Highs and Lows

It’s our day 13 on the Annapurna Circuit and we are currently sat in the glorious sunshine in our lodgings ‘Alpine Homes’, which consists of 10 beach hut rooms built around a glorious sun trap sheltered courtyard. It’s kind of Bridlington Sea Front meets the Himalayas, and it is making us feel very at home!

The past 4 days have been a series of altitude and emotional ups and downs, and we are now resting in relative Nepal luxury in Manang to recover from both.

The ridiculous views and a Puffin related near disaster

After Upper Pisang we left to climb from 3300m to 3670m to our tea house for the evening. The initial climb was absolutely brutal up a series of switchbacks on crumbly slippery steep path. There were a lot of people snaking up the hillside, and we made many temporary Annapurna friends as we rested with them and remarked on the climb through gasped breaths.

After climbing up the hill, we were rewarded with the most ridiculous panoramas of Annapurna II, IV and V, in addition to Pisang Peak and Gangapurna. We really felt in the middle of the Himalayas now! We had tea with a lovely Nepalese woman who recommended her sisters guesthouse in the next village, and told us about her brother who had a shop in London selling Nepalese clothes and trinkets!

On the way to the next village,

trying to get a good Spiker the Puffin photo posing at a view point, we had a near disaster. I carelessly knocked him from his precarious perch and watched in horror as he fell off the side of the cliff and rolled down a series of ledges in slow motion. His whole life flashed before my eyes as I accepted his loss to the mountain, until he finally came to rest on an icy outcrop, the last resting place before a fall down a perilous cliffside! Without hesitation, Liam leapt to his rescue, and scooped him up! He survived and we joked he must be the One Chosen Puffin.

We finally arrived at our guest house and collapsed into the glorious room, with panoramic mountain views on two sides, utterly content. Life couldn’t get any better, we spent the evening chatting with fellow teahouse guests, eating delicious food and gazing at the scenery.

To crown the whole experience off, the night sky was brilliant with stars and we were treated to a spectacular phenomenon. Over in the next valley there was an enormous thunderstorm (we couldn’t see or hear it) and every time lightening struck, the mountain range visible from our window glowed reds and pinks. It was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen- but sadly it was this same beauty that was causing the deaths of people in Southern Nepal as their homes were battered by the same storm.

Life feels very precious and precarious in the mountains, and not just for Spiker! Towered over by the colossal giants of the Himalayas, you feel very vulnerable to the weather. Unlike safely maintained European trails, often Nepali trails can succumb to landslips, avalanches, or the trail just crumbling into the ravine below. You have to be constantly assessing the risks and take nothing for granted, especially the weather. Storms above 3000m are no picnic!

We followed a Guide and got lost!

That evening, in the guest house, we made friends with a German woman called Gabriela and her guide, whose name I shamefully can’t pronounce or spell! We decided to walk with them the next day, and it culminated in our only time getting remotely lost. As it turned out, we couldn’t keep up with the duo, and also they took a route off the main track. This route had some hair raising descents and I’ve learnt something about myself this trip – I’m terrified of very steep descents! I start panicking very easily and can’t do it! So, Liam and I went our separate ways after an hour, but found ourselves lost on the hillside in a myriad of goat tracks, Jeep tracks and pine forest.

Morale sank a little, as Liam was feeling really exhausted and I was annoyed with myself for succumbing to my fear of steep descents. It turns out that even the most stunning mountain scenery in the world cannot immunise you from moments of misery.

We slowly and silently made our way to the next village Braka (pronounced Braga) and collapsed in the room! We’d finally made it to the middle of the trail, a huge achievement and something we’ve been looking forward to. However, we were not feeling very celebratory.

Injury strikes.

So it turns out that Liam is now injured. Ever since our (not so) jolly up to the Pisang viewpoint, his Achilles’ tendon has been niggling him, and it got to a low point on Day 11. Even though the pain is not very bad, it is quite concerning because of the brutality of the Himalayan terrain. There aren’t any gentle flat walks, and out packs are heavy and strain our bodies. As a result, we’ve decided to take some rest days to give the tendon the best chance of recovery.

Liam has been using the unmelted ice from the paths to make ice packs and regularly plunging his foot into buckets of ice cold water. This is no easy task considering that the first night we arrived in Braka it was snowing, and ever since then it’s barely got above zero.

Something I knew about myself, an unattractive quality, is also coming out. I get quite miserable when I can’t do anything. I have been trying to remain upbeat, especially as Liam is the one who is suffering the most, but I’ve been feeling pretty downhearted about resting as we are both really eager to explore the amazing mountains and push on with the walk. This terrain is also quite difficult to relax in- it’s roasting in the sun but freezing in the shade, the rooms are freezing at night, good hygiene is difficult to maintain, and the altitude also affects you.

However, we’ve worked it out between us and are now very content. We moved from Braka, where there was nothing to do but hike, to Manang (30 mins away), where the are lots of shops, bars, little walks and even three cinemas (projector screens) showing loads of our favourite mountain movies such as Everest and Into Thin Air.

We’ve also treated ourselves to a beer, laundering all of our clothes and a really hot shower. We’ve even washed Spiker! After a difficult day of low spirits, we feel very good now relaxing in our lovely new lodge in the sun.

What’s next?

Liam and I are planning to remain in Manang for at least three days. It is really stunning here, and we will be very comfy. We will see how his ankle heals, and then decide if we want to carry on. From this place begins the hardest, coldest and most remote trekking, so we need to be fit to attempt it. However, even if Liam doesn’t heal, we can still go a bit further and do a few smaller walks without bags. We may even hire a porter to help with the bags if it means we can continue on the next hardest part.

A positive of the injury- it’s absolutely gorgeous weather now for a week, and every day that passes means more snow has melted on Thorong La Pass. Every passing day means more people walk the trail and create a better path through the snow. Ultimately, it makes our walk onwards easier!

And I am learning to rest and be still… and Spiker is clean. We’ve made it half way on the Annapurna Circuit!

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