Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 9 – April 28th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I was awakened around 4:30am by the assistant cooks with morning tea. It was really cold but the sky was crystal clear. The plan for the morning was to leave Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC) and to hike up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) before sunrise, take some pictures, then hike back down to camp to pack up and start back down the trail. I dressed as warm as I could as I knew that the trek up to ABC in the early morning, before sunrise, was going to be very cold and it’s easier to strip off layers than to put on more layers that are residing back at camp. We started our hike around 5:30am and the moon was highlighting the mountain peaks.

crossing the glacier

The beginning of the hike was along a small path that went over a couple of hills and then opened up to a great glacial plain. We only needed to gain about 400m of elevation so the trek was going to be about two and a half to three hours. The glacier area was just a huge field of snow and ice with a small but fast moving stream cutting through it. There were many areas where the stream dropped underneath the ice and popped out somewhere else. Our path stayed close to stream but sometimes it was easier to cross on fresh snow because the ice on the path turned into slush and was slippery.

Seeing ABC in the distance was a good boost to morale as I hiked along attempting to keep steady footing on the slush. The thinner air was getting to me as well as the difficulty in staying at a comfortable temperature with multiple layers on. The final hurdle was a huge set of almost vertical steps that led up to ABC. I took my time and even had to break in the middle as I climbed the steps. I reached ABC proper when I got to the top of the steps and I immediately needed to rest again and so I sat my ass down. I was so out of breath. There were a bunch of other trekkers milling around the three guest houses at ABC and probably giggling at me. Shaun was the only other one from our group around and I had no idea where the rest of the group was.

At some point Tendi came and found us and told us that we had to continue up the path. Yes, that’s right, we weren’t at the destination yet. So I struggled and got back up to my feet, found my breath, and traversed the last leg of this climb. The path up to the Annapurna Sanctuary, 4136m, was relatively short but it was still a climb. It passed through the guest houses that composed the base camp and then out the back side of the buildings. We hiked another 100m or so to the Annapurna Sanctuary and after I took a short breather I starting to take pictures.

sunrise in the mountains prayer flags at the sanctuary sanctuary sunburst damion and the mountains damions and flags

The proof I was at that altitude.

the proof Other treks at the top

On the far side of the sanctuary was a steep drop-off into this barren land.

IMG 4379 Nepali flag lines of flags The group

Here are the members of our group that made it to the top.

the survivors

Thanks to Thilo for providing this photo. Clockwise from the top left is Me, Clarence, Damion, Thilo, Tendi, Shaun, and Dawa.

We hung out at the sanctuary and took pictures for a while. We watched the sun crest over the mountain range. Dawa came up with hot drinks and snacks which we enjoyed as we took in our surroundings.

Just as we were preparing to leave Sanctuary we heard the starter pistol marking the start of the Annapurna downhill marathon. It was crazy to see people running at this altitude across such crazy terrain including glacial ice. Here are some of the 28 runners. The three in the lead are Nepali and the first one is carrying a Nepali flag.

the runners

I was especially amazed at the woman wearing a pink skirt in this chilly weather.

runnerette

We started back down to MBC leaving behind the Annapurna Sanctuary and ABC. As we crossed the glacier again I noticed that the morning’s sun was already softening up the snow making the trail relatively slushy. The trip back to our campsite was pretty uneventful and I concentrated on my footing. When we reached camp I was really tired and my tent was singing a siren’s song that tempted me back into comfort. I couldn’t resist but I also needed to pack prior to breakfast. In fact I was so slow packing that I was a bit late for breakfast which consisted of eggs and toast.

Very shortly after breakfast we mounted up and started our trek down to Deurali.

Starting back down

A moth

The trail down was almost all downhill. Our whole group seemed to be moving at an extremely fast pace except for Shaun and I. We were taking our time and trying to be careful. We crossed the river a few times over those wonderful rickety looking bridges. At one of the short inclines on the trail I stepped into a small hole and felt my ankle twisting. I didn’t hear a pop or have major pain but it was enough that it really pissed me off for not seeing the misstep. Of course this made me even more careful and therefore slowed me down even more.

Clear skies

After a while we arrived at Deurali and this is where we met up with Chris and Karma as well as where we stopped for lunch. The weather changed and the temperature dropped. When the wind picked up we all decided to move to an indoor dining room and that is where we were served lunch. I don’t recall being very hungry but I know I ate. Lunch was spaghetti with red sauce (not really marinara) and cheese, chicken sausage, sweet corn, and rice. As we relaxed after lunch the weather continued to be ugly and it started to spit rain. I had left my rain gear in my duffel so I just put on the fleece. We grabbed the rest of our gear and headed down to the Himalayan Hotel.

The first thing we had to do after we left Deurali was climb back up to Hinku Cave. At least I could look forward to the cave providing a short respite from the spitting rain. Just before we reached the cave the skies opened up and a full downpour started. I started to get soaked. The path that we were on turned a bit muddy and the rocks became a little slick but thankfully it did not turn into a stream of water to deal with. I was fully concentrating on where my next step was going to be placed except for when my water logged pants started to droop too low. These “trekking” pants, even with the assistance of a belt, definitely did not do well for me. They were a constant pain to deal with as I had to keep pulling them up.

weather souring

After leaving Hinku Cave we headed back down into the river valley. We came upon the snow/ice flow that bridged the stream that we had crossed the day before. When we had crossed it two days prior there was a small hole that let me see the fast moving water beneath the ice. Now that hole had grown to be humongous as it had undermined the ice. I had a lot of trepidation about crossing this again considering its change in size but Tendi tested it out and guided us all across by going a little higher up. We crossed without incident but I was still a little unnerved by the experience. Here you can see why.

The hole

The rain started to become a mix of rain and sleet and the latter was sticking to my fleece. We continued to trudge along until we reached camp, ~2870m. The tents were still being set up but luckily the sherpas had already set up the large dining tent and so we all gathered in there and removed our overly soaked outer clothing. The sherpas brought in hot drinks as well as a propane lantern in order to attempt to warm us up. The rain had calmed down but the temperature was still quite cold.

Once the rain had stopped we all piled out of the big tent, grabbed our duffels from where they had been stacked and covered with a tarpaulin, and took our duffels to our tents. I quickly changed into dry clothing including gloves and a head band and went back to the dining tent. My outfit led to many jokes about 80’s workout outfits. It also led Chris to pose me and take the following picture.

Master of the light

Thanks to Chris for this photo.

We all hung around in the big dining tent, trying to stay warm, until dinner was served and frankly I have no idea when we had dinner nor what dinner consisted of. I do know that we spent a lot of time gabbing away before finally retiring for the night.

I do recall waking up in the middle of the night to use the toilet tent and admiring the sky with the billions upon billions of stars that were visible. I just wish I had the wherewithal to get my camera out and photograph its splendor.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 8 – April 27th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke in Deurali at around 6:30am which was a little bit later than most days on the trek so far. Our day’s hike up to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC) was just a short 500m elevation gain so that is probably why the sherpas didn’t start the day as early. We got our morning tea at 7:30am followed by breakfast around 8:30am. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and pancakes which I had good portions of both. We got on the trail around 9:30am.

The trail up to MBC still followed the Modi Khola river in fact we crossed it a handful of sites. The terrain was extremely rocky and all of the plants seemed dry and brown. The walls of the canyon were occasionally broken with beautiful cascades of water.

waterfall on the way to MBC

Dry flower

The elevation gain made us constantly climb although at different grades. So in other words, we were always going up. Considering that we started at 3200m the air was a bit thinner for climbing but my body seemed to be doing alright albeit I was always breathing heavily.

Avalanche Risk Area

[A comforting sign]

The river was a constant companion on our trek up to MBC. We had to cross it at least four times using little metal bridges that did not look all that sturdy or stable but they did the job.

bridge over troubled waters

flowing river

Damion and waterfalls

[Damion attempting to get a good waterfall photo]

a group of cairns

[A set of cairns by the river]

I took a picture of Monika taking a picture of some flowers.

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some pointy mountain

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A pile of snow and ice below a waterfall

[Snow and ice below a waterfall]

The day was pretty comfortable as it was overcast and a slight breeze. There was one spot where we stopped for a break and the sun broke through the clouds and started to heat us up. It actually became a bit uncomfortable because there was no shade and I was wearing warmer clothing. The sun was still out as we started back up to MBC but then we turned a corner on a stone outcropping and a cloud blocked the sun and the wind, and I mean wind here not just breeze, picked up. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in seconds. Without a doubt I was cold but I also didn’t want to stop to put on another layer of clothing just to have the weather change immediately afterward. After a couple of minutes I relented and stopped and put on a jacket. I instantly felt warmer and I continued up the path. Of course, just as I had guessed, the weather improved within a couple of minutes as the wind dropped almost completely away. Between my exertion and the jacket I started to get a little too warm. Now I’m in the same pickle, do I remove my jacket just to have the weather change again. I took a gamble and removed my coat and I immediately started to get back to a normal temperature. Luckily, the weather cooperated and didn’t make me feel like a jackass. Well, at least not more of a jackass that I already am.

I had been at the back of the group with Chris and Karma like usual. We had all stopped in order to remove clothing and take a short water break. We started up again and about 10 minutes later Chris twisted his ankle. This is the second time on the trek that Chris had sprained this particular ankle. The three of us stopped as Chris and Karma discussed what should happen. Well actually first Chris brought out his little handheld video camera and documented the emotions that he was feeling at that moment. And I documented (photographed) him.

Chris and his sprained ankle

The decision was made that Chris would not continue up trail and instead would turn around and head back down to Deurali or Bamboo and meet up with the group the following day as we headed back down. This meant that Chris would immediately stay where he was while Karma ran (yes actual running) up the path and tell the rest of the group and in particular Tendi what had happened. Then Karma would return to Chris and assist him down the path. This left me without a sherpa. Now typically I am pretty diehard about doing stuff on my own but I had some trepidation as I wasn’t familiar with the terrain and I too have a propensity to sprain my ankles and this situation would leave me without a sherpa. Basically I was told to walk slowly and very carefully up to the group which we had no idea how far up the trail they were. I continued on up and luckily the group was relatively close as I think I only walked for about 10-20 minutes before meeting up with them.

After meeting up with the group I helped describe what happened to Chris to the other trekkers. After a short break we continued on.

IMG 4354

[A look back the way we came]

IMG 4355

[Waterfalls and snow in the cracks and crevices of a hill]

weather station?

[I think this was a weather station]

We had hiked for about another 45 minutes since our last break before MBC was in sight but what a wonderful sight it was.

IMG 4357

Here Shaun and I took a picture of the vista that we came from.

from MBC

I’m not certain what this shed was for but it was kind of neat so I snapped a picture of it.

small shed outside of MBC

in the clouds

Right when we arrived at the campsite at MBC, 3700m, we had little time to drop our gear before we were called to lunch. Lunch served around 12:30pm consisted of noodle soup, french toast, french fries, salami, and garlic sweet corn. After lunch I headed to my tent to take a short nap. I guess my body decided a short nap was not in the cards and I slept off and on for 3 hours.

I was roused around 4:30 to 5pm when pre-dinner tea was served. Between tea and dinner I decided to explore around MBC and in particular find the western toilet that was touted on a sign near the entrance to the guest houses. I did not find this mythical creature so I headed back to the campsite. Dinner was served around 6pm and was composed of mixed vegetable and bean soup (mostly beans) followed by dal bhat, mixed vegetables with meat, curried vegetables and we finished up with mixed fruit for desert. I can’t imagine that I was super hungry as all I had done since lunch was slept. And what did I do after dinner? I went directly back to my tent and slept. I knew we were going to have an early morning the next day and apparently I was still pretty tired.

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