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The Annapurna Ascent

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 in Wanderlust & Wonder

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One of our goals for our time in Nepal aside from our time volunteering at the monasteries was to explore some of the Himalayan mountain range. We didn’t have the funds or the gumption to tackle the Everest base camp trek (this time around), so we decided to head west to Pokhara. We had a couple of strong recommendations for guides so we signed up for a trek into the Annapurna mountain range.

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The Annapurnas are a collection of peaks in the Himalayas that includes the 10th highest summit on earth, Annapurna I, at 8,091 meters. Overall there are 14 different peaks in the range that are more than 8,000 meters in height. The fatality rate for climbing the Annapurnas is pretty bleak, at 40% so we were content (and realistic in regard to our physical abilities and lack of appropriate gear) to choose a route that was a wee bit tamer than some of the longer, hardcore Annapurna treks that are available.

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We were pressed for time between our commitment at the monastery and our foray into the world of Vipassana meditation that would come after our trek so we decided to tackle the Poon Hill/Ghorepani trek that would take us through the foothills of the Annapurnas over the course of five days. It would still hopefully give us access to some of the most spectacular views of the Himalayas so we were thrilled to be embarking on an adventure that would be physically challenging and wondrously gorgeous.

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For our first day, we wound around and up and down and then up, up, up through a river valley to our first overnight stopping point of the trip. Along the way we saw several water buffalo.

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This trek was a wonderful opportunity to explore a different area of Nepal and to see the way of life of the people who live in this region of the world. Once you climb deep up into the foothills and beyond, there are no major highways let alone roads that any motorized vehicles can surmount. Your only option is to haul anything you may want or need on a pack mule or on your back.

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For our trek, we traveled in a group of five people consisting of Cousin Shannon, Cara, our friend from the volunteer program, Surya, our trekking guide, Noganrai, our porter and me. Surya, who’s name means sun in Sanskrit, definitely had a sunny personality. He laughed and joked and was incredibly eager to teach us a handful of different Nepali folk songs. Initially, we obliged, but eventually his bubbly energy grated on my nerves like fingernails to a chalkboard.

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At some points during the trip, we would spend hours and hours and even entire days climbing up endlessly steep inclines, basically scaling an entire small mountain before lunch. As we would be huffing and puffing with sweat dripping off our brow in cascading rivulets, Surya would approach each one of us in turn and whisper, “Bisteri, bisteri, mati, mati (slow, slow, up, up).” Perhaps even the first time he whispered that phrase at me, I was unimpressed with his sentiments. And normally, any remotely sentient being would be able to interpret from my body language and piercing glare that I was not inclined to enjoy his condescending whispers of “encouragement”.

One piece of advice he gave us along the way that was helpful was to remind ourselves of the fable involving the tortoise and the hare. When climbing up those really steep inclines, it worked best for each of us to find our own steady and sure pace that we could sustain over a long period of time. We would still stop and take water and rest breaks here and there, but that helped to make even the most challenging climbs manageable.

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Eventually, we came to the realization that Surya had the maturity of a 5-year-old and was impervious to any sort of non-verbal communication efforts. Incidentally, he had horrible listening skills when it came to having verbal conversations in English as well. His English ability was quite strong, but any time we would ask a question, he would cut us off and answer a different question and, similar to five year olds, not have an attention span sufficient enough for us to get our actual question answered.

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I don’t want it to seem like I hate Surya (how can you hate a five-year-old?) but by then end of the trek, I was very content with us parting ways and never, ever having any kind of contact ever again. But aside from how impossibly annoying he was, he did manage to introduce us to this fantastic orange-colored berry that grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. Every time we were hiking along, he would spot them from the trail and we would climb up and harvest handful after handful of these delightfully sweet and juicy berries. Popping one into my mouth after several hours of uphill trekking transported me to a special berry-picking sanctuary inside my mind.

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Our porter, Noganrai, on the other hand, was a wonderful, kind, soft-spoken gentle soul who was also very, very funny at times. For our entire five-day trek, he wore the same pair of jeans every day. I understand the need to pack light, but before we really climbed up higher to the point where the air became a lot cooler, it was very, very hot especially during the heat of the day. We would ask Noganrai why he didn’t opt to wear something lighter and more breathable like shorts. First he just smiled and shook his head. Eventually we got him to admit the real reason for not wanting to wear shorts.

“I have very skinny legs,” he said.

We burst out laughing. It had not occurred to us that Noganrai would be suffering through this excursion with sweat pouring off his face tucked inside a pair of heavy denim jeans due to vanity. That was preposterous! From that point on, it was decided that because of his commitment to vanity, he had earned the nickname “Chicken Legs”.

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Bring on the comments

  1. amyh says:

    Do you wish you would have skipped the Vipassana so that you could have more time to hike?

    Do you have calves of steel after all those stairs? You are going to whoop us when we bring it in September.

    Backpacking is one of the things I look forward to doing when our family is old enough.

  2. Unruly Redhead says:

    Yes! I would have loved to have time to go on a longer trek deeper into the mountains. But that just means that I will have to return someday.

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