It was a place where bone-grinding exhaustion gave way to transcendent awe. I wrote about it then, to myself, in my journal.
I’m doing penance for beauty. There’s something perverse in doing any activity that eventually makes you trudge. I stop at impossibly breathtaking viewpoints—places that in any other country would be cordoned off and attract a million tourists a year—just long enough to pant at them and drip sweat on them. …[but] gosh, do I love rivers. And on this trek, we follow one, the Langtang Khola, all the way up. Now, at this lodge, seemingly stuck with chewing gum to the side of another terrifying mountain, we’re way, way below the heavenly brown peaks and far above the soothing rush of the tumultuous rapids. As the sun slides erotically down the V of the valley, I’m finally able to remember why I invite the pain.
I’m deep somewhere.
The Earth is an angry place, really. So much of it is roiling with overpowering and terrifying unconquerability. It’s a wonder humans have survived at all. The eastern seaboard of the United States gives you such a paltry idea of how formidably wracked the rest of the planet can be. So much of it is indescribable through words or lenses; its power lies in the ability to dash your life against mighty forces, or to move your soul by means of its nearly celestial gravity.
That is as good a reason to travel as any: Visions to make your soul shift inside your breast. Events of unsharable energies.
And I never noticed it before, but the winner at the end of “The Girl is Mine” appears to be Michael Jackson.
On and on, each day more difficult than the last, until at last we’re surrounded by the grey-white spears of the Himalaya. The final walk to Langtang Village was a little over 2 1/2 hours, most of it running more or less flat through channels of mani walls, then agonizingly over the debris of a moraine, then finally here. Surrounded by daunting, sky-blotting things! It’s too much for two eyes.
… I did my laundry in a metal bowl with water fed by a plastic pipe from a mountain stream. I squatted over an aluminum bowl and shaved using a hand mirror in my wooden shack. You can see sky through the cracks between boards. Stoves belch smoke. You crap in a hole the size of a business letter framed by old wood. The sun is sharp and so is the wind. Your tea comes in tin cups. Iodine in your drinking water.
… I came all this way to eat yak cheese. Four times I had to go to the [building where they sell it] before I could find someone to let me in and sell me some yak cheese. There are only about 20 buildings in this village. You’d think that word would get around that a Yank is looking to buy some yak cheese. But now I’ve got my yak cheese! It’s a lot like brick parmesan, and I love it! I’m dining on yak cheese daily in Nepal.
… Ian and Cathy suggested we climb the mountain looming over the village. For almost two hours, every step went up. At 4000m, air becomes less meaningful to your lungs. You have to slog. And slog, and look up to check your progress pitifully, and trudge, and cry to heaven, and after a long, long time of this you realize you’ve hit a sort of zen state—thereby erasing two important hours of your life—and you’ve summited.
I took a ream of photos. They should be spectacular, but as always, they will never compete with the deep whale-call resonance of seeing it myself, vibrating in unknown places. [We] spent the first 10 minutes taking photos of each other. At the end of the third auto-timer group photo, we were breaking up when I heard a sound like distant thunder. I looked in the direction of the noise, and down the slope of Langtang was raging an immense avalanche! We all snapped photos, and hoped no one had been underneath; it’s unlikely anyone would have been. But the powder from the snow rose and spread like a perfect cloud.
After the snow settled—and misted the valley—we could see how white the slope was where it had happened, and how comparatively dirty the neighboring slopes were. These things clearly don’t happen often, and we were lucky to see it.
We stayed up for two hours until it got too cold, and walked slowly down the 500 meters as the sun did life-changing things to the mountains and the snowy peaks. I remembered my thankfulness again. Yet again.
…Apparently, there was an earthquake here today at about 11:30am. None of us felt it. Would explain the avalanche, though, and why the glaciers are popping like rifles…
Some people dream all their lives of doing what I did today. I climbed a peak in the Himalayas and stood there, soaked with accomplishment and steeped in an awesome vista that extended higher and deeper than mathematical degrees could seem to contain.
Some people dream about the things I’m doing every day. I suppose one day, I will, too.
Today is that day. I am both dreaming and crying.
This week, after nine days of trying to reach the Langtang Valley, the world discovered that it had been obliterated by a landslide caused by the Nepalese earthquake on April 25. It was “completely wiped away” and buried under 40 feet of collapsed mountain.
More than 100 bodies have been dug out so far, but 600 people have yet to be located.
It is painfully and sourly ironic that the things that made me feel so alive would be the same ones to cause total devastation to those genuine people who took care of me and others like me. I felt my first earthquake there and it made me feel, of all things, a euphoric gratitude.
Langtang was a place where, for me, bone-grinding exhaustion gave way to transcendent awe. And today, as I tearfully write this coda to my memories, putting an asterisk on my sense of wonder, the people I met there are gone. Langtang is now the first place I have visited that has been utterly eliminated.