Friday, October 19, 2007

The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

We're back from the Annapurna Base Camp trek! We survived 12 days of hiking in the completely, absolutely, totally breathtaking (in more ways than one) Himalayas and lived to tell the tale! We started in Nayapool, an hour from Pokhara, and hiked up to Ghorepani and saw all of the mountains from Poon Hill (a hill at an elevation of 3200m is somehow a "hill" here!) Then we walked further up to the Annapurna Base Camp, where we were surrounded by the mountains. They completley surrounded us. Each peak, from Annapurna I to Machhupuchhre, can't be taken in all at once; I had to blink. To see the range, I would have had to turn my head all the way around, Poltergeist-style. Each snow-capped peak was amazing on its own; the range was completely stunning. I won't give you a blow-by-blow account of everything; instead, I'll tell you what I liked and didn't like along the way.

The Ugly

I hated this part: the leeches. Yes, I said leeches. Bloodsuckers, whatever you call them, they're horrible, and guess what? They're here! In Canada I'm accustomed to the ones that live in murky, still lakes and swampy marsh areas. If you avoid those, you're good to go. In Nepal, there are ALSO leeches that live in trees and on leaves and grass along the hiking paths in the jungles of the Himalayas. BG got leeched twice -- both times in his shoe. We couldn't figure out how a leech would get into his sock to the bottom of his foot, but then I saw one of the nasty bastards working its way into a shoelace eye. Then our guide told us that they can squeeze into the fabric of a sock as well, the buggers. We met a man that had two leeches in his shirt from when they fell from the trees, and countless other trekkers had blood spots on their socks, shoes, and shirts as we met them along the way. It became a sort of trekker greeting: "Did you meet the leeches? Be careful of the leeches!"

They were actually only really bad in one section of the trek on the seventh day. I was prepared for them. I tied my shoes tight, put on my wide-brimmed hat, and basically ran through the forest while praying: "Deliver us from evil. Deliver us from evil. Deliver us from evil." Tsering, the super-Sherpa guide, walked ahead of me, and noting my terror, swatted the creatures from leaves and branches as he saw them, and then did a complete and total leech-check of my feet and ankles when we stopped.

I remain, happily, an un-leeched trekker.

The Bad

Even though this is technically the post-monsoon/dry season, it still rained seven or eight days out of the eleven we were trekking. Most of the time it rained only once we were done walking for the day, or lightly, but one day we got trapped in a torrential downpour in the forest with nowhere to go but up. One other day, it rained from 3:00 am to 1:00 pm, so that became our designated rest day. The rain left the terrain wet, muddy, slippery, and leechy (see above for reference.)

The other climate-induced difficulty is that it gets damn cold on the mountain once the sun goes down. I would be sizzling during the day, stripped down to a likely-inappropriately worn tank top, only to have to pile on hat, mitts, fleece, and even long johns before heading to dinner. I thought I would never warm up.

The Good

This is considered a moderate trek, and honestly, we saw a great many older trekkers while we were on our way to Annapurna Base Camp. I kept thinking to myself that if THEY could do it, I could do it too, even though I was dead tired and absolutely dripping with sweat. Our legs killed us for the first six days, and my ass is still deciding if it hates me or not. I hated the work at the time, but now I love it. How else could I have gotten sixty hours of uphill stair climbing in ten days? And I said ten. Somehow, even when we were coming down from Annapurna Base Camp at 4200m, we still had to climb up. Go figure.

The guest houses and lodges that we stayed at were actually decent. They were basic, and the walls were simply a sheet of wood paneling between our room and the next, but they were clean and had hot showers and great food. I have a new appreciation for a warm stomach full of fresh mountain rice, lentils, and potatoes, even though the price of the meal is tied directly to the elevation you're at. Hey, someone had to carry the lentils up the mountain! On Thanksgiving Monday we ordered pumpkin soup in celebration of our little Canadian holiday; moments after we placed our order, the lodge owner ran past us with a big knife... and moments after that, she ran back past us with a pumpkin tucked neatly under her arm. Needless to say, the soup was delicious, but I decided after that to stick to a vegetarian eating style for fear of what would happen to the chickens!

Our guide and porter, Tsering and Lhukpa, are brothers, and as I suspected, they are Sherpa. Both are incredibly strong and fast; they ran up and down the hills with full sized backpacks on and still had energy in the evenings to take care of our every need. BG had a bit of a scare one day and slipped off the trail and partway down into the jungle foliage below, but Lhukpa, this scrap of an 18-year-old who stands no taller than 5'4", reached down and pulled him back up on the trail -- and he still had on our backpack and all of our gear. They taught us a smidge of Nepalese and an even tinier smidge of the Sherpa language, but taught us tons about treating others well and "paying it forward."

Almost all of the local Nepali people and foreign travellers that we met along the way were a delight to be with. They were friendly, warm, and generous, and we are looking forward to staying in contact with many of them in the future.

And the best part of all: the view.

*this image is not ours, as uploading is still a pain, but it's almost as good as what we've got. Hah.*


Cindi said...

Welcome back! I can't wait to see your amazing pictures!

Jen Shepard said...

Hello from Jen and Mark, the "Southern" Canadians (aka Colorado) from the leech-y Annapurna trek. Mark woke up numerous times during the night swearing he was covered in leeches. Love your blog and photos and wish you all the best for the rest of your trip. Do keep in touch, and maybe China's firewall will overlook such a superb blog as yours...Good luck on your techy work..Mark is intrigued.

Cheers--Jen and Mark (

Shannon said...

I love everything about your story except the shoe invading leeches gaaahaaaaraaaghahshhah. Nightmare inducing horrors!

Charms said...

Sounds like a wonderful adventure, leeches aside!