Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Hike Out and then Back to Pokhara

10 01 2019

Our string of wonderful mornings continued, with the Himalayas beyond our campsite bathed in early morning orange alpenglow. The weather was nice enough that we took our breakfast outside.

From Campsite to Road to Boutique Resort, An Extended Day

This day was going to be a LONG one. We’d hike out, walking through Ghandruk, a village, then down to a road at Syaulebhatti where we would meet some 4X4s which would ferry us along the rough roads down, to the Modi Khola river, then on “paved” roads to Pokhara. We’d have lunch at Phewa Lake in Pokhara, and then overnight in the very posh boutique Temple Tree Resort, which for us would be a first-class oasis following our trek! Due to my challenges with perspiration and clothes issues a hotel with some laundry opportunities was in my mind for a few days!

With Light Hearts We Say Goodbye to Guides, Kitchen Staff and Porters

Being our last day and hike out, it was time to thank and reward our trekking staff! Tips! On this trek we had more staff than any other I’d been a part of. About 45 staff total! That is because of the Nepalese steps. On my other treks, such as The Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan or The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, horses, mules or Lamas carried the tents, duffel bags, kitchen equipment and so forth. But in this part of Nepal, with steps, only humans could navigate. So human porters carried these loads. On our days walking, the call of “Porters coming” was heard many times!

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Porters lined up and we gave each their tip individually.

It is a big deal. The evening prior, each of us put together our tip and gave that to Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann then spent time the night before preparing the tips for each group of staff – Porters, Kitchen Staff and Guides. Each group lined up and we doled out the tips one by one!

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Our deeply talented kitchen staff, and a couple of guides.

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Our world class guides, including Cathy Ann! OK the mountains behind are cute.

Then it was time to hike out. The trail, completely paved with stones and steps, wound right through the town of Ghandruk. Those folks have a beautiful view every day!

 

Leaving Ghandruk behind, we descended, finally dropping to a dirt road. A mile or two later we arrived at the point where we met up with our 4x4s which would ferry us to Pokhara.

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We had 3 4X4s, and I volunteered to take the spare seat in the lead Indian Jeep with Mingma and Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann and I are both susceptible to falling asleep with the rocking motions of trains and 4X4s, and we both succumbed to the motions!

The Annapurna area is one where tourists need visas to enter/exit, and these were prepared for us in advance of our trip. These seem to be surrendered on the way out. Here is my visa…

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I imagine the fees help fund the Conservation Area. Well, I hope! Looks to be about $30.

Off the Trail, the Realities of Nepalese Life Hit Hard

Being that we were in Nepal and that schedules melt away with the daily machinations, this day was no different. Along the bumpy road, we encountered a guy operating a piece of equipment which was re-leveling the road. There was no angry honking of horns. Instead, an understanding that this guy was doing his job and that we’d just have to patiently wait.

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And wait we did, for at least an hour whilst he went about his work leveling the road.

There was nothing to do but wait and allow him time to do his job.

But the traffic built. And built. And built. And built and built and built.

When he was ready to take his break, there were dozens of 4X4s and even buses ready to pass!

We passed within inches of vehicles going the other way.

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Behind us was a bus, and I wondered how they would negotiate passing all the 4X4s headed up hill.

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I’ve definitely been on more precarious roads. In Peru, one-vehicle only roads with a cliff face above and below, sometimes traveled underneath overhanging boulders…and many times we encountered trucks coming the other way, forcing us to back down to a spot wide enough to pass.

Nevertheless, these roads really need a 4×4 and make the Americans driving their often-blinged out shiny 4x4s seem absolutely ridiculous. Most of them never see anything beyond a trip to the soccer match!

Over the Top Opulence Well Deserved

In Pokhara we settled in at the Temple Tree Resort. It is a superbly beautiful oasis. Rooms are in smaller buildings sprinkled throughout the property. Opening the door of your room you see a verdant garden, through which you walk, and pass by a meandering swimming pool, fire pit and outdoor restaurant and bar. How wonderful!

Lunch by the Lake

I was part of the lead group to make it to a restaurant on Lake Phewa. With some time to spare I walked along the lakeside promenade. There, Indian and Nepalese tourists were enjoying boat rides on the lake.

Cute, right? These boats do need some upkeep!

Ah, the rest of the group shows up! Our group plus Migma and Sonam enjoy a sumptuous and well-deserved Indian-style lunch. YUM! All Aboard!

Bellies satisfied, we walked back to the Temple Tree Resort. This left us with about two hours before gathering for happy hour. For us guys, Don, Kevin and I, after 10 days trekking, the obvious choice was to fill the gap with pampering! For Don, Kevin and I, that meant something like a single edge shave, a hair cut, a beard trim, maybe a shoulder massage!

Continuing a Tradition

I have a tradition of getting a hair cut on overseas trips. In Thailand, or Bali, or Cambodia, of Bhutan, etc. Even if I am bald. So what! It’s fun getting a hair cut.

Only here, I got the total package. Hair cut, single blade shave, head massage, arm massage, shoulder massage.

This is my “Bollywood Shave” video in Bhutan…

And with no delay, Pokhara Nepal!

Shaves and hair cuts completed, the men were ready to head back to our resort and enjoy a happy hour and a supremely festive end-of-trek dinner! And indulge we did. What happened will just have to be part of our collective memories….hmmmm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chomrong to Ghandruk

31 12 2018

We had an outside breakfast with glorious views of the mountains (see previous post). Whilst packing up before setting off, we were visited by a random water buffalo and its keeper. And, our porters packed up their enormous loads to carry on to Ghandruk, our last camp.

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Amee and Cathy Ann enjoying apples at a rest stop.

Today’s hike would find us once again climbing and descending steps, with terrific views, through hamlets, and then crossing a river followed by a steep forested trail to a mountain saddle where we’d have our lunch. Morning was fairly cool with passing clouds. Good for me, comfortable!

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This was the day my 10-year-old Vasque hiking boots finally showed their life was pretty much done. The soles, very worn, finally began to come off. These boots never gave me a blister. Never leaked. Stood by me. They did last one more hike out – even with the soles starting to come off!

Lunch was in a dining hall at a tea house atop the mountain saddle. They had some surprises for us. They made some perfect french fries! And a kind of “hamburger sandwich.” They baked their own buns. The sandwich was SPAM, mustard, cucumber and tomato. Completely scrumptious and unexpected! The soup was also incredible. And juice – I drank lots and lots of juice.

Following lunch we had a comparatively easy hike down to Ghandruk, which is at about 6,000′ elevation. Along the way we heard the delightful sounds of singing bells – which turned out to be probably 75 horses in a freight train across the valley!

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An empty freight train of horses

 

 

 

These trains of horses were commanded by a shepherd who would shout “left!” or “right!” in Nepalese and for those animals out of line, a strike with a wicket does the trick.

Our camping spot at Ghandruk was on a flat plateau, like the others, but with no tea house and shared with beasts of burden.

We arrived in advance of our porters, so we passed the time while we waited for them to catch up and set up our tents/kitchen/camp.

Just outside, there was some carpentry going on. This is an example of local woodworking tools.

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Mama water buffalo and calf

This spot was some kind of resting/gathering for various farm animals. There were more than a dozen water buffalo when we arrived. At one point, some signal told them it was time to go home. They all seemed to rise at once and go their separate ways. And just as suddenly, a group of horses, without any gear, showed up and took their place, using the loose dirt to roll around and relax.

Our staff started to make things for dinner. And we could eventually see the remaining porters across the valley, coming from the saddle where we had lunch. With our tents pitched, they set up the shower tent. This was great. One by one we took our turns in the shower. Amee and Uli hiked out to the nearby town – came back with some nice stuff like greeting cards.

This night’s dinner was our farewell extravaganza and the kitchen staff stepped it way up. For starters, they served homemade chicken soup with papadums and prawn crackers.  We had a heart-shaped fresh salad, roasted potatoes, ceremonial rice, broccoli, cauliflower, locally sourced green beans, roasted chicken (fried), beef with carrots, potatoes and vermicelli noodles, sushi, among many other things.  Dessert? A fruit salad in a spun caramelized sugar baseket, and a vanilla and chocolate marble cake. WOW.

Tomorrow morning would be our last trail breakfast! And time to tip the 40+ staff members, each and every one well deserving!

 

 

 

xx

 

 





Deurali to Chomrong, The Stairway to Heaven and Views A Plenty

23 12 2018
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Wow! A panoramic with Chomrong clinging to the slope, Annapurna South (23,680′), Hinchiuli (21,132′), Machapuchare, and our tents!

A Total Day’s Descent Means Lots of Climbing

Today’s hike would take us from 10,670′ down to 6,759′ but descent is not the whole story. For in between there would be some of the hardest climbs done in a day on this trek. We’d end the day back at Chomrong – where’d we’d been a few days prior. But this time, we’d be climbing two of the longest sets of stairs instead of descending them!

The day started cool and comfortable. It was partly cloudy, and I assumed the clouds would burn off, which they eventually did. Being a bit cooler was a real benefit. I used the drying technique again last night of sleeping with wet clothes in my sleeping bag – they were dry in the morning!

More In The Present Time

After one of the break stops, I found myself starting behind the group because I was talking with another hiker when the group just took off. Yet I wasn’t the last guest, as somehow it turned out Madeleine was behind. Before I even knew she was behind I just happily walked my own way and tuned in to the sounds of the Modi Khola River, the breeze and the birds. It was only when I heard Mingma calling from behind that I knew they were there!

2,000 Steps to End the Day

The most challenging steps of the day were our last. In mid afternoon, we rounded a bend to see across a valley to Chomrong. We’d climb steeply to cross the river via a suspension bridge, then ascend some 2,000 steps through the village to our lodge-side campsite. Once at the bottom of those steps, I dressed down to my T-shirt for the upcoming steps!

After much industry I make it up to camp maybe 30 seconds or so behind the main group. And after making home in my tent, Don and I headed to the restaurant for an early beer. And headed back after tea time….and we were joined by Uli, Kevin, and Annette for a couple of well deserved beers!

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Waiting to dig into breakfast.

The best views were in the morning. And those are featured on this blog post.





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal: Doban to Machupachare Base Camp!

18 12 2018
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Morning in Doban. No more rain clouds!

 

 

Dawned Bright

Despite the twilight monsoon-ish downpour, sleeping at Doban was fine. There were only a few light pitter-pattery showers overnight, and the river’s music lulled me to sleep. No nightmares this time.

Doban lay in a steep, waterfall-laden, forested, tightly wound valley. Morning broke clear. As always, snowy Machupachare watched over us.

Today we’d hike along the Modi Khola River, up and down with an eventual attainment of 3,576 feet by evening, arriving at 12,204 ft Machapuchare Base Camp! From there, it’s another 1,231 feet to Annapurna South Base Camp – the Annapurna Sanctuary itself.

Ecosystems Galore

This is the bit. Yes it is a TON of climbing and descending to finally arrive at Base Camp.

But the thing is, the ascending and descending north and south facing slopes of this incredible canyon reveals incredibly diverse biospheres at each elevation or direction. South facing slopes have produced incredibly dense forests with bamboo or rhododendron, whilst the north facing slopes have flora resembling a high desert plateau.

We Were at the Whims of the Himalaya

And as we continued climbing, we were increasingly in close proximity to mountains 23,000 – 27,000 ft, and the weather was changing accordingly. Up here, things change quickly. Expectations of a full day of sun were dashed, and in their place we experienced chillier, damper, and sometimes foggy weather. However, it could just as easily clear up for a couple of hours and become warm!

So I donned what clothes I thought best, and stashed extras in my day pack, including the pack cover for an unexpected shower. After a multi course breakfast, we set off. And our dedicated kitchen staff, porters, and guides worked for us. The “stepped trail” pretty much followed the left side of the river, climbing up and down along the way. It was very beautiful, as the rainy downpours created incredible 500+ foot waterfalls coursing down the valley on both sides.

Peak Experience

It was on this day that the moment happened when I knew that I got the experience I was looking for on this trek. It just happened in an unexpected way. Sometime in the morning, our hikers split into a lead and a following group. And I found myself in the lead group.

Trekking Nirvana Comes Upon Me Without Warning

All during this trek, and for that matter, on any trek, there are some ‘concentrations,’ or ‘distractions,’ well, I don’t know know exactly how to describe them, or perhaps they can be described as the “snow globe of thoughts that must  be addressed,” but they are there. I am not passing judgment on these things, but they are simply part of any trek. Such things are sentiments about keeping up with other trekkers, breathing the oxygen necessary to get legs over the next pass,  performing the best “rest steps,” or talking with other trekkers, or waiting for other trekkers, well, I don’t know. And, as these things are natural, there is nothing wrong with these sentiments/duties or ordinary aspects of hiking with others and on challenging terrain. But the thing is, they distract from experiencing the natural environment in which one treks. Like static blocking out the beauty. I’d been talking with other trekkers, or de-layering to be comfortable, not even thinking I was missing something essential. So on this day one of us passed me playing some kind of pop music on their cell phone. I was so totally turned off. I just wanted to experience the Himalaya – leave that stuff back home. So I slowed my pace so that I allowed the front group to get ahead so that the noise died away.  Before long, I only heard my boots on the trail , birds overhead, my own thoughts and lullaby of the Modi Khola river nearby.

I found myself alone, in between the front group and the following group of trekkers. And everything about trekking fell into place. My footsteps, the river burbling, the birds soaring, Machupachare seemingly watching, I don’t know, it all just came together and I guess the serotonin in my brain started pumping. I was lifted up into some kind of nirvana-like state which I wanted to go on forever! This just went on and I felt absolutely nothing about walking up and down that trail until lunch. Nothing but pure pleasure worth every penny of going on this trek. I just couldn’t believe how it seemed to require withdrawing from other people. But it was there nonetheless. Maybe it just required withdrawing from the snow globe of requiring to respond to others and then to just focus 100% on THE PRESENT. I just don’t know. But it was there. It was 100% palpable and incredible. Such simplicity, Such whole-ness.

Here is a sweet video of one of our rest stops on this day.

During our delicious multi-course lunch, a sinister cold-moist breath reached our break spot. It was the Himalayan cloud pattern, which reversed the sunny warmth and in its place laid a moist, cold foggy layer. Yikes! It was so palpable I was taken aback. But it required an after lunch re-set of layers once again.

The trek up to Machapuchare Base Camp was varied. At certain points it opened up above tree line, where we could see where we were going, but then again, the fog would close in, so we really didn’t know what was coming up. At one point the trail seemed to open up and become more level, but then again the fog rolled in, the steps steepened, and I had to stop and re-layer. The lead group forged on, and MingMa stayed with me as I layered for the final push. This last part of this leg, for me, was super annoying. Reading the trip description I thought this section was more level, but OH NO. In fact it was steps ascending relentless to the camp. This was confirmed on the way back down, it was a whole heck of a lot of steep, high, steps. I give MingMa a ton of credit for going with me on this last stretch.

Once we arrived at ‘MBC,” it turned out to be a complex with multiple lodges, tea houses, and camp sites. It was so foggy MingMa had to figure out where our group was camped. It took Oh, 10 minutes to find our group.

This time, I’d had it. I was finally out of dry clothes and with the cool fog, no way to dry anything. I pretty much gave in to the idea of just staying around camp the next day, maybe taking a 30-minute each way hike, try to dry things out. However, our plans changed. The original plan was to spend two nights at MBC. But that would mean two very very long days before we get down to the end of the trek. So, it was decided that we’d hike out of MBC for a couple of hours, and spend the night. That way, it’d shorten one of the days hiking out.

No pictures of arrival at MBC, too foggy. But I can show you our dinner! In the kitchen tent. Our cooks were super. They made pumpkin pie, apple pie, two types of cake, and even some kind of fruit basket made of hard candy! They made a lot of local specialties like Momo, and a type of “potato chip,” lots of vegetable dishes, a type of tempura, but I cannot remember the names of the others!

Speaking of food, they introduced me to SPAM! I don’t eat ham. But I tried spam at breakfast, and while I wouldn’t eat it daily, on a trek it was perfect.

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Next morning dawn was gorgeous and bright. The stars before dawn were unforgettable.

I’ll cover Annapurna Base Camp next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chomrong to Doban – and A Himalayan Downpour

13 12 2018
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One of the many mountain dogs

Our Chomrong Lodge had another beautiful view up the valley toward Machapuchare. Chomrong was one of the larger hamlets along our route. It had many houses and lodges clinging to the hillsides, with the trail winding right on through the middle. This early section of trail was entirely paved with steps. Our spot was set below the top of the village. Just across and above was Annapurna South, but clouds were obscuring a really good photo.

Down below, we’d be descending over 2,000 steps to cross the river on a suspension bridge, to climb back up some 900′ and then from there, the trail would roughly follow a forested river and thick bamboo forest toward Doban, at 8,628′.

They say at altitude you can get weird dreams. I have had such dreams in the Andes and I had one at Chomrong last night. Last year on the Cordillera Huayhuash trek, in Peru, at over 13,000ft near a mountain called “Diablo Mudo,” or Mute Devil, I had a dream that I walked into my kitchen and there was a half man/half bull in there making breakfast! I remember getting angry at it and yelling at it. But it was mute, and didn’t respond to anything I said. I remember stacking furniture to try to trap it in there but it just kept knocking the furniture over. And then I woke up and realized I had been yelling in my sleep and woke up half the camp!

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Love her NY Yankees vest!

It happened again at Chomrong. This time, I was with a date walking toward a house where there was a party. Lots of festive noises coming from the house. All was good. And then without warning my date shrunk to 6″ high and began walking like a zombie toward this basement window and disappeared! And right after that, people started walking out of the party, shrinking to 6″ high and doing exactly the same thing. And it was their souls that were being drowned in that hole. They were voluntarily giving up their souls. Some demon was eating their souls. I remember standing in front of them and commanding them to stop! I was trying to save them! And then I woke up and knew I had done it again. Yelling in my sleep.

In neither of these dreams I felt any fear, I was just trying to stop something. But in the recent dream, it was so disturbing I didn’t want to go back to sleep because I didn’t want it to continue. Well, enough of that.

Our trail to Doban included some of the longest series of steps we’d see along the trek. One of them is called “Stairway to Heaven,” in fact. Hmmm. On this day, we’d be climbing down these. But I kept in my memory bank the fact that we’d be retracing these same steps UP on our return!

We ate our breakfast outside again which was very nice. While we ate, I couldn’t help but notice the porters slinging so much stuff on their backs. Amazing.

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I think I finally found my trekking rhythm today. On the steeps, I was purposely taking “rest steps,” and not worrying about keeping up. And I even got complimented by those behind me for my pace. As usual, I needed to de layer all the time. Today it was more challenging, as a breath of fog climbed up the valley during lunch, so whilst I was sweating, the fog was cooling and a little damp. Several of us even donned our rain shells for a bit. It was hard to decide what to wear. It began to drizzle, and most of us put pack covers over our day packs.

Then, sometime in the last 30 minutes of our hike it began to rain in earnest. It was too late now to put on a rain coat. We just slogged through it, and reached Doban just in time. The lodge had the dining area reserved for us, and we hunkered down in the dining area for a while, had our “happy hour” tea, coffee, Pringles and popcorn, whilst our crew set up camp. And then the heavens truly opened up. Very chilly and torrential. But we were inside then, and LUCKY! We talked and talked and reminisced about the day, and then finally the rain abated and the tents were ready for us. My tent had a bit of condensation coming up through the floor, but I figured out how to deal with it. My duffel was a rafting bag and immune from moisture. And I used the crew’s waterproof duffel as a floor mat for my backpack. That, plus my upper tent laundry line kept everything dry. No problems for the sleeping bag as it was on top of the generously sized insulated sleeping pad. This night, aside from occasional drizzle, the rain was just a 90-minute local downpour.

In the morning, no rain. Good for hiking.

 





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chiuli to Chomrong

9 12 2018
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Sunny breakfast at Chiuli

The sunset last night was beautiful, but it was behind a hill directly to the west above us. Good news – we were perched on a ledge with an incredible view to the north and east – so I didn’t take photos of our beautiful site at Chiuli last night because I knew morning would be 100% better! Annapurna South (23,684′), and Machapuchare (22,943′) would all dominate views!

I was fortunate that my tent was next to Amee’s last night so I could visit for a little bit. But, my legs were so beat up and in need of rebuilding so I crashed out before 8 p.m. I awoke a couple of times, but slept very well and rested. I think Amee was wrapped up reading “The Snow Leopard.”

Dawn. Probably due to my early to-bed-time, I’m the 1st up. I’m rewarded with opportunities to get images of sunrise! You can glimpse Annnapurna South, plus Machapuchare up the next valley east.

Mornings on the trek began with a luxury. The first thing an awakening trekker hears is “Good Morning! Coffee or tea?” And believe me it might be the most welcome time of the day. We get 15 minutes or so with morning nectar.

 

15 minutes later, staff brings washing water. It’s a big stainless steel bowl with hot water we can do a sponge bath with.

The sun rose up and strong. It was so beautiful that the staff took the dining tent down and we had breakfast outside!

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I had a nice photo of myself with Cathy Ann.

And like any other day, we start hiking around 8:00 a.m. We watch our porters load up and hit the trail, too.

Today was considered a “rest day,” by that way meaning it didn’t have so many ups and downs. I’d say I agreed, for the day’s trail was definitely more “meandering,” less steeps. And overall, we would end up about 2,000′ lower than we began.

This day, like others, was a challenge for my perspiration! I de-layered a lot.

We would end our day at Chomrong, another perch with an amazing view. It was a “rest,” or shorter, not so steep hike, and we arrived to juice and a shower tent about 2 p.m. The “shower” was a single person standing tent with a drainable door mat inside, a chair, a 5-gallon bucket of hot water and a scoop. So I would stand and pour a nice hot scoop of water over myself, over and over. Felt great.

Our “lodge spot” Chomrong had a cozy restaurant with beer, wifi and a charging station available.

And later in our trek, we’d camp exactly at Chomrong on the return! Chomrong has some pretty intimidating steps down to the river and back up the other side!

 





Ghorepani to Chiuli and Pun Hill for Dawn Patrol!

6 12 2018
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No shortage of Impactful Women on this trek! From left: Madeleine, Tara, Annette, Uli, Cathy Ann and Amee! And what weather!!!?? Wow! That’s 27,000′ Dhaulagiri back there!

Today we’ve got a super highlight of our trek! Witnessing dawn at 10,200ft Pun Hill! I’ve heard (and seen pictures) of the Pun Hill view and it’s spectacular. There are glacier-draped peaks all around and some are over 26,000ft! The spot is so incredible it draws tons of tourists like us but that’s OK! So, we were up up up and had some breakfast treats and tea/coffee, and then it was out the door to hike 1,200′ up to Pun Hill! O’Dark Hundred.

I was OK for a while, but our lead guide was quick and urgent, and I fell behind. And I wasn’t quite yet acclimated. Nevertheless I got up there before sunrise, and we were all rewarded with a spectacular dawn! Well, us and seemingly everyone else in the region!

There are many peaks to see from Pun Hill. Everything from Dhaulagiri through Annapurna South and Machupachhare, all between 22,000′ and nearly 27,000′.

Once the sun fully began to bake the peaks we descended to the tea house for a big breakfast. And once that was consumed, the big surprise for me happened. Our trip description said we would “Descend through a moss-covered rhododendron forest.” Not. Nope. Instead, we climbed another 1,200 ft right back up to another saddle, right in line with Pun Hill! In fact, I could see Pun Hill directly across from the rest spot. So in a matter of a couple of hours we had climbed 1,200′ twice and descended 1,200′ plus the descent from the 2nd 1,200′ for a total mid morning of more than 3,600′ before noon!

So, once the 2nd 1,200ft was attained, the trail wound up and down a ridge before finally beginning a very long descent clinging very close to a river. We had a super nice warm lunch in the sun (a brown bagged lunch) and then arrival at Chiuli at approximately 6,500′, was very beautiful, another nice “lawn” with our tents ready!