Trekking in Nepal
June 13-June 19, 2023
Day 8: 3rd Trek Day, Poon Hill to Ghandruk, Nepal
June 13, 2023
Our day began with a pitch-black hike at 4:00 a.m. We were on our way to the highest point in Poon Hill at 3,210 meters above sea level, that’s over 10,500 feet! It was too cloudy to get much of a sunrise view, but we caught glimpses of the mountains as they occasionally peeked out from the clouds.
Our 8-10 hours of walking today included more stairs. We went in a “V” shape moving steeply down a mountain side, then right back up another.
Lawrence, for the second time, got attacked by leeches! This time at least a dozen had climbed onto his shoes when on a bathroom break. We did not anticipate leeches being as much of a nuisance as they were. They hid in the wet grass and trees so almost nowhere was safe. They’re nearly impossible to squish or kill, and extremely difficult to flick away once they’ve latched on. Our guide, Jay, helped us keep them at bay by rubbing some salt on our shoes and ankles.
When on our way down the valley a spritely yak calf decided we should be his new parents. He broke away from his pen and followed us for at least a half mile.
After some lunch at the bottom of the valley it was time to walk back uphill just as steeply as we came down. We stopped for a rest break where Jay told us some interesting cultural and historical happenings of Nepal.
We sat near some of the many prayer flags that adorn the countryside and stupas. Jay told us the colors represented natural elements: earth, fire, air, water, and space. The colors also don’t match up quite how you think they would. The blue flag represents sky and space, the red flag fire, the white flag air and wind, the green flag water, and the yellow flag earth. The writing on the flag is only one verse repeated: “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which is a Buddhist mantra of love and compassion.
We were also told about the Nepalese Gurkha. Gurkha are well-trained soldiers for hire. This means other countries are allowed to hire the soldiers to fight overseas in wars not related to Nepal, better padding their armies with those willing and able to fight. Gurkha are used regularly, including by Britain in World War I and II. Since Gurkhas are paid a decent living wage it has become a highly sought after profession in Nepal.
After our information-filled break we took to our tea house for the night. The clouds had decided to stay throughout the day, which was ideal for temperatures, but not so much for views.
Distance Walked: 12.57 miles
Steps Taken: 27,452
Day 9: 4th Trek Day, Ghandruk to Sinuwa, Nepal
June 14, 2023
Today was by far the hardest day on us physically and mentally. We had another 10-hour day ahead of us and after 3 days straight of walking we were feeling the burn.
A “W” shaped hike was in store today. Going up the side of a steep mountain for hours followed immediately by walking just as steeply down for hours was maddening. It felt less like making progress towards the Annapurna Base Camp and more like a waste of time and energy.
We moved much slower due to the dramatic inclines of the mountain slopes. Halfway through the “W” we made our way to the village of Chhomrong, the largest of all the Annapurna Circuit villages. We started on an extreme decline which was rough on the knees after going mostly uphill. But we would find out a few days later, when reversing the trail, it was miles harder going up than down. Chhomrong was probably the grossest village we walked through, as well. The animal droppings along the trail tripled making it nearly impossible to avoid when stepping. The smell and sight nearly made me vomit, and we couldn’t exactly take in the mountain views when staring down at our feet constantly.
Frustrated, tired, and dreading only being halfway through our trek, we made it to Sinuwa village right as a heavy rain came in. We turned in for the night and prepared for another long day again tomorrow.
Distance Walked: 12.14 miles
Steps Taken: 26,980
Day 10: 5th Trek Day, Sinuwa to Deurali, Nepal
June 15, 2023
After the difficulties of the previous day, we awoke determined to make the best of a new one. We were only one more day away from reaching the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), which was promised to be the highlight of our whole trek. It was too late to turn back now!
It was yet another long, long trek. An 8-hour, mostly uphill day awaited us. Uphill was good, (at least it wasn’t up….and down…and up….and down) it meant we were getting closer to ABC.
The main village we trekked through was the township of Bamboo. Named simply because how the village sits there is little mountainous view and instead a lot of bamboo plants to bless the eyes. Just outside of Bamboo there are plenty of scenic waterfalls to climb through as you ascend. Or as our guide called them “fake waterfalls” meaning they are flows from melting snow only during the summer and do not stick around as “real” waterfalls year-round.
We stopped near a “real” waterfall just outside Bamboo and then continued our increasingly uphill trek. Finally, we started to get some good views! Though tiring, I was happy to be going almost exclusively uphill. It meant we were getting closer and closer to Annapurna Base Camp.
We hiked from 2,500 meters to 3,200 meters throughout the day. That’s nearly 2,300 feet! When we arrived at our stay for the night in Deurali village, the air was noticeably thinner. Though it was much colder and damper in the small, quaint, village, we managed to get some sleep before our final day upwards to ABC.
Distance Walked: 12.43 miles
Steps Taken: 27,324
Day 11: 6th Trek Day, Deurali to ABC, Nepal
June 16, 2023
Today was the day! We were only a 4-hour walk away from reaching the Annapurna Base Camp where we were expected to see the best views of the Annapurna and Machhapuchhare Mountain ranges.
Even though it was a shorter hike, it proved to be just about as difficult as a longer 12-hour day since the air was so much thinner. We moved slowly along the glacier-fed rapids, surrounded by mountains on all sides. The weather had finally cooperated with us giving us clear skies and dramatic views.
After climbing 500 meters in about 3 hours altitude sickness began to set in for both me and Lawrence. We were shuffling along much, much slower than anticipated. We started to feel lightheaded and dizzy, while moving with intent felt impossible.
We ended up having lunch at the Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC), the halfway point between Deurali and ABC. To help with altitude sickness we had ginger tea and garlic soup. After getting some food in our stomachs we also took a dose of altitude medicine to help with the last leg of the journey.
I felt much better for the last 2.5 miles from MBC to ABC. But after a strong start Lawrence began to falter. The clouds had come back as we reached the ABC sign once again blocking our views. We snapped a picture but when we reached the final set of stairs Lawrence had taken a nosedive.
He made it up the stairs and into the dining hall, but the low oxygen levels had started to drive his body into panic mode. Jay made sure to get him dressed in plenty of layers, including gloves, as he began losing mobility of his fingers. Slowly, he rested, breathed, and warmed up until he felt better.
During sunset we got a small glimpse of the mountains as they peaked out of the clouds, but the real treat was to come bright and early the next morning at sunrise. We were advised not to shower since the weather was too cold, and we needed to keep our body temperatures up to combat altitude sickness. The tea house rooms were unheated, so it turned out to be sound advice. Instead, we had dinner and went to bed dirty from the day.
Distance Walked: 8.08 miles
Steps Taken: 17,865
Day 12: 7th Trek Day, ABC to Deurali, Nepal
June 17, 2023
We forced ourselves out of our warm beds and into the frigid dark morning air at 5:00 a.m. The forecast had called for a clear morning which we hoped would mean we would finally get a view of the hyped-up mountains.
Finally, the views did not disappoint! We got 360 degrees of outstanding scenery. There was not a cloud in sight! We took a hearty photoshoot before even having coffee. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Feeling satisfied with our morning and our scenery we had breakfast and coffee and headed out an hour earlier than usual. Our plan today was to backtrack all the way back to Bamboo. We had only today and tomorrow to cover the almost 100 miles back to the jeep trail to Pokhara.
However, the altitude sickness was rearing its face once again. I had hardly slept the night before and was experiencing some stomach pain. Lawrence was doing much worse. He started feeling lightheaded less than a mile from ABC. Even after taking more altitude sickness medicine, he began to decline quickly. He got so weak he needed to sit down for a break where he lost control of his arms and legs. I was instructed by our guide to walk ahead to MBC where I could use the Wi-Fi and contact our insurance to see if evacuations were covered.
Still about 2 miles away and moving slower than I wish I was due to the altitude sickness; a million thoughts ran through my mind. When I left Lawrence didn’t seem in bad enough shape to be too concerned, but it took me about 45 minutes to walk to MB C, anything could’ve happened in that time. I had planned to use the feature on our insurance app that allowed us to talk to doctor 24/7 and determine what the best course of action would be. I also wanted to contact our travel agent, and (if there was a signal) our guide to get any advice or update from them.
When I did finally arrive, I hit a major roadblock. The Wifi was down. This is a much larger issue in the mountains than at sea level. It meant that if the Wifi was down at MBC it was also down at ABC as they use the same power lines. I didn’t know what to do. Should I start walking back? Use the landline and try and contact someone? Wait and see if the Wifi turns back on?
Clouds had begun to roll back in which meant that if we did need an evacuation, the weather might be too dangerous for a helicopter to land. After waiting a few minutes and continuing to try the Wi-Fi I had all but resorted to asking to use the landline when to my surprise Lawrence and Jay had bolted through the door. Thank god!
Apparently, Lawrence had gotten even worse after I’d left. Knowing the only complete cure for altitude sickness is to move downhill, Jay scooped Lawrence up on his back and ran him all the way to Machhapuchhare. He had left his and Lawrence’s packs the 2-miles back uphill. So he simply dropped Lawrence off then ran back for them. Jay being a seasoned mountaineer, completed the 4-mile round trip in record time. Having been to Mount Everest, ABC was but a hill to Jay, and the high altitude hardly affected him.
Lawrence slowly began to come back to life as he relaxed and had some lunch, but he still wasn’t 100%. We took an extended lunch break to try and build some energy back up, but by 1:00 p.m. having gone only 2.5 miles, it was becoming clear that we were not going to make it all the way to Bamboo.
We set off from Machhapuchhare and made it about an hour before Lawrence started to show symptoms again. This time was not nearly as bad as the first, but we were still 2-hours away from the next town, and 12-hours away from any roads where we could get a car. He recovered enough to continue on, but very slowly. By 5:00 p.m. we eventually made it back to Deurali, where we had stayed the night before last. We were less than 10 miles into our 100-mile journey.
Our options for the next day were to either hire a pony service for $300 USD, get an emergency helicopter airlift, spend an extra day trekking, or marathon the remaining 90-miles all in one go. Oh, and we would have to arrive at the jeep trail by 6:00 p.m., before sunset, or it would be too dangerous to drive down the mountainside.
Glad to be safe and in a location with a bed, hot shower, and Wi-Fi we planned to wake up and leave an hour early. Since there were more sporadic towns between Durali and Ghandruk we’d let the day unfold depending on how Lawrence was doing.
Distance Walked: 9.12 miles
Steps Taken: 20,037
Day 13: 8th Trek Day, Deurali to Jhinudanda, to Pokhara, Nepal
June 18, 2023
After breakfast we left earlier than typical in an attempt to make it all the way back to Pokhara. Jay had estimated we’d take about 12 hours to walk the rest of the way to the town of Jhinudanda, where the jeep trail would take us to Pokhara, based on our pace of the last 2 days. I didn’t think we could make it before 6:00 p.m., but my secret goal was to get to Jhinudanda by at least sunset so that in the morning we wouldn’t have any walking left to do at all.
We’d ruled out taking the ponies since Lawrence was feeling better and they were quite expensive. That meant all there was left to do was to get moving! The closer we came down to earth the better we felt. It helped that the majority of the first leg was almost exclusively downhill, quickening our pace.
We surprised ourselves when we made excellent time and arrived in Bamboo (our original goal of the previous day) by 11:00 a.m. By lunch we had made it all the way back to the destination of our 4th trek day, in Sinuwa. We were well on track to make it all the way back to Pokhara today! This was great news. I had had my share of hiking, and after the stressful events of the previous day, I was plenty ready to be back to civilization.
A fun part while trekking is seeing the numerous stray alpine dogs. They don’t have owners and simply make their homes around and between the villages along the Himalayas. They love people and will follow you all day for miles. One dog followed us from the start of our journey in Deurali all the way until Chhomrong. When he dipped out there was another to take his place and accompany us on the rest of our journey. At one point we had around 5 dogs guiding us through the mountains. It is sad when you see them hurt, or when they fight, and it’s a bit difficult not to get too attached. I wanted to adopt every one of those mountain dogs and take them to get an immediate vet checkup!
Chhomrong was the second to last village before we reached Jhinudanda, and it was the bane of my existence. Remember back on the 4th trekking day? We walked down poo-covered stairs for what seemed like an endless amount of time. Well, what goes down must come up and it was time to reverse our journey. The steepness of these stairs was unmatchable, even compared to our very first day of trekking. After 7 days of inclined trekking, I was having more success going uphill and climbing stairs than I was going downhill, yet it was still harder to climb the stairs in Chhomrong. The promise of a finish line, a clean bed, and a shower kept me going.
True to every set of stairs climbed thus far, we climbed right back down as soon as we reached the peak to get to Jhinudanda. I’m no hiking path designer; but it seemed like a walkway could’ve been carved along the side of the mountain rather than going up and over the top completely. Maybe that’s just me.
After walking downhill for nearly 2-hours our very last obstacle was to cross a large hanging bridge. We’d come across a few of these along our trek, but none that matched the size of this one. It’s accredited as one of the longest hanging bridges in the world. Even though I have never had a fear of heights it was still a little unnerving to cross. Lawrence who has never been a fan of heights was a brave trooper making it all the way across without losing his mind even a little bit.
And then that was it! We had made it!! Well, our feet had finished at least. We still had about a 3-hour jeep ride down the mountainside and into Pokhara. I wasn’t bothered in the slightest. Finally, a chance to rest and know that I didn’t have to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
I see why they don’t provide the jeep service after sunset. The mountain’s twisty, bumpy, one-way, dirt roads are no small feat to maneuver. I had to take a screenshot of my Apple Watch, so I knew my actual step count, rather than the bumpiness of the road counting towards my exercise goal.
We arrived back at our hostel in Pokhara and bid our guide goodbye knowing we’d see him again the following week when we made it back to Kathmandu. If anything, trekking brought to light some little things I take for granted in everyday life that some people simply do not have the luxury to enjoy. A clean, dry, and comfortable bed. A hot, long shower with a variety of soaps and shampoos. Services like a laundry machine and dryer. And food cooked and ready in under 30 minutes. We took advantage of all our luxuries bathing in them until it was time to go to bed.
Distance Walked: 16.17 miles
Steps Taken: 35,983
Total Trek Distance Walked: 87.01 miles
Total Trek Steps Taken: 191,110
Day 14-15: Pokhara, Nepal
June 19-20, 2023
8-day’s is quite a long time to trek. I’m glad we made it all the way through, and I’m proud we didn’t quit or end up taking an extra day because we were too slow and/or dying. Would I do it again? For 8-days, probably not. Maybe I could be convinced to trek for 2-3 days again.
Absolutely exhausted from our journey, we only left our hotel room to get food and coffee. We spent the next 2 days doing absolutely nothing.