For four days I trekked solo through the jungles, rice paddies, hills and valleys of the lower Annapurna Sanctuary. Then a thickly bearded man with a rainbow fuzzy hat sat across from me. And for the rest of the nine-day trek I had a crew.
His name is Aaron, and he and his band of mid-twenty friends Sarah, Danny, Jake, and Alila (and their strange and hilarious guide Dunbar) adopted me into their group and together we trekked up up up down and back up to the base camp of the tenth highest mountain in the world, and certainly one of the most beautiful range of mountains in the world.
The trek was much more difficult than I anticipated, in part due to the fact that I was completely unprepared for the cold weather and rough trails, with only a thin cotton sleeping-sack and a tattered pair of shoes, and also because it was peak season, meaning there were more people on the trail than there were rooms for them to stay. (I slept in the Dining room three times.)
But beside the lack of preparation and a few cold nights when they had no blankets to spare, the journey to Annapurna Base Camp was unforgettable.
The following is my day-by-day account of the trek, feel free to skip it and just look at the pictures.
I woke up early and caught the “roof-room” only bus to Phedi — the starting point for my little jaunt through the Himalayas. I ate some noodle soup and bought a walking stick from some kids, which proved to be one of my better purchases.
Twenty minutes later I’m huffing and puffing as the steep stone steps ascend 500 meters straight up, though the views are extraordinary and as I look behind me I am amazed at how quickly the valley floor shrinks below me and the sounds of civilization are drowned out by the chirping of insects.
I stop a couple times for lunch and tea, and have a surprisingly good garlic soup and french fries.
Finally I see today’s peak and am ecstatic that it will be all downhill from there after ascending over a 1000 meters.
The trail weaves in and out of jungles and open fields with beautiful terraced rice fields and the occasional villages with their brick and stone homesteads.
Seven hours later I reach Tolka where I stop at the first guesthouse I see and get a room for 150 rupees ($2). I take a nap then get a pot of tea and stare at the terraced hills and peaks as the sun slowly sinks behind the late afternoon clouds, casting languorous shadows on the valley floor.
I get a dinner of Gurung (fried) bread with Yak cheese, Dal Bhat and raksi (Nepali wine that is actually made of millet, not grapes but tastes something like watered-down grappa).
Now here I lay at 6 PM and the loneliness of nighttime and an empty guesthouse start to set in, but I’m exhausted and sleep won’t be too hard to come by.
I’ve caught a cold.
I spent the night hacking, coughing, and freezing in my insufficient sleeping bag, making today a bit rough.
Sore and sick, I followed the trail as it rose and rose only to dip back to the river allowing me to see the next hill looming ahead. I stopped frequently as my heavy bag ate away at my shoulders.
Finally I came stumbling up the steps leading to Jhinu only to find there are absolutely no more rooms and no one was willing to share. Luckily they had some random beds on a porch where I spent the night with the porters and guides.
There are some hot springs nearby on the valley floor, but the added hike is too much for right now.
“Nepali Flat” – A little up, a little down.
This 8 1/2 hour day wiped me out, mentally physically and spiritually. My great struggle has been to find a room, and once again I’m stuck in the dining room.
The trail is getting busier as the paths converge onto the Annapurna Base Camp route and hanging out with some fellow trekkers was revitalizing to my previous days of solitude.
An uncomfortable nights sleep with only a thin fleece blanket led me to day 4.
A quick, sweaty 1 1/2 hour sprint up and I secured the first room I could find at Himalaya Guesthouse, which I am sharing with a Russian man, a Chinese girl, and some opportunistic rats that crunched away on somebodies snacks during the night.
Everything has been packed, and it is no longer the trek that worries me, but finding a place to rest my cramping legs and cough and cold. I’ve been here since 9:30 AM and have just been sitting around, eating pizza and drinking a thermos of tea. Things are getting more expensive the higher we go, as the supplies have to be trekked in by local porters.
Cloud and river shirking stone
everything and nothing
kissing, passing, leaving and taking
a ripple a cloudbreak
a glimpse of God
Last night I had my first bit of real sleep, although the Russian man hated rats and was constantly flashing his headlight at every noise he heard throughout the night.
I met a group of Californians and one South African last night and have joined them on the trek. A great group and good company, a welcome slice of home.
The air is getting colder as we rise through the mountains to cloud level. The high altitude is finally taking a noticeable effect, evidenced by our lagging steps and gasping breaths.
After walking through an eye-popping canyon surrounded by jutting glacier peaks and hundreds of waterfalls splitting off in all directions to meet in the rapids on the valley floor, we reached Machhupuchhre Base Camp at 11:30.
It was bright and sunny for 30 minutes before the clouds rolled in creating an eerie dreamlike scene of partial peaks and bottomless rocky stairs fading into nothing but the sound of the creek far below.
We ate some garlic noodle soup and whiled the day away playing cards. I took a little walk into the clouds and felt the thrilling chill of being at an altitude and place so foreign to anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s inexpressible.
Tomorrow we awake at 3:30 AM to reach Annapurna Base Camp by sunrise. It’s been worth every painful step along the way.
We woke at 3:30 AM after another night of restless sleep and left at 4:10 into the moonlit dark.
The climb was steady and as we trekked through the valley the moon cast just enough light to illuminate the magnificent Machhupuchhre partly shrouded in an everchanging array of clouds.
We turned off our headlamps and used the moonlight to guide our steps. The altitude was getting to Danny and Aaron and we stopped often to rest as their headaches grew.
As the sunlight started to stream over Macchupuchhre, Annapurna South and the surrounding peaks grew visible, creating an impossibly beautiful scene of light and peaks and misty clouds.
Two hours later we reached the basecamp and marveled at the size and beauty of the landscape, easily the most beautiful natural landscape I’ve ever seen.
We ate a massive breakfast and had several pots of black tea as a reward for our efforts.
After six days of grueling hikes we spent two and a half hours at the freezing top, but I took my time walking down the green valley to stop and stare at the peaks, cliffs, fog and waterfalls that surrounded this sacred valley.
After a lengthy stop at Himalaya for some more pizza, we arrived at Dovan at 3:30 PM. There I slept in the dining room once again after a night of raksi and Shnautz, a German card game.
One of the hardest days, full of ups and downs that were hard on the knees. The final push up the mammoth staircase to Chomrong was rough, and the relief of making it to our guesthouse was incredible.
After cards and dinner of Dal bhat we went on a fruitless quest for apple pie and Internet, and a lot of stairs were reclimbed.
We woke up early and left behind Danny and Aaron, who was a bit sick, and went to the hot springs in Jhinu. We stayed there a couple of hours soaking up the healing waters and met them back at the top for lunch.
The rest of the day we trekked through jungle and rice paddies and ran into an Aussie couple that have been trekking on one meal a day and tap water.
We passed several marijuana plants that were the size of trees and saw a couple of monkeys swinging through the trees.
After a long day we made it to Tolka and a few of us had Mustang coffee, which is a disgusting combination of raksi, coffee and water.
After another night of conversation and cards, I went to bed and had forgotten to ask for a blanket. Another cold and sleepless night.
I’ve become addicted to the potato rosti, a hashbrown type thing with a fried egg on top, and had it for breakfast once again.
We traveled fast and stopped a bit in each town, where there were some arguments about the topographic map and the supposed rises we still had ahead of us.
One last massive climb and we reached the Dhampus where we had a much needed lunch after an exhausting day.
Aaron happens to be a very talented musician and he gave me his album to listen to on the way down, which fit the mood perfectly and inspired me to do some more filming for a music video.
And then… it was over. Just like that, we got a cab and now we are chilling out at the Penguin guest house, happily celebrating the end of an incredible trek — Sore, proud, and drinking reasonably priced beer.