Trek is over

We’re sitting in Landruk, which is a Gurung village back down in the river valley that lies to the northwest of our ridge-top Mardi Himal trekking route. It’s actually a town through which Raj and I passed last year on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, but that was a speedy morning. Today, we arrived relatively early and have been enjoying the town. Raj showed us around and taught us a bit about Gurung buildings and life. Tomorrow morning we will take a “jeep” back to Pokhara, arriving there a day earlier than planned.

I’ll try to fill in the gaps with what I remember and the notes I made on the map as we went along. We spent the first night after a short hike in Pittam Deurali — I mentioned this already. From there, we diverged from the Annapurna Sanctuary trek onto the far less often traveled Mardi Himal Base Camp trek. It’s a fairly new trail, and last time Raj was here they had to find their own way along. He did a fair bit of that this time, too, especially in the snow where he could find easier or less deep ways to move up the ridge.

Five hours of hiking through forest/jungle brought us to Forest Camp. We had a large lunch there then decided to push on to Low Camp. Forest Camp is just over 2500 meters, I believe, and Low Camp is just over 3000. Raj thought it best we spend a night around 3k before proceeding higher, so going through Forest Camp to Low Camp in one day set us up to get to High Camp the next day, then on a day hike to the base camp at the end of the trail the next day.

In retrospect, pushing through was a bad idea, though I doubt it really changed the end point of our trek. That day was our longest and most uphill. It was also cloudy for the last few hours, and that is where we got into some snow. We made it to Low Camp well before dark, but at that point Tim had had enough of the route.

Instead of a short trek to High Camp the next morning, climbing another 500 meters over a few hours, Emily and I instead went with Raj up to the top of the ridge to a point at 3222m just before a large saddle. The view from there was amazing: Annapurna South, maybe a hint of Fang, Annapurna I, Gangapurna, Machapuchare, Annapurna III and IV, Mardi Himal and some of the Manaslu Range were spread out before us over almost 180 degrees.

In the middle foreground stretched our planned trail. One more dip through the forest to the other side of the saddle over which we were perched. Then a clean ridgeline, no more trees, no valleys, just views. It has to be, despite its wooded beginnings, one of the best treks here for accessibility and constant views of 6000m, 7000m and 8000m peaks.

It took about an hour to make the short hike there. Our friends from Spain (Mario) and China (Patrick) and their guide (Dilip) whom we had seen at lunch and then who had been the only other group at Low Camp with us, caught up to us at our viewpoint and hung out for a while. Mario had binoculars, which were invaluable as Raj and their guide debated whether or not we were looking at a big chunk of Annapurna I. Beautiful day, it was, and a beautiful spot. The whole trek was worth it to be there for an hour.

The others went on to High Camp, and we went back to Low Camp in all of 18 minutes thanks to a steady descent and a few inches of slippery snow. Emily is half goat, of course, and outpaces me regularly in the Olympics as well as here. Snow, though, makes for cold feet, so she was glad to be heading down, I think.

Retrieving Tim, we continued downhill for lunch and a night’s stay at Forest Camp. We had a good time there, too, staying at the lodge where we had lunch the day before. The woman who runs it is great, and while it wasn’t the nicest looking place we chose it because Raj’s friend had let him know — correctly — that it had great service. Emily went to bed early due to having to take allergy medicine, and Tim and I stayed up through dinner, raksi with yak meat and lots of talk with Raj about politics and other differences and similarities between our countries.

Today, we took our time leaving, anticipating a very short descent to Landruk. The trail down that way from just outside Forest Camp is even newer than the other, and it has its challenging places. We took it slow and slipped and slid a bit in the upper part and some wetter parts. The temperature rose as we dropped from the ridge into the valley, and, after a lengthy rest to let a herd of sheep pass us on their way out of town, we arrived a few hours later in Landruk.

So here we are, trek concluded and mountains seen from, if not the planned end point, still the best and closest view I’ve had of that much of the Annapurna range. Someday I’ll have to finish some of these treks I’m half-assing, though I may never choose to see again the same ground when there is so much more of this range and so many other ranges in Nepal to be seen someday.

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