A walk around a big one.
Trip Start Sep 14, 2011
14Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Annapurna Cicuit Trek
Our second day of the Annapurna today. We managed to skip the first day or so of trekking by taking a bus up a way and then after having a bite to eat and haggling with a jeep driver, we finally ended up spending rps 500 each of sit on the back of a huge cargo truck the last stretch up to siange. The ride was two butt punishing hours bouncing along tiny, rough roads, each of us sittnig of the thin metal sides of the truck bed.It's late now so I'll makes of list of some events:
-stepped on a box of eggs in the packed truck, farmer sitting next to me, none to pleased. oops.
-with Gids, Maz, Greg, and Meg.
---1st day of trekking
-Up the valley for 4 or 5 hours
-Saw man carring and old sick man down the trail strapped into a wooden and basket suspended by the traditional Nepal forehead strap.
Saw barefoot guy carrying huge load of piping with head strap
-another guy carrying a big water container
-day 1 was Siange to Tal
The gateway into Tal after one last uphill kick opened onto a beautiful valley, one filled in by landslide after landslide over centuries. The river which had been tumbling and rumbling alongside us all day slowed down to a bumpy roll. The waters were the dusky blue of glacial till. We stayed in a small hotel for Rps 100 per double room, after a small lunch of cheese, fried egg, and bread. We took a short walk down to the river. It was nice talking with Greg and Meg while tossing stones, and soaking our feet in the cold water. Dal Bhat for dinner and off to sleep. The valley we were hiking was so full o beautiful high waterfalls working their way down from great heights, in the murkier water of the river. The scale and grandeur of this place is of such magnitude that I have not seen the like.
Tal -> Danaque
The valley seems to intensify. The walls become steeper and the river falls away below us deep into the gorge. The variety of dramatic waterfalls continues it's staggering pace. We see the first glimpses of the great high mountains which brings splendor, awe, and a bit of worry about our preparedness to cross into even the lowest part of these places against the sky. Clouds on this day provided cool walking and we made our trek fairly quickly in the sweet morning hours arriving mid-morning before 11:00. From the hotel we catch fleeting glimpses of the beautiful peaks the snag and hold the clouds against the breeze. Lunch takes 2+ hours to come and after another great feast of Dal Bhat and a short nap we take a walk into the woods, for a short smoke, and some laughs with Greg and Meg as we play Quan. The walk ended as we popped back out onto the road again and sat to watch the local military outfit playing and shockingly competitive game of volley ball. After sitting for a few minutes a scraggly pack of kids wanders down the street to accost us. There is laughing, and teasing, lots of confusions about what is being said to who, and we all have a good time. One tiny little girl stands clearly out. She was an absolute little maniac. She was tough and rugged, throwing rocks and punches getting banged around and knocked over, while at the same time giving squeezes and smiles and erupting in endless giggles. She had a cute dirt encrusted little round Tibetan face, with high cheek boned but flat rosy cheeks, and a smatter of freckles obscured by dust and grime. The kids here play pretty rough, grabbing, pulling, pinching, hitting each other but it seems to all be taken in stride with a laugh and retaliating blow. the running of noses unchecked is an ongoing thematic concern.
Danque -> Chame
Forgot to mention some of the huge bluffs yesterday, especially at the joining of the two valleys - huge imposing rock faces. beautiful. more views of the big peaks today, and I"m hungry of more. Clouds rolled on the high places relatively early in the morning, but waking at 5:30 and on the trail by 6:30 means we can catch some of those spectacular sun rise glimpses. Cool walking today and it felt good to only sweat a little (as compared to every other shirt soaking day day of this entire trip so far. After checking in and dumping bags we went into down for a horse festival that was being held that day. There was a large clump of relatively tiny ponies, mounted by riders of all ages and sizes, and in various arrays of traditional and western clothes. There were a few passes up and down the street of just riding, low and fast, or slow and jauntily before the real action began. Several silk scarves were laid out across the road, with a couple rocks on top to keep them from being blown away. Riders would then come rushing by, hanging from the side of the horse trying to lean down and grab the scarves from off the ground. It was a wonderful farce. Some of the older "competitors" would simply ride by laughing along the people lined street, not trying in the least towards the difficult task. One young guy, actually managed to snag one pretty early on, but he leaned too far, slide over a bit and the horse and he took quite a tumble on the rocky strewn road. A huge convergence of Nepalese descended upon him, before it was established we was ok, and the games were back on. They put the scarf back down in the road. Another guy slipped out of this saddle, (which is not much more than a pile of blankets on a leather band around the horse) and up the neck onto the head of the poor animal, but he managed to ride in out and end up back in his seat. Eventually the scarves were grabbed to much applause and the festival was winding down. At intervals, things would be paused so large groups of trekkers could come through, and it was a none to pleasant reminder of what surely I must look like to the locals as I too come through, pack on back, stars in eyes. Some people though, with cameras, it seems they only hunt for photos and surely must be missing the beauty of this place in this very moment. If you look only in a way in which things can be shared for some absent audience to be impressed, you lose seeing it so much for yourself in the moment. It was obvious not only to me.
Chame -> Upper Pisang
By far the most beautiful day so far. It was such a peaceful wonderful hike. We're getting to be into fall, and it certainly felt that way today. The leaves and shrubs here changing, and there was the cool, briskness in the air. It felt as if we were hiking alone for most of the day, as we saw few hikers and even the locals here quiet sparingly. The landscape was a striking reminder of the Northwest and home. Many places looked very much like Leavenworth, perhaps only on a grander scale. The pine forest, taken over from the jungley forest below, even smelled familiar. We had brilliant blue skies , but often shade of cool breezes flowing up the valley to keep us comfortable. In one place among the pines we came upon a small clearing and were surrounded by prayer flags, and obvious signs of some previous settlement or homestead. What was most bracing was the absolute silence of the particular spot. It was so eerie. Shortly after this the trail enters a slot canyon and the way is literally cared into one of the side walls. The wall below falls so steeply away, that the path is actually overhanging. Turning a bend at the end of this section led once to the base of a great rock dish carved out by glaciers. Tall as a mountain and looking so smoothly polished it was both striking and amazingly unique. As the trek continued on you could see more and more of it and it only became more impressive. The late morning was filled with pleasant walking after we split from the main trail in a small village and began the gentle climb up towards Upper Pisang. The views of the high mountains exploded with spectacular vistas of Annapurna 2 and 4, as well as multiple other peaks we couldn't identify. Absolutely breathtaking. Our hotel was situated high in the Tibetan style town. Towering above the tiny dining area, back porch, and our rustic little room was the enormous walls and falling glaciers of the mountains. Pisang Peak was behind and the great dish was now behind us and slightly below. The town was tiny and felt as if it had been untouched by time for centuries. (enter man yelling on cell phone in Nepali to ruin illusion...) Just down the hill from the hotel, and easily visible from the dining porch local men and women were separating the chaff from the wheat of the fall harvest. Using the wind, and some wooden hand tools the women would pour pile after pile from baskets to let the wind carry the chaff before the piles where spread thin for the men to work over with beating sticks. It was simply a window into our past, and a recognition of their present, to see some of the intimate details of subsistence living, harvests, and working with your neighbors to survive the harsh and unforgiving environment. Winters even at this elevation can not be easy. Hay was stacked to dry on each roof in preparation for the cold times to come, and it was obvious this was a time of making ready before the winter. The people seemed to work easily and happily. Just above us was a Buddhist monastery in the process of being finished. Very near completion it would seem. We had a good sit and nearly an hour in, the monks came in and began their evening chant. We stayed in and sat through the change which was at times a wonderful tool for deepening of the meditation and at other times the horns , cymbals, and drum would served to either break my concentration on in a way expand my awareness past my own skin. What a wonderful opportunity, Then in for Dal Bhat and some goood sleep.
Day 5 and 6
Upper Pisang -> Braga
We got off the beaten path today rather by accident. Given the option of taking the low road (an actual road) or the high road (a winding path full of ups and downs) we chose the high. The views were certainly well worth it as the mountain vistas continued to simply expand their dominance of the horizon. We went through several more small mountain villages and it is easy to feel immersed in the culture when you feel lost in the hills alone with it. As we came into a village of unknown name we were to take a turn down to the road, across a bridge to the town of Humde and from there it was to be a short relatively easy hike along a road to Braga and Manange. (Forgive me if the typing gets even worse, another power outage just erased a rather large section of entry, and I'm forced to type it again.) Instead of making this turn we continued to follow the trail markings which are red and white stacked bars painted around here and there on rocks. This led us onto the old trail which has since been abandoned. This took us rumbling up and down hills and winding back along valley walls as it stumbled its way slowly towards our destination. There were several uncertain moments as we could look far down and across the river valley to the road now filled with trekkers and mule trains, and the marking were becoming older and fewer and further between. After asking some locals, and getting confirmation we trudged on, tired now, running very low on water, soaked with sun. The rambling hike did take us past a wonderful little village looking 1/2 abandoned as it was now off the beaten track, and along some some fantastic rock formations. some great looking pocket climbing from what I could see. We saw locals away from the tourist circuit, women hauling huge bundles or firewood, and men bagging sand from a local hill. After 7 hours and our long detour along the abandoned trail we arrived wearing Braga. We ran into Gids and Maz again which was nice. We'll spend a couple of days here trying to acclimatize.
Braga -> Yak Kharka
The going is slightly tougher these days as the elevation really begins to make its presence felt. After a talk on HAPE, HACE, and AMS we feel better able to address our situations and bodies. Not having a guide to secure rooms for us and with night temps now dipping down below freezing, while the lodging also becomes more scarce we find ourselbes pushing out and on in the cold cold early hours of the mornings. So far we've kept warm enough with the blankets available at the lodges, but I wonder if we won't regret not bringing sleeping bags at some point. Not too much point in worrying now, we won't be turning around, and it wouldn't be the first cold night I've had to pass. The view remains amazing as the trail climbs ever upwards pushing us now up above treeline into the land of scrub brush and grazing yaks. The river dwindles now in its frigid bluish hue as it rambles now over and around smaller stones instead of crashing its way over massive boulders. As we arrived in Yak Kharka (4050m - 13290') rooms were either booked or filling up fast and despite arriving at around 9:00 am the few options left were quite unappealing. We decided to push our luck a little and continue on up the trail in hopes of finding something better either along the way or in the next town. We luck into a fantastic little place up and out of the valley a ways. The views are much better here with the mountains rising all around, and yaks grazing about through the brush around us. We got the best room with nice views, and plenty of light. The place had an actual yard, with actual grass which was wonderful to lay and stretch out on, with the warm mountain sunshine warming us. D was feeling the altitude all day, and I suppose I was as well, so we lounged about for most of rest of the day, and early afternoon, until the sun fell behind the mountains casting us all into chilly shadow. We headed indoors earlier than normal then, and played cards and chatted to pass the time. We met an impromptu group of 5 from 5 different countries and shared laughs with them helped make the time go by. The blankets kept me warm thru the frigid night, except for all the pee breaks, and 5:30 am came all too soon. The pee breaks are something to get used to as our bodies, trying to adapt to the thinner air are forced into increased kidney function so that we can maintain our Ph balance during all the increased breathing.
Day 8 and 9
Yak Kharka -> Thorong Phedi (4540m - 14900')
Biting cold this morning with ice on the ground, shrubs, and yaks. We continue up through the highlands with the shrubs even giving way to just some tenacious grasses. Another short distance day with moderate elevation gain, but D was hurting the whole way. It was mild nausea, mild headache, but strong fatigue. We'll spend two nights here to try to adjust better to the thinner air before pushing for the pass. Clouds have rolled in obscuring views of all but the closest peaks. I wonder if it snowing on the pass. The lodge here is unheated still, though it's not too surprising, but it has the distinct feel of a ski lodge. They have music playing, and a large communal sitting area and dining room. In many places you can see remnants of the old buildings and tell that while still simple, modest, rustic and cold accommodations have improved. We sit at the head of a valley here with steep stone walls in a horseshoe shape that opens down the valley. There is only retreat back down to the lower elevations of the valley or a steep climb threading through the stone walls to go up and over the pass. I'm as high as I've ever been on foot and any exertion is a strong reminder of this. -----After finishing this entry last night I was served with an even stronger reminder as I almost fainted several times in the dining area, first while walking back in from outside and then just sitting. It was a strange thing and I believe that something perhaps caused my capillaries to dilate rather suddenly as I got nauseated, very hot, and think the drop in blood pressure was maybe what caused the dizziness and faintness. I'm no doctor, but that's the sense I got of it. I let some people know what was happening with me, just to keep folks up to date, and because it was a little unsettling. Not to be dramatic but at these elevations HAPE or HACE can render someone unconscious in hours and if not addressed cause death in only a few hours more. I wasn't showing serious symptoms of either or climbing any higher, but the sudden change in how I was feeling was worth keeping an eye on. I headed back to the room with an escort, to make sure I made it fine in the now falling snow. I wasn't up to eating much for dinner, and the headache was uncomfortable but my pee is running clear so I'm hydrated ok. It's just the altitude and getting used to it. I know D is hurting too. I tucked shivering under my blankets in the freezing room to try and get warm. The faintness continued in spells that evening until I finally dropped off to sleep as D read aloud from our shared book. In the morning my headache continued at medium throb and the type of movements that one would not give a second thought would get my heart cranking. Things like standing from bed, to walk the few feet to the bathroom were noticeable. We slept late and left the room to a few inches of fresh snow, overcast skies and an empty camp. We split a fresh bread roll for breakfast put the last of our peanut butter and honey on it and forced it down. I'll be glad not to have to carry that weight any longer or any higher. Feeling a bit off still we returned to the room to continue to rest. We decided it would be a good idea to try an acclimatization trip to high camp around 16,500' or so. The going was rough to start but keeping an eye on symptoms we headed on up. Stopping every few minutes catch our breath. Things actually seemed to get better as we went higher. Things didn't feel good each time we stopped or started with a pounding headache. After a short break at high camp we headed back down still with no appetite we ate a little soup and bread and had some nice conversation with the new crew of people that had rolled in. The hike back down from high camp felt nice and easy and I was feel better. Around 5 or 6 I got the faint flushes again and went to lie down. D brought in some dinner and I had a little to eat as I stayed warm under the covers. We made the decision to try and head up and over the next morning,. taking it easy and being aware of our bodies. The alarm was set for 4:00 am and after a couple bites of roll we headed our around 5:00am.
Thorong Phedi ->Thorong La -> Muktinath
It was still very dark with less than a quarter moon as we set out , but the stars shone brilliantly in the thin black mountain air. These high altitude night skies are so brilliant and peaceful, they almost serve to help warm you against the wispy starkly cold air. After 45 minutes of slow, but not crawling, pace the sky began to lighten above us, and within an hour the heaven scraping peaks began to come alive catching the first rays of sun. The wind was gusting gently against us as we walked our way into the alpine sun. We climbed on through the brilliant morning moving slowly with the tiny steps these heights regulate even the strong too, trying to soak in our breaths and the incredible views. As we came nearer the pass there were a series of humps and bulges to mount, each obscuring further views and giving us hope as each that solely it stood between us and the pass, open views into the next valley and lead downwards into thicker air. Four or five false alarms and with D really beginning to struggle to overcome the fatigue, and headache over the last bulge to reveal the pass ahead. It was 9:45 ~ 4 1/2 hours of climbing and we were looking at a path going ahead and downwards again. 17,700' + and still saddled between two peaks jutting defiantly upwards towering above us, while larger still mountains looked down upon us from the distance. The sun blazed and the snow and slaciers shimmered. It felt good to un-shoulder the pack, and look for a while. It was a mix of emotions, the kind I think comes with all difficult endeavors: the mix of relief, and sadness of completion. This also was something new for me, at being so high and being at the top of one thing, only to look over and be at the base of something greater still. After some pictures and summit candy, laughs with Gids and Maz, the headaches and fatigue actually drove us on and down as our day was far from over. A grueling decent lay ahead and while 5 hours of banging knees didn't sound particularly fun starting it was the only way to eventually have it over with. The trail down was covered in snow, ice, and loose crumbly rock. We both fell a few times, as we came down step by step on the ever winding path towards Muktinath and the dream of a hot shower. Our headaches would not give up and with every jarring step a white ball of pain felt as if it rattled around in my skull. 4 or so hours on continuous quad ripping decent later, we stopped for some lunch and to let our knees and legs rest for a few moments. Some quick and delicious momo's and fried noodles as well as some water and we were back on the path to finish the final 1 1/2 hours into town and some good rest a bit lower down the hill. In roughly 10 1/2 hours we had climbed the final 3000' to about 17,700' and then descended to 5,200' to 12, 500' or so. We were still atop the big mountains around the Seattle area, and it felt like we were on the beach. It had been a long day. I was exhausted physically from the effort of poor sleep, at elevations, and having eaten very little the previous couple days. Psychologically I was spent from the worry over my body acting strangely, and the dangers that can come with it at those heights, trying to stay positive, and dealing with the headache. Looking back it probably didn't help reading a story about a tourist dying on his way up to Everest base camp of HACE at an elevation roughly that of the pass. People do get flown out in choppers from the trek nearly everyday. But all that was behind us and it felt good. We stayed at the first hotel we walked into (The Bob Marley Hotel). After dumping the pack and the absolute miracle work of a hot shower, as well as some rather creative Napali mountain "nachos" I felt like a new man. We even found the energy to walk around town a little. With the headache gone, the appetite returning, and a little bit of warmth, things were looking up. It didn't even matter this morning when I woke to the world frosted over again.
Day 11 &12
Muktinath -> Kagbeni
Up early again and on the road for a gently winding decent down into Kagbeni. Laughs along the way with Gids and Maz and the time pass pretty quickly. The trail meandered down onto a wide rived bed of round stones, while only a few streams worth of waqter wound their way through to below. The landscape is so arid now, and dusty. Totally different on this side of the pass. Plants are scarce and much of the area seems so barren. I think the monsoon rains to not penetrate to here because of the height of the mountains. Kagbeni is a wonderful little old town situated on a bluff above the river. The streets are narrow and winding , as the buildings of stone and mud seen to crookedly totter above. What from any reasonable distance appear to be a straggle of ruins comes to life as you entered the twisting cavernous streets, and tunnels of this little town.
Day 13 & 14
Kagbeni -> Pokara
Two days of butt bruising, mind crushing, tooth rattling bus rides down the mountains and back out. Always it's a scramble and fight to get on the right bus, in a decent seat only to end up crammed, twisted and contorted on a bus packed of sweaty tourists and locals. Ah to travel Nepali back country. I'm just glad we didn't fall off the narrow road into the river below. It was close more than once.