Annapurna & Machhapuchhre Base Camp Trek

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nepal  , Himalayan Region,
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trekking notes won’t interest everyone… or they may just tear at you to get here! Be warned.

From Kathmandu I meet up with my guide Nima and head through to Pokhara on the microbus, these small buses take 5 hours instead of 8 hours on the local bus, taking 3 hours off the journey time, but it’s all down to the lunatics that drive them.  They go at terrifying breakneck speeds on these treacherous roads and to be honest it’s just better not looking to closely at the road, better to just quickly enjoy what scenery you can on the way past. Anyway thankfully I arrive safely and spend the night in Pokhara after hiring a bike on arrival and heading to get my ACAP and TIMS permits, that allow access into the Annapurna Region.  

As I had the bike I ended up taking Nima up to Devi’s falls in Pokhara as they are near by and he has never been, it’s a good spot but apparently even better around monsoon time.  Anyway I flick a coin towards the Goddess Manakamana which strikes and lands on the ‘plate of the image’, which apparently means my ‘wishes will be fulfilled’… excellent stuff, so I make a wish! 

Next morning we get a taxi out to Phedi to start trekking and it’s a steep climb up to Dhampus (1650m) stairs the whole way, I’m glad I had plenty of practice with the Langtang trek only last week.  I just take my time ‘bestari, bestari (slowly, slowly)’ and when I arrive in Dhampus for lunch the weather is lovely and sunny although the mountains aren’t clear.  After lunch I head on through the village which is surprisingly large and even has a secondary school, this young guy ‘Sujan’ calls me over and shows me handmade scarves and shawls from this old wooden loom, many of which are ‘Paisley Pattern’.  He shows me his home/shop and I end up buying one of his shawls for 1000Rs (roughly 7pounds) which is beautiful.  It was hilarious in the shop, he was showing me all these shawls saying ‘same, same but different’ which all the Nepali’s seem to use in their version of English and I was in knots laughing… once we’ve composed ourselves he shows me the raw materials used and last but not least, him working the loom, I love it!

After buying my shawl, I start to make my way to Pothana (1950m) although because I was chatting for so long it’s probably not the most sensible idea as the rain is starting to come in, anyway I manage to arrive before it really kicks in.  It’s a nice guest house and I have the most amazing dinner of potato curry with rice and a side plate of fresh ‘buff’ which Nima recommended as he had been in the kitchen and knew they had fresh meat, it was delicious an by far the best food I’ve tasted in Nepal.  So after food, Nima teaches me some more Nepali which is good fun, but next thing we hear music coming from the village and head off to investigate, it looks like a private party so we end up heading back to the guest house!  I head into bed early although the music from the party continues until late, and just when I think I’ll get some sleep the thunder starts, followed by torrential rain which I think is going to come through the roof it’s so heavy!  Somehow despite of everything I manage some sleep and woke up to the most amazing views of the Fish Tail & Annapurna mountains, beautiful.

Although it started out lovely the weather clouded over fairly early, I thought with the thunder last night I would have been in for clear skies today but it’s not to be.  On my walk today Nima continues teaching me some Nepali and teaches me the trekking song ‘Resham Phiriri’, it keeps us entertained as we plod along.  We had a quick tea stop, and I’m delighted by this farmer who lets his goats out of this tiny shed, but to my surprise around 40 goats come out, they must have all been on top of each other, I can’t believe that they just keep coming, it’s hilarious.  After tea the path goes down many, many steps until we eventually stop at Landruk (1565m) which is the opposite side of the valley from Ghandruk, I visited before.  You can see the whole way up the valley which is lovely, Landruk itself is a lovely wee village, very traditional with its farming and haystacks and buffalo etc.  When I set off again it’s still all down steps, right the way down to the river at Himal Pani (1332m) before starting to climb to New Bridge.  I start on the steps up-up-up and just when it looks like we are getting close to Jinu Danda (1780m), I round the bend only to discover that I have to go the whole way back down to the river again – just to come the whole way back up… It’s an extremely tough day today and to be honest I should have probably stayed in Landruk.  

As it’s getting late by the time we arrive, instead of hitting Jinu Danda’s Hot Springs as planned, I’m too tired so decide that I’ll go in the morning.  Although this now means the morning will be a long slog from going down to the river for the hot springs and back up, then from Jinu Danda the climb is steeply straight up to Chhomrong (2180m), before heading down to the river at Tilche (1970m), then climbing back up to Sinuwa (2360m).  I crane my neck just to see our first port of call for tomorrow… it’ll be a long day.  Anyway up in the morning early and head down to the hot springs before breakfast, they’re amazing though and well worth the visit, the water is roasting and I could lie here all day.  But it’ll be a long enough day so it’s a quick visit before going back up to the hotel.  

We set off after breakfast and the path is very steep, at one point I hear bells directly above me, it’s a donkey and his owner heading down the mountain, I take care and stay where I can get out of the way (just in case he stumbles and wipes me out) but they manage past okay.  On the way up there are fantastic views of the mountains and it’s my excuse for stopping to take some pictures, stunning...  When I reach Chhomong the clouds suddenly clear completely and I am rewarded with the most incredible views of Machhapucherie, I really am so lucky.  We stay here for lunch on a rooftop terrace, after which I lie in the sunshine listening to the radio and I could easily just fall asleep.  But no rest, I have to head on and I’m surprised to see the town goes over the mountain and right down to the river, it’s steps again the whole way down but I am thinking I need to come back up this way which will be torture!  I decide to stay in Lower Sinuwa tonight and I meet a number of French tourists, and a girl from Hungary who are all good company, it’s another early night though for the next day trekking, which seems to be the way of the mountains.

Next morning I set out to Upper Sinuwa (2360m) and straight away have magnificent clear views of the whole mountain range.  Unfortunately, I am pretty rubbish with the camera and can’t seem to get a decent picture in front of the view because they are covered with snow, I ask a couple of people about camera settings but don’t really have any joy.  Anyway I take the best I can probably too many pictures, just in case this is the last clear views I see, everyone I meet coming down the mountain so far have seen nothing.  

I start down many steps before gradually climbing up to Bamboo (2310m) where I have a quick tea stop, I really enjoy today’s walk, it was a really good pace and I’m feeling strong.  Again I have a steady climb keeping my speed up and I am delighted to be passing youngsters who’s legs are all sore.  I keep going until Dobhan (2520m) where I stop for lunch but it’s starting to get really cold up here so I sit inside.  I order my dhal bhat which is ready in a few minutes and I sit with 5 Nepali men, all eating with our hands in the traditional style, for some reason it tastes much better this way!  I would never have thought I’d be doing this, so much so, that I get the owner to take a photograph for me.

After lunch I meet a Japanese tourist and his guide who is from the UK, he’s delighted to meet someone from Scotland and he chats away to me.  His guest has a bit of a sore leg today which is slowing him down, but I hope he’s okay.  When I leave after lunch they join us, together with one of the guest house owners from a village further up, Himalaya.  The owner is wearing shorts and his leg muscles are massive, that’ll be from years of trekking up and down!  We all stick together for the rest of the route and to be honest I’m just surprised that I manage to keep ahead of everyone.  Next thing I see Ajay coming down the path, he was my friends John and Lindsay’s guide on the Everest Base Camp trek, it’s really strange meeting people you know on the path, I feel a bit of a local with all the trekking I’ve done.  On speaking to Ajay, he made it into Annapurna Base Camp with his guests but they had no views at all, he says it is possible to get in but the snow is really deep, and that he had to make the path out in the morning, oh well we’ll see what the weather brings.

And so the snow begins… and I still need to climb roughly 700m today, I contemplate stopping when I reach Himalaya, but when I arrive I just have a quick cuppa and head on, there are another 5 men on the path heading up to Deurali (3200m), so I’m not alone.  The snow gets much heavier but I didn’t realise that at this height we are crossing the paths of avalanches, and it’s a bit frightening to say the least.  I keep hearing ‘cracks’ above and need to check we’re not in the path.  When we near Deurali it’s particularly dangerous and I pretty much have to run uphill… past a previous avalanche site and I’m relieved to arrive safe and sound.  The snow is now so heavy that I can’t even see the footprints of the porter in front of me anymore, and it’s almost a total whiteout.  

I arrive at the guest house and talk with 2 Danish girls that were up at Annapurna Base Camp today and back, they didn’t have any views and the snow was getting deeper, it hasn’t stopped snowing for hours now and even the tables outside have an impressive covering.  Although I want to keep heading on up tomorrow, it just might not be possible.  I’ll need to wait on someone opening the path, so I decide to leave my rucksack here and just take a day/overnight bag up with me, and I’ll see what’s possible and take it from there.  At the guest house heavy snow slides off the roof and I jump out of my skin!  They assure me this place has been standing 25yrs and not to worry… oh the joys of adventure!  Everyone sits around a long table that has a kerosene heater underneath it (oh Nepali health and safety is something else!), under the fleece table cloth is a clothes rope which everyone hangs their clothes on to try and dry for the morning, don’t think anyone wants to head to bed in the cold!

After really heavy snow it’s doubtful if anyone will manage into Base Camps, I head in for breakfast and the Japanese guy and his UK guide are going as soon as someone opens the path, they want to head up and come back to Deurali the same day.  I’m glad that it doesn’t take too long before there’s movement and people are actually starting to head up, so I get ready to set off on another adventure, and what a day it turns out to be!

Only 100m into the path there’s an ‘Avalanche Risk Area’ sign, I should have taken heed with all the snow we’ve had and the beautiful clear sunny morning that we’ve woken up to.  It turns out to be an adrenalin filled day which starts off with the first avalanche of many, I’ve lost count how many there have been today.  I end up running past were the snow is tumbling down the mountain, watching upward, and when you hear the distinctive ‘crack’ from above you need to decide what to do… it’s a frantic walk up the valley, at times people are shouting at you which direction to run!  Despite all that the skies are clear blue, the sun is shining and I can’t believe how lucky I am for views, everyone I’ve spoke to the last few days have had no view at all, just cloud, fog and blizzards.  There’s definitely someone looking after me I can tell you, my luck has been unbelievable.

I make my way through three main avalanche sites which is really scary, above me I see a mountain deer which has been caught partially in an avalanche and is struggling to get back on it’s feet, it’s frightening how unstable he has become, this is his territory after all!  Although the snow is deep the path is clear and I make my way into MBC (3700m) and stop for lunch, the scenery is just incredible I’m right under the Fish Tail mountain, I never thought when I arrived in Nepal that I would be here.  I decide to keep going after lunch and head into ABC (4130m), but unfortunately there is a real change in the weather, and the blizzards and white out conditions are really frightening.  The altitude is taking its toll on my guide and I end up having to take the lead and slowly make our way onwards.  

Due to the brightness, even though I’ve polarized glasses on, my eyes are burning out my head!  I can hardly make out the path ahead between the fog and blizzard conditions, and I end up having to ask Nima to take the lead for the last leg.  At one point I should really have turned back but it was actually closer and safer to just keep going, I try to be encouraging to keep going and it is now a bit easier for me following footsteps.  I am so relieved when I arrive at ABC safe and sound, although completely exhausted, it took much longer than it should have.  My face feels all bloated and my eyes are so painful I have to go and rest them, the final push to get here was really tough going but I made it! 

The snow doesn’t stop at all while I’m at ABC, and when I go to bed at night the window in my room is completely covered with snow.  The whole night I can hear avalanches at the back of the hotel but thankfully I manage to get some sleep despite the freezing cold.  It’s an early alarm call to watch the sunrise which is beautiful, although I witness the biggest avalanche I’ve ever seen coming right down from Annapurna South, I can’t believe the power, scale and noise of it, it’s fantastic and hopefully caught on video!  I take a million pictures of the sun rising over the mountains, although I’m forced to shelter on more than one occasion from the sore hailstone blizzards that start and stop out of nowhere.  

After sunrise I head in for breakfast and everyone is discussing who is going to make the path out of here, it looks like the guide of a French family is taking on the challenge but I’m sure we’ll all take it in turns.  While having breakfast I flick through some of my pictures and I’m shocked to see that my face is like a balloon!  I know my eyes were so painful yesterday and my face felt bloated I just figured with the sun and snow, but seems like the altitude also hasn’t helped, the pictures don’t even look like me, I hope it doesn’t last too long!

The path out is chest deep in snow and it’s a really slow start, there ends up around 20 of us all following the first guide, although after a while everyone starts to take it in turns (including me) to make the path out, and I just love it!  I wish I had a sledge though, it would be an amazing ride!  There’s a great camaraderie between us all at the relief and achievement of making it in, and we all have fun on the way down with the obligatory snow ball or two being tossed!  We all stop at MBC and have quick cuppa, but head on before the sun starts to melt the snow, kicking off avalanches.  I really enjoy the trip down to Deurali although I’m relieved when I arrive, I pass several more avalanches on the way down and just before the river there’s a loud ‘crack’ from right above and people shout on us to go back, thankfully it misses and we quickly head on.  I end up running off the mountain in deep snow and take an impressive tumble at one point, full head over heels, but it’s actually good fun, it’s just being out to play in the snow!  

I collect my rucksack from the guest house in Deurali and head down to Himalaya for a quick lunch stop, but as soon as I leave Himalaya I discover that a huge avalanche hit just behind us on the way up and closed the path completely, looks like I had a lucky escape.  It meant however, that no-one else could make it up to Base Camps, so I met a number of disappointed (and slightly jealous) people on the way down.  I continue onto Bamboo and rest up for the night, and it’s been another long and exciting day.  I return the same path to Chhomrong (2170m) the next day before heading over to Tadapani the day after.  On the way down I hear that only 10 days ago there were a couple of tourist killed in one of the avalanches, it’s better not to know or to think about it really.

The climb up to Tadapani (2630m) is stunning and the whole landscape changes with the warmer weather, we go all the way down to Ghurnung (2060m) before the climb up via Chuile (2309m).  There’s a clear green glacier river flowing below, combined with the stunning bright yellow rape seed on the mountain before we head into the jungle, the changes in the landscape are incredible.  There are monkey’s in the jungle swinging about to my delight, some of them are really big and it’s fun watching their antics.  When I arrive in Tadapani I manage a lovely hot shower at the guest house and sit round a cozy fire for dinner, before heading out into the village where the local women are having a fund raising event, providing traditional song and dance.  It’s lovely to be invited in, and it ends up a really good night.  A group of around 20 German tourists join in with the dancing and singing and it’s fun, we’re all given flower garlands and make a donation to their group, they were very entertaining and hospitable, and I enjoy seeing their cultural song and dance.
I find all the guest house names here funny, you know we’re in the most impressive mountain range in the world and they’re called things like ‘Super View’, ‘Hotel Magnificent’, ‘Nice View’ it doesn’t do the place any justice.  I’m staying in Panorama View and I woke up to beautiful views of the mountains and huge eagles swooping around, I sit outside for breakfast and just drink it all in.   Today’s walk starts all downhill towards the river only to come back up the other side, there are no roundabout ways about it here, it’s up and over the mountain.  We head up to the Deurali Pass (3210m) where you can see Poon Hill in the distance, and I head along the ridge and dip down into Ghorepani (2860m) for the night.

Today in Nepal is ‘Holi’ they celebrate with coloured paint which they throw or mark you with, fortunately I only end up with red paint on my forehead but others aren’t so lucky, you see people absolutely covered in all colors and there’s even a purple faced donkey kicking around the village that obviously got caught in the crossfire!  Everyone we pass has been hit but it’s all good fun, and on the trail everyone greet’s you with ‘Happy Holi’.

I’m up bright and early next morning to watch the sunrise from Poon Hill (3210m), last time it must have taken me 50 minutes to get up here from above the village, this time I’m staying much further down but it only takes me 35 minutes, it feels good passing everyone on the path for a change, I must be getting better at this!  It’s such an impressive viewpoint with full 360 mountain views, it definitely one of the highlights of the trek.  After sunrise I head back down the hotel for breakfast before heading off to Tatopani (1190m).  That makes today’s climb 350m followed by a decent of 2020m, and by the end of it my knees are fine!  I can’t believe I did this same walk the opposite direction only in December climbing all that way in one day (plus I had a busted led at the time), I’m definitely made of strong stuff.  On the way down everyone I pass seems to split this part of the walk into two days instead of one and stop half way, don’t know why I didn’t at the time.

So Tatopani brings another trek to an end, my guide’s aunt stays in the village and we end up going to visit her which results in being invited to stay for dinner, and stay the night.  Dinner is fantastic, a chicken curry and spinach but instead of the usual rice, one of the boys makes ‘dero’, it’s a flour mix and is almost like the texture of doughballs but with a corn taste, it’s the first time I’ve tried it but it’s delicious.   Although I’ve already booked into a hotel I end up staying in a tiny room with the family, sharing a bed with his aunt with two of the kids on the floor beside us and three of the boys (including Nima) in a room out the back.  It’s a real one off experience as this family is very poor, and everything hard to come by, I couldn’t pass up the chance of staying and experiencing first hand their way of life.  

Next morning it’s up bright and early to collect my bag from the hotel and to head down for the bus to Pokhara which takes around 7 hours on the local bus.  At one point the ‘bus boy’ (aged around 35) jumps off the bus, walks up to the bridge ahead, rearranges a number of the wooden planks, then guides the bus driver over!  Where else in the world would you see that?  I’ve truly had another amazing adventure, lots of good fun and met lots of new friends.  I feel a real sense of achievement making it into ABC especially given the blizzard conditions at the end, and was so very lucky with clear mountain views and blue skies on many days on the way in and out.  I love trekking although I think I’m just more surprised that I can do it… What to do next?  
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