The next part of our trip diverges from our travelogue mold. I’m not big on personal sharing on this blog, not because I don’t love to yap, but because this is a very public forum for a personal experience.
Carefully omitted here are the times we were tethered to the commode with traveler’s diarrhea, or those inevitable couples squabbles that crop up (especially on hot sweaty uncomfortable travel days).
Traveling isn’t always pretty, and most times it’s a dirty, cranky, hungry existence. But we like to share with you those exhilarating moments that make the long bus rides and dingy hotel rooms seem worthwhile. This next installment is equal parts exhilarating and personal. Consider yourself warned. 😀
At the midway point of our 7-day Langtang trek, we made a summit attempt to Tserko Ri, a nearby peak. From a distance it appeared as a gently sloping hill, prayer flags flapping gently in the breeze. Looks can be deceiving.
The peak of Tserko Ri rises to 4984m or 16,350 ft. We kept hearing accounts of the hike that seemed to belie its docile appearance. Repeated warnings to start early in the morning, not to give up, and that it was totally ‘worth it’ for the view from the summit, came early and often from trekkers on their way back down. Worth what exactly, we were to find out for ourselves. These not-so-subtle hints made us suspect that this friendly looking hill would present us with some challenges.
The owner of the guesthouse where we stayed was a short wind burned Tibetan woman with hair down her back that skimmed the ground when released from its usual braid. She reiterated to us the same early departure warnings, but guesstimated the hike to be 2.5 hours up and 1.5 hours down. Heeding her advice, we struck out at 6am with headlamps lighting the way for the first half hour, freshly boiled eggs warming our pockets.
Just outside the village of Kyanjin Gompa, the trail dissolved into criss-crossing yak paths, each dead ending in a cryptic jumble of decomposing bovine turds. These talismans of the trail signified our increasing desperation, as if the yaks were trying to send us messages we simply couldn’t decode. Half an hour of following these shitty little paths, attempting to decipher the meandering trails, we hit upon the right track leading straight up the ridge, drawing a clear line to the summit.
After 2 hours ascending along the ridge trail we felt the effects of the thinning atmosphere. Each step required summoning an enormous effort, accompanied by dramatic huffing and puffing , our heads pounding. At this point we could clearly see the prayer flags at the top, but they didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
In the valley below, the clouds began to roll in and cover the dry riverbed. Another word of advice we received concerned the quick moving clouds, which could not only make descent treacherous but also spoil the view from the summit. We were quickly sandwiched between dense fog smothering the valley below and increasingly dense cloud patches circling the summit. We each silently hoped our struggles would pay off for a clear moment at the summit. But that moment seemed increasingly distant with each step. More and more trail revealed itself between our tired shuffling feet and the summit, our progress impossibly slow.
We reassessed our summit time from 2.5 hours to 4.5 and set a firm turnaround time, giving ourselves a safe window of time before we needed to head back down to the village during daylight. Other groups of trekkers whizzed past us with their porters and guides tagging along behind.
As the hours ticked past, we began to accept the possibility of not reaching our goal. The prospect was dispiriting but increasingly looming. With each step, we fought off the pounding headache and shortness of breath from the altitude. We kept pushing on and on. Finally, after 5.5 hours of walking through the thin air, we made it to the summit! Looking down past the trail we had covered, we all felt such a sense of triumph. The view was breathtaking, and the clouds held off for just a few moments, giving us a glimpse of the glacier capped peaks towering over us on all sides. The camera came out to capture our goofy oxygen-deprived smiles.
At this point Zev got down on one knee and PROPOSED. I was so surprised that I promptly burst out crying. Not a dainty moist eye, but full on sobbing, snot streaming. What can I say? I’m a charming lady. Also, I blame the altitude; it makes you giddy and euphoric, a delightful reminder that your brain is slowly suffocating. The guides saw this commotion and burst into song, belting out a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ with all their might. Despite our best attempts to explain what was going on, they continued to wish me a very happy birthday.
Getting down was not as simple as one of the singing guides had explained to us, ‘oh, just walk downhill until you find the trail along the riverside, that will take you back to town.’ We followed many a dead ending yak trail and stumbled our way down a rubble-y mountainside until we finally found a real path again. It was a 4 hour slog back to the village, punctuated by exclamations of ‘oh my god, we’re getting married.’
Upon our return to camp, we celebrated our engagement with a huge feast of boiled eggs and ‘pizza’ made with chewy Tibetan bread. We crawled into bed early that night with sore legs and happy smiles. It was a fitting way to end an eventful day.
We relished telling our story to the trekkers we met as we descended back to civilization. There was something fabulously elicit about keeping this secret for the 3 days it took to get back to Kathmandu and an internet connection to share the news with family and friends. On the way down we bought matching ‘Tserko Ri 5000m’ hats knitted out of baby yak wool to commemorate the occasion.
Many thanks to our fabulous trekking partner, Max (hyperlink), who was also our unwitting engagement photographer.