08 April High Camp to Muktinath via Thorung La
Well this is the big day on the Annapurna Circuit. As its drawn closer it has dominated conversations in dining rooms, with every group having differing theories on when to start and how hard it would be. Our conversations on the other hand have been dominated by who won cards and whether it was luck or skill!
As Mark said yesterday we opted to start at 05.30,which given all advice was that ascending to the pass would take 3 - 3.5 hours would get us there by 8.30 or so.
We could have started earlier as it seemed the early groups felt if they were up at 3.00 everyone else should be to.
Finally at 4.40 our alarm went and we lunged ( more sleep walked but lunged sounds better) into action, packing packs putting on gear and generally getting ready. It was -12degC outside so despite my plan to continue the them of shorts each day I relented and wore merinoes under the shorts.
All rugged up we went to the dining hall for breakfast bumping into the German girls on the way, they had gone back to Thorung Phedi and started out from there at 3.00. There is much relief in our group that we didn't do that.
After breakfast Mark had obligatory toilet stop (not sure if he does this at home Rhonda) and we got away at about 5.40.
It seemed there were a large number of people who overhearing us night before decided to emulate us, or perhaps we're flattering ourselves and they merely wanted to sleep in a bit. Either way we started in amongst a very big group who moved at a snails pace.
The track started out as a very narrow ledge on a long icy slope and about 200m to the bottom. A fall would have had pretty dire consequences a fact that some seemed to have been noticed by some of the trekkers who then shuffled along barely moving. Talking afterwards we were all this could take all day at the speed we were moving.
After a couple of well engineered passing manouvres we had a clear track ahead and could fall into our natural rhythm and make pretty good progress.
It was COLD though and and unfortunately, in our excitement to get underway we had omitted to blow the water back out of the Camel Bak tubes. Hence this froze and getting water on the go became impossible. Fortunately a we had a couple of bottles of water in packs that we could share around. It was icy but you dry out so quickly at that height welcome.
After about 45 minutes came to a small hut and regrouped and sorted gear etc. We weren't quite to the sun yet but could see it shining on the snow ahead, a welcome sight as we were all pretty cold.
Once the sun came out it was an absolutely spectacular day, not a cloud, deep blue sky and surrounded by snow clad mountains. Stunning!
We then split into the same two "assault teams" as yesterday and carried on up the relentless slope.
Whilst all this was cold, extremely tiring and frustratingly slow, you couldn't help but be awed by the surroundings. We were right in and on the Himilayas. We took pause a couple of times simply to take in the spectacular views (or so we told ourselves, might also have had something to do with needing to get a bit more oxygen!).
About 1.5hrs after starting we came to first of the "false crests" where you think you've made the top because approaching you can see only sky. When you get there the dream is shattered and the path continues on down a little followed by more uphill. Because we were aware of these we were not overly concerned but you can understand how for tired trekkers who were not aware how heartbreaking this could be.
About 2.00 hours Mark and came into sight of the cairn at the high point of the pass (5416m or 17,769ft). We pulled off the track and climbed a bit above to some rocks to await the anchor team of Harm and Chris so we could all arrive at the same time.
Once they got there we regrouped and proceeded to go to the high point. I promptly fell over while trying walk backwards videoing with the
GoPro, nothing overly damaged except my pride (I'm sure that'll cost be a round of beers back in Pokhara).
At the pass we had other Trekkers take a number of photos of us as a group with the NZ flag Harm had had the foresight to bring (thanks mate).
Also got a photo of the last of Leyton's school fundraising chocolate bars. Think it has probably got the record for the most travelled from this fundraiser! We promptly ate it.
Had a cup of lemon tea sold by an enterprising Nepali up there. Most expensive Lemon tea we've had here (1200NR about $12) but worth every cent of it.
Interesting seeing some of the other trekkers, one Japanese guy looked absolutely b*****ed (not surprising as he was chain smoking during the night before at High Camp)! Some looked fine, like us, others were just at the end of their tethers.
We then, after about half an hour commenced the descent, about 1700m in total over 6km, so very steep and relentless.
Very hard on the dodgy knee but finally we got to Champabut where there were a few trackside tea houses. So stopped for a regroup and spring roll. It was still only 09.00. Hard to believe we had crammed so much in before brunch!
We then continued down to the pilgrimage town of Muktinath. This is a town where Indian and other pilgrims have been coming for 3000years. There is a fissure in the earth where natural gas flows out with water and is lit in a small flame. The Hindus see this as the coming together of the four elements; earth, fire, water and sky.
As we got close to the town we were met by a tide of colourfully dressed Hindu pilgrims walking from the town up to the temple complex.
The town itself was dry, dusty and pretty unattractive but the lodge had hot showers which after a few days was going to be welcome. I had noticed even my sleeping bag had taken on a distinctive aroma. Alas the hot water was not working!
Had Mexican for lunch at the Bob Marley Hotel?? Not exactly Napali but great for a change.
We then walked up to the temple complex. Very interesting watching large numbers of, generally overweight, Indians clad only in their underwear running a gauntlet of 108 water spouts (COLD) and then jumping into a couple of plunge pools that made roadside puddles look clean.
We then returned to the welcome hot showers (water now working) and chilled since it had been a long day.
Food blunder of the day had to go to Mingle who decided on Vege Mousaka and even convinced Harm it would be a culinary delight. Turned out to be cauli and carrot in white sauce!