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, 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: 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!

 





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Let the Trek Begin!

1 12 2018

After breakfast at the Kathmandu Shangri La Hotel, we took an early flight to Pokhara, the beginning and ending city of our trek. Our 30-minute flights on Yeti Airlines were on a smallish, twin-engine turbo prop. As we rose above the pollution in the Kathmandu valley, the Himalayan giants dominated everything! And while our flights were uneventful, Don and I noticed rivets missing on the right engine cowling, and one more twirling itself out of its hole. Some prayers were offered about the outcome…

Emerging from the plane in Pokhara all one needs to do is look up. My favorite mountain, Machapuchahre, or Fish Tail, at just under 23,000 ft, dominates the view! This mountain would be prominent during the next two weeks. We would do base camp right underneath.

Once aboard our transfer vehicle, it was maybe a 90 minute ride to our trailhead. Along the way, we passed by Nepalese settlements and through a town where we briefly tried to exchange currency.

Our Annapurna Sanctuary Trek officially began at the trailhead at Nayapul. This spot was a Grand Central Station of sorts, all sorts of 4 x 4 vehicles and taxis dropping off and picking up trekkers! We’d walk a couple of hours to a tea house lunch and then end the day at Tirkhedunga, at 5,067 feet.

We had several novice trekkers on this trip, and a few novice campers as well! And so it was that guests like Tara were introduced to the luxuries of “glamping,” and also Annette and Amee as well.

We slung our day packs over our backs, donned our walking sticks and set off. It was a sunny day, with this first walk mostly on a road, and part on a trail. The sun was hot. I relished the shade. We passed through our first series of Nepalese Himalayan hamlets with their tea houses and restaurants.

As the trail wended up into the hills, the road ended. And just when we began to need a relief (and to relieve ourselves) it was time to stop and lunch! It was time for some of our newly minted trekkers to have their experience of glamping on the trail!

I had this experience before, so I knew what to expect. But Tara had no idea how sumptuous just something like lunch on the trail can be! We sat down and the table service began. First beverages, then soup, then a main meal (which might be a few courses) and then dessert! Oh yes. This is lunch on the trail! So Tara exclaimed over and over THANK YOU! It’s hard to get used to this level of service. But let it happen!

And there was dancing. Local children were practicing local dances and some of us, so (Tara and Cathy Ann) tried their part! Super cute. OK, then we put our packs back on, and continued our hike. This hike wasn’t that long, though, and we reached our “perch” by late afternoon.

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We had a nice level spot for our tents outside a tea house and it was perfect. Since several of our trekkers were “newbies,” (Tara, Annette, Amee and Uli) I offered some suggestions on how to “vent” one’s tent, and arrange their sleeping bags, so they were more comfortable. Take note: Venting, regardless of the temperature, is really important! You don’t want condensation building up inside the tent. And, it’s important to resist the temptation to go to sleep inside your sleeping bag with too much insulation. I mean don’t get into that bag with a down jacket and down pants. If you do, the bag cannot do its job. The jacket will “insulate” the bag from being able to “activate” its down to warm you. Instead, go to bed with less insulation. My advice was proven over and over on the trek. Oddly less is more inside your sleeping bag!

 





Kathmandu: Bhaktapur and its Durbar Square

29 11 2018

We spent another day exploring Kathmandu and surroundings. We went to visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, which is at once ancient, artistic, architecturally stunning and mystical.

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The Golden Gate in Durbar Square

One my favorites is the Golden Gate, a delightfully preserved example of metallic art. It shows up top Garuda battling with serpents, over Taleju Bhawani, the goddess of the Malla Kings.

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The Palace of 55 Windows

Right next to the Golden Gate is the Palace of 55 Windows. It is named for its 55 balconies. It is used for royal ceremonies and has been such for centuries. It has incredible detail, a testament to the woodworker’s craftsmanship.

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Like elsewhere in Kathmandu, many buildings and temples were severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake.

Here in Bhaktapur, things are no different. Workers may spend years repairing priceless structures important to Nepal’s heritage.

 

 

 

Daily offerings are part of Hindu practice. In many places throughout my trip, I saw offerings being made, or evidence of them.

We then strolled down alleyways lined with shops to a square dominated by the Nyatapola Temple which dates to 1702.

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It is a beautiful square, and due to the Dipawali festival, sellers of festive goods and foods were allowed to create a market to allow people to stock up for Wednesday’s big night.

It was mid-afternoon, and we returned to the Shangri La Hotel for a rest-up before our kick-off dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Tomorrow we fly to Pokhara, where a bus will take us to the trailhead where we start our trek to Annapurna!