But it was very early and so after a few pictures and some time just gazing out my window I crawled back into bed for another short hour of rest before it would officially be time to get up and start the day. When I got out of bed the second time I quickly looked out the window but my colorful mountain was now dressed in clouds and you could barely even tell there was an enormous rock in the distance. We got dressed, packed up all of our belongings, and headed to the kitchen to eat and pay for our stay. Today we would be heading to Thorung Phedi which means village at the foot of the mountain. This would be the last village we would be at before we went through the pass. We said our goodbyes to Yak Kharka and started up the trail. Today's route wasted no time in giving us lots of eye candy. After walking up a short climb we came into a wide open valley with massive boulders and lots of green grass in every direction. Tents were pitched all over and many prayer flags and painted rocks were stacked along the trails. The sky was clear and the Annapurna ranges were in full view, showing off their jagged peaks, large vast bodies, and neatly untouched snow pack. I just couldn't stand it. I threw off my pack and grabbed my camera. I started running up the hills towards the peaks I could no longer just pass them by below. I wanted so much to meet them face to face. The wild yaks watched me as I ran closer and higher on the hills towards the boulders probably wondering at what point along this travel I officially lost my mind. These ranges are just huge and unreachable. I finally reached a point of where I knew I couldn't run any closer. I stood in awe of the majesty before me, snapped as many pictures as I could, took a few deep breathes of the cool air to soak up the moment then turned around and headed back to the trail. I strapped back on my pack and headed across the bridge passing a herd of goats (little ones) and their babies singing and running up and down the cliffs.
Elise decided to stay back to rest and I all pumped up on my mountain high continued on merrily down the trail. The peaks were behind me and I couldn't stand knowing my back was turned to them so I hiked backwards. Not the safest move for me since I'm extremely clumsy but I was taught way back in high school tv classes that your eyes are the best lens. I knew my camera would never be able to fully capture what I was seeing and feeling so I needed to capture it and store it in my memory as best as I could. I stopped in another boulder field to see if Elise would catch up. I was greeted by some men on horses who came over to me to chat about the beautiful weather. Its like the universal conversation when your language is limited and so are the topics of discussion. But they were friendly and laughed at my enthusiasm for the landscape. After a while though I still didn't see Elise and so I picked up and carried on. I came to a fork in the trail. I could go up or down. Sizing up my options the up trail looked more fitting.. and I was suppose to be gaining altitude so I took the higher road. It was a steep climb made up of all loose scree and rocks. Funny.. the guide book said today's trek would be light and there was a beaten path... but I didn't have the book Elise did. I looked at my map and I seemed to be heading the right direction so up.. carefully as I could.. I went.
I reached the top of the cliff which flattened out to large pastures. There were some ruins of an old village on either side of a small trail. I walked along when all of a sudden from behind the lower ruins a huge yak came running up and blocked me from continuing on. He was massive with long hair. His face was half white and half black and it reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera. So the masked beast stared me up and down wondering what I was doing on his turf. I hesitated and he moved closer to me. I turned around and started back.. sorry Phantom! I didn't mean to invade! I went back to check out the route I had just taken and still no Elise and I didn't seem to have any better options for trails. Ok just move quickly. I went back to the ruins and my phantom yak, the guardian of the pastures, was gone. So I picked up the pace until I was far past the herds of yaks. I turned a bend and in the distance could see the basecamp of Thorung Phedi. Phew! I thought .. I am going in the right direction. However the closer I moved towards the basecamp the more I realized I had taken the wrong trail. The lower trail led to a stable bridge to cross the river then move up to the basecamp. I on the other hand was already too high and saw that I had to down climb and cross the waters and then hike back up. I saw a wooden bridge in the distance and being as stubborn as I am decided to head for that instead of turning around and going on the right trail. The trail I was on had been closed off for quite some time and for obvious reasons.
Reason number one being that it was a straight shot down with all loose scree again and every step your feet sunk into the gravel and slid. Great. I steadied myself and gracefully side stepped to hold my position. It took me a while to move down the never ending descent. When I hit the river back I was releaved! But the complications were not over. The wooden bridge I saw was reason number two the trail was no longer in use. The bridge had collasped on one side leaving me with very limited options on how to cross the river. There was a small island in the middle of the rushing water just before a small but fast moving waterfall.. I had to carefully jump on the boulders to the island. I used my trekking poles for balance and stretched my legs to reach the rocks. The water was rushing over my boots, thank goodness for gortex. I made it to the island and again had to figure out a strategy to move quickly across the very spread out boulders. Why do I do this to myself I wondered. Elise is going to laugh at me when I tell her about all of this. Well thankfully I made it across with dry feet. There was a trail I had to hike straight up to the camp above me. I turned around to take one last look at the death cliff I just conquered when I saw a white face and blue jacket moving ever so steadily down towards the river bank. Yes it was Elise who too took the wrong trail. The distance from one side of the river to the other was too much to yell for her so I sat on a boulder and watched her try to cross the broken bridge then hop the boulders and avoid getting swept up by the river like I had done. "So I think that lower trail was the right one" I said as she reached me and sat down to catch her breath. I don't think she was too amused. But we made it to Thorung Phedi safely and would be camping here for the night, around 14,500 ft before going to the pass.
I took a small rest to read before dinner. That night we met a wonderful newly wed couple from Texas, Aaron and Lidia, and played a few rounds of card games with them. Aaron told me of a little girl who tried to break his hands for candy on his second day of the trek.. sound familiar? She strikes again! We went to bed early that night because it would be a very early start to the pass. As we tried to fall asleep I heard some rustling of paper and scurrying of feet.. must be something outside.. so I closed my eyes and dreamt about the journeys to come.
June 4, 2011
We woke up bright and early.. very early.. to get started up the trail to the pass. We quickly discovered what all the rustling during the night was. Mice had broken into Elise's pack, feasted on her lunch for the day, and made a quick getaway before we could catch them. I checked my pack and found no fuzzy animals thank goodness. We put on all the layers we had for the day. We didn't know what to expect as far as weather was concerned. The night before we bantered back and forth with Aaron and Lidia about weather conditions but I kept my optimism up and predicted sun and blue skies while the other three predicted clouds and snow. We had our breakfast and started up the trail. The sun was high and the skies were empty of clouds (I was right about the weather!) I took the lead up the trail which was a series of switchbacks going up and up around big boulders and passing little streams caused by melting snow. After about an hour of climbing we reached the basecamp. Elise stopped to charge her camera batteries and I proceeded on up the curved path to find higher grounds for better pictures. Following me was another American couple who was from Steamboat Colorado. The Annapurnas were in full view, dressed to impress! They had no clouds or hills to hide behind today. Back and forth along the peaks my lens ran, snapping as many pictures as it could. When Elise met me at the top we decided to go on. The path was empty of any vegetation and wild life. Just rocks and dirt. The sun was high and the air was cool. There were snow patches but for the most part we had a clear path to trek across.
I'd stop to capture some quick pictures of the progress we were making up to the pass then proceed on. It was challenging but not impossible to climb the steep slopes to the pass. I felt strong and though we were in a much higher altitude then I had ever been in, it didn't bother me to keep a steady pace of breathing. We were moving right along. The guide book projected about a 4-6 hour climb up to the pass but after about three hours I saw in the distance a pile of red, yellow, and green material. Remember what I said about prayer flags being a sign of reaching your destination? Well there they were and we were about fifteen minutes from them. I could hear the winds at the top calling my name and I booked it forward. And then there we were, standing in front of a mound of prayer flags with more prayer flags strung and waving in all directions. In the middle was a sign that read "Congratulations for completing the Annapurna Circuit to Thorung La Pass" I burst into tears. I couldn't believe we had reached the top, over 17,700 ft. In every direction stood huge white peaks, all smiling and welcoming us to their view of the world. I was so humbled by the giants around us. The creation was overwhelming and the sense of acheivement was empowering. I just cried and laughed and took pictures. I had so much joy at this moment. It's a memory I'll never forget. I get asked by a lot of people why I enjoy climbing mountains so much. What's the appeal? What's the reward? Well climb a mountain and you will instantly understand. I can't explain it and pictures never do it justice. But you can feel your soul connecting with the wind when you're up on the top. And your feet sink into the ground like that's where they belong. Your body stands as still as the mountains against the breeze. It's that instant connection with nature. Its where we belong.. I know its definitely where I belong.
Well we couldn't stay up there all day especially on such a clear day with the sun being so bright. After an hour we began the descent. I hate descents I'll be honest. We had gained so much elevation and now we had to dropped down even more then we had gained. For a few hours we went straight down hill into the canyon. In the early afternoon we found a little hut to have a sandwhich and cool drink at. Our legs were tired and our faces were getting burned. We were heading into the desert and it was hot and dusty. The hut overlooked the valley. The canyon was beautiful with it's red and purple rock formation and winding rivers. In the middle was a big patch of green, an oasis called Muktinah. That would be our ending point for the day.
It took about another two hours of down climbing until we reached Muktinah. This city was a holy city where both the Hindu and Buddist faith were practiced. It attracted those of both faiths to travel great distances to celebrate and worship together in the many temples in the city. It didn't really matter what you believe because everyone got along and accepted each other. It was really a wonderful picture to witness. There was no judgement or pride. Simply ok that two people can live in harmony and have different beliefs and practices. It was good.
Our lodge that night was the Bob Marley Freedom Cafe. It was too much. Free love signs and tye dye splattered the walls and portraits of Bob himself were on every wall as well. The inside was decorated like a jungle with wild branches and leaves and fireplaces. The further into the lodge you got the more wall space opened up and murals of wild tye dyed jungle creatures were painted in every direction. Our rooms were bright pink with checkered curtains and fuzzy purple bed covers. It was very plush. The showers were lined with rocks on the floors and walls as if you were showering outside. It was a little wild for being in the holy city of the Annapurna Circuit. But it was fun and had good music and who doesn't want to sleep on a furry pink blanket after a day long trek up and down the mountains. Our next door neighbors were Aaron and Lidia from the previous night at basecamp. It was good to see they had made it over the pass safely and strong too.
That night I went out into the city to walk amongst the many other visitors. The skies were bright gold and the mountains were a solid shade of grey. The sun was setting and the landscape looked like a canvas painting. It was beautiful. The views are more then beautiful and I've tried to find a different word but nothing will do! I watched the women of the town sew scarves and socks together out of yak fur while the men stood around and talked shop. When the sun finally rested for the day the stars took their position to provide light and beauty to all those who were awake. I sat on our lodge's rooftop admiring the twinkling specs and enjoying the cool air. We had reached our goal and so much more. I was completely satisfied.
June 5, 2011 - Today we went to Jomson which I told you about a few posts ago so to refresh your memory scroll down and read that post! But we arrived late in the afternoon hoping to proceed on down the trail to a few more villages before calling it done on the trek. However our trip was cut short because plane seats were filling up fast. We had to fly back to Pokhara early and so Jomson was our last village on the circuit. But it wasn't a real disappointment. We had traveled far, seen so much, and enjoyed every minute of it. Now we would be heading back to our beloved Pokhara. The plane left early the next morning. It was a small aircraft packed with visitors from Pokhara just sightseeing in the Jomson for a few days. It flew over all the green pastures, lakes, and villages of Pokhara. It was really lovely to see from so high up. We got in early in the morning and decided to 'trek' back to Lakeside where we were staying instead of taking a taxi. The thought of riding in a car after trekking 150 miles just seemed silly. Of course we would walk! But wow did we forget what humidity felt like. Yuck! We stopped in the stores as we got into town to stock up on soap and shampoo... two things we hadn't had for 15 days.. and went to our guest house. We were greeted by the same warm and friendly faces we had spent time with just a few weeks prior. It was wonderful to see everyone. But first things first, we cleaned ourselves up and washed all of our gear. It was time to unwind from the trek, but we still had a week to have more adventures in Pokhara and I for one took full advantage of that opportunity.