So having spent 3 days up and around Langtang Valley, it was time to run back home.
I had originally thought it’d be nice to do a circuit, go south and cross Kangja La at 5130 metres. But anyone I spoke to said I was crazy. The route is only for expedition camping and not for people with lightweight running gear like myself. So the only option left was to run back the way I had come, following the Langtang Khola river back to Thulo Syaphru.
In the end, it wasn’t that bad double backing on myself. It was a fast 18km descent from Langtang Village (at 3330 metres) down to Pahare Hotel (at 1680 metres) which turned out to be extremely fun. The not fun bit was the slog uphill after that. The path to Thulo Syaphru starts as a steep switchback ascent followed by a crossing at a suspension bridge and then through some people’s front yards. We reached Thulo Syaphru at midday and Upendra pronounced it was lunchtime. It was good place to eat as, being near the road, it meant that the food was better and cheaper than up the mountain side.
And then it started to rain. Now I’m well used to rain. But it was just no fun slogging straight uphill on muddy trails through a dark and dingy forest with no spectacular views to distract me in the least. We had hoped to reach Laurebina Yak at 3900 metres and stay the night there. But on discovering a teahouse in the midst of the forest at 3600 metres at Chyolangpati, I refused to budge from there. Upendra had no choice but to stop for the day and went in and ordered me a massive cup of tea. After a hot bucket shower, a change of clothes and strategically positioning myself in front of the log fire, I felt a lot less miserable.
We started as usual at 7am the next day, Day 6 of the trip. Though we were now away from Langtang Valley, the morning produced the most spectacular views of the Himalayas that I had ever seen. We reached Laurebina Yak, our Day 5 destination, in less than half an hour. From there it was an uphill climb to Gosinakund pass that was bedecked by bedazzling prayer flags.
The path did a nice mountain pass contour and the first views of the infamous Gosainkund lakes appeared below. Despite the pretty surroundings, I was dreading what lay ahead, a 4610 metre pass, a height that had severely shaken me on Day 2. But when I saw a group of Europeans heading up it with their 7 year old kids in tow, I had no choice but to put my head down and battle on.
The path on top was the first bit of snow I’d seen up close. But I didn’t have the energy to start a snowball fight, even though I’m not sure Upendra would have understand the game if I had tried to play. Instead I kept going, hoping the sun would stay out and keep the cold away. We’d been lucky thus far with the weather, the sun staying out every day at least until midday.
Once over the pass, the path turned into a steep and rocky descent. It was reminiscent of parts of the Mournes in Northern Ireland with rocks scattered all over the place. My only worry was for all the trekkers with their rock solid boots and precarious poles that make them look like they’re about to fall over on the slightest rough patch. I saw a few tottering around, protecting their knees as Upendra and I galloped down.
The weather soon started to close in and Upendra started disappearing into the mist. But the path was well worn and obvious so there was never any risk of getting lost. After a brief break for tea at Phedi, we continued on to Ghopte through the forest that now reappeared at lower altitude.
At Gosinkund I’d told someone I was heading to Tharepati that day. “Not possible, not possible”, he said. He didn’t know that I was not a trekker but a mountain runner and that Tharepati was indeed reachable that afternoon. It was actually kind of funny when every evening I heard the other Nepali guides ask Upendra where we had come from that day. The ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’, the shaking of heads and looks of surprise were classic when they found out how much distance we had covered since morn.
At Tharepati we stayed the night at the Yak and Yeti hotel. I was kind of getting bored of the same old food, the cold mountain weather and the hard beds and so hatched a plan to be back in Kathmandu the next day. Upendra was happy to accommodate. So at 7am, on Day 7 of the trip, we bounced down the mountain to try to get back to the capital. I had a feeling it would take us 7 hours and in the end, what the stops for pancakes, tea, lentils and rice, noodles and chow mein, we were back in Kathmandu by 3.30 pm. I was tired and my feet hurt, but glad to be back home.
It was definitely an incredible mountain running holiday. There were real highs, such as the mountain views first thing in the morning and speeding down long winding trails. And there were the lows, of knowing that there was another 1000 metre ascent straight ahead and the soreness of yet another blister. But overall it will be probably one of the most memorable weeks of my life and something I’ll treasure forever as a mountain runner.