Traveling thirty-six hours is an arduous task even when things go as planned. When we boarded our flight in Denver, I was prepared for the long haul. What I didn’t know was our flight would be delayed in Denver for over an hour, sending a cascade of missed connections and reroutes in its wake… Nepal isn’t easy to get to and that’s part of the adventure. Fortunately, I would be met on the other end by the crew from H&I Adventures — all Yeti freaks and the world’s best mountain bike travel company. I would also be greeted by twenty-five Yeti riders, affectionately called the “tribe", who had traveled from the US, UK, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Indonesia. It was truly humbling to spend our 30th Anniversary in Nepal with this diverse group of Yeti owners — I was incredibly stoked.
Landing in Kathmandu, I was amazed at how small the airport was, especially for a city of over one million people. Even more surprising were the stacks of luggage that came off the planes— ridiculously unorganized piles that spilled out across the baggage claim area. It seemed impossible that anyone ever found their luggage. Not surprisingly, my baggage wasn’t found and I later found out, never arrived. Our guide, Mandil Pradhan, was nonplussed by the baggage situation. I didn’t share his confidence, but was more interested in finding a beer and meeting the rest of the tribe.
While Kathmandu is the gateway to the Himalayas, it’s relatively low (1400m) and the riding is more rainforest than high-alpine. The trails were a combination of fire roads and tight single track that weaved through the forest and small villages. We were warned that chickens and ducks would be littered throughout the villages and if we mistakenly hit one, we would need to settle up with the locals — $25 for a chicken, $90 for a duck. Seemed like a pretty easy task – don’t run over the fowl, but even our slow approach seemed to startle them into making a suicide lunge into our wheels. There were countless close calls with chickens, ducks and even goats, but we managed to get through without incident.
After a few days riding around Kathmandu, we ventured into the high mountains to a region known as Lower Mustang. Taking off from a small airport in Pokhara, we flew into the deepest valley in the world, the Kali Gandaki Valley. The majestic views numbed us to the fact we were flying near the top of the world in a questionable dual-prop plane, with just 12 seats. I had heard from a few people, the landing in Jomsom was sketchy. I’d met an American mountaineering guide on my flight to Nepal who told me he had been in the region several times. When I told him we were flying into Jomsom, he raised his eyebrows and chuckled. “Back when I used to go, the runway was littered with parts from crashed planes. They just pushed them out of the way,” he mused. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or messing with me. As we banked hard into Jomsom and dropped quickly to the valley floor, I anxiously waited to feel our tires touch the ground. When they did, very hard, a cheer erupted on the plane and high-fives flew all around.
In Jomsom, we were met by the H+I crew and Yeti ambassador and professional photographer, Dan Milner. Dan had been in the region for weeks on vacation and agreed to join us for four days in the Mustang region. This was were the real high-alpine part of our trip started. While the town of Jomsom sits at 2700m high, the height of most ski areas in Colorado, it’s the surrounding mountains that give it scale. Eight of the twenty highest peaks in the world tower above the valley, flanked on one side by the Annapurna range and the other by Dhaulagiri. Riding out of Jomsom, the road was rough but the terrain wasn’t too challenging. Just as well, we were all stopping for pictures and looking for an appropriate place to tie the prayer scarves we were given upon our landing in Jomsom.
Our first bridge crossing was trial by fire — a long suspension bridge, the first of many,, adorned with prayer flags and looked easy enough. As I rolled in, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I gained speed, but as I reached the middle of the bridge a gust of wind turned my fun into a temporarily terrifying experience. I quickly regained control of my bike and the wide-eyed, holy shit look dissipated as I rolled up the other side of the bridge to terra firma. As the rest of the tribe rolled across, I saw the smiles turn to terror and then back to smiles. Everyone made it across the bridge unscathed, but on our return back across the bridge, one Brit, who will remain nameless, walked his bike across. The group was ruthless, nicknaming him feinting goat for the rest of the trip.
After crossing the bridge, we climbed for forty-five minutes to a small mountain town that looked like it hadn't changed in hundreds of years. We made our way through the narrow streets and finally into the house of a local Nepali family. Our guide, Mandil, had arranged for us have tea on the rooftop of the local’s house. I looked around at the assembled group, our host smiled broadly as he served us tea. I felt incredibly grateful for his hospitality and the solid crew that surrounded me as we sit cross-legged on the top of the world.
Each new day brought another adventure – a great ride, epic vista, or chance meetings with the locals as we rode through town or sipped tea at a local tea house. I’ll treasure those memories. But I’ll treasure them most because of the crew that surrounded me every day. It’s pretty rare when you can assemble 25+ people from around the world, put them in unfamiliar circumstances and have them all get along. We not only got along, we had a ton of fun and lifetime friendships were formed high in the Himalayas.
When I returned, everyone kept asking about my favorite rides. Not surprisingly, they were both descents. The first was off Lubra Pass (4100m), the highest point of our trip and maybe the most picturesque with Daulighiri (8176m) looming in the background. I was wrecked with an intestinal bug of some sort, so the climb up was brutal, but the descent was 1400m of pure joy. Steep and loose at the top of the descent, we picked our way down the twisted single track. As the trail opened up, we let off the brakes and let gravity pull us to the river bottom below and ultimately to the town of Marpha, an apple growing region down valley.
My second favorite descent was bittersweet because it was the final ride of the trip. Four of us took a detour from the group to shoot some top-secret goods that Dan had scoped out years earlier. Unable to find the secret location, we made our way back to the road and bombed the road back down to our next village. Sounds boring, a “road” descent, but roads in Nepal are notoriously sketchy— it was incredibly rocky, steep and fast. There was little room for error -- on our left was an exposed cliff, to our right a tangle of humanity and machines weaving their way through the chaos. We moved quickly, hitting jumps, over-cooking turns and laughing our way to the bottom. Tons of near misses and big smiles as we recounted the day over beers at the end of our ride.
A huge thanks for everyone who made this possible. I’m humbled and honored that Yeti freaks from around the world came to ride with us. A huge shout out to H+I Adventures — Euan, Mandil and the entire crew who took care of us on the trip. Thanks for Berne showing the boys how to ride and the great editorial that followed. And of course, thanks to Dan Milner for all the amazing shots.