Descent

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Sunrise on Annapurna as seen from Machapuchare Base Camp

Day 8: Machapuchare Base Camp 3700 meters (12,140 feet) to Chhromrong 2170 meters (7120 feet)

At 5am, we left behind the warmth of our sleeping bags to watch the sun rise over a frigid Machapuchare Base Camp.  The hulking silhouette of the Himalayas emerged slowly out of the pitch black sky above us as the sky took on the earliest light of day.  Icy mountain peaks crowned the panorama, and the shimmering, vibrant blue skies returned–a morning staple of the Himalayas at this time of year.  After a hurried breakfast of gurung bread, fried eggs, and black tea, we set off, small specks scrambling down a deep valley still shadowed in night.  The sunrise afterglow settled onto the steep granite walls towering overhead, but it was hours before daylight would lower itself into the valley and chase away the last remnants of the chilly Himalayan night.  We stuffed our down jackets into our packs as we began to work up a sweat.  Time was of the essence.  What had taken seven days to climb, we needed to descend in two.

We took one last look back at the view of Machapuchare and the magical vista of the valley opening up onto Annapurna, then turned to focus upon the descent and distance that lay ahead of us.  We alternated between the two trails hugging the cliffs on opposite sides of the rocky valley.  It was faster going down, but not easier: snow drifts, scree, icy rivers, and uneven terrain prevented us from attaining any sustained rhythm.  Different muscle groups were put to the test on the descent and our legs burned anew as they braked and guided our progress down the mountain.

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one last look back at Annapurna as we descend

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Mandy and Urchin hike ahead as we move down the valley

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Mandy and Urchin hike ahead as we move down the valley

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Mandy works her way across a waterfall while Dende takes a harder approach.

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A look up at the cliffs bordering our route

 

By noon we were already back below the tree line at the edge of a lush bamboo forest. We pressed on after a quick lunch, but our commitment to a rapid descent meant that for the first time on the hike we were caught out in the daily afternoon downpour.  It was the wrong choice on the wrong day.  As the clouds rolled in the sky turned dark black, masking the transition to night, and the rain poured down relentlessly.

As fate would have it, our massive descent ended with a 40 minute climb up stone stairs to Chhomrong.  The clouds and rain had erased the expansive vistas which usually served as an antidote to a long day on the trail.  Our soaked packs had tripled in weight and our wet clothing slowed and impeded our movement.  We trudged on in damp silence, passing into the town before climbing up through it to reach our guesthouse.  We made a makeshift clothes line across our room to dry our gear and then joined the other, drier, hikers for dinner before collapsing in our beds.

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Rain clouds moving in over the valley

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A soaking wet horse greeted us at the base of Chommrong

 

Day 9: Chhromrong 2170 meters (7120 feet) to Syauli Bazaar 1210M (3970 feet)

We slept in until 7am the next day, but our bodies remained exhausted from the combination of the previous day’s trek and the hours soaked to the bone.  It was a depth of fatigue from which it would take us days to recover.

But the sun was shining and it was warmer now.  We sat outside enjoying a breakfast of gurung bread and fried eggs before beginning one of our easiest days.  Rather than high mountain vistas, the path wound through vertical walls of terraced farmland extending far above and below the trail.  Local Nepalis were drying some of their crops on the rooftops while others performed manual labor in the fields.

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View of the Himalayas from the top of Chrommrong, with much of the town extending down along the path below (which we hiked up the day prior).

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A Nepali woman drying her crops

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Everything in the Himalayas is essentially transported in on people’s backs

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Mandy and co walking below extensive terracing

The pace was leisurely and notable only for two chance encounters.  As we approached our last teahouse, we startled a six-foot brown snake that slipped rapidly between us and away down the path.  Urchin was unable to tell us the name of the snake, but his expression told the story and he maintained a vigilant look out for the next hundred yards.  When he told Dende, and we asked Dende if he knew the English name, he just clicked his tongue and shook his head from side to side, followed by a low whistle of relief, which we translated to “poisonous.”

That night Mandy went to bed early, while I had a few celebratory beers with Dende and Urchin.  I returned to our room expecting to find Mandy asleep, but her eyes were wide open scanning the holes in the ceiling for the large iguana that kept peeking his head out for a glimpse of his roommates.  But at least it wasn’t a poisonous snake and soon I was fast asleep.

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Celebration: left to right: Dende, Urchin, Me

Day 10: Syali Bazaar to Pokhora

Our last day on the trail lasted all of two hours.  As we trekked down a busy, far from scenic, road, our masochistic desire to complete the hike on our own two legs gave way to a cheap taxi that drove us 90 minutes to Pokhora, a lakeside resort town.  We immediately dropped our packs, cleaned an infestation of ants from our gear, and took a warm shower.  Not a cold shower, not a “Nepali shower” (using wet wipes), but a warm, fully cleansing, soapy shower.  And then email, ice cream, and a real bed.

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