Spring 2017: Ganja La to Langtang

Kuhl Sherpa on Yala Peak, with Gangchempo Peak behind, 1999

Spring 2016

When: late-April 2017 start of trek
Your Guide: Himalaya Specialist, Jerry Lapp
Tour Sketch: A crossing of the troubled Ganja La Pass, then climbing 18,110 ft Yala Peak
Adventure Rating: High ~ walking up and out of Kathmandu to access remote high country
Low Point: 4,500 ft ~ 1,372m at start of trek, then 4,755 ft ~ 1,455m at end
High Point: 18,110 ft ~ 5,520m on the summit of Yala Peak
Highlight: eating chocolate cake at the Dorje Bakery in Kyanjin? the view to Shishapangma, Tibet’s only 8,000m peak, from the Yala summit? evening campfires on the Ganja La?
Room & Board: a mix of mountain lodges while on established trekking trails and tent camping on Ganja La & Yala Peak
Cost: Middle of the Road . . . $3,199 covers almost all of your expenses in Nepal over 17 days, including guides; porters; cooks; all meals; hotels; transfers; etc.

My History on the Route

This big adventure begins by trekking due north out of Kathmandu, crosses the mighty Ganja La Pass into the Langtang Valley, then climbs to the glaciated summit of Yala Peak at 18,110 ft! Here’s a little history of the route . . .

In 1999, I walked alone out of the Kathmandu Valley with a big backpack and an impetuous plan to cross the high, exposed Ganja La Pass into the Langtang Valley.  At the base of the pass, I hired Tashi and his friend to show me the “trail”. High up on the pass, a snowstorm blew in at 16,500 ft and stopped me in my tracks.  So, we retreated and I took the less treacherous, but still spooky and beautiful trail over Gosaikunda Lakes to reach Langtang.

This viewpoint above the Gosaikunda Lakes displays over 100 miles of Himalaya, stretching to the west all the way to the Annapurna range, left, and north to the mountains of Tibet, center. The Gosaikunda Lakes route is being offered as an easier alternative to the Ganja La Pass.

Along the way, I ended up meeting a Dutch guy (whose name has escaped me), and we trekked together for many days.  His friend, Mr. Kuhl Sherpa, met us high in the Langtang Valley and we climbed the glaciers to the summit of Yala Peak, a magnificent way to end two weeks in the Himalaya.

Years later in 2014, I again made a somewhat laughable attempt to climb the Ganja La, this time from the Langtang side.  Yes, laughable because I didn’t even make it to base camp before thigh-high snow turned me around.  But that was in early March, essentially still winter in the High Himalaya.

Ganja La attempt #3 happens next spring, much later in the season than my two earlier efforts, bringing with it a great chance of success.  No climbing experience necessary for either the Ganja La or Yala Peak, however, a fair amount of fitness will greatly increase your enjoyment of the Himalaya.

This is a fully supported trek with optimistic and speedy Sherpa guides, porters, and kitchen staff.

Bonus 1:  Our trek will provide an economic boost to Langtang & Helambu; both areas were hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and rely heavily on trekkers to provide income.

Bonus 2:  Not a huge fan of heights? Take the alternate and spectacular pilgrimage track over the Gosaikunda Lakes.

The descent from the Ganja La Pass, center, winds its way steeply down into the Langtang Valley

Yala Peak!

The trek culminates in an optional climb of 18,110 ft Yala Peak, an exciting hike up a glaciated mountain using crampons and ice axes.  After descending from the Ganja La into the Langtang Valley, we’ll spend a night inside one of the warm lodges of Kyanjin Gompa.  We’ll also pay a visit to our friend Lhakpa at the Dorje Bakery to refortify and rehydrate with carrot cake and the bakery’s specialty, a rum-infused chocolate coffee.

The next day, we’ll take our time hiking to high camp, 15,450 ft, on the side of Tserko Ri (hill).  This will be our highest sleeping night of the entire trip . . . sleep may be scarce as we wake for our alpine start well before daybreak.  From there we’ll hike up to the Yala Glacier, put on our crampons and helmets, rope up, and continue onward to the summit of Yala Peak.  On return to high camp, we’ll break camp and head back down to the comforts of Kyanjin Gompa.

Travel with Skychasers and be prepared to be challenged, get out of your comfort zone a bit, experience a fascinating culture, eat great food, and have an experience of a life time.
 ~  Joe B, Kali Gandaki Trek, 2016
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The summit of Yala Peak is only six or seven miles from base camp at Kyanjin Gompa . . . however, it transports the climber more than a mile higher and lands us in a super bowl surrounded by much higher peaks, including Shishapangma, the massive mountain in the background above, and Tibet’s highest peak


The Trek Timetable (subject to change)

Day 1 Depart North America or Europe     Kathmandu has very good, inexpensive one-stop flights from most major airports in North America and Europe.
Day 2 Kathmandu Arrival      Arrive at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, transfer to and settle into hotel.  There may be time in late afternoon/evening to explore. 4,500 ft ~ 1,371m
Day 3 See, Hear and Feel Kathmandu     Relax and explore the ancient living museum of Kathmandu. 4,500 ft ~ 1,371m
Day 4 Drive to Sundarijal, Commence Trekking to Chisopani!     We’ll catch a 30-minute ride to the edge of the Kathmandu Valley and trek upward and out of the Kathmandu Valley.  Just over the rim, Chisopani offers inspiring Himalaya views from the Annapurnas to Everest. 7,220 ft ~ 2,201m
Day 5 Trek down then up to Kutumsang     Sunrise on the rooftop of our hotel is best savored with a cup of tea.  A long downhill starts our day off with a bang as we wind our way through the mid hills and green terraces of the Himalaya.  In the afternoon, we’ll regain all the altitude we lost after breakfast, and then some, ending up in the ridgetop village of Kutumsang, complete with garden flowers and a stray grass yard or two! 8,200 ft ~ 2,500m
Day 6 Ridgewalking to Therapati Pass   The first time I tried to find Therapati Pass, I got completely lost in fog for a couple hours.  It’s perched on top of a ridge that drops off a mile down on each side.  Just our luck today, as we get to walk much of the day following the ridgeline to reach Therapati.  Think front-facing Himalayan views in all directions.

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The ice pyramid of Dorje Lhakpa, as seen from Therapati Pass
11,950 ft – 3,643m
Day 7 Big vert to Tarke Ghyang Pass     Remember Therapati’s situation on top of a mile-high ridge?  Well, we have to walk down to the bottom today.  And then back up the next ridge, to the top . . . classic Himalaya trekking!  To ease any pain, we’ll take breaks in the villages of Melamchigaon and Tarke Ghyang, both of which are gorgeous with ancient Buddhist monasteries.  Another redeeming factor? Our up isn’t as up as our down. 10,400 ft ~ 3,170m
Day 8 Getting in deep to Dukpa     Our world takes a turn for the starkly remote today as we set out in earnest on an upward traverse of the ridge that leads to the Ganja La.  Our first goal is gaining the shoulder of the high, sacred peak, Ama Yangri . . . if things are looking up, we can even walk over the summit.  From there it’s 1,000 ft of descent before beginning our final uphill to our campsite in a field called Dukpa. 13,450 ft ~ 4,100m
Day 9 Traverse trek to Keldang     Today’s an “easy” day as we set ourselves up to be well-rested and strong for the Ganja La tomorrow.  With Keldang less than five miles away, we zig zag up and down, in and out of the spines descending from our ridge, with time to take in the beauty all around.  Again, we’ll camp on the mountainside in the middle of nowhere. 14,050 ft ~ 4,284m
 Day 10 Cross the Ganja La to Ngegang     The body needs time to acclimatize to high altitude . . . at this point, we should be in good shape, having spent a number of days hiking and sleeping  above 12,000 ft.  After the usual breakfast, tea and coffee prepared by our Sherpas, we begin the day with a nice gradual uphill . . . call it an appetizer for what’s to come.  About two miles in, we begin our steep ascent towards the Ganja La . . . we’ll naturally slow down as the altitude makes its presence known.  Our path becomes a bit precipitous at times near the summit, but once on top, the great world of the Langtang Valley opens up in front of us.  From there, it’s all downhill, steeply, to our camp at Ngegang . . . it’s base camp for those taking on the Ganja La in reverse. Ganja La:  16,900 ft ~ 5,152m

Ngegang:  14,150 ft ~ 4,314m

Day 11 Stroll down into the village of Kyanjin Gompa     An easy three-hour walk lands us at the gateway to Yala Peak, the town of Kyanjin Gompa . . . gompa means “monastery” in the Tibetan language, and indeed we are now just over the hill, from Tibet, albeit, a 20,000 ft hill.  Throughout our descent, new peaks of the upper Langtang Valley come into view, including the outstanding fluted peak of Gangchempo.  We’ll take the afternoon off, loitering over coffee in the Dorje Bakery, visiting the yak cheese factory, or just doing nothing. 12,675 ft ~ 3,864m
Day 12 Hike to Yala Peak High Camp     We may spend an hour or two in the morning finishing off preparations for our summit assault.  After a short trek to the base of Yala’s sister mountain, Tserko Ri, we begin our ascent, steeply at first, then continuing up and down, in and out.  Again, we’ll begin to feel the effects of altitude, especially when we reach a chute coming down off the beginnings of Yala Peak.  From here, a steep ascent brings us to our tents at high camp.

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The approach to Yala Peak begins on the floor of the Langtang Valley
15,450 ft ~ 4,710m
Day 13 Yala Peak!     At 18,110 ft, Yala Peak is our goal for the day and the high point of our entire trek.  Our alpine start time gets us up early and after breakfast, our trail is a steady uphill as it approaches crampon point and the Yala Glacier.  Donning helmets and crampons, our world instantly changes to a surreal maze of beauty and blue wonder.  Our last 1,000 vertical feet are quite steep and challenging, but not extremely technical.  After our summit, we’ll head back down to high camp, pack up, and descend to Kyanjin Gompa for the evening. Yala Peak: 18,110 ft ~ 5,521m

Kyanjin Gompa: 12,675 ft ~ 3,864m

Day 14 Descent to Lama Hotel     Completing the Ganja La to Yala Peak trek is a nice accomplishment that will most certainly improve one’s outlook on life for a long time to come!  Our descent to the trailhead takes two days on a well-maintained trail with other trekkers and real lodges.  Today, a pleasant day on the trail lands us in the low altitude/high oxygen town of Lama Hotel.   As we descend along the Langtang River, the valley narrows, going from a glacier-carved U-shape to a river-carved deep V.  Along the way, we have a good chance of seeing Langur monkeys and a not-so-good chance of spotting the very elusive Red Panda. 8,200 ft ~ 2,500m
Day 15 More down to Syabru Besi     Today is our last day of trekking . . . because the main Langtang trail is at the bottom of its steep valley, it suffered much landslide damage during the earthquakes of April and May 2015.  If the way is not in good condition, we’ll take the high road through the villages of Syerpagaon and Khangjim.  Otherwise, we’ll continue walking along the roaring Langtang River until we reach the road at Syabru Besi where we’ll spend the night.  From Syabru Besi, a well-built road leads a few miles north to the Tibet border. 4,775 ft ~ 1,455m
Day 16 LandRover to Kathmandu     Don’t worry, even though our trek is finished, our adventure is not!  After breakfast, we eschew the comforts of the well-built Tibet road and begin heading south on the Pasang Lamu “Highway” towards the very low Trisuli Valley.  From there, we have a big up to the rim of the Kathmandu Valley as we approach the town of Khakani, before dropping down into the Valley.  The drive will take the better part of the day, but look forward to a delicious meal in a nice Kathmandu restaurant as we re-enter civilization in style. 4,500 ft ~ 1,371m
Day 17 Kathmandu!     If there ever was a city that takes months, if not years, to explore, it’s Kathmandu . . . I lived there for five years and left many stones unturned.  Today we sleep in, eat well, shower a few times, and maybe walk the 365 stairs up to the Buddhist temple of Swoyambhu, otherwise known as the Monkey Temple . . . they’re prolific.  In the evening, we’ll enjoy our last supper, a blowout farewell dinner in a traditional restaurant.  Alternatively, this is also an important buffer day should we encounter any delays while trekking. 4,500 ft ~ 1,371m
Day 18 Kathmandu  Departure     We’ll have breakfast together before our airport transfer . . . there may be time beforehand to shop and see one or two last highlights of this chaotic, beautiful, old city.
Day 19 Arrive at Home     Most flights to North America and Europe will land you in your home airport today.
Sunrise over Kyanjin Gompa . . . the Ganja La crosses the snowy ridge, center left   ~   photo credit Alex Treadway