I awoke with a start in the pitch darkness of the empty dorm room to the sound of the alarm on my Suunto Spartan Ultra
. It took me a few seconds to get my bearings, which was unusual, and to recall why exactly I had set the alarm that early. The watch had told me when exactly sunrise
was and I had given myself just enough time based on my pace the day before
, but had not, for some reason, had the foresight to factor in more time for all the snow. In my pre-dawn grogginess, I also made the beginner mistake of not packing another pair of dry socks.
Fortunately, the trail was quite evident due to the footprints of those who had left earlier (some had left almost an hour before I did!), so following the trail turned out to not be an issue in the slightest. Everything was completely and utterly calm, and the silence was so heavy that it felt stifling. The only sounds that I could hear were the sounds of my own breath and the trudging of snow and the occasional cracking of ice as I continued onwards. For some reason, the prevailing silence reminded me of scuba diving
.Up above, the conspicuous constellation of Scorpio hugged the southern horizon, whereas the equally conspicuous Ursa Major
hugged the northern horizon. Both of them floated just above the hills and seemed to be waging a battle
against each other all over again, with me as the only spectator. Down below however, I felt as if I were walking on a field of delicate silver glitter as the light from the beam of my headlamp was reflected back to me by the snow.Looking back towards Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m). Hover the cursor over the image to turn on the lights!
I eventually caught up with the other groups, most of whom seemed to be struggling as they trudged slowly up the slopes. As I passed them one by one, I figured that it was a lack of one of three things: coffee, warmth, or oxygen. Maybe they were just distracted by the surreal alpenglow that was beginning to show, something that was quite easily seen from where I was, as Machapuchare Base Camp (elevation : 3700m
) was directly east of Annapurna South (elevation : 7219m
), and was in-line with the (soon to be) rising sun.Alpenglow hitting the peak of Annapurna South (elevation : 7219m). Hover the cursor over the image to turn on the lights!
The fresh footprints in the snow ended after I passed the last group. I was glad to see that there was still a track, but the less conspicuous footprints here were frozen over so they must have been made the night before. Soon after, the lights from Annapurna Base Camp (elevation : 4130m
) appeared in the distance, and seemed to be nestled right at the base of Annapurna South. Once I reached ABC, I made my way back up to the prayer flags on the rise and past all the crowds that had gathered, and arrived just in time to catch the sunrise lighting up the impressive mountain range that lay right in-front of my very eyes. I was left awestruck as I witnessed the rising sun gradually paint the mountains a warm golden-orange from the middle of the Annapurna sanctuary. Just as breathtaking as the mighty mountains was the massive glacier that churned slowly beneath them. I can't say which amazed me more. I tried to pick out Khangsar Kang, otherwise known as Roc Noir ("Black Rock"--so steep that it can't hold snow), that lay to the right of Annapurna I, but the cloud-cover foiled all my attempts.The snow-covered South Annapurna GlacierThe peaks as seen from Annapurna Base Camp (elevation : 4130m); Hover your cursor over the image to reveal their names.
The small viewing area that overlooked the South Annapurna Glacier was completely packed with people, so I once again left a little hurriedly and began my descent. Plenty of other hikers were still on their way up, and they all looked very perplexed when they saw me descending. On the way down, I decided to have a little fun and ran down some of the sections of the snow-covered trail, testing my shoes on the slippery terrain as I did. My Salomon X-Ultra 3
shoes held up surprisingly well in the snow, but as expected, lost a lot of their traction each and every time I encountered patches of ice.
I left Machapuchare Base Camp (elevation : 3700m
) just before 09:00, and began my descent back down the valley. The plan was to compress the three days I had taken to ascend from Chomrong (elevation : 2170m
) to just one day for the descent. Compressing the days it took to descend was something that I did on most
of my trips at high altitude, as the risks of AMS
are no longer a factor. It was quite nice to be heading downhill, even with the heavy backpack back on, and my confidence in my Salomon shoes'
ability to handle snow had increased significantly after that morning's little trail run.
The views of the snow-laden landscapes were absolutely spectacular. As I descended however, the snow gradually turned into ice as the terrain leveled off, and all the traction that I had earlier simply disappeared. The great run that I had had at the top had given me more confidence than I think I deserved, and the sudden appearance of ice literally took my legs right out from under me. As you would expect, my pace slowed considerably after that!Brilliant snowscapes
The ice gradually gave way to slush, and then to mud as I reached upper Deurali (elevation : 3200m
) an hour later. The temperature had increased significantly by then and I was forced to remove some layers of clothing. I left Deurali after I had repacked my bag, and continued with the descent. Bamboo shoots began to appear soon after, and the ubiquitous brown swaths that had coloured the slopes slowly changed to green, and with that came the return of the rhododendrons and the wonderful song of birds.Before I knew it, I had reached the hamlet of Himalaya Hotel (elevation : 2920m
). The descent from Deurali had taken just 45 minutes.Himalayan primroses (Primula denticulata) under a layer of melting ice. The flowersof these hardy plants generally become thicker and larger the higher the elevation
The skies had remained gloomy and quite overcast for quite a while, so I maintained a fairly quick pace, considering I had quite a lot of distance to cover that day. It began to drizzle within minutes after I arrived at a guesthouse that lay 5 minutes before the village of Dobhan (elevation : 2600m
), so I figured that since I was ahead of schedule and was well below my budget, I would stop for lunch and treat myself to some macaroni and cheese (NPR470
) whilst waiting for the rain to let up.
The rain turned out to be just a short spell, so I left right after I was done with my meal. I reached Bamboo (elevation : 2310m
) 45 minutes later, and the long steep staircase that awaited me just after was the first of two big climbs until the town of Chommrong. It began to drizzle once again, but i just threw on my rain jacket and marched on, eager to cover as much ground as I could.I reached the Chomrong Khola bridge at 14:45, and knew that the long, tedious climb up the stairwell lay just ahead, and was the last obstacle I had before I reached the many guesthouses of Chomrong (elevation : 2170m
Time taken to descend (at a fairly quick pace): ABC - MBC : 45 minutes MBC - Deurali : 60 minutes Deurali - Himalaya Hotel : 45 minutes Himalaya Hotel - Dobhan : 50 minutes Dobhan - Bamboo : 45 minutes Bamboo - Sinuwa : 60-80 minutes Sinuwa - Chomrong : 80 minutes
I decided to get wifi (NPR200
, the first and only time for the entire trip) not too long after I reached the guesthouse, just to let my loved ones know that I was out of the mountains and was well. I then made my way to the dining hall for an early dinner of dhal bhat (NPR480
) with two cups of hot lemon (2x NPR100
), before retiring for the night to the comfort of the room (NPR200