Journey to Annapurna Base Camp – Part 2 – Our Trek Continues

Calamity will befall us!

Calamity will befall us!

The itinerary for the next three days had us continuing to descend into the valley, getting as low as 2100 meters (7000 ft). We stayed in three villages, Chhomrong, Bamboo and Deurali. As Chhomrong was one of the last places on the route where meat is available, we gorged ourselves on delicious Nepali chilly chicken and scrumptious chicken dhal bhat. Just before Bamboo, we saw a sign that stated if you were to eat chicken, pork or buffalo, then personal calamity or harm may befall you. The Annapurna sanctuary is considered a holy place, and no slaughter of animals or eating of animal flesh are allowed. This meant that we were going to become vegetarians for the next four days. Thankfully, the vegetarian food at both Bamboo and Deurali was tasty!

Avalanche Zone

Avalanche Zone

We left Deurali very early in the morning because the trail to our intended highest sleeping point, Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC), was littered with avalanche zones. When the sun hits and melts the snow, there is a higher chance of an avalanche happening. To get through these zones we had to walk uphill quickly which was a little difficult at high altitude and I was promptly tired. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any avalanches. We heard that an hour after we had passed through one zone, an avalanche occurred, closing this part of the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking over the edge

Two exhausting hours later, we finally arrived at the lodge where we were planning to stay. After eating a delicious lunch of momos, a traditional Nepali recipe similar to a Chinese dumpling, we decided to go for a short hike on the lateral moraine next to our lodge. I had expected there to be a plateau at the top, but after walking up to it, I found a 150 meter drop off. I scrambled back from the edge as our guide shouted at me. The edge of the moraine was eroding, leaving open space under the dirt and my unexpecting feet.

 

Snowball fight on a moraine

Snowball fight on a moraine

Soon after, I got the idea to have a snowball fight. I picked up some snow and threw it at Matthew, hitting him in the middle of his back. Right away, he attempted to throw one back at me, and just missed. We continued our fight until we had reached the bottom of the hill, where Matthew threw a snowball that hit my cheek. I repaid him by lobbing one directly at his bottom. He shrieked, and I couldn’t help but buckle over in laughter at his dramatic reaction. Soon everybody had joined in, but we were abruptly stopped by the approaching clouds. We quickly made our way back to the lodge as it is very easy to get lost in the thick fog. We had an early dinner, and went to bed at 7 pm because we planned to wake up very early the next morning.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hiking to ABC from MBC

Nooooo! I mentally groaned, as my annoying alarm blared. It was 4:00 a.m., and I did not want to get out of my toasty warm sleeping bag. I eventually dragged myself out of bed and was instantly met with –10 degrees Celsius air. After putting on 5 layers of clothes, while doing jumping jacks (I must have been a sight to see), I was much warmer and ready to start the hike to ABC.

 

 

Arriving at ABC

Arriving at ABC

The next two hours would prove to be grueling as the air is thinner at altitude and walking is much more difficult. This time was made even more difficult once the sun had risen as is much more powerful the higher up you go. Add that to it reflecting off the snow, and you’ve got a UV of more than 15. It seemed weird that morning to have to slather 50 SPF sunblock on when it was so cold, but I understood the reason once we reached the long snow field we intended to cross.

 

 

Arriving at ABC

Matt and I at ABC

As we got higher, I began to notice that the altitude was taking an even greater toll on me. Each step was exhausting! There is less oxygen at higher elevations. Therefore, your brain gets less oxygen making you feel sluggish and tired and some people experience altitude sickness. More severe signs of altitude sickness include dizziness, vomiting, and insomnia. Fortunately, no one in my family exhibited such symptoms.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Annapurna I and the viewing hill

Though I was exhausted from the lack of sleep and oxygen and from what I’ve been told I was very irritable, I was extremely happy to finally reach the sign for Annapurna Base Camp. We made it!!! Then, I learned that we had to walk further to get to the viewing hill. There were so many Buddhist prayer flags strung, that we almost had to crawl to get past them! The panorama was indescribably amazing. Straight ahead was the magnificent Annapurna I, to the left and right were some snowcapped foothills, while behind was the sunrise over Machhapuchhre. It was incredible to be so close to some of the highest mountains in the world!

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Himalaya to Chhomrong

Our next challenge would be descending these mountains…Down, down and more down. My knees were dead by the time we had reached Himalaya, the tiny village in between Deurali and Bamboo. The last three days of our trek were the most difficult. We were walking 7-8 hour days, and my legs were seriously sore from hiking for so long. It also didn’t help that Matthew wanted us to move at the pace of Kumar and Mila, our porters, who were moving double the speed of Mom, Dad, Jaget and Khol. The last day of our trek though was the hardest. It took us 8-9 hours of fast paced hiking to reach our final lodge in Pothana. I was just about ready to drop. I was so happy that we had an attached bathroom rather than a public one that I actually jumped for joy! Let me tell you, jumping when your legs are about to crumble is a feat. After washing my hair for the first time in 6 days, I settled down for a nice cup of hot chocolate, and a plate of delicious Nepali chilly chicken. Khol, one of our guides, who used to be a cook, made what was some of the best food I’d eaten in Nepal.

Snowball fight on a snowfield

Snowball fight on a snowfield

Amazingly, the next day I got to sleep in until 7 a.m. instead of the usual 6. Pheti, the town that we were going to hire a taxi in, was only a 2-hour walk away. We gladly walked at a much slower pace. My legs were way too sore to go any faster then the turtle speed at which we were moving.

Once we reached Pheti our trek was over and it was hard saying goodbye to Jaget, Khol, Kumar and Mila. The four of them were going to the local bus station, where they were going to immediately take a bus back to Kathmandu, while we were planning to stay in Pokhara for the night. I felt sad that the guys were leaving. This meant that the trek had come to an end and this was one of my favourite parts of our world trip so far!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kol, Mom, Matt, Me, Jaget & Dad at ABC – Annapurna I in the background

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crossing a river in the middle of a cloud

 

 

 

MBC in the Background

MBC in the Background

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