When we decided to add Nepal to the list of places we would visit on our trip, I didn’t know what to expect. I saw photos of the huge mountains, and I thought it would be amazing to be up on top of them — but I didn’t know if it was possible for us. In Kathmandu and Pokhara, we spent a lot of time getting things together for a trek, and we decided to visit the Annapurna region. I hoped we would be able to hike all the way to Annapurna Base Camp. But I couldn’t imagine hiking for ten days.
To start our trek, we took a van from Pokhara to the start of the trail. On the first day, we hiked just a few hours from the hot, dusty town of Naya Pul up to the little village of Tikhedunga, where we stayed in a small lodge called the Riverside Guest House. From the balcony we could see a long rope suspension bridge spanning a river that connected the guesthouse to the rest of Tikhedunga. We would be staying in teahouses for the rest of our trek. These were mostly very small, simple structures with two beds in each room. They were really cozy, though we brought our own sleepsacks to make sure we didn’t have problems with bedbugs or lice. We would eat all our meals in these teahouses. This was often dhal bhat, which is a mix of lentil dhal, rice and curry. Every afternoon for snack we would get fresh popcorn and a big pot of lemon ginger tea. After the first day of trekking, as Jonah and I lay in our little beds, I couldn’t imagine that we would make it to Annapurna Base Camp, but we kept our plan to continue going as far as we could.
The second day was the hardest of the entire trek: we gained about 4,400 feet in elevation and climbed literally about 8,000 stairs from Tikhedungha to the town of Ghorepani. When we arrived, we found a “German bakery” which made good pastries for us to stock up on, which was a welcome treat after a long day of walking. We also found some actual Germans, as well as Spaniards, Coloradans, and a few other people who would become close friends over the next days of trekking. After a good night’s sleep, it was time to continue on to Tadapani. We actually lost a lot of elevation on this day, but it still wasn’t easy because the trail went up and down for the whole day — constantly plunging down to cross a river and then back up to hike along a ridge — so there were still many, many stairs. There were beautiful flowers and rhodedendron trees in bloom, as well as colorful butterflies. This was also the first day that we got great views of Annapurna and Machhapucchre mountains in the distance. They looked so menacing and far away that it was impossible to believe that we would ever make it to them — so we just focused on the task at hand, which was to make it to Tadapani.
In Tadapani, we had even better views, right from the deck of our guesthouse. We played cards, ate our usual snacks, and looked around the village. The villages around the trail are mostly very small, with about five lodges each, maybe a couple of bakeries and souvenir shops, and some surrounding farmhouses with water buffalo, mules, cows, sheep and goats. Sometimes one of the farmers would let the chickens loose and the village would be filled with chickens running around the paths. There are no roads to these villages, so supplies are either brought up by porters or by mule trains. A porter uses a “tump” or piece of fabric which they put on their forehead to carry a basket of supplies up to the highest villages. A mule train is a long line of mules, each carrying baskets or propane tanks on their sides. For every mule train, there are one or two men in the back who use a stick to keep the mules going if they stray. If a mule train passes you, it is important to go to the inside of the trail as fast as possible so that the mules don’t accidentally knock you off the side of the mountain! As we got higher, we didn’t see any more mule trains, only porters. Porters can carry up to 30-75 kg all the way up to the top of the trail at Annapurna Base Camp, and we would see them running along the trails, sometimes even faster than we went although we were carrying so much less weight.
From Tadapani, we made the less strenuous hike to Chomrong, although there was still a lot of up and down to cross rivers and cool suspension bridges. Chomrong was a big village compared to some of the others, and we spent time hanging out again with our German, Spanish and Coloradan friends.
We still weren’t sure if we would make it up to Annapurna Base Camp: we had great views of Annapurna I and Machhapucchhre again, but they still seemed really far away. In fact, our original porter decided that he didn’t have the right equipment (good shoes, warm clothes) to go to the end of the trail, and he decided that he would have to descend, which was surprising to us! But we found another great porter, named Pradeep, who lived in Chomrong and worked part time at Annapurna Base Camp (A.B.C.) and was happy to take us the rest of the way. He played on the Chomrong volleyball team, and he loved to call Jonah “Curry” because of Jonah’s Golden State Warriors Steph Curry T-shirt.
We were feeling good, and we were having a great time hiking so far. It was probably one of the hardest things we had done on our trip, but also one of the most fun. We knew we had all the supplies we needed for the last few days of the trek. But did we have the energy and stamina to make it to Base Camp? We still didn’t know for sure. Even if we didn’t make it to the top, we all knew that this surprise trip to Nepal had been a great decision, and it was already the longest hiking trip that I had ever done. At the same time, I was reading the book “Into Thin Air”, which is a true story about climbing Mount Everest, so I also knew that we needed to be careful of dangers like avalanches and altitude sickness (fortunately not nearly as likely here as on Mount Everest, but still threats). There were many more stairs to climb and bridges to cross. Would we make it? Stay tuned to learn what happened in our attempt to ascend to ABC….