Trekking the Annapurna Circuit: Week 2

After our nice rest day in Manang, we were back at it to slowly make our way to Thorung La Pass. We were happy to get out of Manang without have contracting any stomach bugs, and we were now getting a bit nervous to make it over the pass. If you don’t make it over, the only way out is to back track all the way down the valley, and nobody wishes to do that. We decided to split the next two days evenly by elevation gain–500 m per day–and then the third day make our attempt over the pass. We were on the same schedule as our friends–the Swedes and Canadians–so it was fun to share the journey with them.

On Wednesday, November 16, we trekked to the tiny village of Yak Kharka. The terrain changed from farm fields to high alpine, and now we saw many yaks grazing along the trails. We were treated with amazing views of Gangapurna looming behind us and Chulu to our right. It is such an incredible feeling to be trekking with giant Himalayan mountains surrounding you! We passed the last village, Tengi, that is inhabited year around and continued up the trail that was steadily up but not too steep. Along the trail, we saw our first blue sheep, which actually aren’t blue, and look a lot like goats. They blended in to the terrain and were grazing in the distance.

It was a short day, so we spent the remainder of the day in the dining room that was headed by a wood burning stove. The days and nights were getting cold, and we used an extra blanket in addition to our sleeping bags to stay warm. We ate the best chocolate cake and played cards with our friends and chatted with other trekkers. Tea house trekking sure is a social event, and it is fun to hear people’s stories.

We splurged a little and had our own attached bathroom with a squat toilet. I would normally say it was our private bathroom, but it had a big window and minimal curtains. So when Mike was doing his business, the frost covered yaks had a nice view!

On Thursday, we continued our upward progression to Thorung Phedi at an elevation of 4540m, or as Mike and I think of it, the top of Mt. Rainer! The ground was frozen and a bit slippery first thing in the morning making it a bit tricky. It was a gentle 3 hour climb to Phedi. We saw some more blue sheep and lots of yaks grazing with a few babies too. The last section was tough because I was out of breath, and the path was narrow crossing a landslide area. Plus the wind picked up, so we were fighting that too! I was happy when we arrived to Phedi, which means “foot of the hill” in Nepali, and we were in a basin of mountains!

I wasn’t feeling too good when we got there, so Mike nicely got some extra blankets, and I laid down for a nice nap. I felt a lot better when I woke up. The rest of our time was spent in the dinning hall eating pastries and playing cards with the Swedes and Canadians. It was a fun evening spent, and we even got treated to Max jamming with one of the owners on guitar. We were all feeling a little anxious for the next day as no one wants to have to turn around.

Friday, Thorung La Pass day, arrived and we were up early to hopefully avoid the afternoon winds. We started out just after 6:30, so the sun was up. The first 15 minutes almost killed me as it was very steep, and I wasn’t warmed up at all, so I was immediately out of breath. I slowed down to a slow rest step – step up, breath, then take another step. I would be like a slow, persistent turtle. After one hour of steep, steady climbing, we got to high base camp lodge (4850 m). I was still not feeling great, so Mike took a book and one of my full water bottles to reduce my load. I could really feel the difference and was grateful for such a great partnerJ

After leaving high camp, we continued to climb steadily but more gently. I felt better, and we shared three Snickers bars along the way, which are the perfect energy food. The skies were perfectly clear, and we could see for a long ways. The ground had no vegetation and was covered in grey gravel. The Swedes were ahead of us, and we kept in visual contact with them for most of the climb. We lost sight of the Canadians after halfway up the climb.

After 4 hours of steady climbing, we arrived at the pass at 5416 m (17,873’)! On our left was Thorung Peak (6,144m), which looked very climbable, and we could see footprints on the snowfields. On our right was Yakwakang (6482m), which was steep ice and rocky buttresses. We did see an avalanche come off it before we got to the pass. We didn’t hear it but saw the debris and snow clouds! The pass was marked with a teashop and a web of prayer flags. What a great feeling! The Swedes waited for us, and we took lots of photos and celebrated. We waited for an hour for the Canadians, but they didn’t arrive. We asked a few of the folks arriving, but no one had seen them in awhile.

 

 

Time to go down, and steeply down we went, towards the brown valley below, which is in the rain shadow. We were rewarded with our first views of Dhaulagiri, another 8000 m peak! After a few hours of descending, we rewarded ourselves with a Coke and spring rolls! Oh, a Coke has never tasted better! Mike and I were both relieved to be over the pass and felt like we were very lucky. It almost felt that we had beaten the odds because we had heavy backpacks, we didn’t train, and we didn’t catch any stomach bugs! Finally, we arrived in Muktinah, a very holy city, and the cliffs were a spider web of prayer flags. We checked into the Bob Marley Guesthouse, enjoyed our first shower in a long time (It was semi-warm) and caught up with the Swedes. We found out late that evening by the last group arriving that the Canadians turned around and didn’t make it over the pass. We don’t really know what happened, and we felt bad we missed them!!

The next day, we continued our trek to Jomsom. The road has reached Muktinah, so we had the option of taking a jeep to Jomsom, but we decided to continue the trek and catch a bus from Jomsom to Tatopani. The road has replaced the trail on this side of the circuit, so most people now end their trek here. We were both tired from the previous day, and we started the day descending steeply again. Our knees were sore and while we had great views of Dhaulagiri, the overall landscape was brown and not super breathtaking. I was having a down day and wanted to be done trekking. Mike was also feeling down with a bad cough aggravated by the dust. If we would have admitted this to each other we might have been done, but luckily we are both stubbornJ

The last hour of our trek was misery as the wind picked up, and we were hiking in a glacier river bed. The wind picked up the fine sand and into our face. It reminded us of the ash storm in Iceland! Finally, we arrived to town and got our first super hot shower and a good piece of chocolate apple pie. We felt a lot better after that!

On November 20, we caught the 7 AM bus to Tatopani and arrived around 1PM. We were a little late getting on the bus, so we got stuck sitting in the last row of the bus for a very curvy, scary ride. I did not get sick, but two people near us did! We arrived in Tatopani and had originally planned to spend the night, but since it was so early, we decided to push on to Shikha to reduce the next day’s climb in half (It would have been 5500’ in 1 day). The Swedes were also traveling with us, so we set off up to Shikha. Up and up we went, and we were introduced to stone staircases that went on forever! We would encounter many of these in the days to come! Finally arrived in Shikha for the evening where we found our first full teahouse. Luckily, the next one had room!

The next day we continued our trek uphill to Ghorepani. Mike woke up feeling horrible with sinus congestion and coughing like crazy. He toughed it out for our 3000’ climb on steep stone steps. It was hard, and it would have been really tough to do the whole thing in one day! We were now back in terraced fields and towards the end of the day hiking through giant rhododendrons. Nice to be so green again plus through tiny little villages. The highlight of the evening was sampling a Mars, Snickers, and Twix fried roll. We cut them into 4 pieces and shared with the Swedes. I never thought I would eat a fried candy bar, but I have to say they tasted good! At this point, we could both tell we were losing weight, so I don’t think it did us any harmJ

Ghorepani is the place were two major trails merge – Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp. It was now time to leave the circuit and make our way to ABC…

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