Nepal is the land of the Himalaya Mountains and where there are mountains there are trekkers and mountaineers. Now make no mistake – I am not a mountaineer and never will be (I can’t see any good reason to climb a mountain) but I figured that there was no way that we could come to Nepal and not do a trek. Just had to try trekking around Pokhara as a first start.
The last few days in Pokhara were rainy afternoons so any close by treks stood a good chance of getting wet so we decided to save those treks for when the weather cleared and instead figured we would fly up to the base of the Annapurna range and do a 2 day trek from Jomsom to Muktinath (2600m to 3800m over a distance of 30km). So tickets booked, gear stowed at the hotel in Pokhara, cold clothes packed into a smaller bag and we were off.
Now for anyone that doesn’t know me I am not the worlds best flier. When I say that it could be translated into anything that is not a large commercial jet airliner has me more than a little spun out so it was quite a feat that I boarded this tiny little 14 seater twin prop plane to head up into the mountains. The initial part of the flight was pretty cool. We literally were flying between the mountains. Out each side of the plane the mountain ridges were above us as we cruised above deep fertile valleys, with escarpments cut into incredible terraces of wheat and crops with miniscule towns perched on the knife edges of the cliffs. It was actually quite enjoyable. That was until we got closer to Jomsom.
It seems that Jomsom sits in the base of a valley that acts as a wind tunnel from mid-morning so the method of landing is that the pilot does a “dive bombing turn” to u-turn into the end of a tight valley and face into the wind. As an experience what that translates into is getting deep into the valley in a heap of turbulence (not a good thing for me), but then a glance out the window has mountains sliding past both very close and at great speed which resulted in me with my face tucked into Daves neck hyperventilating thinking I was about to either throw up or start screaming. I tried to get it together for another quick look but the view was even more terrifying as the bucking plane seemed to be heading straight for a mountainside. It is impossible for me to describe the feeling of being in that plane. I have honestly never been so scared in all my life. After a few death defying minutes of this Dave tells me it’s ok, he can see the runway. If only that was the end of the horror because with the strong winds they literally come in sideways and straighten up at the last minute to land on a strip that is absolutely tiny. I can truly say that I have never – and I mean never – been so pleased to touch the ground in all my life. I think it took me another 20 minutes to get it together enough to appreciate where we were and how stunning the area was.
With our first part of the journey accomplished (albeit gracelessly) we were off and trekking. The map said that the town we were aiming for, Kagbeni, was about 2.5 hours away so off we went. We decided to follow the road which is a dirt/rock track cut into the side of a valley that stretches as far as the eye can see. The base of the valley floor is a wide river bed with a broken river that wanders across the plain in small swift flowing rivulets. There are no trees and the landscape was harsh windswept barren mountains zigzagged with tiny paths and topped with cloud. Then miraculously the cloud would shift and behind these brown sheer walls were huge snow capped peaks. The 2 main mountains here are 7000m and 8000m massifs crowding across the valley floor with only 30km separating them making this the deepest valley in the world. The trekking was easy as we were only ascending 80m so it was lovely and flat and stunning scenery. That said it still took us a good 4 hours to reach Kagbeni. We were too busy messing around either taking photos or trying to find fossils, of which there are seemingly many going from the local road-side stalls but we found none.
Kagbeni was an extraordinary town (more on that in the next blog) and would have been a great resting point if it were not for my overactive imagination. Knowing that the next day was uphill, as in 1000m uphill, my brain had decided that there was a risk I wouldn’t make it and so I spent all night tossing and turning with James Earl Jones’s voice booming in my head – Muktinath… MUKTINATH!!! Silly girl but hey, what can I say. Sometimes it is hard to shut the brain down.
So the next day eventually dawned and we were off. Now this trek was listed as a 3.5 hours trek which Dave kindly explained was timed for a downhill run, not uphill. At 2700m the altitude is difficult with far less air than normal and with a fitness level of 0 I was even more concerned that we would never reach our destination.
The first hour was hell. I swear it felt straight up and hard as hell. But we went slowly, as in more slowly than you could imagine and it was bearable. The trick is to just trudge as slowly as you can and stop often. I felt like an old granny but we were making progress. At the 4 hour mark with 2 hours still to go according to the map I fully admit that I was ready to catch any form of vehicular transport that came past but pride got in the way, and there wasn’t any, so we kept on.
At a pub that night we were chatting with heaps of other trekkers (real ones with all the good gear) and they had come the other way. Mukinath is the halfway stopping point for trekkers doing the 12-21 day Annapurna circuit after they have cut through a 5,500m pass from the other side of the range. Gotta say I felt a bit pathetic after only 2 days but everyone was very gracious for the fact that we had done 1000m in one hit (apparently 500m is the maximum that most people ascend in a day).
So, a good nights’ sleep and we are ready now to catch a taxi jeep back down the mountains to Jomsom to catch the dreaded outbound flight. Only to find out that the jeep and bus drivers are all on strike for an unknown period of time. So now the question is … walk back out (oh please God no) or catch a lift at great expense with a local on the back of a motorbike (oh please God no). Well, I am proud to say that in the entire breakneck downhill mountain motorbiking I did not scream once. It took us 10 hours good walking to get up to Muktinath and only 45 mintues to get back down. That said – the motorbike sure beat walking.
So now we are back in Jomsom with tomorrows flight back to Pokhara to go. Seemingly the outbound flight is much better as it is earlier so no wind and they don’t have to u-turn to get out of the valley. All in all I would have to say that while it was only 2 days of trekking it has been quite a trip and I feel a real sense of accomplishment for having achieved what I set out to do.
For those not familiar with altitude; 3800m is about the same height as La Paz, Bolivia (the highest capital city in the world) and certainly high enough to get heavy duty altitude sickness. Thankfully neither of us seemed to suffer from the altitude very much at all. A minor headache for me and nothing for Dave. Which was lucky as I had a chest infection and was struggling to breathe anyway 😉 Ah well, the things we do heheh. I like a challenge.
Post script – this was written yesterday and I am pleased to report that a gorgeous still morning with no clouds greeted us in Jomsom, meaning a perfect flight back to Pokhara – landed safe and sound 😉