) to climb and not too far a distance. Once again I was amazed. Each kilometer I walked brought on more and more incredible views of more magnificent mountains. By lunch time I got to Kyanjin. At the approach to the village I stopped on the top of a knoll overlooking the village and felt speechless. Before me was a 270 degree panoramic view of glaciers and snowy white peaks all of which are over 5,000 meters (16,400’) tall.

After I got settled at a tea house, I wandered off to see the village. I found there was a monastery there that is over 600 years old, sited near a glacier. What faith and determination must it have taken to move here, build a stone building and survive through all those winters at the time Columbus came to America?

This was the first time I felt the effects of the altitude and I realized that I was at 3,860 meters (12,664’) elevation as I huffed and puffed up small hills. Eventually, I found a rock atop a hill and crawled up it and sat alone to just take in the world around me. I realized once again, that I am most at home and at peace in the mountains. All the spirits of this valley were at peace and they joined me on my rock to enjoy the views. If only I had more time I would have stayed in Kyanjin at least 3 days and done day hikes out to see the hills, ridges and glaciers around this incredible place.

That evening I received a great surprise. Nirma Sherpa found someone to bake a birthday cake for me with “Happy 60th Birthday David” written on it. He and the porters had planned a birthday party for me and all the tea house guests helped me celebrate with cake and beer. Sherpa even bought a ceremonial scarf to give me to show I was his honored guest that night. What a perfect finale to my trek.

I want to thank Nirma Sherpa and his two porters for helping to make my 60th birthday and the whole trek an adventure I will never forget…and one more thing checked off my bucket list.

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