Nepal Tilman Pass and Ganja La Pass
October 16, 2018 – November 11, 2018
Participants: Derek and David. Shyam (the guide), Niranjan (#2), Milan, Roshan, Santosh and Sanchaman. We could not have done it without those great guys!
October 18, 2018 Kathmandu
I am back in Kathmandu, Nepal after a long, long flight. The visa process on arrival was as chaotic as ever. I am not sure how is Nepal going to double the number of visitors, as already the authorities have a tough time coping with the traffic as is? 2 hours aver arriving in Kathmandu, I am finally out of the airport.
Raj, the owner of Mountain Sun Valley Trekking (organizing our trip) met me at the gate and we went to his house for dhal bat and some good cheer. I know his family and they are so very nice and great. I appreciate very much being treated as a friend and not only as a customer. While at Raj’s house, Shyam our guide on this trek, came over. He brought his brother Niranjan with him. I like Niranjan very much, he is tough, very competent and always smiling. He is one of the few people that I would not hesitate to take with me on any trip! After greetings and some beer, we reviewed our gear and checked the tents. There will be 8 of us all together and it is unlikely that we will come across many trekkers on this trip.
After a good lunch, Raj took me to Hotel Nirvana. I checked in, dropped my stuff, and went for a walk around Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. A lot of shops were closed due to the festival of Dashan. I was tired from all the flying and went back to Nirvana Hotel for a 2-hour nap before David’s arrival. After David arrived, we went for some Tibetan momos (dumplings) and then off to bed by 8.30pm.
October 19, 2018 Okhrani 2,400m
We left Kathmandu at 8am on a road leading north. The state of infrastructure in Kathmandu is falling further and further behind. I am frankly not sure how the residents of this city can put up with the state of roads? The entire way out of Kathmandu was through a torn up track full of holes, dust and mud. I would not even call it a road. It was more of a track.
On the way to the trailhead, we drove through the village of Malamchi where we had lunch in a local establishment. The 70km distance took up the entire day. From Malamchi the road climbed up and it was in even worse shape (if this is possible!) than earlier in the day. We were rocking and jolting all the way from Malamchi to Okhreni. One really needs a good 4x4 with high clearance and good traction. I would imagine that during the monsoon season these tracks are not passable. Some of the ruts were over two feet deep!
We arrived in Okhreni, our starting point for the trek, which is in the middle of nowhere and has a deserted feel to it. Once we arrived and unpacked, we realized that along the way we lost some of our provisions, as our load was not tied up properly to the roof railings. The road was so bumpy that the packages containing, most importantly, a month supply of porridge was lost! David was unimpressed but soldiered through with gusto. It was very un-British of him to let the porridge dream go so easily.
Initially, our general plan was to hire a porter in Kathmandu who would know the route to the Tilman Pass. Unfortunately, the elusive porter could not make it due to some nebulous reason and we were left without any idea where we were going except to follow a ridge to Panch Pokhari (a popular Hindu holy site in the foothills of the Langtang Range of the Himalaya). One would assume that following a ridge should be intuitive but there are many tracks along the way and it is actually quite easy to lose one’s way. The biggest problem that we were anticipating was finding the way later on among glaciers and moraines in the high mountains. Not knowing the way gave me some anxiety. The non-existent gear of the porters compounded this. We would be faced with far simpler but equally serious problems sooner than that…
After we arrived in Okhreni, Shyam set out on a mission to find out which way to go? Some serious looking locals congregated around our map and offered some very serious suggestions. I was a little apprehensive about going on a multi day trek without knowing how to get to the destination. I guess this would be more of an exploratory trek.
Okhreni is located on a beautiful ridge overlooking other ridges descending from the Langtang Range. The village consists of 5 houses. The Langtang Range dominates the horizon and glows beautifully at sunrise and sunset. It was not cloudy but the humidity provided ample condensation for freezing, and it actually felt as if it rained at night (it did not) making everything wet.
Today we start the walk. I am not yet “into it” and it will take me some time to warm up both mentally and physically. It usually takes me a few days to switch from the city mode to the hill mode.
October 21, 2018 3,450m
I totally missed my birthday on October 21. It was the first day of the hike. We started at 2,400m on a well-camouflaged trail through a thick forest. After a few hours of forest walking we reached a clearing where we had lunch. We had a tough time finding water (this would continue to be our most serious issue on the way up and down the ridges). The guys would set out looking for water and it would take a long time before they could locate even a small stream or seepage among some well hidden rocks.
After lunch we continued for another 2 hours mostly uphill to a prominent treeless ridge. At the top of the ridge, at 3,400m, there were chortens and a cluster of prayer flags flapping in the wind indicating a pass. From this point, we had some great views to the valley below with cumulus clouds milling about. The view was almost the same as from an airplane flying above the clouds. We descended from the pass to a treeless meadow where we set up our camp for the night. We had extensive views from the edge of the meadow to the Langtang Range in the northwest and the valley below. It looked like we were following the correct ridge to Panch Pokhari and the Tilman Pass beyond.
So far, we have not come across any villages, people or even animals. We cannot ask for directions and have to rely on our intuition (and a general map). So far so good though! We had good dinner in a stone kharka that provided nice shelter from the wind and cold. Off to bed at 7 pm.
October 22, 2018 Hille Banjang 3,545m
In the morning I took a walk to the top of a ridge looming over our camp. As I neared the crest of the ridge, the sun just came up from behind the Himalayan range in the east iluminating the landscape in early morning glow. It was very beautiful and I felt on top of the world with the Himalayan Range stretched before me and the valleys below. The rising sun illuminated the entire Langtang and Jugal Ranges. It was stunning. After taking some photos, I hiked back to the tent. The tent was in the shade so it remained wet and covered with frost throughout the morning. The sun would not hit it until much later so we had to pack the wet tent and damp sleeping bags “as is”.
We started walking north and rounded the end of a ridge to some much welcome sunshine. After a short while though, a thick layer of clouds obscured all the views that we were so much enjoying and dropped the temperature by several degrees. The clouds stayed with us for the remainder of the day. As we progressed north and higher, the clouds got thicker and at some point we were walking in the fog with the ends of our boots providing the only view.
The trail dropped down 300m to a nice spot where we could find water and have lunch. Again, availability of water dictated our lunch and camping spots. After lunch, we ascended to 3,750m then down to 3,500m. A true rollercoaster.
It seems that along this route, each campsite was full of trash and was in general state of disrepair. Mainly Hindu pilgrims on the walk to the 5 holy lakes called Panch Pokhari use this trail each summer. They seem to just throw things around without any regard for others. At some spots we felt as we were camping in the middle of a garbage dump.
So far, we did not meet anyone along the trail (animals or people). The place has a very remote feel to it. Today, the porters were quite tired as it was a long day with many ups and downs (maybe 18km). They are also carrying double loads to make more money. A double load was 40 to 50 kg! Shyam had to run back and help one of the porters bring the loads to the camp. It was just too much for the young porter. It was very nice of Shyam to help.
October 24, 2018 Nashimpati 3,680m
Today we had a clear sky and good visibility all day. We started in the shade again, cold and dark, but soon emerged onto the sunny side of the track. David and I climbed to the top of a small ridge for some fine views of the Jugal Himal in China and Gauri Sankar in the Rowaling region that we traversed in 2010. We were walking parallel to the Friendship Highway in Tibet. Neylam (a town in Tibet and the starting point for the approach to Mt. Shishapangma) is somewhere below from where we were. After a short break in the sun, we started to climb up on a good trail with some steep drop offs. At one point, wood planks hanging above a 50m drop reinforced the trail.
After a 3-hour hike we arrived at Nashimpati, a spectacular spot. There was a teahouse there run by a family with 4 kids and a friendly dog. The views in all directions were absolutely spectacular. As the day progressed, the views got better and better and reached a crescendo at sunset when all shades of orange were projected on the snowy peaks that we would soon be crossing. This was the best sunset spot I have ever been to in the entire Himalaya. The light on Mt. Dorje Lakpa to the north was fabulous. As the sun was setting in the west, a full moon rose over the Himalaya to the northeast.
We had a good dinner and a cold evening. I was concerned that the night would be freezing in my 3-season MSR tent but it was quite fine. The hot water bottle in my sleeping bag sure made the difference.
I had a light headache due to the altitude or dehydration. I was starting to adjust to the rhythm of the trek and go with the flow of things.
October 25, 2018 Panch Pokhari 4,050m
We had a short day today. The walk from Nashimpati to Panch Pokhari was only 2 hours long with a 500m-elevation gain. After following a well defined trail along a side of a mountain, we crossed the Lubrina Pass (4,000m). The climb to the pass required some climbing but going slow and steady made the effort negligible.
Once we arrived at Panch Pokhari we met a group of 4 Korean ladies with 14 porters who were also going over the Tilman Pass. This was such luck for us considering my anxiety about not knowing the way! The ladies were doing the Great Himalaya Trail in 2-month long sections at a time. They were slow but methodical and seemed determined. They arrived from Lukla after crossing the Teshi Laptsa Pass. During this 2-moth long trip, their plan was to walk all the way to the Larkya Pass in the Manaslu region. Most importantly for us though, they had porters with gear and someone in their group that apparently knew the way. I thought that we were in luck and I told Shyam that under no circumstances should we part company with them until we cross the pass! Given that we did not know the way, had no gear and relied on luck for most of our success, this seemed like quite a serendipitous encounter.
Our crew had no proper clothing, no boots, and no crampons. Basically nothing. Our porters were dressed for a beer party in Kathmandu and not for the Himalayan trek. We needed good weather to be in luck yet again! I hate to leave everything to chance and luck but I just go with the flow (as I have no choice really – a metaphor for life in a condensed format). It seems that on every trek, luck plays the first fiddle.
During our approach, I was not looking forward to being on the trek where the porters would be climbing ice in tennis shoes and torn jeans, using baby blankets for warmth and bamboo sticks for ice axes. However, having the Koreans gave us strength in numbers and, with their help, our motley crew would stand a chance of success. In retrospect, if we had poor weather, we would have had no chance of success on our own. LUCK or KARMA was on our side though!
Panch Pokhari was a dumpy place full of trash situated in a shaded bowl with no views. The resident limping goat provided limited entertainment. The toilets were disgusting and filled up to the rim. We could shit and pee everywhere except the holy lakes. I guess the trash is fine, just not the pee.
A short walk from the camp, one can ascend a ridge with splendid panorama of the now closer Langtang and Jugal Ranges. From the ridge we could see the trail leading to our next camp closer to the Tilman Pass. The pass itself was hidden behind the high mountains. From our vantage point, the trail looked like a rollercoaster: up and down for the entire way. The view extended to all high peaks of the Langtang Range including Dorje Lakpa (a 7,000m mountain with a 4,000 relief) and Jugal Range. The viewpoint was marked with numerous prayer flags and few chortens. We spent a short while on the ridge admiring the view until the clouds moved in and obscured the panorama.
It gets dark at 6 pm making the night long and cold. We go to bed at 7 or 7.30 pm and get up at 5 am. It is cold at night and frost covers the inside of the tent by morning. I sleep in my down jacket, hat and a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag for warmth.
October 26, 2018 Tin Pokhari 4,200m
I felt like saying: Thank you God for the Koreans! We left Panch Pokhari in brilliant sunshine under a blue sky following the Koreans like a homeless Himalayan dog. We quickly ascended the ridge and stopped to admire the spectacular panorama of the Langtang and the Jugal Himals. After taking many photos, we descended on a good trail that we saw the day before.
Around 11am we stopped for a 2-hour lunch. We noticed very dark clouds moving in our direction from the lowlands. The clouds were thicker and darker than those of previous afternoons and looked ominous. Sure enough, it soon started to snow! As we moved on after lunch (north and up), the snow increased in intensity until it was full on winter. Now we could not see the trail and, with minimal visibility, we had no idea of the location of our final destination for the day. Everything was white and we could not see ahead of us or around. Thanks to the Koreans though, one of their men knew the trail and the general location of the camp at Tin Pokhari. This gave us the confidence to push on and not stop in some random spot. Without his help we would be guessing and wasting time. Perhaps not the end of the world, but it would make us unsure of what was ahead.
I we plodded through the deep and wet snow, I noticed that some of the Korean porters had no shoes and were wearing flip-flops! By now the snow was 5 inches deep and I felt cold just looking at the porters with their bare and wet feet in the snow. This added a sense of urgency for the porters and we did not linger. Obviously no one expected the snow or the wide out. It turned out to be a long and quite cold day and we covered quite a distance to get to the Tin Pokhari camp. We arrived at our destination at around 4 pm sliding down a slippery slope without being able to see any of the surroundings. It was getting dark and we were tired, wet and cold. I was concerned that we would have snow on the pass making it harder to navigate for our crew. We pitched our tents and crashed right after dinner at 7pm. We shared one tent and it was quite a cold night.
October 27, 2018 – Attempt to get to the high camp 4,600m
We woke up to a winter wonderland. Everything around us was covered in white and it was very pretty. The mountains were white and snow plumes were being blown off their tops by the wind. It was also cold! We had breakfast in a cold shade. After breakfast, we packed up and left for the Tilman Pass high camp, or so we thought. We followed the trail and trail markers put up by the Nepal Mountaineering Association. Unbeknownst to us, one of the markers was turned 90o in the wrong direction and we veered off towards the Tilman Pass East, up the wrong valley and towards the wrong glacier. We ascended for a few hours to 4,600m and hiked 10km before we realized our error. We basically hit a dead end. We reached a crest of a near-vertical moraine that did not have a way of letting us descend 100m down to the stone-covered glacier. The guys realized that something was not right and we consulted the map. So much for the Koreans knowing the way! On the flip side though, this provided us with a good opportunity to explore a beautiful valley and have a good look at the approach to the Tilman Pass East. We could see the large icefall descending from Mt. Dorje Lakpa across the glacier from our high point. We retreated down the glacier and came back to the sign that caused the confusion. We decided to camp nearby as it was getting late. This is such a beautiful area. Any opportunity to hike and explore it is great!
We set up camp and had a great fire and nice evening. We were now confident of the correct route to the Tilman Pass.
October 28, 2018 Tilman Pass High Camp 4,820m
We woke up to a brilliant and sunny day. The sun dried the tent and the sleeping bag before we left the camp. After breakfast we started to ascend the moraine to the correct glacier. After two hours of following the lateral moraine, we came to a spot where we could “safely” descend to the glacier itself. The descent was quite tricky with loose rocks and not much to hold on to. The exit point was marked with cairns but it would be easy to miss. It was actually quite dangerous as the moraines are unstable and rock fall was a real hazard.
We then followed the glacier covered in loose and unstable boulders for few more hours. It seemed endless. We walked on wobbly rocks and among great boulders all the way up to 4,800m. The route required concentration not to slip or break a leg. Our group split into two with each team ascending the opposite sides of the glacier. We finally arrived at the high camp consisting of some flat rocks on top of an ice crest. It was easy to miss. Shyam found it as the Koreans had no idea where the camp was. The scenery was spectacular and reminiscent of Pakistan. From the high camp we had a direct look at the Tilman Pass.
So far, it is not an easy trek and it feels more like a mountaineering expedition than a hike. There are no teahouses or resupply points. It feels remote and far away from anywhere. We did not run into any other trekkers other than the Koreans.
David was very tired today, mainly to the problems with ascending the moraine. He collapsed into the tent after arriving at the high camp and did not re-emerge until dinner. The high camp is surrounded by high mountains very close by and has a very alpine feel to it. In the evening Shyam and some of the Korean guides went for a reconnaissance of the pass. I think that the Korean porters are as poorly equipped as ours and it turns out that they also do not know the way very well either… Strength in numbers and good Karma though.
October 29, 2018 crossing the Tilman Pass 5,330m
We had a very cold night in the high camp. As soon as the sun went down behind the nearby ridge, it got progressively colder. The camp is like a bird’s nest situated high at the head of the glacier at an altitude of 4,800m. The view from the camp extends down the glacier to the south and directly to the Tilman Pass’ icefall to the north. High rocky ridges on the east and west surround the camp. It is very beautiful but rocky and barren.
We got up at 4 am to cross the pass. It was dark and very cold. We had something to eat and departed at 5.30 am at dawn. The walk to the bottom of the icefall was short. It was mainly through a boulder field. We ascended to the right of the icefall on a steep boulder slope for approximately 200m of elevation gain. We then took a sharp turn to the left (north) and gained the dry glacier at around 5,100m. The sun was still hidden behind the mountain to our east, making it a cold ascent. For that reason, we did not stop and linger. There was no wind though and we had a clear blue sky. How lucky considering our memories of the ferocious winter storm on the Dhampus pass in 2017 (see the 2017 Dhaulagiri Trip Report).
We continued our ascent for another 200 vertical meters between two steep mountains. We could see the crevasses and easily walked around them. After a short time we arrived at the pass located in a narrow cleft. To the north, the glacier opened up a lot more and the view was grander than to the south (where we came from). We were now at 5,300m, directly on the backside of Mount Ganchempo (6,387m). The view was not as grand as other passes we crossed. We were surrounded by rock and ice on all sides. Regardless, we did enjoy every minute of the windless time we spent on the pass. We took photos of the surroundings and the distant peaks of the Langtang Range. The most impressive though were the mountains immediately next to the pass. The icefall flowing from Mt. Urkinmang (6,151m) next to us was most impressive. The summits seemed so close, less than 1,000m of vertical gain from the pass.
To the north, the main glacier flowing from the pass dropped down steeply. There was a fixed rope placed by the Koreans and another one placed by us, to descend on. The porters had no crampons and a slip would result in a 500 m slide to the bottom of the glacier. Shyam had a rope but no anchors apart from our ice axes. He found a piece of old rope under a rock and tied that around his boot for some very limited purchase on the ice. The descent was pretty straight forward and after we had some tea, we were walking on the flat part of the glacier. The glacier gave way to rocky and icy boulders and the descent became more tricky. We could now see a large green frozen lake below. The north high camp was located by that lake and was our destination for the day. We had to down climb a tricky boulder field and steep slopes in order to get to the lake. The going was not easy and I had to concentrate to avoid slipping.
Our campsite was located on the edge of the frozen lake. It was a beautiful spot. The lake was surrounded by high and glaciated mountains on three sides and the moraine of the Langshisa Glacier on the north side. It was the High Himalaya at the finest.
After lunch I took a long walk to the top of the moraine of the Langshisa Glacier. I had a fantastic view up and down the glacier and to the surrounding peaks at the head of the valley. Down below, to the north and across the Langtang River, I was looking directly up the Shalbachum Glacier and the Shalbachum Mountain (6,707). To the left of the Shalbachum Glacier I could see the Yala Peak and the ridge leading to Dangpache Mountain (6,567m). I ascended the Yala Peak in 2010 with David. The visibility was great; the weather was superb but windy. At sunset, there was quite a lightshow. Various shades of orange light from the setting sun projected onto the clouds and glaciers surrounding the camp. I took many fabulous photos of the reflections of the Langtang peaks in the small tarns near our camp.
The surrounding landscape was very grand, dramatic and beautiful. Massive moraines, 7,000m peaks all around us with steep glaciers dropping down precipitously. We were in the middle of high Himalayan peaks in the heart of the Langtang Range! The sun soon hid behind the steep mountain to the west of our camp and it became quite cold. The wind also picked up.
We had a long and cold night. I was very happy to have crossed the Tilman Pass and be in this beautiful spot. I could stay here for a few days and explore the surrounding valleys and peaks. This was the last of the high and technical passes of the Great Himalaya Trail proper for me. I have basically finished all the interesting and alpine sections of the GHT between Kangchendzonga and Dhaulagiri (including the Dhaulagiri circuit that is not part of the GHT). I have not done the section between Gunsa (Kangchendzonga) and the Arun Valley (Makalu), the section between Rowaling and the Panch Pokhari Ridge (Langtang) – a low altitude hill slog, and the section from Syabrubesi to Arugat in the Ganesh region – another low altitude slog. I do not want to spend the time and money walking for the sake of connecting dots without any interesting or challenging objectives along the way.
October 30, 2018 Langshisa Kharka
We left early to go down to Langshisa Kharka where David and I were in 2009. The descent down was the most dangerous part of the Tilman trek, down a steep and very loose moraine. The entire moraine consisted of consolidated mud with rocks and huge boulders protruding from it. They seemed ready and waiting to roll on top of us at any moment. We went down fast to avoid any accidents. We then walked down the Langshisa Glacier on a conveyer belt of rocks and boulders. Finally we arrived at the snout of the glacier with a cool ice cave spitting a rushing glacial stream.
Rounding the corner revealed the Langtang Valley and the terminal moraine of the Langtang Glacier to the north of us. We were now in the familiar terrain. To my surprise, there was a bridge across the Langtang River, which enabled us to cross without having to ford the cold rushing water. It was windy. Numerous prayer flags at Langshisa Kharka welcomed us by flapping loudly in the afternoon sun. Nothing changed at the Langshisa Kharka campsite from 10 years ago. We set up our camp in one of the stone huts to shelter us from the increasing afternoon wind. The boys built a roaring fire and were looking forward to the first day off since we started. The Koreans left us and moved on to complete the Makalu section of the GHT.
October 31, 2018 Langtang Glacier 4,600m
One of my objectives on this trip was to explore the Langtang Glacier. I remember David and I going to the glacier in 2009. I regretted that we did not have enough time to explore further.
Shyam and I left the Langshisa Kharka camp in the morning (David took a day off). Along the way, we noticed a few landslides that were caused by the 2014 earthquake. We had cold and strong wind blowing at us from the north. We ascended to the terminal moraine of the Langtang Glacier and then got onto the glacier itself. We were going up and down high and loose mounds of ice covered by rocks. The going was tedious and slow. It soon became apparent that we would not be able to advance very far this way. We saw another trail along the lateral moraine of the Langtang Glacier in the distance. We decided to retrace our steps and gain the moraine to continue up the Langtang Valley as far as we could. We passed the Morimoto basecamp at 4,600 with a threatening herd of big yaks checking us out and continued further up the moraine.
The rocky wall of Pemthang Karpo Ri was directly ahead, close and imposing. We wanted to see around the corner, around the spot where the Langtang Glacier takes the turn to the northwest. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt. Langtang Ri and perhaps the 8,000m Mt. Shishapangma itself! The closer we got to the corner the higher and more imposing the Pemphang Karpo Ri wall appeared. The glacier was curving gently and there was no view. We were standing directly across the 1,500m high wall of huge mountains looming above us. We have walked very far and were getting quite tired. The wind was also increasing and we were running out of water. We walked for at least 10km up the valley. We learned later that the Langtang Glacier continues for another 15 km from that point! It apparently takes 3 days to get to the end of the glacier (and the basecamp of Langtang Ri). I had to admit defeat and leave the quest for another time. We turned around and headed down the valley to arrive back at the Langshisa Kharka camp around 3pm.
I was quite tired but very satisfied with our effort. We did not have any days off since the start of the trek on October 20th. While Shyam and I were on the glacier, Milan, one of the young porters, took a 6-hour hike to Kianjing Gompa to recharge his phone! He did not even bring any beer with him on the way back. Obviously we were quite disappointed!
November 1, 2018 Kianjing Gompa 3,825
Our objective was to get to Kinjang Gompa. We were looking forward to a warm shower and a cold beer. We walked down the Langtang River Valley retracing our steps from 2009. We crossed remnants of massive landslides caused by the 2014 earthquake. The walk was fast and very scenic. After 3 hours, we rounded the final corner and the massive bulk of Langtang Lirung appeared before us. It is such a beautiful and massive mountain. We could not see the village of Kianjing Gompa until we were almost there.
Surprisingly, the village of Kinjang Gompa has expanded considerably since the 2014 earthquake! The foreign aid money allowed the locals to build big hotels and coffee shops. The western not-for-profit was turned into a big profit! The village was very expensive and one enterprising gold-toothed fellow appropriately fleeced us. The prices in the village are shockingly high especially for food and beer! He is a sneaky one and managed to cheat us at every turn with a big smile and proclamations of his unconditional friendship. He looked shifty from the moment I met him and my initial suspicion was confirmed by the time we left the village. One good thing about our association with the shifty entrepreneur was the helicopter ride we managed to arrange through him (although he cheated us in that transaction as well).
In Kianjing Gompa village we heard that many groups attempting the Tilman Pass from the Langtang Valley side turn around, as they cannot cross the moraine of the Langshisa Glacier. This is the moraine that we also found to be the most challenging and dangerous part of the entire Tilman Pass route.
From the dining room of the hotel we were staying at, we had a fantastic view of Mt. Langtang Lirung.
November 2, 2018 Langtang Lirung Basecamp 4,350m
Today I decided to go to the base camp of Langtang Lirung. Although the option of sitting and doing nothing for a day seemed like a great idea, the FOMO got better of me. I was quite tired climbing the hill from Kianjing Gompa village to the basecamp. It looked much closer than the 5 km each way. Along the way, Shyam and I passed a Buddhist shrine located in a small cave. We also ran into our young porters picking up cow patties as a side gig for some quick money on their day off.
At the Langtang Lirung (LL) base camp (BC) I was looking for the memorial to Tomas Humar who died there in 2009. The BC is located by the moraine of the LL Glacier. It is surrounded by LL (7,227m), Changbu (6,251m), Kinshung (6,781m), Langtang Yubra (6,048m) and Yubra (6,264m). It is all very impressive and grand. The view down the LL glacier to the Kanjala Himal is also quite beautiful. From the LL BC we could see the ascent route to the Yala Peak. To my surprise, the glacier we climbed 10 years ago is almost completely gone! We had a windless and sunny day. At times it was even hot! I would have loved to climb higher to maybe 5,000/5,500m but I had no energy left in me. My legs hurt and my lungs hurt as well. The following day, we were going still higher to the Ganjala Pass at 5,130m. Being conscious of that, I decided to conserve my energy.
Back in Kianjing Gompa, over a beer, David implied that perhaps we should go down the valley but I thought that since we were already here we should at least try to cross the Ganjala Pass. David agreed at the end as we concluded that the chance of us returning to the Langtang valley any time soon was pretty slim.
November 2, 2018 Ganjala Pass Basecamp 4,300m
Thanks to our enterprising local “friend” and some hard cash, we managed to get a helicopter ride up the Langtang Valley. Some tourists were flying from Kianjing Gompa to Kathmandu (KTM) and we asked for the helicopter to bring more fuel and give us a 20-minute ride up the Langtang Valley over the Langtang Glacier. I wanted to see the Langtang Glacier that I did not get to see by walking to its end a few days prior. I knew that this would be a spectacular experience based on my memory from the Annapurna flight in 2017. Luckily, the day was sunny with no wind, making the conditions for flying perfect.
The helicopter was supposed to come by 8am but it showed up at 10am due to air traffic congestion at the KTM airport. The helicopter pilot was from Australia and had limited experience with flying beyond the Kianjing Gompa village. There was some confusion regarding the amount of flight time we paid for (of course the Kianjing man making the arrangements was trying to cheat us). Finally we sorted out the confusion and off we went. Flying in helicopters is the ultimate ride and an exhilarating experience. Flying in the Himalaya is the ultimate!
The machine started up and we lifted off and flew north. We gained altitude as we went further. We could see Mt. Morimoto, Shalbachum, Langshisa Ri, Penthang Karpo Ri, many glaciers and deep valleys below. We were flying at 19,000 feet. Soon the bulk of Shishapangma in Tibet rose majestically from behind the ridges of Goldum (6,447m), Peri (6,174m) and Risum (7,050m) – the very wall that blocked our view during the exploration of the Langtang Glacier. Mt. Shishapangma (8,013m) towered above all other Langtang peaks. Beyond Shishapangma, we could see the brown flats of the Tibetan Plateau. We could see the entire Langtang Glacier with Langtang Ri at its end. We had great visibility and there was very little wind. As we reached 19,000 ft of altitude, the helicopter was struggling a little. As we turned, we flew directly towards Pemthang Karpo Ri. The pilot was surprised that although he was at 19,000 feet, the top of the peak was still way above him. The summit is at 22,522 feet or 6,865m (another 1,000m or 3,500 feet higher). The pilot took a 180 degree turn at Pemthang Karpo Ri, approximately 10km from Shishapangma, and flew back. On the way back, we flew in front of the Langshisa Glacier with the entire Tilman Pass trekking route visible below. We could see the pass we crossed, the frozen lake where we camped, and the entire route we walked on just a few days before. The flight was very impressive and David and I were both very satisfied! I wish it could had been longer!
After landing back in Kianjing, we had another overpriced coffee and dry apple pie before we took off for the Ganjala Pass.
The Ganjala Pass basecamp is 1,300m vertical climb from Kianjing Gompa. The going was easy on a well-established trail with fantastic views to the Langtang Lirung and all mountains surrounding it. The basecamp sits on a promontory overlooking the beautiful Langtang Valley and the high peaks. It was a great day with little wind and great visibility. The evening was cool and there was no wood for a fire so we all drank hot tea to stay warm.
We intended going further to the high camp at 4,800m but this was not possible owing to the lateness of the hour and the reported absence of water at that camp.
November 3, 2018 Ganjala Pass 5,130m
We got up at 5 am and left the camp at 6am. We had a 1,000m vertical ascent right ahead of us straight from the camp. I was a little tired from the continuous 16 days of adventuring with no rest days. Right out of the gate we climbed steeply for about 500 meters before the trail levelled off. The higher we ascended the better the views got. We could now see all the way to Shishapangma and above the ridges of the Langtang Himal. It was another beautiful day with great visibility and sunshine. The climb to the pass over a glacier was long and it felt tedious, more glacier rock and moraines. The moraines were all dry though and we did not have any snow to worry about. The pass became visible early on and we just gradually ascended the long valley to get closer to it. The pass itself was very steep on the north side, basically a vertical drop of 100 m or so. In order to get to the pass it was necessary to skirt the ridge that forms part of the pass and approach it from the left side via a rocky shelf with some great exposure. There was a long ladder for the porters and a steel rope on the shelf for safety. I could just imagine the increased degree of seriousness if there was snow and ice on this route. Again, our poorly equipped crew would struggle in case of poor weather.
The Ganjala Pass is situated at 5,150m. It is a fantastic viewpoint for the entire Langtang Range. Mt. Shishapangma, the highest mountain of the range, dominates the skyline. The pass is quite narrow and marked with numerous prayer flags. The Ganjala Pass reminded me a little of the Renjo La Pass in the Khumbu Region. The Ganjala Pass is steeper though and more remote than the Renjo La Pass.
The descent from the pass to the south was also steep but not long. We descended on some loose scree and rocks to the bottom of the glacier at 5,000m. Surprisingly, there was a good trail not too far from the bottom of the descent gully. I refilled the water bottle with some glacial melt water. We were all very tired, including the porters. When we reached the bottom of the descent slope, we were still about two hours away from the camp. The trail was quite easy but long. It was down, down, down to 4,400m where we camped by a stream. At the end it was a 10-hour day with 1,000m up and 700m down over challenging terrain and high altitude. A good workout.
November 4 and 5, 2018 Descent from Ganjala Pass from 4,400m to 3,780m to Tarkeghyang
The descent from Ganjala Pass high camp was quite long. Basically, we descended back into the clouds (like the ascent to the Tilman Pass two weeks before). This made for a cold and grey experience without any views. The descent was not gradual but had many long and steep climbs. I am not sure how many meters we climbed that day but it was easily close to 1,000m. So much for descending!
On the second day of our descent we could not find any water and we were forced to go much further than we intended (we hiked for over 17 km) to a place named Dorjeling. In order to get water, Shyam and the boys went from the ridge down to the river at the bottom of the valley (a 700m down climb) and then all the way back up with the heavy jugs of water. They sure deserved a medal for that! Without water, no one eats. The porters were very tired and hungry after the long day.
The waterless campsite was beautiful and had a fantastic view of the sunrise. The rising sun dried our tents and sleeping bags. From the campsite, we ascended another few hundred meters, then down, up and down. Finally, we just went down all the way to the village in the valley far below to the “Tourist Paradise” teahouse.
At this point, David and I were basically done with the trip as we were just going back to the road. There was nothing else left to see. At the “Tourist Paradise” we washed our clothes, took a hot shower and just relaxed in the hot sun. We were definitely back on the main trekking route as quite a few trekkers arrived later in the afternoon.
This trek has been quite epic. We both agreed that it was one of the finest in Nepal (I say the same about every one of them, but this one really was one of the finest). This route was wild and remote, yet close to Kathmandu. We saw hardly any other trekkers or locals for that matter. It was also COLD! We had some really cold nights and, since the sun disappeared by the afternoon almost every day, we had cold days too. The altitude was consistently above 4,000m for most of the trek. I did not have any days off and each day I walked for more than 10km,
I had no altitude or health issues at all. I felt fit and strong all the way. I was tired but not to the point of slowing me down. I found it difficult to sleep mainly due to the cold. I would wake up just about the time my water bottle cooled down (usually at 2am; we would go to bed at 7.30) and I had hard time falling asleep again. I would then wake up at 4 or 5 am and the day would then start. We could not linger in the kitchen tent in the evenings or mornings, as the boys needed it to sleep and eat in. This forced us to retire to our sleeping bags early.
This trip was also marked by some incredible luck. No one from our crew knew the way or had proper gear. It was almost a miracle that we ran into the Koreans given how infrequently the Tilman Pass is crossed. This strength in numbers gave us the confidence and made the experience more enjoyable. We would have struggled with finding the key points along the way: the descent point to the glacier, the ascent route to the pass and the descent gully to the Langshisa Glacier. We were also very lucky to find the helicopter in the right spot and on the right day. Also, on the flight day, the weather was perfect. Although the gold-toothed man from Kianjing is a shifty bastard, the flight was worth it. We were also lucky with the great weather we enjoyed. Had we had any snow on any of the two passes, the experience would have been epic but in the wrong way.
The trip reinforced by conviction that David is the best company for me. We really are a perfect team for such endeavours. He is mentally and physically strong although this trip did tire him out a bit. I think that he was close to his limit a few times but pulled through with gusto and a smile.
November 6, 2018 Kokani 2,045m
Today we walked on a nice trail for the final 15km from Tarkeghyang to Kokani. We had lunch in Semartang at a nicely appointed house of a local lady. We also attracted a local mutt. I named him Dhalbat and he dry humped me to show me his love. Then he followed us for some distance and hung around until we left the following day. I was glad that we were done but also sad that we were going back to the chaos of the valleys.
The drive from Kokani to Kathmandu was tiring and long although the distance is only 70km. The state of roads in Nepal is beyond basic as I mentioned. We stopped for lunch in a town called Zero Kilo and had probably the best dhal bat in Nepal so far. Then onto the Arniko Highway (the road connecting Nepal and Tibet) and back to dusty and polluted Kathmandu. And just like that, it all ended in the Hotel Vaishali. In the lobby we were greeted by an exhibit of photographs from the golden era of Polish Himalayan climbing. We had a nice couple of days decompressing in Kathmandu and enjoying Raj’s hospitality again for which we are very grateful! Yes, we will return!
Distance traveled: 200km
Elevation climbed: 7.5 km or more