During the first days, Nepal does not look like what you would expect. The starting point in Besi Sahar is at 800m altitude and there wasn't any white caped mountains to see from here. Anyway, we started our journey happily walking through green valleys covered with rice cultures under a burning sun. My ankle was complaining a bit and I was still recovering from my fever, but it didn't matter as I was really excited in starting this long awaited trek.
It was also in these first days that three lonely travelers joined us to form a colored team of happy walkers. Our group was formed of:
- Adrien, my former Cinesite colleague, french living between France and New Zealand. Our guide and sherpa with his 25kg backpack fitted with a tent and food to survive two months in a snowstorm.
- Ethan, Australian living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Our doctor who explained us why we pee a lot more in high altitude. He was always the last in the morning, but catch up very quickly and never wanted to stop.
- Violaine, engineer living in Lyon, France. Our experienced mountaineer. She was always the first ready in the morning and literally pulled us to the top of the mountains.
- Patrick, pilot for humanitarian flight in Africa, from Colorado, USA. He was the guy in the shorts, whatever the altitude and cold. Starting slowly behind the team in the morning, he always finished first at the end of day.
- Claude, you know him already. Trying to follow how he could these strong trekkers, his name suited him never as well: Claudius means "gimpy" ("boiteux") in latin...
The big mountains quickly showed up, here in Upper Pissang.
After several days trekking though rice cultures, valleys, canyons, arid mountains, and other amazing scenery, we finally arrived at Manang, alt. 3500m.
The temperature during our walks became a bit cooler, but we still wore t-shirts, even during a side trek ending up at 4000m. Night time was a different story as temperatures dropped as soon as the sun disappeared.
Manang was our base camp for two days of rest - two for me and only one for the others as they went 1000m up and down on the Ice Lake one day side trek.
My official reason for my extended rest was to give a my ankle a rest, the true reason was the typical Tibetan local food served there: enchiladas and black forest cake!
Manang was also the starting point for our three days side trek to the Tilicho Lake (4950m), highest lake in the world according to the Tibetans (in reality, it's ranked number 20)
We left Adrian the second day of this side trek, at the lake as he preferred camping at 5.000m in the upcoming snowstorm and continue his way toward a different pass.
The descent from the Tilicho Basecamp was long and painful. We were more trained to go up mountain.
Back to Manang, we started our ascension to the Thorung La Pass (5400m.), fully charged in oxygen from our three days spent in high altitude. My ankle was getting much better and we rushed to the pass in two days instead of the usual three - we lost Patrick at the same as he preferred to go on a slower pace, but had head to cross the pass in the snow and clouds the next day - must have been beautiful too.
The reduced team was now composed of Violaine, Ethan and myself.
Just after the path lies Muktinath, a Hindi and Buddhist pilgrimage place.
Instead of finishing the circuit, many people take a jeep from Jomson and end the trek just after the pass - you guessed that we are not that kind of people. And we did well because the scenery and villages were definitively worth the effort. The best example is small village of Kagbeni, door to the forbidden Mustang valley (an expensive permit is required to go there) and home of an old monastery.
The views of the Nilgiri chain and the Dhaulagiri were fantastic from this side too.
During my trek, I was reading Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna", his story about the tragic and successful expedition to climb the Annapurna in 1950. He and his team initially planned to climb the Dhaulagiri as the Annapurna I wasn't visible from their based camp village, Tukuche. After many scouting expedition around the Dhaulagiri to find a way to the summit, they could not trace any safe route and eventually turned their hopes to the Annapurna (8.091m).
Standing in front of the Dhaulagiri was moving because of this story, and also because I think it was the first time as I realised how high these mountain are: we were only at around 2.600m, and we could see the Dhaulagiri from the base to the top at 8.167m.
It is simultaneously a beautiful, fascinating and scary panorama. It reminds also that these mountains kill. according to wikipedia:
As of 2007, there had been 153 summit ascents of Annapurna I, and 58 climbing fatalities on the mountain. This fatality to summit ratio (38 %) is the highest of any of the eight- thousanders.
We continued our descent, catching a bus for a couple of hours to win a day on our schedule and so being able to climb Poon Hill in time.
Poon Hill was a one day up with 1700m ascent. But at this time we feared nothing and I felt better than ever.
After an early start, we joined the slow procession of tourists climbing the hill to see the sunrise, which was unfortunately happening behind the clouds. Luckily the Annapurna I showed up eventually.
That is the moment when the team was splitting up again. Violaine and Ethan were heading to the Annapurna Santuary trek ending at the south base camp, and I was taking the direction of the bus stop to Pokhara down in the Valley.
I finished my trek with a 8 hours walk, 24km, 2.600m of accumulated descent and 1:30 of local bus just to be sure to sleep well that night.
...and a special thank you to you two guys, you were amazing - specially the right one although you were a bit grumpy during a big part of the trek...
note: there are also Violaine's blog and Adrien's one.