No, you aren't supposed to be hearing from us yet, or for another five days for that matter. In fact, we are meant to be sitting high in the mountains with nothing but a spectacular view and a few sherpa's telling us treacherous tales of their adventures living in the Himalayas. Weather is a fickle beast and it was 100% against us this week.
It all started like any good story should, sunny skies and our party of four ready for anything. Our guide, Sujan, is only 21 but has been trekking professionally since he was 17 and is not only tireless on the trails but has everyone on the mountain on speed dial, very handy when it comes to confirming bookings at the tiny tea houses we stay in along the way. Our porter, Raj, was actually just taking time away from his many other businesses during festival time to make a bit of pocket money and get out of Katmandu. He clearly wanted to practice his English and seemed to think that teaching me Nepalese was the best way to do that, I did my best as he fired phrases at me while we hiked. Conditions on the first day were ideal and we took a taxi 40kms to the bottom of the trail, the roads were rugged to say the least and the ride took over an hour. Hiking was easy as we went through little villages, over suspension bridges and past acres of rice millet that were being harvested. There was a bit of uphill, but nothing serious and we were at our first tea house by mid afternoon, enjoying a hot shower, ordering dinner and then helping in the kitchen as it was warmer then the dining room as the sun went down. Our accommodations were simple, but comfortable enough and with our sleeping bags we were pretty toasty warm.
Day two we were warned about a steep climb and the Nepalese don't seem to buy into switchbacked trails, but prefer to cut stairs into the mountain side that go straight up. Sujan had told us of the 3280 steps that we would be climbing to our next stopover, and I didn't count, but we did at least that many. We climbed out of the fields and into forests that made us feel like we were walking into a National Geographic magazine, it was absolutely stunning. I wish I could add some pictures to this blog, but it is somewhere around day two that I lost the adapter to plug the memory card into the ipad, we'll replace it in India this weekend. The temperatures started to drop that night and the menu was exactly the same as the previous, which didn't bother me, but by the 4th day, Nat never wanted to see mixed fried rice again. The cloud cover had been pretty solid so far and that second night we saw a little bit of rain, we crossed our fingers and figured things would improve as this is not the time of year for rain. Day three was another epic climb, not as difficult as the previous, but equally spectacular with forests, waterfalls, rivers and somewhere in the hazy clouds were some deep valleys and big mountains that we would catch a glimpse of, every now and again. About an hour from our destination, the heavens opened up and the rain began for real. We picked up the pace as best we could, but had to be careful on slippery rocks and greasy mud. We arrived in the tiny village of Ghorepani and were happy to find our tea house had a nice fire in the dining room. A lady we met from Colorado aptly described the accommodations as "ply-woody" and our third floor room was desperately far away from the fire to compete with the wind whistling through the cracks in the windows. We piled on the blankets, but the combination of rain and cold did it's damage that night on Natalie and a chest cold set in. To add insult to injury, the fried noodles didn't agree very well and she was pretty sick that night from them as well. Like a trooper, she almost willingly was dragged from her sleeping bag at 4:30am to start the hike that would have us seeing the sun rise over the 7 peaks of the Annapurna mountain range. It was a tough climb for that time of day, but it was worth the view and the weather cooperated enough that we got some stunning photos. Before hypothermia set it, we got her back down the hill and back into her sleeping back for a nap before we continued the hike.
At this point we were unsure as to what we should do. The clouds set back in by 8:30 that morning and our view was gone and it wasn't long before the showers started again. We pushed on to the next town which was about 5 hours and would be our last chance to decide to go on or call it quits. The hiking is so amazing that we really wanted to continue but whenever you stop the damp cold sets in and the same menu arrives with more mixed fried rice and dahl bat. I think it was lunch on day four that Nat had had enough of Nepalese mountain food and came up with my favourite quote, "I want to be home...but not like the US or Canada...but home at The Four Seasons!" Her cough was getting worse and I remember the stern words of my father when I wanted to do silly things (like camping in subzero temps in Canada) when I had a cold as a kid. What was the point in getting sicker and enduring more cold, wet nights, especially because the clouds were keeping the mountains hidden? The final straw was our accommodations that night, usually a mountain top chalet with 180 degree view would be ideal, but these are thin pieces of plexiglass that may as well be open windows when it comes to keeping out the cold. And the town council in this village prohibits fire so there was no chance of drying out any of our gear. We spent the evening with a few new friends huddled in the dining room which was warm from the body heat. The next morning I had a quick conference with Sujan and told him we would be shortening our route. Not wanting to disappoint he quickly adjusted our 10 days to 7, skipping the Annapurna Base Camp, but still getting to the hot springs. I love his spirit, but I don't think he understood Nat's health situation and I told him to try again, we would be in Pokhara the following night. I think he was most concerned with his bosses reaction or that we would be asking for a refund, but I assured him that there would be no problems there, we just needed to get warm and dry as soon as possible. At our highest point we had been at 3200 meters above sea level and with this change of plans, I think we climbed back down to low levels in one afternoon. It might have been the toughest day on our legs, but we were back below the clouds (as opposed to in them) and definitely in warmer climates.
Yesterday was a nice two hour walk along the river back to where we started. Sujan with his trusty cell phone had our driver waiting for us and we were back on the road to Pokhara. I had almost forgotten about the chaos, the tragic road conditions and the excessive use of the car horn, but we were quickly reminded. We aren't sorry that we bailed out early as the weather isn't getting any better, in fact, visibility might be getting worse and it rained all night again last night. Back in our guesthouse in Pokhara, we were both looking forward to our first hot shower in a few days. I don't think Nat saw the positive points of the energy saving solar water heater on this grey day when all she wanted to do was shower. Her shower gear was packed in a flash and we were out the door looking for an electric water heater which we found at a spa next door. I got an hour long massage and she had an hour long hot shower...works for me!
It has been a blast in Nepal, but with the weather the way it is we figure it is time to move up the time table on India. We get a bus back to Kathmandu tomorrow morning and Sunday we fly to India where I am pretty sure it will be much warmer. We are being met at the airport by friends in New Delhi and think we have some pretty good adventures planned, last night Nat was checking out camel trekking in the desert...I think she wants a tan!