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 Base Camp & Machupachare Base Camp

21 12 2018

The Annapurna Sanctuary. Photo: Wikimedia.org

A Cold and Starry Night

After dinner at MBC, the fog cleared and stars shined bright. It was so clear it seemed I could jump up and touch the stars. Being that now we were at over 12,000ft elevation, it got chilly quickly. It would dip to 29 degrees Fahrenheit. My clothes being wet, I pretty much committed to sticking around base camp and dry stuff – and planned on doing a 30-minute each way hike up and back toward Annapurna Base Camp in the morning.

A Perfect Day Dawns

I was up before dawn, and indeed the stars were to die for! I could see the outlines of some peaks in the starlight. Some trekkers could be seen already hiking to Annapurna. Then pink of dawn came, and gradually the sun bathed the peaks more and more!

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One by one, our group emerged from their tents, cameras in hand, to capture the unfolding spectacle!

Each peak was 21,000 ft or higher, with Annapurna I, hidden behind a nearby hill, 26,545 ft.

There was no wind. Just still perfection.

With mountains this big, it was enough to just stare at their magnificence.

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I had to get out some of the tutu gear for a last photo and evidence I got there!

All for one and one for all, I did it. WE did it. For Joani Carpenter, for Shari Roberts, and in memory of my brother John.

We’d have our breakfast, and then the group would hike up about 1,200 feet to Annapurna Base Camp.

I wasn’t the only one with wet gear!

 

 

 

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Frozen Clothes

Annette’s bandana had frozen completely stiff! It was my job to defrost and dry it!

I had experimented during the night with trying to use myself and my sleeping bag as a dryer for my synthetic and merino wool layers. It actually worked out pretty well. Still, I was reticent about hiking up and making myself/clothes wet again at the altitude/cold.

Morning at MBC

It worked out pretty well. As the others climbed, I went to one of the restaurants and wrote in my journal, had coffee, and visited with some trekkers from Germany, Holland and India. The German couple had already returned from Annapurna Base Camp, having captured images of the stars up there before dawn above the peaks! Wow such beautiful photos.

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A Short Hike Up

It turned out to be darn comfortable outside the restaurant that morning. Then I took my 30-minute walk up. In this video I mistakenly say all the mountains are above 25,000′. Not so. But they are above 21,000′ for sure! And as you can see, for the first time on this trek, we were 100% above tree line. This was something different for me, for on the Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan, and the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, we were above tree line most of the time.

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Our Group At Annapurna Sanctuary

My trek-mates Annette, Tara, Madeline, Uli, Amee, Gerry, Cathy Ann, Kevin, and Don all made it up to Annapurna Base Camp and took in the Annapurna Sanctuary! The top of that ridge is 26,545′ Annapurna I.

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Left to right: Cathy Ann, Don, Amee, Madeleine, Uli, Annette, Gerry, Kevin and Tara! Annapurna I right above Gerry.

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Takar, Mingma and Sonam on the left!

Sometime after mid day, everybody returned and we had lunch. And then it was perhaps a 2.5 hour hike down and out to Hinku, where we had lunch yesterday. We arrived about 3 p.m. I think this was a good decision because there isn’t a whole lot to do at Machupachare Base Camp – and it shortened one of the hardest hikes on the way back.

The hike back to 10,650′ Hinku was mostly forested. And due to local showers in the valley, the steps were damp – and leaves had fallen on some of them. A recipe for slips and falls. And several of us, including myself, had spills. The hike down, down, down steep steps brought home why I was so beat up yesterday on the way up! And each and every step needed to be carefully placed, lest one sprain an ankle and get helicoptered out! Regardless of the gauntlet of challenges we got into Hinku safe and unhurt. And as was what seemed a regularity that week, fog rolled in mid afternoon making a bit moist.

So what! We unfolded our camping chairs and enjoyed the views!

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OK time for late afternoon tea/coffee and then dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

 





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!

 

 





To Ghorepani at 9,429′ we Climb More than 3,000 steps!

5 12 2018
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Nilgiri South 22,462′ and maybe Nilgiri North 23,166′ from my tea house room

My sleep went well at Tirkhedunga, for at 5,067′, it was warm enough that I just lay my unzipped sleeping bag over myself. At this location, we had some very noisy cicadas! In fact, they made sounds unlike any cicadas I’ve ever heard. I’d seen locals tending their crops and watering. Honestly, I thought the noise was from sprinklers! But nooo, that noise I heard was cicadas!

Our tents were quite large by backpacker standards. They were 3 person Mountain Hardware expedition tents. Inside, we had sumptuous 3″ foam pads, and pillows. All of us were singles inside these tents, and I can surely say that I, for one, made use of every single inch. I also brought along a backpacking clothes line which I stretched across the tent for my very wet from sweat clothes. So each afternoon we’d arrive at camp. The tents would already be set up, with our duffel bags inside. I’d pile into my tent, set stuff up, lay wet clothes out, and then get on with socializing or on some afternoons, write my journal, or indulge in a portable shower which was made available.

This morning, after a multi course breakfast, we set out on what was promised to be one of our most arduous hikes. When done, we would climb over 3,000 steps and ascend 4,362 feet. We’d climb into a bit of oxygen deprived air. I was wondering how I’d do, because I have a friend in Park City, Utah, which is about 8,300 feet, and every time I go there, the 1st day I can really feel the altitude!

On this day I was to learn that on the Annapurna trek, the end-of-day “altitude gained” does not reflect the actual feet climbed! That is because in this region, there are many, many steep valleys to descend and climb before the end goal is reached!

We walked the steps, the thousands upon thousands of steps leading up and down, but ultimately up, to Ghorepani. We passed many other trekkers and Nepalese, greeting each with a hearty and sometimes breath-challenged “Namaste!”

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Oh yes. And no description of an Annapurna trek would be complete without a note on the steps. The Nepalese have chiseled out steps, which they have laid all along these trails, to keep the trails from eroding – due to the heavy monsoon season rains. These steps vary in condition and in length and height. Heights vary from 4″ to as much as 18″. And to complete a day’s hike, you just might do several thousand over 6 hours! We called each other “buns of steel!”

At certain zig zags, we’d see beautiful flowering trees, or images of the giants!

Climb and descend, and climb again! With views of 23,000+ foot giants and flowering trees all along the way.

We lunched at a tea house along the way. Our kitchen staff had arranged for a dining room to be held for us – they made and served our lunches. For a few days, I indulged in a Nepalese Coca Cola. The tea houses are constructed with the trail going right on through. So, any commerce, including freight trains of horses, come right on through!

With lunch done, it was time to tough it out to Ghorepani! As with many of these hikes, sometimes I think I’m going to give up and then all of the sudden the end has arrived!

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Notice the precision of the stones. Sometimes the steps were very tightly laid as if they were trying to imitate the Incas. Anyway this was kind of a “false summit,” because our tea house lay several hundred feet further up in elevation from here!

And soon we reached Ghorepani, where we’d try a real tea house lodging. The hike was very worth it. From here we could see Dhaulagiri, at 26,795′ the 7th highest mountain in the world! And what spectacular weather! It was quite literally clear and CALM up on the peaks.

We enjoy a truly boisterous evening and dinner. But we need to bed early, because tomorrow is not only another big hike day, but we need to climb 1,200ft at dawn to catch the sunrise at Pun Hill! Pun Hill is at about 10, 200 ft and from there, one can see a nearly 360 degree view of Himalayan giants!

We will arise extra early to grab some coffee and then ascend to Pun Hill, then descend for real breakfast, before our day’s big hike! We will see the world’s 7th highest peak, Dhaulagiri at sunrise!