Independant Climbing & Trekking in the Langtang Valley, Nepal

Wednesday 28 December 2016, 9:37pm -- gemmawilson

Gemma and Peggy in the lower Langtang valley

Creator: 
Gemma Wilson

North of Kathmandu, bordering Tibet, is the picturesque and highly diverse Lantang Valley. For any outdoor enthusiast this is the ideal location for moderate-challenging trekking, easy peak climbing or hard high altitude climbing all situated in the abundance of Tibetan culture, huge Himalayan peaks, roaring rivers and small villages where you will always feel welcome.

 

In early October 2016 I spent two weeks trekking in this area and I know I will definitely be back. I decided on the Lantang region as unlike some of the restricted regions in Nepal where you are required to enter with a guide and the permits are costly, the Lantang  allows you to be an independent trekker or climber on peaks less than 6000m.

The Lantang area was deeply affected by the 2015 earthquake, a landslide completely swept away Lantang village the biggest settlement in the valley, killing 310 people, most of those Lantang residents. Schools, guesthouses, hospitals, monasteries were destroyed, deeply upsetting life for the locals with many having to move to Kathmandu and send their children to schools hours away. The people in this area have been working hard to rebuild and restore the damage caused by the earthquake so that trekkers can return to this area. Trekking is the number one resource that supports them. Guest houses are continuing to be re built and this season the Lantang valley was reopened to trekkers.

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Debris in Lantang village

Creator: 
Simon Chen

Accompanied by Peggy and Simon friends I met in Kathmandu we headed off to the Langtang region via bus. Starting out the next day and managing to hitch a ride on a lorry we made it to Syabrubesi, the entrance to the park and valley. We were encouraged to take an alternative start on the north side of the Lantang valley which by-passes the sections of the lower valley which were affected by the earthquake. That evening we made it to the small village Khangjim (2280m).

The next morning we were met by clear skies and views into the mountain ranges of Tibet. Making steady progress through the day, by midday we dropped into the lower valley. The lower valleys subtropical forests make it an interesting trek full of rhododendron trees, blue pines and it was a pleasure to see langour monkeys peacefully living in the wild. The Lantang area is also home to snow leopards and the endangered red panda.

The next day we set off for the alpine village Kyangjin Gompa (3,870m) the valley broadened and we got out first glimpse of the Lantang massif. In the centre towering above us was Lantang Lirung (7227m) the highest mountain in the Lantang region. We crossed the devastating landslide where the Lantang village used to lie. It was shocking to see the huge amount of debris and the devastation the landslide has caused to the area. The people are determined to rebuild and get back to normal life and are re-building the Langtang village a few hundred meters north of the original site.

The temperature started to decrease as we moved from the humidity of the dense forest into the sub alpine environment. The abundance of Tibetan culture made it a pleasure to walk through the valley with the prayer wheels spun by the fast flow of the creeks, hundreds of prayer flags and the many Buddhist stupas.

Getting higher and higher we reached the well known alpine village of Kyangjin Gompa, the last settlement in the Lantang valley. For the trekker or climber Kyangjin Gompa is an excellent place to be based for a few days or even weeks considering the amount opportunities to trek and climb. There are many options including days treks, peak climbing or continuing over Ganja La pass (5122m) to other regions of the Himalayas.

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Peggy, Simon and Gemma reaching Kyanjin Gompa after a thunderstorm

Creator: 
Simon Chen

For any climber wanting an introduction to high altitude climbing in the Himalayas the there are numerous 5500-6000m peaks in the Lantang area. This also means avoiding the crowds of the Annapurna and Khumbu regions. Ganja La pass has excellent campsites and good access to these smaller Himalayan peaks. You can get provisions from Kyangjin Gompa from the multitude of guest houses including the original yak cheese factory in Nepal were you can pick up a kilo of yaks cheese for 1000 rupees! The Sherpa believe it is the yak cheese and milk were they get their strength from.

In Kyangjin Gompa we were greeted by a friendly Tibetan family who insisted we stay in their guest house. The original plan was to acclimatize in Kyangjin Gompa and carry on to Ganja La pass and attempt to climb Naya Kanga peak however, with the extended monsoon season drawing into October the weather was too poor. Instead we spent four nights Kyangjin Gompa exploring the valley including day trips up Kyanjin Ri (4479m) and Tserko Ri (5033m).

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Simons campsite below Ganja La Pass

Creator: 
Simon Chen

With the unstable weather and experiencing the mild symptoms of the altitude I decided to continue on my own. Descending back down the valley and continuing to Gosiankunda – Shivas sacred lakes. Simon decided to stay on for an attempt of Ganja La pass and Naya Kanga but was turned back due to heavy snow fall. Descending back down the valley to bamboo village (1900m) and up again to the farming village of Thulo Syabru, through Shin Gumpa, Laurebina and on to the holy lakes on Gosiankunda (4380m) was an incredible journey. In Thulo Syabru I was welcomed into the home of a friendly Nepalese family, helping them out with their daily life including milking yaks and digging out potatoes using the traditional methods of an ox plough.

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Friendly family in the village Thulo Syabru

Creator: 
Gemma Wilson

Known as one of the divine places for Hindu people Gosiankunda is a small alpine village that consists of many holy lakes at an altitude of 4380m. I stayed here for the night and got up early for an ascent of Surya Peak (5145m). Feeling pretty lucky I had the whole mountain to myself with amazing views stretching out to the Annapurna range and a close up view of the Langtang massif. Continuing over Gosiankunda Pass (4610m) and descending down through Ghopte, Phedi and finally into the Helambu valley. Despite being so close to Kathmandu, the Helambu region remains relatively unspoilt. Besides the Hyolmo culture of high mountain people, the landscape of green rhododendron and bamboo forests, majestic waterfalls, and snow-capped Himalayas make this area very diverse.

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Gosainkunda, sacred lakes 4380m

Creator: 
Gemma Wilson

Quickly running out of money towards the end of my trek I had to do a big day to make it to the bus stop towards the end of the Helambu valley. Not quite making it to the village I was lucky to be invited to stay with another Nepalese family from the Hyolomo culture. Serving me coffee, biscuits, a full meal of Dahl Bhat and homemade Raski (wine made from millet) it was a fantastic last night to finish off my first Himalayan experience. The next morning the children of the family walked me to the bus stop ensuring I got back safely. Offering them the last of my money they kindly refused. The kindest and generosity of the people I encountered along the way was incredible considering the day to day poverty they live in and the huge amount of hardship they have encountered throughout the last year due to the earthquake.

Acclimatization

According to the International Society for Mountain Medicine (2016) acclimatization can be defined as the process of the human body adjusting to the decreased availability of oxygen at high altitudes. This trip was the first time I had been exposed to the effects of the altitude and what it feels like to be in this environment.

High altitude is defined from 2500-3500m, very high altitude 3500-5500m and extreme over 6000m. There are some normal physiological changes that occur in humans during the acclimatization process including hyperventilation, shortness of breath during exertion, changed breathing pattern at night, awakening at night and increasing urination (International Society for Mountain Medicine, 2016). It is important to be able to distinguish what is normal and what is not.

As you ascend the barometric pressure decreases (although the percentage of oxygen remains air 21%) resulting in fewer molecules of oxygen for every breath (International Society for Mountain Medicine, 2016). The body works harder to obtain the oxygen by breathing faster and deeper. This is observed more with exertion especially walking uphill. This process is normal as long as the shortness of breath settles rapidly with rest. Avoiding substances that slow the breathing such as alcohol and certain drugs is therefore important.

 

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Gosainkunda Pass 4600m

Creator: 
Gemma Wilson

On day 3 of our trip up the Lantang valley we ascended from 2400m to 3870m (1500m height gain). Myself and Peggy experienced fatigue and light - headiness the last 300m of the day however Simon did not. Acclimatization can be very unpredictable affecting each individual differently. Fitness level, gender, age or previous altitude experience does not seem to play a role in the acclimatization process. People acclimatize differently, some have no problem whilst others suffer from Acute Mountain sickness (AMS). It is an uncertain process. On one trip you may be fine and on another suffer from AMS despite a previous identical ascent. 

My sleeping pattern was also disturbed, awakening regularly and noticing especially during the night that it was harder to breathe. This in turn made me pretty tired during the day. On the day trips to 5000m I had to slow my pace down significantly and when walking uphill I was noticeably more fatigued than usual. The headaches came in waves but weren’t so bad and didn't require any medication. Peggy and I had figured we were suffering from mild symptoms of theacclimatization process. We concluded that if we had ascended more slowly we may have prevented or reduced these mild but slightly annoying symptoms which lasted the four days until descending. A night at 3500m before coming up to Kyangjin Gompa would have been best. On the second part of the trip descending back down the valley and back up my body had the chance to properly acclimatize. Symptom free, I was sleeping well again at 4380m and my pace up to 5000m was much quicker with no fatigue or hyperventilation.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) occurs when your body is not acclimatized to its current altitude and results in a cluster of unpleasant symptoms. AMS occurs when your body enters the upper limit of its tolerance zone to the lower oxygen levels and there is not enough oxygen for your body to function. Symptoms of hypoxic distress occur and is an indicator that you have gone too high above what your body is prepared for and you get sick. A diagnosis of AMS is made when a headache is present, accompanied by one or more of symptoms - loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headiness and difficulty sleeping (International Society of Mountain Medicine, 2016). A headache is not a normal symptom of the acclimatization process. All these symptoms may vary from mild to severe.

Some basic but key guidelines for acclimatization include:

  • Stay in your bodies tolerance zone- when ascending over 3000m only increase your altitude by 300-500m per day and for every 900m of elevation gain take a rest day to acclimatize.
  • Make sure everyone in the group is properly acclimatized before going higher - everyone is different
  • Climb high and sleep low - climbing over 500m is okay, as long as you come back and sleep at a lower altitude
  • Hydration - acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss (drink approx 5 L per day) Acclimatization is inhibited by overexertion, dehydration and alcohol.
  • If symptoms increase - go down
  • Do not deny - be willing to admit that you have altitude illness, that's the first step to staying out of trouble.

(Travel Doctor, 2016).

Of course these are only a guidelines, each individual acclimatizes differently and the most important thing is to listen to your body, be patient and make the most of the ginger tea and garlic soup which is normally in abundance at altitude in Nepal!

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Thunder storm sunset down the Langtang Valley

Creator: 
Gemma Wilson

 

References

The Travel Doctor. (2016). Altitude or Mountain Sickness. Retrieved from

      http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/altitude.htm

International society for mountain medicine. (2016) Normal Acclimatization. Retrieved from

      http://ismm.org/