It’s amazing that I was still able to run after the 9 hour bus ride from Kathmandu. There were bags and people cramped into every possible nook and cranny, with more than half spilling out of the bus or balanced precariously on top. Fortunately the landslides from the road had been cleared earlier in the month after a predictably heavy monsoon season. But even without the blockages, the road was in a precarious state with narrow winding turns and steep drops off the mountain side.
Upendra and I got off at Thulo Bharkhu, an unusual starting point for the Langtangs. Most continue on to Syaphru Besi which lies at the valley mouth. However we wanted a longer run into the valley as well as one hour less on the bumpy bus.
In the end, the decision was a good one, with my holiday starting on Day 2 with a lovely 90 minute forest run with tantalising glimpses of the Himalayas through the pine trees. It was during this trail run that I discovered how deceptive the map I was using was. It looked like it was a simple flat run contouring around the mountain, only to find a 300 metre ascent at the start. It was only then that I realised the contour lines were 125 metres apart to take into account the towering peaks of over 6000 metres scattered across the map. By merely crossing one line, I could easily go up or down 250 metres in one time.
We stopped off at Thulo Syaphru for a mug of tea and an early morning sit down. From there, we dropped straight into Langtang valley and begun to follow the Langtang Khola (river) up and up through the forest. The trail was rocky with lots of mini ups and downs. It was at this stage that I realised how good Upendra is as a mountain runner – there was absolutely nothing he couldn’t run. With a 7kg pack on my back containing all I needed for the week, walking was often the best option for me when faced with an unending stone staircase up through the trees.
After crossing the river via a suspension bridge at Bamboo Lodge, we had a quick lunch at Lama Hotel. All the teahouses on the route have the same menu with similar prices to avoid avid competition amongst them. It turned out to be a carbohydrate rich montage of potatoes, bread, pasta and rice that we were to survive on for the week.
At 3000 metres the forest disappeared and we emerged on to mountain pasture land. My permit and passport were checked by the army post and our entry onto the mountain range was noted in their logbook. We continued on to 3330 metres, stopping at Langtang village for our first night. It was 3pm and a fine cold mist had descended, making me want to stop anyhow and take cover. We had planned originally only to go as far as Langtang and not to ascend as far as Kyanjin Gompa. I was soon to realise that this was a good plan given the surprising affect that altitude has on me and that even at 3330 metres, I failed to sleep a wink that night.
Day 3 was a short day taking in one of the Langtang Valley peaks. Upendra suggested Kyanjin Ri at 4600 metres, just behind Kyanjin Gompa. I thought this was too easy, given it was only 1300 metres ascent from Langtang village. But, oh my God, as soon as I tried to walk up that hill, I thought my head was about to explode. I had to take a breath with every step, whilst my heart was being squeezed out of my head. Upendra thought this was the funniest ever, as he bounded up the slope and waited for me to catch up.
In the end, the pain was worth it. From the top there were the most incredible views all around, with snow tipped mountains and cascading glaciers encircling the peak we were standing on. I even choked up when I saw how beautiful it all was. Other trekkers too arrived one by one, embracing each other as they reached the top. It was an emotional moment for everyone. The descent off Kyanjin Ri also made the ascent worthwhile. Upendra and I raced down a narrow switch-backed rocky trail that led us straight into the German Bakery at Kyanjin Gompa village for tea and apple pie before heading back to Langtang for the night.
Day 4 we planned an out and back route to Langshisha Kharika, a yak grazing pasture at the end of the Langtang Valley. Though the weather was cloudy and the mountains masked in the mist as we left Langtang village, it brightened up the further we ran up the valley, revealing an amphitheatre of mammoth snow-capped mountains. The trail was nice and runnable, skirting alongside the Langtang river on sandy soil. And unlike the crowds on top of Kyanji Ri, it was a quiet day with only 4 other people on the trail. We stopped just short of Langshisha, at the view point looking out over Morimoto base camp. After a quick sit down, a cinnamon roll and some water, we raced back down the valley but were unable to avoid the wet and muggy weather that had stayed firmly put in Langtang all morning. I had to retreat into a teahouse in Kyanjin Gompa for tea and a sit beside the fire before daring to run the last hour back to our hotel in the rain.
Langtang Valley has the advantage of not having too high an altitude. This means that’s a perfect place to go trail running without the need to spend much time acclimatising (unlike Annapurna or Everest). It also has a wide range of scenery, from forest to alpine meadows, from peaks to scramble up to wide glacial valleys to run along. A bit of a trail runners paradise.