“Coming down the mountains!” Completing our Annapurna Circuit trek

Lacy: Being as we have been off the Circuit several weeks now and are currently in Malaysia, this post is a bit overdue.  Apologies for the delay, but this post, while a little long, will tell the tale of how we ended our trek.  I LOVED hiking the Circuit.  It was so different from anything else we have done.  Yes, we hiked 800 miles of the PCT last year, but this is literally and figuratively worlds apart.  Passing through Himalayan villages, staying in tea houses, waking up early to catch a view of the magnificent tall mountains, being immersed in a completely different culture and having hot food all day while hiking that we didn’t have to cook are all new to us.  I could hike every single day for years on end.  It is one of my favorite past times, but even Daddie Gizmo has had enough sometimes and so we ended our hike and spent 4 days in Pokhara before returning to Kathmandu and flying to Malaysia.  💜

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Hiking into Kagbeni, a stunning oasis north of the Annapurna Circuit, housing a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that has been in use for nearly 600 years

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A rare photo of the two of us hiking together that Cristoph took

Rob: After spending a few days decompressing in Muktinath we departed for Kagbeni, a Tibetan village in northern Nepal. Over hundreds of years, redrawn boarders, boarders redrawn again and even again, it was never under the rule of China. Nepali and other cultural influence have also been minimal because of the remoteness of the village and the presence of a 585+ year old Tibetan Buddhist Temple & Monastery that is still in full use today. So… it’s said that it is as close to a purely Tibetan village as it can be, even inside of Tibet. If you purely view the oldest part of the village and Temple, I can definitely understand why. It is, however, attached to a typical mountain Nepali village that caters to trekkers from near and far.  The authentic and amazing old village has doorways that are all wooden, about 5 feet tall at most, and connect a warren of stone tiny alleys that connect multiple layers of homes and barns as one contiguous structure. Windows have tiny intricately carved wooden shutters used like vents. Rain cleans the pathways downhill to the river and fills the rice paddies, local gardens and apple orchards that are all woven together in a lush oasis tucked in a tiny river valley high up on a very, very barren mountainside.  I’ve used the word charming once in my life before at some point, I’m certain, but it’s also very descriptive of Kagbeni. We enjoyed a full day’s rest, Yak Mo-Mos (dumplings), the local Raksi and sitting in on afternoon Prayer time with the young Monks of the Monastery.  Lacy says Kagbeni is probably her favorite Nepali village of the entire circuit.

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Stone alleys in Kagbeni

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Lovely views in then Tibetan village

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Very old stupa at the entrance to Kagbeni…

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With beautifully painted interior

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Leaving after 2 nights in Kagbeni, we hiked 5 hours turning south for the first time on the trek. Marpha was another one of the little mountain towns with similar charm (said it again). Trekking “down” this side of the Annapurna Circuit hasn’t been the same as our previous 2 weeks of challenging ascent nor does it have the same vistas.  It’s been rocky, dry, downhill and dusty. Figure 8 didn’t hesitate to duck us under one of those 5 foot doorways the very moment we reached Marpha to have us sit down to a little reward for our efforts of the day. Thongba is a warm millet based beer found in just a few places in Nepal that she enjoyed when she was in Nepal five years ago.  A generous amount of fermented millet is scooped into a big pewter schooner that has a lid and pierced pewter straw. Boiling water is poured over the millet and you begin a slow stirring and mouth watering process as your beer  “brews”. It takes 10 minutes for the water to become cloudy and cool enough to drink. It was a fantastic reward for the day and the last 10 minutes of patient stirring. It has a slightly sweet, grain like taste with the tang of fresh alcoholic beverage. After you drain your schooner, you start over with more boiling water. It was a little weaker tasting the second round but still really great. I hope YouTube can teach me how to make this when I get home. I can’t wait to try it out on so many of our friends!
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Thongba!

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Entering Marpha

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Visiting the local monastery

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Prayer wheels up the stairs

Our 3rd day down was from Marpha to Kalopani. We knew it would be a long day to start but we were aiming to make Tatopani in 2 long days versus 3 short ones. There was a lot of construction along the old trail, which is becoming a new road, so we crossed a suspension bridge to the other side of the river; thereby, hugging the opposite side of the valley on the newer trekking route. It wasn’t long before we picked up a local dog to join us on our route. Soon after we were also joined by a young French guy named Christoph and 5 cows!  These cows had also decided that today would be the day they moved a village or 3 downriver and were with us at least 2/3 of the way until they apparently reached their destination and were herded away by a little old local woman.  The rain had been very intense along this section of the trail / road / river for the last few weeks. The road on the other side of the river had several landslides that made the road completely impassable. Busses would have to pull to both sides of the avalanche so passengers could climb over to continue their journeys. On our side of the river, we followed the trail up and down the hillside taking several small detours where the trail had been washed out or where the swollen river had simply re-carved the fields and riverside.  We (Lacy, myself, the dog, French guy & all the cows) reached a small village that had become completely flooded by the widening river. With the help of several local men, they guided us along a flooded former path and across several stream areas. We thought we were all set to rejoin the trail with just wet shoes until we reached the far side of town where the muddy water was about 3 ft deep for a 100 foot span. Once again, with their guidance to stay centered where the path or road would have normally been, we crossed carefully, but easily, to the other side. With waves of “Thanks” and “Danyabads” we set off for the remaining 3-4 hours of trail with mud filled shoes, socks and gaiters that smelled of muddy trail, river silt and manure. It was a relief to stroll into Tatopani, rinse our legs and sit down right at dinner time to a cold Gorkha beer and generous plates of Dal Bhat.
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Trail washed away in monsoon season

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This is the main road that is completely turned to a river. I later saw a man using the running water to clean clothes in what is normally the road!

The following morning we began early in the rain and mist. The previous day’s dusty roads were now just big mud puddles and rock. We had to follow the road for a few klicks due to rockslides taking the trail that ran above the road down into the road itself. We could hear rockslides on the other side of the canyon as we climbed through the rubble on our own side of the river. After a long suspension bridge to cross over, we were in dense vegetation river valley jungle and back on a safe and beautiful trail for several hours. Our tummies were grumbling after 5 straight hours of and 11 miles of climbing down through rain forest and along a raging river below. Our French tag-along trekker may have gotten more miles in during our morning than he expected and was ready to stop for lunch when we crossed back over the river to the little village of Dana. I needed fried rice and a large beer as well as a break for my tender knees. Several straight days of big downhill were taking their toll. Before we reached Tatopani, we passed an area of road totally blocked by mud and rock slide that had a big jam of people, jeeps, trucks and busses waiting for one lone bulldozer to help rebuild the road to at least passable conditions.  It looked like there was going to be a very long wait for everyone.  We simply excused ourselves through the crowd, crossed a narrow row of freshly plowed mud and continued on down the hill. I did have a sly little smile cross my face as we did so too.  Even though it was another long day on trail and road, I’m certain we reached Tatopani hours before anyone did by the main road alone.  Entering the village, we caught up to our friends, Ryan & Meg, and agreed to  all take a Jeep to Beni the next morning and eventually back to Pokhara. I gave myself a cold water “village” shower before a quick dip in a scalding hot spring just below our Tea House Cabin. Lacy showered and now that we were both refreshed, we ate and turned in early so we would be ready for the 6:30 am Jeep.

The recent week, climbing up and down Tilicho Lake and then further up and though Thorung La Pass, were a natural wind down from so much physical and mental work to accomplish the first 3/4 of our trek. Even so, I still felt the abruptness of the end of our trek as I put on sandals in the morning versus our routine of sock liners, socks, gaiters and hiking boots. It was a strange feeling as we had only decided the night before to end our circuit trek . I could also feel even more of the same coming from Figure 8 who would now go back to being Lacy by name as we were finishing the trail. After 22 days, our boots could dry and our bodies could rest but our emotions were still not ready to end our experience.

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Me and Ryan while we wait for the road to be rebuilt so we can pass. The four of us enjoyed milk teas to pass the time

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The Tata truck being pushed out of its mud hole while we all look on. Note how close we are to the river edge. All this crazy driving has been going on mere feet from rolling into the river.

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A glimpse of the insanely muddy road we bumped along on down the mountain

The Jeep ride to Pokhara with Ryan, Meg and 4 other passengers and driver would also be a memorable experience & E Ticket Ride. The first 4 hours were spent slogging through muddy roads rutted by tractors and huge 4 or 6 wheel drive Tata Trucks especially designed to travel just about anywhere. The Jeep, with all 9 of us crammed inside, negotiated these 3 foot deep ruts, big rocks and flooded roads better than you would believe if you were challenged with the same obstacle course yourself.  Important to note is that we are doing all this insane Jeep driving while on the side of a mountain overlooking the river we have been hiking along. Lacy had some serious nerves as the Jeep approached the edge of the road that naturally has no guardrails. We forded several deep streams with water splashing into the open windows and over the hood. That really seemed easy compared to the continual rock and mud crawl that we swerved along in the totally destroyed road for hours on end. We had to stop twice for bulldozers to create a path through the rubble and mud. Once we topped a small hill only to see the front end of one of the tank-like Tata trucks on the opposite side that was hopelessly buried in mud and had lodged itself into a spot between piles of rubble a foot or so too small for its wide body and huge tires. I watched a bulldozer approach from behind the truck to see how it might go about pulling it back, digging around it or what the plan might be? First, I was curious and second, I was selfishly trying to gauge how long this extraction might take. To my surprise (or maybe not) the dozer never slowed down and instead hit the back of the Tata with enough force that they both pushed through the thick mud and rubble and right across to our side of the road. The Tata sped on. The dozer dragged a little mud to the side. We all hopped back in the Jeep and we were off on our crazy ride again. We only had to climb out of the Jeep and all push us through the mud (that was a cross between wet cement and peanut butter consistency) one time. I was truly impressed with our driver. When we finally reached Pokhara some 8 hours later I resisted the urge to give him a hug and just shook his hand. We were safe and sound. Back on terra firma, we had completed a full circle of the Annapurna Circuit.

Many years ago all that made the Circuit were trails used daily by villagers to cross from one village to another. The Circuit literally drew a circle around the Annapurna Mountains I though IV. It used 2 main river valleys and 1 seriously high mountain pass to make the loop.  Modern progress has taken away some of the original pathways and replaced them with plowed rock roads. Often the trails were preserved or just moved to the opposite side of the river valleys. Villagers, cows, goats and a few motorcycles still prefer these trails to the now perpetually reconstructed and dusty roads. So did we, only taking the dirt or rock roads when there wasn’t any other option. The Circuit is also not a complete circle anymore. It looks more like an upside down U.  It’s not safe or practical to try and trek the lowest portion of the circuit since it is all road today and has been for many years.  What many trekkers do (as we did) is add in side trails and side trips off the circuit to build a 3 week itinerary that is actually much more challenging than the original circuit alone.
 It was these extra experiences that made the trip an amazing trek.  The Himalayas and the Annapurnas overall are all about the journey versus the destination. The experience will never be forgotten and it will be difficult to impossible to explain the full depth of our feelings, emotions and experience to anyone other than each other. I do hope we have helped carry you along for part of our journey and thank everyone so very much for all of your love, support and comments along the way. They get us both through the long days, sore muscles, the rain, the heat, the snow, freezing nights and make us smile for days and days.
Next up: Malaysia and prep for our sailing adventure!

Annapurna Circuit Days 14-15: High Base Camp to Muktinath… Crossing Thorung La Pass!

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Day 14 Stats: 

Miles: 8.3

Starting elevation: 16,252  @ High Base Camp

Ending elevation:  12,400 @ Muktinath

**These numbers include going to The Pass at 17,700 and back down to Muktinath 

Total hiking ascent: 1,704

Total hiking descent: 5,560

Dal Bhat meals: 0. We stayed at the Bob Marley hotel in town and they had pretty good continental food so we passed on the Dal Bhat for 2 days. Yak steak, yak schnitzel, carbonara and shockingly well done gnocchi with pesto and yak cheese filled our tummies after crossing The Pass. 

Cost for teahouse for 2 nights (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 4,850Nrs ~$44.  The Bob Marley was more expensive than most places we have stayed, but the food was good, the shower was hot, it had a sink for washing clothes, western toilet and WIFI!  Plus, anyone who knows us well can rest assured that we spent more than what is noted on celebratory drinks 🙂

8BAD7167-BADA-492B-A34A-F08BDE7371DA.jpegLacy: Today was the day!  Over the past 2 weeks we climbed approximately 15,000 ft as we wound up and down the Marsyangdi River.  We began hiking through lush rice paddies and waterfalls, surpassed the tree line and finally crossed the Thorung La Pass in snow this morning. All the time we spent slowly ascending and making sure we properly acclimatized our bodies paid off in dividends. Rob and I were so strong the past 3 days as we continued to climb towards our goal of 17,700ft and this morning was no exception. It was chilly when we woke up even with the extra blanket we requested at the teahouse.  After fueling our bodies with more pancakes we began our hike in hats and gloves we had purchased weeks earlier in Kathmandu. The closer we got to the pass the cooler it became until snow flurries began to surround us! It was so beautiful to be hiking in the snow dusted mountains and looking up at the even whiter peaks.

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We hike into the snow for the final climb

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Prayer flags alert us to the summit…

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Rob and Giz make it!

We pushed forward and as we approached the summit the prayer flags alerted us to our victory. We made it! I instantly hollered and jumped from the excitement of having accomplished this feat together. We were both oozing adrenaline and glee. It just so happened, completely by chance, that we climbed the pass on an exceptionally clear day. We were rewarded with views from The Pass that have been hidden in clouds most other days recently. Visible to us were the snow covered Himalayas. Below, the view of the valley that we would now descend more than 5,000 ft into before reaching lunch! Huge smiles were plastered onto our faces all day long. It took 90 minutes to reach Thorung La Pass from High Base Camp and another 3 1/2 to descend towards a comfortable place to rest our feet and cheers over a cool beer. It feels so good to use your body like a tool while hiking and accomplish goals with your partner. Definitely one of our best days!

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Great snowy views at The Pass

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Icicles hanging from the prayer flags

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Rob: We left High Base Camp at 7:15am which meant that we were the last to leave for the Pass. The climb was tough and into the misty clouds so each time you saw what might be a high point of the trail, it was really just a junction to another stretch up along the trail and into the mist again. The mist became snow as we got closer and closer to the top. We could just barely see a few peaks above us in between the fine blowing snow. Finally we saw the prayer flags flying from the top of the Pass and the trail marker!  We had crushed the final 1700ft to reach 17,770ft in just 90 minutes and with perfect timing to see the peaks as we made it.

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The view down into the valley that we were descending 5,000+ ft into from The Pass

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Hiking down!

We hugged and hugged and then suddenly were very cold and had to add on some warm layers now that we weren’t exerting ourselves.  My new Nepali wool hat and gloves were perfectly nice and warm at the height of our elevation. We took a few pictures and waited for our new friends, Ryan and Meg, to join us so we could take a few more pictures and celebrate together. Giovanni and Jon had already crossed over the Pass just before the rest of us.

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We were so fortunate to be hiking on a clear day and were rewarded with STUNNING views of  Dhaulagiri over Muktinath – 26,795 ft tall. Yes, you read that correctly – Unbelievable!

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Dhaulagiri  towering over Muktinath

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We have spoken with lots of hikers who crossed The Pass both a few days before and after us and they all said that they didn’t have any good views. One guy in Muktinath who went the opposite direction as us waited FIVE days there to have a clear view and just so happened to go the same day that we crossed it. We didn’t plan it that way, but were SO fortunate!

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On the 5700ft decent the sky cleared of the snowy mist and several peaks of the Himalayas came into clear view. After about 3 more hours of careful climbing down we reached the village of Muktinath and celebrated with a few good cold large Gorkha beers with everyone who crossed the pass that morning.

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Hiking down from The Pass we crossed paths with the supplies coming up for the lodges we had just slept at

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Prayer wheels greets us in Muktinath

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We finally found the best momos in Nepal in Muktinath.  We went 2 days in a row

Our little trail family group has been amazing and supporting of each other from when we all met on the way to Tilicho Tal, traversing the high valleys and our ultimate ascent up and over Thorung La Pass together. The Annapurna Circuit has many options now that we are in Muktinath. It is likely that we go in different directions from here, but we will always share our memories of the last 5-6 days together.  Many, many thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart.

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A couples more gratuitous photos from the summit 🙂

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Annapurna Circuit Days 12-13: Tilicho Base Camp to High Base Camp

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Enjoying the afternoon in Ledar with our fellow hikers before going over the pass tomorrow (I look like such a dork in this photo!)

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Another beautiful day hiking

Day 12 Stats

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Miles: 12.3 miles

Starting elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base 

Ending elevation: 13,823 @ Ledar

Net elevation gain: 258

Total hiking ascent: 2,664

Total hiking descent: 2,406

Dal Bhat meals: 1 each

Cost for teahouse for 1 night (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 1,860Nrs ~$16.86 USD

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Giz loves a good hike

Day 13 Stats

Miles: 4.3

Starting elevation: 13,823 @ Ledar

Ending elevation: 16,252 @ High Base Camp

Net elevation gain: 2,429

Total hiking ascent: 2,490

Total hiking descent: 61

Dal Bhat meals: 0  We each a had cheesy pasta with vegetables and then split a chappati pizza – hiker hunger!

Cost for teahouse for 1 night (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 3,200 Nrs ~$29 USD  We had to pay a little less than $3 for the room in addition to the food which we expected at the top by the pass.  Totally reasonable.  The food was pricey, but very good, and given the fact that everything is hauled up on mules – a steal!

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Ledar is the village all the way in the distance.  We had to lose all the elevation we had gained to the cross over the suspension bridge and then climb up all over again!

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Rob: The traverse between the high valley that holds Tilicho Tal (Lake) and the next even higher valley over was shaped like a “Y” where two mountain rivers met. It would take us two days to cross this span and to reach Ledar and then Upper Thorung La Base Camp.

Our day to Ledar was a long one. After just ascending and descending 3000ft each way from the high lake I felt it in every leg muscle as we started. We began, like most mornings, by heading out into the mist and clouds that would clear as the sun came up further through the mountains. The dew on some of the wildflowers created little droplets on every petal that made them look like they were made of glass. All of the mountain micro flowers that make me smile became the first real color you see of the day when you set out early as we do here. Passing over a short ridge we suddenly came upon the same Momma Bharal and her fawns that we had seen the previous day. Once again, we were within just 20 feet as they all slowly grazed their way next to the trail.

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We walked through a pasture full of mountain goats.

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After crossing through the pasture, we looked back on the goats and horses…so many!

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We knew we would start and finish the day at roughly the same elevation but what I didn’t realize was that we would lose and then gain back 2700ft of elevation in the process. I certainly added to the difficulty, climb and length of the trek by missing a small trail junction about an hour into our morning. It took us on a cow trail and too low below a suspension bridge we needed to use to cross a strong mountain stream. Another hiker made the same mistake and we all had to climb up a nearly vertical mess of twisting goat trails through brush and loose rocks to rejoin the main trail. When we reached the little village of Shree Kharka again on our way, we stopped for a breakfast of Black Tea and Pancakes having only accomplished 2 of our hiking hours of the day in the last 3 hours. The pancakes were thick, hearty and tasted great with a bit of the local honey. They have now become my new favorite mountain breakfast food over porridge by far. The balance of the day wound us through wildflower fields and a stand of ancient Birch trees.

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Just one of the super old and gnarly looking birch trees

In the high desert mountains we are accustomed to seeing Cedar, Juniper or Piñon trees that have been stunted, tortured and twisted into shape over hundreds of years by the wind, snow and harsh climate seasons. It was a wonder for us both to see the same treatment survived by normally tall majestic Birchs that had survived by growing huge roots into to steep rock mountainside and in between crevices out of the worst of the wind and weather. When we finally reached Thorung Pedi, our village target late in the afternoon, Lacy had ordered us a couple of glasses of raksi to complete the difficult day’s events.

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Rob enjoys a chocolate pancake for breakfast…

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…and a milk tea stop along the way as we hike to Ledar

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Our next segment began the following morning after lots of Dal Bhat for dinner and a good night’s rest. Pancakes again with apple jam and honey were eaten a bit more leisurely today because we knew we only had a 4 hour hiking day. Although it would be short, we were also climbing past 16,000ft to reach Thorung La Base Camp and our last segment would be straight up vertical gain. We cruised up through the high river valley and well above the tree line again. It was a really picturesque day and we criss crossed along the trail with our new trail family as well as a couple other hikers and their guides / porters. We hit the last vertical climb hard and strong. After an hour and a half we came to an opening in the rock ahead. We walked straight up a slow running rocky mountain waterfall to reach Base Camp.  Last night before the morning!

 

 

Annapurna Circuit Day 11: Tilicho Lake

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WE 💜succulents and it’s such a nice treat to see them lining the trail to the lake

Day 11 Stats:

Miles: 7.2 round trip to Tilicho Lake from Base Camp

Starting elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base 

Ending elevation: 16,575@ Tilicho Lake 

Net elevation gain to lake: 2,890 ft straight up in 3.7 miles

Dal Bhat meals: 0

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A little cloudy but still a GREAT day. And you can still see the glaciers on the the left of the lake

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Rob: 3000ft up and back to reach Tilicho Lake at 16,575ft was an amazing hike from start to finish. Lacy hiked so strong and steady for 2 1/2 hours straight while I felt my lungs and legs protest loudly. Thankfully, my beautiful wife lead the way and let me catch up near the last little ridge that looked down and across the semi-frozen lake. The sound and sight of the nearly constant snow avalanches were a surprise to us and stopped us cold in conversation when they came tumbling down from several of the peaks. On our way down, I surprised a Bharal and her two fawns. They surprised me too being just 20ft away when we crossed paths. I wanted to ask them what they were doing up there? There really wasn’t much for them to eat but a few tiny wildflowers growing up in between the rock. When we returned to Base Camp, we ordered a little pot of Masala Tea to celebrate our first high climb above the height of Mt. Whitney which we climbed last year.

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Rob soaks in the sound and sight of avalanches rolling down by the lake

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Rob heading back down for some lunch

11CDC6FF-A00E-4DF6-8C96-DB384BB17F57Lacy: The alarm went off at 4:45 this morning and I immediately felt defeated when I heard the rain and saw all the clouds. Why?! We kept checking every 30 minutes and could actually see the Himalayas more than any other day here, but it was still raining. At 8am the rain slowed to a drizzle and we agreed to head the 2.5 hours and nearly 3,000 ft straight up the trail to the lake. I have to admit, my heart wasn’t in it when we set out. I felt a bit defeated by the rain and clouds and didn’t expect much of a view. Silly me, I had let myself build up expectations and now I expected to have them crushed.  I kept my stride slow and steady the entire way up the mountain. My mood improved as I could see more of the mountains as I climbed and I actually felt good with the altitude gain. I didn’t experience any shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or headache while hiking up. I just kept it “steady eddy” the entire time and felt my confidence grow. As we approached the lake we saw most people heading back already. Tilicho is a  beautiful lake as it is surrounded by dry mountains on the right and snow covered mountains and glaciers on the left. We sat by the lake for 90 minutes listening to and watching multiple avalanches roll down. I have never seen a snow avalanche before, much less a dozen in one morning. It was very peaceful up there, but eventually, after many photos, we tied our shoes tight for the descent and hiked back to the lodge for a much deserved pot of masala tea and an early dinner. After all, we did out-climb our previous highest altitude at Mt Whitney last year by 2,000 ft today!  After hot showers, early dinners and reviewing the route for the next day we were laying with our feet up in bed by 5:30. It was a great accomplishment today and we both feel really grateful that we have the opportunity to be here together!

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Glacier close up!

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Leaving the lake after a great morning!

 

Annapurna Circuit Days 8-10: Manang to Tilicho Lake Base Camp

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49E1755D-A59B-495D-BF9C-8809D805FFF8.jpegRob’s intro: I would hope that if someone sets out the trek the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, which includes Thorung La Pass (one of the highest mountain passes in the world) and also traditionally includes a side trip to Tilicho Lake (one of the highest lakes in the world), it shouldn’t be your first rodeo.  It isn’t ours, but I wouldn’t put us anywhere near the expert category either.  We are at an altitude now where you feel the heaviness of your chest when you breathe and thickness of your leg muscles as you hike. The weight, small pun intended, of our next 5 days has begun to sink in.  The chill of the thinning air wakes you and reminds you to take all precautions and warnings to heart.  In 2014 the pass claimed the lives of 43 people. In high trekking season rescue helicopters run almost everyday. We both feel good so far and believe we have prepared our legs and lungs as best as we could over the previous 10 days. Because of this, our excitement is brimming to start each morning and make our way further. The Annapurna Trek has a different type of preparation than the PCT or other climbs or trails. Knowing you have to prepare and perform physically just to reach the point so you can prepare and perform mentally & physically is something neither of us have done before.  We have reached that point in our trek where we have seen the tree line fall behind us. If all goes well, we will have the legs and the lungs for the 17,770ft climb over the pass and, most importantly, the mental confidence to know we will be successful. 

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The bharal really blend into the background

Part of our preparation and an enjoyable part at that has been eating a lot of very good and healthy food.  Buckwheat bread, lots of rice, lentil soups, potato curries and great pancakes with thick mountain bee honey.  When we order our dinners, we also watch the Innkeeper / Cook walk out into their garden behind the Inn and pick the potatoes, cabbage and herbs we are about the enjoy. There is also tea. Lots of delicious teas from Black to Spiced with milk.  Yum.  I can’t say that we haven’t had any alcohol, but it’s been limited to a glass or two of the local rice based Raksi.  It’s a little bit Sake and a little bit Moonshine.  We have also noticed that above 12,500ft we drink about twice as much water as you would during a regular strenuous hike. We sleep early and hard after a good day’s hike too which makes you feel all that more refreshed in the morning.  

As much as you think you are prepared for the altitude, a couple of simple 300 ft climbs from Shree Kharka to Tilicho Base Camp winded me pretty good. The trail between the the 2 places was technical and visually ominous because if you slid the wrong way in the skree slope there wasn’t really anything to slow you down until the river some 2000ft down.

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The Great Giz needs to rest up for the big hike

Day 8 Stats: 

Miles: 5.1

Starting elevation: 11,665 @ Manang

Ending elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka 

Net gain: 1,622

Total hiking ascent: 1,907

Total hiking descent: 285

Dal Bhat meals: 1 each And it was so good and the first we have had that included meat. 

Cost for teahouse for 1 night (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 1,630 Nrs ~$14.80 USD

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Looking back at Manang as we hike to Shree Kharka

Lacy: We woke up late and after another breakfast of fried samosas and Tibetan bread before departing Manang at 9:30. We only planned to go to the next village today, but 90 minutes later when we arrived in Khangsar we both still felt up for more so we had a hot tea and climbed another hour to the remote village of Shree Kharka. Over lunch of fried rice we debated going all the way to Tilicho Base Camp, an additional 2.5-3 hour hike. My head had a slight ache to it from the altitude gain, but continuing only meant another 300 ft gain so I wasn’t too worried about it. We had decided to go forward when the temperature suddenly dropped and a few sprinkles started. Just like that, we made an about face and had a key to a room. We spent a lovely afternoon playing cards, taking hot showers and enjoying the view from 13,000+ ft.  Even after a short nap and continuously drinking liters of water, my head still ached a bit after dinner. I could also feel a shortness in breath when I practiced yoga in the afternoon. Just means the gain in altitude is effecting me already and I need to be diligent about hydration and paying attention to my body because we are only going higher. The lake is another 3,000 ft and Thorong La is 4,000 ft taller.  We have altitude medicine just in case, but we are really cruising and taking our time so I am doubtful we will need any. 

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Heading up to Shree Kharka we passed this monastery. In the distance up the mountain  you can see our lodge.  It was a steep final ascent.

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The reverse view down to the monastery from Shree Kharka

Day 9 Stats: 

Miles: 3.9

Starting elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka 

Ending elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base Camp

Net gain: 278

Total hiking ascent: 679

Total hiking descent: 401

Dal Bhat meals: 1 for Rob. I opted for fried pasta with vegetables and yak cheese. Nice change. Just to be clear, there are definitely other things on the menus (fried rice, pasta, momos, chappati pizza, spring rolls, soups etc), but we have grown to be fond of Dal Bhat. It’s usually a sure bet as to be the best dish on the menu. Plus, it really is the most bang for you buck because they always offer you seconds of everything so it’s like 2 meals in one for those times when you have real hiker hunger. 

Cost for teahouse for 3 nights, days 9-11 (board and meals x 2): $5,975 Nrs ~$54 USD First time we had to pay for a room in addition to the food cost, but it was only $400 Nrs for all 3 days which is less than $4 USD. The sign in the lodge says that rooms are $20-$30 in high season. Yikes!

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Lacy: It’s noon on Day 9 and I am laying in bed in my one pair of clothes that I don’t hike in and keep relatively clean. I was up at 5am and was finally rewarded with the most stunning view of the Himalayas across the entire valley. When I looked out the window from my bed in Shree Kharka I saw a huge snow covered mountain in front of me that I had never seen before because up until now it has been shrouded in clouds. I popped out of bed & bolted from the room and into the courtyard as fast as I could put my jacket and shoes on. Smiling ear to ear, I walked up and down the trail outside of the lodge snapping a million photos. This sight was everything we have been working for for the past week +. I was in love!  By the time I finished yoga and sat down to breakfast with Daddie Gizmo at 7 the clouds had already settled low and covered 95% of the view. Thirty minutes later when we began our short hike to Tilicho Base Camp the snow covered peaks were completely covered. I am hoping for another spectacular view over the lake. We are going to work even harder for that view. Already, hiking towards Tilicho Base Camp in the morning, we could feel the altitude slowing us down as the trail took us to just below 14,000 ft. We weren’t ascending much at all, but needed to stop frequently to catch our breath because of the thin air.  Taking a full deep breath while hiking up is becoming more difficult. Though the hike was short it was not without its breathtaking moments, and not just because of the beauty surrounding us. After huffing and puffing uphill we crossed a suspension bridge over the river where we again needed to hike up, but this time we were directly under a rock cliff. Within 2 seconds of stepping off of the bridge a piece of rock dropped off the cliff and  pelted me in the chest. It took my breath away. I was in more shock than pain, but it certainly hurt and I marveled at the fact that it missed my head just a few inches away. Rob heard me gasp as the rock hit me and I said, “let’s get out of here.”  When we were out of harms way I told him how scary that was.

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Following this, we had to traverse a landslide area where the trail is covered in scree, broken rock or shale. To our right is a steep slope coming down our way covered in large and small rocks. One small mountain goat walking above us could cause an avalanche of debris coming our way. To our left, a steep slope down to the Marsyangdi River. We watched our footing carefully and made it through just fine. Coming around a bend 2 hours into the hike we see our lodging for the night in the distance and become pleasantly aware again that we are indeed in the middle of nowhere, high above the tree line. The lodge is all there is around within the 4 miles from Shree Kharka. It’s a cool sensation. The trail to the lake is 3,000 ft straight up, but thankfully we will have stripped down packs on. Most of our belongings will be left behind at the lodge until we come down from the lake and head back to Shree Kharka for the night. All we are taking is breakfast, water, camera and rain jackets. I’m beginning to feel the gravity of what we have set out to accomplish with each gain in altitude that we achieve. I can’t help but feel it effect my stride, head and breathing. But we will make it. I know we will!

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Day 10

1 Dal Bhat each 

Thwarted by the rain. We woke up at 4:30 to see a gray sky out the window. Thirty minutes later it was still gray and this usually begins prime viewing time of the mountains for the day. We reset the alarm for 6 only to find that the clouds were still hanging low and it was raining. At that point we decided to go back to sleep, have a lazy day at the lodge and go up to the lake tomorrow with HOPEFULLY better weather. The views at the lake are supposed to be one of the pinnacle highlights of the hike so since we have the time we crossed our fingers and waited one more day…

Annapurna Circuit Days 5-7: The road to Manang is paved with buckwheat flowers

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All day we experienced rewarding glimpses of the Himalayas.  I nearly broke my neck looking at then while hiking.  Unfortunately, these peekaboo shots don’t translate as well in photographs.

118CDDB0-D529-4256-A2AB-6440E505691CEF13EDDB-D12D-417D-9859-265904E01B3C Day 5 Stats: 

Miles: 13.4

Starting elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Ending elevation: 11,590 @ Manang

Net gain: 620

Total hiking ascent: 2,090

Total hiking descent: 1,470

Dal Bhat meals: 2.5  1/2 meal being what we were so graciously offered in Nawal to participate in the Lucky Day feast.  One being the worst we have had and 1.5 being the best. At least there was more good than bad!

Cost for teahouse for 3 nights (board, dinners and 1 breakfast for 2.  We we had to indulge in the fried yumminess on the street for most breakfasts!): 2,880Nrs ~$26 USD

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We learned that the pink fields are buckwheat and enjoyed a delicious buckwheat pancake for lunch in Nawal

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The first half of Day 5 felt like a Nepali fairytale. At dawn, Rob and I were awakened by the sound of a gong from the monastery above as the monks began their morning prayers. We stayed in bed for a bit and watched the clouds reveal the snow covered peak and ridge line of Annapurna II. It glowed in the morning sun and looked nearly fake as it sat so high in the sky. We were finally getting a clear view of the majestic mountain that has been hiding behind the low hanging clouds we hiked under through the valley yesterday. The sounds of the monks playing drums above us ushered me out of bed and onto the balcony where I meditated and did a few sun salutations for the morning to prepare my mind and body, all under the glowing Annapurnas. It was the best way to start what was going to be our most physically challenging day of the trek thus far. 

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Walking through the stone village of Ghyaru

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Ascending to Ghyaru required a very challenging, but rewarding climb

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Leaving Upper Pisang we both hoped to encounter the smell of fried onion balls or doughnuts to pick up as snacks for the road. Little fried nosh is a very common Nepali item in the morning, but we were only been fortunate enough to come by any yesterday on our way out of Chame, a much a larger village. The doughnut we ate was so fluffy and warm and satisfying we really wanted another to start today. It certainly would have helped us as we made a grueling ascent right out of town. We were climbing STEEP switchbacks 1,200 ft straight up a mountain.  Moving from 11,000 to over 12,000 ft first thing in the morning had us winded and moving slow. We stopped often and when Rob looked at the map at one point and told me were only 1/3 of the way up I couldn’t believe it. We both tapped into every bit of strength we had and climbed and climbed some more to reach the lovely mountain top village of Ghyaru, complete with stunning views over the valley and pink buckwheat fields. It’s an old stone village and had a charm about it as the many prayer flags flew from the roofs. We crossed through the town and began what we hoped would be a more leisurely hike into Nawal for lunch. Along the way we caught glimpses of Annapurna IV as it too glowed from the sun shining on the snow.  The landscape and the air today are both more arid. Huge mountains surround us where you can see the tree line as the evergreens form where they no longer fill the space above. Long waterfalls trickle through the crevices from high above.  The trail to lunch has us walking above a beautiful green pasture where we watch deer, horses, and Nepali bharal grazing below us. 

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Bharal

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Turning the corner into Nawal we each exhaled a heavy sigh. Both at arriving to rest after a taxing morning and seeing how picturesque the village is sitting perched in the mountains, surrounded in buckwheat fields and overlooking the valley.  Again, I felt I was in a fairy tale. We strolled into the village and chose to eat at the very first teahouse that seemed alive. I began to feel low energy as we finished our trek to lunch and hoped that some nourishing food and rest for my feet would build me back up. As we sat down we heard the chanting of monks and Daddie Gizmo asked if he could peer into the room where it was coming from. We both did and saw half a dozen monks seated on cushions playing instruments and praying. We were told that today is a Lucky Day and all the village people were coming to the teahouse we had chosen to eat their special meal. While listening to the music and chanting emanating from the room behind us, in front of us were the older women preparing for a feast. Tearing lettuce for salad, grinding curry powder, washing vegetables and dishes and more. The atmosphere felt very special and we soaked in the opportunity to be included in this moment. As our food was served so were plates of Dal Bhat for the monks and the women. Huge pots of rice, potato curry and papa (the homemade thin cracker that accompanies this dish) were brought to the courtyard area to serve everyone. We hadn’t ordered Dal Bhat for lunch, but our hosts were so gracious to offer us a bowl of the potato curry (the best we have had so far!), local salad (lettuce with a very spicy dressing) and papa. It was so unexpected and kind for them to include us in their festive meal. Lunch was delicious and special and we left the teahouse knowing we just had one of our most cherished moments of the trail so far.

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A look back on Nawal where we enjoyed a special Luck Day lunch

 

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More Mani stones as we hike

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Unfortunately, lunch did not give me the energy I was hoping for. I think the altitude wore me down today and I moved quite slow the rest of the day. Daddie Gizmo was only a little faster. For all of our climbing in the morning, the afternoon began with a huge descent where we lost nearly everything we had gained.  We hiked down through loose sand and gravel and then a fairly flat trail through the mountains. Fortunately, the scenery continued to inspire us to move our feet forward as we neared Braga. We planned to spend 2 nights in this village to acclimatize to the altitude, but all the lodges were closed for low season. Instead, we enjoyed a tea and Coke for a little boost to get us to the next village of Manang. Thankfully, only another 25 minutes. Daddie Gizmo informed me before we left Braga that he was “not much for this world” and was ready to settle in for the day. We pulled our tired bodies into town about 4, the latest to date, and found a suitable teahouse with a room that has a great view. After two necessary showers, hand washing our laundry and bellies full of fried rice we climbed into bed with the pleasant knowledge that we were sleeping in tomorrow. 

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Marsyangdi River in the foreground, Gangapurna Lake behind and a peak of the snowy mountains in the background

The following day we visited the village doctor so that Daddie Gizmo could get some relief for the stomach issues he has been dealing with for the past week. We were relieved to get the medicine he needed very easily and quickly so that he could rest and recover. And surprised that it was all free. Feeling depleted and erring on the side of caution for more time to rest and rehydrate, we opted to stay a second full day in Manang. The second day, I ventured out and explored the village, crossing the river and hiking around Gangapurna Lake. It was a nice quiet place to meditate while the sun was shining in mid afternoon. Even though I set my alarm for 5 every morning when the sky is normally the clearest, I didn’t get any wide clear views of the hiding Himalayas.  Instead, I saw it was cloudy and snuggled back up for an hour or so. It’s the rainy season and we traded expansive Himalayan views for cool cloudy days, minimal trekkers in trail and low season costs. Plus, the timing was perfect!  So, any peak I get of those beauties makes my heart skip a beat. All in all, Manang served us well for purposes of acclimatization, rest and relaxation. Plus, it’s a big enough village that we were able to score our fried samosas and Tibetan bread from the local purveyors for breakfast nosh again. Tomorrow we are going to take it easy and only trek another 2 hours to a higher village, Khangsar, where we can further acclimatize on the way to our side trip to the one of the highest lake in the world, Tilicho, resting at over 16,000 ft high.

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Buckwheat fields behind Manang

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Marsyangdi River draped in prayer flags

Annapurna Circuit Day 4: Chame to Upper Pisang for a magnificent view

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You can’t turn a corner without seeing prayer flags adorning the mountains, trailing down from the highest peaks to temples below. The presence of these flags makes this trail unlike any other we have hiked. This view is looking down to Lower Pisang from where we stayed in Upper Pisang.

Day 4 Stats: 

Miles: 9.3

Starting elevation: 8,690 @ Chame

Ending elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Net gain: 2,280 We climbed 1,800 ft of that by lunch,  reaching 10,460 in 7 miles 

Total hiking ascent: 2,622

Total hiking descent:  342

Dal Bhat meals: 0. A first. We found a place on the topmost part of Upper Pisang that we liked so much that we stayed at even though we couldn’t get a bargain deal. The view of Annapurna II from our room and balcony right out front was unbelievable. Since we paid full price, we ordered something a little different.  Sadly the food was nowhere near as good as the view. 

Cost for teahouse (board is free with purchase of dinner and breakfast): 1,700 Nrs ~ $15.50

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Two happy faces after lunch of garlic soup and fresh mushroom pizza on chapatti bread

Rob: The one hiker came up to the top of a little mountain village called Upper Pisang in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and asked a hiker he found sitting at the top, “What did you do this afternoon?”  The first replied, “I watched clouds and it was a wonderful day.” “Really!”, the inquisitor exclaimed, “That’s all??” The second hiker didn’t answer with more than a small smile and went back to watching clouds, evergreen sprinkled foothill mountains, snow capped Annapurna IV at 24,788ft, Annapurna II at 26,040ft, prayer flags trailing from 2 different Buddhist Stupas below and about a dozen waterfalls he could see high and low. After a few minutes of silence, the curious hiker packed up and moved on to try and chat with other hikers about his accomplishments of the day leaving the meditative hiker to himself. His wife came to join him on the balcony of the Tea House they would be spending the night and brought them both a full glass of the local rice wine. She asked, “What did that young hiker ask you about?”  “He basically wanted to know what we had done today”, he said.  She asked, “Did you tell him that we had the greatest fried bread-like donut for breakfast, glimpsed the peaks of the mountains as the sun broke the mist at 5:30 this morning, climbed a quiet little side trail just for fun, hiked a net gain of 2100ft from 2450ft ascending and just 350ft descending, climbed out of the river valleys, above the  tree line and all before 12:30pm.”  “No, I forgot to tell him that part”, he said, smiled, toasted his glass with his beautiful wife and told her that, “He loved her so much.”

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The view from the balcony of where we stayed in Upper Pisang looking below to the valley and Lower Pisang. We spent the afternoon outside enjoying the view and watching the clouds move as they offered us glimpses of Annapurna II.

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A tiny Short Story to help you understand what it feels like to just look out today on the Himalayas and foothills as we make our acclimation ascents. We have found a beautiful all wooden Tea House at the very top of the village of Upper Pisang. We have a tiny little corner room with a big open balcony in front of us where we can sit and admire the view as I write this.   The view, of course, is Lacy’s favorite part as well since she can also watch the clouds cover and uncover the Annapurnas right from bed! Our balcony will be a perfect place for her Yoga & Meditation practice at sunrise. Our place is just under the highest buildings in the village which are a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and Monastery. They are so vividly painted in great detail on almost every exterior surface and that doesn’t even compare to the painted murals, adornments and large golden Buddhas inside. We hear the giant brass gong chime the beginnings or endings of daily and evening prayers for the Monks studying there. 

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The monastery gate overlooking the valley

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The detail and bright colors that the Nepalese use to decorate their temples and monasteries is something we both find very beautiful

Our trek thus far has been from village to village along the Marsyangdi River. We have crossed and recrossed the river a dozen times on bouncy, breezy, cable suspension bridges. And gained the maximum recommended elevation each day on our way around the Annapurna Circuit. We currently sit at 10,970ft. We started in the low river valleys at the middle village of 3 possible starting points. The plan has been to find our legs and our lungs along the way up. We will continue this for the coming days with the ultimate goal of successfully completing the Thorung La Pass at 17,770ft in about a week from today. We have a number of day treks planned while at 12,500 to 14,500ft to help us acclimate even further. 

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Prayer flags as you enter a village…

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And unexpectedly on the forest trail complete with piled rock markers

From Bhulbhule to Nadi Bazar to Bahundanda, Ghermu, Syange and Jagat on Day 1, we were wet from rain but didn’t really mind as we climbed through rice fields and marveled at the number of waterfalls on both sides of the valley. From Chyamche, Sattale to pretty river village Tal and onward through Karte to Dharapani, it was hard to keep your eyes off the raging river just below us on Day 2. Day 3 began by going through Thoche, Bagarchhap, Danakyu, Thanchok, Koto and into Chame via grassy hillside trails through the foothills. At one point we came upon a small herd of about 12 dairy cows that decided to nap right on the trail. The hillside was pretty steep above and below us so we had to literally tip toe around and between them to pass by. Our 4th day continued the climb up and out of the misty river valley and into much drier air of the low mountain passes. We came up into the evergreen trees and have broken through them into the rock cliff mountain vistas and views. 

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Mani walls are another very common feature for Nepalese villages.  They are low walls or another area where collections of engraved stone prayer slabs are placed. We have seen them in every village and wish we could decipher what the stones say.

It is truly calming and peaceful to just enjoy a long afternoon up here on our little perch in the clouds. The air is quite a lot cooler than when we started down in the river valleys and we have moved from shorts and a sweaty tee shirt into long pants, wool socks and down jackets.