I took my sweet time that morning, as the views that greeted me overlooked the magnificent valley. The cliffs that ran down the sides of the mighty mountains were still shrouded in the dark tapestry of the mountain's shadow, but as I watched, that tapestry was once again pulled away by the light from the rising sun. Once I had my fill, I made my way up the stairwell past the final lodge and down into the valley.
A mountain unveiling
The sheer ridges that surrounded me on either side were fairly barren except for a light coating of alpine grass. The valley itself was still deep in the shadow of the mountains, which ensured that the chill that lingered in the air remained. As I walked up the valley, Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m) slowly made its appearance, its triangular peak nestled inside a v-shape 'window' of sorts between the slopes to my right. I got a brief feeling that it was watching me, with its steadfast gaze, before it melted away slowly as I made my way onwards.
The mountain 'gallery' of the western slopes of Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m)
Looking back southwards at a group of trekkers. Hover the cursor over the image to pile on the snow!
The next 'window' that presented itself showcased Gangapurna (elevation : 7454m) all the way to the north. Gangapurna was much further away than Machapuchare and the steep walls of the valley that framed it ran along a relatively straight fault, so Gangapurna resolutely hugged the horizon and remained with me for a while. Down below, the trail had met the edge of Modi Khola's riverbed, but climbed back up the slopes just beyond, where large patches of warm sunlight awaited me. Despite these patches of sunlight, the valley was still surrounded by ice.
Gangapurna (elevation : 7454m). Hover the cursor over the image to pile on the snow!
The trek from Deurali to Machapuchare Base Camp (elevation : 3700m) had taken me an hour and a half. MBC appeared to me as just one solitary guesthouse at first, but after a gradual walk up and over a rise, the other four guesthouses could be seen huddled together in a tight cluster. The mountains behind them seemed to close in and completely surround the valley. I decided to stop at 'Machhapuchhare Guesthouse' and to offload my heavy backpack, as I realised that most of the other trekkers would want to spend the night up at Annapurna Base Camp (elevation : 4130m). I understood the appeal of this of course, but I think the appeal decreases significantly for those who have spent time at higher elevations. For me, the most important thing at the time was to 'sleep low' and to avoid the crowds as much as possible.
Once I had packed my daypack with the essentials and had refilled my water bottle with filtered water, I began the gradual ascent up the slopes towards ABC. The trail was quite wide, and was predominantly made up of steps and dirt, but was occasionally interspersed by rocks and boulders. Alpine grass covered the edges of the trail on both sides, whereas the foothills of Hiunchuli (elevation : 6441m) to the left were completely covered by snow. Snowboard tracks and footsteps marred the otherwise pristine slopes.
Looking back towards Machapuchare (elevation : 6997m) and Machapuchare Base Camp (elevation : 3700m)
Walking with a day pack was notably easier, as a huge burden had been lifted both figuratively and literally. Views of Annapurna South (elevation : 7219m) appeared every now and then before being obscured once again by the clouds just as quickly as they had appeared. The surprisingly easy and quick hike to ABC took an hour from MBC, and the lack of a large backpack seemed to make all the difference.
Annapurna South (elevation : 7219m) peeking from behind the cloudcover
The guesthouses that made up ABC were located at the top of a rise, and they were surprisingly devoid of people. I made my way around and to the back of them and towards the prayer flags and the memorials of the 141014 snowstorm, a snowstorm that caused 43 deaths after dumping just under 2 metres of snow within 12 hours. The memorials, and the crumbly precipice that overlooked the South Annapurna Glacier that they were located on, were a morbid reminder of both the hazards of the mountains, as well as the frailty and transience of life--memento mori. My rumination was interrupted by the squeaks of Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) as they circled overhead.
The mist and clouds had begun to encroach even more, and had completely engulfed the views. I figured that I would instead stop by one of the guesthouses for lunch whilst waiting for the views to clear. Since it was only the second lunch that I had purchased from a guesthouse since the beginning of the trip, I decided to go with tomato cheese pasta (NPR590) and a cup of hot lemon (NPR120), a treat of sorts.I had been the only hiker in the dining room at first but over time, the other slower hikers began to arrive at the guesthouse one by one by one, until the dining room was completely and utterly full. All the bags had been heaped at the sides of the room and the sheer amount of people that had somehow managed to cram inside made it quite a chore to simply move around. With crowds also comes a din, a terrible one at that, so after finishing off my hot lemon, I quickly paid for the meal and hurried back out of the guesthouse. I was very glad to have decided to spend the night at MBC instead!
The cloud-cover was even more dense as I emerged out of the guesthouse, so I decided to make my way back down to MBC whilst I still could and to instead hike back up to ABC once again for sunrise the next day. The journey back down turned out to be quite an adventure in itself. The descent was uneventful at first but as I descended down the trail, so did the mist, and it shrouded everything in a white-out. I was not overly worried however, as the trail was very wide and I could still see it beneath my feet.Things began to get a little uncomfortable as the wind picked up, and it sapped away my body heat as it whistled by. I picked up my pace and jogged back down, hoping that the extra body heat would counteract the wind-chill effect. I made it back to MBC in 45 minutes, and just in time as it began to hail almost immediately after I arrived. The hail then turned into a short bout of rain, and then it began to snow, and snow and snow it did.
After heavy snowfall
The snow eventually stopped after falling continuously over 5 hours. I had planned to explore the moraine that lay to the north of MBC as well as a possible trail that followed the Modi Khola north-east towards the East Annapurna Glacier, but the heavy snow had left me completely stranded in the room. The only things that were left to do was to read my Kindle and to wait for dinner (dhal bhat NPR620 with hot lemon NPR120).*I ended up having the entire dorm room (NPR180) to myself!
"Ramon is a hiker, climber, and diver who loves to get off the beaten path. His website is a combination of his drive to explore and his passion to capture and share what he sees. Ramon is a bit of a minimalist and is currently torn between his yearning to travel the world and his need to decrease his carbon footprint. Read more here." View all posts by Ramon Fadli