We awoke the following morning to the sound of rain. Heavy rain. In fact torrential rain. At breakfast it was clear that the guides were considering what to do. We had our own discussion and decided that as long as the guides wanted to go we were happy to get on with it. Eventually the porters sprung into action and we knew we were going. The porters and guides waterproofs consisted of a large plastic sheet tied over their head and draped over their packs. It worked as well if not better than out gortex clothes!
Once outside we realised just how heavy the rain was. I’ve occasionally had this level of rain in the Lakes but only for a short time. This had been going on for 12 hours and there was no sign of it stopping. There are no pictures from this day. Everyone’s cameras were in their bags in a waterproof stuff sack inside a waterproof liner.
Dhurba set the pace on the front, noticeably quicker than normal. Pasang took the back with the “Lonely Trekker” and Surendra the back of the main group. Normally as we reach our destination Surendra would take off to get things organised. Not today. The idea was to get us there ASAP and as safely as possible. A six hour trek was done in under four hours.
We spent the afternoon drying out clothes, watching the rain and hoping the wind would not take the roof off. Our accommodation was called “The Sunny Hotel”. Well it certainly was not sunny and it pushed the definition of hotel a bit far. The consensus was that gulag was more appropriate although having said that we were delighted to be there sheltered from the storm.
We realised that at higher elevations it would be snowing. We asked the guides if they thought that it would be snowing at Annapurna Base Camp at 13,500ft? They suspected that it might be sleet but changing to snow overnight. If we were there we would have had to stay put or if on our way up we would have had to come down. Which in the light of developments elsewhere in the region was reassuring.
Unbeknown to us a major disaster was unfolding on the other side of Annapurna, The weather that we were experiencing was caused by the remnants of Cyclone Hudhud and was completely out of character for the time of year. In the region of the Thorung La Pass at an elevation of over 17,000ft it was a blizzard 43 people lost their lives and over 500 people were helicoptered out. The people who stayed put in the tea house near the pass all survived. In theory everyone trekking in Nepal should have a guide. In practice this does not always happen and indeed we met many people doing it on their own without porters or guides. Some just hired a porter, which in a situation like this is not much good. The overwhelming majority of porters do not speak English and will not have had the training to be able to make decisions in a crisis. Most organised tours, our included, have flexibility in the schedule to allow for a delay. If you are on a tight schedule and have a plane to catch you will be tempted to push on. I think the best advice if not on an organised trek is hire a qualified guide and build in some contingency time into your schedule. You can read a BMC report of the tragedy here
Day 11 normally starts with getting up at 5.00am for forty five minute walk up Poon Hill for the sunrise. With it still raining the previous evening all but two of us gave it a miss. However the clouds cleared just in time and the views from Ghorepani were pretty good anyway. Thanks to Peter Bell for the two photos from Poon Hill.
I think the two photos above are my favorites from the trek. Click on either of them to open full size on Flickr in a new tab
With the dramatic turnaround in the weather we were all in good spirits at breakfast especially with this view to look at.
After breakfast we set off on our trek to Hille. Over 4,000 feet of descent today including 1,640ft down over 3,000 steps know as the “Gurung Staircase” That certainly gave the knees something to complain about! This is part of an ancient Trans-Himalayan trade route and there were plenty of mule and donkey trains carrying goods along the way today
We arrived at Hille mid afternoon After a shower the difficult business of sorting out the tips for the guides and porters commenced. After several attempts, much calculation, counting of Nepali Rupees, drinking a beer, buying the porters and guides a beer the finances were finally sorted and the envelopes stuffed for the presentation tomorrow. Tips were recommended by Mountain Kingdoms and eight of us were all of the same mind especially as we thought all the porters and guides had been excellent.
That done we could now relax. You can see the accommodation below and we had an excellent last Dal Bhat followed by Snickers Roll, a Snickers cooked pastry, heaven! All washed down with a few Nepali Ice beers.
The following morning the weather was excellent and we only had a few hours trek to meet the bus to take us back to Pokhara. The walking was easy, gently downhill on a dirt track road with only the occasional four wheel drive vehicle using it. However it was just then that we started to get word of the tragic events further up in the mountains.
A couple of trekkers told us that they had heard that some people had been killed in an avalanche. About half an hour later we regained phone signal and I had several texts asking if we were OK. One was from Gina Pennington @CumbrianBlondie who kindly put out the word on Twitter and on my timeline on Facebook that we were OK. It was only when we got back to Pokhara and picked all the tweets and saw the news that the true scale of events became apparent.
Shortly after passing this sign we entered the large village of Naya Pul a busy bustling place. A walk through the village took us to our bus but not before we had one final surprise view of Fish Tail.
So the trek was finished but still to come, the bus journey to Pokhara and 24 hours in Pokhara and in Kathmandu