Finding Freedom and Flow in the Langtang Valley

An exploration of where pain disappears, the body takes over, and the miles ahead fall away.

Written by
Jake Baggaley
min read
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It’s hard to describe to non-runners, quite how magical the ‘flow’ state of a long run in the mountains is, but once you've experienced it, it's a pretty addictive feeling. An almost out-of-body experience while simultaneously being more in tune with your body than you've ever been before. The feeling of total escape as everything else - every sound, every feeling, every worry you've ever had - falls away. Only the sound of footsteps exists as your body and the trail below it become one. Gravity seems to disappear and movement and momentum become effortless and fluid. It's magical, intoxicating, and something I'm constantly chasing.

I favour self-initiated runs with arbitrary distances, routes and challenges as opposed to joining bigger mountain races. There's just something about being the only person who cares about the run I'm doing that helps feed into a sense of freedom, and that’s what this is really all about for me - the ultimate sense of freedom in nature; a throwback feeling of being a kid running around in the forest with nothing but time, energy and an insatiable appetite to keep exploring.

It was in search of this flow and freedom and another totally arbitrary distance that would mean nothing to anybody but me that led me to set out with the goal of running the length of the Langtang valley and back to Kathmandu. A trip of a lifetime that would give me the space to explore what is so truly special about this unique part of the world, and in particular, the mountains. 

Our total trip would cover 160 kilometres with 10,800 metres of climbing, starting out on undulating gravel trails through the foot of the valley only a few kilometres away from the road bordering Tibet.

It wasn’t long before we had left the noise of the busy road and headed into the dense humid forests that line the valley floor. As we got further up the valley where the trail rises up the north side and rocky sections become increasingly technical and abundant, the views began to open up on either side.

At the head of the U-shaped Langtang valley, we would summit two almost 5000m peaks before heading back down to where we came from, then junctioning off over a high pass again at almost 5000m past the holy Gosaikunda Lake and following a beautifully flowing mountain ridge back down into the unfortunate smog of Kathmandu.

This epic and beautifully varied route took us through both wilderness and small local villages and tea houses - a perfect route for the type of trail running that connects you so closely with the environments you’re travelling through.

We set out pre-dawn once again, the quiet settlement of Kyanjin Gompa disappearing below us as we climbed to our high point of the valley at 4800m above sea level. It was at this point that I turned a corner and a long flowy trail revealed itself in front of me, running all the way back from the summit of the mountain back down to the town I’d started from that morning before dawn. The sun had not long shown itself behind the towering 7000m+ peaks that make up the head of the U shaped Langtang Valley on the border of Nepal and Tibet. 

Every step down that trail brought me to a lower altitude, and with it a renewed energy and excitement for the endless kilometres of trail laid out in front of me. A herd of yaks ran down the path ahead leaving a cloud of dust in their place - but there wasn't another human in sight - and what followed was one of the most magical trail experiences I've ever felt.

Winding my way down the mountain, jumping over rocks, and sliding down steep sections, I was in a total state of calm, even though my body was working hard and my mind was engaged in avoiding loose rocks and keeping myself upright. At that moment, the only things that existed to me were those trails and those mountains surrounding me. I know I’m not the only one here who has felt that unbelievable feeling of connection to the environment. Every step is calculated, but at the same time the split second decisions of foot placement become subconscious and any thoughts of ‘How far do I have left to go?’ or ‘How fast should I be going?’ dissipate. 

The feeling of being in a flow state isn't unique to running, but the thing that sets it apart is this need to be so in tune with the trails you're on. This is the way our bodies are designed to travel through these mountain trails - where there’s nothing separating you from the ground other than a few millimetres of rubber on your shoes and as the trail becomes more rocky it’s quick to adjust to hand-on-rock scrambling. The feeling is simultaneously primal and spiritual, and in that moment time seemed to pass so incredibly quickly as I almost effortlessly covered the 1000m descent over the 8km from the summit back down to town, opting for the longer of two route options. 

Don't get me wrong, mountain trails are hard work, too. The environment and terrain, particularly in the Himalayas and other high altitude ranges are some of the harshest on the planet. There are definitely days where I'm not feeling that connection, but the difficulty is all part of it. There is no better feeling of pushing through harsh conditions, altitude headaches, grinding up inclines to reach the summit, and being rewarded with the flowing trails back down the other side. 

The incomparable feeling of adventure and freedom in opening up a new valley or new views is a feeling I'll continue to chase for as long as I’m able. The true escape and real privilege to feel this connection with nature, even if just for a moment in time, is something that simply cannot be replicated in any other way than on my own two feet. 
















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Author Bio

Jake Baggaley

Jake Baggaley is a professional commercial outdoor adventure photographer based in the south of the UK, he is also a keen trail runner, mountaineer and surfer and has travelled the world on running adventures. Find him on Instagram or see more of his photography here.

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