Annapurna Base Camp with G-Adventures.
The Annapurna Sanctuary trek with G-Adventures (formerly known as GAP Adventures) is one of the original pieces around which this trip was first constructed. We got it on the calendar and a great deal of the subsequent planning flowed from there. That being said, day one of Annapurna happened to fall on day 54 of our trip. That’s 54 days on the road, somewhere between 15 and 20 of which found us in transit between cities and/or countries. On the remainder, we were exploring, learning, meeting new people, partying in new places and, once in a while, we were sleeping. Thus it has been at least 54 days since my body has experienced more than two minutes of intentional, purposeful exercise. And no, walking up five flights of stairs to a hotel room does not count.
Long story short, the physical rating of this about-to-begin trek is 5 out 5. It’s been a long time since I have worked out. My body’s readiness rating is well below a 5, and, truth be known, I’m a little nervous.
In the end, this trek quite easily finds itself on the list of coolest things I’ve ever done. I made it up and down the mountain just fine, even if I do say so myself. Even better, I’ve now got a bit more confidence and expectation that climbing Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro will probably go quite nicely as well.
Read on for pictures and day-to-day detail of the Annapurna trek experience.
April 1 Introductions:
The first day was rather uneventful as day one of GAP trips often are. Michelle and I had just arrived back in Kathmandu from Chitwan National park, done a few loads of much needed laundry, found a small something to eat, showered, put on some makeup and met our group. Meeting fellow travelers in GAP groups usually pretty fun. You never know what or who you’re going to find, but you can bet that no matter what, you’re almost always going to end up with several, maybe many, new and lifelong friends within a matter of days.
So, just whom are we traveling/trekking with?
Well, there is Michelle and me, of course. If you’ve been reading this blog you’re already well aware that we are two nurses from the United States who decided to quit our jobs and see the world.
Catherine: She’s from Switzerland, on vacation in Nepal to trek Annapurna having already successfully climbed Killimajaro a couple years ago.
Kyle: A Canadian on vacation and here to trek Annapurna with the rest of us.
Dennis: A chef from Sweden, finishing up four months of traveling in India, SE Asia and Nepal.
Jonathan: Another Canadian. He’s been Nepal for some time now, volunteering with his girlfriend in an orphanage. Jonathan heads to Tibet after the trek.
Astrid: A yoga instructor from Austria. With her leadership we had yoga-style stretching sessions at the end of many days in the mountains.
Jess: Yet another Canadian and a veterinarian who stumbled upon some vacation time conveniently on her birthday, too. She’s celebrating in the mountains.
Helen and Andy: Honeymooners from England. Unfortunately they both have to go back to work immediately up on returning home.
|Helen and Andy at Poon Hill|
Birte: From Germany, Birte just finished University and is traveling the world until July when she begins her PhD program.
Emmra and Stephanie: A couple from Germany on vacation in Nepal.
|Stephanie taking a rest, almost to Base camp.|
Laura: A teacher from London on her spring break.
Dave: Dave’s from Canada, too. He left his wife behind for a couple weeks to do this trek and check off one his bucket list items!
Our Guides are Bhrat and Khrishna. They are good friends who grew up together in the same Nepali village. It is evident they have been working together for a long time. Not only are they excellent guides, but they also work well together to keep track of everyone, always checking to be sure we are happy, healthy, well fed and “doing okay.”
|Nepal's greatest Mountain Guides|
April 2 Kathmandu:
Today we saw some of the sights in Kathmandu. This was a good day, but lets face it, what you really want to read about is the trek.
April 3 To Pokhara:
We had expected the bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara would be something similar to the bus ride to and from Chitwan, given that a large portion of the ride was on the same road. No such luck. Apparently we’re living in luxury now. We had a private bus for this transit. While the ride was a bit longer, the drive is much safer.
After arriving in Pokhara we had a bit of shopping to do for essential trekking supplies. On the list: sleeping bag and pole rentals, water bottles, snacks and, most importantly, toilet paper! We successfully found everything we needed in just under three hours. Three hours? Such a task should never take so long. Though we did have fun wandering the main street and many shops, we did not have any time for packing before dinner. It was another group dinner at a restaurant featuring tasty and spicy local food.
After dinner it was time to pack for the trek. Ahhh! 10 days and a weight limit of about 10 Kgs which a porter would be carrying for me. I have lived in the hope that someday I will be good (or at least better) at packing, but I’m thinking it’s time to accept the fact that this will always be a weak point for me.
April 4 - Into the mountain
Start: Nayapul, 1070M
Finish: Tikhedhungga, 1520M
Somewhere in the middle: gradual ascending.
Bharat described today as easy, a warm up, if you will. Only about 9 km and three to four hours walking. Yes, today was rather easy. After a two-hour bus ride from Pokhara to Nayapul we got out of the bus, rather excited to leave civilization and motorized vehicles behind for a while. We were teased with a 30-minute stroll down the road to Birethanti, elev. 1025M, where we stopped for a two-hour lunch break.
Two hour lunch breaks were the norm on this trek. This seems like a long time for lunch, but on every other day we had been hiking three to four hours before lunch so a two-hour break was actually quite welcome.
It was also at this initial lunch stop where we first witnessed our guides working harder than we had realized they would be working for us. Krishna handed out menus and starting taking orders while Bharat was already in the kitchen helping out. This was par for the course throughout the trek. Every tea break and every meal, Krishna would take our orders. Then shortly before anything was served, Krishna and Bharat or both would disappear into the kitchen to help prepare and serve our meals. I believe our porters were often in the kitchen as well. Not only do they carry all of our things, guide us through the mountain and make sure we don’t do something stupid while too close to a steep ledge, but these guys also work their butts off after we get to the mountain houses to be sure we are fed properly and everyone is warm and otherwise comfortable.
I would be lying if I said I was not proud of myself for completing this trek. And while I still believe I’m pretty tough for having made it “holding my own” the whole way, I’m not much compared to these guys. Our guides and porters, the ones who go up and down these mountains time and time again, working so hard to be sure my adventure is a successful one… these are the truly amazing ones.
|just a few steps on day one of the trek|
|That's me, waving of somebody.|
After lunch we made our way into the mountain. Krishna was at the front of the group holding a nearly perfect pace for the gradual ascent. In the three hours walking after lunch we stopped a couple times to regroup, rest our legs and enjoy a few snacks.
|The kids along the way way were often very entertaining and happy to see us.|
We arrived at Laxmi Guesthouse in Tirkhedhunga, elev. 1520M, around 3:15 in the afternoon. Much to our surprise and delight, the guesthouse actually had rooms for two to three people with locks on the doors and beds to sleep on. Well, they had benches with mattresses. Call it what you will, it was much nicer than I expected. There was even a western toilet that stayed semi-clean for the first few hours we were there.
|our room at Laxmi GuestHouse|
Immediately upon our arrival Krishna took our dinner orders. Remember the part about lunch talking two hours? Every afternoon upon arriving at our guesthouse we would order dinner to be served two, three, sometimes four hours later just to keep things easier for the people in the kitchen. Similarly, we would always order breakfast after dinner so it was easier to deal with in the morning.
|you want Chicken in your dinner? Someone has to carry it up the mountain|
We spent the evening in the dining hall playing cards, telling stories, writing in our journals and having a good time getting to know each other better. After dinner people began to head to bed early. Tomorrow is a long day.
I actually think day two of the trek had the earliest start of all, and the going to bed early thing soon became a habit as well. If I wasn’t crawling in to my sleeping bag by 8:45 pm on any given night, I was up past my bedtime.
April 5 - I hope you like steps
Start: Tirkhedhunga 1520M
Finish: Ghorepani 2860M
Somewhere in the middle: A whole lot of steep stone steps.
It was an early start this morning. We had to get up around 5:30 in order to climb 3000+ stone steps straight up the mountain before lunch. Yes, the steps were rough, but Krishna had the perfect pace going once again, with nicely timed water and snack breaks. The highlight of this climb was that we got our first view of the magnificent Annapurna South. I think we looked at the mountain almost constantly whenever the sky was clear. On our last day, my last view, it was hard, even difficult to believe this beautiful sight would disappear and I would have it thereafter only in my mind and in my photographs.
|Up and up and up and up|
|These remind me of So America, but they are all over Annapurna, as well.|
We arrived at our lunch stop around noon, just far enough behind the start of the rain that we were all soaked by the time we sat down for lunch. It’s amazing how quickly you go from steaming hot to freezing cold. It seems as if every step is so much work that the second you stop moving you are covered in sweat. Put that with the five to 15 degree air (40-60F,) and you’re dealing with a nasty combination for proper thermoregulation!
It continued to rain after lunch so we put on our rain clothes and geared up for an expected 90-minute ascent to our destination. Thankfully, we got there in about 45 minutes only to find a cozy as could be dining hall/common room with a giant wood burning furnace in the middle of the room to keep us warm and dry our clothes!
|Cards, round one. Dave is really getting in to it!|
See You Guesthouse was our place in Ghorepani. The best part about this spot? Michelle and I scored one of the rooms with an attached hot shower. YEEEESSSSS!!!!!!
|Ensuite bathroom, squatter optional!|
For dinner I ordered Dal Bhat. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would quickly become my go-to meal of choice. It’s a traditional Nepali dish that is relatively easy to make, provides the perfect amount of energy necessary for trekking and sits in my stomach comfortably no matter what the altitude.
|Here you can see all our gear hanging out to dry|
Warm shower – check. Clothes and gear hanging near the fire – check. A pot of masala tea – check. Countless rounds of cards, dinner, and I was off to bed by 8:15!
April 6 - Poon Hill (happy 10th anniversary to my brother and his wife)
Start: Ghorepani 2860M
Finish: Tadapani 2630M
Somewhere in the middle: up 400M and down 400M before breakfast, then up 550 more meters and down 710M
I stand corrected. This morning was actually the earliest of all. We got up at 4:30 am to hike up and out to Poon Hill for sunrise. Poon Hill is a place that is the opposite direction from the way toward Annapurna Base Camp but nevertheless is a not-to-be-missed detour. With the almost unbelievable views of Annapurna range found here, I would have been perfectly content, would have seen what I came here to see had this been where we stopped and become the highlight of the trip.
Around 4:20 am, Krishna began knocking on doors, our wake up call. How I wish I could accurately convey sound and emotion in a blog… Let’s just say it was the most cheerful “good morning” one could ever ask for.
We all gathered for tea around 4:45 am and by 5:00 we were out the door, headed into complete darkness and up to Poon Hill. I think the best thing about trekking in the dark is that, looking up, you have no idea how steep the trail is, or how far you have to climb. You just have to keep going. And we did.
As we climbed higher and higher a bit of daylight began to break through. After about an hour we made it to the top of Poon Hill, and views were indescribably breathtaking. As I said, had I not been given a preview description of how beautiful things were to become, I would have been perfectly and fully satisfied with the trip on this morning.
Photos from the hike up to Poon Hill...
|Bharat pointimg out which mountain is what|
|awaiting the sunrise|
|The double peeked mountain here is Machhapuchhre|
More sunrise pics...
Up on Poon Hill...
|The sign says it all.|
|There were few other visitors here, as well|
Following Poon Hill we went back down the mountain for breakfast then did an about face and headed straight back up again as we made our way toward Tadapani.
|Rhododendrons all over the place, and sight seeing airplanes flying around.|
|Looking down the way to breakfast|
Don’t worry. It was not only uphill again today. It was back up to 3200 meters, where found some completely unexpected, yet perfectly delicious Snickers bars for sale. Then we went down again to a river to cross a short footbridge, and go right back up again. Have I mentioned there was no “flat” anywhere on this trek?
|Opposite a valley from where I took this picture is Poon Hill|
Taking Pictures at the snicker stop...
|Gearing up after lunch|
The sky poured rain when we arrived, but cleared soon enough for the first stretching session with Astrid. Remember Astrid? She’s the Austrian yoga instructor. Watching us from the sidelines had to have been very entertaining.
The evening was filled with Masala tea, popcorn, cards and more Dal Bhat. Who could have guessed Dal Bhat would be the only thing I would eat for dinner for ten consecutive nights? Boy, is that stuff good!
|Our room here was attached to the dining room. It did not make it any warmer.|
|Inside our room at Tadapani|
|The ceilings were not the highest.|
|Bundled up to say warm for the night|
Start: Tadapani 2630M
Finish: Chhomrong 2170M
Somewhere in the Middle: 780 M descent, 280 M ascent. A whole lot of downhill and a moderate amount up.
We lost Emmra this morning. He wasn’t feeling the best yesterday and was feeling even worse this morning, so much worse, in fact, that he concluded he could not continue the trek toward our goal: Annapurna Base Camp. It was a major bummer, but you have to do what you have to do when you’re in the mountains with no medical attention anywhere near. We’re going to miss Emmra along the way.
|In the dining hall at Tadapani's Fish Tail View Lodge|
|Prepping for the day ahead|
|There's all our bags for the porters. Those men are amazing|
This morning started with a large downhill segment. You might think trekking downhill is easy. Well, no. Not really. Yes, you breathe quite a bit easier, but it is no easier on your body, especially your knees and toes. In fact, sometimes I think it might be harder. If you fall going up, you just fall, get up, and go again. If you fall going down, you never know where you might end up.
|Dal Bhat Power|
|Oh look, a there's a drawbridge down there, almost time to go up again!|
So down we went to the river, crossed over another suspension bridge, then up we went for some lunch. After lunch we had gone only a short distance down before it began to rain pretty heavily. Conveniently, there was a guesthouse with a covered table we could sit at for a while until the rain began to clear. And what did we do in the rain? We played more cards!
Short break in a pleasant spot...
|There go the strong men (our porters) with all our stuff.|
These signs were common place everywhere we stopped...
After the rain we walked along a path that can best be described as “Nepali flat.” There is no flat ground in Annapurna, but Nepali flat comes closest, a sort of undulating terrain where after many small ups and downs you find you’re still at at the same elevation as when you began. Astrid began to feel sick following lunch. Oh man… I sure hope I’m not next!
Finally, as the clouds began to clear off, we rolled into Chhomrong. What did we do upon arrival? Order dinner. Krishna insisted that the pizza was very good here. However, we still had a long way to go, and with people starting to get sick now, I was going with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it theory,” and stayed with dal bhat. I know it’s tasty, it sits in my stomach just fine, and it gives me the energy I need to trek these beautiful and amazing mountains.
|I took this pictures for Tracy somewhere along the way that day|
April 8: Rain, Rain go away (Happy Easter)
Start: Chhomrong 2170M
Finish: Himalaya 2920M
Somewhere in the middle: down, up, up, down, up, up, up.
We started with another happy wakeup call (or knock, I guess) from Krishna this morning. The sky was clear and it was looking to be a good day. We’re in for a big ascent today. However, there is also a great deal of descent in the middle so maybe it won’t be too bad.
Morning Mountain Views...
|Gearing up for the morning|
Did I say a “Great deal of descent?” Perhaps I should try again. Today’s trek began going STRAIGHT DOWN 300 or so meters in about 30 minutes, only to find and cross a suspension bridge and head right back up. We stopped for tea and snacks at Sinuwa, 2340 meters, then continued up to 2500 and down again to 2300 where we had lunch.
|This guys was fun to walk past as we started our day|
|Yes, straight down...|
|and straight back up|
|Tea break at Sunuwa|
|This was an early tea break. We still look pretty good. Right?|
|Still believing it's going to be a beautiful day|
We finished lunch, and it was all uphill 600 meters to Himalaya Hotel. ONLY 600 meters, but It would take up two and half hours to get there. It only rained (excuse me, I mean, poured) for the final two hours of the ascent. The bad news: there is no heat source at Himalaya Hotel to dry things out.
|Brite, Catherine and Astrid enjoying lunch at Bamboo Lodge|
It was another evening of masala, cards, dal bhat, and storytelling. We’re all getting to know each other much better now… dirty jokes are coming into the mix of conversations now, too. Ha Ha! Astrid is feeling much better. Unfortunately, Kyle was not part of the evening. He’s caught a bug now too. Fingers crossed the dal bhat keeps me healthy!
|The group enjoying ourselves out of the rain at Himalaya Hotel|
Start: Himalaya 2920M
Finish: Annapurna Base Camp, 4130M
Somewhere in the middle: Massive ascent
Surprise, surprise! We woke up to find the gear just as wet as it was when we got to Himalaya Hotel last night. But there’s every hope that a few things (like my backpack) might dry out during the day. We’re starting the day again with a clear, blue sky and a crisp, sharp view of the mountains.
We have noticed there seems to be a very regular pattern to the weather in these mountains: clear, sunny and sometimes warm in the morning. Then the clouds roll in during lunch and it starts to rain just before we arrive at our destination for the evening.
Today is ABC day. Yep, there’s no turning back now. Annapurna Base Camp, here we come! No downhill today, just all the way up. My hope for today is that I see no signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS). It is said anyone can be affected above 3000 meters; we’re headed to 4130 meters!
|Just getting under way. 15minutes in, and it's time to shed some layers.|
|You can't really tell in the picture here, but the rock above our heads is noted at "Huge Rock" on the map!|
We stopped for tea at Durali, about 1.5 hours in and 3200 meters up. Then about 2.5 hours later we had reached Machhapuchre Base Camp for a much needed two hour lunch stop. It was here I discovered a few more of our group were feeling sick. Brite and Jess both took advantage of the long break to get in some serious rest. I was still thankful that I was not sick or showing any signs of being affected by the altitude.
Continuing up and up...
|"Avalanche risk area" Yikes!|
Into the snow....
|snacks in between snow patches|
|Almost to Machapuchhre Base camp (MBC) and lunch!|
|Our porters enjoying their lunch break|
Continuing on toward ABC...
|On the way up, looking back at Machapuchhre|
|Helen, Bharat, Dave and Andy. All smiles!|
|Almost there, Michelle putting some oxygen back in her head|
|Dennis taking a short bap during a break|
|Very happy to have made it!|
|The open flame under the table keeping us warm!|
|Our room at Annapurna Base Camp|
|The window in our room at Annapurna Base Camp|
|Tea and cards at ABC (Annapurna Base Camp)|
April 10 Massive Descent
Start: Annapurna Base Camp, 4130M
Finish: Bamboo 2310M
Somewhere in the middle: Massive descent
Much to my delight, I was rather warm throughout the night. I suspect it helped that I was wearing two bottom layers, four top layers, two pairs of socks, a neck warmer, a hat, and mittens! Oh, and there were giant quilts borrowed from the dining hall, too. I was toughing out the cold all nights prior, knowing the night at basecamp was going to be the coldest. I wish I had known about those blankets. I would have busted out a few more layers during prior nights!
This morning we were greeted once again with clear skies and awe-inspiring views of the Annapurna range, a 360 degree view, in fact.
Photos from the top the morning we woke up at Base camp...
|With Krishna and Bharat|
|I probably shouldn't do the one leg thing without hanging on up here!|
|Jumping photo success!!|
|Base camp buried in the snow|
|The sign at our lodge|
|gear on the wall during breakfast|
After a picnic breakfast in the warm sun, we were on our way down. We had a long way to go. I still insist that moving downhill is not a whole lot easier than going uphill. However, it can sometimes be a whole lot faster. We made it all the way back to Himalaya Hotel (the place we had slept two nights prior) in time for lunch.
On the way back down...
|We missed you Brandon!|
The clouds and rain came in, nearly on cue, immediately following lunch. Cameras away, rain gear out, carry on, carry on.
When we arrived at Bamboo Lodge, there was a very much needed and much more welcomed shower available. Who knew or would have thought an almost-warm shower less than two feet from a squatter toilet could be so wonderful? As I think about it, I find it’s possible that after three days of climbing up and down a mountain, such a shower is more exciting, comforting and self-restoring than the one enjoyed at the end of a slow MAC race.
Start: Bamboo 2310M
Finish: Jhinu 1780M
Somewhere in the middle: Down, up, down, SERIOUS UP UP UP, and a little bit more down
Sadly, this morning we woke up to rain. Even more disappointing, it was supposed to be a long, long day. Thankfully, the rain began to taper off shortly after breakfast. Even though it was cloudy, it was looking as if the rain was finished for a while!
|Just a couple cows on the trail|
|They don't seen to care when people are around|
After a few hours of up and down trekking we again found ourselves at the bottom a valley crossing a suspension bridge. What was ahead of us now? Only the longest, toughest uphill climb of the entire trek. I think because I had no idea it was coming and couldn’t/didn’t anticipate or appreciate just how difficult it would be is part of what made it so hard. It seemed as though we climbed up and up and up a stone case for hours. In actuality, it was only about 50 minutes. The good news is that when the climb was complete it was time for lunch. The bad news? By the time I got there I had become one disgusting excuse for a human being. I’ve never been so sweaty in my life. Well, until I went to India (but more on that later)!
|Gathering our things while Astrid and Krishna do yoga|
After lunch it was a short uphill then a long downhill stint to Jhinu, where some hot springs were awaiting us! I was pretty wiped out when we got to Jhinu, but I was not going to let pass an opportunity to take a dip in some hot springs in the Himalyas!
|room at Jhinu|
|Candle lit social hour|
After dinner was ordered and things were dropped off in our rooms, we made our way down to the hot springs. Yep, down. 20 minutes straight down. Oh boy! Coming back up is going to be a blast!
Start: Jhinu 1780M
Finish: Pothana 1950M
Somewhere in the middle: Nepali flat, STRAIGHT UP and some more Nepali flat
Today was a long day -- particularly, I think, because we were so close to the end, yet still so far. The morning began with some steep ups and downs and included a few suspension bridges. Then it was relatively Nepali flat until we took a tea break in Landruk at 1565 meters. It was there that a few people discovered that in last night’s downpour, some leaches had found their way into some shoes and onto some feet. Ick! Some salt and those little suckers (no pun intended) curl up and fall right off, but they also leave a small wound that bleeds slightly longer than normal.
|The days first drawbridge|
This was interesting to come across... locals preparing all the animal parts for use
The second drawbridge of the day... NewBridge
|Another 100K stop for Tracy|
After our leach stop it was another hour of a gradual uphill to Tolka, 1500 meters, where we took a break for lunch. This was the first lunch stop in eight days that did not require putting on more layers of clothing to stay warm while eating. It was a very warm lunch break. Actually, some clouds over today’s lunch would have been nice.
With lunch complete, we were told the next challenge would be a 400 meter climb. So we hiked some more Nepali flat for an hour or so, took a short break and then, basically, confronted a wall, a 400 meter wall. Indeed, it was 400 meters straight up another stone staircase. Seriously? Again? Yes, seriously and again. So up we went. It was tough, but I think the stairs to Chhomorng were actually more difficult. Finally, after making it to top of even more stone steps followed by another hour of what could be described only as more Nepali flat, we made it to Pothana, our final mountain destination.
Yet another of several bridges that day...
In Pothana there was another, much welcomed, cool shower available. Shortly after most of us had showered and made it to the dining hall/common room, a ridiculous hailstorm rolled in. It was absolutely mad! The hailstones were larger than marbles, probably half the size of golf balls. The noise on the roof over our heads certainly kept this storm interesting.
The aftermath of the hail storm...
Bharat! how high can you throw a handful of hail?!?
After the hailstorm, the evening brought of more card playing, beer drinking (finally!) and a celebration with our wonderful, absolutely essential and hugely appreciated porters. There was lots of singing, lots of dancing. It was really fun -- so fun, in fact, that most of us were up past 10:00 pm!
|Porters enjoying themselves|
Start: Pothana 1950 M
Finish: Phedi 1130M
In the middle: you can’t go up if you want to.
Our final day of the trek began as we had breakfast on the patio under clear, blue skies and absorbed our final views of the now and forever unforgettable Annapurna range. We headed downhill and continued down for two more hours as we collected final pictures and lasting memories of these beautiful mountains.
|Saying goodbye to our porters|