Day 6: Chame to Upper Pisang (10,859 feet) 9 miles
We woke up early on March 11th and the day was stunning. Snow covered the ground, the trees were dusted with snow, and the mountains were just unbelievable. The sky was crystal clear, but it was freezing. Our room was about 35 degrees, INSIDE. (The pictures below should be the right way around, but my IPAD is showing them sideways. If you click on the picture, a larger view comes up the correct way.)
The trail was very nice through a forest and then onto some very narrow ledges. We stopped in Dhukur Pokhari for lunch beneath the shadow of Annapurna II and then continued onto Upper Pisang. The final assault up to this village is very steep. You climb about 300 feet in the last ¼ mile, and then we climbed to the top of our village to find a room at the Annapurna Hotel. Upper Pisang sits very high on a hill in a valley directly across from Annapurna II. It was in this village where I felt, probably for the first time in my life, absolute peace. I cannot even describe the beauty and the raw harshness of this landscape, but here I was at 10,600 feet looking at a mountain another 12,000 feet higher than me. You just realize how small you really are in this world and yet how lucky you are to be alive. All around me the Nepali smiled and were so gracious, and they don’t have material goods. Their life is hard and tough, but you don’t see that. Here I am living in a nice air conditioned home in Southern California, and I complain all the time. Sitting on this ledge looking at the world just takes your breath away. Of course, I write this 3 years later, and as I do, I feel like a jerk because I really cannot say that I have changed and that is depressing. I cannot say the same about my husband because he sees what we have and is thankful for every day. He is correct when he looks at me and says, “Nik, you have been to Nepal and see how people live and survive, and you are still complaining.” Maybe every day, we should be thankful for what we have. Or even try to live a simpler life.
The above picture was our view from our hotel room. Okay, no more philosophizing. Back to freezing Upper Pisang on the Annapurna Circuit. At this point, we were sleeping in everything we owned and heating water in our bottles to put on our feet for the night. The next day was going to be a tough one. Little did I know that each day would get harder and harder.
Day 7: Upper Pisang to Bhraga (11,318 feet) 11 miles
We started hiking at 6:30am and finished at 3pm, and this time we were both exhausted so I know it wasn’t just me. We reached a sign for the village of Ghyaru at 7:55am, but the actual village is at the top of some NEVER ENDING SWITCHBACKS that took over an hour to climb. So we actually didn’t reach the village until 9am. Hearing about this section of the hike and seeing it on a map still don’t prepare you for the hike. We reached the village and came across a small restaurant with a lot of hikers so we decided to keep walking to see if there was somewhere a little less busy to eat. We didn’t find another restaurant, but out of the blue a young boy yelled at us from one of the rooftops in the distance. He wanted to know if we wanted to have some tea. We both nodded, and he then proceeded to jump from roof to roof, run across boards that stretched between the houses, disappeared, and then somehow opened the door of a home on the street in front of us. He beckoned us to follow him to his house. So we did. On the way, he grabbed two burlap sacks, led us through a barn and up a ladder carved out of a log to the top of a roof where we were told to sit.
The above picture is view from his rooftop. He then asked us how we would like our tea prepared and if we were hungry. Oh boy. The tea was good, but the buckwheat pancake could have broken your teeth. We, then, had one of the most memorable conversations in our lives. In broken English, he asked where we were from. My husband replied, “America”. He smiled and said, “Ah, America, good village. How many people?” Simply said and heart felt. My husband had to bite his lip to stop from laughing, but there we were in the middle of the mountains and this young boy named Sandorjay had opened up his home and life to us. He had to walk two hours to school in the morning and was just so happy. After about 45 minutes, we grudgingly put our packs on and headed off. The rest of the day was walking, uphill, and downhill, and uphill again. We spend the night in Bragha, at hotel Buddha, where we were the only guests. We spent the night talking to the owner, Karma
Day 8: Bhraga to Manang (11,600 feet) 1.2 miles (ACCLIMATIZATION DAY)
It is so funny because I used to be a stuntwoman and am currently a personal trainer, so I was in good shape for this trip, but when you get sick, it absolutely sucks everything out of you. Also we are now at 11,600ft, and altitude is the funniest thing. You could be in the best shape in the world and have no idea how your body is going to adjust to lack of oxygen. I didn’t fare too well on Kilimanjaro, but there the guides had oxygen. This time it is just me and my husband. I hoped the acclimatization day would have helped. Manang is just a half hour walk from Bhraga. Manang is one very long and wide street. We stayed at Mavi’s Kitchen and had our own little cottage minus bathroom. Of course those were outside. Overall an okay stay, as usual everyone huddled by the fire at night. Beer for my husband, tea for me.
Day 9: Manang to Yak Kharka (13,287 feet) 5.6 miles
The next morning we headed up to Yak Kharka which was only supposed to take about 4 hours. At about three hours in, I started to feel nauseous and started to get a headache. That is another thing about altitude sickness. All the experts tell you to be very aware when you start to get a headache. Problem is I suffer from horrible migraine headaches anyway. So who’s to say whether it was altitude or just my head? I even went as far as telling my husband to continue ahead and get me a mule.
Obviously he wouldn’t leave me, so step by step we kept moving. Finally we reached Yak Kharka and he was able to get us a room with a toilet inside. First time we had a toilet inside on the whole trek which is good because I was promptly sick. After a nap, I met my husband down in the communal area cozying up to a “yak dung” fire. Oddly enough it didn’t smell at all, and to be quite honest, I wouldn’t have cared if it stunk as long as it keeps you warm. We were now presented with some options. Do we try and make it to Thorong Pedi which is 13,500 feet, or do we stay here for another day at 12,400 feet and see if I feel better?
Day 10: Yak Kharka to Thorong Ped (13,500 feet) 3.9 miles
The next morning, I felt great so we decided to try and make it to Thorong Pedi. The start of the day was spectacular with views that left you in awe only to walk around the next corner to be floored again. However, the trail to Thorong Pedi is also very exciting and not necessarily in a good way. A lot of up and down on very narrow, icy edges with sheer drop offs. The drop offs where snow covered and so steep that I am not sure how well a “self arrest” would have worked. After we crossed the river, there was a brutally steep and long uphill that left me exhausted and nauseous again. What to do? I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Again upon arrival to Thorong Pedi, I vomited, but this time no headache and immediately ate. It was freezing. Even the squat pots were frozen. The inn owners have great yak wool blankets that you can ask for to keep you a bit warmer.
At Thorong Pedi, we ran into the Gurkha, Mark, and his family. Kudos to his mother for doing this trek, but she was past her breaking point and they had actually hired a yak to take her up past high camp and over the pass. I was definitely contemplating this option. A lot of hikers get up at 3am from Thorong Pedi and head up past high camp and over the pass in one day. There was not a chance I was going to be able to do this which was disappointing because over the past 10 days, we kept running into the same groups of people and had built up a sense of camaraderie. I wasn’t going to be able to get over the hump with them. But I guess, safety first! It was bloody freezing at Thorong Pedi and everyone was huddling next to the small fires sipping hot tea.
Coming soon… High camp, over the pass and the way down!