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  • iainthow


Updated: Jan 27

If you want to climb something in the Himalayas but don't want to spend a month on one mountain then the obvious solution is to combine a trek with a "Trekking Peak". Naya Kanga in Langtang is a great looking peak at a grade of about Alpine AD and the Langtang trek sounded ideal - very varied, quieter than the Everest or Annapurna areas and easily accessible from Kathmandu. None of the five of us had been to the Himalayas before so getting someone else to organise it seemed a good plan, and we chose Exodus, who suggested that as Naya Kanga was one of the harder trekking peaks we should add in the easier Yala Peak to do first. We didn't need a western trekking leader (three of us did that for a living) so they subcontracted us to a local Nepalese company, just dealing with flights and time in Kathmandu themselves. Both companies did a great job (and next year the trip was in Exodus's brochure).

Naya Kanga, Langtang, Nepal

Naya Kanga from the north. Photo Chris Dodd

The flights all went like clockwork, with an overnight stop in Qatar, and we had an interesting couple of days in Kathmandu while it snowed heavily in the mountains. This turned out to be the winter snows arriving a few weeks early, and in fact our intended route on Naya Kanga was already beyond us before we left Kathmandu. The only way we could have got up it would have been to scrap everything else and climb the rockier south face from Helambu. This is more technical but the new snow was melting on it, as opposed to our planned north flank where it was just piling up in heaps. As Himalayan novices we had no idea of this, of course, and just carried on with the original plan.

Below Naya Kanga. Photo Chris Dodd

Everything that has been said about the scariness of Himalayan roads is true. Our bus stopped every so often for the drivers to look down into deep gorges at wrecked vehicles – "that one last week, ten killed" etc. At one point we had to wait because another bus had broken down and was blocking the road. Eventually it was manoeuvred slightly to one side and we crept past it with our wheels right on the edge of the drop. After 13 hours we arrived at the road end at Syabrubensi, a tiny settlement in a deep gorge, still low enough to be in semi-tropical jungle. Here we met our porters, what seemed like a small army of them, making us feel like something out of the 1920's. I'd forgotten my pith helmet too 😁.

On the Langtang trek

Lunch on the trek

The next morning the sirdar, an irrepressibly cheerful sherpa called Lhakpa, allocated loads and discovered that one of the porters could hardly walk. He had a horribly septic wound on his foot but still needed persuading that he couldn't carry a load. None of us had any medical training but Liz drew the short straw and cleaned the wound out as far as possible and it was arranged that he would be taken to the hospital in Kathmandu. It meant missing three weeks well paid work but at least he was going to keep his foot.

By late morning we were off. I never quite got used to the routine of early mornings then lots of hanging about, but that's the way the system had always run so it wasn't worth messing with it. We got to gain huge amounts of altitude while carrying very little so it certainly benefited us. The tracks were well-used and easy to follow so we all ambled along at our own pace until we caught the porters up at the spot they had chosen for lunch. Lunch was dal bhat (lentil curry), occasionally with sardines for me (the only non-vegetarian on the trip). The porters always overtook us somewhere before the next village, despite carrying about four times more than us, then we either camped or stayed in tea houses.

Langtang, Nepal

The "bare upland valley". Tsergo Ri and Gangchempo behind

The advantage of starting the trek so low down was that we went through all the vegetation zones. We started in jungle, went up through deciduous forest, then into a zone of ten foot high cannabis fields (it's native there), with the odd stoned hippy lying about. The deal was that nobody minded what you did within that zone but there were Nepalese army posts at either end and if you were caught taking anything out you were in trouble. Above this were pinewoods, then as the angle slackened off a bit to "Sherpa flat" the trees gave way to a bare upland valley, with glimpses of glaciated peaks way up above.

Kyangjin Gompa, Langtang, Nepal

Kyangjin Gompa, our base camp in the centre

Three days out from Syabrubensi we arrived in the tiny settlement of Kyangjin Gompa and camped in a walled enclosure in the middle of the village. Flat cultivable ground is at a premium here so nobody was going to waste it by putting tents on it! This was our base camp for the middle part of the trip. Tony and I were initially surprised to see yak dung pats improbably high up the walls (just how big is a yak?), then we realised that they had been collected and put there to dry as fuel.

Gangchempo, Langtang, Nepal

Gangchempo from the 4300m top

We still had the afternoon so climbed a 4300m summit above the village, with a fine view of Naya Kanga and our proposed route. It looked perfectly feasible from this distance. We were impressed by the nearby peak of Ponggen Dopku, officially unclimbed, probably as it's not on the list of Trekking Peaks so would require a peak fee, and raising sponsorship to climb a hill that sounds like "ponging dog poo" might be problematic 😁.

Langshisa Ri, Langtang, Nepal

Langshisa Ri

The next day we walked up the main valley to Langshisa with just Lhakpa and his deputy Kaji. Kaji is probably still the fittest person I've ever met – the previous year he had cycled all the way from Beijing to Delhi. We camped below the dramatic Langshisa Ri and saw snow leopard tracks (but not the snow leopard itself). I had brought rock boots so Kaji and I went bouldering on the huge blocks behind the camp. Near the top of one I backed off the direct line, dropped down and took an easier crack. Kaji backed off too (he was wearing walking boots) but instead of climbing back down he leapt across into the other crack, a 15 foot jump, 20 feet up, with only a four inch wide ledge to land on. It was quite something to see.

On Tsergo Ri summit, Langtang, Nepal

Kaji, Liz and Tony on the summit of Tsergo Ri

Liz, Tony, Kaji and I walked back to Kyangjin over Tsergo Ri (4953m), which was steep, with soft snow on top and higher than I had ever been before. I found it hard work keeping up with Liz and Tony, who were using diamox, convincing me to use it too from that evening. It made a marked difference.

High camp on Yala Peak, Langtang, Nepal

Yala Peak camp, Ponggen Dopku behind

All seven of us walked up to the snowy plateau below Yala Peak the next day, dug out a campsite and pitched the tents for a very cold night. Yala had a small glacier and a snowy ramp, with the occasional crevasse, so we roped up, but it was very easy.

Yala Peak from Tsergo Ri, Langtang, Nepal

Yala Peak from Tsergo Ri. We climbed the left to right glacier ramp

There seems to be some dispute about Yala's height. Our map gave it 5500m, but figures as high as 5732m are often quoted. It took most of us two and a half hours, but Dave was coughing blood and understandably found it tough so he and Lhakpa took four. Fine weather and a great view made waiting for them on the summit no hardship.

Langshisa Glacier from Yala Peak, Langtang, Nepal

Langshisa Glacier from Yala Peak

The next two days were spent going up to a high camp below Naya Kanga. The second day had a steep snow section where we made a trail for the porters then lent them our axes – it was easy enough for those of us without huge weights on our backs. We offered to take some of their loads up but there was no way they were having westerners do that! The sunset was stunning even by high mountain standards, with Langtang Lirung dominating the view. It's still had very few ascents and we could see why.

Langtang Lirung, Langtang, Nepal

Sunset on Langtang Lirung from high camp

Chris was ill overnight and Dave had stayed down at Kyangjin after his exertions on Yala, so it was just Liz, Tony, Lhakpa and I following Kaji at 3.30am. Deep soft snow over boulders, sometimes as much as chest deep, made it both exhausting and very slow. Kaji broke trail through this for four hours, largely in the dark, an impressive display of fitness. By daylight we hadn't even reached the glacier and we agreed to give it another half hour and turn back if we weren't on the ice by 7.30am. We weren't even close. Lhakpa still wanted to continue so Kaji waved him forward with an "after you" smile. Lhakpa plunged forward for about five minutes before collapsing into the snow giggling and making throat-cutting symbols.

Returning to high camp, Naya Kanga, La ngtang, Nepal

Knackered back at high camp after the Naya Kanga attempt

We had got to about 5250m, four hours to gain 300m. It only took three hours to get all the way down to Kyangjin, compared with two and a half days on the way up. It was frustrating as the weather was still good (bar the odd snow shower) but definitely the right decision as the peak was well beyond us in those conditions.

Naya Kanga, Langtang, Nepal

Naya Kanga. High camp was on the lowest flat patch bottom centre. Photo Chris Dodd

Having done all the strenuous parts the rest of the trip was relaxing fun. We trekked back down the main Langtang valley and up the south side through a gorgeous 'enchanted forest' to Sing Gompa. There Tony and I were introduced to rice chang (beer). We had quite liked the barley and millet chang but this was another beast altogether. It was like trying to drink sloppy rice pudding and was much stronger than the other beers. I managed about an inch of mine then gave it to Tony, who finished both of them then spent the afternoon lying in a field giggling to himself. The others wisely declined to try it.

Gosainkund lakes (Gosainkunda), Nepal

Gosainkund lakes

A steep day took us up to the Gosainkund lakes, where Hindus believe Shiva's trident first struck the earth. There are annual pilgrimages to it and we were now on their route back to Kathmandu. I made a diversion from the track to climb an unnamed 4950m peak on the north side of the pass. It had a nice snowed up rocky ridge, about Scottish Grade II in the conditions. The map I had was vague in the extreme, and the names Surya Peak and Gosainkund Ri seem to be randomly bandied about between different maps, but comparing my photographs with the modern map and Google Earth it seems that I actually climbed "Trekkers Surya" at 5053m. It had a fantastic view over to the Ganesh Himal and to Manaslu and Annapurna beyond.

Manslu and Ganesh Himal from " Trekker's Surya" Peak

Looking over the 4950m peak to Manaslu and the Ganesh Himal from "Trekkers Surya"

I rejoined the pilgrim's path at the pass of the Laurebina La and soon caught up Chris, Dave and Lhakpa as they had stopped at the first tea shop. Liz and Tony had gone off to climb the 4700m peak above last night's stop, which turned out to be much harder than they had expected. As a result they ended up doing the last bit of the track to the next campsite at Ghopte in the dark.

Dorje Lhakpa from the Gosainkund trek

Dorje Lhakpa from the pilgrim's trail

We now joined a major trail built centuries ago for the Gosainkund pilgrims, following the line of a ridge all the way into the suburbs of Kathmandu. Much of it was made of gigantic blocks and we spent the next three days going up and down them, surprisingly energetic for a route that was basically downhill. The 5.30am starts were worth it for the stunning views over seas of cloud to Annapurna and Manaslu to the west and Dorje Lhakpa and Gauri Sankar to the east. We had time for a lazy day in Kathmandu before flying back to our normal lives.

Dorje Lhakpa and Gauri Sankar from the Gosainkund trek

Lonpo Gang, Dorje Lhakpa I and II and Gauri Sankar above the clouds

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