The Last Trip

Tea house in the lower Langtang Valley

We were both excited when Sandy was able to get a new position in hp (at the last minute before leaving for the Milford Track, if you recall from a previous blog entry). With her old assignment ending later this year and the current economic climate it was a little scary. But she was able to get a really good spot that is a great opportunity for her. This did mean that our timing for returning to the US was accelerated. That part was a little sad for me, as I have made some really good friends here in Singapore and enjoyed getting back into my old hobby of wargaming in a big way. And although we had traveled a lot, there were still a few places in Asia that I was hoping that we would be able to visit before we left. But now things were in motion and moving quickly.

Even before we got back from New Zealand Sandy started to plan a long business trip to the US. She wanted to visit all of the sites which have people in her new organization: Boise, San Diego, Vancouver and Ft. Collins. She also wanted to visit Shannon in Madison on her birthday. Finally, she wanted to make a house hunting trip. All of this added up to a month of travel in the US. Although hp wouldn't pay for it, she suggested that I go along so that I could participate in the house selection process.

Scenic spot for a lunch break

Well it didn't take me too long to figure out that for the time and cost involved for me to go back to the US to help pick out a house, I could go just about anywhere. People who know me probably aren't too surprised that I eventually suggested to Sandy that I was ok with just about any house that she would pick out and that I would use the time that she was gone to make a final trip in Asia. Sandy was agreeable so now I just had to figure out where I was going and make arrangements very quickly.

I narrowed it down to two choices right away, both in the mountains. One option was to go to Borneo and climb Mt. Kinabalu. This is a spectacular mountain that is not well known outside of Asia. I had been thinking about climbing it ever since we got here. Our regular travel agency even had a packaged trip there. Borneo is an interesting and exotic place that is quite close to Singapore. But when I looked at it in detail there was a lot of risk. Weather is a problem on Mt. Kinabalu any time of the year, but especially in the November to March timeframe which is the rainy season around here. This was a double whammy as not only could bad weather abort a summit attempt, but the approach hike through the jungle could be quite unpleasent during the rainy season. I had already experienced leeches in Nepal at the end of the rainy season on my trip there in 1991 and know how unpleasant they can be.

Hiking in the upper Langtang Valley

I looked at and discarded a couple of other possibilities quickly. Bhutan? Too expensive. Indian Himilaya? Incident in Mumbai is still too recent. It didn't take me long to focus in on another trip to Nepal. I had been very happy with the arrangements made by the trekking agency that I used, Hiunchuli Treks. The guide I had on my last trek, Tashi Tamang, is a great guy and we had become good friends. But I only had about three weeks to look into the trip and make arrangements.

I looked at weather and it seemed reasonable. Although it was still winter in Nepal, it is quite far south. Kathmandu is the same longitude as Tampa Florida. It would be cooler than in spring or fall which are the normal trekking seasons, but as long as I didn't do a trekking route that crossed any really high passes it would probably be ok.

Here I got a little bit lucky. When I got back from my trek last year and looked into Hiunchuli Treks I found out that their website had lapsed. But when I checked now I found that they had just redone it and had a brand new fancy website up that was full of information. So I was able to find out about trips they offered and itineraries and costs and equipment. Since it wasn't the main trekking season I was able to get booked on Silk Air even though it was close to departure time. I contacted Hiunchuli Treks and checked if my friend Tashi would be available to do the trip on short notice. It turned out that he was so with only two weeks notice they thought that they would be able to put a trip together.

Gangchempo - 20,951 ft

I had been to Nepal twice before and had done treks in the Khumbu region (near Mt. Everest) and the Annapurna region. For this trip I looked at two possibilities which had quite different characteristics. One was in the Manaslu region (Manaslu is one of Nepal's eight thousand meter peaks). This would be a three week trip into an undeveloped region of Nepal - more like trekking was back in the eighties. It would have to be a camping trek as lodges are not common or are very rough in this region. Although I didn't expect it to be really cold, I thought that a camping trek would probably be tougher if the weather got rough. Plus the Manaslu trek crossed one pass that was seventeen thousand feet high where snow could be a problem. After talking to Tenzing at Hiunchuli Treks on the phone I decided Manaslu was out.

My other choice was Langtang/Gosaikund/Helambu. Altough this region does not have any eight thousand meter peaks it is very scenic. Langtang was Nepal's first national park centered on the Langtang Valley and Langtang Lirung, a beautiful seven thousand meter peak that is quite difficult to climb. It is close to Kathmandu which kept time and expense down - and I was limited on both. Plus the Langtang valley is quite developed for trekking and some of the lodges are of a better standard, at least from a westerner's perspective. Just south of the Langtang Valley are the Gosaikund Lakes, which are sacred to Buddhists in Nepal, and the Helambu region. Although the lodges were supposed to be a little rougher, this area promised some interesting cultural aspects to go with the mountain scenery.

Langtang it was. With only two weeks to go I booked my airplane ticket and told Tenzing that the trip was a go.