Gosainkund is a holy body of water, located so high up in the mountains (4400m) of Langtang that the lake is frozen almost year round. I've been trekking to that scenic lake 10 years ago, but never from the south side, through the cultural interesting Helambu area.
After our recently completed Annapurna Sanctuary trek, we basically had all gear needed for another trek, hence it was not much preparations required for a new teahouse trek like this. Most importantly we needed a map of Helambu/Langtang and new TIMS cards. We took a taxi to the TAAN office located outside of Thamel, where TIMS card can be obtained for 1400 Rs each. You have to bring two passport photos, a copy of your passport and fill out two forms, but the whole process would take no more than 15 minutes unless there is a line of other trekkers. The funny thing is that these silly TIMS cards cannot be reused for multiple treks. So this new system is more of a cash cow for the trekking agencies, rather than a security system for the trekkers, which was its original purpose. In other words just another fee to be paid by independent trekkers. How far can Nepal really stretch this fee and permit structure, before the hikers decide to spend their trekking holidays somewhere else than Nepal?
The TAAN office says it's impossible to obtain TIMS card on the trail in Helambu, but this is totally wrong. The TIMS cards can also be purchased in Chisopani just a few hours into the Helambu Trek, according to the guys who checked our TIMS cards there. So the TIMS doesn't necessarily needs to be prearranged from Kathmandu. But it would still be wise to do so, since anything can change rapidly without further notice in Nepal. The last thing you want is to return to Kathmandu after the trek has started, only because of some missing papers....
Two other permits/fees are also needed for this trek. Shivapuri National Park (250 Rs) and Langtang National Park (1000 Rs) but both of these can be obtained/purchased during the trek. So it's a waste of time to get those in Kathmandu.
People doing the Gosainkund trek usually starts from Langtang (which is far better in terms of acclimatization), however we decided to start from Helambu. Here is our diary:
Day O: Getting to the trailhead at Sundarijal
In order to get an early start on the trail the following morning, we decided to take a taxi in the afternoon to Sundarijal. The taxi takes about 1 hour from Thamel and costs 1000 Rs. One can also take a public bus, this is much cheaper but slower and less convenient. We stayed at Base Camp Resort in Sundarijal (400 Rs for a double room).
Day 1: Sundarijal to Chisopani
We tried to get an early start from Sundarijal, but the breakfast at Base Camp Resort took ages to prepare. So we were not on the trail before 8am. The trail climbs steeply from Sundarijal (1350m) beside an enormous water pipe that supplies Kathmandu with drinking water from a reservoir inside Shivapuri National Park.
The trail continues uphill to Mulkharka (1800m), but the new road being built along the trail makes the navigation somewhat more difficult nowadays. We were hiking under an awfully hot sun for quite a long time before we reached the pass at Borlang Bhanjyang (2440m) at noon. From here it's just an easy hour downhill to Chisopani. The lodges in Chisopani are good, and the rooftop views and mountain panoramas are excellent. Unfortunately it was somewhat cloudy when we were there.
Day 2: Chisopani to Golphu Bhanjyang
We were on the trail at 8am on a very hazy day. No views at all from Chisopani. The downhills to Pati Bhanjyang (1770m) takes approx one hour, before we started on the long climb to the next pass. We decided to take a break from the uphills in Chipling (2170m) where we had lunch in a nice green garden. After a simple meal of egg-fried-rice we continued on the remaining uphills to the pass at Lapchu Danda (2420m). From the pass it's an easy downhill mostly on a dirt road to Golphu Bhanjyang (2140m) which we arrived at 2:30pm. The lodges in Golphu Bhanjyang are very basic, but we kind of liked the old couple running the Gosainkund Lodge. The rooms are dark and ugly but their Dal Bhat is excellent!
Day 3: Golphu Bhanjyang to Magin Goth
The Lonely Planet itinerary suggests that we walk all the way to Tharepati in one day. But that would be a very long day for Emily, so we decided to see how far we got before we've had enough. We were on the trail at 8am as usual and the uphills to Khutumsang (2450m) took about two hours. Here we had to pay the 1000 Rs national park fee for Langtang. It was still too early to have lunch, but the problem is, there are no more lunch places for a long time after Khutumsang. Instead of lunch we drank plenty of hot lemon at a teahouse and then we bough some extra supplies of biscuits in addition to the 4 boiled eggs we already bought for 10 Rs each in Golphu Bhanjyang. That would do as a simple lunch package.
The uphill after Khutumsang seems dauntingly high and distant, so we took several short breaks in addition to a longer break about halfway up the ridge to eat the boiled eggs and biscuits. We were surprised to reach the ridge at 3250m altitude, since the Lonely Planet states it's 3510m high. Usually I have found their last edition of "Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya" to be of much better quality than the local maps (especially in terms of elevations). But for some reasons the Helambu section in this book seems to be of much poorer quality, than the Annapurna section. The good thing is that we arrived the first lodge in Magin Goth (3285m) a bit sooner than expected (2pm). The cozy Green View Lodge has such an excellent location at the pass, that we simply decided to stay here instead of pushing it any further to Tharepati (3640m), which would not be very wise in terms of acclimatization.
Day 4: Magin Goth to Tharepati
It was a cold and cloudy morning, so we decided to have a fairly late breakfast. It was just a short day of walking to Tharepati anyway and we got plenty of time. We didn't hit the trail before 9am and shortly after we reached the main village of Magin Goth. From here it's mostly gentle uphills to Tharepati (3640m) where we arrived before noon. We decided to stay in Sumchoo Top Lodge, recommended in Lonely Planet because of its location on top of the ridge. There are only three lodges left in Tharepati after one of them burned down to the ground just a few months ago. Fewer lodges doesn't necessarily mean that everything is going to be more crowded. We had almost the the entire lodge for ourselves.
Heavy thunder and lightning in the afternoon left a white cover of snow on the ground. Quite interesting for Emily who has never seen snow before.
Day 5: Tharepati to Phedi
It was a beautiful morning in Tharepati. We got an early start on the trail (7:45am) because it would be a rough day to Phedi in case of bad weather in the afternoon. The trail descends to Gopte and the first part was quite slippery because of snow and ice. The trail climbs in and out of ravines below the towering cliffs of Thare Danda, which also results in a substantial gain and loss of elevation. This is also why the Tharepati to Phedi section takes longer time than what a quick look on the map would suggest. It took us almost 6 hours to reach Phedi, just in time before the weather turned bad. There are only two lodges in Phedi, and we chose the lower and smaller one. That's a brand new lodge, still it's pretty basic compared to what we're used to elsewhere. A group of five young Israelis arrived shortly after us with their guitars, hashish and all the noise that follows.
In 1992 a Thai International airbus got lost in the clouds and crashed into the hillside just below Phedi. The crash site is visible from Phedi.
Day 6: Phedi to Laurebina Yak
The morning in Phedi was nice and sunny and we got on the trail at 6:40am. After two hours we arrived Bera Goth (4230m) and a basic seasonal lodge where we bought a couple of hot lemons. After the warm drinks we continued on the uphills, but the weather seemed to deteriorate pretty fast from here. Emily also started to complain about a bad headache and soon after also a feeling of nausea. I started to consider our options, should we push across the pass or descend? I reckoned we had only one more hour of walking to the pass, so my decision was to continue to the pass and then descend as fast as possible on the other side. We had already spent two nights at approx 3700m (in Tharepati and Phedi) without AMS symptoms of any sorts. We would easily get down to a similar elevations on the other side of the pass within a reasonable time, if her situation would worsen.
I took Emily's backpack over my shoulder and we got going again. We arrived the pass at 10:30am, shot a couple of photos before we started on the downhills. The loss of elevation towards Gosainkund, however, didn't seem to relieve Emily's pain, nausea and tiredness. At the moment we arrived the lodges in Gosainkund (4400m), my decision was pretty clear, we cannot stay the night here. Emily looked sicker than ever and needed to get further down. But she rejected. She told me she didn't have energy to walk any further, and that she only wanted to go to bed. But after a cup of hot lemon in Gosainkund, I forced her out in the cold and snowy weather again. She couldn't walk on her own, she was too dizzy and nauseous, so I had to give her a helping hand on the trail.
After two hours of misery in the windy, foggy and partial snowy weather we finally arrived the upper lodges at Laurebina Yak (3920m). I got Emily into the dining room, and the lodge attendant immediately put more wood on fire, when he saw that Emily was trembling with cold. Shortly after she started to vomit, probably because of shear exhaustion and the fact that she had been too high too long. But I was convinced that Laurebina Yak was a perfectly safe elevation for her so I didn't worry too much. During the afternoon and evening she was vomitting a couple of more times. The painkillers didn't work on her strong headache, neither was she able to sleep. Thus I decided to give her Diamox (altitude medicine) to make her evening and night somewhat better. After one hour, she was finally in deep sleep. During the night I was checking on her a couple of times. Her condition seemed to be improving, and after all the vomiting it was very important to keep her hydrated.
Day 7: Laurebina Yak to Sing Gompa
It was a beautiful morning. Emily was feeling a lot better, she was even able to eat some porridge. We enjoyed our breakfast in the warm sun outside the lodge. The views of Ganesh Himal and Manaslu Himal are stunning from here. Emily had already decided that she didn't want to continue up the Langtang valley, she's had enough already and want to go back to Kathmandu. I've been in the Langtang valley before (2001) so it was not a big issue for me to abort the trek and head down to Dunche. Emily was too weak to rush down to Dunche in one day, so we decided to just take an easy day to Sing Gompa.
We started to walk 9:30am, and it was easy going (downhill). We stopped for some noodle soup in Chalang Pati (3550m), where we also enjoyed the views of Langtang Lirung (7246m) on the opposite side of the valley. Then we continued further down to Sing Gompa (3330m), where we arrived shortly before noon. Hotel Green Hill is a really nice place to stay, and the first thing we did was to get ourselves a welcoming hot shower, the last one was in Chisopani almost a week ago...
Day 8: Sing Gompa to Dhunche
From Sing Gompa to Dhunche it's just a big downhill (1400 meters) that takes about 3 hours. Even if we arrived Dhunche before noon, it was still too late to get a good seat reservation on the bus out the next morning. There is only one bus a day from Dhunche to Kathmandu, so we reluctantly decided to buy the two available slots in the backseats of the bus (250 Rs per person).
Day 9: Bus from Dhunche to Kathmandu
It was a foggy and rainy morning in Dhunche. When we boarded the 7am bus we realized that this bus was going to be heavily overloaded with people and luggage. Sitting in the rear of the bus, with 20 people standing in between the seats (and blocking all exits) is a big trap if something bad would happen. The road from Dhunche is really terrible, and combined with the overloading issue, we decided to jump off the bus in Trisuli Bazar 3-4 hours into the journey and rather take a shared van (microbus) the remaining part to Kathmandu, which cost us a mere 165 Rs extra per person.
Arriving back in Kathmandu safe and sound after a climb or trek is always a pleasant experience. The abundance of food and good hotels in Thamel, makes you wanna stay here for a long time, unless one have an international flight to catch or a new trek coming up :-)