Biking Up a Snowy Mountain in Nepal
In February 2016, I was in Solukhumbu conducting fieldwork and I decided to stay an extra few days for some mountain bike exploration. Specifically, I had my eyes on Pikey Peak, a “hill” of just over 4,000 meters with spectacular views of the Himalayas. Back in October of 2015, I had been on an 8-day long trip, biking from Kathmandu to Pikey Peak and back. This time, I was approaching the mountain from the opposite side, where I’d heard of a really nice biking trail coming down from the summit. I planned for just a short, high-intensity trip of 3 days, 2 nights. Here’s how it went.
Day 1: 25 km, 900 m elevation gain
I started in the morning from Salleri town and followed dirt jeep tracks for about 15 km, to a town called Ringmu. After stopping for lunch, I moved onto a singletrack hiking trail, carrying my bike uphill for about 5 km over a ridge (max elevation of about 3000 m), before enjoying a nice 5 km descent into Junbesi town. I arrived in mid-afternoon, just as it started to rain.
Day 2: 15 km, 1,200 m elevation gain
This day was tough; there was not so much distance, but it was the bulk of the elevation gain and what proved to be pretty un-ideal trail conditions. Starting from Junbesi, I spent the first 7 km mostly carrying my bike on my shoulders along steep trails. These led through the forest up to Lamjura La (pass) at about 3,500m. Fortunately, I was approaching the pass from the east side, where the sun had melted most of the snow that had fallen the day before, but once I reached the top of the ridge, the trail was covered in ankle-deep snow.
I enjoyed a massive lunch at the one teahouses at the pass before hitting the trail again, just as the clouds came in and started dumping more snow on the mountains. I did a combination of hiking and riding through the snow for another 3 km, along the ridge to the next teahouse.
Until this point I had been on one of the major trekking routes that leads from Jiri to the Everest Base Camp trail, so the trail was obvious (even with the snow), and I passed a few other trekkers and porters on the way. But after this final teahouse, I split from the main trail and started following a different ridge, breaking trail and once again carrying my bike on my shoulders through the snow. To reach my destination, I hiked alone along exposed ridgeline for about 2 hours, under pretty intense conditions: there was limited visibility from the snow, the trail was impossible to follow without staring at my phone’s GPS, it was cold (I had only lightweight non-waterproof trail-running shoes and thin cycling gloves), it was approaching evening so starting to get dark… plus, I was exhausted from carrying my bike on my shoulders all day at high altitude (up to 3800 meters elevation that day).
My only comfort was that the owner of the teahouse where I had stopped for lunch had called ahead to make sure there was someone at my destination. That was the town of Mane Bhanjyang, a small community of two Sherpa families living at the saddle just below Pikey Peak. I finally arrived just as it was getting dark, and was warmly welcomed by my hosts for the night, who sat me by the fire and fed me tea and dal bhat.
Day 3: 20 km, 1,600 m elevation drop
I woke up in the early morning to beautiful clear skies, and was excited to hit the trail for the final 2.5 km climb to the summit. For the first 2 km, the trail climbed gently towards the peak, with snow up to my lower calf. But then, at 500 meters from the summit, the trail suddenly turned up a very steep, narrow gully, and I found myself sinking into snow up to my mid-thigh (and I was wearing only shorts!) The trail became steep, and there was a layer of ice underneath the almost meter of snow.
After having put in so much effort already, I desperately wanted to get to the top of the mountain. I was throwing my bike up above me in the snow and then was using it to try to pull myself up after, a painfully slow and exhausting process. After spending half an hour moving just 30 meters, I finally decided that it would be nearly impossible for me to get to the top, especially since at that point, the clouds were starting to roll in again with snow, and my feet and hands were soaking wet and getting numb from cold.
I sadly returned back to Mane Bhanjyang, warmed up with some tea, and found a different trail back down to Salleri. I enjoyed some nice single-track riding and lots of downhill along the way. The rain came just in time to thoroughly soak me during my last 2 km of the ride into Salleri. What an end to the trip!
Overall, it was a pretty awesome adventure, with a lot of great scenery and cultural interactions as well. There were definitely challenges and frustrations though, with the bad weather and deep snow preventing me from reaching the top of Pikey Peak. And of course, there were plenty of times when I was cursing myself for ever thinking it was even a remotely decent idea to haul a heavy mountain bike to the top of this mountain. Fortunately, the ride down was worth it.