Thursday, August 17, 2017

Realities: Langtang, Nepal

  • There's something about seeing a red body bag that makes things far too clearly real. This was at the start of day 2, when a helicopter went by overhead minutes into my trek, around 8:30 am when I was already weary of another long day ahead.
  • My guide finds out from other guides on their way down that a female trekker from Malaysia had died the night prior after spending the day summiting Tsergo Ri (4985 m / 16354 ft).  I met up with the Malaysian team the next day as they were descending.  As expected, they were all pretty somber.
  • At first glance at the numbers, Tsergo Ri isn't as high as where Everest Base Camp stands at (5364 m / 17600 ft).  But it is the rate of accent that factors in whether altitude sickness will hit hard and fast.
  • Looking at itineraries for Annapura Circuit/Base Camp or EBC, you'll see that groups typically will not reach EBC or ABC until day 8, with typical days that range between 300 m - 450 m elevation gain daily, meaning trekkers will get to their lodging by lunch time or shortly after, with the rest of the day off.
  • Typical Langtang trek itineraries will have you up to to 4985 m by day 4, with the first 2 days each being 1000+ m days due to lack of infrastructure, completely breaching all safe acclimatization guidelines.  Post earthquake, there's even less tea houses to choose from in terms of trying to create shorter days.  
  • I didn't have a 360 m day until day 3 and practically ran it.  It felt so easy compared to the 2 days prior.  Even though it was a higher elevation (3900 m / 12795 ft), had a leisurely lunch, had energy to journal, sat outside, took in lots of sun, it was awesome!  That was what a typical trekking day was supposed to feel like.  And it was the next day, that I too had Tsergo Ri on the schedule, which was a 1085 m gain.
  • No surprise that government sponsored earthquake recovery efforts barely exist or are indefinitely delayed in this area.  It is so much harder to get supplies to.  Stuff have to be bused a long way, then carried up by commercial porters or donkeys.  Helicopters are prohibitive.  
  • Because the big money is in the Everest and Annapurna regions, there will always be huge incentive for the government to take care of those areas first.  And they did, right away.  People in Langtang are still waiting for the 10K per family that was promised to them to help rebuild homes.    
  • I saw porters carrying six to nine 2x6s on their backs.  Some of the older commercial porters were visibly struggling.  I still feel horrible for not having anything useful to offer one gentleman who didn't look very good, who had stopped to rest.  The exhausted look on his face still haunts me.
  • Because of the above, I strongly disagree with the common belief that the Langtang region is the "easiest" of the three.  If you got into trouble, there would be no help for you in the first 2 days because of the incline and terrain.  No place for a helicopter to land.  I'm not sure how one would even be carried down.  It didn't even take an hour for me to realize that I was really out there and it was pretty easy to get hurt, die and disappear.
  • I also received an update about the family that began the trek the same morning as me.  They had their 2 children with them which I thought was pretty amazing.  Looked experienced and fit.  They left at 7:30 am, just as I was sitting down for breakfast.  I caught up to them early on and the husband wasn't looking too good.  Turned out that his family made it up the last rock scramble later that day, 3 hours after I had passed whereby the husband threw up.  
  • It was too dark and dangerous to even contemplate going back down even though that was what you were supposed to do.  If you were on a regular trail, you might be able to, but there was not much regular about day 1.  And where would they go?  It would be at least 5 - 6 hours before seeing any signs of a tea house.  And no way would I attempt it in the dark, I don't care what type of lamp they might have had.  Too easy to walk off a ledge/cliff or break a leg.  Plus they have 2 kids (who by the way were real troupers!) to consider. 
  • They really had no choice but to spend the night and decide next steps in the morning.  Altitude sickness symptoms show stronger during sleeping hours.  Was very relieved to hear he made it through that night and the family promptly descended at first light.

Photo was taken quite far away, with zoom.
I had just reached the top of a small hill when I saw them.
There are 2 commercial porters walking with between six and nine 2x6s on their backs.  
This is the site of the Langtang village landslide/avalanche, 
about 30 m worth of debris and many bodies stilled buried in the rubble and ice.
I was still 30 min away from the start of it and it took about 45 min to cross.

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