On Suspension Bridges and Yaks
They looked fragile. Most of them turned out being solid steel structures; besides, there was no other choice but moving ahead and upwards. At first I would let porters cross and wait until the bridge was clear, later, I gained confidence and began enjoying the swaying path.
As I got closer to the Everest, the terrain got higher; rivers and streams had carved deep valleys. Crossing those streams by walking down into them and then climbing back on the other side was not possible or extremely difficult. Luckily, I found an astounding amount of suspension bridges. The importance of foreign tourism to the local economy could be cited as the source of this phenomenom, but suspension bridges are not strange to Nepal. These bridges were invented nearby, across the Himalayas in China. There, simple suspension bridges with a planks decking resting on two cables date back at least to 285 AC, similar bridges are recorded in Tibet. Buddhist monks brought them from there to Nepal.
Many of these bridges – especially those near monasteries – are laden with colorful prayer flags. The longer ones feature also side supporting lines that keep them from oscillating horizontally; vertical support lines are not seen in this area due to the often extreme height gap between the bridge and the ground below. Keeping hands at the rails at all times is recommended though the chances of dangerous oscillations are minimal; loose planks are possible in older bridges and should be looked for.
The bridges are narrow; most of them would not allow more than one person or yak walking in parallel. Some may attempt to cross even if there is somebody on the bridge approaching from the opposite direction. That’s because most newcomers would assume it is possible passing side by side. However most people carry heavy backpacks or bulky baskets on their backs, their side is wider than their front and thus passing each other sideways is not possible.
Sometimes, two bridges can be seen over the same stream. Different paths lead to each of them. Invariably, one of them is old, while the second’s steel is still shiny. Avoiding the old one is recommended since they are not serviced anymore and their technical condition is unsure.
Once in the Sagarmatha Park, the main stream the trekker will find is the Dudh Kosi (pronounce "koo-shi"), which crosses the entire park from the area of the Khumbu Glacier and Gokyo Lakes to the exit and then continues to Lukla. The name means "Milk River" and makes reference to its being a white water stream due to the large amount of rocky sediments it carries. This river is crossed by a 120m suspension bridge which provides some of the most amazing views during the trek, but the trekker will find many other bridges along the path. A related stream is the Imja River (which gave the Nepali name to the Island Peak – see the Everest entry of this journal), which can be seen near Dingboche.
Shallow streams are a bigger problem than deep rivers barely visible at the bottom of an extra-narrow valley since less care was given to the bridges spanning them. Usually there would be a few wood planks with no rails; close to the water level, they are often wet and slippery. Before crossing them, attach the backpack strongly so that balance can be kept.
In one scary spot the bridge was just a wet trunk. The walking stick became crucial while crossing it; I stuck it at the stream’s center and used it like for a slow motion pole vault but without the jump. That leads to the issue of walking sticks. In Kathmandu it is possible to find the latest models built using the most sophisticated alloys, yet that’s not a good approach. First, there is always the danger of losing the expensive gadget; there is no chance of replacing it once in the mountains. Then, it is possible to purchase traditional walking sticks from the local once in the trekking area and to contribute even more to the local economy.
Due to these types of events it is important to have good trekking shoes. Two types can be found in Thamel, imported European brands and Chinese shoes. The first are substantially more expensive than at Europe or the US. I tried the best item of the second category and found it good only for one trek. Another relevant point is that the over-advertized water-resistant inner coating is good only for short periods of time and – of course – doesn’t protect from water entering into the shoe from above.
Some dangers are of a completely unexpected nature. Meeting a yak on the path can be worrying. They do not make room for other creatures and just keep moving ahead; they can throw the trekkker off the path. Once yaks are heard – usually that happens before they are seen since they are equipped with bells exactly for this purpose – the trekker knows to climb above the path (moving downwards can be dangerous) and wait until the hairy caravan passes. Meeting a caravan on the bridge can lead to an unpleasant chase. Thus – especially before crossing a long bridge – make sure the "talang-talang" is not in the air.