Fiber to Farm: Mountain Biking the Cashmere Trail in Nepal
by Lani Bruntz
Corinne Prevot, founder and owner of Skida, a headwear company known for its fresh and vibrant prints, invited friends Katy Kirkpatrick and Lani Bruntz to join her cashmere pilgrimage to Nepal with mountain bikes. From the factory visits in Kathmandu to the search for Chyangra goats in the Mustang Region of the Himalayas, they traced an age-old cashmere supply chain on two wheels.
It’s hard to define one single motivator for this assembly of friends to courageously ride around Nepal’s vast landscapes and Kathmandu’s bustling streets. But oddly enough, the main inspiration behind this rugged and remote adventure was cashmere. The goal was to visit the knitting and weaving factories in the bustling city of Kathmandu, and then follow the figurative thread of cashmere fiber to its source – goats raised in the high-altitude Mustang Region mountains. Fiber-to-farm via mountain bike.
After 30 hours of travel from the U.S. we assembled our bikes in Kathmandu to beat the jet lag. We jumped right into city riding – quite a different pace than our backyard singletrack, and required heightened awareness to maneuver the streets. People, dogs, cars, bikes, trucks, cows, fruit carts, tractors, manholes, ditches, wires – you name it, you might bump into it. But with only 20 minutes of pedaling, we easily escaped to the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley.
We spent the first few days of the trip exploring the city. Before visiting the knitting and weaving factories, we’d string together morning rides on roads that meander into the foothills, and to the villagers’ singletrack footpaths. We explored the edges of the Kathmandu Valley, seeing the varying ways of life in this bustling valley. After a few days, we were eager to explore the giant mountains beyond the valley.
We learned quickly that it is much easier to travel on a bike than with a bike. Cars are small, roof racks are tricky, and buses can be crammed. We were constantly disassembling our bikes and attempting to wrap them with whatever we could find for protection, hoping they would arrive with minimal damage, but also feeling incredibly lucky to have patient bus drivers, baggage personnel, and taxis who were open to helping us with such an unusual adventure. Speaking a little Nepali can go a long way!
The journey to get to Mustang required multiple flights and a daylong bus ride. Upon landing in the tiny Jomsom airport, our bike loop start point, we stepped off the plane into crisp air and it felt like a completely different world from where we took off 20 minutes prior. We’d ascended over 10,000 feet. It was a new climate, a vastly different ecosystem, and a whole different subculture of Nepal, too.
Lani stayed positive while doctoring her front brake, a casualty of the airplane cargo jigsaw.
We built our bikes here and hit the trail. Over six days, we’d ascend about 5,000 ft and descend 10,000 ft over sixty-something miles. The first two days would be a gravel jeep road with a few single-track cut-offs. Nothing earth-shattering in terms of trail conditions, but to be out in a landscape resembling the moon felt so far away from familiarity and made each pedal stroke feel exhilarating.
After a couple days of climbing up to the highest point, we enjoyed a day in the village of Muktinath before embarking on our big descent day.
The Lubra Pass trail was a wildly fast and windy single-track descent, most commonly used by herders to traverse to the next valley. These loose switchbacks were built for foot traffic, but can be thoroughly enjoyed on two wheels!
As we descended deeper into the treeline, our single-track glory snaked away in a different direction and we linked up with the main jeep road that parallels the Kali Gandaki river. More vehicles meant more dust and we dug deep to keep pace with our planned route. We turned a corner along the road and suddenly the air became more humid, the trees more lush, and the river plunged downstream. On our final day we logged 30 miles, battling dust and trucks as we approached the town of Beni, our last stop on two wheels. Situated along the river, Beni is a bustling market town at the gateway to the mountains.
After our longest, dustiest day, we loaded a truck to bring us back to Pokhara.
Perhaps the most striking part of this route was how much variety in landscape, vegetation, and trail condition we experienced. From 12,500 ft down to 3,000 ft, we saw a vast difference in ecosystems, and found the high-altitude region of Mustang to be the most fascinating. The exposed terrain brings a harsh climate, one that requires a tough soul and warm coat to survive. It comes as no surprise that the warmest natural fiber is procured from hearty goats who live among the highest mountains in the world.
If there’s one thing we love more than merino, it’s cashmere. Thanks to Corinne, Katy, and Lani for sharing their #obsessive Himalayan adventure with us.
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