Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Annapurna Trek, Day 4-6

Day 4: Chomrong to Dovan

We woke to another breakfast with a view and headed further down into the village at 8:30am. It took a while to get down to the river crossing and once over, there will be no permanent settlements, just trekking lodges. Scenic slopes offered some relief for the climb up!
Arriving in Banawa (2080m) at 10am signalled a thirty minute coffee break at the Sherpa Guest House. The stepped path from here becomes very steep in parts and never seems to end. The thought of how many people and how much time had been needed to make these steps was constantly in mind.

A view of Chomrong village

A section of path after Sinuwa

We arrived at the lodges of Sinuwa (2340m) for lunch at 11:15am. Sinuwa translates to Nettle Forest in English as it was an area for harvesting nettle fibres, I doubt much harvesting continues to this day. At midday, we headed on after a much needed sit down and refuel. The path seems to flatten our for the rest of the day, a good view of our destination from our lunch table gave us a rough idea of how much walking was still to come.

This flatter path winds its way along the side of the valley just within earshot of the Modi River. Dense forests of Oak and Rhododendron provide plenty of shade as you slowly work your way up to areas loaded with bamboo. Bamboo Lodge (2340m), tucked in a clearing in the dense bamboo, became a brief refreshment stop. The rocky path continues through dark humid bamboo forests where lichen covers almost every branch. At 3pm we arrived at the three lodges that make up Dovan (2580m). We had left Chomrong six and a half hours earlier and much needed the hot shower and chance to put our feet up. The night was cold.

Dovan Lodges at 2580 metres above sea level

Day 5: Dovan to Machhapuchhre Base Camp

The morning was too cold to hang around so we started out at 8:15am. The Oak, Rhododendron and bamboo continued to provide the backdrop as we kept a steady pace along the trail. We briefly saw two monkeys playing  in a tree, but one glance at us was enough to make then disappear higher up the valley wall. Occasionally, the roaring Modi River would reveal itself, but never much nor for long.

Prayer stones near a stream crossing

Himalaya lodges further up the valley

We arrived at the two lodges that form Himalaya (2900m) at 10am for a quick coffee. The trail from here becomes rather rough and vegetation is mostly bamboo and grass. The sun appeared on the trail at 10:45am, lifting our moods as we tackled a rather steep climb. 30 minutes later we arrived at the large overhanging rock called Hinku Cave where we had a nice view of the next lodges further up the river. The stoney trail leading to Hinku Cave and ahead is an avalanche gully and not advised if there has been a lot of snow and conditions are bad.

One of many streams that cut across the trail

Our midday lunch at Deurali (3230m) was a treat, the food was tasty and it was good to be sitting in the sun. We even made sure that the local stray dog had something too. We left Deurali at 1:20pm and soon found the terrain more alpine with fewer trees and more scrub, we were also now level with the thundering Modi River. We passed abandoned lodges that had been moved due to the danger of avalanches. It was proving to be a long day as my pace slowed slightly. I arrived at Machhapuchhre Base camp or MBC (3700m) just before 4pm, Hiromi had arrived 10 minutes earlier and welcomed me with a big wave.

An avalanche gully on the way to MBC

Today we had climbed from 2580m to 3230m, enough to entertain the risk of altitude sickness, but we didn't feel too bad. The main dining room of our lodge had a crude under table heater that provided both warmth and fumes, not that it deterred a large meal. Machhapuchhre (Fish Tail mountain) is both stunning at sunset as the colours and shades change and in the clear moonlit night sky. Early nights seem to be the norm when trekking.
Day 6: Machhapuchhre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp at 4130 metres above sea level

It was a difficult night at 3230m, we were warm and tired enough, but continuous sleep we could not get. Over soup and corn bread breakfast, I learnt that other trekkers also had problems sleeping. It was a cold morning as we left MBC at 9am. We just had a two hour climb to our final target, the first hour fairly steep then opening out into grassy slopes. We were now truely in the heart of the Annapurna sanctuary. We could see stone lodges in the distance at which we arrived 11am. Annapurna Base Camp or ABC (4130m) was the setting for new year's eve 2011 with bright sunshine, clear skies and a view to die for. I first came to ABC in January 1999 and felt a great privilege in being back.

Some of the prayer stones that decorate the area

Exploring the sanctuary above ABC

A lunch in the sun was followed by a couple of hours exploring the glacier and admiring the magical atmosphere of this huge Himalayan ampetheatre. Of the eight-thousanders, the group of the planet's fourteen tallest peaks, the tenth highest stands in front of me, Annapurna 1 (8091m). Machhapuchhre stands behind me and I am flanked by towers of rock and ice. Snow was minimal compared to my previous visit, but the increase in visitors was noticable. Annapurna 1 is considered to be the most dangerous of the eigth-thousanders. 40% of those attempting the summit have died, whereas the average for all the eight-thousanders is 15%. It is hard to imagine how Chris Bonnington and his team scaled the south face in 1970 with its 3500m high near vertical rock face. memorials for fallen climbers are easily found around ABC.

The sun disappearing behind Hiunchuli

The sun shone its last rays on ABC just after 2pm, so it wasn't long before we headed back to the warmth of the lodge. It was new year's eve and the spirits were high in the lodge dining room. We had a great view looking down the valley watching other trekkers make their way up before sunset. Another difficult night's sleep awaited.

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Day 1-3