This is the summary of a safety inspection and evaluation of trails, accommodation and bridges conducted in April 2016 exactly one year after the April 2015 earthquake.
The Langtang trek was the first commercial trek Lost Earth Adventures offered. But it’s not the only reason why this region is so dear to my heart. It was here that I proposed to Sarah, on the summit of Kianjin Ri, on a blue bird day in May. It was here that I bought an engagement ring from an aging, endearing Tibetan man as we passed through Langtang Village. And it was here that I had spent many hours chatting over cups of yak butter tea with the lodge owners and residents. That had over the years become our friends.
If there are any lessons to be learned and good to come of this tragedy, then it is the opportunity to learn what types of buildings suffered the most and how best to locate new homes and buildings.The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had lifted its travel advisory against visiting Langtang and Manaslu in February. The Langtang was the last of the regions I was able to visit, and you can read a report on all of the other trekking regions by reading our other blog posts.
I had stripped down to the bare essentials for the trip into the Langtang. In Kathmandu I rationed my toothpaste and underpants, whittling down my gear to a rucksack that weighed a mere 5kg. The itinerary was loosely set to run up the Langtang Valley, over the Gosainkunda Pass, down into Helambu while attempting a new trekking route on yak trails to Sikha Besi, two valleys north of Kathmandu. If time permitted we’d take a cheeky side trip to the 5150m summit of Surya Peak.
I had nine days to do it.
Imagine Binod’s surprise when after trekking for twelve days around Manaslu, I wanted a lie in and didn’t mind missing the only bus from Kathmandu to the trailhead.
“But boss, how will we get there, sir?”
Unsurprisingly I received a call later that evening from KP, our Operations Manager in Kathmandu, expressing Binod’s worry that we didn’t have any bus tickets or organised transport arranged.
But where’s the adventure in catching the bus?
The next morning I arranged to meet Binod at 7am for breakfast at the Himalayan Java Coffee Shop, emphasizing to Binod to pack light. Both were dubious to my plan, but neither had been able to experience travel through Nepal like I have. With my different clothes and exotic, bright face towering a foot higher than anyone else, I’ve never had to wait to long for a lift. There’s an air of excitement for the driver picking me up. More often than not, they don’t want money, but instead to take pictures of me and to chat cricket (which I know nothing about)!
Well time had passed and there wasn’t a vehicle in site. I had been starting to regret my decision boasting for an hour over breakfast over how easy it’d be. Cockiness waning, the first of five vehicles we’d take trundled along. A large lorry pumping out diesel fumes covered in Hindu symbols and struggling up a hill at about 10mph. The trucks air brakes came on and I got the usual reception. The two men sharing the same passenger seat were hanging out the window wondering what I was doing and where I want to go. Soon there were three of them sharing the seat and in typical Nepali hospitality I was given the most comfortable place, a metal box with the gear stick between my legs.
After seeking local advice we thought we'd begin by heading up the Langtang Valley. There are 2 ways to enter the valley. One is in good condition. The other needs work.
The New Route, Langtang Valley the High Way
The new route into the Langtang is via Sherpa Gaon, and is actually an improvement on the traditional trail. This is also the route Sarah and I originally took when I wooed her with a £3 engagement ring! The trail follows high along the mountainside, offering much better views.
The trails along this route are in perfectly good condition, lodges are intact and the villages have not seen any damage.
The Old Traditional Route
From here we had to cross a cluster of large landslides where at one stage the path was set onto an overhanging section of mud. You can see the two pictures to the left showing this.
We had watched as a train of donkeys crossed the bridge, figuring it would hold us too. However, we’ve made the decision that bringing a commercial group over this bridge would be entirely irresponsible.
The bridge is damaged beyond repair and is dealing with forces and angles that it was never intended for.What this means for future treks, is that we’ll need to access the Langtang Valley along the higher route via Sherpa Gaon. We’ll continue to do so until this bridge has been replaced. Going forward I also want to see the condition of the trails after another monsoon season.
Langtang VillageWhen the earthquake happened, the vertical 7200m high southwest face of Langtang Lirung shed the majority of its glacier hanging from it.
Whilst avalanches are a daily occurrence on Langtang Lirung they don't fall anywhere near villages as they are sensibly placed far away. This was a freak occurrence. Normally entire glaciers don't fall off mountains.
To put this into perspective, an estimated 40,000,000 tonnes of snow, ice and rocks caused a pressure wave equivalent to half the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
This pressure wave destroyed the houses in the nearby hamlets of Thangsyap and Langtang Gompa but fortunately didn't head east and unbelievably the village of Mundu 15-minutes walk past Langtang remained unscathed.
The two lodges in Mundu are still open and the Tip Top lodge is still serving fresh coffee. There is also a new guesthouse now open in Langtang Village, two in Thangsyap and one was being built in Langtang Gompa as we passed through it.
They are ready to accept visitors, are keen for tourist money to stimulate the area and the mountains are as beautiful as always. Now is the time to come before the tourists return. We surveyed the guesthouses for safety and have listed the safest ones along with their telephone numbers for all our guides to use when booking.
Langtang Village One Year Later
Continuing our trail run we arrived in one what remains of Langtang Village for a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. We had met two friends, Pema from the Buddha Lodge in Kianjin and Lhakpa from Dorje Bakery, which is still selling the best coffee and cakes in Nepal.
It was a sombre and emotional experience as both of them lost family in Langtang Village. Our charity Share the Load Foundation is about to send a team of workers to help give the construction a solid push before the monsoon season.
We continued further to Thulo Syafru, using the trail from Syrafru Besi and not from Pairo, which was in perfect condition. There is about ten open lodges in Thulo Syrafru, including our favourite, Peaceful Lodge.
Heading up the hill we went to Chandanbari (Shin Gompa). The Yak and Nak, the best lodge in the national park was undamaged and even let us make cheese fondu in their kitchen! The rest of the village was in good shape with only one wall that had fallen down. The cheese factory and other lodges were open.
Both with packs less than five kilos it was a real pleasure to move so quickly at this altitude enabling us to rapidly explore the different routes. From the top we were totally surrounded by snow-capped mountains and could see ranges far into Tibet. Clouds were building quickly so after the obligatory handshake and summit selfie we were skipping rocks back down the ridge.
Moving quickly was important but equally was not hurting ourselves as with minimal kit, total remoteness and no chance of rescue we had to be careful. 7 hours later we stopped for egg and chips at one of the two undamaged lodges in Phedi before running to Gopte in 1hr 20m.
We’re leading treks to the Langtang, Helambu and Gosaikunda Lakes regions this autumn. We’ll see you on the trail!