Journey to Annapurna Base Camp – Part 1 – First Glimpses of the Himalayas

Annapurna I is the 10th highest mountain in the world, and one of the 14 mountains that measure over 8000 meters. We left Kathmandu in hopes of reaching the base camp of this huge and incredible mountain.

First Glimpse of Annapurna South

First Glimpse of Annapurna South

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) is roughly 4130 meters or 13550 feet high. At the beginning of the trek, I had had no clue of what to expect – the tallest mountains I’d ever seen in person was the range of La Cloche, in Ontario. At about 500 meters or 1650 feet, these Ontario hills aren’t comparable to the amazing Himalayas in any way. I got my first glimpse of Annapurna South during the drive from Pokhara to the village of Nayapul near the trailhead. It was gigantic and white, towering over us in all of it’s magnificence, hundreds of kilometers away. I obviously shrieked and pointed out the van’s windows, shaking Matthew awake, while asking our driver if we could stop to take a picture. It seemed as if my dad and I were the ones who were excited to see Annapurna South, as my mom was not feeling well she begrudgingly looked out of the van window, while my dad took a picture of me and the looming mountains in the distance.

Mila, one of our Porters

Mila, one of our Porters

We were soon in Nayapul, outfitting ourselves in 50 spf sunblock, and wide brimmed hats. Meanwhile, I watched our two porters, Kumar and Mila, roping our duffel bags together, and preparing to carry them. This style of transportation uses a tump, where a person will have a headband-like strap, with rope attaching this head piece to the load. The headband piece is placed on the forehead, while the bag rests on the back. I was worried that Kumar and Mila were going to strain their necks as they were carrying about 25 kilograms each, but they proved me wrong. This day was mostly spent ascending on a dirt and dusty road. Many trekkers hire a Jeep to drive them to Hille, the small village after Nayapul, but we – 2 guides, 2 porters, Matthew, Mom, Dad and I – opted to walk 5 hours instead. Our final destination for the day was 20 minutes past Hille, a small village called Tikhedhunga.

Kumar, our second Porter

Kumar, our second Porter

Our first night on the trail was pretty much as expected – other than the public squat toilets and freezing cold showers – I couldn’t complain. The bedrooms were basic and relatively clean, two bare cots (2 people per room), each pushed to a corner in the rectangular room, with a night table in between, and a window above. Immediately after we had received the rooms, I had hopped onto a bed and relaxed, before jumping off after remembering that I had been told to be aware of the pillows in trail lodges as they might contain lice or other insects. Fortunately, we had down jackets that could be used as pillows and borrowed (but clean) sleeping bags that kept us cozy and warm.

A Dhal Bhat Platter

A Dhal Bhat Platter – Half Eaten

The next day’s trek, from Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani was brutal. We ascended over 8000 uneven steps, and added 1200 meters to our elevation. By the end of the hike I had a mild sunburn on my arms, as the morning half of the day was spent in the blitzing sun.  I also had extremely stiff legs from the seemingly unending stream of stairs. Luckily, my room was on the first floor, so I didn’t have to go up too many stairs. My room also had an attached bathroom with a Western toilet and shower! After an amazing dinner of Dhal Bhat, a dish made up of lentil soup, rice, vegetable curry, pickle and spinach, that 90% of Nepali’s eat twice a day, we turned in early. We were planning to wake up before our usual time, so we could climb up to Poon Hill to catch the sunrise over the mountains.

Sunrise over Annapurna's from Poon Hill

Sunrise over Annapurna’s from Poon Hill

The alarm I had set the previous night for 4:30 a.m. blared, and I attempted to turn it off, half asleep. It was freezing outside of my sleeping bag, and I threw on random articles of clothing in an attempt to warm up. A few minutes later my mom, my dad and I met Jaget and Kul, our two guides, and set off for Poon Hill. The hour hike was tough, my legs were still sore from the day beforehand, and as we were walking up to 3200 meters (10500 ft) it became much harder to breathe. The sun was just beginning to show itself when we we reached the top, and I could clearly see many mountains in the distance. To the left was Dhaulagiri 1-5, and Nilgiri. Straight ahead were Annapurna 1-4, Annapurna South and Gangapurna. For me, it was too early and too cold to be overly excited about actually seeing these great mountains so close, though it seemed that the large Indonesian group were doing enough screaming for me and the other 200 people on the hill. After descending from Poon Hill, my parents decided that we were going to take an acclimatization day, and remain in Ghorepani instead of walking the planned 6 hours to Tadapani this day.  

Annapurna South (R) Annapurna I (L)

Annapurna South (R) Annapurna I (L)

More stairs greeted us the next morning – ugh. Even though the map said that Tadapani was 200 meters (650 ft) below Ghorepani, we had to climb up to 3200 meters (10500 ft) again, before we could start descending into the valley that would eventually lead to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and ABC. I felt more acclimatized then the morning before, and it was much easier to ascend higher. Another blessing was the clear skies. Most days clouds will roll in and completely conceal the mountains before 8 a.m.; however, there wasn’t a speck of white in the sky and the mountains were in full view. The view was just as good, if not better than Poon Hill. The air was warmer, I wasn’t so tired, the rhododendron trees were in full bloom with brilliant pink and red flowers, and the crystal blue sky provided an excellent contrast against the mountain range. Unfortunately, as we continued and descended into the valley the rhododendron blossoms disappeared, along with our magnificent views of the Himalayas.

Stay tuned…to find out more about our journey and whether we make it to Annapurna Base Camp?

My Mom and I on the top of Poon Hill

My Mom and I on the top of Poon Hill

My Mom, My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Mom, My Dad and I on Poon Hill

Dhaulagiri Range from Poon Hill

Dhaulagiri Range from Poon Hill

Mom and I on Poon Hill

Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

Jaget, Kul, Mom and I Descending from Poon Hill

Jaget, Kul, Mom & I Descending from Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

Annapurna South (R), Annapurna I (M) and Nilgiri (L)

Annapurna South (R), Annapurna I (M) and Nilgiri (L)

Dhaulagiri I

Dhaulagiri I

 

Kayaking with my Dad in Northern Thailand

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The Gibbon in a Tree

My dad and I participated in a 35 kilometre kayaking trip on the 20th of December. We left Cave Lodge at eight am, and arrived at our starting point, Susa Waterfalls on the Kong River, one hour later. During our water safety briefing, we spotted an adolescent male gibbon who was being held hostage in a tree by two dogs! As it turns out, the dogs were doing us a favour.  We heard that a man staying at our lodge had had a run in with this gibbon on a previous trip. This gibbon had become really aggressive and attacked him. Fortunately, the man was wearing long pants and ended up being fine!

After our gibbon experience, we climbed into our kayaks and set off on our trip. Not 3 minutes after we had started, one kayak got pinned against a tree and flipped, causing 2 other kayaks to crash into them. My dad and I were a few meters behind this pile up and had to paddle through a very shallow section of river to avoid hitting them.

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The Beginning of Some Rapids

For most of the trip, we kayaked through the mountains and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. There were many hundred-year-old trees, vibrantly coloured flowers, amazing rock formations, and much more. A lot of the trees higher up in the mountains had leaves that were turning red, or had fallen off. My dad and I brainstormed two theories, one – that the trees were dropping their leaves because it was getting colder, or two – there was not enough water and the trees were going dormant.

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The Kong River

About two hours after we had started, we were paddling along when someone in our group spotted a King Cobra! Most people paddled closer to get a picture, and our guide, Aung, started freaking out and shouting, “Get away! Get away! Cobras can jump!” It was hilarious as Aung shouted and everyone started back paddling away from the cobra franticly!

 

 

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The Kong and Pai Rivers Intersection

We stopped for lunch at the spot where the Kong and Pai rivers meet. The Pai River was much longer than the Kong, and almost double the width. The Pai also had many more rapids. In total, the two rivers contained more than 70 classes 1, 2 and 3 rapids. My dad and I had a problem with only one of the rapids. We were too close to one of the guides and it appeared that we were not going to be able to paddle fast enough to get through the rapid without hitting him. We ended up getting pinned to a rock, and almost flipping! Fortunately, my dad is a quick thinker and he hopped out of the kayak into chest deep water and unpinned us.

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The Truck that we Took Back to Cave Lodge

After 35 kilometers, my arms were very sore and I was soaked! Fortunately, I had brought dry clothes that I could change into! The drive back to Cave Lodge was an hour and a half long and I was exhausted. I kept almost falling asleep. We were on benches in the back of the pickup truck and when I would start to doze off my head would fall to the left or right and bump into someone! I had to pinch myself numerous times to ensure that I wouldn’t fall over on one of them! Overall, I extremely enjoyed my kayak trip through the Kong and Pai Rivers with my dad (even though my arms were still aching the next day).

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A Class Three Rapid

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The Pai River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Near the End of our Kayak Trip

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Me at the Hot Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Kong River

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The Beginning of Another Rapid