Sunday, 19 December 2010

Annapurna Circuit - done, Poon Hill - done, Annapurna Base Camp - done

Yo yo Bloggers, I am back from the mountains and back to civilisation. I think I prefer mountain life.
It is hard to put into words the entire experience and do justice to some of the scenes that I saw but all you need to know is that it was probably the best 3wks of my life so far. I loved it.

So here is what happened:

Day 1 - departure day:
Distance walked - 13km
Height reached - 930mtrs above sea level

My day did not get off to the best start and it would get worse before it got better. Local intel told me that the bus to Besisahar (trek start point) would depart from the bus station at 7am. I arrived at 6:40am full of excitement and expectation to find out that the bus leaves at 6:30am. Great!
My only option was to get a bus to a town called Danbre, change and get another bus to Besisahar.
So I got to the Danbre at approximately 10am (the time I should have been starting my trek) and I can only describe the town as a sort of old mining town like in the wild west, full of crooks and swindlers. How correct my instincts would prove to be.
I changed vehicles and got onto a minibus (I was the only westerner but I am used to that now) which I was assured would be the quickest transport available. My bag was stored on top of the vehicle due to the amount of people wanting to travel - big mistake!
As we departed a few locals climbed up onto the roof to travel and I am sure you can guess what happened next. After about 20 mins I couldn't stand it any longer and insisted that I sit up on the roof as well, but by then it was too late; someone had already given themselves a tour of my bag and its contents.
I insisted that everyone on the roof empty their pockets but it appeared that the perpetraitor had already done one.
Once I got to Besisahar I went through my bag to see what the damage was. They had taken my toiletry bag (not a big deal except that I was hiding a spare cash card in there so that had to be cancelled immediately), my camera charger and USB lead and my drawing pencils. Fortunately, I was able to replace it all for minimal cost before I set out on my trek at approx 2pm - a full 4 hours after I had planned to get going.

I was planning to meet some trekkers here and start out with them, but that was now not to be the case and a blessing in disguise. For the first 1.5 days I was playing catch up which meant that apart form the locals that I passed in the villages, it was just me, the animals, the hills, the valleys and the sound of the river - bliss!

My first night was spent in a village called Nadi Bazar (population 30 Nepalis and me) and I was literally sleeping in a tin shack attached the family room. I fell asleep that night listening to the family having their dinner.
One thing I did notice was that in the pitch black of the evening you can see more stars than you ever thought possible - awesome.

Day 2:
Distance - 16km
Cumulative distance - 29km
Height reached: 1,300mtrs

After a nice breakfast of porridge and eggs I got going at 7am. As I said I playing catch up so most of the day was spent in my own company. At one point I came to a trail that went off in 2 different directions and had no idea which way to go - so I went off road ie. I was lost for about 1hr. I tried to think what Ray Mears would do and I scanned the ground for walking tracks - brilliant idea except that there were tracks on both trails!
So I spent 30mins walking on each trail and coming back to the start as I was unsure. In the end I found 2 local women chopping wood (as you do) and they pointed me in the right direction. It turns out that both tracks would have got me to where I wanted to go!!!
The nice ladies sent me along the path which would turn out to the harder of the two, which meant an exhausting climb of 1,000mtrs straight up to the next village.
Later that afternoon I ran into an Australian tour group and spent the evening with them. All of them were really nice and I got some contact details for when I arrive in Sydney.
They offered me the chance to trek with them but I decided I would push on the next morning as I would be quicker on my own.
I met a few groups during the trek and you cannot believe how slow they are. The problem is that they are generally made up of people of mixed abilities ie. a few fat arses who are slow and moan.
The vast majority of people also trek with the aid of porters and guides so they do not even carry their own bags! I was doing this all on my own and carrying my own bag - I mean where are people's sense of adventure?
The Oz group were all in pretty much good shape, I am referring to the English group that I met - an embarrassment to our once great nation.

Day 3:
D: 15km
CD: 44km
HR: 2,300mtrs

Leaving the Oz group behind I set out early again and after about 2 hours came across a group of lads - 2 Italians (Fausto, Frederrico), an Indian (Dipesh), an Israeli (Guy) and Guy's porter Raj. I will forgive Guy having a ported as he damaged his back doing his national service. These lads would be my company for the next few days and made the trip for me.
I also have to add that Raj was like a Yoda of the mountains - great bloke.
So I trekked the rest of the day with the boys and it soon became apparent that they all enjoyed a spliff or 5.

That is the good thing about Nepal and trekking. If you like to smoke then this is the place to be. My map actually indicated 'fields of marijuana' and you just walk past it growing. Even old ladies, or mothers with little babies are sat in the doorway of their huts offering it to you.

The lads also enjoyed the use of a chillum to get them going and they would be at it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and deep into the evening (although everyone goes to bed at about 8pm as you are so knackered from the days walking and it is bloody cold as well).
I can't say that I was partial to the smoking during trekking hours, but once the days exertions were over, well, 'when in Rome....'

I have not really gone into the what I saw as I was walking but literally every corner you turned the scene changed. There would be snow capped mountains, green valleys and hills, deep blue rivers, waterfalls hundreds of metres high, villages perched on mountain sides. I took well over 400 photos during my trek and will try and upload my top 20 onto Facebook to give you an ideas of what it was like. However, to really appreciate it you will have to get of your bum and do it for yourself.

Day 4:
D: 26.5km
CD: 70.5km
HR: 3,300mtrs

This was a really hard days walk. The bonus was that we started to get quite high up which improved the views for us all.
Myself and Fausto both had a great appreciation for The Lord of the Rings and today it felt as though we were really in the land of the Rohan. The villages and setting was identical - we loved it!

Day 5:
D: 19.5km
CD: 90km
HR: 3,540mtrs

The morning started with a hill climb that lasted for over 2hrs. It was a killer. There is nothing more to say.
The day ended with us reaching Manang which we would stay at for 2 nights to have a rest day and to acclimatise (a must according to all of the guide books).

Day 6:
Rest day

Myself and Guy went for an early morning walk Raj to help our accilimatisation. We walked up 500 metres to a brilliant viewpoint that overlooked a glacier lake and the village.
The rest of the lads stayed at the hotel and got stoned! ha ha.
Later on in the afternoon we went for a walk and heard a band playing in a little shack on the hill. We went to investigate and just hung out whilst the band rehearsed for their evening gig in the village. We were invited to attend so later on that evening we went to see them play. It was a good gig (sort of) but the highlight was Dipesh getting hassled by a local lad. Not sure why he took a shine to Dipesh but when we left the lad followed him and kept grabbing him and pulling him back to the gig. The rest of us thought it was hillarious but in the end Guy had to step in as he started to get aggressive. Still, we took the p*ss out of Dipesh all evening for it.

Day 7:
D: 9km
CD: 99km
HR: 4,018mtrs

The walking was getting much more difficult now the higher we got which is why the distances covered dropped significantly. We also had to take our time due to the possibility of altitude sickness. We met a lot of people who had had to come back down as they were to ill to continue. Someone even had to be airlifted out!
Unfortunately, one of these people was Frederrico. He decided that it was getting to difficult for him so he decided to depart and go back down to Pokhara. It was a shame but we had to press on.
We got to our destination at about 2pm and then relaxed for the rest of the day.
This day would turn out to be one of my favourite days and nights.
At this village we met another group of lads and what followed would only happen when you are travelling: we played top trumps with Tanks. Try to imagine the scene, we are all adults sat around a wood burner, shouting out the tank's weight, height, cannon size, engine size etc. At one point I counted that there were 9 different nationalities playing at one time - absolutely brilliant!

Day 8: Thorung La Pass Eve
D: 6km
CD: 105km
HR: 4,450

So day 8 was Thorung La Pass Eve. The Pass is what we were all here for, it is the top of the circuit and the highest point we would reach, 5,416 metres. The Thorung Pass is also the world's largest pass.
We got to Thorung Phedi early in the afternoon and prepared for our assault on the pass the next morning by enjoying the fruit of the mountains and playing more Tanks with the lads.

Day 9: Thorung La Pass day

At 4am it all went wrong for me. I woke up feeling very ill indeed.
I quickly got up and tried to get outside to the toilets. In the darkness I couldn't find the lock to the door and by the time I did get outside I had hamster cheeks - nice. I was hemorrhaging from both ends - I think a combination of food posioning and altitude sickness.
Still I got up at 5:30am to make the crossing of the pass at 6:30am with the lads.

The first part of the day's walk is to climb up 500 metres over a very short distance - an absolute killer. Half way up the hill I realised that today would not be the day to make the pass for me. I had no energy and felt really rough and dizzy. You cannot imagine how horrible it was to wave goodbye to the lads and descend back down to the village to get back into bed. I was gutted.
What was worse was that all of the lads including Yoda of the Himalayas were going to smoke a chillum at 5,416 metres and I wanted to be part of it - boo hoo.

Throughout the day the hotel owner kept checking up on me and told me that if I did not improve I would need to keep descending. That was not going to happen so I made myself get up and walk about to try and sort myself out.
What did perk me up was that the Oz group had now caught me up and I was able to sit with them for the afternoon / evening. The bonus was that there were 2 doctors in the group and they administered some drugs to me which helped a lot.

Day 10:  Thorung La Pass day II
D: 16km
CD: 121km
HR: 5,416 mtrs

I didn't wake up to Sonny and Cher on the radio but I certainly felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I felt a lot better today and I was going to cross the pass no matter what. I still wasn't particularly fond of food and had only managed to eat some boiled potatoes and half a bowl of porridge in about 36hrs but it was 6:30am and time to start climbing.
As with the start of my trek this would be a climb that I would do on my own.
Just before the pass I overtook the British group who had set out at 4am to make the pass - that is what I mean about groups being slow - and remember, they were not carrying bags. Mine weighed about 12kgs and I was recovering from illness - stupid lazy Brits!

Anyway, I made the pass and it was worth the effort. It was very cold but the sun was shining and the views were spectacular. I stayed up there for about 40mins before I started my descent down the other side.

I got to my destination at about 2pm and would you believe it, the lads were just about to get into a Jeep to go down to the next town. As they saw me walking down the village path they all dropped their stuff and came running up to me to give me a big hug - even Yoda! I didn't cry or anything but it felt really good to see them as I felt as if I had unfinished business with them and hadn't had a chance to say goodbye properly the day before.
So I jumped into the Jeep with them and made my way dwon to the next town. As I sat in the Jeep I was gutted - it turned out that this leg of the walk would probably be one of the most dramatic scenery wise and I would have walked down the edge of a spectacular canyon. I told myself at that point that I would not be taking any other transport for the rest of the trek.

Day 11:
D: 43km
CD: 183km
HR: 1,190mtrs

The lads decided to get another bus down to a town called Tatopani on this day, except for Guy who took a flight back to Pokhara as he was out of trekking time. As I had decided the day before that I wouldn't miss any more walking I set off at 6:30am with the intention of meeting them there. I slightly mis-calcualted the distance I had to walk to meet them, but I was determined to make it as we were then all going to walk up to Ghorepani the next day to take in the views from Poon Hill.
I am not sure how many people have completed a marathon in the Himalayan mountains but on day 11 I did just that.
The walk was amazing and I walked past the 7th tallest mountain in the world, but by 3pm I was exhausted and my legs were killing me. Just as well that it only took me another 2.5 hrs to get to my destination!!
It was my own fault so I have no complaints but I really also should stopped for lunch. That day I completed 43km on breakfast, 1 litre of water, 500ml of coke and a Mars bar - I am a fool at times.
When I finally did meet up with the lads I could hardly walk and then they told me that they were done with trekking and were heading back the next day, so I needn't have killed myself.
Their decision was based upon the fact that during the bus journey the back wheel had slipped off a bridge and they were sat at that point in the bus - it had shaken them pretty badly. The Nepali people laughed and said that it was common for that to happen!

Day 12:
D: 12km
CD: 195km
HR: 2,390mtrs

Today was supposed to be a rest day according to the itinerary and my aching legs but after chilling out in the hot springs for a couple of hours I decided to get walking again as it was now just me. I left Tatopani at 12:30pm with the intention of getting to Ghorepani that day. Every Nepali I asked said that it was foolish to start at that time and that I wouldn't make it - and for once they were right and I missed my target.
I got as far as Chitre, the village before Ghorepani, and knew that it was only 1 hour more walk to the place, but it was getting dark and I would be walking through jungle on my own.
I did run into a group of 4 Brits at Chitre who were going to carry on but when I asked their guide how long it would take them he said at least 2 hours because they were slow. I couldn't be bothered with following them for longer than was necessary when I knew it shouldn't take that long.
Plus 2 of the British men looked like the hunter out of Jumanji minus the hat - and there was I stood in my khaki shorts and Rocky t-shirt.
So I stayed the night in Chitre in a big lodge all to myself. Later on I went into the substantial dining room to look at the menu and decided there was no way I was sitting in here alone.
It was only the next day that I realised why I felt so anxious not to stay in the lodge and dining room on my own - I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining with the place to myself!!
So I went down to the kitchen which was in a seperate part of the lodge and sat in there with the family and 2 of their friends. The kitchen in Nepal in the central area for people to hang out - mainly because there is an open fire for cooking and it is warm.
So I sat with the family and ate my food whilst one of their friends went through every animal in Nepal and asked if we had it in England. Quite funny.

Day 13:
D: 5km
CD: 200km
HR: 2,860mtrs

It only took me about 1hr 15 of easy walking to get to Ghorepani. As the views from Poon Hill are best observed at sunrise I had my long overdue rest day.
I met a really cool Swedish girl called Martina and just hung out for the day.
Not sure if you have ever done this, but we had a game of snooker on a full size table as close to 3,000 metres. Martina being from Sweden did not know the rules but I got a little nervous when on her 3rd shot she made a break of 9. I hit back with my own high break of 9 too (watch out Rocket Ronnie) and won the frame. I won't lie though, I was shockingly bad.

Day 14:
D: 16km
CD: 216km
HR: 2,170mtrs

The day started at 5:30am with a short trek up to Poon Hill for sunrise. From here you get to see the sun rise over the clouds and illiminate the mountains in the distance - it was pretty special.
From here I would then make my trek to Annapurna Base Camp which should take 4/5 nights. As I had been trekking for 2 wks now and was acclimatised as well as feeling quite fit I did it in 2 nights.
So I set off and made my way to Chomrong and my favorite of the lodges that I stayed in.
On my way there I got stuck in the middle of a herd of goat being moved from one village to another - not great when you are on a narrow track on the side of a moutain.
In Chomrong I stayed at the Chomrong Cottage. The owner was a really nice middle aged lady who baked the best chocolate cake - it was even featured in Time magazine (she showed me the article).

I spent the evening in the company of an English man and his French wife who were on their way back from ABC.

Day 15:
D: 15km
CD: 231km
HR: 3,200mtrs

This walk was just all uphill. Nothing more to say except that part of it was through a bamboo forest.
Spent the evening with a retired English couple who have lived and travelled all over the world. Full respect to them for being up here in the cold and still trekking at their age.

Day 16: Arrival at ABC
D: 9km
CD: 240km
HR: 4,130mtrs

As I was on a mission by now and at peak trekking fitness I made it to ABC by 11am that morning. The advantage of being fast was that I was the only person at ABC apart from 2 lodge owners so had the place to myself.
ABC was amazing. You are stood in the middle of 9 different peaks that surround you - pretty inspiring. One of the mountains is Annapurna 1 which is the 10th tallest in the world and apparently the most difficult mountain to climb in the world(?)
After taking it all in and having a few photos taken I decided to take a walk to a little hill just past the lodge for a better view.
The problem with being here is that all perspective of height and distance is just blown out of proportion. The little hill took 1 hour to scale and was about 500 metres in height. However, the reward to for completing it was probably my favourite memory (running Tanks top trumps close).
There were a number of glaciers on the mountains and from here you could stand in the silence and actually here them moving and rocks falling under their weight and movement. It was mental.
Then all of a sudden there was a rumble quite close to me and some rocks fell close by. I looked and realised that a few hundred feet above me there was a massive overhang of snow and that the rumble could mean absolutely anything. For the first time on my trek I was really scared and a little freaked out - so I got down asap.
Also as ABC there was a huge canyon where a glacier had once been - I cant explain the actual scale of it all.
Anyway, by mid-afternoon I had the company of 2 Germans who I am actually meeting for dinner tonight once I finish this post.
Sunset that night was spectacular. The mountains went from gold to rose and then dark. Later that night we went outside and the view looking up was a circle of white snowy peaks with thousands of stars in the middle.

Day 17:
D: 24km
CD: 264km

Up for sunrise at ABC. Again spectacular - reds and gold on the moutains.
By this time I was ready to get back to the warm and relax by the lake in Pokhara. 2.5 weeks in the mountains is hard work and all you want to do is go to the toilet and not shiver whilst you do your business!

So I set a fast pace and decided to get to Chomrong by the end of the day, which meant that after 1 more night I could be out of the mountains.
I did make it to Chomrong but descending 2,000 metres in one day took its toll. The last hour was pure agony - my knees were absolutely buggered. Through football I have damaged the anterior ligaments in both of my knees and they both started to play up. I do not mind admitting that I was close to tears by the end but I made it and was rewarded with some chocolate cake at the Cottage and was offered my same room as before. Bless Didi, the owner.
I also got to have a beer (my first in 4wks) and dinner with 4 Oz women and again got contact details for when I land in March. It also always helps when they are all attractive and 2 of them were twins - not sure why I am telling you all that!!!

Day 18: The end
D: 20km
DC: 284km

Early start again and made my way back to civilisation. As much as I was looking forward to it, it was quite upsetting when I finally got to busier places. I had gotten so used to my own company in the day time and then just coming across the odd person at lunch or in the evening.
But anyway, by 3pm I was at the end of the trek and on my way to Pokhara, a hot shower and a steak (meat was lacking in the mountains)

So that was that. I trekked for 18 days, covered 284km, had altitude sickness, got as high as 5,416 metres and got close up to a number of mountains including the 7th and 10th tallest in the world and I absolutely loved it.
Being alone in the mountains allows you clarity of thought and for the first time in my life I had an empty mind. All I thought about was what was in front of me - view after amazing view.
There were a few times when I had my i-pod on and the advantage is that there was no-one around to hear my awful voice, but it was still really cool.

1 tip - if you ever go trekking, bring your own chocolate. Snickers and Mars bars are valued commodities up there and they charge you for the priviledge. Still, you cant beat a deep fried Snickers at 4,000 metres after a long day!

So the day after I got back I did what I had been thinking of for the past few days. I got a picnic, hired a rowing boat, rowed out into the middle of Pokhara lake and just sat back in the sun and read my book - lovely jubilee.
The only problem was that when it was time to return I had drifted so far it took me 45mins to get back to shore.

Tomorrow I am off to Chitwan National Park, they have wild rhinos, tigers and leopards. The difference here is that you walk around and are not in a Jeep. Apparently there is a very real threat of getting into trouble with a rhino and tourists are killed every now and then.
Wicked - sounds like fun. I have read up on my safety tips - run in zig-zags, hide behind trees and throw clothing to distract them.
I will let you know how I get on!!!!

1 comment:

  1. crazy experiences! I can't stop reading :D