Week 2: 24th September – 30th September 2014
Week one was all about getting into the swing of the trek routine, getting high enough and used to all the aches and pains that come with trekking and carrying your home on your back.
By week two we were all a little more comfortable walking, which is lucky really because this is when we hit the high altitude and needed all the energy we had to deal with that!
We did notice that this week was more expensive, maybe three times the cost of food and accommodation of lower down on the trail.
As before these are my notes made from the trek. The mileage is from my fitbit so includes all walking done from leaving one hotel until we get to the next one.
Day 8: Upper Pisang (3300m) – Ghyuru (3670m) – Braka (3500m)
Walked = 13.8 miles, 7.5 hrs
Stayed = Braka, New Yak Hotel
One week in; the longest day so far. Left the pink hotel just after seven and walked through beautiful pine forests until we were overlooking a crystal clear green lake. From there the path levelled until we saw it – the 300m(ish) climb up to Ghyaru and breakfast.
This is where the altitude hit me for the first time. I can’t believe how slowly I walked up that hill! I was overtaken by so many porters, but I just couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen no matter how many stops I made.
After an amazing breakfast at Yak Ru we followed the pretty scary path that hugged the wall of the valley around until Ngawal.
We arrived above the village, where the cutest and tiniest boys were carrying water to the men in the fields, one in a large bottle, the other, smaller one in a small coke bottle. We stopped here for a hot apple juice before continuing down to Braka.
We had been looking forward to this ‘gentle’ descent, thinking it would be the easiest part of our day. It was not! Toughest part of the trek so far; it seemed to be never-ending, we were all so tired and quickly running out of water and day-light.
Finally, we arrived at the New Yak just around 5pm, time for hot showers and a not-so-great dinner before bed.
Rob and I have been in Nepal for a month today.
Day 9: Braka (3500m) – Manang (3500m)
Walked = 3 miles, 0.5 hrs
Stayed = Manang, Hotel Himilayan Singi
Feel dreadful: part altitude, part aches from the last couple of days. I woke up early and wore all of my cold weather gear (including purple long-johns and yak wool hat) to do a birthday wake up dance for Sarah. It is so cold.
After a slow breakfast, Sarah and I headed up to Braka Goma to view the centuries old Buddhist monument. It was amazing inside but the stairs nearly killed me.
Altitude has hit me hard today. The others are doing better, but I found the half hour (mostly flat) walk to Manang tough – my lungs simply do not want to be effective anymore.
We all rested and read for a bit at our beautiful new hotel. We are surrounded by the mountains here. Later on we explored old Manang (slowly) before grabbing some pastries.
At 3pm every day there is an AMS talk (Acute Mountain Sickness). There were friendly faces from the way up, including the Dr who Rob and I had walked with a few times early on. We had our blood oxygen levels checked, mine was pretty low which explains the symptoms but we were all reassured that everything was normal as our bodies adjusted. Acclimatisation day tomorrow should help too.
Then we went with our new Canadien friends to the projection hall to see Seven years in Tibet. We sat on yak furs, next to massive heaters. It took some audience participation to get the sound working but we were served popcorn and sweet tea which was so nice. The whole thing turned into a comedy, everyone laughing at Brad Pitt’s terrible accent. Very surreal to see something on screen – put everyone in a very good mood. Oh, apart from Matt who was throwing up the whole time after eating nuts again! Not good.
Day 10: Manang (3500m) – Praken Gompa (3900m) – Manang (3500m)
Walked = 5.8 miles, 4.5 hrs
Stayed = Manang, Hotel Himilayan Singi
Ill throughout night. My lungs hate me, my head hates me, my stomach hates me.
After a gentle start, Sarah and Matt headed to the Ice Lake, while Katie, Rob and I opted for the (only slightly) easier challenge of Praken Gompa. Despite feeling like crap, going higher today will make the rest of this week a little easier.
It was a tough climb; even without bags, we were stopping every few steps to try and breath. I learned the hard way that I cannot laugh and breath at the same time! It took 2 ½ hours to reach the Gompa (meditation room), at nearly 4000m. The air is so thin here, everything looks crisper.
At the top, a small, smiling nun, Ani welcomes us. Her father is the 100 ruppee monk, but has been taken away to hospital and so now she looks after the trekkers who walk up, looking for blessings before attempting the pass.
We kneels before her one by one as she makes her blessing, and places a yellow string around our necks for protection as we head to Thorung La. We share tea with her and talk about her life up there. Katie and I also purchased some prayer beads from her. It was an amazing experience, and we all came out a little taller, happier.
The walk down was faster but very steep. Katie managed a dramatic bum-slide right at the end! We stopped and had a picnic in some ruins, overlooking Gangapurna Lake and the massive Annapurna/Tilicho mountains. It doesn’t quite seem real.
We all had a nicely lazy afternoon in preparation for tomorrow when we are back on the trek.
Day 11: Manang (3500m) – Yak Kharka (4010m)
Walked = 7.6 miles, 4.5 hrs
Stayed = Yak Kharka, Gangapurna Hotel
We are so high! Today we walked the slightly daunting 500m ascent to Yak Kharka and above 4000m, and it wasn’t too bad! The rest day and acclimatisation have done their jobs and my lungs and head are no longer feeling so stabby.
The first hour was hard to catch a breath, but two hours in, approaching Gunsang, we were in a good stride and just enjoying the spectacular views around us.
A brunch stop at Gunsang gave us a good chance to take it all in. The mountains up here are something else; none moreso that Thorung, now in sight along the valley and our target for the next two days. We are feeling a little nervous about that one.
Day 12: Yak Karka (4100m) – Thorung Phedi (4450m)
Walked = 6.9 miles, 4.5 hrs
Stayed = Thorung Phedi Camp
From Yak Kharka we had a short and relatively easy hike to Thorung Phedi / Base camp. The air was thin but we plodded along quite happily in suddenly autumnal scenery, until we reached the second bridge and approached the ‘Danger landslide and falling rocks’ area.
This was scary. We had to keep out distance from one another (so that if one of us was hit, there were others to help) eyes and ears open for rock falls, all while walking uphill at about 4400m altitude. My head had started to pound again and it was so cold – I just could not walk fast enough .
We were pretty lucky and the only falls that we saw were a little way in front of Katie.
The lodges for Phedi were straight after a ‘thank you’ sign for being safe in the danger zone.
Our room here is a very basic mud and stone hut, but en-suite!
We spent the evening shivering in all of our clothes, in the dining hall, listening to some awesome music and cooring over the owner’s St Bernards puppy. I actually managed to get some sleep. Rob, unfortunately, was on the world noisiest bed and did not.
Day 13: Thorung Phedi (4450m) – Thorung La (5416m) – Chaharu (4200m)
Walked = 10.7 miles, 12 hrs
Stayed = ?
Pass day began at 4.30am with packing and trying to wake ourselves up.
I had two bites of garlic toast (meant to aid acclimatisation – worth a try right?) but it was just bread stuffed with raw onion and garlic, and I couldn’t stomach anymore, especially when the buff I was wearing meant I was breathing it straight back into myself. We set off just after 5am, following the trail of headlamps up the mountain.
The first two hours were hell. I was doubled over with stomach pain, and Rob was just sleep walking. We seriously considered staying a night at High Camp and attempting the pass the next day.
When we finally got to High Camp though, and had a cup of hot chocolate and cereal bars in our bellies, it seemed possible to carry on.
The next few hours were easier on our legs (not as steep) but had their own challenges.
It started snowing after we passed a lone teahouse and two Nepali guys who had been walking with us had to turn back, because they did not have any warmer clothes (and we were wearing all of ours).
My head began to pound again and about an hour from the top I got really sleepy. I think I even dozed on for a few minutes, sat on a rock while the others were sorting out jackets.
Somehow, although mostly thanks to Rob who made me march on and stopped me from lying down when it’s all I wanted to do, we made it to the top.
Once I had a chance to recover, it was an amazing feeling. Lots of hugs and group photos to celebrate the fact that we had actually made it to 5416m!
We piled into the tiniest tea house for hot drinks and a relax. The boys and Sarah headed out one by one to have their highest ever wee. We chatted to the owner and figured a slow 4 hour descent to Muktinath would be no problem. That would get us in by mid afternoon but still with good light.
We stuck on knee supports, ready for a 200m descent and set off down the other side of the mountain that has been our target for the last two weeks.
For a while, we made really good progress, but once a thick cloud descended on us, we realised how far behind Matt and Katie were falling. We had to stay close to one another, especially as the clouds meant that it was getting harder to spot the path markers, and there were several sudden drops near false-paths.
Two hours in, we reached a campsite and a beautiful viewpoint on the Muktinath valley. At this point though, it became apparent that Katie’s (previously) injured foot was causing her serious pain. Rob, Sarah and I headed of in search of teahouses that we had heard were at 4200m, which we guessed we must be so close to!
We were wrong; waiting for Matt and Katie to stay in sight in the clouds and the fading light meant that it was half five before Rob, Sarah and I reached the teahouses. They were still being built though, and only one was open, miraculously with just three rooms that we could have for the night. Matt and Katie made it down the steep path an hour later, just as we lost the light.
I’ve no idea where we are, apart from being an hour or two from Muktinath, which at least some of us will head for in the morning (to try and arrange transport for Katie if she can’t walk it – pony or motorbike?)
We are all tired and achey. It’s been a week since we last washed any clothes, and four days since the last shower – we all stink!
But, we made it over the biggest challenge of the trek, ‘the world’s biggest pass’ as it says on the map – whatever that means!
5416m is the highest any of us have ever been, and probably the highest I will ever be, seeing how I have reacted to the altitude.
Day 14: Chaharu (4200m) – Muktinath (3710m)
Walked = 3.1 miles, 1.5 hrs
Stayed = Muktinath, Hotel Bob Marley
Rob, Sarah and I walked ahead the last hour and a half to Muktinath and the wonderful, warm and comfy Bob Marley Hotel. Matt and Katie followed, taking their time but I think she’s going to be okay to carry on after this rest day.
This place is like a five star hotel after the last two weeks: they have pasta and coffee and wifi! Internet meant we could check in with family, especially as we are a little behind schedule now. Then it was time to be lazy, a few hours of reading and eating. We earned it!