Annapurna Base Camp - 13549
Annapurna Base Camp - 13549
|Annapurna Base Camp Trek|
I had an opportunity to travel to India this fall to do some humanitarian work there with girls and young women rescued from the human trafficking industry. It was a remarkably significant time for me and I cannot wait to return. To hear more about this portion of the trip you'll have to take me out for coffee as it was a fairly heavy week and too much to write about in this forum.
With the planned schedule of the India trip and the anticipation of finishing the 14ers earlier in the summer I thought to add on a mountain celebration since I would be so close to some rather large peaks. Seeing an 8000m peak has been on my bucket list for some time. I am a solid hiker but a novice mountaineer with my greatest mountaineering achievement being 'not dying on a snow climb of Little Bear' so summitting even an easy Himalayan peak of any size was probably out of the question. With the suggestion and help of this forum I decided on Annapurna Base Camp. It was a Himalayan trek that was relatively short (since I'd already be in India 10 days I had to keep the trek about 10 days or less or my boss might lose her mind), easy to get to, had worthwhile views, and was not overly physically challenging for my traveling partner who doesn't exercise much. I arranged a guide from the states and set off to India, to arrange the rest after arriving.
ABC is an easy trek to navigate. Many do it without a guide. With the help of a map (or not) you can easily navigate from one village and tea house to the next. However, being two females in a new place I opted to arrange a guide and porter to help out, to hear about what we were looking at, for some peace of mind, and to take the worry out of navigation. We went with a company called Trek Around Nepal by recommendation of an online blogger. I was also happy to contribute to the local Nepalese economy and support some really nice fellas. Plus they're well worth their expertise, kindness, connections, and all the laughs we had.
After 10 days in India, we flew to Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a welcomed change: green hills, blue skies, relatively clean air and streets (compared to Delhi), and about 25 degrees cooler than we had been all week. We spent a day in Kathmandu gathering some gear (you can buy most everything one would need for trekking or climbing there. It's not all of wonderful quality, but you can bargain down your price as to not care so much if it only lasts one trip). We shopped, ate, and roamed the city to see some of the sights. Unfortunately our one day of sightseeing was hit with torrential rainfall (it was the end of the rainy season and we were told an unseasonably long one), but when you only have a day, you go see some temples. We trudged through the streets in ankle deep water, I was determined not to take a taxi in order to prove my superior directional skills in a foreign city with a crummy hotel map with no street signs and an alphabet that was indecipherable to me. We made it close to our destinations, I think. That may be up for debate. We first visited Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple. We had been warned that monkeys do not care for women and may attack you should you bare your teeth at them. There were HUNDREDS of monkey. We huddled under one umbrella and tried to talk with our mouths closed and not look at anything furry directly in the eye.
The colors and extravagance of the temple was interesting. Golden Buddha statues, monks, prayer wheels, prayer flags - all very picturesque and very much what you think of when you think Nepal.
Also lots of vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs despite the rain. We wandered around, climbed the 300 some stairs to reach the temple and finally wandered to the next temple which I successfully found all by myself! This should have been called the pigeon temple, it was equally uncomfortable with so many birds. And much of this temple area stood in ruins from the recent earthquake. We later saw a photograph of this temple in a book shop and were quite surprised with how it used to look, pre earthquake, compared to what it is today. We ate some delicious Nepalese food and lassis for dinner and returned to our hotel to put together our things for the next leg of the journey.
After only a day of sightseeing I was ready to head for the hills. From Kathmandu it's about a 7-8 hour bus ride to a beautiful town called Pokhara. We paid $7 for a roundtrip tourist bus ride, plenty of stops to eat and stretch your legs. The ride itself was on curving roads (which are bus driver drove like he was behind the wheel of a sportscar on Monarch Pass- it was best not to look up), and was beautiful: green rolling hills, lots of citrus and banana trees, rice fields, hills.
Our guide company arranged us a taxi from our hotel in Kathmandu to the bus depot and was there to pick us up from the bus depot in Pokhara. The guide company was housed in a hotel in Pokhara and our trekking price included a night before and after the trek. We were able to leave our extra luggage here, the accommodations were very nice, and the hotel had an amazing roof top patio where we spent most of our time.
Pokhara is a lovely destination itself. It has a wonderful skyline of the Annapurna range on a clear day. It also has the beautiful Phewa Lake on which you can boat or kayak, there's a stupa above the lake that's supposed to have amazing mountain views, and we saw many people river rafting nearby, parasailing, helicopter tours. Lots to do here. The downtown has lots of shops and places to eat, also lovely patios and restaurants along the lake front. I was sad we didn't have more time here. But... time to get going!
Day 1: Pokhara to Nayapul to Hille.
Day one started with breakfast at the hotel and a couple hour car ride over a pass to Nayapul where we would start the trek. We enjoyed our driver, guide, and porter as we got to know each other and a little but about the area. The road to Nayapul was interesting, it was the end of a particularly rainy rainy season so much of the road had washed away. We were dropped off at the top of a hill, got our things together and hit the trail through a little town. The start of the trek was across a large bridge. Our guide cleared our trekking permits and we spent a short three hours hiking to our destination in Hille. We stopped about an hour or so into the hike for lunch, which was our first Nepalese dal bhat (we had this a lot in India, slightly different). We had tea and bought some cold water. The day was hot and humid and within minutes of any physical activity we were drenched in sweat and fairly disgusting. The hiking was easy this day, little elevation gait, and it covered low land terrain with rice paddies. I was eager to keep going but our destination on day 2 was not to be skipped and was a little too far for most to cover in a single day. We arrived in Hille around 2:30 and were put up in a second story room where we enjoyed sitting on the balcony and drinking tea. It rained soon after we arrived. The tea house was quite comfortable. There were beautiful flowers all around and the greenest rice paddies across the walk way. There was an open grassy area for tent camping (we did not see a single person tent camp the entire trip). We visited with a few others who were staying there and headed to bed early that evening after dinner. As we were dozing off, we heard a hard smack outside our door on the first floor. We step outside to see our porter, Sali, killing a snake with a stick. It was probably 5 feet long and dark. I asked if it was dangerous and Sali, in Nepalese accent, replies "uh... just a little bit poison! Not too much." I'm not sure what a little bit of poison does to a person, but we were happy to be on the second floor that night.
Day 2: Hille to Ghorepani.
We awoke and got ready at a leisurely pace, had breakfast and tea in the morning, and started our way to Ghorepani. This length of trail was notorious for it's 3500 steps (the Incline's got nothing on Nepal). A lot of the trek was through villages which had stone walkways or stone stairways. They were short steps which made for easy going. There were also conveniently placed rest stops with water and benches which we stopped at throughout the day. We passed by large bamboo plants, vines, flowers, ferns. It was very green. We got our first glimpse of Annapurna South poking briefly through the clouds between two green hills. Our guides joked that it took a long time to paint that, as they had some Indian customers who asked that question when they saw the mountain. We stopped for lunch, again going with the dal bhat, and continued on towards Ghorepani. Dal bhat is a traditional Nepalese staple meal that we typically ate twice a day, every day while we were there. It was awesome. Dal bhat consisted of enough rice to feed four teenage boys, dal (a lentil soup that goes on the rice), curried veggies and potatoes, a green vegetable which was a little like spinach but a touch more bitter, pickle (which was anything from an actual pickled vegetable to a pickley sauce), and chicken if you wanted a carnivorous option. You mixed it all together, locals ate it with their hands but they were gracious to provide us with forks. This meal was not only delicious and was slightly different at each place we ate, but it was the only meal that had free refills. After about 3 minutes into the meal, the host would come by and ask what else you would like. It took me about 2 days to figure out that you ask a little more of this or that to get the right dal:rice:veggie ratio. Plus if you were super hungry you wouldn't be for long with an order of dal bhat. We started to see Dal Bhat Power stickers on some of the tea house windows. Turns out Dal Bhat Power is the name of a trekking company, but we used it as out motto and the energy that got us to ABC.
As the day progressed we entered into a dense rhododendron forest in which we would spend the next two days. It started raining about 20 minutes before our arrival at Ghorepani. Ghorepani was a village on top of a hill, our hotel room was on a third floor with a magnificent sky line (which didn't fully come out until the next day), but that afternoon we saw our first 8er from our hotel beds: Dhaulagiri (8167m). We took a cold shower that afternoon and spent the evening sitting by a stove in a large dining area with tea and dinner.
Day 3: Ghorepani to Poon Hill to Chuile.
We awoke the next morning at 4:30am, put a quick pack together with a hat and jacket, and set out for a quick run up to Poon Hill to watch the sunrise. Poon Hill at 3210m was an amazing platform with a lookout tower to catch a spectacular view of the 7th and 10th highest peaks in the world, along with a half dozen other 6ers and 7ers- all impressive.
We arrived shortly before sunrise which was around 5:50am and were fortunate to have a mostly clear morning (we spoke with a few people along the way who had a completely clouded view at Poon Hill). We also were lucky to catch this trek early in the season. There were maybe 40 people on the hill that morning and we found a spot halfway up the observation tower for some lovely photos. Our guide would tell us that there are 500 or more people up here in the busy season in October - November. The sunrise was spectacular. This is by far my most favorite time of the day for Colorado hikes, and Nepal as well. Clouds rolled in and out and allowed us some wonderful views. We took lots of pictures before heading back to the hotel for breakfast.
We then traveled up and down and through a dense rhododendron forest. The rest of the day was cloudy and pleasant. With all the rain this was also out first encounter with leeches. I had two that must have fallen off at some point because I was profusely bleeding on my leg. It took me a while to figure out I didn't cut myself but it was probably a leech. We then learned to stay away from bushes and not to touch anything while taking a rest. It helped only a little. We ended our day at the Rainbow Attractive Hotel in Chuile where we were the only people there for the night. It was a lovely place on a flat terrace. The kids who lived there played volleyball on the lawn while I played peekaboo with baby Prince, a smiley handsome 9 month old who was plenty of entertainment for the evening.
Day 4: Chuile to Sinuwa.
This day I learned to bring the camera everywhere you go. As was now common, it was mostly clear in the morning until about 9:00-10:00am and then the rest of the day clouded up. While eating breakfast I had to run back to my room to grab the camera for the first clear glimpse of Machhapuchhre, or Fish Tail Mountain (6993m). We had seen Machhapuchhre from Pokhara but now we were further back in the valley so we could see the double summit feature that gives it its name. It is a stunning peak, considered sacred and closed to climbers since the 1960s. There was an expedition in 1957 where the climbers stopped short of the summit to preserve it's religious significance. Our guide also told us a story where an expedition was aiming to climb and fixed ropes for the next day's leg. When the team got to the fixed rope section, all the equipment was gone. They attempted this twice more where they fixed ropes and then next day it was gone. The team then abandoned the summit attempt and were afraid. Our guide tells us that's when the mountain was officially closed.
Our hike this day took us out of the forest and started we traversing the countryside. The landscape opened up and we could now see our next destination. This day was a lot of up and downs, climbing over hills and down to rivers. Lots of suspension bridges. We passed through a lot of farm land including rice paddies, millet, corn, and the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. My favorite was a terraced garden with about 10 foot tall bamboo poles spaced evenly which anchored a viney and spindly bean plant which grew to the top. Lots of cabbage, squashes, leafy veggies, root vegetables, and lots of other things I didn't know, all beautiful. That night at Sinuwa it rained for a short while and we met a couple other travelers, a couple from the UK and a couple from the US. We spent the evening visiting and drinking chai tea made with water buffalo milk. It was way better than the chocolate milk recovery drink I sometimes have after a big hike.
Day 5: Sinuwa to Deurali.
We left the countryside and traveled through bamboo forests on day five. Our guide showed us how to look for and pick bamboo shoots (which he was bringing back to his wife to make curry). There were many men throughout the day harvesting large baskets of bamboo shoots. We saw monkeys, lots of birds, and more leeches. We also made make-shift trekking poles, pole vaulting poles, light sabers, and giant straws out of bamboo. We passed a point on this day where there was a signed marker that told us we were entering sacred ground. From this point there was no spitting allowed, no using the bathroom outside of a structured bathroom, and no animal products beyond this point. This meant we ate vegetarian from here on out, also all the supplies had to be carried by humans, horses and mules were not allowed past this point. We made our way up to Deurali, typically the last stop before ABC or MBC. We could see Machhupuchhre frequently, it was spectacular. Once arriving at Deurali we finally felt we had made it to an alpine environment. It was a little colder. All the tables had built in blankets to put over your lap while you sat. We spent the evening visiting with our new friends and eating popcorn. The plan for the next day was a short four hour hike to ABC, so a leisurely start was planned. Seeing how our week was going with a clear morning and a cloudy afternoon, I wanted to get to ABC early so we could have the best chance of seeing the peaks. Our guide agreed to my 5:30am departure suggestion so we snuggled into our sleeping bags early.
Day 6: Deurali to ABC to Deurali.
We awoke at 4:30am and I stepped outside to peek at the night sky. What was cloudy the day before was crystal clear now. Machhupuchhre was towering above us to the northeast and was illuminated by bright moonlight. It was one of the coolest sights on the trip. Unfortunately cheap and crummy cameras do not capture this moment, but that huge and beautiful peak glowing in the moonlight was simply amazing. We set out for Machhupuchhre Base Camp first, which is not actually a base camp any longer since climbing is outlawed, but has plenty of guest houses. At this point I left my partner behind with our guide as she moved a touch slower than me and I was eager to see base camp. Our porter and I had gained some ground and were making good time. The hiking was fairly easy, a little elevation gain to MBC and a pleasant walk to ABC. All distances are measured in time on signage, so it was hard to tell how much distance was covered, but we rolled into ABC in a little more than 2 hours.
We arrived at ABC to clear blue skies and the advertised 360 degree view did not disappoint. To the west was Annapurna I (8091m) and Annapurna South (7219m), to the east Machhupuchhre (6993m), the north showed us Annapurna III (7555m), and Gangapurna (7455m). It really was a 360 degree view. Although base camp was only at 4130m (about 13K), it was incredible to think the mountains above you were still 10,000-13,000 feet higher. After a cup of tea on the balcony there was lots of exploring to do. To the west of the guest houses was the trail to Annapurna. It was littered with cairns and memorials everywhere remembering those who lost their lives climbing the peaks. It was sobering. Lots of picturesque prayer flags and beautiful views everywhere. The weather was ideal, a long sleeved shirt while moving was fine, we put a jacket on once we stopped. There was no one at base camp that morning as all the trekkers staying there had left around 8am.
We were fortunate to have it all to ourselves. While Annapurna is not one of the most difficult 8ers, it is considered one of the most dangerous- prone to rockslides and avalanches. There was evidence of a huge landslide at the base of Annapurna. There was a cairn on an easy section of trail up to base camp marking the spot where a Korean tourist lost her life when a patch of ground gave way while taking a photograph. She fell about 100 feet and was buried beneath rubble. We also met some porters carrying supplies up for an expedition up Annapurna I (I think, I couldn't find any news on this after returning). But later heard that someone from that Spanish (again, I think?) team lost their life in an avalanche or a weather related incident. The weather was moody during our trip and rained very hard on our descent.
After several cups of tea and hours walking around, the clouds rolled in and our views disappeared. A bunch of sheep also made their way through the fields, I thought it looked like Scotland (or what I imagine Scotland to look like). We decided not to stay at ABC that night as originally planned, and to head back down to Deurali so we could possibly visit the hot springs on day 7. Our guides made a phone call to change our accommodations, and it seemed to be no problem. Just before we left we saw our American couple and British couple friends roll in at a leisurely pace. They were curious about our views and how the morning went. We were glad to have gotten up early. Eight days in the Himalayas and only one alpine start... not too shabby! On our descent the clouds broke to perfectly frame Machhupuchhre. The western sun on the peak was incredible. I think I took HUNDREDS of photos on this day. Mostly all of the same thing but the mountains were so pretty I just can't help myself.
Day 7: Deurali to Jhinu.
Again, a change of plans as our day went along. We had planned to stay the night in a village called Chomrong which was the leisurely 6-7 hours of hiking, and then catch a bus down on day 8 to save some time back to Nayapul. I asked if we could extend our day slightly to stay at Jhinu which had natural hot springs. Our guide obliged and we hiked until nearly 5:00pm to arrive at Jhinu. After a stop for lunch a torrential rain came, and didn't let up until about 5:00pm. We tried to wait it out some but it was clear we couldn't wait too long because we had a fair distance to cover. The rocks and stairs were slick. Our porter put a large pink trash bag over his body and cut a hole for his face, our guide and many others carried umbrellas. I had a rain coat and was pretty soaked from the waist down in just minutes. An interesting note: we had now passed the point of sacred ground again and were able to eat meat and see pack animals. Out guide told us that there was a group of Koreans who were about a day behind us. The signage is in Nepalese and English and the Koreans do not often understand the warnings posted. He blamed the rainfall on the Koreans, stating they carry a lot of jerky on their treks and do not read the signs. He states the mountain was angry and showed it with weather.
We arrived in Jhinu around 4:45 and immediately grabbed the swimsuits and headed about a mile downhill to the river. There were three natural hot spring pools next to a raging river. We rinsed off in a spicket of hot water and soaked for an hour or so. Another time I did not bring the camera....(doh!!) It was lovely, but there's no photographic proof. Even better, it felt so good to be clean and to soak the feet. Those dogs were barking by day 7! By the time we headed back for some dinner it was dark and we all forgot our headlamps. Even though we put most of our clothes back on after the soak, everyone was speckled with leeches. I think I had three on me on our half hour walk back. They really are disgusting and difficult to get off you. Our guide wore flip flops and found MANY between his toes. We saw one girl walking back up to the village without shoes. I was happy for my hiking boots, and that's the only time I've ever felt that way about those boots. Back at the hotel there were lights outside our doors, it was an all you can eat buffet for the bats nearby. They were everywhere: hanging, swooping. Pretty cool to see so close up. Immediately to bed for an early departure on our last day.
Day 8: Jhinu to Nayapul to Pokhara.
We got up early and walked a single track trail through terraced fields back to a large road. We could have caught a bus down but opted to walk another 2.5 hours. It was road walking, easy and pleasant, and I didn't want the trip to end with a bus ride when we could be outdoors for a few more hours. We had our last meal of dal bhat and lemongrass tea, freshly picked. The return trip was pleasant, it rained a little. We finally arrived in Nayapul where our guide checked us out with our permits and we crossed the last suspension bridge one final time. We had a car waiting for us to drive us back to Pokhara. We dropped our guide off on the outskirts of Pokhara and our porter accompanied us back to the hotel, blasting some Hindi pop music in the car. B-line to the shower and we headed for a restaurant on the Phewa lakeside for a celebratory Nepalese brew and some live music at our restaurant. A cow wandered through the patio yard, you don't see that everyday.
The next day we traveled by bus back to Kathmandu to start the long journey home. It was a very enjoyable trip, I'd highly recommend it if you are in the region. With the help of our tour company I couldn't have asked for an easier time. We were fortunate with views and weather. The Nepalese people were warm and hospitable, helpful, and great fun to be around. Thanks to this forum for the suggestion! I'd return in a heartbeat.
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