This blog post will mostly be photos that we took on our Mardi Himal Trek in the Annapurna mountains of Nepal. In our planning, this was going to be one of the highlights of the trip and different from anything we had ever done before (talk about out of our comfort zone).
It was so beautiful, spectacular, and hard. I think it was the most physically and mentally challenging things we have ever done and we are immensely proud of ourselves.
I was going to put these following words last, but then I thought, I don't know how many people will read this very long post all the way to the end, and I want to make sure that everyone sees how grateful we are to Ram and Mandeep, our guide and porter. So read this and then continue on to our photo journal.
This is a thank you to Ram and Mandeep. Thank you for making our (my) dream come true.
In a previous blog post I had expressed the love that Jay and I had for doing workaways because we were helping people to make their dreams come true. We are following our own dream of traveling, but it has been great to help others with their dreams along the way.
But, this dream of trekking in Nepal is new for me. It had been beyond my imagination to even dream about. I thought it was something others do. But as soon as I saw that it might be something I could do, I dreamt about it. In thinking about our trip, traveling to Nepal, and specifically trekking here, I thought would be the highlight and peak of the journey. (yes, pun intended) The top of the adventure.
And we did it. And it was thanks to these two guys who made our dream come true.
I want to thank Ram, who was gracious, and patient, and sensitive, and understanding, and good-natured all the time. Even when he was sick and not feeling well. And Mandeep, who carried our heavy load with grace and a smile, and joined in our group as much as his English would allow. He was terrific. The two guys were the best. We love them both. Thanks, guys!
And here is our trek photo journal. Enjoy!
Our car left us at Phedi and we began the walk up.
Up meant stairs. Over a thousand of them, I had read.
We were at 1,130 meters to begin. Ram, told us to walk like a tortoise, not like a hare, but apparently he thought Jay walked too much like a hare.
We ended the day four hours later in Pothana, at 1,988 meters. After lunch, Jay went straight to sleep, while I had a lovely conversation with Ram. The guest house (called tea house) was gorgeous.
The highlight of our day was when we walked past a place that was hosting a celebration for the elections of the previous day, and we were swarmed by high school students who were so excited to see us and insisted on taking pictures with them.
They were so adorable. We loved this.
I especially loved that the girls wanted to take a picture with me.
Also, I saw this little boy and asked him (in English, of course) if I could take his picture. “Yes,” he answered in English. I was astonished that he understood me and answered me in English. So I took his picture and said thank you. “Welcome,” he replied, and then rode away. What?? How did this kid know English at such a young age?
We slept great in the tea house (guest house) and got on the trail at about 8:30.
Notice from the pictures above, especially of the guest house in Pothana, how foggy it was yesterday.
Imagine how happy we were when we woke up in the morning and saw this:
This was a hard day, but we started out very optimistic and with a lot of energy.
Up and up and up and up. I walk very slowly. This picture is of us fake happy. We were tired.
But we were rewarded with some great views.
At our first rest area we met a group of Nepali college students who were also walking this trail. They said they wanted to walk with us, but I said we walk too slowly and after a while we started on without them.
But I was wrong. They also walked slowly because they were mostly from the southern part of Nepal and had never done a trek before. They were as slow as we were and in the end, we walked with them. This was the best day ever.
We had a great time talking with them and didn’t even notice how hard it was on the way up. This photo is of us really happy. Not fake happy.
We ended the day at Forest Camp at 2,550 meters, but the Nepali kids kept going as they were on a strict time schedule. We were excited to see the animals that greeted us at Forest Camp.
This evening we met an Indian guy who lives in Singapore, a woman from Germany who was trekking solo with her guide, and two guys from Japan who were trekking without a guide. The food was great at Forest Camp and we had a great night's sleep.
We had a spectacularly long
and very hard day.
We ended the day at High Camp, at 3,550 meters altitude. It was tough. No one to talk to. Just the four of us. And Jay disappeared into himself.
He had an emotional few moments when we finally reached High Camp and took this photo:
And this one of Ram:
The day had been very hard for him. Here’s what he had to say:
“After 6 hours of walking we finally got to High Camp. It was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. When I got there and knew I made it, I got very emotional. Through the hard parts of the day I knew my mom was with me. I kept repeating to myself the last voicemail she had left me, which I still have on my phone, “Hi Jay, it’s Mom.” And I kept saying to her, “Hi Mom, it’s Jay.” And that’s what kept me going. I knew she was watching over us through this climb.
In the year since she’s passed away, I always think about her and today I really needed her. Thanks Mom.
And for my lovely wife, Debbi. This has got to be the craziest thing you ever talked me into doing. Crazy but worth it. You owe me big time.”
At the end of the day, while Jay was resting in the dining room over a hot cup of tea, I went to the hilltop to watch the sunset with some others.
While we were watching, we suddenly saw smoke and then the glow of a fire over the next hill. “What is that from?” I asked. But no one seemed concerned. "Oh, the workers probably just built a fire to keep warm. It’s ok."
That evening we played cards with the others in the guest house. We could see the glow of a fire, but no one was worried. The night was very cold and we had to get up at 4:30 so we could make it to the viewpoint the following day to see the sunrise. We had decided not to go all the way to the base camp, as we were too tired and cold and had a long way down after we arrived at the high point and set "the viewpoint" as our goal. We went to sleep with all our layers on, to get ready for the next big day.
The hardest day.
At midnight, I woke up and went to the bathroom. This consisted of walking out of the building and into the outhouse. The stars were spectacular. The best ever. But there was a worrisome glow that was now spread across the entire hillside behind the guest house. The fire had spread considerably and was clearly not a campfire. I have a great fear of fire, and realized that a wildfire up here was not going to be put out by some passing helicopters.
So I woke up Ram, who came outside to see what I was talking about. “Don’t worry,” he said. "There is nothing here that will catch on fire and there is no wind, so we will be ok.” I looked around at the wood from the construction project, and at the construction material and said, "Ok, if you say so." And I went back to my room. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, picturing my death by wildfire in the Annapurna mountains. It turns out that Ram and the rest of the guides didn’t do much sleeping either. I learned later that they got up four times during the remaining hours to monitor the fire and to make sure we were still safe.
At 4:30 AM, Jay went out to the bathroom and when he returned he showed me this picture. "You can't believe it," he said calmly, "but the fire is right here."
High Camp was on a plateau that was totally dirt, but the fire was just at the edge of this plateau. Luckily the day called for us to go up, because if we were going down, we would not have been able to go.
And so up we went. But first the group had to stop and gawk at the fire.
What a crazy thing. The people at our guest house and the neighboring one were all just standing and staring. No one did a single thing to prevent a fire from spreading. Not that there was much that they could do anyway.
Anyway, we started climbing up in the dark. Like climbing. On rocks, with our hands and feet. Luckily it was dark, so we could only see what was directly in front of us with our headlights on and not the cliffs we were most certainly climbing, with sharp drop-offs.
We climbed and hiked up for two hours and then arrived at our final destination to watch the sunrise. We were just below the viewpoint, about another half hour walk up, when Jay called it quits. He was freezing and his fingers and toes were numb. He was done.
And so we watched the sunrise from another viewpoint. It was just spectacular.
We snapped a few photos of the exquisite view,
and after a celebratory group photo,
and a photo of a very tired, happy and relieved Debbi and Jay,
and a jubilant dance by Debbi,
we headed down to High Camp for breakfast.
We had reached a height of about 4,100 meters. Yes, that's meters. The translation to feet makes it 13,451 feet in altitude. We had started the trek at 1,130 meters. So we had climbed 9,744 feet. About the height of the Annapurna Base Camp, the most popular trek in the area. We felt a real sense of accomplishment.
We celebrated with the tea house guys in their brand new kitchen:
After breakfast, we started our walk back down to Forest Camp. The fire had burned everything and was extinguished where we were walking. It had spread further higher up, but we were safe to walk down now. The grasses were all black, where yesterday they had been yellow and green. Smoke was pouring out all around us, but the fire was gone.
The smoke obscured the view of the mountains around us.
But despite that, the views we saw were stunning.
We finally arrived at Forest Camp at about 4:00. Our walking day had started at 5:00 am. It was our longest, hardest day and we were glad to finally be done.
Things are looking up.
Walking down is much easier and faster than walking up, even though my toes were jamming into the front of my boots. Luckily I was smart enough to ask Ram for a better downhill technique, which he was happy to show me. Here are some things we viewed on the way down.
Also, this is probably a good place to show you the people we saw while climbing. There is a construction project going on at High Camp, to build a new guest house and improve the one we were staying in. Here is the way construction material is brought up the mountain.
It is unbelievable how hard the Nepali people work. And they do this for just a few dollars per day.
In the meantime, Jay is recovered and back to his old self. He took some spectacular photos:
We walked down to the village of Landruk for lunch,
and then we walked to New Bridge to sleep.
Here are a couple other things we saw today:
Another awesome Jay photo:
and some fantastic waterfalls.
We felt like we could have continued walking, feeling like big shots now, but Ram suggested we stop there for the night and then walk to the hot springs the next day when we were fresh. I guess he was right. Jay captured me in one of my weaker moments.
We walked very quickly up to the village of Jhino and then down to the hot springs.
This was definitely a fun day.
The night before we had met a young man from Spain who was traveling around the world by himself. He was a very interesting guy and we were happy to run into him the next morning. We were so proud when he commented on how fast we were walking based on our ages (hahaha) and we were feeling like we accomplished something by walking faster than a 22 year old guy. But we knew it was because we had been walking for 6 days already and he was just starting. This is me with Danny from Spain and Mandeep our porter.
We relaxed for about three hours at the hot springs (the hot water is coming out of the pipes), and we are in one of the two pools just above the river:
and then we walked back up to Jhino and had lunch and then down to New Bridge, where we spent a second night.
Our last day of the trek. This day’s hiking was mostly on a road. Not very glamorous or interesting. But Jay still managed to find ways to find the beauty.
and I captured us in a resting moment.
And we still saw some fascinating things.
Here is the whole gang on the last day. Thank you again to these two guys who made our dream come true and also got us through this journey safe and sound!
And now we are done and go back to Pokhara tomorrow for a well deserved rest.
It was the most fantastic experience and we are better and stronger for doing it. We are very appreciative for what life has brought us and know how fortunate we are.