Wednesday, March 26, 2008


We arrived in Sinuwa, a town situated in the edge of one of the steep foothills, after a two hour stint down and up 4000 stone stairs – Chris counted. Our room that night felt like it was about to fall off the side of the mountain. We were both thoroughly surprised to find out the guesthouse had hot water! And true to their word the shower was amazing, definitely needed after the long day of ups and downs. After a week on the trail our stench was reaching intolerable heights. (Maybe it should remain unmentioned but let’s just say Chris has to cut out the built-in underwear in his pants and my shirt got sealed in a ziplock bag.)

From Sinuwa it was a two day climb up to ABC. The first was relatively uneventful – meandering through forests until it eventually broke out into rocky landscape as we reached higher elevations. Around mid-afternoon we were watching dark clouds roll up the valley. Within a matter of minutes the sky turned dark and we could hear the distant roar of thunder. Luckily we were within sight of our destination, Durali, when it began to sprinkle. We arrived 5 minutes before the storm broke into a violent downpour of hail and rain.

Listening to the rain pelting the tin roof of our room, I was glad to be warm in my sleeping bag. In the morning we awoke to crystal clear blue sky and a beautiful day to continue our ascent. We did hear the distant rumble of a few landslides/avalanches but didn’t see any of them. The trail brought us closer to the river as the valley narrowed. To our right we could see the towering ridges of Machupuchare, the Fishtail. Everything was covered in a few inches of snow, making it look all the more imposing. A few times we did see small patches of falling snow after hearing a rumbling echo through the valley.

To our left was a sheer rock cliff extending for a couple hundred feet – so high we couldn’t see anything beyond. A few waterfalls cascading over the top of the wall provided for some excellent photo opportunities. After passing a small sign warning of avalanche danger, we crossed some old avalanche fields. At first they look like dull rocks and mud but on closer inspection they are really dirty snow. Some of the ice chunks and boulders caught in the mess were up to 4 feet in diameter, crazy. We continued along the bottom of the rock wall, pausing occasionally to take photos and strip off our layers of warm clothing in the sun. Suddenly, we head the deep rumble of falling snow. All three of us paused to scan the opposite bank. Nothing.

Holy shit! We turned to find snow pouring over the cliff above us, landing just a few hundred feet behind us. It was shooting over the top like a gigantic waterfall of white. Following our guide’s yell, we ran down the trail a few hundred feet before turning to stare at the huge avalanche stunned. Somehow I fumbled around and was able to get out the camera to take a short video. It went on for upwards of 5 minutes, a cascade of snow that covered the very trail we had stopped on to take pictures not 3 minutes earlier. We had almost died. In a nervous voice Pemba asked, “No one on the trail right?” Visible shaken we couldn’t do anything for a few minutes but stare at the huge pile of snow and ice. Literally, we had almost died. There was no way we could have escaped the snow had we been caught.

For the next hour we walked in almost silence, with a few intermittent comments about how lucky we were. We questioned if we should continue along the trail, but were reassured that it got better. I was definitely scared as we continued to climb and eventually reached Machupuchare Base Camp, the final village before ABC. In hindsight we should have been more careful and our guide should have taken us on the alternate route on the other side of the river – designed specifically to bypass this high risk area. But we lived and eventually the stunning scenery warmed us again. Our close encounter was a story at every lodge we reached, Pemba chatting away with all the locals.

As a testament to instant weather changes in the mountains, the last hour of our climb to ABC was a whiteout of clouds and snow. We couldn’t see fifty feet in front of us, making the journey seem never ending to me. The altitude makes each step feel like a chore, but surprising enough I wasn’t dying as I had expected. After what seemed like ages we eventually reached base camp – a small cluster of buildings in the middle of a cloud of snow, or so we thought at the time.

Best thing about reaching our goal – hot chocolate and some bomb French fries. Yum. It was freezing, of course, so we piled on the long underwear and down jackets and pretty much jumped into our sleeping bags ASAP. We did get to see some amazing stars once the weather cleared. It was eerie to find yourself in a bowl of towering mountains that you didn’t know where there.

The next morning was another sunrise not to miss. Chris again had to drag me out of bed after snapping a few pictured in the pre-dawn glow. The morning was crystal clear. Annapurna South towering on one side, Machupuchare on the other. As the sun rises it touches the very tops of the peaks first before slowing descending and throwing a golden light throughout the bowl. The sun reflecting off the snow was blinding and everywhere was covered in snow. The morning was so perfect for our descent, but it was sad to have to leave in such beautiful conditions. A total transformation from our arrival. But slip and slide down the snow we did. Of course we stopped to take lots of pictures along the way.

And eight hours later, tired and worn out, we finally reached our guesthouse. How we made it down and up the 4000 steps again at the end of the day I’ll never know. To be honest the downhill was ten times worse than the uphill. Boy, our legs were aching. The following day was another long one all the way back to Nayapul and Pokhara. By hour two Chris was getting quite tanky and I had to appease him but talking about dorky mathematical models for a few hours. And done. Definitely one of the best hikes I have ever done.




Audrey said...

yikes! careful, kids.

Peter Spiro said...

Ok, we like the Nepal entries, and it seems awesome, but how about some new news from Africa?