We did it: Langtang traverse

Posted on 22 May 2018

In front of me is warm apple pie, a hot drink and the warmth of a stove burning yak dung as fog drifts by outside the windows. After many days in the high mountains with only tents, it’s a welcome oasis.

Next to me, Steve stares in wonder at the workers outside rebuilding the small village of Kyanjin Gompa after the earthquake. Earlier today, we had to smile when Steve remarked that it was good to be down to 4000 metres (13,000 feet) where it’s easier to breath. I looked at him and thought, you’ve travelled a long way this week, literally and figuratively. But a big congratulations to Steve Ralphs on completing the Tilman Pass/Langtang section of the GHT. Before joining the trek last week Steve had never walked on snow before! Talk about jumping into the deep end.

This week we walked in a couple of snow storms, camped on snow for two nights, climbed a glacier to a pass 5380 metres high, abseiled down a steep snow slope and walked on glacial moraines with snow covered boulders for several hours. I think he now qualifies as a veteran. Way to go Steve, memories for a lifetime! We really enjoyed your company for this section. 

The crossing of a pass is always a major highlight of a long section but the travel through Langtang has also been special and somewhat sad to see one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. Lots of rebuilding has happened and continues.

Hearing some of the personal stories and seeing first-hand the massive impact brings home the understanding of how bad the disaster really was. One of the things we heard is that tourism coming back will help the most. There are tourists here and the facilities are ready so if you’re thinking about a trip to Nepal put Langtang on your list. 

So, how hard is it?

I’m sure if there are people thinking about this trek they have this question. The problem is it’s a hard question to answer as we all have different scales to measure difficulty.

First, let me recognise that travelling with World Expeditions is the easiest way to tackle the Great Himalaya Trail. Having experienced guides, cook staff and porters to carry the vast majority of the gear is travelling in style. That’s not even considering the staff not travelling with us that arrange transit, permits, accommodations, resupply and more; so, for the people doing the GHT without that kind of support my hat’s off to you as the difficulty level goes up a few notches.

Also, travelling with World Expeditions sets a pace that is reasonable for a range of people that have a desire to take on the trek. Don’t be fooled though, the everyday nature of this pace is still challenging and I consider this expedition to be one of the hardest things I’ve done.

I’ve done a number of one-day events, like marathons and triathlons and those tend to be more difficult than a single day on the trail. I’ve also done many backpacking trips that have similarities to the GHT but were much shorter and easier.

I have limited mountaineering experience so that probably adds to the difficulty level. The closest I’ve come to the effort required has been long self-supported bike touring. I’m in my sixties now so some of my judgement may be influenced by that factor as well. 

With that background, here is why I think the GHT difficulty level is so high:

Altitude  there’s no escaping it. The regular jaunts above 4000 metres (15,000 feet) make even the modest distance days a workout. 

Verticality  even the days on the schedule that look like there’s little difference in elevation, gain or loss, usually have significant ascent and descent between the camps. The ascents and descents are also not done on the grades commonly found at home. The trails here regularly are at steep angles. 

Terrain/trail variability  the GHT by nature goes through remote areas and therefore the trails are rugged. You have to deal with whatever comes that day, physically and mentally. 

Length and daily grind  the seemingly never ending days take a toll again physically and mentally. 

Staying healthy  this may be the number one factor that takes people off the trail and can be very hard to control. 

What it takes to deal with the challenges

Fitness  be in excellent condition coming in. Your fitness will no doubt improve but starting out with strength, balance, and cardio exercises. 

Attitude  we all have up and down days, but know this is a long haul and a positive outlook will make life so much better. 

Adaptability  be prepared for the unexpected; weather, gear issues, schedule changes  you name it. You have to adapt almost every day so don’t expect everything to be perfect. 

Luck   a little luck comes into play to complete the GHT. With so many factors that come into play, I'm sure those who have completed this trail would tell you they were lucky in many regards. 

Don’t take this post wrong I'm not saying don’t consider doing the GHT, far from it, just expect it to be hard. For most who take it on, that’s one of the main attractions: we’re looking for a challenge.

I’m sitting here at Tilman Pass base camp and listening to avalanches of yesterday’s new snow crash all around us. I know tomorrow’s crossing of the pass will be hard and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. 

I’ll talk about the rewards in another post, but let us know in the comments if there are questions you have about the trek and we’ll try and answer in a future post or reply. 

Up Next

We are on to the Manaslu/Annapurna section. Ken is back and healthy and ready to hit the trail again. As we head into this section the pace quickens.

We are well over half way through our time on the GHT but haven’t reached the halfway mark on the map yet so we have some ground to make up. We’re told the trails get easier but not to worry, we still have more 5000 metre pass to cross. Oh yeah, and there is the monsoon season just around the corner but not to worry, all’s well on the GHT. 

So long to Steve and the staff leaving us, it was a great section. I’ll definitely miss our second leader Juddha. If this guy can’t cheer you up, nobody can. I’ll think about you every morning to get motivated. 

Vince, Ken, Juddha and Bikash 

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