We embarked on a trek to Annapurna Base Camp with no guide, no porter, but lots of energy and excitement to be in the Himalayas.
Excerpts from our journal:
Day 1 "Not a Day Trip"- Naya Pul to Ghandruk
It was tough getting back in the swing of hiking after being in cities for the past couple of weeks. Our packs are quite heavy with gear for about 14 days. We walk from Naya Pul, where the taxi dropped us off, to Birethani and continued on to Sayuli Bazaar. We stop for a breakfast of fried eggs and chapati. We keep walking and this bazaar place seems to never end (spanning all the way up the mountain). We keep passing and being passed by a couple of 1-night-ers, so we feel good about our pace considering our packs. The scenery is beautiful: rice terraces and quaint villages. Everything is very green and there are many little waterfalls that we pass. One of them we use to fill a bottle- our first time purifying, and all goes well. The first half of the day wasn't too bad, but the second half is all uphill. We get to Ghandruk 7 hours later. Very tired, we push a little more to stay at Hotel Mountain View, at the top of the hill, so the next day is easier and of course, we have a view. When we got to the guest house there was a reward. A real rainbow in the valley!
Day 2 "Leeches" -Ghandruk to Chomrong
The day started off with an amazing view from our balcony of one of the Annapurnas that had been hidden in the clouds the night before. The walk at first was pretty easy, mild ups and downs, but then we started the big descent towards the river. Pretty steep considering our bags definitely required some braking. At first it was nice to be in a forest and we even encountered a family of monkeys bouncing along in the trees. Then things turned for the worst. Leeches, lots of them kept climbing up on our shoes. We tried to rush but there was only so much you could get away. 3/4 down the hill we stopped for a chapati breakfast. There were no eggs so we ingested a granola bar instead. From there it was a small river crossing, then a larger one. We were at the bottom so now it was up up up. All was ok except for more leeches. At some point we lost the trail and had to turn around to find it. The estimated 5 hour walk ended up taking 7, not including a slight detour near the end. We finally made it to Chomrong just as the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. At our Kalpana Lodge stayed a group of Christian missionaries from Hawaii. There were eleven of them with some 16 porters and guides, for a total of 32. Nuts! It made for an interesting evening.
Day 3 "Slippery"- Chomrong to Bamboo
We started off descending steps until our legs were shaking. We climbed back up to Sinuwa and made a stop for breakfast. Porridge. No eggs again. SInuwa is a special place. We made it to the top of the mountain without many problems and there the guy coming down told us to expect another two and a half hours to bamboo (unlike the 2 on the sign and the 1 in our map). The walk took us into the jungle. It was really lush, really wet, really green, and really slippery. Crossing some waterfalls made us uneasy and generally we couldn't wait to get there. It was hard not being able to see a destination, only the dense forest up ahead. Just as we thought we would never end, we made it and checked in to Bamboo for the night. A nice bucket shower and a delicious dal bhat re-energized us for a long afternoon of reading and cards.
Day 4 "Waterfalls" – Bamboo to Deorali
The day started off really easily with the walk from Bamboo to Dovan, slightly uphill but not too many problems. We stopped at a really nice waterfall to fill some water and continued on. As we were leaving dovan, daph felt a "bug" on her foot and flicked it. After a few minutes it was hurting badly so we looked and saw she was bleeding and there was a leech on her sock. At the next waterfall we stopped to disinfect and have some hard boiled eggs. From there it was mostly through jungle to get to Himalaya lodges. We passed several waterfalls and it started to rain. When we took off our raincoats, daph found another leech, uncomfortably close to her neck. We had a lunch of tuna on chapati loaded with ketchup and milk tea and were off good as new to Deorali. The walk was really nice, the jungle cleared and we walked through tons of wildflowers and crossed huge waterfalls as we climbed into the clouds. We arrived at Deorali where we met again 4 french people that had started the day in Chomrong-crazy! Just as we arrived the drizzle turned to pouring showers. Deorali is as rustic as we have had and I think we will pass on showering since they were charging per bucket, not to mention it was too cold to want to get wet.
Day 5 "Green"- Deorali to Machapuchhare Base Camp
Today's walk was not too hard. It was supposed to take 2 hours but we decided ahead of time to do it in 3- walk slowly, breathe, and stop a lot for water. The ascent was 550 meters from 3150 at Deorali to 3700 at MBC. The walk was beautiful. We walked in the valley by the river as the mountains were getting closer and closer to us. We saw ice melted in the middle, many many waterfalls, but what was especially impressive were all the wildflowers around us. A couple of kids that seemed to be porters in training kept passing us and stopping for us to pass. They were almost like guides, adjusting some rocks on waterfalls along the way, and pointing out the views. We have been arriving early to the lodge with lots of time to spend in the afternoon and today we finished our reading books. We still had cards, food, and ourselves to keep busy.
Day 6 " By the river" – MBC to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp)
Today was a leisurely walk another couple of hours ascending to 4130 meters. The way was beautiful, an open valley and us walking by the river. About an hour after arriving at ABC we were in the cold moist clouds and would spend the remainder of the day talking and keeping warm under a blanket in the cold and drafty dining hall. In the evening the lodge filled with people, a couple Koreans, an American, a couple of Dutchmen, and everybody ironically learned from us about altitude sickness. W were the only ones that had ascended slowly and were feeling 100%.
Day 7 "Rain" – ABC to Dovan
Today started off as the most amazing morning. We got up at 5am to see the mountains because we weren't sure it would get any clearer. But it did! At about 5:30 we got up for the second time and as we were organizing our things and awaiting breakfast kept watching the sky clear and the mountains around us were unveiled. We ended up watching for more than an hour before starting our way down. First to MBC, then Deorali where we picked up some items we left behind to lighten the loads. After our short stop at Deorali it started to rain. By the time we made it to Himalaya we were soaked head to toe. So, since it was quite early, we decided to keep descending further, couldn't really get any wetter. The rain only got worse. The walk was long, the rocks were slippery, and crossing waterfalls made sure to get our shoes "extra clean". By the time we got to Dovan we were as wet as can be. Our bags were wet including some of their contents and Daph's knee was hurting from descending all 1500 meters in one day. So we decided to call it a day and sat down for our daily dal bhat.
Day 8 "Slip and Slide" Dovan to Jhinu
We started with an early morning at Dovan, saw a quick view of Machapuchhare peak before starting our walk of hell. At Bamboo we made a little stop for a can of tuna and continued through the forest to Sinuwa. There we made a longer stop for breakfast and biscuits along with a local treat. Sinuwa is a special place. It was down the mountain then back up to Chomrong. We stopped by Kalpana for some warming tea (best lemon tea of daph's life) before going down to Jhinu with on again off again rain. The rain yesterday had caused the trail to degrade severely. From Dovan all the way to Sinuwa the trail had turned into a stream. Not just a trickle, but a slippery stream. Then Sinuwa to Chomrong and even Jhinu there were tons of landslides that had collapsed the trail and the the mud all around was squishy and slippery. And the waterfalls-if before we could find some rocks to hop between, now we were happy to step right in to the slippery mess, just to avoid sliding down with the surging rush of water. To make matters just a tad worse we tried not to walk too slow or stay in once place too long so as to avoid the leeches as much as possible. Nonetheless, Daph got a couple of leech bites on her stomach and others on her feet. Let's not forget to mention Daph had 3 falls along the way. None serious!
Day 9 "Pokhara or Bust"- Jhinu to Nayapul and then bus back to Pokhara
We've had enough of the trail at this point and decided to use the locals' trail to get back to Nayapul asap. This trail would follow the river all the way down. Some locals were heading the same direction and we kept pace with them for a good while. A few bridge crossings, leech checks, water breaks, and a lot of perseverance we were able to put good dent in our day's walk before lunch. All we could think at this point was how nice it would be to be in a real bathroom with a shower (for reference, all the lodges had shared bathrooms with squat toilets and cold water) 9 hours later we were in Nayapul. Now, the local bus… A slow 3 hours up and down the mountains until finally reaching Pokhara. We found a nice hotel and crashed for the night.
(You can get an idea of what the trek looked like by clicking on our map and changing it to satellite view).