Start: Nayapul (1070 m)
Destination: Tikhedhungga (1540 m)
Lodge: Chandra Guest House
Trek difficulty: Easy to breathe and easy to walk though there was some climbing. The day was overcast and the temperatures remained moderate.
Highlight: The highlight today was getting to know the other trekkers doing similar routes to me. There was a Japanese woman with a Nepali boyfriend staying at my same lodge. There was a man from Hong Kong also traveling solo, and although he seemed too cool to talk to anyone, I tried anyway. To pass the time, Subash taught me a couple fun Nepali card games that I would be able to use to impress the other guides and porters over the duration of the trek. And I met Paula from Chicago. She was staying at the lodge next door, and I realized we had taken the same bus from Kathmandu. We shared stories over some chicken curry and banana pancakes before heading to bed early so that we would be ready to go bright and early the next morning.
Lunch: Nangge Thanti
Destination: Ghorepani (2860 m)
Lodge: Sunny Hotel
Trek difficulty: The first two hours were all at a challengingly steep incline. Afterwards, the path remained semi-level or slightly uphill.
Highlight: The two highlights from today were recognizing that I was, in fact, climbing through the Himalayas from the first two hours of intense climbing. These hours let both my lungs and my water bottles feel their wrath. Before lunch I went through 3 liters of water and didn’t even feel I had to go to the bathroom because I lost all that water while perspiring. The second highlight was at my Ghorepani Lodge, where I played cards with some of the guides, porters, and Grace and Eva (both from Hong Kong), and I had a chance to play basketball with the local Nepali children as the sun set shining on the snow-capped mountains.
Sunrise hike: Poon Hill (3193 m)
Lunch: Ban Thanti
Destination: Tadapani (2630 m)
Trek difficulty: Today was an easy day that started early with the sunrise walk and ended early in Tadapani. The hike to the top of Poon Hill was steep, but it lasted less than an hour.
Highlight: Watching the sun touch one mountain peak at a time as it climbed into the sky was surreal and very photogenic. After it rained much of last night, the sky was almost perfectly clear, with just a couple clouds to provide the rays of sun more surfaces to light. In addition, after a nice walk through the forest and along a river, I spent the afternoon and evening playing cards and learning the stories of the other trekkers, guides, and porters also staying in Tadapani. The temporary Tadapani community we created felt so natural and warm that I was sorry to leave it behind the next day, but maybe it was its ephemeral quality that made the community all the more special.
Destination: Sinuwa (2360 m)
Lodge: Sinuwa Lodge
Trek difficulty: Tough! Although we lost almost 300 m in altitude, we did so by making our way through two valleys– down, up, back down, and back up. I was exhausted. Upon arriving, I needed a Coca-Cola’s worth of sugar to be functional enough to change into warmer clothes and get ready for dinner. The rain during the second half of the day added to the challenge as the trail because slippery and my rain coat uncomfortable.
Highlight: Subash and I are the first to arrive at our lodge, and after gaining back some energy from the day, I asked Subash if he thought that others would be coming. He didn’t know. I see a couple pass by, hesitate, and the look around, The owner of the lodge runs outside and says something in Napali to their guide. I watch hopeful that they might choose the lodge. They start to walk away, the lodge owner disappears into the kitchen, and then I see them hesitate again and turn around. I yell to the owner that they are coming back and she smiles at me and goes back outside. These two trekkers from Belgium will be my hiking buddies and eventually good friends as we all make our way up to ABC.
Lunch: Himalaya (2920 m)
Destination: Deurali (3230 m)
Lodge: Panorama Guest House
Trek difficulty: Difficult and again it is up and down and up and down. The Annapurna trek doesn’t believe in flat. Even at the end of today’s hike when we are eye level with our lodge, we need to climb up, down, and then back up again before reaching our destination. That said, a slow and steady pace made the day more than manageable. I felt much better after day 5 than I did after day 4.
Highlight: The sun was out most of the day, the views were beautiful, and I was finding my “trekking groove”. It is also a great feeling when I was able to arrive to my lodge just before bad weather rolled in and that is exactly what happened today. Minutes after getting to the Panorama Guest House, visibility drops to nothing, the temperature falls, and rain drops start appearing. Again, the small group staying at my same lodge was very friendly, and many of them enlightened me about the famous climbers who had attempted the famous Himalayan peaks.
Destination: Annapurna Base Camp (4130 m)
Lodge: Annapurna Sanctuary Lodge
Trek difficulty: Although the path itself presented with only moderately difficult inclines, the continual rise in altitude made this last day to our destination a true challenge. Luckily, it was only a half day and the motivation of knowing what lay ahead was enough to keep me going strong.
Highlight: The highlight today was watching the clouds clear as the sun was setting. I forgot about the tough times getting there, I forgot about the mitten I had lost earlier that day on the trail, and I forgot about the challenges that were ahead in getting back down the mountain. At the moment, surrounded on all sides by white mountains towering at around 8000 meters high, there was no where else I rather be. The sky was changing colors while I walked around the Annapurna Sanctuary seeking out the perfect perfect of this uncapturable moment. The sun sets, I go back into the lodge’s dining room, have some pizza and a lot of hot masala tea while the guides and guests all play cards, Yatzy, and compare stories of our journeys to the top.
Start: Annapurna Base Camp
Destination: Sinuwa (2360 m)
Lodge: Sinuwa Lodge
Trek difficulty: Much harder than I had anticipated. A long day of mostly downhill can be brutal on knees, ankles, and feet. And the difficulty of downhill is only compounded when it starts to rain as it did for the second half of the day.
Highlight: Waking up at 5am for the moment I had awaited the whole journey had to be the highlight of the day. As the Annapurna Sanctuary warmed up while the sun climbed over the mountains, I wish I could’ve been there forever. However, at around 8am, the descent back down began. Climbing down almost 2000 meters and unfortunately with a lot of interspersed uphill made for a sore evening. For dinner, I had some tomato soup with gurung bread to warm up, but as I ate, I could not shake the anxiety of what tomorrow would be like if my joints didn’t feel better. A highlight, though, would have to be after reaching Sinuwa, where I arrived to a full lodge of excited trekkers both on their way up and back down the mountain. This was the first evening that I crossed paths with a group of 8 Australian trekkers, who would end up being some of the best trekking partners. I would eventually get to know all eight of them plus their 2 guides and 4 porters. They were a wonderful group that I feel so fortunate to have run into.
Destination: Jhinu (1780 m)
Lodge: Jhinu Guest House
Trek difficulty: Today should’ve been one of the easiest day. It was a short distance, all down hill, and the weather was overcast yet dry. Unfortunately, extremely sore knees can turn even the easiest of days into a challenge.
Highlight: My sore knees ended up being both a negative and a positive. A short way down the path, the Australian team came up behind me, recognized the pain I was in, and fixed me up. Tim and Mark gave me a stronger anti-inflammatory and taped up my knee in an attempt to stabilize my patella. Although I didn’t feel 100% afterwards, their tape and medicine worked! I was soon caught up to them and continued with Team Australia to Jhinu. Later that afternoon, soaking my sore knee in the Jhinu Hot Springs was exactly what my muscles craved and I gained a little more confidence about the upcoming days.
Destination: Ghandruk (1940 m)
Lodge: Annapurna Guest House
Trek difficulty: Today was downhill for the first third, and uphill for the next two. Again, the trek was only a half day of walking, and luckily for me, the uphill does not hurt my knee in the same way that downhill does.
Highlight: Upon arriving in Ghandruk with the Australian trekking team, we have a big lunch and then walk around the relatively big town. We dress up in wedding gear, and I “get married” to the four Australian women as well as to their assistant guide Tilla (because we happen to be wearing the same hat). The laughs we shared as we all got dressed continued straight into the evening as we all recapped highlights of our trek over some cold Everest Beers. For dinner, I had the most delicious Dal Bhat of the whole trek, and considering this may have been Dal Bhat number 15 of the trek, that is a true recommendation.
Destination: Nayapul (1070 m)
Trek difficulty: Today was all downhill and flat, but my knees kept reminding me that they were tired. That said, especially after getting to the flat area, the day went very smoothly and easily.
Highlight: Walking back through the town of Nayapul, I remembered how I felt on that first day. I was nervous and anxious as I had little idea about what was to come and what to expect. Those last 20 minutes after lunch, I felt a sense of accomplishment as well as a tinge of sadness for having completed the trek. I will miss the lodges, the other trekkers, the friendly Nepalese, and getting up for sunrise most mornings to watch as the sun rose over the Himalayas. It was this sadness that made it clear how much I truly enjoyed this adventure.