Annapurna Circuit Days 16-18

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Nepal  , Western Region,
Thursday, April 19, 2012

So this was the final part of the trek, ooh and the sting in the tail. This was the bit I hadn't realized was there. I thought you go up for a few days, over the pass and then it’s all pretty much downhill and plain sailing from there. I really hadn’t paid any attention to the lovely altitude map thing on the trip notes because if I’d bothered to look I’d have realised there was this big hill at the end of the trek.

So we were heading up Poon Hill and what it entails is a 1670m hike up in one day (yes that’s just one day) from Tatapani and on the next day there’s a really early start, up 340m to see the sunrise and then a walk down of 2185m to Birethanti, which includes at one stage walking down 3260 steps (800m). This is what I had failed to notice – and to be honest I must say ignorance is bliss because I was so much happier in my own little world believing all the hard bits were done. This would have had me worried for weeks.

So Day 16 – this was the big walk up. We started nice and early at 7am (thank goodness the bakery was already open as we needed emergency rations) and then started to walk downhill (yes that’s right downhill !!! Could it have been any more unnecessary !! Was a walk up of 1670m not enough – oh no we had to add on another 100m). So we went down 100m and then started the walk up the – what was now – 1770m. The first section upwards was pretty steep – and it was a pretty warm day, so it was necessary for me to put my shorts on (yes Mum the legs did come out – and yes Bill I even took off my jumper – on family holidays as a child I always used to wear a jumper even when it was pretty hot).

So after a hike of 600m we stopped for our break. Normally when we have our morning break I can take it or leave it but on this one I was desperate for a cold drink and some of that rather nice apple pastry. Let’s just say my banana and honey porridge hadn’t done a brilliant job of sustaining me for long. Then it was another hour or so walk to lunch (Sikha 1935m) and a very large helping of dal bhat. We had a bit of a chat to some German people and then off we headed again. We still had another 935m to go !!

So we then walked for another hour and a half to Chitre for an afternoon tea stop. The guides didn’t seem to think we needed to stop for afternoon tea but we persuaded them otherwise – surely if the cricketers need a break for afternoon tea after just standing around in a field then we hard core hikers needed it as well. So we stopped for some hot lemon and out came the emergency hob nobs. Now these hob nobs I’d brought on Day 4 of the trek, just in case of emergencies (you just never know !). So far I didn’t really feel that an emergency had arisen (well not one that could be dealt with using a product made by McVities – Andrex was more useful on my other type of emergencies). But today I had a funny feeling so I put them into the daypack. This probably will go someway to explain why I was struggling so much (nothing to do with the height gain, 16km walk, the other 15 days of trekking, the heat then Liz – it will be the extra weight of the hobnobs will it?). So I cracked open the hobnobs as I deemed it to be that emergency (we were all lacking in energy) and to be honest I was pretty fed up of carrying them (they are a heavy monster of a biscuit). Never have hobnobs tasted so good !! We did try to explain to Nabin and R.B about dunking them into tea but we didn’t seem to get very far.

Then we headed on out for the final 500m up to Ghorepani. And boy were we on a mission. We marched up there as if our lives depended on it. We finally arrived in Ghorepani only to realize that our lodge was not only once again the last one in the village but also up a load of steps !! (was not impressed). But it did have hot gas showers and excellent apple pie so I got over it. Then we were given the news we would be heading out at 4.30am !!

So Day 17 – and obviously I was wide awake at 3am !! So we headed out in the dark at 4.30am up a few more steps. Poon Hill is at 3210m (up 340m) and is the gateway to the Annapurna’s. From the top of the hill there is a stunning view of some of the world’s highest mountains, including the world’s 7th and 10th highest and the beautiful Machhapuchhe (Fish Tail). We got up there in 45 minutes and then the sun started to come up. It was an incredible view – over the North-West of the Dhaulagiri’s and Tukche and to the North-East Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Gangapurna and Machhapuchhrre. It was pretty cold but I have seen anything quite like it before and it was incredible to see so many of the peaks that have dominated the trek from those early days heading into Manang through to the last few days and the Dhaulagiri’s and Annapurna I. We all took hundreds of photo’s but Sue eclipsed us all by having the panorama setting on hers that took the shot that is at the top of this blog entry

(L-R Gurja, Dhaulagiri IV, Dhaulagiri V, Dhaulagiri III, Dhaulagiri II, Dhaulagiri I, Tukche, Dhumpu Peak, Niligri South, Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Hinunchili, Gangapurna, Machhapuchhre)

So after a bit of chocolate we headed back down and had even more stunning views through the rhododendron forests. I held everyone for a while by heading off to get shot but it was definitely worth it (so I thought anyway). The flowers were stunning on their own but with the backdrop of the mountains it made for something incredibly beautiful We went back to the lodge for the some breakfast and then began the rest of our walk back down the Birethanti (1025m).  The first stage of the walk was down the rhododendron forests. The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal and the Nepalese Himalayas contains the highest concentration of the flowers in the world. In Nepal, the flower is considered edible and enjoyed for its sour taste. The pickled flower can last for months and the flower juice is also marketed. The flower, fresh or dried, is added to fish curry in the belief that it will soften the bones. The rhododendron is not actually native to the UK but was brought in to the country in the late 18th century.

After the rhododendron forests we then hit the what looked more like a tropical rainforest with stunning waterfalls. It was incredible to see once again how diverse Nepal could be. Deserts and rainforests were really not what I was expecting to see. After a break we hit the hardest downhill section , which encompassed 3260 steps over a decent of 800m. We also had yesterday’s hard walk in our legs so this was an absolute killer. Poor Morag had been struggling with crippling back pain and bad knees and it was at it’s worse when she went down. This must have been utterly crucifying for her but she struggled on valiantly, and we overtook several groups on our way down. The only consolation was passing all the poor people who were heading up the steps. This section up actually forms part of the famous Annapurna Sanctuary trek (won’t be coming back to do that one then !). After 45 minutes (I was nearly running at the end – such was my desire to be rid of the pesky steps) we made it down to a bridge and away from the nightmare descent. We had lunch (Dal Bhat again !) and then began the final two and half hour walk (455m) down to Birethanti. We finally made it to the village 12 hours after we had first set out and I think I was the most shattered I had been all trek. The last two days had been truly epic and absolutely incredible. To be honest I was really glad I hadn’t read the trip notes – I was better off not knowing what I was in store for, and it was an amazing surprise to find out about what we were going to see up Poon Hill. I can’t quite believe how such a place is not really known about, unless by those who have been to this part of the world.

So Day 18 !! It was the final day of the Annapurna Circuit and we had only a hour walk to go. So we walked 2km uphill (what else would you expect) through Hindu villages and markets and it was our (well not mine) final drawbridge and then we finally hit the tarmacked road. It was quite a moment when I finally put my feet back onto the black stuff and we were all quite emotional. We’d done it – we had walked 212km over 18 days and heaven knows how many meters of ascent and descent. We had seen some of most stunning scenery in the world, and not just the mountains as I had expected. There was rice terraces, tropical rainforest, desert, snow covered passes – it really is the most incredible trek and really deserve it’s reward of being known as one of the best trek’s in the world.

So we all clambered in the minivan and had a 1 hours drive back to Pokhara. On the way we stopped off at a final viewpoint to see a stunning, if not pretty hazy of Machhapuchhre . This is an incredibly important mountain to the local population and is particularly sacred to the God Shiva. It is so important that has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 50 m of the summit via the north ridge, but did not complete the ascent; they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and it is now forbidden to climbers.

So then we finally came into Pokara, for a well deserved proper shower and a different menu (Finally !!)

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