May 3/07 8:07 am - Wade Simmons in Nepal
Posted by Editor on 05/3/07
Simmons in Nepal - An Epic Journey
Courtesy Rocky Mountain Bicycles
Rocky Mountain Freeride Pro Wade Simmons just got back from an epic photo and video adventure trip in Nepal.
Three days after returning from Costa Rica with 16 days straight of riding under my belt, I was about to trump that epic with with two weeks of riding in Nepal! No better place to go mountain biking than to the home of the sickest mountains on earth! I joined a couple of legends on this trip: Hans Rey and long time friend and former team mate Richie Schley. In fact, being 33 years old myself, I was the junior bro on the trip. We were joined by photographer Blake Jorgenson and a U.K. contingent film crew consisting of Seb Rogers and Rob Summers. That also meant that the consummate pro Hans would be taking care of all the logistics and I was just along for the ride!
Of course, we had grandiose plans in Nepal to go over one of the highest passes in the world, Throng la, in the Annapurna region. Unfortunately, late winter snow thwarted that plan. So we flew into the west side of the pass and landed in a town called Jomosom. From there, we climbed 1000m up to Muktinath as far as we could toward the pass. A couple of days shooting around Muktinath, el 3768m, and we came up with an alternate plan: to head up over a southern ridge topping out at 4100m and drop into a parallel valley to meet back up at Jomosom. This route, according to our guides, had never seen bikes and they were a little wary because none had been this way, but the map never lies right?! And the route was chosen. The trail ended up being the best of the trip: tight foot-wide single track contouring the slopes and an exciting visit to Lupra, a rarely visited medieval hamlet. This day beat us all down. Along with extra laps for us pro riders filming before sunrise, it ended up being an 11hr day in the saddle, and a little taste of what was to come!
That night we descended past Jomosom and slept in Marpha. The valley at this point is a large flood plain with the water braiding through at pre-monsoon level, and judging by the width of the valley you don't want to be here in the monsoons! This is near the top of the Kali Gandaki River, and the gorges are to come. Gorges with the Annapurna range on one side, Annapurna 1 at 8091m, and the Dhaulagiri range on the other at 8197m. Next day was to be a big one: 35km or so of descending down the steeps battling mule trains hauling up your drinking water, for footing on the harrowing trail. Throw in 3-4 hrs extra for shooting and you have another 11-12 hr day!
The riding was hard. I brought a Slayer SXC for this trip and added some Marzocchi 66 forks. That meant 6 inches of rear travel and 7 on the front. I definitely had the biggest bike of the group but I erred on the side of bigger and I'm glad I did. The trails consisted of 500m of the sweetest trail anywhere, followed by 300m vertical descending stairs that caused even trials guru Hans Rey to walk. Just to be followed with 200m vertical ascending stairs with again the sweetest single track peppered in between. Makes you lose your mind at some points, and we were able to ride 70-80%. I pitied the poor camera crew, but they were troopers and somehow decided not to end it by stepping a couple of feet to the right and going for the "big sleep".
We finished our Annapurna leg in the town of Beni. This is where a road comes up from Pokhara, and we caught a bus back for the 6hr ride. From Muktinath down we had travelled a distance that takes the average trekkers 5-7 days in just 3 days. Three 12hr days mind you!
With a quick transition in Kathmandu at the "Dawn til Dusk" headquarters, we were off on our next adventure. We were headed north of Kathmandu to the Langtang region, a lesser known trekking area than the Annapurna or Everest but equally spectacular.
In the Langtang the peaks only top out at 7200m or so. 7200m is freaking high considering Whistler is about 2800m! We chartered a helicopter to lift us up to Kyanjin Gompa, el 3730m, and arrived in the early afternoon. This helicopter ride was the scariest heli experience I've ever had. Think 1970's el Camino driven by sketchy Russian dudes. Walking up to the heli I was taken back a little by the appearance: flat tires, oil smeared across the body, obvious WWII abuse. But I figure if it's been flying this long, it must be fairly reliable, just like the el Camino that won't die. Needless to say we made it, and with a big cigarette-filled smile the pilots were off. We shot around there in the evening light and descended to the town of Langtang, el 3330m, to camp. We had planned to camp two nights on this trip to mix things up. Our porters left a few days earlier to set up the camping digs. Next day we woke before the sun, broke camp and headed down the trail, stopping to shoot at the goods. We had to be choosy because you couldn't take a bad shot if you tried. We only had 25km of trail and 2000m descending so it was to be a short day. . . yeah right, as if we didn't learn our lesson in the Annapurna! 12hrs later we roll into camp blown, needing a bottle of Everest beer in a bad way. After a quick cement basin shower and a change of clothes we were golden again and feasting beside the fire joking with our sorry guides! What a couple of days! Head spinning sights and sounds thrown together so fast, and so many experiences to comprehend.
Morning found us on another bus and another so-called 6hr turn 10hr ride back to Kathmandu. I would brave the Russian el Camino with blades again over the tooth-filling- loosening shake on the bus. Every turn we saw something different though and saved the mind from boredom until we hit the snarl of Kathmandu. Take any random street and fill it with cars and buses, now add motorbikes, bicycles and rickshaws in the smaller spaces. Throw in people zigzagging, sacred cows, dogs, chickens and kids selling papers and begging, and then you have the commute through Kathmandu. Please, back to Annapurna!
We were in Nepal for two weeks and that is not a long time in a place that far away to travel to. And we saw a ton of the country. On top of this, Hans Rey has a non-profit charity, Wheels 4 Life, which gives bikes to disadvantaged people in poor countries. In Nepal, Wheels 4 Life gave 30 bikes away to needy people who were very thankful. Congratulations to Hans and Chimmi in making this possible, and I appreciated the opportunity to be involved.
Special thanks goes out to Chhimi Gurung, head honcho of Dawn till Dusk mountain bike tours and his guides, Sonam, Ang Gelu and Snow Monkey.