Currently having a rest day watching the clouds descend on the Annapurna II (7937m) in the stunning village of Upper Pisang (3300m) We’ve had two hard days followed by two easy days, and are making the most of sitting, eating and resting before we trek onwards (and upwards) tomorrow.
After the torrential rain ceased and the sun melted the clouds, we began our climb onwards and have been absolutely blown away by the scenery. We are now firmly dabbling our toes in the outskirts of the Annapurna Massif Mountain range, home to the 10th highest Mountain in the world, Annapurna I (8091m) and an assortment of her smaller but nonetheless gigantic relatives, Annapurna II-IV. Apologies for the cliches, but the views are absolutely breathtaking, words can’t do it justice, and Liam and I agree it creates sensory overload- you just can’t take it all in. Just when we think it can’t get any more beautiful, it somehow manages to. We feel utterly privileged and are in no hurry to leave this area… hence our two restful-ish days.
Never ending ups
No pleasure without pain, the beautiful views come from the struggles. The first half of this trek constitutes never ending up hills. Despite knowing this, it is always vaguely surprising to spend the whole day slogging with our 12-16kg packs on accents of often quite steep slopes, switchbacks and staircases/staircase-ladder hybrids. Frequently whilst climbing these gigantic beasts, I have moments (usually just before the hill ends) where I lose all hope and start dramatically declaring “will it ever end!!!” And of course, it does, often with the reward of a ridiculous view.
In addition to the ups, there are also the up-down-ups. These are ups which are immediately followed by a down to lose all your altitude, very quickly followed by a steep up to regain it. These are not my favourite moments of walking.
So far we have ascended 2500m (not including the up-down-ups) and so we have another 2100m of ups to go! So, I better get used to it!
Dealing with altitude
Neither Liam and I have ever spent much time at higher than 3000m, and consequently, we have never experienced the effects of altitude. Over 3000m, your body starts to struggle with the limited oxygen and it has to adapt. If the body doesn’t adapt, you get quite ill, and you have to go down. I knew very little about altitude sickness before this trip, but being slightly paranoid, I am now a google scholar. We are taking the trek very slow now that we are over 3000metres, making sure that we never sleep more than the recommended 300-500 metres higher a night.
We have both felt the altitude, it’s incredible just how breathless you get at this height. We did a side trip today and even without the bag, it was the most exhausted either of us have been! We’ve both been reading Into Thin Air (book about Everest disaster) and completely understand why people turn back 100 metres from the top (we did ourselves from a meagre 4000m ascent!). I am not trying to compare myself to anyone attempting Everest- but at 3700metres, I got a very very small decorative teaspoon of insight into the three day feast of altitude problems on bigger mountains. I can confirm what I already knew, I have absolutely zero interest in being a mountaineer.
One of the highlights of the trip so far has been the dogs, who like to follow you for sometimes very long sections. They don’t ask for much but adopt you as a walking companion and provide endless entertainment as they jump around in front of you, wait for you and become fiercely loyal for as long as they choose to follow. We have been careful not to stroke or feed them, as we realise they are wild and probably hosts to creatures that we would prefer not to host. However, it has been very hard to resist!
The downside to doggy tag alongs is when they encounter another dog or stray into another dogs territory. Our first dog simply backed down as soon as it was challenged and we lost it… but one of our dogs seemed to be using us a safety net to venture into other dogs territory. All of a sudden we were in the middle of dog war fare, with some mean hardy little mountain dogs snapping viciously at our dog that was trying to take shelter between my legs. With visions of rabies and blood born diseases, Liam and I walked very quickly back the way we came, and our dog followed. Hilariously, we were afraid to carry on down the trail as our dog kept insisting on joining us which was really pissing off the pack of mountain dogs!
Liam and I are still loving trail life where all you have to do is eat, sleep, walk and plan your walk. We’ve also been washing our clothes by hand, enjoying the delights of cold showers, and playing toilet roulette (is the toilet going to be rancid or not!?).
We have two sets of clothes- ones for day and one for night- and have probably have reached a point now where we smell fairly fetid despite our attempts at cold showers and hand washing clothes. Fortunately, we can’t tell. Spiker, the stuffed toy Puffin that we brought with us, is also starting to look trail weathered. His once white puffin belly is turning trail coloured.
As we’ve reached the part of the trail where many people get jeeps to, the trail is busier, but still there are barely any people at all! Maybe three small groups at most in any lodges we have stayed in.
Some of the lodges have been pretty basic, but now that we are getting higher up and in the busier part of the trail, some of them have been luxurious- akin to Alpine Ski Chalets (albeit with squat toilets and cold showers). And you normally pay nothing to sleep there, as long as you eat at least two meals.
So after two rest days (sort of) we are heading on tomorrow. Looking outside at the cold clouds I am hoping the sun comes back out in the morning. It is now absolutely freezing outside (literally) until the sun comes out. We have about five days planned before we reach Manang, which is where we will try to go over Thorung La Pass (5400m). The people at the last village we stayed in have told us that it’s been the worst and longest winter in memory, and as a result, the pass is under a lot of snow and may be difficult. This time last year, people were doing it in shorts!!
Liam and I have decided to have a go as long as the weather and advice of the locals seems to suggest it’s possible. Many fellow trekkers are rushing to get to the pass but we are taking it slow, letting the spring sun melt the snow! We have the luxury of time.