What probably doesn’t come immediately to mind is mountain biking, and everything that comes with it. Forks, tyres, full sus, hard tail, downhill, singletrack, drop offs, rock gardens and rides you have to sell at least one of your vital organs to afford – you know, mountain biking.
Earlier this year, we heard from filmer Will Nangle that he was off to the Himalayas for a ‘trip that dreams are made of’ mountain biking adventure in Nepal. Helicopter uplifts, overnight stays in tea houses, and a basically never before ridden trail called ‘Gosainkunda’; needless to say, we were keen to see Will cut loose with his camera kit and make sure he captured this epic experience for your viewing pleasure.
Watch it below, and then, once you’ve done that, read our Q & A with Will (also below).
We caught up with filmer of ‘The Gosainkunda Trail’ Will Nangle in April 2019, just days after he’d got back from Nepal. We chatted to him about what it’s like to trying to juggle mountain biking and filming in the Himalayas, his experiences with the helicopter uplift, the ease with which one can mix up clouds and mountains when they fly into Kathmandu, and so much more.
So, you’ve just got back from Nepal. If you could tell us a little bit, in your own words, about what you got up to while you were there?
The trip was 10 days shooting mountain biking in Nepal, specifically around the Kathmandu area. First off, we had a day in Kathmandu to settle in and get our bearings and then first thing the next day we took a heli up to 4,300 metres into an area called Gosainkunda.
“We took a heli up to 4,300 metres”
We got dropped there but unfortunately there was much more snow than we first thought there’d be as there was a big storm that had come in the week before we got there. So basically there was a load of snow where we were supposed to be riding. This meant we couldn’t go as high as we wanted. We were wanting to go right up to the top.
Anyway, we shot a few things up there in the snow and then headed down to the first tea house which was about a 1,300 metre vertical descent. And yeah, I mean, that was an amazing descent. Absolutely incredible. We were mountain biking for five days, staying in tea houses along the way.
What was the visibility like? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?
Yeah, so we were really lucky with the weather. Every single day we got perfect weather. It wasn’t too cold when we got dropped, maybe about 5 degrees. Definitely not as cold as we’d expected. Especially for that time of year [end of March / start of April].
“This place is just a whole different ballgame”
Actually the most extreme thing about it all was going from 32 degrees in Kathmandu up to a place where it was 5 degrees in, like, 10 minutes. The heli ride got us up there so quickly, and the difference was just so extreme. I was so surprised.
I’ve spent a bit of time mountain biking but this place is just a whole different ballgame. You know you’re really exerting yourself just so much trying to get the shot. Riding down, pushing the bike back up; you really do feel it.
Obviously, the nature of the Himalayas means it’s associated with things like altitude sickness. Did it feel different riding that much higher above sea level than you normally would?
Completely. 100%. We’d planned for altitude sickness just because we were flying in at 4,300 metres and that’s quite a lot to fly into and spend any time doing stuff there. So we decided we’d have a few hours at 4,300 before needing to descend to 3,300.
The first night was actually spent at 3,100 and everyone was fine. The guys I was with had spent time at altitude before. Alex lived in Nepal for a number of years and Mads still runs his company out of Nepal. They were, I should add, the company we were doing all this with. The company’s called Himalayan Trails. There was also Prayash Tamang with us, a great local from Kathmandu, who obviously was used to it. Anyway, we basically had all our pills at the ready in case any of us started to feel sick and stuff like that.
“It wasn’t clouds. It was the peaks of the mountains”
The scale of this place though really is something else. I’ve lived in the Alps for nine years and when I was flying in to Kathmandu we were cruising at 30,000 feet in a Boeing 747. And I was looking out the window, and I was thinking “Oh it’s a bit cloudy. Let’s see what the weather does”. It wasn’t clouds. It was the peaks of the mountains. Just there, at the same level as the planes. It was mind-blowing.
When we flew into 4,300, you expect it to be pretty high up but you’re still looking up at the mountains. It’s unbelievable. One of the peaks opposite us when we flew in was 8,300 so you’ve still got a lot above you. And you’re already so high up. The scale is out of this world.
In terms of where you were staying, you were staying in tea houses every night right?
Yeah, so basically we had one night in a hotel in Kathmandu and then we flew up and did four or five nights in tea houses. One of the nights we were supposed to stay in a specific tea house, it was all planned, but we got there and there was only two rooms in this place – and one of the rooms had been booked. Our porter had got there before us and told us it smelled like crap so we decided to move on. It was already 6:30 at night. You know, it was already dusk and we’re having to ride another hour and a half to get to the next tea house. We ended up riding in the pitch black, couldn’t see a thing, and at the side of the road there was a 1,000ft drop.
“We ended up riding in the pitch black, couldn’t see a thing, and at the side of the road there was a 1,000ft drop”
Anyway, yeah. we get to this place. It’s in this tiny village. Concrete walls on the outside, open plan with little rooms on the top floor that had the most paper-thin walls you’ve ever seen in your life. You could hear absolutely everything that was going on. Like everyone staying there might as well have been in the same room. It was hilarious.
How did the locals respond to you and your mountain bikes because obviously people do mountain biking in Nepal but it’s not really a mainstream thing there? Was there a noticeable reaction to it when you were going round?
Definitely. 100%. The people in Nepal are incredible. They’re so friendly. They’re so welcoming. Absolutely amazing people. And when they see your bike, they do question it. And when they see you ride it, they can’t believe that you can ride some of the stuff you can ride. The kids aren’t shy. They’ll come up and try to grab your back wheel, just to see how it feels and what it’s supposed to do. I had locals having a go on my bike, just pedalling around to see what it’s like.
“The people in Nepal are incredible. They’re so friendly. They’re so welcoming”
The porters we were with, you know they were all intrigued to find out what we could actually ride down. Things like that. They’re just really interested in it all. And, as you say, mountain biking is getting bigger in Nepal. While I was there, in Kathmandu, they had the Asian Enduro Series. So, there is things happening there. You see a few people going round with their bikes, and the odd sort of old school bike. It’s changing.
Who was taking you round?
So, there’s this company called Himalayan Trails run by a guy called Mads Mathiasen. He completely sorted us out while we were out there. Can’t thank him enough really. He knew the area so well. The trail we were on has basically never really been ridden. It was more of like an expedition to check out the trails and see if it was even rideable. To see how it flows, with the aim of using it for commercial use. He’d hiked it before so he had a really good idea of where we were going but the trail, I mean it had some techy sections, was incredible. Never really been touched by bikes. Just… amazing.
Are the effects of the 2015 Earthquake in Kathmandu still visible? Did you get a sense that Nepal is recovering from the disaster?
Yeah, so they’re still rebuilding. You can still see huge cracks in the walls. A lot of the villages we visited got really badly hit by the earthquake. There were buildings with just singular walls still standing. It’s such a slow process for them to rebuild. It’s such a shame to see it. It’s really surprising to see how much damage there actually was. You hear about what happened but for these people, who really are in the arse-end of nowhere, it takes them so long to get to places. They don’t really have a lot for supplies, and stuff, so the whole rebuilding effort takes much longer.
“I understood the severity of it all more just because of his reactions”
Obviously, I wasn’t there when it happened so I’m not sure how much they’ve rebuilt already. It’s not for me to comment on what it was like at the time but the photographer I was with, Alex Treadway, spent a lot of time in that area prior to the earthquake and he was really in shock seeing all the damage that it caused and how things had changed. So I think I understood the severity of it all more just because of his reactions.
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