The AC continues…..
The village of Manang at 11,600′ is utterly charming! Its also very expensive because everything has to be brought in by foot or donkey. We stayed at the beautiful, Hotel Yak which offered some of the best food we had eaten thus far. For the first time, we had a room with a private toilet and shower! Can you imagine? We were thrilled!! The views of the Himal were incredible here. The high snow-covered peaks surrounded us and as I looked around, I felt such pure joy at the beauty of it all.
Leaving Manang, I really started feeling the anticipation of hiking over Thorung La (the 17,800′ pass.) So far I had no signs of altitude illness and I was feeling both strong and excited. We were headed for Yak Kharta at 13,182′. As always, I was way ahead of group and hiking with the porters. We were climbing up above a narrow valley and I noticed a large herd of animals on the hillside. One of the porters said they were blue sheep. Unfortunately, they were too far away and I couldn’t really tell what they looked like! Well, at least I can say I saw them, right?! Yak Kharta was beautiful with Annapurna III staring at me from the valley below. Wondering why they call this village Yak Karta? Yes, it’s because of the Yaks! They are literally everywhere!! I got up early in the morning, walked outside my room and there were several large Yaks staring at me from the other side of the fence!
Yak Kharta to Thorung Phedi (base camp, 14,600′) was exhilerating! I was excited about being at such a high altitude and was excited to visit high camp (16,100′) later in the day as it would be the highest elevation I had ever been. Cathy wasn’t doing well as she was suffering from the altitude. The porters and I arrived at base camp 1.5 hrs before the rest of the group. After lunch, Shanti (my guide) and I hiked up to high camp. It was quite steep and challenging due to the altitude. I was still feeling good even though I got a little winded!!
At 0430 in the morning it was like a nighttime freeway jam of people headed for Thorung La. At high camp, Cathy was doing poorly and made the decision that she couldn’t make it over the pass. We hired a horse for her and she took off for the pass on “Crazy Horse” (there is quite a story there but I’ll leave it for another time!) Climbing Thorung La was downright hard. Above 17,000′, I could only take a few steps and then have to rest and catch my breath. I became a little light-headed here but was still feeling pretty good. Arriving at the pass, I became extremely emotional and burst into tears. I was happy to finally be at the top but I was also crying for Jeff, my brother. I had carried prayer flags from home to hang on Thorung La pass for him. As Shanti and I hung those flags, I just sobbed buckets of tears. I said a prayer and recited my favorite scripture…one that my Dad always quoted at the end of every church service, “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our father, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Hiking down Thorung La was every bit as difficult and painful as I had imagined. My knees were really hurting and it was an incredibly long hike down to Muktinath at 12,467′. I had a splitting headache due to dehydration and I also had a horrible toothache. After arriving at our hotel, I took a vicodin and motrin and laid down for 2 hours. Ah…rest!
Muktinath is a holy, pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is quite amazing that the two religions coexist with mutual respect and admiration. A big attraction here is the natural fire that exists underground. I’m sure it must be some kind of geothermic activity. Anyway, Muktinath is the only place in the world where all 5 natural elements exist together: Fire, Earth, Water, Sky, & Air. In one of the Gompas, you can look underneath and see the natural fire glowing below. The next morning we visited the temple site. There was such a deep, spiritual, sacred feeling about the place. At the main temple there are 108 water fountains that you have to bathe in prior to entering the temple. Hindus and Buddhists will bathe under each fountain in the cold water, even in Winter. For westerners, it is appropriate to just cleanse the face. After bathing, we were able to enter the main temple area but only Hindus are allowed inside the temple itself. We walked around the temple swirling incense, ringing the many bells and then received the traditional Tika blessing, a red powder that is pressed on the forehead. The whole experience was unique, interesting, and very sacred.
At Muktinath, we encountered motorcycles and jeeps again. The road has been completed and one can drive all the way to Muktinath from Jomsom now. It is better for the local people but definitely detracts from the trekking experience. For me, the trek lost something after the pass. It was a kind of anti-climatic effect and I really didn’t enjoy walking the jeep road. It was quite windy and dusty. We did have some nice views but being on the West side of the pass, there was quite a bit of haze again. The 500 year old Buddhist monastery at Kagbeni was impressive. The Lama there was very serene and kind enough to show us around. At Kagbeni, you can find the entrance into the Upper Mustang area, a restricted trekking area but one of the most beautiful in Nepal.
In Tatopani we were treated to the natural hot springs. The weather was quite warm that day but it had cooled down some when we got into the hot springs late in the afternoon. We enjoyed soaking our weary muscles and visiting with other trekkers that we had crossed paths with for the last couple of weeks. Leslie had developed some pretty bad blisters after the pass and wasn’t walking so well. Evonne had already planned to leave us in Tatopani because she had to catch her flight back home. Leslie decided to leave with Evonne at Tatopani so Cathy and I waved goodbye to them as they passed us in a Jeep the following morning.
Cathy and I began our steep climb to Ghorepani. It was back to climbing again….5000′ of elevation gain. And not just that….it was a rock staircase the entire way. For me, it was the hardest day of the entire trek. The rock stairs were tough on my knees, the weather was quite hot and I got some mild heat exhaustion. By the time we reached Ghorepani 10.5 hours later, I felt quite sick. The hot shower in the hotel there revived me a little (first HOT shower I’d had in Nepal) but I was still feeling pretty bad. Cathy was just as exhausted as I was. Neither one of us had much of an appetite so we each had a bowl of soup and went to bed. I didn’t sleep well as I felt gassy and nauseous. During the night I got up and threw up…went back to bed and finally fell asleep. I awoke at 0400 to see Cathy getting ready for the side trip to Poon Hill where the views of the Himal are spectacular. She took one look at me and told me “you’re ill, you need to stay here and sleep”, which I did. Unfortunately Cathy returned with a very hazy photograph of the sunrise..no Himal. The mountains did not show their face that day. It was very disappointing. The hike down from Ghorepani was yesterday in reverse. It was 6 hours descending on the rock staircase. That night, I slept like a baby and awoke feeling like myself again. Cathy had a painful walk down as she had sprained her ankle the day before. I loaded her up with motrin, ACE wrapped her ankle, and handed her two trekking poles. It was a short 3.5 hour walk to Nayapul where we had Diet Cokes and waited for our van to take us back to Pokhara.
The Nepali people are so gracious and friendly. They truly are the happiest and friendliest people in the world. A simple, “Namaste,” gets you a giant smile and a sincere Namaste with prayerful hands. Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya was everything I had ever dreamed it would be. It was interesting to see how the people lived in the rural villages and of course, the mountain views were unparalleled from anything I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed experiencing the Buddhist culture and getting to know Shanti and our porters. Most of all, I am thankful to God for my health, strength and support of my family. My dream to trek in Nepal has been realized and I give thanks for God for helping me every step of the way.