Skychasers and the Earthquake in Langtang Valley

Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2015 6:00 am
Jerry Lapp / Special to LNP

I was lucky to be in the Langtang Valley, the area hit hardest by Nepal’s April earthquake, twice in the past year. No, not lucky that I wasn’t there when the mountains rained ice, snow and rocks into the valley below — just lucky to be there, period.

On April 25, the earth 2.5 miles above Langtang Village shook so violently that it unleashed itself — its rocks and mud and mountains of ice and snow — onto the village of Langtang far below. As the monster avalanche moved down the mountain gathering steam, it sucked up everything in its path, becoming ever wider as it descended. By the time it hit the valley floor, it was 1.5 miles wide and had somehow managed to target the heart of the village, essentially burying the village and its inhabitants alive.

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The avalanche that swept through Langtang Village began high up on Langtang Lirung, the massive white peak

Last week, another massive 7.4 magnitude aftershock rattled the Himalaya, multiplying the misery upon a nation with a baseline of malnourished kids, difficult access to health care, monsoon landslides and rampant poverty.

Nepal is close to my heart. I first visited as a tourist and trekker in 1999 with my then-girlfriend/now-wife, Mary Ellen. We loved it, decided to stay, and visas, jobs and a wedding soon followed. It was the best of times, even before our daughter, Anabelle, arrived on the scene in 2002 . We had friends as family, no financial worries, no beeping calendars, treks to the High Himalaya on a whim, the Nepali language to learn, and the warm, hospitable Nepali people.

Five years later, we returned to Lancaster when a Maoist revolution — waged by the Communist Party of Nepal — made life risky, especially with a new baby. I missed Nepal immensely.

Not long after, many of our non-Nepali friends had dispersed to countries all over the world — exotic places like Barbados, Moldova, Ethiopia, Samoa, and yes, the heaven-on-earth that is Boulder, Colorado. Over email and at reunions, it became clear that it wasn’t just me who longed to be back in the crazy chaos of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. Every last one of my Nepal people talked about living there being the best time of his or her life.

That’s when the whole Nepal thing became clear to me. This little, jagged country is so much more than mountains; its people are the real gems, the real natural resource of this outrageously beautiful place.

A couple more babies grounded me in Lancaster through the mid-2000s, but then in 2008, ethnically Nepali refugees who had been squeezed out of Bhutan began arriving and settling in our midst. At the time, I was a newbie stay-at-home dad, wondering how I was going to survive in a house with babies all day.

Realizing it would help my sanity, and that I had a lot to give back from my time in Nepal, I volunteered extensively with our new neighbors, taking them to doctors’ appointments, translating, fixing toilets, making friends, that sort of thing. Slowly it dawned on me, though, that, once again, I was getting more from them than they were receiving from me. My Nepal payback scheme was only getting me deeper in debt.

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Skychasers’ trekker, Clare, above Langtang Village ~ photo credit Alex Treadway

Fast-forward to my two visits to the Langtang Valley in 2014; I trekked the valley in March, then returned to Langtang leading a crew of nine trekkers from the East Coast. Our local guide, Sudan Bhattarai, had an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Urken Lama, who were the innkeepers of Peace Full Guest House (spelled as they spell it) in Langtang Village. We stayed there and were welcomed as family.

We met them a few other times throughout our trek and, as happens so often in Nepal, went from being friendly to being friends. I found out a few days ago that they, along with two sons, died in the giant landslide.

I’ve always printed out and carried photos of people from previous visits, tracking down past subjects while trekking to give them their prints. It’s a great way to bridge the gap and make lifelong friends. Because I won’t be able to give our Langtang friends their prints on my next visit, I posted them on Facebook as a tribute to their lives and warmth, and as a reminder to myself and the rest of us to never forget the unfathomable pain, suffering and heartache that’s invaded the lives of millions in the Nepal Himalaya.

My personal pledge to the people of Nepal is to continue escorting trekkers to the High Himalaya — i.e., charity through capitalism. In addition, I’m zeroing in on meaningful relief opportunities that can be woven into an adventure tour. As Nepal fades from the media, keep in mind that the pain and suffering faced by millions before the earth shook is beyond what most of us have experienced.

My challenge to you is to involve yourself and use your strengths wisely through a trusted organization. Are you a carpenter? Take your tools and help rebuild after the shaking stops. Have a few extra bucks? Donate. In the medical field? Sign up with a medical team. And don’t be surprised if you end up like me — with a debt to pay back.

Jerry Lapp, a Manheim Township resident, is owner of Skychasers, an adventure company.