Tag trek


If somebody from the future had told me that I’d be willing to pay good money to lug a backpack around and not shower for seven days I’d be sceptical to say the least. However, when the nearest beach is further away than the nearest mountain you have to make a choice.

The trek I chose to do is in ‘Langtang ‘ which, for those who aced geography, is right next to the Nepal/Tibet border (north of Kathmandu).

For those who aren’t good at geography here is a map:

Nepal – the meat in the China/India sandwich

For those of you who want to get up close and personal, here is a more detailed sketch of the area:

Langtang trek –Syabrubesi to Kyanjen Gomba

Although my method of estimation is rather crude, from all accounts the trek I had planned was 20km and went from Syabrubesi (1,550m above sea level) to Kyanjin Gompa (which was around 3800m above sea level).

For references sake, Everest base camp is around 5,360 metres above sea level which means if we apply a linear ‘hardness’ formula I’m 43% as hardcore as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

As an additional point of reference, ducks have three eyelids. So I’m 33% duck.

Day 1 – Kathmandu (1,300m above sea level)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nepal, the main expression you need to know is ‘geez there are a lot of mountains out here’.

The country is home to 8 of 10 of the world’s tallest mountains, and if I had to do an interpretive dance for Kathmandu I’d try to look like this:

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at interpretive dance, , unless what I’m trying to communicate is ‘the sprinkler’.

But my point here is that Kathmandu is surrounded by mountains, meaning that getting out of the city can take some time. In fact, for me, it took something like 5 hrs to travel 145km which although might suggest we were driving at a leisurely pace of 30km/h, was actually more like this:

In any case the drive was much better than riding on the top of a jeepney and in any case, I made it to my first stop:

Syabrubesi (1,550m/5,100ft above sea level)

Syrabrubesi (Seera-broo-bessy) is a common stop-off-town for those doing the Langtang trek or crossing (more rarely) over to Tibet.

The town is of a moderate size and stocks a whole range of modern necessities like coca cola and oreas. Although I wouldn’t suggest you rely on it for any of your trekking supplies, it is a safe place to pick up snacks and some minor woolly items (such as beanies and the like).

It’s also overrun by chickens, which are my favourite animal (no really).

    Syabrubesi – the township

The river next to the town

    The hill is prime real-estate


Day 2: Trek to River Side Lodge 2,769m above sea level (seal level?)

Now call me superstitious and all, but around six people have gone missing on the Langtang trail over the last couple of years and none of them had a guide. Obviously I have no proof that there is a correlation between having a guide and whether a person gets lost, but who wants to take chances? I had a guide and I’m alive. Coincidence? I think not! Actually, on a serious note after the last person went missing the Nepali government has imposed a ban on trekking without a guide.

Anyway, much of the first hour of the trek is pretty straight-forward with nothing more complicated than the occasional wire bridge, steep hill and pit of snakes. But probably the best thing about this first hour is that it gives you a chance to whet your appetite before having to climb near-vertical inclines for 6hrs.

    The first bridge on the way to Langtang

“Get out of my way fatty”

Okay so I might be exaggerating, those donkeys look like they’re having a leisurely stroll more than scaling a cliff. But it was an ordeal, I can assure you.

Although there are significant portions of steep inclines they’re predominantly in the shade, meaning you aren’t being simultaneously roasted by the sun while putting your legs through their paces and it makes it all the more enjoyable when you arrive.

    River Side Lodge (our first place to stay)

Now I’m not usually one to parade pictures of my accommodation all around the internets. After all who really cares what my bed looked like?

But this time I’m making an exception as a lot of people expect they’ll be sleeping on an icicle with three other people, wrapped in penguins. Fact is I only had to do that once, and that was because I couldn’t work the temperature control on the spa.

For those of you from a temperate climate I would suggest three things to help make you more comfortable:

  1. Bring a sleeping bag;
  2. Check with the owners of the lodge whether you can hire a blanket for the night; and
  3. ‘borrow’ one of the chickens wandering around to use as a hot water bottle (and an alarm clock if it’s a rooster).

Although I don’t know exactly how cold it gets at night, it definitely drops to the negatives.

    Photos of my room, complete with that teenage heartthrob Buddha

    The view from our guest house

Day 3: Langtang village 3,430m

Now, although any time is a good time to talk about breakfast, this is a particularly good one. So you know what to expect breakfast is usually pretty basic, insofar as there is no Pop Tarts or French toast. Maybe there weren’t enough USB ports to plug in this baby over there. But the Nepalese have their own local substitute: porridge and Tibetan bread.

Both are highly recommended on account of them not being frozen, and because they’re reasonably tasty substitutes for French toast. In fact if you look at the photo below you should be able to see a plate with the Tibetan bread on it. Essentially it looks like a pancake but tastes like not a pancake.

    An oven in one of the kitchens in Langtang

An icy waterfall -You cold bro?

The yak equivalent to ‘come at me bro!’

Now I have it on good authority that I didn’t see that guy (the yak) after I saw the icy waterfall. But let’s face it, Yaks are the main reason (after the mountains) people come to Nepal. This one was no exception. As you can see from the photo he is filled with hate. He is pretty much the hitler of the yak world. But I came prepared with my puffy jacket which makes me look 3 times bigger (and squishier) than I actually am.

Those photos above are also just after I had escaped the clutches of the forest part of the trek (which is pretty much the first day and a half of the trek)Although I won’t claim that it’s an easy walk, you’re likely to face at most a moderate incline. The views are also, as you can see, spectacular.

The disadvantage of wide open spaces is how small you feel, particularly relative to the trek you’re doing. This is also around the time you have to start thinking about altitude sickness, as the sign below clearly indicates. The rule is basically once you get over 3000 metres you should only increase your altitude by 300 metres per day (to allow acclimatisation).

Things just got real…

Also, as you might expect as you get closer to the Langtang things get more and more …Tibetan. Tibetan bread, yaks, rocks piled on top of each other and prayer wheels.

A lightly frosted prayer wheel

Prayer wheels are reasonably rare things to find, but there were at least two that I saw while doing the trek.

As you hopefully can see from the picture above there is a brass cylinder inside a stone box. The one above is also suspended above a (currently frozen) river, which typically will turn the wheel. Although the pattern on the wheel might vary, typically they have in Sanskrit the prayer ‘Om-Ma-Ni-Pad-Me-Hum’ which I’m reliably informed is a prayer or mantra which means ‘Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Diligence, Renunciation and Wisdom’.

As far as I’m concerned having nature doing the praying for you is clever. I wish Catholicism would have caught onto this so that I didn’t have to do this prayer thing manually.

For an idea of what one of these looks like in action have a look here.

Again, although I was nowhere near basecamp altitude, I did start to feel impacts of altitude as the trek progressed. For me this essentially involved feeling short of breath and having moments of what, at the time, I would have described as lucidity.

My favourite moment of lucidity was in my dream. Essentially this involved my uncle, Rowan Atkinson, showing me around New York City. Rowan Atkinson is not my uncle for the record and I remember he looked like a hobo. Still I didn’t call him on it as I wanted to know more about New York.

I suspect this was painted thousands of years ago with dye made from the tears of mountain lions. Only science knows for sure.

Kyanjin Gompa (3,870m/12,697ft)

Our final stop was a place called ‘Kyanjin Gompa’. Although I am informed that this is a Buddhist temple, I personally saw nothing which looked like a temple while there.

I did, however, see the hill ‘Kyanjin Rr’.

Kyanjin Ri (4779 metres)

Kyanjin Ri, as it’s called is what I (as an Australian) would say is a mountain. Unfortunately when I used this term with my guide it was lost in translation as he claimed it was a ‘hill’.

Whatever it was, it was intimidating. Particularly after I had been walking up a slight incline like Neil Armstrong. But it seemed unlikely I’d have another shot at this, so I gave it all I had.

About half way up the epic hill

Now while my guide pretty much ran up the hill (mountain) I took plenty of time to take in the scenery. As you can see from the photo above, the view was amazing. There were also ‘cairns’ (stone stacks) right up to the summit.

Now I’ve done a lot of googling and haven’t found what I’d consider an authoritative guide on their meaning, but from my guide and the interweb I know that they are stacked to bring luck. In some ways the higher they are, the more ‘lucky’ they can be, as individual stones may represent an individual wish.

Mind you, they’re also fun to make (I made a couple) and help mark out the trail for other travellers. So like most things the etymology is probably more grey than black and white.

Anyway, the trek up that hill was epic for all except my guide, who had been power-walking the entire way, and ended in the view below.

Langtang Lirung Glacier

So there you have it. A brief overview of the langtang trek, complete with an evil yak and crash course on why people are stacking stones everywhere.

One thing I didn’t talk about much was just how good our guide and porter were. Besides being tough as nails they were friendly, patient and extremely knowledgeable. So if you’re planning a trek in Nepal I would highly recommend you contact Shanta.

EDIT: Shanta, my wonderful guide from this trip has recently launched a website with more details about the services he offers as a guide:


This photo of a chicken was intentional. It’s an intentional chicken.


Where I Spent the End of the World

I imagine a lot of you have wondered where I would spend the end of the world (in particular so you could share the occasion with me).

Well after a lot of time, money and science the optimal choice was obviously inside a volcano. After all if there is anything I remember from primary school it’s that putting baking soda and vinegar in a cardboard cone is a lacklustre affair and consequently the most boring (and therefore safest) place to be.

So on the 21st of May 2011 I traveled out of Manila to Mount Pinatubo the last place God would think to look for sinners.

Mt Pinatubo erupting in 1991


So I’ve taken this end of the world thing further than is warranted (or at least as far as I can be bothered with), so I’ll just get to putting up some of my most impressive pictures and making the occasional comment. The first of these much-anticipated comments will be a (retrospectively) obvious observation that the closer you get to the mountain itself the larger the rocks are, so the initial trek went from being a pleasant stroll to an epic struggle of man against nature (as usual my preference is to simply eradicate nature, but it’s a work in progress).

And even though an epic struggling may seem to some an exageration, it’s not, and as far as I’m concerned you’re not a man until you’ve stared down the barrel of one of these bastards:

Unintentional double-entundre aside the walk was long, but cruisy and in my opinion an undersold component of the journey (along with the absense of Jollibees on the trail), the landscape is incredible, depite the state-sanctioned age discrimination (see below).

I’m not telling you where I belong.

I have to admit the sign’s overconfidence bothered me the most, essentially its accuracy (and the reputation of the Philippines) rests on a sixty second window. After obnoxiously elbowing (pretty much literally) my way past a bunch of octogenarians not adhering to the sign’s recommendations I managed to make it to the head of the pack, at least that’s how I’ll be telling this story from now on.

Thanks to some naturally occurring signage, I managed to track that crazy crater down.







I don’t have a legitimate segway for the next part, so let’s just say we fucked around swimming in the crater for a bit until a boat was available to take us across to the other side of the crater.

Unsurprisingly the opposite side of the river was pretty much identical except that you could burn your feet on the ground and that there were some of the scraggliest rocks I’ve ever seen:

You scraggly bastards!

As you may have also already guessed the water was also (at least in parts) piping hot, meaning that you had to piss-bolt out of the water when swimming to outrun third-degree burns. Having been able to do this successfully, I then proceeded to wash my hands in the water ten metres along dashing my hopes of hand modelling.

Anyway, the trip was amazing and highly recommended. If there is one thing I could say honestly at the end of the day, it’s that this destination is undersold to foreigners. In anticipation of the runaway success of my call to arms I’ve purchased Qantas shares.

I also met a monkey: