A Travellerspoint blog

ABC Trek Part 4 – Crossing Avalanche Chutes


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

The day started with some stunning views of the Machapuchre Mountain or as it’s commonly called the “Fishtail” because it looks a bit like the back flipper of a diving fish.

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The hike up to Himalaya was a steep uphill and we were very happy we did not try to do it the day before. The down side was that meant we were going to be hard pressed to make it to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) this day. However, we had decided that if we can’t make it to ABC, then MBC (Macchapucchre Base Camp) would be our minimum goal for the day. Since its only a couple of hours maximum to get from MBC to ABC we could always leave our bags at MBC early next morning and run up to ABC to see the views. Regardless, we knew we had a long way to go, even to get to MBC, and we would be passing through some terrain filled with Avalanche Chutes. This sign reminded us of this fact, as if we needed any reminding:

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The views along this part of the trail, after we passed Deurali, were some of the most amazing I have ever seen in my life. The trail goes along the bottom of a steep avalanche valley with gorgeous snow peaks on both sides. As you walk down you can feel the adrenaline level go up a bit as you look around stunned at the beauty and power around you. It’s a bit like observing a gorgeous yet dangerous wild animal. You are mesmerized by its beauty but yet at the same highly aware of its power and unpredictability. Its times like this that I just need to post pictures even though I know no picture can truly replicate the staggering majesty and beauty of what we saw that day:

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The last part of the days hike was an absolute killer with the worst practical joke ever near the top. The final climb to MBC, where it was clear we were going to end up for the day, was a gruelling 1 hour straight up some rocks covered with mud and snow. Then just as we rounded the last giant boulder we saw the MBC sign and were overjoyed that the torture had ended. We had been following a couple of porters on our way up that last bit but to our surprise they didn’t head towards the MBC building. We yelled at them pointing at the structure, but they just shook their heads and pointed to a trail that led past it. As it turned out this was the OLD MBC, which had been closed up for years, but no one had bothered to take the building down, or even do the common courtesy of crossing the name out! The despair we felt was palatable but the porters reassured us the real MBC was just a few minutes further. Thankfully they weren’t exaggerating and we shortly got to where we would end up spending the coldest night of our lives.

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When I say COLD, I mean COLD. Yeah I know what all you Canadians are thinking. Pfft, what’s -2 degrees, or even -5. Its nothing! Oh Yeah? Try sleeping in that temperature outside! Because that is basically what you have to do when you sleep at MBC. They have rooms with beds of course, but there is absolutely no heating and absolutely no insulation. The gaps between the windows and window frames can easily fit my thumb, and the gaps between the door and the door frame were big enough to fit an elephant. OK, maybe not an elephant, but that’s exactly how it felt! It’s hard to describe how cold -2 can feel if you’re trying to sleep in that type of accommodation, but we bundled up in everything we had, 3 pairs of socks, 2 or 3 sweaters, sleeping bags and even extra blankets from the hotel, and we were just barely warm enough to sleep. Outside there was a blizzard dumping multiple feet of snow obliterating the trail we were going to have to walk tomorrow. We decided to give others a chance to blaze the trail for us (usually people leave around 4:30, but we figured with the weather, most would wait until light) so we set the alarm clock to 5am and went to sleep.

Posted by dariusz 13:23 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

ABC Trek Part 3 - Stocking up on essentials


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

The next morning we started early intent on fixing all the issues that have been a thorn in our side up to this point. If there is any place along the whole trail where a trekker can really get almost everything they need it’s Chhomrong. It’s amazing that a whole two days of hiking away from civilization one can get internet access, fresh German baked goods, real purified water and even knee caps.

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Part of Kristine’s mental breakdown the day before included complaining about a few things we forgot to take, such as our insurance and credit card information, which might be needed in case of an evacuation due to an avalanche. Because yes, we were in fact going to cross a number of avalanche chutes. We used the internet to get all our insurance and credit card info and Kristine bought some knee caps at the local wholesale store for less than $2 each! Even Kristine started feeling really good about our chances now and the German baked goods store was just a nice bonus.

It’s really encouraging and impressive how environmentally aware the Nepalis in this area are despite their relative poverty. There are no water bottles for sale anywhere after Chhomrong, instead the lodges will sell you boiled and filtered water to fill up your existing bottles, and this gives hikers a very heavy incentive not to “misplace” their plastic bottles along the trail. If you lose your bottles you will have no choice but to hike back down to Chhomrong or survive without water between lodges. There are also no donkeys or any other kind of domesticated animals allowed after Chhomrong. This is because at the higher attitudes the donkey/mule feces would take too long to decompose and the trail would end up being literally full of shit. Instead the trail after Chhomrong is an absolute joy to hike being free of both artificial and animal pollution.

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Our spirits high we really enjoyed this days hike. The plan was to see how far we could make it without pushing too hard and just take it as it goes. The ultimate goal was to make it to Himalaya which meant climbing over 1000 vertical metres up and would put us within a day hike from the Annapurna Base Camp, but we decided we weren’t going to kill ourselves just to make a target. To our surprise the trail was actually very green on this portion of the hike despite being higher in altitude. It was filled with gorgeous Rhodedendrum trees, amazing looking vines, monkeys and of course stunning views of the mountains we were about to walk into the heart of.

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We took our time to enjoy all the views and took a ton of pictures and ended up at Dovan at around noon. We decided that, while we could try to do the hour and a half climb to Himalaya the same day, we would enjoy ourselves far more and risk having another crisis of confidence far less if we called it a day and continued tomorrow.

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We settled in for the night and quickly realized things were quite different at this altitude. First of all the lack of donkey power means that everything that is consumed has to be brought up by someone strapping a giant basket to their head and carrying it up. As you can imagine this tends to drive up costs and the costs are directly related to the weight of the item. So much for Coca Cola and pop bottles, we were pretty going to have to stick to tea from now on, which given how good Nepali tea is, really wasn’t a problem. The hot shower was also not free anymore as there is not enough sunlight to warm the water using solar power and hauling gas bottles this high up is an issue. I can’t believe someone actually strapped one of those giant gas filled bottles to their back and walked up this trail. I think I would cry if I had to do that.

The whole strapping stuff on your head and hauling it up problem also means there is no heating in the sleeping quarters and the heating in the common area is only turned on if everyone chips in and pays. No central heating around here folks. We were prepared with long underwear, fleece, sleeping bags, sweaters, the whole bit but it was still COLD when sleeping! As we finally fell asleep tightly bundled up to keep warm we did so knowing that tomorrow was not going to get any warmer.

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Posted by dariusz 12:58 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Annapurna Base Camp Trek Prt 2 - Kristine's mental breakdown

No one said hiking the Himalayas was going to be easy


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

We woke up the next morning with the crack of dawn as we wanted to be on our way and hiking by 6:30am at the latest. It was going to be a long day and we didn’t want to get caught in any afternoon showers. We didn’t bother getting any breakfast as we had some cookies and granola bars that we could eat as we went along. The views that greeted us on our way out of Ghandruk were nothing short of stunning:

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The first part of the trail was a rather steep one and a half hour climb after which we decided to have a little break and have some delicious Nepali tea. Even Kristine liked the tea here and she is not really a tea person. What came next though she did not like one bit. We had a “bit” of a canyon to cross, 400 vertical meters down to Kimrong Khola and another 500 right back up.

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The downhill part was punishing and painful for Kristine's knees. The estimated time for this portion according to our handy trail guide was 1 hour but it took us close to 2. Then we started the way back up, another 1 and a half hour grind up the side of a canyon. It is then that Kristine had a bit of a psychological breakdown and she became convinced she would never make it. I’ll let her describe it.

Here is a picture of the elderly lady and what she was carrying on her back:

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Despite all the psychological drama we made it to the top of the canyon in reasonable time and then only had a relatively easy and flat 1 hour walk to Chhomrong. We found a cozy little place to stay overnight and it even had a nice terrace where food could be served. The terrace had an amazing view of the mountains we would be walking into the next day, giving us an opportunity to contemplate what we had gotten ourselves into as we ate our dinner.

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Posted by dariusz 08:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Hiking the Annapurna Base Camp Trail Independently - Part 1

Lets just take a walk into the heart of the Himalayas


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

We had left our big bags at the Monastery with Elizabeth, said our goodbyes, and took the taxi cab Lekshy had ordered for us the day before to Nayapul. It was 6 in the morning and it was a good 45 minute ride which left us plenty of time to ponder and think about what it was that we were about to do. We had taken just our little day packs, no more than one change of clothes each, some sleeping gear, some oatmeal cookies and granola bars, some medicine and some other small but indispensable items. This was going to have to be all we make do with for the next 8 days while trekking the trails in the Himalayas! The thought of that was exciting and a little scary at the same time. If I had allowed myself to contemplate the entire undertaking I would have gotten overwhelmed. The key is to take it a day at a time and that’s how we approached it. If we don’t get all the way to the top, that’s OK, we will see and experience what the elements and our bodies allow us to and no more or less than that. The truth is though we REALLY wanted to make it all the way through the trek.

We got out of the taxi near Nayapul and just looked around. Nothing really here, a small Nepalese village down the road, a couple of foreigners sitting with their hiking poles either waiting for a taxi or maybe their guide. We however, did not have this guide person, or a porter, or anyone else to wait for. There was nothing else to do except ask for directions and start walking. I love the feeling I get in these moments. It is a feeling of infinite possibilities, of unknown adventure ahead and no one else to count on except ourselves.

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We started walking down the hill quickly passing through Naya Pul and onto our next destination. The nice thing about the Annapurna Base Camp trek is that there is usually a town or at least a store and a guest house approx. 1 hour or so apart. The next town, Birethanti, was only a 20 minute walk away and that’s where we had to present our permits and sign in to the trekking registry. We saw a number of hiking groups heading in the opposite direction which made us feel secure knowing that we could always ask for directions if we weren’t sure which way to go. The permit formalities in Birethanti were a breeze and we were on our way again shortly. This part of the hike was very easy with soft rolling hills and we were making amazing time. If we continued at this pace we would be up at the base camp in no time! Our confidence and spirits were high, and as it turned out, probably the highest they would be for quite a while.

Maybe an hour and half later we made it to a little town called Syauli Bazar, took a rest, and then looked where to go. We saw a tiny sign that said “Ghandruk” which is where we were going, but it wasn’t pointing down the road, it was pointing towards a small stair case. No big deal, it will probably be a few steps up towards another road, and then we’ll be chugging along again. Not quite! It turned out to be just the start of a gruelling hope crushing, muscle and joint destroying 3-4 hour climb straight up. Imagine a stair case maybe twice as steep as a regular building stair case back in Canada, except this staircase has not switchbacks, and it just keeps going and going. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. Will the stairs ever end?? To put things in perspective by the time we were done for the day we had climbed approx. 900 meters vertical. That means measured straight up. The CN tower is 533 meters high.

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The climb was gruelling but it was also stunningly beautiful passing through little mountain towns with rice paddies overlooking a gaping canyon below us. The people we met along the way were extremely friendly and always willing to lend a helping hand when the path would split and we had to make a decision about which way to go. It was a great introduction to the hike and a great warm up for what was still to come.

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We staggered huffing and puffing into the town of Ghandruk and found ourselves a nice little spot to sleep. The way things work in the Annapurnas is that everything is fixed price and it’s the same price for every guesthouse/restaurant in a given town. You can haggle a bit but it won’t get you much since a room is relatively inexpensive anyway. We are talking about $3-4 per night (200-300 NPR). The owners make their real money on the food, which is also exactly the same price in every establishment in a given town, but they are far less likely to give you a discount there. Generally I wouldn’t like such price fixing but the prices are very reasonable considering the location, which is not accessible by any type of motorized transportation, so there is really nothing to complain about.

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The accommodations themselves are extremely simple. It’s a room with a wooden bed or two, simple hard mattresses, a single light bulb hanging from a wire in the wall and maybe a hook or two for hanging your things. The floors are often not entirely straight and the door and the windows don’t fit their frames with any sort of accuracy. There is no insulation. However, everything is always clean and tidy, which is something Indian hotel owners, with their fancy but dirty everything, could really learn from. I’d much rather stay in a simple but clean place like this and it’s really all a hiker needs to sleep comfortably through the night.

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We went to sleep shortly after sunset since we were exhausted from the days hike and needed to get up early the next day. It was sure to be easier from now on wasn’t it?

Posted by dariusz 04:48 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Visiting a Tibetan Monastery Outside of Pokhara

One of the most memorable cultural and spiritual experiences we’ve encountered was at the Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastic Institute located just outside of Pokhara. Situated near the gorgeous Annapurna range, the Himalayaan mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop for this beautiful monastery.

How did we find out about this monastery? One of my coworkers, Elizabeth, had taught English to the monks last year and loved it so much that she decided to come back and for another 5 months. If you’ve ever met Elizabeth, you would understand how her smiles, contagious energy, sincerity, and genuine love for these monks make her a “mom-figure” for them.
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Even S.A.M. was so intrigued by the idea of visiting a monastery that he came with us! As we approached the monastery by taxi, we mistook it for a swanky hotel! For 3 generous meals, hot shower, and a clean and comfy room cost about $10/day. In addition, visitors are allowed to watch the pujas (prayers) and interact with the monks.
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As soon as we arrived, Elizabeth excitedly informed us that we were lucky to be present for a special ceremony the monks were performing. It involved much prayer, chanting, and instruments. Each monk was to give up one of their personal possessions and have it burned in a pyre. Elizabeth told us that one little monk gave up a picture of his family. When he was asked why he was giving this up, he patted his heart and said “I don’t need pictures because they are here.”
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We felt very welcome here. The monks are shy but genuinely friendly. It does not take long for the children to warm up to you – eventually they were vying for our attention and playing with us! Prior to visiting the monastery, I had this impression in my head that monks would be constantly praying and silent in their thoughts. This was NOT the case! Although there are rules to follow, the monks were free to express their different personalities. The little children were the most surprising to me since they were able to almost run amuck during their break times, laughing and playing loudly amongst each other. The monastery was such a lively place to visit!

Some other random things we did included Derek debating a monk, helping Elizabeth in the clinic and during bath times, participating in a couple of Elizabeth's classes, playing with the little monks and learning that they watch horror movies, and attending a lecture on Buddhism.
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We were privileged to meet a talented Spanish artist, Andrea Lopez Iglesias, who is living at the monastery as she works on paintings for her big art exhibition featuring the new Faces of Tibet. Andrea's artwork communicates the stories of different Tibetans, their struggle to survive, and their outlook towards the present and future. On the backs of her paintings, their stories are written in Tibetan script by the monks. I was so impressed by her professionalism, passion, talent, and sheer determination to accomplish her goals at such a young age!

It was such an honor to be part of this large family, even if it was for such a short time. The experience provided us with a small yet enlightening insight on Tibetan culture and monk life. I have a great respect for their constant search for truth, wisdom and knowledge, and for their emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and questioning.

This experience gave me time to reflect upon my own spirituality, life priorities, and eccentricities. It was a truly humbling experience that I will cherish always, like the boy who kept his family in his heart. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this gift.

Posted by krisses 06:26 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

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