Annapurna Trek (part 3)

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 3 of the overall trek (links other parts below):

Sunday 19th March (Trek Day 5: Ghode Pani – Tadapani)

We had wanted to make an early morning excursion to see the sunrise on top of Poon Hill but our late night, following on from the rigours of the previous day, kept us asleep through to 7.30am. When we awoke it was a beautiful clear morning and we had lovely views of Annapurna. Great breakfast of porridge and boiled eggs in front of our fire which fortified us sufficiently to consider taking the longer route to Tadapani. Once we had left, however, and discovered the state of the trail to Tadapani following yesterday’s downpour this decision was quickly reversed.  The trail being slushy and deep in mud was virtually impassable. The boy’s suede boots are also proving to be fairly unsuitable in such very wet conditions.

Near Ghode Pani: view of Dhaulagiri and Tukuche
Near Ghode Pani: view Annapurna I to the left, Annapurna Dakshin to the right

From the top of the ridge, we consequently turned right and took the trail to Ghandrung instead. After a few hundred yards further on, quite by chance, we met up with Tim who we discovered lacing his boots by the side of the trail. During a warm reunion, he explained that Jeff had decided to return home following a bout of sickness. We all agreed to continue on our way together. We then spent an adventurous day navigating very steep, icy slopes down to Tadapani. Some of the stretches proved to be very treacherous and we often found ourselves following in single file behind a line of Nepalese porters who, in inadequate footwear and carrying extremely heavy loads, were also finding the going extremely difficult. One gnarled old gent, who looked to be well into his seventies, almost came a serious cropper on one steep section and it took two of us to lift the seventy-pound load off his back to enable him to regain any footing. Despite the difficulties, the scenery throughout was spectacular.

Reunited with Tim whom we bumped into just outside Ghode Pani
On the path to Tadapani

The final 1000′ climb to Tadapani was tough, but the views of the surrounding mountains were rewarding as we eventually breasted the final ridge and found the Fishtail Lodge. Spent a communal evening catching up with stories of Tim’s travels since we had last saw him and getting to know an Israeli named Elan who impressed us all with his story how he had just returned from single-handedly carrying a girl for four days on his back, saving her life after a nasty accident.

Fish Tail Lodge at Tadapani
Children at Tadapani

Monday 20th March (Trek Day 6: Tadapani – Chomrong)

An excellent night’s sleep again but woken at 5.30am as the large German campsite nearby stirred itself into noisy, early morning military precision. Heavy mist surrounded the lodge completely obscured the views of the mountains around us and prevented me taking photos of the early morning sunrise from this relatively high vantage point.

Val hadn’t slept very well, her tummy feeling a little dicky. Leisurely breakfast and then on the trail for Chomrong, deciding to take the recommended shorter route as opposed the longer route via Ghandring. The trail immediately began to drop very steeply through another beautiful forest and then even further still to lead through a maze of open terraced fields to a large suspension bridge over the Kimrong Khola, a river torrent fed by the river waters coming direct from the Annapurna range. Having crossed the bridge, we wearily surveyed another steep climb on the other side and our destination of Chomrong then didn’t materialise for another three hours – and this was the short route they said!  The last part of the walk has been a most spectacular so far. We have been walking along a high ridge which overlooks the Modi Khola river, which in turn is fed directly from the Annapurna sanctuary. We will be following this river into its upper reaches for the next few days.

Mark above the Kimrong Khola river
Bridge over the Kimrong Khola

Reached Chomrong about 3.30pm and found a relatively new and modern lodge to stay in. It even had a hot shower, albeit from a bucket, that we all treated ourselves to. By the time we had finished, our two towels and much of our clothes were sopping wet. Keeping clothes will be a problem as the temperature gets colder. We are finding everything is getting more and more expensive, the higher we get, as well.

Continue to be amazed at how well the boys are coping with their heavy rucksacks. Also, Val, who I thought would have a problem with the weight and the heights, is coping fantastically well. Her forbearance with the less than desirable conditions at the lodges we are staying in is also very surprising. Enjoying Tim’s company very much he keeps us all constantly entertained with his Canadian sense of humour.

Family photo on route

Now that we have reached Chomrong, we are actually at the beginning of the one-way valley which leads into the Annapurna Sanctuary. The main question now is how far will we be able to get before being turned back by either avalanche, heavy snow, high altitude, wet socks, or whatever. Annapurna base camp lies at 14000′ and books we have read suggest that youngsters should not go beyond 10000′. However, they have done so well, we must give them every chance of getting as close as they can and earning the base camp badges they bought in Kat. We have also been warned about the dangers of avalanche through this valley, which we will have to be careful about. Travelling first thing in the morning, before the snow melts, is recommended. Falling over high hidden ledges, apparently an avalanche can hit the trail in seconds. News has it that four porters were killed in such a way just a few days ago.

Really has been most rewarding seeing the boys grow stronger and more confident with every passing day. This, if nothing else, will have made the trip completely worthwhile. Just remembered a funny incident this morning when Paul thought he saw a cock killing a chicken, which he then felt inclined to rescue. Perhaps we have spent a bit too much time on the algebra and not enough on the birds and bees!

Chromrong Guest House and a view of Annapurna Dakshin

Tuesday 21st March (Trek Day 7: Chomrong – Bamboo Lodge)

Last night’s dinner was one of the best yet. Feasted ourselves on pizza, noodles, veg roll and apple pie which, following our first hot shower for a couple of weeks, has set a high standard to follow. During the night had many weird dreams of fearsome avalanches and the boys disappearing over precipitous cliff edges so determined to be careful today. Usual breakfast but left later than usual. Our lodge sitting high up in the village makes it an ideal place to linger.

Leaving the lodge, passing dozens of small, giggling children in their smart uniforms on their way to school, we dropped steeply downwards again almost to the river before another steep climb up again which levelled out as we entered a thick bamboo forest which we are told drips with leeches in late spring. Lunch of noodle soup and then pushed on, the switchback trail continually losing considerable height only to be climbed again.

Around 2.30pm came across a possible lodge where, as we were tired, we briefly considered spending the night, but its filthy condition convinced us otherwise. Last night has spoiled us! So, we continued for another weary hour until we reached the Bamboo Lodge, another motley collection of primitive shacks, and found five adjacent beds to rest our limbs.

Spirits began to improve though after the first bottle of rum and this led to continuous rounds of liar dice being played throughout the evening. Leeches continued to be a main topic of conversation, reaching a crescendo of loathing when Scott found one curled up next to his head on the bamboo mattress.

It was cold during the night and Paul, Val and me huddled together while Mark huddled with Tim in adjacent partition. Despite the much lower temperature, we all managed to get a good night’s sleep.

Bamboo Lodge: we had met Tenny on the trail who we also became friends with

Wednesday 22nd March (Trek Day 8: Bamboo – Himalayan Lodge)

Awake at 6am, weather clear but very cold. We must have gained several thousand feet in height over the last few days. Guiltily laid in for a spell as we needed to get going quite early in an attempt to make the Himalayan Lodge by lunchtime. Despite still needing to climb another 6000′, the path through the thick bamboo seemed to rise only slowly and we were beginning to wonder if the trail was intending to save all the height for the end. Bamboo Lodge had been situated deep in the Modi Khola gorge, so we all had a real incentive to reach some sunshine which we eventually did at the Tip Top Lodge.

We are being told by several people that we meet returning that several avalanches have fallen across the trail further on and we need to be particularly careful between Deurali and Baga. The story of four porters being recently killed was worryingly confirmed.  Nevertheless, we were all very excited when we came across our first fall which, from the dirt that was accumulated on it, looked to be a couple of months old. From here the trail took a steep deviation back down to the Modi Khola, where we came across dramatic waterfalls and rock sculptures. During this period, we needed to navigate a couple of smaller avalanches, but always looking up and keeping a strict watch and listen-out for the tell-tale rumbles.

Val and me crossing one of the avalanche chutes
Mark on the trail
Tenny near Bamboo

With our concentration on the trail, it came as a pleasant surprise when we eventually reached our destination, the Himalayan Lodge, at the top of one particularly steep pass. The time was just past noon.

Lunch of fried noodles and egg, and Paul played Tim at chess and losing, much to his annoyance. Then, the heavens opened which gave me the opportunity to restore the family honour over the next three games. Damp, cold afternoon playing cards and chess first real avalanche actually falling across the valley. Seen from this distance, it seemed a fairly insignificant fall of powdered snow but the deep rumbling, clearly heard from this distance, gave some impression of the power generated by its fall of several thousand feet into the valley.

Dinner was fun and Tim introduced the entire community of the lodge to playing Arse-Hole, a game which is ideally suited to hopping around Himalayan Lodges in a sleeping bag. It will certainly come in handy for parties back in England. Played until quite late while Mark slept alongside us on the wooden bench in his sleeping bag. Paul tended to suffer in his role of ‘AH’ during the game but we were pleased with him that he joined in such good spirit, running the many trivial errands demanded of the lowliest employee in the corporate dynasty. It briefly reminded me of my other life in IBM which seems a million miles away from here.

As we went to bed, Tim discovered his sleeping bag was wringing wet and he would have to sleep in it on the concrete floor. We all felt very sorry for him in such cold temperatures. Val and I huddled together on a double mattress and our feet froze all night long.

Green Lodge between Bamboo & Himalaya
Mark, Paul, Tenny and Tim taking a break

Thursday 23rd March (Trek Day 9: Himalaya Lodge – Baga)

Up at 8.15am to a freezing morning. Packed and breakfasted quickly to obtain an early start. Apparently, after 10am, the state of the snow becomes more precarious as the sun gets higher and this increases the risk of a snow fall.

The night had been very uncomfortable, intense cold boring right into the feet. We knew our sleeping bags would probably not cope with cold temperatures but it’s much, much colder than we expected. More layers of clothing inside the bags are going to be needed but socks remain a problem as they tend to get so wet during the day and are difficult to dry out in the evening.

The going during the first part of the day was relatively easy but returning walkers are warning us of heavy avalanches ahead. particularly between Deurali and Baga. The first really serious one we came across was about 50 metres across and presented a complete jumble of piled snow and ice boulders that we had to clamber across.  After a few yards we lost any sense of the trail and began to climb too high. Getting back to the trail then took about one and a half hours and became a rather nerve-wracking adventure across precipitous slopes and through a forest of bamboo that, lying slant wise down the slope, was almost impossible to walk on and at one time deposited Tim and rucksack 30 feet further down the slope.

Our next avalanche was really large – about a 100 metres wide and situated just on the outskirts of Deurali; and Val and I both felt very nervous for the boys as they picked their way across this one.  From a distance the fallen rocks had looked like a massive pile of split popcorn, but closer inspection revealed most of the ice rocks to be several feet high and weighing possibly several tons.  This took ten very tense minutes to cross, with us all alert and looking upwards dreading the possibility of another one suddenly landing upon our heads as we slowly navigated our way through maze of ice. Really relieved when we all, after what seemed a long time, managed to safely reach the other side.

Paul and Mark making their way across one of the avalanches
We lost the trail here
Having lost the trail, it was hard going on the icy slopes

From here, it was just a further ten minutes to reach Dream Lodge where we decided to spend the night where the first priority was to try and dry out Tim’s sleeping bag and a few of our own things. By now, we are all really beginning to feel as if our mountain climbing is for real.

Like yesterday, the rain and low clouds moved in early during the afternoon so we spent more time playing cards and chess. Playing Tim at chess went on into the evening. He’s quite good and takes the game fairly seriously but is not too happy that the score currently sits at 5:1. Tim did teach us an interesting card game called Hearts after which we retired to spend another very chilly night in the sleeping bags.

Gangapurna Lodge at Baga

>> Part 4: Baga to Base Camp and back to Pokhara (10-13)

Overall Route:


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