(authored by Andrew)
After much persistence, I finally talked Rebecca into letting me have my say on this blog! She actually threatened to take my name off if I didn’t write soon so here I am, writing on a keyboard that only picks up half of my key strokes. I figure our readers need to know what really happened on the trek, at least from my perspective. A few things before I begin, one is that I tend to be a worst-case-possible scenario thinker. Its my “planning ahead nature,” but in foreign and unusual settings it turns towards slight anxiety. Nothing a few days of acclimation can’t cure, but for the first time in my life I am traveling with a wife. Now I have another person to plan ahead for, which is usually quite fun unless we are 5 days away from civilization in a “less-developed” country. Before this, for example, if Brian Wong (my usual adventure pal) slid down an ice avalanche to his death, sure I would be utterly sad, scarred, and depressed, but on the other hand I never made vows to the poor kid! All this to say read the following account with a dash of anxious-humor on my account. Was it really this harrowing? Maybe!?
The trek itself was incredible. I can’t fathom a better trek due to the relative short nature and vastly differing landscapes you saw almost daily. The first few days you are walking through more or less jungle-woods, but that is probably the worst description possible because you see many varieties of this. Wet jungle, dry jungle, straight up woods, etc. Yes there were thousands (literally thousands) of stairs up and down all the time but when you turned around and saw your progress through the mountain/valleys you felt like Marco Polo and Jon Krakauer at the same time. Past waterfalls, rivers, swinging bridges, and piles of donkey poop we went. On day three (I think) we discovered a hidden jewel on the trek: hot springs. Now I have never been to hot springs before, but it’s hard to picture any better than these. There were two awesome stone pools nestled almost in the raging river right next to us–and that raging river was nestled in the valley of two steep jungle hills (mountains in the States). However, this still didn’t compare to staying at the base-camps. Being at the foot of massive mountains is uncanny. Below I have attached a few pictures our great friends took at Annapurna base camp. Pictures can’t contain the sheer majesty of it all. But enough of all the pretty stuff, you are reading for the adventure!
I mentioned the change of scenery, well day five is when it really changed. We had left the wet jungle earlier that day and things started getting sparse, yet not any less beautiful. What we traded in trees we received in numerous more waterfalls and mountain views. At one point I noticed what looked to be an avalanche of gravel of dirt up ahead with no way around it. As we approached I noticed it wasn’t that at all, it was snow. I still don’t quite understand how these are formed but towards the top I believe what happens is that snow avalanches down waterfall shoots during springtime. At the point we were there these had turned to a snow/ice mixture and actually covered the water like a bridge. This is fine except when we first approached it we notice two things. First, water was running very powerfully under the snow and secondly we saw this through large holes in the snow. It looked to be actively melting in the sun so with the large holes we decided to stop and wait. Come to find out it was safe still and we crossed. This bridge made me nervous for the way back, because I thought it would be more melted, but it was soon replaced in magnitude by what we came across the following day.
We started out the next day for Machapuchare Base Camp. Almost immediately we came across another ice bridge. This one too had water rushing under it, but it was much larger in size and much, much, steeper. I am bad at angles but it was akin to a very steep roof. There was a single, barely noticeable trail notched into it where everyone crossed. Along this trail there were some decent foot placements and some not so decent ones. It is down right scary because when you looked to your right you realized if you slipped your steep decent was the raging river. I would probably say you had a 50/50 chance of catching yourself with your poles on the ice before you hit the water, and that was your only comfort. Long scary suspension bridges don’t worry me, cliff jumping doesn’t phase me, even makeshift log bridges over rivers don’t scare me; heck, I have jumped off of 70 ft. bridges, but this spooked me. Mainly because no person made this, no one deemed it safe. There were no signs saying to cross it or not cross it. All you had were the people in front of you doing it. Depending on the time of the day the bridge could be hard and more ice-like, or in the sun more slushy like. In all reality if you took your time, used your trekking poles as support, and were relatively healthy it probably wasn’t too dangerous. At least I had to swallow such a realization once a, what-had-to-be, 75 year-old man slowing crept his way up to our lodge at Annapurna Base Camp. The knowledge that he crossed that almost spooked us more. Later we found out he was Russian so it sort of made sense.
Most of this was put out of mind by the enormous beauty we were taking in and the wonderful companionship we had in three wonderful Brits (Did I mention them?? Also one of the best parts of the trek. Here is to you Amy, Neil, and James. We termed ourselves “Team Tennessee Airstream.” I think they chose that title). After two great days up there it was time to make our way back down. We made it to MBC and had started our decent with our chaps down the thousands of stony steps. We were talking furiously when the unthinkable happened. Rebecca fell in agony out of no where. It was clear instantly that she had turned her ankle. Honestly though it wasn’t unthinkable. I can’t tell you how many times I slightly turned my ankle on the trek. It was very very easy to do on these rocky, dusty trails. Our companions mentioned they too had almost wrecked there ankles many of times. Rebecca was stepping down on the next step and this time she unfortunately was getting ready to plant all her weight when the ankle turned. It was bad from the beginning because it instantly swelled to a large size and got really warm. All of those worst-case-scenarios came into my head and I started planning. I talked it over with the Brits and they agreed with me that it would be best to go back the ten minutes to MBC and rest it and have a base to work from. They gave medicine and support but had to keep going due to their strict timeline. I have a few strong but random memories from our wedding. One is Jocelyn’s, the maid of honor, toast. I really don’t remember most of the speech or what story she was telling, but I remember the end. She said something like “So when your wife is green in the face, can barely stand up, and tells you she is fine…don’t believe her because she isn’t.” We all laughed at that, but she really wasn’t kidding. Rebecca is one tough cookie. Right when the Brits left she informed me through some tears she couldn’t go back she could only go forward. The main reason I wanted to go back to MBC was there was a helipad there and I knew we could get a helicopter. I sprinted back to MBC and found the lodge owner only to realize that a helicopter was $1800. That fell from our first option to our last. I went back to Rebecca and I tried my best to persuade her back to MBC. Think of it, you don’t know if your wife can walk. You are 10,000 feet high in the Himalayas which means 4 days of about 40 km, and thousands of steps away from civilization and help. And all I could think about was that ice bridge; I was scared doing it myself but now with her ankle the size of a melon? So we had a few strong words with one another but somehow she won me over. She can really play the pity card well along with the oh I am fine and can walk…
So we started the decent again. This time I was carrying both packs (did I mention my pack was already heavy as sin?) and helping her on almost every step down. Looking back this wasn’t the right decision, how could it be? But I said a prayer and kept going forward. There is something helpful about going forward, even though I did feel like I was walking towards the Red Sea. I honestly did not know how we would get across the ice bridge. I could barely get myself over, let alone help my wife who could barely walk. There was no way that you could walk side by side on that slope. Then I really think God provided a way. After about 15 minutes of walking down we heard running behind us. It was the lodge owner from MBC with the cook. They both looked very concerned and probably came down when I didn’t bring Rebecca back up with me again. When they saw the ankle they cringed. I immediately asked how in the world we could cross the ice bridge and he said we could take the cook, who also, like every man living this high up, was an excellent mountain porter. After arranging a fare wage for his trouble we set off with our Moses. He carried both packs and helped me get Rebecca down the stairs. After a few hours we got to the ice bridge. My fears were validated when he seemed a little nervous too. He first went and scouted out the way. On the way back he was cutting better footholds in the ice for Rebecca to use. When he came back he grabbed our bags and took those across. During this time Rebecca and I said a little prayer and waited. On the second time back he again was cutting better foot holds and making a way. At this point I knew not only was he worth his weight in gold, but that God had provided Moses for us to cross the sea.
We set out over the ice with a confidence inspired by our porter. I took the lead cutting out the bad foot-holds for Rebecca while the porter stood off the trail (I have no idea how) and supported Rebecca the entire way. This isn’t to say it wasn’t nerve-wracking, but the porter was putting himself in such danger to get her across safely, I knew we were in good hands. When we made it to the other side I felt like Miriam must have and almost broke out into her song. God had provided a way….I shudder to think of us trying that by ourselves. It wouldn’t have been possible. Towards the end I did actually slip on a less steep part while I was cutting foot-holds, but only got really dirty from it. The porter felt so responsible for us that he took me over to a creek and tried to get all the mud of my butt while I bent over; it was a quite a sight.
Once we got to the next lodge we were blessed again by a group of Indian men who gave us a sports wrap and pain creme for her ankle. That wrap also probably equally saved Rebecca on the decent; it would have been nearly impossible without it. The Indians were so concerned and kind it was humbling. At this point and for the rest of the decent down I can only speak to how tough my wife is. We ascended and descended all of those many steps and she did it without complaining. I really don’t know how she did it. On our last day we were surprised with 4 hours walking left to find a random taxi stand where we charted a jeep to take us all the way to Pokhara and to our hotel! Passing trekkers in the Jeep was actually weirdly satisfying.
The extent of Rebecca’s injury is now clear after about 8 days of pure rest in Pokhara she still walks with a prominent limp. I can’t say enough about how right Jocelyn was on our wedding day: she is not ok, but that won’t stop her. Below are a few picture from our friends, the Brits, from ABC. It was a trek I will never forget, and would recommend to everyone (just bring a few braces). From all of the beautiful things we saw, the one thing I will never forget is how God parted the sea once again.