It’s been just over 24 hours since Andrew and I made it back from our trekking adventures. Miles of jungle, suspension bridges, a trio of Brits, sunburn, an amphitheater of Himalayan peaks, and one bum ankle make for eleven stupendous days. Since our return, we have been rehabbing on food, rest, and clean clothes. However, many details occurred before our day-old Pad Thai, Palak Paneer, too much Naan, and five-course breakfast diet (must make up for the calories somehow).
There are a few things about trekking that I was quickly reminded of when we started out a few Fridays ago: there are few greater satisfactions in life than dropping your pack in a lodge at the end of an eight hour sweat-tastic day of hiking up ridges and down to rivers, and a swallowed bug just means that it’s one less hovering at the corner of your eyeball. The first few days were definitely the most challenging when it comes to conditioning, but no matter how much I struggled or stopped during a 3,000 foot ascent, the confidence showed up because it eventually was climbed. We were void of any mountain views for our first few days due to cloudiness or morning rains, but were left with bridges that led you safely over endless waterfalls, shelves of farmland attended to by men and women who still tilled their earth with a water buffalo-driven plow, and wide (at times, ferocious) rivers that were birthed from the very tips of mountains we were journeying to see.
By our third morning, Andrew awoke me at our typical 5:30am starting time, to the first of what would be many clear mornings. We were leaving the hot springs of Jhinudanda for the rainforesty domain of Bamboo when we got our first peek. We had been telling ourselves that the aforementioned waterfalls, farmland, etc would suffice if we never saw a himal, but we were just fooling ourselves. Four days from base camp and these mountains were already surreal. That ended up being our longest day with about 3600 feet of marching up, and Bamboo ended up giving us the greatest gift in return for our exhaustion. We walked into the dining room after a much-needed shower to read and decompress. Well, we decompressed but not by reading. It turns out Amy, Neil, and James were on our exact same schedule and destined friends. From Leeds, England, and quite the frequent travelers, all I remember from that afternoon/evening was chatting and laughing–Andrew and I belly laughed pretty much every two minutes on cue. Therefore, the hypothesis Britta and I created several years ago remains true: all English folk are hilarious.
The next four days were filled with final ascents that got less jungle-y and more glacier-y, card tournaments with our new amigos, tea drinking, and conversations ranging from culture, music, faith, basketball, and Airstreams (turns out Neil knows more about the NBA than most USAers and Amy is already trying to convince him to make an Airstream their home…and anything James said just made us laugh). Though I wrestled to sleep during the night, the inspiration of sunlight slipping into our window just at 5am got out legs moving to the abandoned German meteorologist camp just above Machapuchare Base Camp (but if you ask Andrew, it’s Machu Picchu) for quite the morning view. Just a two hour hike to Annapurna Base Camp, we decided to spend the night at both so that we could get twice the sunrises and sunsets..the Sanctuary was why we came anyway. The two hour stroll was beyond extraordinary as we gradually entered into the glorious amphitheater (phrase stolen from Lonely Planet; there is no better description) of the neighboring giants. We took our time; stopping only to take photos and gawk at the gift we were given on this day. What a glorious blessing to see something seemingly untouched minus the hand of God; how insignificant your body seems when placed in the nest of some of the highest things in the world. After roaming adequately around watching prayer flags dance in the high altitude wind and standing as conquerors of our destination, we took deep rests, recovered to play card tourneys, and were privileged to a sunset over pink-stained peaks.
Andrew and I both had our doubts whether or not the end of May/beginning of June would be a success when it comes to trekking, but we all came to the conclusion that night that we couldn’t have asked for a better time. The moments of heat were balanced with the very bearable cool evenings, except for our first two days we had nothing but crystal clear vistas for most of the morning, and at times we felt like we were the only ones with backpacks, sore legs, and a ferocious appetite. Uncongested trails are definitely underrated.
We awoke Thursday, May 31st, to another sunrise, and I can already argue that it will most likely be the greatest we will ever experience. Looking back on that morning and our short descent to MBC with our Brit friends and colleagues, it makes me utterly thankful for our time in ABC. Just a stone’s throw away from our lodge at MBC was where I simply and carelessly turned my ankle. This was a turn circa late February 2001 when my basketball ‘career’ ended and I was escorted off the court in a grocery cart. Besides the pain and the utter frustration of limping the next five days, it was the most difficult to say goodbye to our friends in such gloomy circumstances (no worries, the moment was redeemed last night when we ate curry and caught up on all the trekking gossip). But in the meantime my ankle was acting like a balloon and we were at over 11,000 feet of elevation. We canceled the idea of a helicopter exit when we heard the $1800 price tag (and the lack of ’emergency’ for any insurance return) so, basically, for the next five days Andrew showed the grandest depth of patience and encouragement and I diligently followed the RICE mnemonic (rest, ice, compress, elevate)…minus that first one. It was no doubt one step at a time for our entire descent, but I do love accumulating personal injury stories.
It was a grand adventure, indeed, and I will try and post some more photos soon. We are now planning to stay in Pokhara for a little longer to try that ‘rest’ factor for my ankle and the rest of our bodies. Now I just need to convince my appetite that we’re not hiking anymore.