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PHORTSE, Nepal -- You stare into the void, and the void stares back. And so does a yak.

My daughter, Anna, has been a fountain of yak-related humor ever since we cleared 12,000-feet altitude and started running into these remarkable animals.

They resemble a cross between an American bison and a golden retriever, with the latter providing the disposition and the hairstyle. Except yaks sport tresses that would make horse groomers swoon.

Phortse hovers on a Himalayan hillside about 12,500 feet above sea level, and appears to have five yaks for every person. They wander at will past bedroom windows, across fields, and into campsites, with no one seeming concerned that a lot of 400-pound, long-horned, long-haired bovines are loose.

That's important when you're sharing a 4-foot-wide trail with a train of yaks loaded with mounds of propane canisters, flour and rice sacks, and other commercial goods, and you're about 2,000 feet above the helicopters flying below the fog bank you're walking in.

The yak doesn't mind, nor does it spook. It ambles past like another trekker, only with 18-inch horns and enormous eyelashes.

The incomparable peak of Ama Dablam soars somewhere above, but in the fog. We might as well be walking up a particularly steep portion of Yaak, Montana.

Except that yaks are everywhere, bellowing, squeaking, honking, growling, whimpering and snorting. They have far more vocalizations than your average cow, and appear to never lose their sense of goofy calf-ness.

When not loaded, they scramble across the hillsides like mountain goats, fling themselves in dust wallows, and wander up to strangers like inquisitive puppies.

While they bear ear tags in case someone has an ownership dispute, our guide Angdawa Sherpa tells us each herd of yaks knows its herder. He calls them with a collection of whistles and yells, and the particular dozen belonging to him rally up.

Angdawa added it's not a good idea to talk to a yak herder.

That's because his yaks will come and surround him in defensive posture, much like arctic musk ox will circle their calves to protect against wolves.

It is good to have an occasional foggy day in a scenic wonderland like Sagarmatha National Park.

Were we mesmerized by the mountains, we might never have seen the little herd of Himalayan tahrs -- big as the mountain goats of Glacier National Park, but blackish brown instead of white.

Nor would we have spotted the Himalayan monal, Nepal's national bird, with a head fob like a peacock and a sapphire-blue back.

Yaktually, it's hard to have a bad day here. Yakkity yak.


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