Day 6 – ABC to Bamboo
I awake at 6 to the sound of heavy mountaineering boots stomping by on the snow-covered boardwalk outside. I perform a well-practiced sleeping-bag change, grab my camera and step out in the brilliant morning alpenglow. The clouds are long-gone and the massive 8091m peak of Annapurna I is the first to reflect the suns rays. As the light works its way down the walls and finally strikes the glacier and ABC, numb hands pull cameras from cases and the air is filled with shutter clicks and frozen breath.
After consuming the most expensive tea and porridge breakfast of the trip we start back down the moraine, dropping layers faster than we drop elevation. By the time we reach MBC, the sun has baked the fresh snow into corn and we’re happy to disappear into the deep shadow of Machhupuchhare. Down is was easier than up, and we race over slippery rocks and avalanche chutes and are past Deurali by 10:30.
A steady afternoon of descending brings us back to Bamboo and leaves us with a decision… Thanks to an outdated Lonely Planet and the dramatically rising cost of food and accommodation near ABC, we are running low on funds and may not have enough to enjoy the rest of our journey. Not wanting to have to alter our plans, I managed to barter my winter boots for tonights’ room and board for us AND Miriam. Let us make a deal, my friend! This saves us enough cash to be able to finish our trip in style and we plan on heading west towards to the ever-popular Poon Hill.
Day 7 – Bamboo to Chuile
We break camp by 8 and curse the hot morning sun while waving goodbye to the lodge owner in his new boots. The trail down through Sinewa in full of beautiful views back up the valley and we spend as much time walking backwards as forwards. As we crest the ridge and Chhomrong comes into view and we are deflated by the previously mentioned wall of steps. Miriam has tramped ahead and we see a tiny figure trudging slowly up the far side that crushes our spirits further.
After a quick dip in the river, we force ourselves up what can only be described as the hottest and worst 500m of the trip. As we finally haul ourselves onto a restaurant terrace dozens of Himalayan Griffons and Eagles appear, apparently disappointed that the exhausted-looking tourists made it up alive.
We recharge and part ways with our Kiwi friend, heading west towards our next destination, Chuile. The afternoon is even hotter with succulents and shrubs replacing the shade-giving forests of this morning. Another four hours of slow progress makes this our longest day yet and we thank the appropriate gods for food and rest.
Day 8 – Chuile to Ghorepani
The valley is filled with a light mist that is just opaque enough to obscure the mountains. The morning climb puts us up to Tadapani as the haze lifts and we get a new spectacular perspective of Annapurna South and Hiun Chuli.
The morning air is alive with birdsong and the dense rhododendron forest is in full bloom. The trail drops back into a tight valley and the hot sun only rarely penetrates the lush canopy. We make slow progress as I stop to snap the abundance of flora and fauna, and then movement catches my eye high up the cliff above. Langurs! A whole troop of the black-and-white monkeys have apparently made their home on the cliffs of the same colour and we caught them just as they are leaving to forage.
After lunch under another cliff at Ban Thanti, the trail follows a babbling series of waterfalls up into what can only be an enchanted forest. We clamber up and over another 3200m pass to be marvelled by wispy but dense clouds racing up one valley and flowing into the one we just came from. We follow the rhododendron ridge down to Ghorepani and prepare ourselves for a pre-dawn assault of Poon Hill.
Day 9 – Poon Hill, Ghorepani to Nayapul
A steep 5am climb is not the most comfortable way to wake up, but even the grouchiest morning person will be moved by the sight of early morning sun hitting rival 8000m peaks. As the sun rises, light cascades down a broad swath of some of the most impressive mountains in the world, the Dhaluagiri and Annapurna ranges.
Content with the views and a cup of tea, we start back down to breakfast and the long walk down. The trail between Ghorepani and Nayapul is a traditional Nepali highway – horses, donkeys, goats, porters and trekkers all vie for space on the narrow steps.
And by gods, there are lots of steps. One stretch down to Turkhedunga boats 3300 continuous thigh-burners. It’s exhausting, but we’re headed down! The trail crosses another river and starts to level out, prolonging the descent as long as possible. By the time the trail gets to Nayapul, the dominant form of transportation changes to jeep and we were caked in dust and sweat. We couldn’t catch a taxi fast enough and were soon showering in our hotel room back in Pokhara. The Annapurna Massif is an amazing mountain sanctuary, and the longer the trip, the better the shower.