Annapurna Base Camp Trek Day 7: Machhapuchhre Base Camp to Bamboo, taking in Sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp
We woke up in the pitch black at 3:30am and slowly, still half asleep, pulled on our trekking clothes, laced up our shoes and ventured out into the crisp midnight air. The snow-covered slopes of the surrounding Annapurnas massif glowed in the light of the huge half moon and big, bright stars pierced the sky like nothing I had seen before. Standing there, it felt like we were witnessing a light show from the gods and it was for our eyes only.
In the cold morning chill, we switched on our headlamps and began walking west towards Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130 meters. Gradually, the path climbed uphill, over an old avalanche fall. A river was flowing quickly beneath the thick ice and where it broke through, the churning white water looked menacing, highlighted by the beams of our lamps. Scanning ahead, looking for the path, my heart nearly stopped as staring straight back at me were two narrow green eyes. “What the hell is that!?”, I said panicked, thinking it was a snow leopard or maybe a Yeti! I relaxed a I saw a tail wagging, it was a dog from the lodge, come with us to see the sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp. We continued on our way, safe for now.
The sky became brighter as we continued along the trail, dawn was beginning to break. Arriving at the base camp, one hour and fifteen minutes later, the mountains surrounded us on all sides. We were standing in the middle of the Annapurna Sanctuary and it was stunning. The 7,219meter high Annapurna South, towered over us to the west, flanked by Patal Hiun Chuli at 6,441meters on the left and Bharha Chuli, 7,647meters, on the right. Sunlight touched the peaks of the three mountains and in the bright orange glow it looked as if these snowy beasts had caught fire. The contrast of the crystal clear blue sky above and the yet to be illuminated bright white mountainside below, broken by the fiery orange was breathtaking.
Following the peaks clockwise, Singu Chuili, 8,501meters, Tare Kang, 7,069meters, Ganggapurna,7,454meters and Annapurna III, 7,555meters, made up the enormous wall to the north. Behind to the east, the sunbeams were just beginning to become visible over the 6,248meter peak of Gandhwara Chuli, silhouetting the impressive twin summit of the iconic Fishtail or Machhapuchhre mountain, standing 997meter tall, completing the circle of white giants which surrounded us. The massive amphitheatre was completed by a vast glacial moraine, running from east to west, way down below us. The deep glacier looked like a huge, abandoned quarry and as morning continued to break, a dense, spooky mist creeped through the gravel and enormous boulders adding to the theatrical display mother nature was putting on for us.
The wait for sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp was nearly over and around 6am the warm sun finally broke over the ridge of the jagged mountains and the sky became an intense blend of orange and gold. Inside this brilliant, natural arena, the sun now took center stage as the light bounced around the peaks on all sides and we stood there breathless taking in our surroundings. We had taken who knows how many steps over the past seven days, hiking a total of over forty kilometers and climbing up and down, around valleys, to amazing viewpoints, past huge waterfalls, rushing rivers and through lush bamboo rainforests and amongst cascading terraced fields, gaining almost 4,000 meters in altitude and it had been worth each and every step to witness this amazing spectacle deep within the spectacular Annapurna mountain range.
Breakfast was eventful at base camp. After chatting with some Korean students, on a year out from college, our ears honed in on some familiar accents. Not only Irish but one definite Cork, we introduced ourselves and got talking. After establishing the accent was indeed from my hometown of Cork and the other from neighbouring Kerry, we found more common ground. It transpired that not only did we attend the same secondary school, only two years apart, but our younger brothers were best friends! It was an unexpected and extremely random encounter, the world really is a small place. We wished the two lads best of luck and left base camp, keen to make it as far down the mountain today as possible.
A short delay at Machhapuchhre Base Camp, where we had stayed the night before, to grab our bags and we started our descent to Deurali. Fifteen minutes along the trail and we met Guy, Jaqui, Fia and Tamsin on their way back up the mountain. We stopped briefly, wished them luck and on he rest of their travels and with plans to keep in touch we parted ways one last time. The path, familiar from yesterday, brought us back past the avalanche chutes, safely to the Hinku cave, just beyond Deurali. There we were stopped in our tracks as from behind a plank of wood a small face peered out at us. First to the left and then to the right side of the timber, the bold head of the common langur monkey watched us watching him and then rushed around the corner. We followed and there in the trees surrounding the cave were at least forty of these unusual looking monkeys. Every dark face, encircled by a ring of bright, white fur, stared at us from the trees and after observing them and they in turn observing us, we pushed on down the mountain. We passed through familiar surroundings through the small villages of Himalaya and Dobhan until our legs finally gave up and we stopped for the night at Bamboo. On arriving, we met a group of Canadian and Americans who had also been at the base camp for sunrise earlier that morning. One of the girls had taken a bad turn, twisting her knee on the way down the trail and she was unable to continue on foot. With no roads the only way out is a very expensive helicopter ride or a much cheaper pony ride down the mountain. The girls travel insurance company unfortunately wouldn’t cover the pony ride but amazingly would instead pay for her to be airlifted out by helicopter! The thinking behind this decision made no sense to anyone but the girls were excited at the prospect of their first ever spin in a helicopter. It would take six minutes for them to reach Pokhara in the morning, much faster than the two-day hike we had yet to go. The rest of the evening was spent sat around the table in the dining room getting to know each other a bit better and at 9pm, a late night in the mountains, we retired to our room before continuing our descent in the morning.
Annapurna Base Camp Trek Day8: Bamboo to Kyumi
The small village of Bamboo was buzzing with excitement this morning as news of the rescue helicopters arrival spread from lodge to lodge. In typical Nepali fashion, the helicopter due to arrive at 7am, didn’t arrive until 7:30am; you wouldn’t want to be in serious need of evacuation with these guys lackadaisical approach to mountain rescue. The sound of the helicopter blades became louder and the rescue chopper came into view. The pilot circled once, scoping out the tiny landing area behind one of the tea-houses and slowly brought the helicopter in to land. The blades spun at an almighty speed, creating a strong breeze which caused the small crowd of spectators to take a few steps back. The tree branches. Dust and loose leaves began to settle as the pilot slowed the blades rotation speed. It took only a few moments for the injured girl to hobble onto the aircraft and accompanied by her two friends the small side door was closed behind them. Almost as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone again. The pilot fired up the engine and the small helicopter gently rose up into the air, causing branches and leaves to blow around wildly again and then it took off, flying low, headed south through the valley. Jealous at the thoughts of the girls six-minute flight back to Pokhara, we gathered our gear together and started our own journey in the same direction.
The initial steep climb out of Bamboo got the blood flowing and we continued at a steady pace in and out of the shade of the bamboo forest. It was another scorcher of a morning and the mountain views were crystal clear as we rounded each corner before finally dropping out of sight as we were engulfed by the cool shade of the rainforest. We passed through small Sinuwa, hovering on the mountains edge, before reaching Chomrong. Lunch in the small town was as well needed as the reprieve from the midday heat and we chatted with the lodge owner as we relaxed in his tea-house. Chomrong is a small town built on a steep stretch of path and at an altitude of 2,170 meters, it’s the last village on the Annapurna Base Camp trail which is inhabited year-round. We finished our lunch as kids in white and navy uniforms, the girls with red ribbons in their hair, answered the school bell, walking down the stone steps to their afternoon classes. Taking our cue, we headed up the steps to the top of town and made our way to Jinhu Danda. The trail dropped steeply down the side of the mountain, through Jinhu Danda, across the river and onto New Bridge where we took shelter from a heavy rain shower with a steaming cup of masala tea. As we sat there watching the rain, we looked around at the garden of roses, crocuses and marijuana plants! On further inspeaction we saw that the plants were everywhere, growing wild along the edge of the path, in between stones and of course amongst the flowers in the old womans well kept garden!
The rain finally let up and we decided to make a break for it. We left the lady and her horticulture project behind us and followed the now muddy path towards Syauli Bazar. Twenty minutes down the path and the sky started to fill with dark, angry looking clouds. A few small drops started, getting steadily bigger until before we knew it we were standing in the middle of a huge storm. By now the rain was coming down hard, thick cloud had rolled up through the valley and we coud no longer see the other side of the river, or even the river itself! The wind started howling and the rain turned to marble sized hail stones that bounced as they hit the ground hard. We found shelter under a larger boulder on the edge of the path and waited over half an hour for the storm to pass but it never did. Reluctantly, we put on our rain jackets and pants and ventured out from our sheltered position into the wild weather. The trail had turned into a river from the torrential rain and flowed down in a heavy stream, washing mud and debris along the path. It was after 6pm now and with not much daylight left we would now have to stop at the next town of Kyumi for the night. Roofs appeared through the trees and with a final push we made it to shelter at Kyumi tired and wet but delighted to be in out of the miserable weather. Tomorrow should see us back to Pokhara, all going well and it will be the final day of trekking for us in the Nepali Himalayas.
Annapurna Base Camp Trek Day 9: Kyumi to Pokhara, via Naya Pul
We were slow to begin our ninth and final day of our trek but at 10am, after a long, relaxing breakfast, we finally hit the trail. The path wound around the mountains edge, passing the thatched clay huts of the local, Gurung people. Terraced fields lined the edges of the valley and the views were beautiful as we descended down the mountain in the roasting hot morning sun. The two hour hike to Syauli Bazar was pretty uneventful, except for being completely surrounded by a herd of curious goats, being herded along the path by two grinning Nepali men. Energy levels were low arriving into Syauli Bazar but with only one more town to reach before the main road we wandered on slowly in the heat.
The path had turned into a wide, dusty dirt road, we politely refused offers from jeeps and taxis to drive us back to Pokhara, tempting as they were and walked on through the rice fields and small villages until we reached Birethanti. We could see the road now and hear the buses beeping as they passed, headed back to Pokhara on the Baglung Highway. Through Birethanti and onwards to the transport town of Naya Pul, where we had begun our trek nine days ago and we were back to the main road, but the adventure wasn’t over yet.
The bus came bombing down the road and we waved it down. “Up, up, inside no”, said the young bus conductor as the bus pulled up and so after nine days of trekking we would ride the luggage rack on top of the bus two hours back to Pokara on the Baglung Highway. From our vantage point on the bus roof we were treated to some stunning views along the way, all the while dodging the low electrical cables and screaming “Namaste” at everyone as we passed. It had been an amazing trip into the Himalayas with so many memories by the sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp really standing out. With only two weeks left on our Nepal visas, we cast our minds to India as we made our way back to Pokhara at break neck speed on the windy highway.