Part one of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp left us shivering in Bamboo, so if you haven’t read up until there then go back and do so.
From Bamboo to Macchapucchre base camp (M.B.C)
By this stage of the trek we had put a strict moratorium on asking our ever-patient guide, Simon, if the trek that day would be up, down, or flat.
Granted you would be a bit of a fool to think that trekking to the base camp of the tenth highest mountain in the world was going to be an easy, flat stroll but this still didn’t stop me from asking hopefully everyday how the terrain would be.
The morning of walking out from Bamboo, our normally quiet guide announced that we would be walking up. No more down. No more flat. No more gradual. Up. And so up we went.
From Bamboo we climbed makeshift stoney steps up to the town of Deurali. This took a good five or six hours and it is where most normal people stopped for the night before attempting to get to M.B.C. Just before reaching Deurali we crossed a recent avalanche in an avalanche chute. The dirty snow had formed huge snowballs big enough to run a man down and a small snaking path had been made across the fallen snow. We were instructed to hotfoot it across in case another wave of snow decided to make its way down.
After a quick lunch in Deurali we made our way down to the rocky banks of a glacier river to make the final two hour slog up the base camp. An avalanche had taken out the usual path and the new path was a little goat trail through a bamboo forest. At this point snow had begun to fall from the sky, gradually getting thicker until it filled my jacket pockets and stuck to my frozen face. The threat of an avalanche loomed in the air and made our little group speed up with nervous energy. This landscape was so far from anything I had ever known, with great peaks looming over our head and deep, crunchy snow at our feet. Frozen bamboo lined the path, brown and brittle giving the whole area a surreal feeling.
Two hours came and went and we were still battling against the flurry of snow and an increasingly steep and slippery path. The sun had long since gone behind the mountain so the temperature had dropped considerably. My 400 rupee ($4) children’s gloves weren’t quite cutting it at keeping my fingers warm and I was just thoroughly exhausted. I pictured myself dramatically dropping into the snow, crying out for the group to leave me.
Turns out we were about fifteen minutes away.
The final battle up a set of steep stairs to our lodge at M.B.C took everything out of me so that when we arrived I could only just sit. I glanced over to my sister Kim whose eye’s had glazed over and was sitting in a similarly despondent position. The snow continued to swirl around the lodge and there was mountain crags covered in the stuff for as far as the eye could see.
After the heater was turned on and a fried snickers bar consumed, our bodies thawed, and we managed to get a good night sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s push to Annapurna Base Camp.
From Macchapucchre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp and back to Bamboo
Another early morning had us walking towards Annapurna Base Camp on a tiny trail over snowy hills. I beat at my legs with my fists to keep them from growing numb in the intense cold of the dawn. Chris behind me mumbled something about not feeling his toes and Kim in survival mode steamed ahead. The trail kept going up and up and I debated internally whether I could actually make it to our final destination. With tears in my eyes, my body aching and my lungs burning from a hacking cough I had developed, I made the decision to keep going. We were just so close.
With the sun finally peeking over the mountains, it began to heat up quickly with the snow bouncing UV rays around the valley we were walking through. Moments ago I had been shivering in the cold and within ten steps I was pleasantly warm.
The slog towards base camp continued and soon we were face to face with The Koreans who were coming towards us with the speed and movement resembling a marching band at full pelt. We eyed them down as they clicked their walking sticks in unison. The path was only wide enough for one person with deep snow on either side. Would they finally stop, stand aside and let the ramshackle group that had been tailing them the whole way pass by? Needless to say I was scooping snow out of my boots for the next ten minutes as they wizzed on, an impenetrable and unstoppable force.
We continue to slush towards the base camp we could now see in the distance. Moments later a frenzy of snow is whipped up around us and we see a helicopter trying to land only a few metres away. We run away from the head-chopping blades and move on.
After another hour we reach Annapurna Base Camp. The feeling is triumphant but all we can do is sip a cup of hot tea and marvel at the mountains that surround us. The view doesn’t feel real. It looks perfect like a photoshopped, glossy photo hung on someone’s wall. My mind seem’s to not even process where we are and what we are seeing.
We frolic in the snow at base camp, take the obligatory photo and start to head back. We are heading down and boy does it feel good. No more huffing and puffing as the air grows thicker and gravity pulls us gently down each gradual decline.
We are running a little late and our guide makes the decision to cross a section prone to avalanches after the advised time. The sun has become searingly hot and I have to strip off my many layers. The ice is melting and we can see the snow glistening in the heat. We set off down the same path. The feeling is jubilant with a big dose of uneasiness. We can hear, see, smell and feel the ice and snow melting around us. We approach the first avalanche chute and nervously start to cross. At that moment a thundering sound hit our ears and we looked around ready to run. A small but steady avalanche blasted down the main part of the chute which we had crossed only 30 seconds ago. Kim and I broke into a run not knowing if the avalanche would grow, Chris stayed and took pictures. For the first time in the whole trek my laces came undone and so my dramatic getaway turned into a bumbling hobble to safety.
Our groups mood turned sombre as we became hyper-vigilant for any signs of another avalanche. We had one avalanche chute left to cross. We reached it and made our way tenderly across to the other side on the same dirty path we navigated yesterday. Just when we had made it three quarters across we heard an almighty crack in the snow above us. Adrenaline set in and we scrambled out of the chute and up a small hill.
We reached bamboo extremely dirty, nerves wrecked, and with legs so sore we had trouble navigating the Nepali squat toilets (awkward).
From Bamboo to Jhinu
With the pressure to reach base camp lifted, we had time to smell the roses, tickle some baby goats and drink endless cups of tea on our descent to Jhinu. We walked at an almost leisurely pace to Chomrong where we had to climb a bazillion stairs up and then down to Jhinu.
Jhinu is home to a rather uninspiring set of hot springs. Set by the river you could sit in a warm man-made pool for the price of 50 rupees (50 cents) with a bunch of strangers. A similar experience could be had by inviting some people off the street to have a warmish bath with you.
From Jhinu to Nayapul and home
The next day we made our way down to a small village which was where we would catch a jeep back to Pokhara which marked the end of our journey. The walk was mercifully flat and many a baby farm animal was spotted. The flat walk inspired thoughts other than “I hate stairs” or “I feel like a ninety year old woman” and I was able to reflect back on the trip.
I had tested my physical abilities, pushed passed deep rooted anxieties and had confronted real-life danger. I had seen the most incredible scenery, stood amongst the world’s tallest mountains and had invaluable glimpses into life for Nepalis.
On that last day, walking towards the jeep that would sweep us away from the mountains I turned to Chris and said “ This is doing life right, isn’t it?” and I think that perfectly sums it up.
*A more practical article with information on how you can have your own adventure like this will be posted shortly. It will cover essential information such as costs, logistics, transport and all that fun stuff*
Have you ever had a similar experience? Have you done any trekking or spent some time running away from avalanches? I would love to know, please comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.