Barefoot stragglers limping up cobble stone alleys, small movie theathers showing replays of Everest, 13 years in Tibet, and my personal favorite, Into The Wild, all accompanied by the smell of freshly baked goods from bakeries on every street corner. I am not describing downtown Portland, Oregon, rather Manang; a mountain town at 4,000 meters in Nepal.
Aside from the smelly group of hiker’s and delicious food, Manang is known for being the the last village on the Annapurna Circuit before starting the hard part of the 5,500 meter ascent to Throng La Pass.
Trekkers usually spend a day in Manang to acclimate to these reaching altitdues, hence the abundance of bakeries to feed idle stomachs.
Arriving in Manang I choose to stay at the the Telichco Lodge; lured in by a hand painted sign advertising wild mushroom soup. I am granted a room for only 100 rupees (1 dollar) on the condition I eat my meals there. Most of the lodges and tea houses on the circuit make their profits from their menus (with inflated prices), not their very cheap rooms.
In town I bump into Paul who I haven’t seen since the first day on trail. We chat about the trail to come, the sheets of melting snow we will tread going uphill. Paul bought a pair of microspikes; small metal traction devices that attach to your shoes. My preparation for the climb is coming to terms with the fact that if the trail gets too dangerous I will simply turn around and re-enjoy the past week of high altitude scenery in the opposite direction as I work my way back to Besisahar.
After a day of movies, giving my legs a rest, I begin the ascent. Half an hour of easy hiking ends where the snow begins. The white fluff is packed tight, making for a straight forward traverse. Seeing how managable it is to travel in these conditions gives me hope for the next two days, where I will be going up to High Camp before finally going over the grand pass.
I reach Yak Kharka by 10:30am. I see two French trekkers I recognize at a pink colored lodge. I decide to stay there. Being this early compels me to continue walking. I drop my pack at the lodge and go for another hour and a half walk through the melting snow before heading back to Yak Kharka for lunch. As the name seems to promise I see a herd of Yak on my way back.
I do not camp higher up because it is recommended to only gain 500 meters a day (after reaching 3000 meters). Another precaution, like the rest day in Manang, to enable smooth acclimatization and avoid unpleasant sounding cerebral and pulminary edema (swelling).
For lunch I have two servings of Dal Bhat, the penultimate trekkers meal of unlimited rice, potatoes, and fried greens. I am not proud of how I spent the rest of the day.
Despite being in the Himalayas, every single nights accommodation includes WiFi. It has been a practice of mine not to get the passwords, tring to subsist on entertaining myself, meeting new people, and even *gasp* being “bored”.
However at 3pm I abashedly request the WiFi password (112233445) and find the solace and warmth of my bed. It is there I fall into the abyss of YouTube and other internet distractions. I am not particularly proud of having spent several hours locked up in my room, surrounded by some of the most epic mountain scenery I have ever experienced. I accept moments like these as a part of my journey. The romantic ideal of travelling, totally disconnected from society and spending evenings around an open fire with new friends, does not alway pan out, especially after 2.5 months of being on the road.
The next day I get an early start and work my way up to High Camp alongside a group of Sherpas schlepping supplies. I hoped that leaving at 7am would mean I wouldn’t encounter the afternoons melted snow.
While the frozen trail was easy to walk over my early start also means arriving at High Camp (4,500 meters) at just past 10:30am. I am the second to arrive, after Antoine, a French guy I meet in the hot springs of Chame a few days ago.
In the next two hours a slew of other French people arrive, not enough alcohol in my system to fully understand what they are saying, but enjoying their comradery nonetheless. I break out the ukulele and they sing, culminating in a Russian folk song, aided by a group of eastern European at a table nearby.
After hours of card games, song, and dinner, it is time to retire. To save a few dollars I opt for the dorm room. The only qualm I have about dorms is sharing my space with snores. I am a fairly sensitive sleeper and being woken at all odd hours by the unconscious grunts and snores of my peers robs me of the few hours of sleep I manage at these already hard to sleep in conditions.
I don’t face a snorer but something much more entertaining. At 11pm I wake up to the garbled murmurs of what sounds like an ancient chant, “Wallloooloolooloo,”
“You okay man” one of the other roommates asks,
“I am okay but where are you?” The sleeper talker asks.
“I am right here man” the other roommate responds from a few feet away.
“Oh, okay,” the sleep talker responds, seemingly unconvinced. He proceeds to roll out of bed and walk outside. At that point I am concerned. The temperatures outside are freezing and the camp at 4,500 meters is surrounded by cliffs.
Two minutes later he returns fully awake but a bit confused, “Sorry about that” before going back to sleep. Relieved and amused I get few more hours of sleep before waking up at 4:30am for my early morning ascent of Throng La pass.
When I start hiking the stars are out along side the flickering lights of distant headlamps up trail, those who got an even earlier start than I. The hardest part of the climb is not the steep elevation coated in ice but the sheer cold. It feels like the temperature drops a few degrees with every meter higher I go.
The height and cold culminate at 5,416 meters just as the first rays of sun hit the pass. My toes and fingers are burning cold, With effort I can wiggle them, assuring myself frostbite isn’t eminent, despite feeling frozen solid.
The cold on the pass is complimented by a brutal wind chill. I duck into a small hut and am instantly relieved. At 6am, at the highest I have ever been in my life, and the third coldest, I have the best hot chocolate I can recall, which is good because my water is frozen solid. The warmth of the drink is the panacea to my freezing extraments, the sweet fills me with the hope for what is bound to be a grueling descent to the village of Mukitinath 1,500 meters below.
It takes some effort but after 20 minutes I get up, take the mandatory summit photo, and start heading down. I move quickly hoping this will help heat up my fingers. They are already as cold as they were before the hot cocoa. On the way down I get to glisad, the glorified mountaineering term for sliding down snow on one’s butt. I enjoy the adrenaline rush untill some rocks jab my bottom from beneath the snow. It reminds me of glisading down from Muir Camp on Mt. Rainer, in Washington state.
I reach Mukitinath in good spirits, warmed again, and only slightly sore butt and legs. In front of me the Upper Mustang is now visible, a mix of aired desert and alpine.
I land at the Bob Marley hotel and set myself up on the terrace as I watch trekkers trickle down the trail into town. My stumochs rumbling is put to rest with some Dal Baht and a side of delicious spicy sauce and lime.
My destination for the next day is Marpha, famous for being quant and having an abundance of apples. There are two route options, going through Kagbeni or Lubka Valley, I opt for the latter. After thinking the remaining days of the trek would all be downhill I start my day with an hour and a half of steep uphill before some even steeper downhill, landing in the beautiful valley lined with tall rock walls with layers of rock peeling back, exposing the ancient geology.
After crossing a suspension bridge I arrive in Lubka. It is a humble sized town and I predictably settle for the first resteruant I find. It is already populated by a group of four French trekkers. It is starting to seem like I have some unconscious attraction to the land of baguettes. Somehow my vernacular is still limited to, “como savaugh.”
After lunch I decide to walk through the valley instead of heading back up the trail, as per the advice of the resteraunts owner. The trail is faint and only occasionally helped along by a cairn marker. Thankfully there are only two directions, straight or back.
After uneven footing among the rock strewn valley floor I reach the road. From here to Marpha it is a road walk, due to the recent development of the Annapurna Circuit into a full fledged road. This is my least favorite form of “walk”. For an hour and forty five minutes I eat the dust of passing trucks and motorbikes until arriving in Jomsom.
Jomsom is the largest and most developed town on the AC. There are ATMS, hotels, and even an airport with a dangerously short looking runway. Naturally I zip right through with higher hopes for Marpha.
I am not disappointed two hours later as I walk through the cobbled road that is limited to foot traffic. I pass store fronts each displaying apple pie as well as a large Buddhist monstary before reaching the Paradise hotel, which was recommended to me by a hiker I met earlier that day. It is 4pm and I am glad to have finally arrived into town at a reasonable hour.
A feeling of loneliness soon creeps up on me. I do not recognize any of the faces in town. A French couple I met ended there hike in Lubka, Paul decided he would take a bus from Jomsom back to Pokhara the following day, overall I feel like I am the only one left on trail.
Being a solo traveler saying bye to new friends is almost a daily practice. Yet being with these people for the last 10 days felt more permanent. Parting ways is hard, and I question if I should even bother to finish the trek myself.
The night I meet a new friend, one of the other rare travellers in this region from the USA. Kent is from Cleveland but living in Japan, traveling Nepal on a motor bike. We have a good time talking and eating apple pie together, he even tries the local apple brandi.
I have got 4 days left on trail before myself returning to Pokhara and then Kathmandu. I am looking forward to the hot springs of Tatopani as well as getting back to the comforts of town.
Until then happy trails,