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.
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.
The proof I was at that altitude.
On the far side of the sanctuary was a steep drop-off into this barren land.
Here are the members of our group that made it to the top.
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.
I was especially amazed at the woman wearing a pink skirt in this chilly weather.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.