Before heading to Nepal I had done little reading up on the country but knew that the major attraction for most people is unsurprisingly the trekking opportunities in the Himalayas. Minus for me the distant memory of the Duke of Edinburgh and the occasional walk around the Wrekin we are both trekking amateurs and were keen to find a trail to suit our low level of experience. Various guide books mentioned the Annapurna range as having all of the things we were looking for; waterfalls, bamboo forests, bridges, but mainly as the guide books put it “at its finish, an incredible amphitheatre of peaks” this had us sold. Combined with the fact our friends we met along the way were also planning to do the ten day trek (although Elena had been planning to do the trek since 2008 which made us feel slightly unprepared) and having convinced Sarah that the sights we will see would be worthy of walking 100km and over 4000m in altitude carrying our 50litre rucksacks (which were still worryingly heavy despite us leaving all none essentials back In Pokhara) we set off into the Himalaya.
The first day heralded a new loathing of steps for Sarah in particular. It was a tough opening day as we confronted the first climb, a wall of uneven rocks some two or three feet apart rising up hundreds of metres through a lush forest. The rest of day was spent traversing paths that felt reminiscent of Tolkien’s description of middle Earth. We arrived at Tolka, our stop for the night just before the evening storm came in and sat happily playing cards (for some time as our tea was two and a half hours in coming) with other lodgers, many of which we would meet again on our journey upwards.
The second day was tough for Sarah as her pace was a lot slower than that of Elena and Felix so she felt in a constant rush to keep up. The trail took us from Tolka, through Landruk and across the inappropriately named town of New Bridge. I don’t know how long ago the town was renamed New Bridge (or whether beforehand it was simply known as bridge) but even by Nepal’s standards, it was questionable to describe the bridge that lay before us as new. Stretching around 50 metres into the distance above a roaring path of white water the bridge had the occasional wooden plank missing, and its holey side-netting was little reassurance when the bridge started swinging, perhaps the best way to describe it is something Harrison Ford would run over while getting chased by Nazi grail hunters deep in the jungle. Although this didn’t deter the porters running across in flip flops carrying fridge freezers on their backs (the cargo got more and more ridiculous as we ascended making us feel slightly inadequate with our rucksacks and walking boots)
Upon our arrival into our lunch break stop Jhinu, it was clear the fellowship could continue no longer, Elena and Felix wanted to push on to Chommrong, suggesting we consider a shorter trek on a nearby trail, while Sarah was worn out for the day. We decided to find a room for the night and relax at the nearby hot springs and just enjoy our amazing surroundings rather than breaking our necks to get to the summit as quickly as possible. We considered getting a porter at this point as carrying the sacks was too much for Sarah, and we were by far the minority carrying our own luggage with 9 out of 10 people we encountered in the trail employing a porter to carry their sack. Instead we re-packed the bags so that the only thing in Sarah’s sack where her sleeping bag (although this did eventually migrate to my bag) and her lightest clothing. Leaving her weight much more manageable in contrast to mine which now felt around the 15kg mark not including our two litre water bottles.
We got into Chomrong much earlier than expected the next day after a punishing 300m ascent leaving us in high spirits ready to push on. Little did we know the stretch from Chommrong to Sinuwa was by far the hardest part of the entire trek, despite it looking so close. Between us and Sinuwa was a deep valley with endless steep staircases leading to a bridge right at the bottom of the valley and another set of stairs back up, a loss/gain of over 600m altitude which became infamous in lodge conversations. The following day, to make up for our relaxing day at the hot spring we planned a full 8 hours walk from our home for the night Bamboo right up to Machupuchrre Base Camp, one stop before ABC. Upon arrival into MBC we reunited with Elena and Felix who where more than a little surprised we had made it up still carrying our sacks on the same day as them albeit several hours later. Wisely we decided to leave our bags and continue to walk up for half an hour despite the gruelling day we’d had to ensure we would sleep lower than the days highest point of altitude, allowing our bodies to acclimatise (A Swedish girl later that night was carried into our dorm room, she was rushed down from ABC with altitude sickness)
4.30 the next morning we rose to climb the hour and a half up to ABC in the dark to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna. We both felt an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment walking past the Base Camp marker and witnessing the 360 panorama of glaciers and peaks change from luminescent white caps standing out in the dark to glowing red summits illuminated by the morning sun. We enjoyed the celebratory mood at the top for around an hour then headed back down to collect our bags and enjoy a well deserved set breakfast before starting our descent. Despite having identical menus in all the lodges we were both very impressed with the food, Sarah especially because she was able to get cheese on every meal, and I got to sample each lodges take on chocolate pudding, but no dal baht for either of us! Maybe we will make up for this later on in Nepal.
Unfortunately our descent was tinged was sadness as weather hit us hard and deaths were reported, fortunately we had left the summit the previous day and none of the numerous people we had become friends with along the way were hurt but we endured monsoon conditions for 28hours. Foolishly we braved the weather and walked a half day before turning in with ourselves and our sacks drenched in and out including our sleeping bags. In the lodge we met Gaz and Owen who we would spend much of our time in Pokhara with. They said 5ft of snow had fallen at the top and conditions were risky, we were very fortunate to miss it by a day.
The rest of our descent went smoothly, despite the wet boots and we continued to meet people we would spend our time with in Pokhara. We made it back down in three days despite a landslide interrupting our Jeep ride back and blocking the road. Such an amazing adventure for us both, the trek felt like a journey within a journey and to witness the Himalayas as such close proximity was a real privilege and at times a humbling experience.
See photos here: