Annapurna Base Camp – 12th November 2015
Kaji had called it Coca Cola trekking referring to my trip to Annapurna Base Camp while we were on our way over the Cho La Pass in Everest region. Obviously some pride there from my mountain guide in what is considered to be the “hardcore” trekking region of Nepal. “It will be easy for you after this one, you can drink beer and Coca Cola the whole way and the maximum altitude is just over 4000m”.
I had this in mind as we headed off from Pokhara 2 days after I flew back from Lukla. This was my first time on this trek and I had taken the opportunity to join this trip in order to photograph this trek and film some marketing video. And after seeing some photos from Annapurna Base Camp there was no way I would miss this opportunity. The group was 4 Polish from Canada. Culturally similar to me. A little older.
A nice 12 day itinerary. I had decided to carry my own gear “guide style”. I was warned in advance about the stairs on the first day climbing into Ulleri so I was prepared for it. And there were a lot of stairs. I was actually surprised at just how many stairs we would climb and descend over the next 12 days. Fortunately for me the low altitude made it a lot easier. Coca Cola trekking? Maybe not quite dear Kaji as the daily ascents and descents on this trek would easily double those in the Everest Region on an average day, are far steeper and not nearly as gradual.
I was surprised by the number of waterfalls on this trek. Much of it through dense forest. The section between Ghorepani to Tadapani in particular where the track follows a creek through dense forest took me much longer because of the stunning cascades around every corner.
The other aspect is the close proximity of the main peaks which take pride of place in almost every scene along the route. Annapurna South, Himchuli and the Fishtail (Machhapuchre) in particular. Something which in Everest Region requires ascending to over 4000m by comparison. In fact on the 12 days we were greeted by these epic views from our hotel almost every morning.
Our morning walk to Poon Hill on day 3 was stunning. Our 5am start up the stairs in a long line of trekkers was vaguely reminiscent of photos of summit day on Mt Everest but did not disappoint. We were rewarded with a panorama of peaks including the Dhaulagiri Range as well as the Annapurna’s and Machhapuchre. In fact I could see exactly why a 5 day trek around this area is so popular and within the scoop of possibility for most average fitness Trekkers. And looking at the vast forests of Rhododendron through the region left me with a huge desire to revisit the area in April as I could well imagine the profusion of colour that would carpet the hillsides.
The walk from Machhapuchre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp was stunning. Better on the return leg than the ascent due to the tendency for clear mornings with cloud rolling in some time after noon each day.
Annapurna Base Camp was epic beyond belief. Set at the top of a narrow valley and surrounded completely by a ring of huge peaks featuring Annapurna South, Himchuli, Annapurna 1 and Machhapuchre as the key players. Even the late afternoon cloud rolling in and out and creating magic was a pure gift from the gods of nature photography. And of course the crystal clear morning while not as exciting for me was pure delight for the other Trekkers.
On the return journey we were treated with a lovely surprise at the Jhinu Hot Springs. Absolutely magic and so nice after over a week of trekking. Particularly for me as I had refrained from cold showers or paying for hot showers for the duration of the trek.
So Coca Cola trekking? Maybe not quite but certainly with a lot less “comfort restrictions” than Everest Trekking. We had lights and power the whole way, hot showers available although the wifi was not working for 2/3 of the way. The altitude was lower and it was not as cold so I would say from that “comfort level” viewpoint it was pretty easy. Physically though still pretty challenging though not nearly as hard as the high altitude routes. And of course PHOTOGRAPHY WAS EPIC.
I started this trip 7 days after falling very ill at Gokyo in the Everest Region with food poisoning. In retrospect I really should have been evacuated by helicopter and it was only due to my stubbornness and unwillingness to leave my group that I didn’t.
I knew at Pokhara that I was still weak, nauseous and not eating normally. But I also knew that after 3 weeks at much higher altitudes that the walking on this trip would be easier. And I was hopeful that as the days passed and the nausea cleared up I would be feeling much stronger.
Fortunately I had found some old trekking pants of mine in Kathmandu that I had not worn since 2012. Obviously subconsciously I had kept them knowing I would need them again. My warm pants however were woefully baggy on me but I reasoned that I would only be needing them for this one last trip and could purchase new pants for the following season.
Once we started walking I found it quite easy despite my pack being almost as heavy as those carried by both out porters. Particularly after I was given a bag of fruit to carry that we purchased on day 1. The upshot of the fruit being that I could sneak one out of my pack to eat as a snack if I found myself hungry. The ease of walking confirmed what I was expecting. That was that being acclimatized to high altitude the walking at such low altitude would be a lot easier despite my still weak condition. In fact as we got higher and the rest of the group started to tire more easily I found myself feeling strong and energetic for the first time in over a fortnight (and I was still carrying the heavy pack).
Being sick with food poisoning had left me with a lasting distaste for trekking food which was the subject of many humorous moments. Like the day that I proclaimed that I would be having chocolate and Sprite for lunch (in fact I had Sprite and an apple). Or the evening that I proclaimed that I was having corn for dinner and subsequently ate a bowl of popcorn. The funniest of all being when I ordered “Banana Filter” on the second last day for my lunch. It was quite nice actually and I knew that they had misspelled fritter but this is Nepal and I was not certain exactly what it would contain until the plate was delivered some time later.
Truth be known I hated the Annapurna trekking menu with a passion and my protests were very similar to the wailing drunken Kaji reenactment of my Everest trekking team. (Referring to the last night of our trip when our guide Kaji got drunk and spent 1 hour wailing about how much he hates Dal Bhat). I found the menu identical for the entire trip with most of the ingredients being tinned or similar and only vaguely tasting like the western names they represented. In fact the highlight of my trip was eating some dried buffalo that was given to our porters and guide at about half way. A close second was the plate of chips I ordered at ABC asking to have cheese melted on top as a special order. And the banana filter (Ninglish spelling for Banana Fritter, and source of at least 1 hour of laughing) on the second last day (after we had left the trekking menu behind us close to “civilization”. By comparison I had found the menu variety in the guesthouses in Everest Region to be far better despite spending 90% of it as sick as a dog. Annapurna had me yearning for village corn and my usual food in Kathmandu.