Hi all, Hoch here. Below is a transcript of the daily journal Kimberly kept during our 10-day Annapurna Base Camp trek with my additions and pictures from each day.
The majority on a million stone steps with several breaks along the way. We also got to try a local wine with dinner which was pretty good. I think I will sleep like a baby tonight. Lodging – good, private bath.
Nayapool (3323 ft) -> Ulleri (6711 ft)
Total 6.2 miles
A skimpy entry by Kimberly but it gets better. We packed everything we’d need into one big 70-liter and two 10-liters. We had a guide, Shibu, and porter, Santosh who carried the big bag plus his personal. After talking to them for a bit I learned they are school friends who do the trekking gig on the side when they can’t get more permanent jobs – despite the fact that they are both college-educated. I was glad they speak good English to have conversations with, as I imagined grizzly old mountain men. Very nice guys.
We met them at 8am at our Pokhara lodge and took about an hour taxi ride to Nayapool, the beginning point of trek. It was a relatively bustling little village but we quickly walked through it and were soon walking on dusty jeep tracks.
We were surprised to see the Ulleri lodge so nicely equipped and, most importantly, clean. The trekking package included transportation, the guides, lodging, permits, and meals but not drinks. In Pokhara I got a bottle of local “apple brandy” with some snacks so that turned out to be a money-saving decision. Granted, I bought it for the 43.8% ABV which perfectly did the job but man, was that shit vile. And everything got more expensive the further we got from the “highway” as only donkeys and human porters can bring the goods – no motor vehicle access. For example, a big bottle of Nepali beer is 250 rupees in Pokhara and 800 rupees, eventually, at ABC.
Today was much easier, there were more flat or even downhill stretches to break up the uphill distances. We were going to stop for lunch on the way to Ghorepani but since we were only an hour and a half out, we decided to push through and ate a late lunch. Luckily so because it started to rain as soon as we arrived. We relaxed the rest of the time and went to bed early since the next day is going to be an early sunrise day. It is starting to get cold. Lodging – good, private bath.
Ulleri (6711 ft) -> Ghorepani (9252 ft)
Total: 4.7 miles
We were no longer walking on jeep tracks, and donkey poop was everywhere and something to watch out for; at least I got used to the smell pretty quickly. The surrounding forests were deep and thick, providing for a nice change of scenery after India and Kathmandu. Overall, it was an unremarkable but pleasant day of easy hiking. Room was still clean and nice.
Today was an awesome day. Started out with a 45-minute hike to Poon Hill for sunrise. It was still a bit cloudy at sunrise, but cleared up shortly after for awesome views of the area. After several photos, we walked back to our lodging, ate breakfast and packed up for the day. Today’s hike was a shorter one (similar to yesterday) with more flat and downhill areas between uphills. My knees started to feel it unfortunately. Tomorrow I will pop some ibuprofen. The night ended with several card games of rummy (Nepal version) and a small dinner of noodles and mo:mos, followed by a popcorn snack and drinks, brandy for Hoch and local rice wine for me.
Ghorepani (9252 ft) –> Poon Hill (sunrise, 10531 ft) –> Ghorepani –> Banthani (lunch, 10171 ft)) –> Tadapani (8793 ft)
Total: 6.6 miles
By the way, Ghorepani roughly translates to “where donkeys drink” and Tadapani, “geyser.” Quiz for you – what’s Nepali for water??
Getting up early was a bit unusual and rough for me but something I got used to quickly since we went to bed so early every night. Like Kimberly wrote, the sunrise view was spectacular and we enjoyed it with nice hot cups of masala tea. We tried doing the “jumping pic” at Shibu’s insistence but we couldn’t get it right so he gave up. I thought the hilltop was crowded but according to him it gets many times worse during the actual season. Day 3 was also the first day with significant downhill sections and we both felt it in our knees. On Day 4 I tried compensating my hurting left knee by using right one more which fucked that one up for the rest of the trek. My left knee was actually fine the rest of the trek, prick.
We actually helped make the mo:mos for dinner. I was pretty terrible, Kimberly was exceptionally good. The lady in the kitchen quipped “they’re eating what they made” so I know she wasn’t impressed in any case. I also popped open the apple brandy after resisting for 2 days; I was worried it had gone bad and had to check. It hadn’t, which was a relief so I celebrated by drinking some more.
Today was a long day – we started early and the trail was uphill for a bit then downhill for a bit then it was back and forth until lunch. After lunch we started downhill and ended going uphill. The weather started out perfect but after lunch it started to rain a little bit. It wasn’t heavy rain and we were close so we just walked through. When we arrived to the village we saw a rainbow in the middle of the valley which was a nice welcoming. My knee started acting up again once the pain meds wore off, but overall it was a good day. We are staying at a hotel with a bunch of Koreans. They have a large group and have tons of porters cooking their food as they go. All lodging is booked in the village which is a first on our trek so far.
Tadapani (8793 ft) -> Chhomrung (lunch, 7087 ft) –> Sinuwa (6749 ft)
Total: 7.4 miles
I think we walked about 6.5 hours this day, either walking up or down steeply the whole way. The views like Kimberly said were dramatic and refreshing though so we were in good spirits and it certainly helped. The rainbow certainly was a good payoff at the end of the day. I actually got in a zone and just walked with a million thoughts coming and going, which is the closest thing to meditation I have done on our trip.
The lodges are not as nice up higher in the mountains but I did appreciate that they did their best to keep the rooms and linens clean despite the fact that the valley hardly gets any sun and it must be a pain in the ass to do laundry. There are only shared showers at this point and if it’s a particularly cloudy day, as was the case on Day 4, there would be no solar-heated hot water either. A cold shower isn’t the end of the world as long as you dry off properly and have a nice hot meal after.
The Koreans were fine, just a bit rowdy and perhaps not as considerate as they should have been for other trekkers even if they did vastly outnumber us. The men kept talking about how they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes and that it would increase their chance of getting altitude sickness but WOULD NOT stop talking about it. And women were constantly checking on them to make sure they aren’t smoking. It really would be stupid to smoke on the trek, and they’re so expensive in the mountains too. Seriously, it’s a lose-lose situation. Only a dumb-idiot would do that, let alone somehow convince the guides to do it too.
Today was the first day I woke up feeling sore in my thighs and butt. My knee was still sore along with my calves from going downhill so much. I took some painkillers with an early breakfast and we were soon on our way for another long day. It started out downhill and then was a mix of uphill and sloped and rocky stairs (sorta). It was not as challenging as I was anticipating at first. After lunch, it was a bit more intense and my knee started to hurt a little bit. We had slowly separated on the hike and since we were in a valley we didn’t get much sun. I was going slow and steady and eventually reached a cave entrance. That point in the trail really opened up and you could see the valley clearly. It was gorgeous with several streams running down the mountain. You could hear all the running water and it was very peaceful. We were one of the first to our lodging. Checked in, showered, and relaxed for the night. It is super cold here so I am currently wearing thermals, a fleece, gloves, a hat and two pairs of socks. Oh and Hoch got the porter drunk.
Sinuwa (6749 ft) -> Himalaya (lunch, 9425 ft) –> Deurali (10600 ft)
Total: 6.3 miles
Another beautiful day of hiking through the same valley but it did not get old, at least for us. I again got in the zone for a couple of hours and walked ahead a bit, most of the time thinking about how much my dad would love to be here. He was and is a serious trekker/hiker and had told me that at one point it was his dream to visit Nepal and trek the Himalayas. Of course I had to be born and throw a monkey wrench in that vague plan. I thought a lot about the sacrifices you make as a parent and how I am totally not ready for that; I want to be selfish and just do things for me for a little longer. In any case, I did some budgeting in my head and figured I can bring both of my parents to do the same trek next year if I get a job reasonably soon upon returning States-side and don’t develop a taste for scratch-offs or something.
Santosh asked me for some of my brandy during our game of rummy and then told me he could use some more – which I doubtfully obliged by pouring him another finger. He got super giggly and eventually told me maybe it was a bit too much. He told me I reminded him of a classmate he had, who looked and spoke like me. Sounded like he misses that handsome friend.
Nepal is a multi-ethnic country, some looking Indo-Aryan (like Indians) and some Mongoloid (like Chinese, Koreans, etc.) due to its geographic location as well as the natural ethnic and cultural barriers formed by only-recently traversable terrain. Religiously most are Hindu but the mountain tribes still maintain strong Buddhist traditions. It is still interesting to meet a dude who could easily pass as my brother but named “Krishna.”
Today was a short hike but the last one before we arrived to ABC. We were going slow to acclimate to the elevation. My body felt fatigued and I was worried about getting altitude sickness so I was just focusing on my breathing. The hike itself wasn’t very steep, but all uphill. We followed a river between a valley that had several herds of sheep. The fog was low so we couldn’t see the mountain ridge and were walking within the fog at the end. We finally arrived to ABC and it stayed foggy the entire evening. We had our celebratory beer (yay we made it) and met some other travelers in the common dining area. It was cold and foggy out and we had our fingers crossed for a clear morning.
Deurali (10600) –> Machhupuchhre Base Camp (tea break, 12140 ft) –> Annapurna Base Camp (13780 ft)
Total: 4.1 miles
This was the day we had been warned about altitude sickness since it was now definitely the highest either of us had ever been. I actually read during the trek a book about climbing the Everest called Into Thin Air (highly recommended, better than some Jack London bullshit) that describes at length about all the bad stuff that can happen to one’s body at unfamiliar altitudes including the very real possibility of death. Of course there is more than a 2-mile difference between A.B.C. and the summit of Everest but it’s not like we were mountaineers in tiptop shape.
I did get some headaches about halfway up between MBC and ABC but other than that felt fine. There were plenty of diversions along the trek such as a brook running along the trail, wide-open alpine scenery (that means trees don’t grow this high up) and this adorable fucker:
Reaching the ABC wasn’t quite the glorious moment I had expected it to be, since the weather was crap and we were worried about getting a view during our short time up there; the mountain never guarantees anything. Maybe this anxiety led to me not being super social with other travelers, but there was this one French lady who wouldn’t shut the fuck up dominating the scene. I did my best to ignore her annoying ass voice while struggling through the same Indian history book I’ve been trying to finish for a goddamn month.
Day 7 (I wrote this entry)
ABC (13780 ft) –> Himalaya (lunch, 9425 ft) –> Bamboo (7680 ft)
Total: 8.2 miles
We both went to bed without any altitude sickness symptom but I had to get up at 11pm to take a massive dump. We slept well despite the cold, thanks to fake but functional North Face sleeping bags. The lodge dog started barking at 4:30am which basically woke up the whole base camp. The Bangladeshi couple we were sharing the room with initially said the pre-dawn morning was foggy but in fact it was clear with all the stars. We met up with our guides at 5:30am and quickly found a good viewpoint from which to see the full Annapurna range come to light. The weather was perfect without any cloud and we spent an hour or so mountain-gazing and taking photos. After a quick breakfast and a short hike up the hill behind the lodge (more awesome views) we departed the B.C. at 8:40 am. The hike (40 min) to Machhupuchhre B.C. was still clear with views of all peaks. Afterwards we entered the valley where we followed the same trail as Day 6 to Deurali (1.5 hours) and then to Himalaya (45 min). Since he was worried our destination Bamboo would be crowded, Shibu hurried by himself to our lodge (1 hour 10 mins) to book a room. This turned out to be a good call since by the time we had arrived in Bamboo (~2 hours from Himalaya) people were already scrambling to find rooms. We had a nice long hot shower and played cards (Santosh cheats) until dinner (7pm). Food was good but way too much, just like lunch. We had to go to bed early (8pm) due to a combination of fatigue and food-coma.
Today we walked to the village closest to the Jhinu Hot Springs. The route involved backtracking over the ups and downs that we trekked on Days 4 and 5. It was hard but short. The temp was warm and we were all sweating a lot. My knees will definitely be feeling the day tomorrow. We decided to wait to visit the hot spring until tomorrow morning, which looked like a good choice after hearing how busy it was that afternoon. It started to rain pretty heavily, the heaviest on our trek. We enjoyed a few beers and hot tea (once it started raining) and then had dinner and a couple of snicker bars that I had been saving. I am now happily stuffed and about to pass out for the night.
Bamboo (7680 ft) –> Chhomrung (lunch, 7087 ft) –> Jhinu (5280 ft)
Total: 5.6 miles
The sense of accomplishment was a bit more palpable this day since we were done with the hardest ups and downs of the trek. This led to celebratory beers for all including Shibu and Santosh. Looking back, $30 on 6 beers is an outrageous extravagance but at the time we all really enjoyed the tallboys. The downhill from Chhomrung was the least enjoyable part of the 10 days for me since it was just switchbacks and stairs for a 1500 ft of elevation loss. Little did I know I’d have to deal with that bullshit again.
We started the day out with a visit to the nearby hot springs. It was a 15-20 min walk all downhill there and uphill back. We had the springs all to ourselves which was nice. The temp was cooler in the morning making the springs feel warmer. After hanging out a while we made the climb back to our lodging for breakfast. We lounged around a bit and started packing for the day when Hoch realized he left his new fleece at the village we ate lunch at the previous day, which was a good climb (probably 45 min minimum for me) away. Shibu called the restaurant to see if it was still there. A young boy was going to bring it down to meet him in the middle. Hoch and Shibu hurried up and back down in about 30 minutes which was pretty impressive. Afterwards we started to make our way to the next destination. We walked close to 4 hours with breaks and a lunch stop. The trail was not too difficult but the temperature was a lot warmer and made it feel a lot harder. We finally arrived at the village around 4pm, showered and relaxed for the evening. After reading a bit, we started another round of Nepali Rummy 500 with Shibu and Santosh including a round of local rice wine and popcorn. After our last dinner of Dal Bhat, we played some more rounds and then called it a later than usual (almost 9pm) night.
Jhinu (5280 ft) –> Hot Springs –> Jhinu -> Kyume (lunch) –> Sauli Bazar
Total: 7.8 miles
I was kicking myself pretty hard about that fleece but it was clear what had to be done. I went ahead of Shibu and was well past the halfway point when I realized this little shit from Chhumrong is waiting for me at some place just out of sight of his dad (the restaurant owner). I couldn’t really be mad at him for that though, I’m the forgetful asshole that made him do anything in the first place. Sure enough, I could see him waving my fleece at me maybe 100 ft away from the top. I gave him a Snickers bar (a FULL sized bar, that I stole from Kimberly), patted him on the back maybe a little too hard, then went back down as my right knee screamed. I forced myself to think of it as a good morning workout.
The day was so hot, perhaps not hotter than during Day 1 or Day 2 but perceived as hotter because we had been in the mountains for 5 days. Each mile felt much longer and we were definitely losing more fluid than we could replenish. I did have long conversations with Shibu, and we talked about the plight of Nepali workers. It appears that there are many young, college-educated Nepali are forced to seek employment in wealthier nations doing manual and simple labor in factories because there just aren’t enough professional opportunities in Nepal. Many choose to go to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere to work under grueling and sometimes dangerous conditions because stitching shoes abroad away from your family and friends is still preferable to hopelessly applying for jobs that don’t exist. He has a brother in Korea right now and Santosh also has been to Taiwan and Oman working as a manual laborer despite having a degree in Restaurant Management. I can only admire their cheerful nature despite the conditions, and I marvel at how optimistic they are still. Then we talked a lot of shit about Nepali and American politicians. Seems like they would get along well.
Sauli Bazar was close enough to Nayapool that I even had cell signal to check Facebook. I saw banana trees in the garden of our lodge and realized our trek had come to an end.
We started with breakfast around 7am and had a short, easy walk back to Nayapool where we started the trek. We arrived around 9:30am, took an “After” picture in the same location we took our “Before” picture and waited on our taxi to arrive. The ride back to Pokhara took longer than I remember. I think in part to the trekking season officially kicking off, both the pick up location and roads were packed with tourists arriving for their treks. We arrived back at our guesthouse around 11am, said our goodbyes to our guide and porter and relaxed the rest of the day. Hoch did our laundry and we walked around a bit that evening before calling it a night.
Sauli Bazar –> Nayapool
Total: 3.9 miles
We definitely picked a good, if not perfect, 10 days to do the trek because the monsoon had just stopped and most tourists were coming right after us. I made a mental note of that in case I get to come back with my parents in 2017.
Before & After:
The trek was awesome. The views were completely worth it. And to be honest, it was not nearly as challenging as I thought it would be. My knees felt the trek the most. The daily movement of the trek helped prevent my muscles from becoming extremely sore as well. Overall a great experience. Our guides were awesome and though we could’ve definitely done it solo, it was nice to sit back and not plan anything for the time we were out there. Also being disconnected (limited wifi that cost so we didn’t pay but at one location) was pretty awesome. As soon as we returned to the city my eyes started itching from the smog and all the honking reminded me of what we left behind. I didn’t miss it at all. 🙂
Grand total: 60.8 miles, approximately 100 km
She actually drew the smiley in the journal.
As a final note, it is most certainly possible to do the trek without a guide and/or porter, as we saw a few people do. However that comes with a few caveats:
- You NEED to get a hiking permit from the Annapurna Conservation agency (ACAP) or you will pay a hefty fine when, not if, you get caught without one.
- There are a few junctions that would have been confusing without a guide. You can, of course, ask the local villagers if you come across them.
- The biggest reason to get a guide, especially during the high season, is that lodging is extremely limited and having a guide guarantees that you will at least have a room to share with other travelers. I cannot overstate this enough. Like Shibu did during one of the days, they will run ahead if they need to make sure you have a bed to sleep on.
- Another less obvious reason is that the guides and porters are seasonal employees that rely on foreign trekkers for livelihoods. Having done the math, I know our guides did not make that much money to make sure we have a enjoyable and comfortable trek and their experience and knowledge was invaluable. I also genuinely think I had buddies during our trek with whom I could just shoot the shit with. If you’ve done any sort of extended trekking, you know that’s indispensable when walking for hours which can get monotonous. People here are warm and I do not say that lightly.
Until next post!