Trek. Afrikaans, from Dutch trecken to pull, haul, migrate; akin to Old High German trechan to pull
First Known Use: 1835
: to travel by ox wagon
: to migrate by ox wagon or in a train of such
: to make one’s way arduously
– Webster’s Third New International Dictionary
I took some vacation time earlier this month and spent eight days trekking in Nepal with some friends. We spent our time climbing and descending the Gosainkunda Trail in Langtang National Park north of Kathmandu. You’ll notice I didn’t use the word hike or walk; that’s a deliberate omission, this wasn’t hiking or walking. I did this with 6 other men I’ve known since 1984. We met in basic training in the Israeli Army, and spent 18-24 months together in a variety of conditions. Between us we’ve developed one of those extraordinary bonds, it isn’t necessarily defined by friendship as much as by shared experiences (good and bad,) implicit trust and loyalty. We’ve gotten together pretty regularly since 2006, once the kids were old enough and we were a little settled. Usually there are more of us; we spend a week together – typically in Israel – biking, hiking, climbing, swimming, swapping lies, family stories and catching up on our adult lives. This trip was different.
Our venture to the Himalayas began in 2008 during one of our ‘normal’ trips. One of our band spoke to us of plans he and his brother used to discuss to see the Himalayas before they were 50. In 2007 the brother was killed in a car accident; would we be interested in doing this journey? Six of us said yes, we would. Could there any other answer?
For me and I think for most of the others, this was the hardest thing we’d ever done, including 65 and 90 kilometer forced marches (with stretchers, an IDF specialty) in the army. Back then we were physically fit and immature. It isn’t until the 4th or 5th time you pull an all night exercise that you realize psychological stamina is often more important than the physical kind – it’s a mind game. 25+ years of emotional development and maturity – careers, families, good-times, crises, life… – these paid off for us two weeks ago.
In preparing for this trip we learned of things that most of us hadn’t really considered. I was surprised to learn that our route was going to require graduated ascents. Somewhere between 2500 and 3000 meters altitude you just don’t keep climbing, you need to regulate the ascent so as to minimize the risk of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) or even worse. I learned the hard way that above 3600 meters I virtually can’t breathe at all; blinking sent me into a panting frenzy, sucking down great droughts of O2 depleted air.
- Lonely planet Nepal
- Nepal / Tessa Feller.
- Trekking in Nepal : a traveler’s guide / Stephen R. Bezruchka and Alonzo L. Lyons.
- Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya / Bradley Mahew, Joe Bindloss.
- A walk in the woods : rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail / Bill Bryson.
I wasn’t alone; several us completed uphill and downhill sections taking baby-steps. Or half baby steps if needed. Anything to keep the breathing normal and regulated.
I’m not sure if I’d known ahead of time how difficult it would be, whether I’d have gone. The trail as such is mostly gullies, washes, streambed and copious amounts of displaced rock and shale. Other sections are deliberately constructed steps, but ones seemingly designed for someone with the build of a giant – not the average Westerner or Nepali. My guess is even had I known then what I know now (good old 20/20 hindsight) I would have gone. Why? For the same reasons that motivated us almost 30 years ago – loyalty, a chance for adventure, and the unspoken given: that you don’t let your mates down.
Along the way we met many interesting people, beginning with our Sherpas and porters. The head Sherpa, Lakpar, besides being an experienced guide is also a Hindu priest. He tried to explain to us the significance of various shrines we came across, and what the different practices were as we moved into the hills. There was Tendi who was a guide-in-training, and who’d just finished two years at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan working as a contract employee for NATO. The porters, men and boys carrying up to 160 lbs. using head slings maintained senses of humor and obviously weren’t affected the way we were by the high altitude, though they certainly broke a sweat. Their roles as porters are first steps on the road to becoming guides and Sherpas later on – all very respectable professions in Nepal – at least in the mountain communities. We met Australians who taught in Tibetan refugee centers, an Italian woman and her Dutch friend who’d just completed a nursing practicum in Pokhara and were trekking before returning to Europe. There was an Israeli family who were friendly with the parents of one of my closest friends from my kibbutz days who had died of cancer in 1985. We spent the better part of an evening with another Dutch fellow and a German woman hearing about their adventures over 18 months of trekking and all the people they’d crossed paths with. What was very special about this period was that all of us were defined by where we were and what we were doing, and not by where we came from, what our passports said, or what languages we spoke. If you find yourself one-day with an opportunity to set off – anywhere – and get off the usual path, with friends or by yourself, to do something that outside your envelope, I recommend you go for it. Of course, 9 times out of 10 I’m going to err on the side of wanderlust.