Day 5: Chhromrong 2170 meters (7120 feet) to Bamboo 2,335m (7661 feet)
It was an easier day, more Nepali flat, without any huge climbs or descents. The task at hand seemed less daunting. We were becoming acclimated to the altitude after spending the last few months at sea level in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Our muscles had bounced back from the shock and overexertion of the first few days. I’d recovered from my bout of food poisoning, but Mandy was still bothered by her swollen right knee, which had weirdly popped up the day before we left on our trek. She was able to take some weight off it with hiking poles and continued to warrior her way up.
It was a day of resplendent greens and blues; the sun’s rays warmed the terraced fields, while the azure sky seemingly shimmered within touching distance in the thin mountain air. Occasionally the valley opened up, offering us a glimpse of the famous peaks of Machapuchare and Annapurna–a hint of what was to come. We relaxed over a three-hour dinner with Steven and Simone, our friends and fellow trekkers from Holland. The night was filled with excitement and nervous anticipation for the two-day blitz to Annapurna Base Camp that would begin in the morning.
Day 6: Bamboo 2,335m (7661 feet) to Deurali 3230meters (10,600 feet)
We resumed a steady ascent with an uphill trek that took us above the treeline. We left the farms behind, and scrubby forests of bamboo gave way as we climbed. The vegetation disappeared revealing an incredible, high-walled valley with innumerable waterfalls cascading down; glacial melt fueling a pristine mountain river that tumbled alongside us. The trail was often missing due to rock slides, floods, and snow drifts. We scrambled back and forth across the river searching for the best path as we scampered ever upward.
We continued to fuel ourselves on local tea (black, green, lemon ginger), dal bhat, and fried gurung bread. The nights were cold. We filled hot water bottles and stuffed them into the base of our mummy sleep sacks. Mandy was feeling the effects of the altitude and had started taking Acetazolamide, a diuretic, to prevent full-blown altitude sickness. The price: strapping on her headlamp for 3 overnight trips out of her warm sleeping bag to the frigid outhouse squat toilet.
Day 7: Deurali 3230meters (10,600 feet) to Annapurna Basecamp 4130 meters (13,550 feet) to Machapuchare Base Camp 3700 meters (12,140 feet)
We awoke at 4am without an alarm. Dark blues of morning’s first light crept across the night sky. The mountains remained shadowed, but their presence above us was keenly felt. We had black tea and an energy bar before immediately resuming our trek up the rocky trail, again crossing the river multiple times on bridges made of wood or stone, or if we were unlucky, no bridge at all.
As day broke, the valley’s vertical stone walls were illuminated in a warm red glow and the Annapurna massif towered majestically overhead. The mountainscape was vibrant and alive. Angled light from the advancing morning highlighted the yellow and green groundcover, which glistened beneath a fine layer of dew. The air was brisk and the blue sky shone in a manner seen only at high elevations; the scenery shimmering in the purity of the Himalayan air.
We reached Machapuchare Base Camp and, after a quick breakfast, we resumed our ascent. The mountain peaks ahead appeared deceivingly close, which made our progress seem agonizingly slow. Everything in view was disorientingly massive: the mountains, rockslides, and glaciers. Only a glimpse of fellow trekkers ahead, small specks on the horizon, revealed the true distance left to cover. Other than a local Nepali scavenging the hillside for mushrooms, the scene was barren. Evidence of human settlement was limited to the trail itself and the bright blue roof of Annapurna Base Camp in the distance; the fluttering prayer flags still too far away to see.
We raced the clouds that began rising up from the valley floor and threatened to obscure the view before we reached base camp. I struck off ahead of Mandy to capture the scene, and her ascent, with my camera. We had climbed another 3,500 feet today, and the altitude was causing her more problems. I reached the base camp and looked back on the silhouettes of her and Urchin climbing upward as a layer of white clouds threatened to envelop them. She joined me at base camp just in time. Clouds swirled around the peaks and, after the obligatory pictures, we settled down for garlic noodle soup, hot chocolate, and hot tea. Anything to keep us warm and energized.
We left the base camp and circled above it, visiting the prayer flags and memorials for those who died on Annapurna. There was a set of tents off to the side, an encampment for hikers who would actually head to the summit–a 6 to 12 week commitment for acclimatization, preparation, and the ideal weather conditions. But our job was done. As the clouds grew thicker, Dende recommended that we leave before visibility became too poor. We descended through thick fog, the shadowy, rocky terrain now unrecognizable from our earlier ascent under bright, clear skies.
We arrived back at Machapuchare Base Camp and had a celebratory dinner with others we’d met on the trek. Everyone chipped in a few dollars and a propane heater was lit, warming a guesthouse already filled with the smiles of new friends sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Chhomrong to Bamboo:
Bamboo to Deurali:
Bamboo to Annapurna Basecamp to Machapuchare Basecamp: