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Last Trek Report

TREK REPORT – Annapurna Base Camp, March 2010

Wednesday 3 March
Early coffee in my room at the Shambala and then a taxi to Greenline. Had to wake up the taxi driver and he consequently never smiled once, all the way into Thamel. Mangal was waiting to meet us at the bus depot and we got away on time. The traffic was dreadful. It took 2 hours to reach the rim of the valley but we had plain sailing after that and our driver made up a little time here and there. Rudan was waiting for us with the motorbike (my favourite) and the Lake Diamond family were happy to see us back just five days after my last departure from Pokhara with the Kali Gandaki group.

View on Day 2 from Ghandruk
View on Day 2 from Ghandruk

Washed the dust off , had a cuppa and then headed off to Café Olive, Dorje’s (Moondance owner) new café. In a beautiful garden setting with a small but tempting menu. Pasta al pesto, salad and white wine – very civilised! Met Mark from UK, a lovely bloke who, just quietly, rather took my fancy.

Thursday 4 March
We decided on a second night in Pokhara. With time-a-plenty Robyn, Lahar and I took the boat ride across the lake and up to the Peace Stupa. We were a bit too late, at 9.30, for clear mountain views, though the early morning had been wonderfully clear on the terrace of the Lake Diamond. I had quite forgotten how nice this walk is. The jungle abounded in playful langur monkeys, huge butterflies showed us the way and the Peace Stupa itself was a stark white against an azure sky. I had seen this stupa far too close-up just recently when our flight zoomed in from Jomsom and the stupa appeared, rather shockingly, just outside the left - side window. I swear it was at eye level. We walked down the far side of the hill and linked up with a micro and then a bus back to Lakeside. Having alighted just near Moondance it was a logical choice for lunch. Meanwhile, Mangal had the permits under control so we got our final packing done and turned in early, ready for our big adventure to begin in the morning.

Friday 5 March
A huge day! Our early taxi took the four of us, me, Mangal, Lahar and Robina to Nayapul (New Bridge) and after a quick cuppa we were off on the long, easy trail to Syauli Bazaar. It was very warm and the climb to Upper Syauli was a killer.

Didn’t realise at that point that it would be twice as hard in the afternoon. How could I have forgotten how hard this trail is?

We were testing this route for an October trek. As we staggered into Ghandruk three hours later my one thought was ‘too hard’ for average customers. The stone stairs seemed endless and, in a final cruelty, got much steeper at the end of the day.

Our lodge was a beauty. Neat little rooms with tiled bathrooms attached. Too tired to shower, almost too tired to eat, Robina slunk off to bed at 7.10. I was reading Alice Seebold’s The Lovely Bones which kept me going till about 9 pm with bats whizzing around me on the terrace. No sleeping bags required.

Saturday 6 March
Slept really well all night and awoke to a great view of Machhapuchhre. Porridge for breakfast (we are on trek now) and then off through the beautiful village. Around a corner, in a deeply-shaded trail between old stone houses, Annapurna South and Hiunchuli towered above us. Blindingly white with skirts of rhododendron woods and petticoats of row upon row of green terraced fields. Cameras out! Shock horror! I had left the memory stick for the camera in the laptop back in Pokhara. Luckily Robina had a camera, which I immediately ‘borrowed’ for a few shots. We all have our own idea of what constitutes a good composition. All the pics in this report are from Robina (thanks).

Photos were soon forgotten as we soon started our first ascent. Again, we thought it was pretty hard up to Kimrong, but that was only because we hadn’t seen the rest of the trail. Over a black tea we surveyed the task ahead. It looked huge but not impossible from this angle. After a half hour descent on a broken trail we crossed the river for a lunch stop.

Wonderful new plants to discover – this one is incredibly soft to touch
Wonderful new plants to discover – this one is incredibly soft to touch

Lunch was in a pretty, old lodge with jasmine over the veranda and a sweet-faced 3-month-old baby in a bamboo basket hanging from the veranda posts. The baby had so many clothes and blankets I thought they were trying to cook it but it seemed contented enough in its thick swaddling. Omelettes and chapattis were worth waiting for, especially with a Mars chaser. Seeing the afternoon’s climb from this angle we figured we would need all the energy we could get. We were right.

Hells bells it was hard. Taking just 20–30 steps between rests we had the hardest part done in about one and a half hours. Mangal and Lahar caught us up after a rest; just after we had taken a wrong turn over a landslide which occurred last monsoon season. I thought the trail we were on looked better-used than the rough dirt track he was advocating. Of course, as usual, I was wrong. When will I learn?? After just a few minutes we reached the top of the landslide impact zone. There was an extremely rough exit route (well, sort of) over crumbling earth, under brambles. With a few new footholds hacked out by Lahar and then a hearty pull up from him we got up to the proper trail in about 10 minutes. Robina did the same with Mangal. Phew! Glad I don’t have a group of regular customers with me today.

We took some tea at a little bhatti on a stunning ridge at the top of the climb and the last hour was almost reasonable. The sun had clouded over, much to our relief, and the soft light showed the little houses, farms, vegie gardens and animals to advantage. We ran into ‘Miss Korea’ again as we entered Chomrong around 4.30, clad only in the fabulous purple silk polka-dot pyjamas I so coveted. She had been there since 1.20. She is young!

It was a struggle to believe Lahar that our lodge of choice was still some five minutes away – uphill! What else. Passing a lovely-looking place called Superb View Lodge I decided that enough was enough. Being one of the highest lodges in the village with windows looking over the valley it turned out to be a good choice. So good we decided to stay here and have a rest day tomorrow. Thank goodness.

Sunday 7 March
The view this morning was magical. I had awoken several times during the night and gazed out of my bedroom window at the mountains bathed in the light of a large, waning moon. As the sun rose the mountains were truly spectacular. Really, anyone who can find the time to get to Chomrong and see this view should do so. Annapurna South and the long ridge joining it to Hiunchuli were sharply defined against the bluest of skies. This is what we came here for!

Robyn and I used our rest day for hot showers, clothes washing and resting our weary legs. We are only on our third day but the first two days were killers. As I write this the mountains have clouded over but watching this happen over the last 6 or 7 hours has been awesome. Hope we can bring the next group in by an easier route. Spent a lovely evening around the hot table with Iris and Sirko who spent the day descending several hundred metres for a bathe in the hot springs. It was a long walk back but they were so happy walking without packs that they didn’t mind.

Monday 8 March
We got up quite early to witness another spectacularly clear sunrise. It appeared a little snow had fallen overnight. We were soon off on our next big day out. We could see a fairly steep trail rising above Chomrong but unfortunately it took 45 minutes down a stone staircase to reach the bridge across the river at the start of the climb. This is one of the frustrations of this particular trek – so much up and then so much down. The climb was certainly severe but we paced ourselves and were quite happy to reach Sinuwa at 11 am (3 hours). The dining terrace was on a high ridge but unfortunately the mountains were already beginning to cloud over. Sitting in the deep shade we had to endure the braying of an English ‘drop-kick’ bragging that he had raced from Sinuwa to ABC in five hours the previous day and come back in the same astounding time today. What he had seen along the way heaven only knows – his feet mostly!

The afternoon was not quite as hard with short stretches of level trail through lush forests with bamboo, rhododendrons, ferns and lots of tiny flowering strawberries and miniature violets. We gained a couple of hundred metres but just as the environment started to become a bit more alpine the trail descended on yet another steep stone staircase – one of the steepest I’ve seen. After about 20 minutes we had lost all the altitude we had gained after lunch and found ourselves in the rather dreary collection of lodges known as Bamboo. It was a bit rustic but clean. Single storey rows of rooms with outside loos. Pretty standard. Meeting Patricia and Maria was the highlight of our afternoon. They were happy to meet some fellow trekkers who found it all a ‘bit hard’. At 4.30 it was chilly but not cold. After four days of slogging up and down hills we are still at just 2,250 metres. Doesn’t seem like enough for the effort.

Tuesday 9 March
After a surprisingly cosy night in our rustic lodge (food was excellent so I tipped the cook) we set off really early on a lovely cool morning. The walk to Dovan was easy. This was the first easy stretch we had seen. In just over an hour we were sitting down to an early cuppa and then heading off for the twohour climb to Himalaya. It was very steep in places but the forest was shady and lush with bamboo, rhododendrons and a wonderful combination of hitherto unseen trees. Tiny pink flowers adorned the trail and pale pink primroses clung in clusters to the moist, rocky ledges. At Himalaya we sat in the shade for a good lunch, watching the owner’s cat playfully trying to trip him up. We met the nice Brits we had met in Chomrong – already on their way back down – they raved about their experience.

It was up, up, up again after lunch. When the jungle finally gave way to an open view it was wonderful to finally see the river we had been able to hear roaring below us for hours. We saw a big langur and heard others rustling the canopy overhead. Some of the river crossings on stepping stones and wobbly wooden log bridges were pretty exciting. Near the end of the day we crossed the first of many avalanches.

Deorali is on a high ridge with great views up and down the valley. The hot table was created with an old kerosene cooking stove. We didn’t care – it was really warm. We met Jane and Jacinta from Adelaide. They were doing it tough. They were doing the same trek as us – in just 8 days, compared to our 12! Phew!

Crossing this avalanche was no fun at all!
Crossing this avalanche was no fun at all!

Wednesday 10 March
Early start again today as we wanted to cross all the avalanche chutes before 10 am. There had been quite a lot of snow over the past few days and the trail was soon slippery with snow underfoot. The regular West bank trail was closed due to avalanche danger (and the fact that the trail was buried under tons of snow). We crossed the raging Modi Khola on a tiny iron bridge and then scrambled laboriously over huge boulders and through impossible gaps until we crossed back to the West bank further upstream. There were still three big avalanche spills to cross on tracks no wider than your foot. Not much danger of avalanche early in the day but the slippery ice and snow slowed our progress dramatically. Some of the access points onto and off the avalanche itself were quite precipitous and I was nervous more than once. I don’t think I would be comfortable bringing clients up here. Thanks Robina for being such a trooper as my ‘guinea pig’.

It took about three and a half hours to reach the Machhapuchhre Base Camp on a fine, sunny morning. We were shattered but very happy to have made it this far. It was warm enough to eat lunch outside but the afternoon was a very different story. First the surrounding peaks disappeared into dark grey clouds. Thunder boomed and a torrent of frozen pellets gathered speed until they were just pouring out of the sky. We fetched our pillows and heavy quilts and snugged down in the dining room to watch ten different kinds of snow come and go all afternoon. We felt sorry for Jane and Jacinta, somewhere on their way to the Annapurna Base Camp.

I awoke at 4 am for a quick dash to the loo. The view outside was stupendous. The far peaks behind the ABC, Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, the Baraha Shikhar Range and Annapurna I were glowing faintly by the light of a million stars. So glad I got up!

Dozing away the afternoon at the Machhapuchhre Base Camp
Dozing away the afternoon at the Machhapuchhre Base Camp

Thursday 11 March
Very early this morning Robina, Lahar and I downed a big mug of black tea and then trudged up the hill towards the Annapurna Base Camp. We didn’t find it as hard as we expected. The fresh snow gave good traction and the slope was fairly gentle. Still, above 4,500 metres everything feels a bit hard. Once the ABC came into view we decided that was enough for us. We had no plans to stay at the upper camp and had decided yesterday not to dally too long. We wanted to return across the avalanche trails before 10 am on the way down as there had been a lot of fresh snow overnight – a potentially dangerous situation. The array of peaks in the rising sun was certainly a just reward for our efforts. Being the first people outdoors had its rewards too. An unearthly silence in which to gaze in awe at this magical place.

The decision to go down fairly early turned out to be a good one. The snow and ice-covered trail had been difficult on the way up but positively murderous on the way down. Several times I just sat down in my waterproof pants and went sliding down the trail. Better to slide down on your ass than fall on it! Lahar and Mangal were a huge help and by 11 am we were munching on vegie omelettes and chapattis in the sunshine at Deorali. WE HAD DONE IT!!!

The rest of the day was comparatively easy although our knees were shot fairly early in the day. We made a short camp at Dovan. I am writing this at the hot table. I have had a bowl of warm water to wash the dust off my face and neck and just cracked a bottle of Khukri rum – to share with Lahar of course. Daal Bhat (for me) and Momos (for Robina) ordered for dinner. Alles gut ja!

Friday 12 March
It was a clear morning as we set out for Bamboo, just an hour away. We enjoyed a cup of tea there (God, we drink a lot of tea on these treks) while watching the sun spread quickly down the steep walls of the valley. We were sitting in sunshine by 9 am. This section, from Dovan to Bamboo and then the next couple of hours to Sinuwa is the finest part of the trek for walking. The trail still rises and falls 200 metres at a time and the stairs outside Bamboo are a killer as an ascent. However, this area abounds in life, especially after the snow and rock and ice of the upper reaches of the valley. Butterflies and birds abound in the lush forests and the rhododendrons have come out even more since we passed this way four days earlier. The forest is a tangle of mosscovered trees with an exotic array of other epiphytic plants growing on them.

The bad weather just crept up the valley towards us at the MBC
The bad weather just crept up the valley towards us at the MBC

We started our lunch in the shade at Sinuwa but clouds soon thickened and a few spots of rain saw us digging out our ponchos. The rain actually held off till we were safely in the lodge (again) and the descent from Sinuwa was not as hard as we expected. The ascent back to Chomrong up thousands of perfectly formed stone stairs was hell on wheels. Actually, Robina handled it better than I did. Every time we climbed a hundred stairs it just gave us a better view of the next two hundred. We finally dragged ourselves into the Splendid View five minutes ahead of a massive thunderstorm. A dazzling flash of lightening and then a massive clap of thunder which reverberated around the valley and the heavens opened. It only lasted ten minutes. The lodge is full tonight as the season really kicks off big time. I am writing this in bed at 8 pm and expect to be asleep within the next five minutes!

Saturday 13 March
Aware that we didn’t have much ground to cover today, we slept in late and took a long, leisurely breakfast on the terrace. This lodge’s name ‘Splendid View’ says it all.

It was a fine morning and we soon grew hot descending steeply on the sunny ridge. The first lodge we tried at Jinnu Danda was brand new but they didn’t want to give us single rooms so we kept moving. The older pyrostigia-covered lodge we next tried sported two huge spiders on the wall before we even checked out the rooms. We decided to take the shared room back at the other lodge. The rooms on trek can be quite cheap but the lodge owners make their money selling you $20 worth of food while you stay there. Single rooms don’t make much economic sense to them – which I totally understand. We had been lucky up till that point. The locals did think it pretty funny that I was scared of harmless spiders but honestly they were ‘quite large’.

Heaven is a few clean undies!
Heaven is a few clean undies!
Exquisite orchids cascading out of the damp rock walls
Exquisite orchids cascading out of the damp rock walls

We washed a few clothes at the outdoor laundry tap and whiled away the afternoon reading and eating peanuts from the shell. Sutjal, the owner’s son was entertaining. As the evening came down a large group of French arrived, then ‘Miss Nebraska’ and her Kiwi boyfriend came down. They had ‘overcooked’ their legs the day before walking from ABC to Chomrong (no surprises there). A great Mexican couple came in late and we had a rather jolly evening. It rained most of the evening as Robina and I played on the porch with Sutjal making noisy toys from empty Pringle tins containing pistachio shells.

Sunday 14 March
A very lovely day’s walking. We dropped down to New Bridge through a lush tangle of interesting plants which included massed white orchids with yellow throats. They were growing in their hundreds on the moist rocky overhangs. We traversed farmlands where impossibly dirty ragged children called ‘hullo’ – it was a piece of cake after the past ten days. After a juice at New Bridge we farewelled the Mexicans – again – and crossed the Modi Khola on a nasty, old wobbling bridge. It had extremely fine wire mesh sides which gave no sense of security at all. There were more of these to come.

The walking between New Bridge and Landruk was wonderful. We were walking very close to the tumbling river, under verdant cliff s of dripping water, ferns and small waterfalls. The trail was exquisite and, until Landruk, quite easy. The climb up to Landruk was hot and seemed to go on forever. Even when we reached the village it still took half an hour to climb up stone stairs between old stone walls (and therefore hot) to reach the Sherpa Lodge. Lahar knew we would like this one. We got two big clean rooms with attached bathrooms. Just what the doctor ordered. We got our hair washed – after 7 days – and there was just enough sun afterwards to get it dry. While the skies looked ominous I took a chance on an afternoon stroll. No pack, walking on a fl at track. Heaven. Just on dusk we had another sudden cloudburst and a big hailstone shower. We enjoyed the best veg curry EVER and then sat on the roof watching nature’s sound and light show. Massive sheets of lightening illuminating the whole valley and the thunder echo reverberating around the same hills. Stunning stuff .

This bridge was not as securely attached as you might imagine
This bridge was not as securely attached as you might imagine

Monday 15 March
At first it was very easy today. Staying high above the Modi Khola we traversed farmland on a very level trail. It didn’t last. Up through the woods on old stone stairs (again!) until we finally made Deorali at midday. It was quite hot in the sun but there was a good breeze coming up the southern side of the steep ridge on which this little cluster of lodges sits. We could see all the way down to Phewa Tal, the lake at Pokhara. After lunch we made Pothana so easily we decided to keep going. I’ve never fancied the lodges in Pothana much. The trail here is on a wide, closelygrazed field between open woodlands. The ‘lawns’, as they appeared, were dotted with thousands of tiny, bright blue gentians. There were rhododendrons in full bloom along the way and healthy-looking cattle browsing in the woods on either side of us.

Damphus came up quite quickly and we found terrific rooms in a new lodge. Hot showers were ‘the best since I left Melbourne’ declared Robina. Pity the beds were like rocks. The mattresses looked impressive but appeared to be made of wood. The entire range of mountains was spread before us at dusk in a somewhat ethereal mixture of clouds and haze. Very beautiful if not perfectly clear.

Tuesday 16 March
No view at all this morning for the first time in twelve days. Our plan was to skip the conventional trek exit at Phedi and walk right out along the ridge in front of Damphus almost all the way back to Pokhara. It was a great day. The farmland was varied, the people friendly, we saw no rubbish, no shops and NO OTHER TREKKERS! Great.

We climbed up the hill at the end of the ridge, past traditional round adobe houses with thatched roofs. We soon reached the place run by the family of Gouma and Biswa from Marigold Lodge in Pokhara (see the Kali Gandaki Trek Report). The place had impressive organic vegie gardens, a bio-gas plant and well-built rooms. It is not quite finished (the dining room is still under construction) but will be a great destination for next season. It took about ten minutes of jungle-bashing to reach the road. A well-made dirt road led downhill all the way to Kalinchok and we didn’t see a single vehicle on it all afternoon. We had a bit of a scare when a farmer came shouting down the road for us to hide in the bushes as a ‘angry buffalo’ was coming down the hill. It seemed a bit melodramatic but the buffalo did look cross. We found a taxi at Kalinchok and within ten minutes we were at the Lake Diamond in Lakeside. Phew! That was a big trek.

These mean buffalos just don’t get out of the way
These mean buffalos just don’t get out of the way

Wednesday 17 March
We had no energy today so we just dagged around Pokhara, bought some new clothes, had lunch at Moondance and dinner at Café Concerto. When I washed the worst of my clothes I could scarcely believe the colour of the dirty water. Had I really been wearing these clothes??

Thursday 18 March
Luxury. A whole day of sitting on our backsides in the bus. Nothing quite like it after a long trek. Met an old friend Roopshri on the bus, and the large group of ‘frogs’ from Jinnu Danda. Also reunited with the charming Patricia and Maria who shared lunch with us at the Riverside Springs resort, along with their Dev and our Mangal.

It was great to be back home at the Shambala. My tiny bathroom was half-full of dirty washing, the TV was tuned to BBC World Service and, as I write this final entry in the journal, I’ve just cracked a bottle of Gossips Cabernet Sauvignon. We’re back!

TeresaIt was a spectacular trek but definitely ‘too hard’ for consideration for future clients. I feel it took all my strength, patience and determination. I think it would be asking too much of people to pay for this level of endurance. Still, very glad we did it. The Base Camp in the middle of the Annapurnas is really a wonder to behold. Robyn had told me she was ‘not that fit’ and to ‘go easy’ on her but she still hung in there and joined me on what was the hardest physical challenge I’ve faced in a long while.
Thanks Robina!

Cheers from Germany,

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