Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Annapurna Circuit

Hi again,

Meredith and I are finally back to civilization after 21 days trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal.  We left Kathmandu on Feb 28 and began our trek March 1.  We were on the trail from March 1 through March 21 and in that time we trekked roughly 230 km with 12 kg on our backs and where at altitudes ranging from 1,000 m to 5,416 m, we showered 3 times and where staying in lodges that were hardly more than plywood and it was amazing.  The views were even more stunning than we expected, it was hard for us to fathom how big these mountains are until we are up at nearly 5,000 m sucking all the oxygen we can get while the peaks are still towering another 3,000 m above our heads.  Trying to sum of our 21 day trek in a few paragraphs is pretty difficult but I will try to put down the interesting tidbits and stories that made our trek memorable. As for pictures, we will do the best we can but the internet cafes are pretty strict on putting USB drives in the computer so we will see what we can do. 

Moments ago I leaned over and asked Meredith "how do we sum up our trek in just a few words?", without hesitation she said "Apple crumble, no oxygen, cold air,  hot springs, dal bhat, mule 'patties', and wind" oh yeah, and we can't forget the mountain views.  I suppose all, or at least most, of those need an explanation. 

We started the trek at about 1,000 m and were hiking in quick dry t-shirts and pants and carrying what seemed at the time as an impossibly heavy pack.  We were wondering why in the world we needed an all weather down sleeping bag and down jacket.  Over the next 3 days we climbed from 1,000 m up to 3,000+ m and the weather was quickly getting cold.  While we hiked in no more than a t-shirt, fleece and windbreaker as soon as we stopped we quickly slipped into our down jackets.  As we continued to climb into the mountain we became ever more thankful of our down jackets and sleeping bags.  When Meredith said cold, she meant it.  After about 3,000 m we had to put our water bottles and camera batteries inside our sleeping bags to keep them from freezing at night.  It got down to -8 degrees C in our room one night and was below freezing many other times.  Now, to be fair it wasn't colder than -10 degrees C outside of the lodge but when you are sleeping in a hotel room that costs between $1.10 and $2 a night, I guess you cannot expect much of the insulation. 

Dal Bhat refers to the typical Nepali food of rice, lentil soup, curried pickles and often a second type of curry.  It is all the lodged originally served because they figured out that pizza, enchiladas and chowmein sell better than dal bhat.  Somehow Meredith and I survived the trek never trying dal baht on the trail; we had it in Kathmandu and lentil soup poured on top of steamed rice is not my thing.  Another reason we shied away from it was the price, it was double what we would pay for chowmein and early on the trek we learned it costs virtually nothing to make.  We decided we would try not to participate in the highway (trailway?) robbery and typically stuck to chowmein, fried rice or soup with steamed rice. 

In reference to the prices up in the mountains, think of it as a typical ball park prices.  Things were typically 3 to 10 times more expensive up in the mountains (except the lodged, as discussed earlier).  However, I am happy to pay these exorbitant prices because transportation is limited; after day 3 all supplies had to be brought up by mules or porters.  The mule patties that littered the trail served as a constant reminder of how the Snickers for sale in the lodge store got there.  The mules were everywhere and carry everything from kerosene to 10L bins of fried mustard oil.  Halfway through the first day we gave up on trying to avoid the mule patties and just treated them like any other part of the trail. 

After we passed the 3,500 m mark the breathing became noticeably more labored.  I had a bit more difficulty than my sister but after a rest day in Manang and an acclimatization hike I was fine again.  I felt awful the day before and was sure I wasn't going to make it through the pass another 2,000 vertical meters above.  The day we went through the pass I felt just as well as I did at 3,500 m below (surprise) however Meredith was a different story.  She had been a champ, feeling great the entire way until the night before the pass. We slept at high camp (4,900 m) before waking at 4:30 to cross the Thorung-La pass.  I say slept but what I meant is that I slept peacefully while Meredith lay awake in down bag unable to breathe comfortably enough the sleep.  We got up in the morning only to find that snow had covered the pass in the night and the guides didn't feel comfortable going across until another path was cut.  3 hours later the guides decided they would cut the trail and we followed quickly behind them. Meredith and I were so exhausted by the little oxygen our lungs got with each breath that our steps were more like shuffling.  It took us 4 hours to cover the last 500 vertical m but we finally made it! now a 1600 vertical m descent was waiting for us before we could call it a day.  That took another 5 hours before we stumbled into Muktinath after a long day.  We feasted on yak steak to celebrate our success. 

Trekking on the other side of the pass was a bit more relaxing and slow.  It was (mostly) down hill and with the pass behind us we didn't have a huge challenge hanging over our heads.  We also had a natural hot springs and apple crumble to look forward to.  On the other side of the pass the climate is perfect for growing apples and thus the apple crumbles are delightful.  We had heard of a little lodge in the town of Marpha that supposedly had the best in Nepal, needless to say we knew where we were staying: Paradise Bakery.  The crumble was as good as we had heard and we ended up eating 4 slices each the first 24 hours in apple country.  I say first 24 hours because after leaving the towns of Marpha and Tukuche (the apple hotbeds) we liked them so much we walked 3 hours back up the trail to stay another night and eat more apple crumble.  Yes they were that good! we actually walked 6 hours out of our way to eat just a few slices of apple crumble!

  I must also mention that the 6 hours were in a hot, dry riverbed with constant 25 mph winds.  We had every inch of us covered trying to escape the sand but it was impossible.  I was actually almost blown over several times during the walk which is quite a feeling.  I would be walking into the wind when the direction would change and I would find myself struggling to stay upright.  The wind was ridiculous but the apple crumble worth it.

The hot springs where the last thing to look forward to on the trek; we had heard so much about them and after many days in the snow were excitedly expecting the soothing waters.  We were grossly disappointed.  The 'springs' consisted of 2 pools, one luke warm and dirty, the other scalding hot and both only about ankle deep.  We were thankful for the hot shower that one must take before getting in because it was the best we had had up to that point.  I suppose it was well worth the entrace fee of Rs 50, or roughly 65 cents.

The views were second to none over the course of the trek and we were blessed with spectacular weather.  We had only a few foggy days and they were at the end of our trek when the best mountain views were already gone.  Meredith is working on making her photos available as I speak.  I cannot describe how beautiful the mountain landscape was so I will leave it to the pictures.  Keep in mind that the range we were hiking in/around has 2 of the worlds top 10 tallest mountains and countless other monstrously tall peaks.

It was an amazing trek and between the people and the views, truly unforgettable.    

1 comment:

  1. aw!!! I love you guys....6 hours what?? I want some too :)