Annapurna Trek (part 2)

The diary and selected pictures of our trek in Nepal to Annapurna base camp as part of our family world trip in 1989. Told via edited extracts from Dad’s diary and starting in Kathmandu as we make final preparations for the trek. Where necessary, I have also added explanation to provide context.

This is Part 2 of the overall trek (links other parts below):

Thursday 16th March (Trek Day 2: Khande – Birethanti)

After what seemed to be a long, long sleepless night the alarm at last signalled it was time to get up and allow us to escape this filthy, smoke filled hovel. Despite the modest cost of only 20R, the filthy sheets, the smoke laden atmosphere and the uneatable food will detract from it obtaining a high merit rating in my intended ‘Best Lodges Guide’ to the Himalayas. Sticky porridge for breakfast and then just one more memorable mishap before our departure. In attempting to rescue Val from a downstairs loo situated in the cow shed, the pet family bull adroitly butted me in the balls and laid me out on the bull-excrement covered floor. The previous evening the same beast had similarly trapped Mark in the loo much to his own alarm. If we should return this way, I think we may try and avoid staying here again.

The loo was in the cow shed and involved avoiding the family pet

Once on the trail, though, our lungs began to clear and we appreciated the heavy rain of the night before which had dampened down the dust and lent a clean and misty quality to the early morning. The Chinese road continued to dog our steps, and I must confess that the continuing presence of the messy excavations and the unexciting scenery began to take its toll on our high expectations. Quite extraordinary, though, how much labour is being expended in creating the foundations of the road. Along its entire length, which runs for dozens of miles, the unevenness of the mountain terraces is being levelled out by thousands of wire rock cages, each one constructed by hand and then manually leveraged into position. The entire work seems to be accomplished with very little supporting machinery, apart from the lorries which appear to simply remove surplus debris.

Within ten years, once the scenery has had a chance to recover, expect it will all look very different and it would be interesting to understand how the villagers’ lives will be improved by the improved access to the outside world.

Taking a break on route to Birethanti
Early glimpses of the Annapurna range

The trail continued along the top of the ridge, mainly downhill which was a relief as the rucksacks constantly made their weight known. Eventually Chandrakot, situated at the extremity of the ridge, afforded us beautiful views of the Annapurna range towards which we were heading. We decided that this might be a place to linger and did so in the company of four over-sugared lemon pancakes.

The trail then dropped steeply to the river 1500 feet below and the village of Birethanti. We will stay here tonight which will allow us fresh legs in the morning to tackle the climb to Ghode Pani, the steepness of which we have been warned. Val had been reluctant to stop so early in the day but, as the afternoon was spent with the boys thoroughly enjoying themselves in a nearby waterfall, I thought it the right decision. Also, gave us all a chance to wash our bodies and some clothes that had been beginning to crawl about in the rucksacks.

A welcoming party at Birethanti
Paul taking a break in the river near Birethanti
A Nepalese girl at Birethanti who befriended us

Got back to our ‘River View Lodge’ about 4pm and ordered dinner for the evening. Went for a walk along the river with Paul, being careful to duck under the outpouring from the lodge loo which fell directly into the river below the point we had been swimming I was pleased to note. Paul then found a large rock to climb and I most likely saved his life (though he wouldn’t admit it) as he began to climb down, slipped and began to take a long slide towards some jagged rocks below.

Back at the lodge, Val had met a California couple, Sally and Joseph. They had an eight-year-old son who Mark had palled up with; and Connie, their 69-year-old Mum. Dinner was served alfresco on the terrace. Despite taking an age to come it was a great improvement on yesterday. Interesting to note the dramatic drop in our living expenses over the last couple of days. Early to bed again at 9.30pm with the intention of getting up first thing tomorrow to crack the long upwards haul to Ghode Pani. If trail stories we have been hearing are to be believed, this will be the one to test our legs.

River View Lodge, Birethanti

Friday 17th March (Trek Day 3: Birethanti – Tikhedhungga)

Awake at 6am and packed slightly quicker than yesterday. Initial panic thinking we had lost the camera but found it eventually at the bottom of Val’s rucksack. Porridge, tea and purchase of some bread for later and set off passing the waterfall where we had enjoyed the previous afternoon.  In fact, the falls continued in series and looked interesting to explore but I didn’t think I could get away again with another distraction quite so early in the day. Even a stop to brush teeth caused a bit of discord but nothing compared to a later stop when I insisted on a shave and hair wash.

Beautiful views as we continued from Birethanti up towards Tikhedhungga

The trail this morning has been much prettier than before and, despite the stories about how difficult the climb would be, we have found it relatively easy going. The trail continued upwards for the most part, but occasionally it descended, losing precious height that we knew would always need to be regained. People we meet returning on the trail are now saying that the 4000 foot climb to Ghode Pani tomorrow is the ‘really’ steep one. I think we’ll worry about that when we get there.

Val and Mark making their way along the trail

The weather continued to be beautiful, and the temperature ideal for walking. At last the scenery is also beginning to rival that which I remembered on the Khumbu trail with Vittorio. It makes a difference that the villages are also smaller and less commercialised as we begin to get further away from the areas accessible from Pokhara in just four or five-day round trips. The slopes are steeper, are intricately terraced to allow a free flow of water from one to the other and not so denuded of trees. All of us delighted by the many tiny chicks that we kept coming across as we pass through small countless small farmstead. Val has even suggested that she quite fancied the idea of keeping some chickens when we get home. Also agreed with her that any thoughts of returning tend to suggest a growing preference for living in the country again rather than the town.

Paul and Mark en route

By 12.30pm we had made Tikhedhungga, our main objective for the day and reaching it in five and a half hours rather than the suggested three, however, we had enjoyed the rather more leisurely pace today. Afternoon again spent exploring some rivers and discovered waterslide in which the boys raced large tree branches in their own, more manly Nepalese version of Poo-Sticks.

Our chosen lodge is perched directly over-looking said river and our room highly reminiscent of a rabbit hutch with mountain view. Ordered dal baht for dinner this evening (about time we tried it) and then spent the next hour reading the boys another chapter from Herzog’s account of his first expedition to Annapurna a good preparation for our own expedition into the sanctuary.

Making friends with the kids at the lodges

Saturday 18th March (Trek Day 4: Tikhedhungga – Ghode Pani)

Up at 5.30am to make an early start on the legendary next steep climb to Ulleri before it gets too hot. May have been the beneficial effects of the previous night’s rice and dahl, but we found the 1600-foot climb quite easy, though it was quite steep in places. Above the small village of Ulleri, the slope lessened considerably, and the trail led through a beautiful rhododendron forest of magical, gnarled and twisted trunks to find our way through. We can feel that we are beginning to feel much fitter now.

Nangethati, the highest village so far, was reached about 2pm and on a delightful terrace surrounded by rhododendrons we took the opportunity to tuck into another huge lunch of dahl to see if it really works. This follows the example of a Nepalese porter who will consume huge quantities of rice and dahl during one of his regular fuel-stops at lunchtime and in the evening. Just preparing to go when suddenly the heavens opened and torrential, driving rain kept us penned in the lodge for another hour. Decision to stay for the night was quickly dismissed when we were invited to see and feel the four wet mattresses which would have been our beds. To our surprise, however, we were able to purchase four large plastic bags which allowed us to continue fairly well shrink-wrapped against the elements. It was a welcome entrepreneurial venture on behalf of the lodge-keeper that probably says as much about the weather at this height.

Val in the Rhododendron forest

Within fifteen minutes of leaving, however, the heavy rain turned to large hailstones and within half an hour, the trail was several inches deep in frozen slush. It was a mistake for Val and me to make neck holes in the bags, for where our heads peeped out proved painful against the considerable force of the hail. The boys managed better being smaller and able to be completely covered by their bags. Mark did have one unfortunate experience, though, when he slipped on the icy slush and went tumbling down a mud-covered slope like a discarded condom, being unable to free his hands restricted inside the bag This little episode caused his very first tears, as much as anything from hurt pride I think.

Plastic bags proved useful to escape the rain and hail

The final climb was difficult only in that the state of the trail had now badly deteriorated and turning it into an unpleasant, sticky quagmire. We were certainly pleased to get our first sight of Ghode Pani, where we had planned to stay for the night. Our first choice of lodge was quickly rejected. It was overcrowded with wet trekkers and smelt like a tube carriage on a rainy evening in London. A short distance back the way we had come, we were pleased to discover the isolated Poon Hill Hotel which gave us exclusive use of a wonderful log fire all evening, around which we were able to dry our ourselves, and all our wet clothes which we hung on makeshift lines over the flames.

Spent really nice family evening sitting round the fire in our underclothes and swopping ghost stories until, during the telling of one particularly spooky one, the front door flew open with a loud bang and blew the only candle flame out. This really spooked Paul who was then quite nervous about going to bed in the ‘dark, dark room’ just across the hall from our own. Of course, Mark didn’t mind! Main decision tomorrow is whether to go on to Tadopani or turn right into the sanctuary.

Telling ghost stories and huddled around the stove at the Poon Hill Hotel

>> Part 3: Ghode Pani to Baga (Trek days 5-9)

Overall Route:

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