Ah yes, the Himalayas. We’re so happy to see you.
Sarah and I had been excited for some time about making our way to the Himalayas in Nepal. We both love hiking and what better place to do it than there. We didn’t climb any of the high peaks, nor did we want to, but being in them and standing below them was surely good enough. The mountains have always captivated me and I’m always happy to be in them, no matter their size. But being in the Himalayas definitely felt different to me than any other mountain range I’ve visited thus far.
Trekking in Nepal is much easier than most people would assume. Most of the popular treks combine amazing scenery with visits through mountain villages and best of all, all of your food and accommodations are available throughout the trek at conveniently located tea houses (guesthouses). So there’s no need to carry your own food or shelter. The biggest challenge is acclimatizing to the high elevation and avoiding accidents.
Our plan was to do as much trekking in Nepal as time and our bodies would allow. To start things off we decided to do a short trek, at about 6-8 days, in the Langtang National Park, which is relatively close to Kathmandu. The Langtang Trek, as it’s called, is not as popular as the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp treks but was described to be equally as beautiful. Doing this trek first allowed more time for the weather to warm and clear some of the snow in the higher passes of the Annapurna Circuit trek, which we planned to do after the Langtang trek. The shorter trek would also allow us to gauge our fitness level and try out the rental gear available here in Nepal.
Since we’re traveling for so long we opted not to lug our backpacking gear along with us because we’d only need it here in Nepal and none of the other places we were visiting. So we left home all of our fancy smancy gear like lightweight sleeping bags, down jackets and comfortable backpacks. We spent a few days hanging around Kathmandu scoping out gear rental shops and to buy the permits we’d need to go trekking.
On the day we chose to buy the permits we stopped at an Indian restaurant (we were having withdrawals from lack of Indian food) on the way to the permit office. While sitting and eating I had a view of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. To my surprise I saw two faces passing by that I recognized. Because the facial recognition part of my brain works much better that the name recollection part I could only mumble to Sarah that there were two people in front of the restaurant that we knew. Just as I was mumbling, Giselle, one of our Brazilian friends we met on our way to Nepal from India, looked into the restaurant and saw me pointing at them. Giselle and Jorge were also in Kathmandu and happened to pass us on their way to one of the nearby attractions. We chatted for a few minutes and shared our plans to trek in a couple of days. Jorge was immediately intrigued and asked to meet up later to learn more.
After our meeting with Jorge he was easily convinced and excited to join us. Our last day in Kathmandu was spent with Jorge getting the necessary gear. Trekking was new to Jorge and so he had to rent what he could, same as us, and buy anything he couldn’t, mostly clothing. Nepal has tons of knock-off gear and much of it is pretty good quality for about a 1/3 to 1/2 the price. With gear in hand we were ready to head out the next day.
According to our guidebook, the worst part about the Langtang trek is the 120 km bus ride you have to take from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi (small town closest to the trek). It’s 120 km of extremely bumpy roads mostly paved with dirt and gravel. The morning of our departure there was a bit of confusion between us and the cab driver resulting in us being dropped off at the wrong bus stop. The time it took us to sort out how to get to the correct bus stop meant we arrived only minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. Unfortunately, and likely due to our late arrival, the only seats available were those in the rear of the bus. As everyone knows, the rear of the bus is the bumpiest most nauseating place to sit. The ride to Syafru Bensi was by far the worst bus ride we have ever been on. Sarah hit her head on the roof of the bus no less than six times.
After spending one night in Syafru Bensi we started the trek early the next morning. The trek in all took us six days–three days to reach the small village of Kyanjin Gumba, which lies at the end of the Langtang trek, one extra day there and finally two days to hike out. Part way through the first day of the trek Jorge shed as much weight as he could at the first guesthouse we stopped at for lunch. That night Sarah I did the same at the guesthouse where we slept for the night. Sarah’s knees were giving her problems so we needed to lighten her load. After dropping as much as we could at the guesthouse I put as much of her heavy gear as I could in my pack. Losing the weight worked and Sarah’s knee recovered. Unbeknownst to Sarah and Jorge, it was very important to me that we finish this trek. I had special plans a-brewin.
About half of each day was spent on the trail and the other half at the guesthouses, reading, talking and relaxing. As we climbed further and further up the valley the scenery became better and better. The valley opened up more and more to expose the high peaks surrounding Kyanjin Gumba, our final destination. Trekking in February meant that we were on the trail during the off season and didn’t encounter many other trekkers, but it also meant that it was colder than during the peak season and that there was more snow on the ground. Fortunately for us a few groups preceded us and created a well packed trail in the snow.
The extra day spent in the village of Kyanjin Gumba allowed us to do a day hike to a high peak right behind the village. The peak was called Kyanjin Ri and it stood at around 4500 meters (14,760 ft.), which is higher than any peak in the contiguous 48 states. We set out early in the morning in order to give ourselves plenty of time to reach the peak, take in the view and finally make our descent. I was especially eager to make it to the peak. Remember, I had special plans for the day.
The weather that day could not have been any better. Seriously, it was perfect. The day before the valley was full of clouds, obscuring most of the mountains surrounding us and we were worried that the next day would be the same. The night before the skies cleared and those clear skies carried over into the next day. There was not a single cloud in the sky for the entire hike to the peak.
Hiking to the top was slow going. The terrain was steep, covered in snow and rocks at times, and we had thinner air to breath at the high elevation. For most of the hike I was at the front with Sarah and Jorge following close behind me. As we got closer to the top I tried to put more space between Sarah and I and Jorge, resulting in Jorge being a few minutes behind us most of the time, but still within sight. At one point Sarah asked me if we should wait for him, to which I responded, “he knows the way”. Now, I’m not usually this inconsiderate with my fellow hikers. But I wanted to be at the top of the mountain alone with Sarah. She didn’t know what I was up to and thankfully agreed to keep moving with me.
The views at the top were amazing. We had completely clear skies in all directions. As soon as Sarah and I reached the summit I decided it was time to do what I came to do. I grabbed her hands, expressed my love and desire to continue this awesome journey with her for the rest of our lives, knelt and asked her to marry me. To which she initially responded, “are you serious?” To which I said,”would I joke about this?”. After reassuring her that this was really happening, she finally said YES! Nice.
Sarah and I have been together for nearly five years and it has been an amazing five years at that. My life is truly enriched by her and I only see it getting better. I’m happy she said yes and I couldn’t have asked for a better place or day to have proposed. (I apologize for the high level of mushiness in this part of the blog.)
Soon after the proposal Jorge reached the top and had no idea what had just happened. We spent about an hour on the peak soaking up the sun, drying our socks and shoes, and taking in the the amazing views. On one side of us were two receding glaciers and on the other a long line of amazing mountain peaks and the valley below.
Many hikers know that going down a mountain is sometimes the most difficult part. This proved to be the case that day. The temperature had risen to soften all of the previously crunchy snow we had hiked up on. This meant that going down was slippery and at times a bit scary, especially for a our new-to-hiking friend Jorge. But after a few slips and falls, some hard decisions about which path down the mountain was the least dangerous, we’re happy to announce that Jorge made it down safely. The only casualty was one of his poles. Luckily for him, he found a pole at the end of the hike that someone else had lost. A couple days later that pole met the same fate.
It took us two days to make our way back to Syafru Bensi. The days were a lot longer because we could cover more ground going down hill. We spent one more night in Syafru Bensi before heading back to Kathmandu on the same dreaded bus we took there.
The Langtang trek was amazing and surely exceeded all of our expectations. Sarah and I were very happy to share the experience with our friend Jorge. It was his first time hiking, seeing real snow, and being in the mountains. Nice work Jorge. And best of all Sarah agreed to my proposal. I knew she’d say yes.