Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp had its ups and downs. Besides the undulating trails, we experienced unpredictable post-monsoon weather and hiked amidst mountain peaks either visible in bright sunshine or shrouded in clouds. These contrasting conditions and the village life and natural scenery we observed comprised the essence of our charming trek into the world’s highest mountains.
Claire, Esther and I bounced and jounced on the bone-shaking road, until we finally arrived at our trek trailhead. Tousled as our jeep driver’s long black hair, we stumbled out of the vehicle, disheveled but eager to begin our long hike. Instead of easing-in on a flat stretch of trail, we were unceremoniously greeted by a continuous set of 3,500 rising stone steps.
Skyward we climbed to the villages of Ulleri and Ghorepani, and our first experiences with Nepal’s legendary teahouse accommodations. With spartan but comfortable rooms and monotonous but tasty and nutritious hot meals, these full-service teahouses satisfied all of our sleeping and eating needs during the entire trek.
Early the next morning, with our headlamps illuminating the steep and narrow trail, we completed a pre-breakfast climb of Poon Hill for a stunning sunrise view of the formidable Annapurna massif. Under inflaming clear skies, the emerging sun cast its rays on each peak in descending order, beginning with Annapurna I, the first 8,000-meter (26,250-foot) mountain even summited.
Coming off our mountain high, we entered dark trail sections of vast cloud forest covered in twisted rhododendron trees. During spring, these hillsides are bathed in the soft hues of red and light pink rhododendron blossoms. Although we missed rhododendron season, we were still treated to a profusion of delicate mountain orchids blooming white, blue, and yellow.
At the mouth of the Modi Khola Gorge is the ancient Gurung village of Chomrong. Here, hospitable Buddhists of Tibetan origin occupy the last well-stocked village accessible by motor vehicles. Beyond Chomrong, the only way to travel is up through the gorge, on foot or by pack animal.
Climbing through the Modi Khola Gorge, muddy subtropical jungle gives way to more rocky alpine terrain. To our dismay, where there was mud, there were leeches. Before reaching the high-altitude Annapurna Sanctuary at Machapuchare (Fish Tail) Base Camp, we sustained our share of leech bites and unwanted blood loss.
None the worse for wear, we pushed on to Annapurna Base Camp and the high-point of the trek. Here at 13,550 feet, we were surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Annapurna massif. Unfortunately, due to heavy overnight rains and a low cloud bank, they were mostly shrouded from our view.
Turning around and returning through the gorge, heavy post-monsoon rains continued through the afternoon. Traipsing along in a downpour for four hours, we struggled to appreciate the roar of the raging river below or notice its vertical veil-like tributaries cascading down the chasm walls.
The final day of our trek dawned dry and clear. Heading out, we caught one last glimpse of the sky-high Himalayas, and reflected on the wild nature, pastoral village life, and friendly people that we encountered along the way. Finally, we took our last steps across a long pedestrian suspension bridge to an awaiting jeep and our return to a more predictable way of life.
Feature Photo: Annapurna Base Camp with our guide and porters
Blogger’s Note: After hiking all afternoon in the rain, all three of us came down with various head colds and congestion. Back in our hotel in the city of Pokhara, we have rested and recuperated for the last several days. We are on the mend, feeling better, and looking forward to our next exciting experience in Nepal.