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, 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!