Langtang Himalayan Marathon

By Alpkit

Alpkit customer and Kathmandu resident Samuel Johns takes his Gourdon 20 on a Nepalese marathon.


People say silence is boring. People say nature is boring. People say there is nothing to see.

In the depths of the sub-tropical forests of Langtang Valley, in the heart of the national park, the silence was eery. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Footsteps beating the paths and skidding on the dirt of steep trekking tracks. Rasping breath. The deep inhales of high altitude running. A race starting at 3,900m in the heart of the high Himalaya, Rasuwa, northern Nepal.

Boring. Dead. Empty. Couldn’t be further from the truth. The jungle was teeming with life - grey monkeys overhead swinging from branch to branch, peering down at passing runners. The inevitable squawk and glide of golden eagles and other birds of prey, circling above the canopy of trees. Donkey muck all over the paths. Dodging long trails of porter donkeys, carrying essential supplies up and down the valley - caravans of eight or ten donkeys, or even more.

We were 30km into the marathon race and my feet were on fire. Fine sand and silt had permeated my shoes and socks, rubbing between my toes, and driving an intense heat into the soles of my feet. It was another Himalayan blue bird day.
Perfect blue skies, 30 degree temperatures, roasting sun, and no morning wind. Starting at nearly 4,000m (13,000ft), the route descended through Mundu village and Langtang itself, before winding down through Ghoda Tabella, Gumnachowk, and Rimche, before climbing back up the steep 800m track to Sherpagoan and on beyond to finish in Syabru Besi. What a route. Trying at the best of times. Tough in these conditions. Unrelenting on the knees - something so hard to train for.

Langtang Valley was devastated in April 2015 by the mega-earthquake in Nepal. Reconstruction work is slow, and is often only funded by transient NGOs. Local initiatives such as the Langtang Marathon help promote the valley throughout the country, drawing national media interest in particular. Almost 400 people lost their lives in the tragedy of 2015. With only 500 families living in this valley, that’s a death in almost every family. The whole village of Langtang was wiped off the map. It’s sobering to run on the rubble and scree of the landslide that flattened the village. The route skirts around boulders the size of homes, over ice and running water, and up and down steep silt tracks. No easy route.

Squawking monkeys, swirling birds of prey, bears on the horizon, and the thoughts of snow leopards and red pandas gazing down at the passing race. To say nothing of the smiling locals - timid in applause, brazen in looks of bewilderment and confusion - on the 42km route down the valley. This environment certainly wasn’t dead.
People say lots of things. The mountains speak back.

In the awe - in the majesty and grandeur of this environment - the emotions are overwhelming. There is a twist in the tale, though. We discovered too late that Nepalese organisation is about as fool-proof as the Titanic. Yet again, the dates had changed. Turns out we had competed in the 42km trial marathon for the Langtang Region - a handful of competitors, racing for no prize money - whilst the TAAN (Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal) had moved the official marathon to 3 weeks later. Nepalese army troops won - taking first, second, and third place - in a total whitewash. 100,000 rupees (or around $1,000 USD) to the winner. We’d come close. But not that close.

photo credits: Jeremy Cohen

A trusty Gourdon 20L Alpkit Drybag Rucksack accompanied me for the whole route - carrying essentials & rain gear

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