Check it out! Here is the link on You-Tube:
The last day of the trek is a 5 hour hike from Mulktinath to Jomsom, partly across a rocky river bed along the bus road going into the sun and a cold wind. DB took the jeep again, as she has had a lot of trouble coping with the altitude.
DM and I were apprehensive about the dusty, rocky riverbed section of the trail, remembering how un-happy the trekkers on that path had looked when we had passed them in the jeep two days before. However, our guides led up to the high path away from the road going from Mulktinath toward Jomsom, which cut out a lot of the riverbed section.
The first section of the road retraced our path back toward Kagbeni, but then it branched up over the shoulder of the hill so we looked at Kagbeni far down in the basin of the valley with snowy peaks rising in all directions. In the distant downhill we could see the small nameless town where we would have our tea break. We passed a herd of domesticated mountain goats, built low to the ground with long shaggy coats of black, tan, or a splotched blend of both. Each had one horn painted blue to show the ownership. They munched eagerly on thorny gray scrub bushes which I would be ashamed to put in the recycling, much less use to sustain life.
At tea break, we talked with an Australian and a couple from the UK who had just come down from the high pass at Thorung La (5540 M). The lady said “I just looked at Sindu’s feet and followed where they went.” I congratulated her, but thought privately “Don’t forget to look up – it’s why you’re here!”
From this comfortable spot we continued down to the riverbed, the road barely discernible and the wind picking up as promised. But the traffic was light – one tractor, two jeeps, two scooters, a half-dozen trekkers. The wind was cool, the sun was welcome. My new hat, pulled down tightly over my hood, blew off only once; the shoelace cord I had contrived to secure it was so inextricably tangled in my camera lanyard that no harm was done.
The hill trail cut half the distance between Jomsom and Kagbeni – we arrived in Jomsom in good spirits, but with the fog closing in. On the good side, fog in Pokhara had prevented flights into Jomsom, so the premier guest house was able to find room for us despite having been fully booked when we checked on our way to Mulktinath. On the downside, the hardest stretch of the day was getting from the near side of town – the jeep park – to the far side of town where this hotel was located. (Strange but true – no matter which direction you are going, your hotel is always on the far side of town.) My feet protested each step on the cobbled street, which seemed to stretch on forever. We finally made it to the Majesty Hotel, complete with chandelier in the three-story atrium lobby (see earlier post). The service was slow, the internet connection was down, the ATM did not work, but all was excused: double blankets on the bed! Attached bathroom! And HOT SHOWER!
This was supposed to be the last day on the trail, but… men make plans so the gods can laugh.
Up and packing at 6:45AM; our troupe of 9 women engaged in a yoga session after breakfast led by our tour guide – we all share the same thoughts on how to fend off age – just keep moving and don’t look back!
On the trail an hour later. It is still foggy. Yesterday was a warm-up for today’s journey, which is twice as long, twice as high. Happily DB shows no symptom of altitude sickness or exhaustion today, even though we are constantly gaining altitude. We left the rain forest behind and below, and walked instead past orchards of cherry trees in full blossom. Occasional drizzle brought out the rain covers and water-proof parkas.
Today’s segment was billed as 5 hours of walking; we stretched it to 10 hours, with breaks, including close encounters with bullock carts, pony caravans, and a herd of goats. At intervals along the trail there are stopping spots, walls of stone with two steps constructed at a height convenient for the porters to lean against the lower step while resting their carefully-balanced baskets on the ledge. The design works equally well for backpacks.
Tip to trekkers: be careful to sit ON the stone bench if possible. Nepal boasts a species of stinging nettle which can penetrate a pair of lightweight trekking pants with no trouble. It’s not a memory you will cherish!
We finally arrived at Lower Ghorepani at 5PM. Ghorepani is a nest of bright-blue-painted guest houses, all claiming the best view of the Annapurnas. Due to the persistent overcast, we had no way to judge. We shambled past guest house after guest house and finally a good half hour later reached ours – the Sunny Guest House. We are told that in clear weather from here the view is terrific. Tomorrow, if the skies are clear in the early morning, we will get up at 4:30 AM and hike another mile uphill to get the panoramic view of the Annapurnas from Pun Hill. Tonight again it pours rain.
Talk about herding cats! 20 women (9 trekkers, two guides, 9 assistants/porters) trying to get organized at once on the front porch of the Chhetri Sisters guesthouse. The people all fit inside three large SUV’s; half the gear went on top held on by bungee cords and tarps. Trekkers carry their own day packs with a few layers of clothes, at least two quarts of water, rain gear, and whatever else you deem essential for the day. Beyond that, 3 Sisters porter’s packs are limited to 25 lbs – 20 lbs for the guest and 5 lbs for the porter. 3 Sisters porters are provided with hiking shoes and decently balanced back-packs, and wear logo shirts and jackets while on the job.
To help you appreciate how ground-breaking this is for Nepali touring, here is a shot of a typical male porter on the trail. The whole load is balanced with a tum line across the forehead; if it should slip, he 1) tumbles or 2) strangles and either way is 3) dead.
The trail to Hille, our first night’s stop, goes up through rain forest past villages where rice was being harvested and left to dry in the sun, past blooming hibiscus, poinsettias, and twining squash vines. Fog and overcast made walking easier, as we climbed up and up on dirt, granite, marble steps, as the Mohdi Kohla River receded further and further below.
At one point we were overtaken by several impossibly tall and fit Germans wearing helmets and carrying kayaks. Suddenly they plunged off the trail and down a narrow footpath – they were evidently kayaking through the rapids back down the valley to Pokhara. This takes adventure trekking to an entirely new level!
Hille is a small town whose livelihood depends on trekking traffic and rice. In this part of Nepal the lucky color is blue (probably still influenced by Hindu tradition, where blue is the color of Vishnu.) So every guest house is painted the same electric blue – very appealing visually but hard to distinguish one from the other.
Warning: If your guest house advertises solar showers, this means that if the day has been foggy, or if you arrive behind other groups of trekkers, there will be no hot water for you. Set modest expectations!
It was here that we first experienced the unpredictability and scariness of altitude sickness. All three of us live at or near sea level but had trained for the trek by hiking at 9000 feet in the Rockies; DB had spent quite a bit of additional time with additional hiking at 9000-9500 feet in the Sierras. At Hille the elevation is a modest 4800 feet. DM and I were tired but basically exhilirated by our first day’strekking experience; DB was stupefied. The combination of altitude and exertion left her so exhausted that she was between incoherent and comatose. DB and I managed to get some aspirin into her, manoevered her into her sleeping bag, and crossed our fingers.
(Coming next: Day 2 – Hille to Ghorepani )