Friday, March 25, 2011

Nepal Part 2: The Trek

View from Kagbeni
I was ready to go, full of energy and excited to spend 9 days in the Himalayas doing one of my favourite activities, trekking. As we left our start point at Jonsom and entered into nature all of us fell quiet. The only sounds were the rhythmic crunching of our feet and the constant rushing of the wind. This was completely different terrain than I'd seen so far. We were totally submerged in the Himalayas and giant white peaks rose from what seemed like right in front of me. The landscape was otherwise vast and sparse, making me feel tiny and insignificant. The wind blew strong here, and despite the blue skies it was cold. I bundled into my wool toque and tried to keep up with the boys. 3 other guys, 2 male guides, and 2 male porters make up our team. Like or or not, I was going to have to be one of the boys for the next 9 days. Despite the shortest legs, least muscle mass, and smallest bladder (believe me, this matters in the open wilderness!) I seemed to be holding my own on day one. After hiking for several hours we arrived at Kagbeni (2810m above sea level), a small village nestled into the mountainside. The views here were stunning, I couldn't even decide where to look because there was 360 degrees of mind blowing amazingness. The village itself was made up of sturdy stone houses that were draped with multicoloured prayer flags that never ceased to flutter restlessly with the wind. After exploring around the village we turned in early to prepare for a long hike the next day.

View on the way to Muktinath
The next day we climbed above the snowline to Muktinath (3802m above sea level), which involved an entire day of uphill.1000m of up to be exact. I started out energetic, but by the end of the day I was dragging my ass up the hill. We were hiking high enough that the air began to get thin, and altitude sickness became a real possibility. But I seemed to do fine, other than some pathetic gasping for oxygen. The younger guys skipped merrily ahead, seemingly unaffected by the constant gain in elevation. SIGH. When we finally arrived at Muktinath I was definitely relieved, but when I tucked into bed that night the temperature became unbearably cold. I huddled in my sleeping bag in the fetal position, shivering. My nose was so cold I thought frost bite might set in overnight. I covered myself with more clothes and blankets, but it didn't help, the wind seemed to howl right through the nearly non-existent walls. I hated being alone then, cowering in my room. Damn you Nepal, for your lack of insulation and interior heating! You think a country this cold would have figured this stuff out by now! I wondered how the locals could survive a winter up here, isolated and frozen, God that would be horrible. No altitude sickness to report, but one of younger guys had some problems. That's what you get for trotting around so happily!

On the way to Marpha on my b-day
By the next morning, weary, tired, and still cold, I was grumpy. And we had to walk 28kms that day. Happy Birthday to Me. Yes, this day just so happened to be my 27th birthday. When I was planning this trip I thought it would be cool to be doing something fun and adventurous on the day of my birth. Maybe it was because I started the day out unimpressed with life, but I actually found the whole thing depressing. Out here, we are completely cut off. Many villages didn't have phones, let alone cellphone reception or internet. I couldn't talk to a single person I loved on my Nepali birthday (which took place mostly on the 15th of March in Canada, a day before my actual birthday, since Nepal is 16.25 hours in the future). I didn't think it would be a big deal to me, but it was, and I was homesick. The guys tried, especially Rupan our main guide. He was so nice, arranging a card (Himalayas post card), gift (Nepali bracelet), cake (apple crumble from the orchards in Marpha), and bought some vodka for us all to share. But really, I just wanted my stupid phone to work or the damn internet to be available. Or better yet, I just wanted to be home, minus the aching legs, nasty blisters, sunburn, and with my loved ones eating a cheeseburger. Yes, a cheeseburger. This simple food item does not seem to exist in India or Nepal and that's all I wanted for my birthday and I did not get it! Is that too much to ask? We are hiking 20-odd kms a day on a vegetarian diet with only eggs and nuts (an lentils, YUCK) for protein. Well bull shit! I wanted an f-ing cheesburger and I felt entitled to pout because I couldn't have one. I put on a half smile for the guys, I think they were somewhat convinced. I went to bed aching for home.


Above: near Ghasa       Below: Hiking in flip flops, carrying my skate shoes
I woke up thinking "I'm supposed to be enjoying this trek. Why am I being such a baby. After all, I chose to do it. Alright, today will be the day! I'm a strong girl, I love the outdoors, adventure....I'm in Nepal!!! Screw the internet, phones, who needs them! I'm going to conquer the Himalayas!" and I hopped out of bed ready to go and OH....MY....GOD....I didn't think it was possible for walking to hurt that much. Apparently the bajillion kms of walking had taken their toll overnight and my muscles had tightened into a ridged, painful mass of useless tissue. And we were walking 24kms that day. Unable to convince my blistered feet back into my hiking boots, I hobbled out in my backup pair of skate shoes. Alright Himalayas, if this is how it's going to be, FINE. I can take a little pain. The first 10kms went relatively well, until I stumbled into a creek soaking my feet. My blisters screamed, my muscled tensed...I couldn't walk with wet feet. Time for the backup of the backup. for the next 14kms, much to everyone's bewilderment, I hiked in my flip flops. I hate to say it, but they were the most comfortable footwear I'd worn so far. My feet were happier, but my legs were getting increasingly painful. So I got my game face on. I clenched my teeth, cranked my ipod to the most angry dubstep music I had (thank you Excision) and put my head down and just walked. Every single step shot pain up my leg, into my lower back, and down again. But I channeled every last ounce of pent up frustration into keeping my feet moving. F-you Himalayas, I don't need shoes! I don't need meat! I don't need working appendages! I grimaced and dragged myself ungracefully up and down a mountain and finally we made it to our night's resting place...Just before my legs gave out and my f-word quota for the next decade was entirely used up. Now I just had to get through the next five days. Oh f*ck. 

Day 5 came with as much pain as the day before with about half the determination. I limped, I stumbled, I nearly broke down and cried...and I didn't enjoy a single second of it. I could barely keep up with the guys, got frustrated that every single step was painful, and I wanted to rip my hiking boots off my feet and hurl them into the river. I found a reason to hate everyone and everything. Mostly I was pissed at myself because I was supposed to be able to DO this. This was my thing. Why am I struggling? Why am I the only one with blisters, shin splints, brutal pain? I hated feeling weak and my spirits drifted dangerously low that day. But I did not give up. I made it to the next stopping point at Tatopani (1189m). Thankfully there were hot springs here and I sighed relief as I dipped my aching muscles into the steamy, sulfur scented waters. Finally there was internet available and I could read all my birthday wishes from my friends and family. It lifted my spirits. But as I went to bed that night, licking my wounds, I feared the next day. I wasn't sure I could take another like the last...

Prayer Wheels
It took 2 days to trek from the river valley at Tatopani (1189m) to reach the mountain top at Ghorepani (2724m). 2 entire days of steep climbing, so basically I was on the stair-master from 8am in the morning to 3pm when we stopped for the day. If I don't look like Wonder Woman by the end of this, I want my money back. Despite some huffing and puffing, the uphill turned out to be a blessing. It gave my sore shins a rest from any impact. As for the blisters, they were still there, ugly, bulbous masses or raw, gaping wounds. How I got around these was to again hike in my flip flops. I'm beginning to think that flip flops are the ultimate in footwear. I mean, they are 100% breathable, lightweight, durable, can get wet and will dry in minutes, and most importantly, DON'T RUB. All the locals wear them so there has to be some truth to this. So I climbed a mountain in my $10 flip flops while my $100 hiking boots dangled off the back of my pack. Figures.

Prayer Flags

Now that I wasn't looking angrily at the ground, I noticed it was a lot greener her. We weaved and climbed our way through villages that were just cute as a button. They kind of reminded me of The Shire from Lord of the Rings, just minus the hobbits and underground dwellings and plus some Nepalis and clay and cobblestone huts. Magical rings and evil lurking in the shadows, not quite, but you could tell life is not easy here. You try scaping out an existence on the side of a mountain with zero flat land, medical facilities, roads, power, or basic supplies. I know I couldn't do it. When electricity becomes a luxury, just count me out. I've been spoiled by my western upbringings. I like to rough it...for a week or two. Then I want my shower to be hot, my house to be heated, and I want to watch TV while eating a cheeseburger! The fact that I feel entitled to these things, that we ALL  feel entitled to these things, well that says something about the world. Think about that next time your power knocks off and you don't know what to do with yourself!

Now that we'd climbed the mountain, we got to come down. Our last night on top everyone gathered around this makeshift wood stove in in our lodges main room. It was the only source of warmth as the wind howled and it stormed outside, so everyone staying at the lodge (all 10 of us) were there. It was cosy and social, but we all turned in early because we had a 5am hike to the top of Poon Hill (3210m) to watch the sunrise. 5:00am sucks. Hiking a mountain at 5:00am sucks even more. But as the sun came up over the Annapurna range of the Himalayas it was worth it. And then for the next 2 days we went down. Down and down and down and down. I was back to
Me on Poon Hill
enjoying myself, but FINALLY, everyone else began to crap out. Knees hurt, muscles were pulled, people fell ill, blisters popped, struggling occurred, pills, bandages, braces came out. And all the while I hopped along footloose and ailment free snapping pictures and loving it. We snaked our way all the way down into the tropical rain forest, fully equipped with gushing waterfalls, gurgling little rivers, and Rhododendron forests in bloom. Yes forests, they are not bushes here but giant trees! Nepal really does have it all...except flat land...Oh, and beaches (and cheese burgers)! 
Rhododendron flowers from the forest

So I survived the trek and overall, enjoyed myself. Still haven't had that elusive cheeseburger. I'm currently finishing this blog from the Mumbai airport, en route to Indonesia. Rumour has there is a Mcdonalds on the Kuta strip where I'm staying for my first few days on Bali. Not going to lie, my hopes for a delicious beefy, cheesy burger are getting pretty high! Wish me luck! My next blog will be from Bali, Indonesia! 


  1. There's an f-word quota? Oh-oh. Seriously, I am so impressed by your will to keep going Jordan. Having that stubborn (aka determined) Thorndick spirit isn't looking so bad now, is it? You're amazing! I hope you find that cheeseburger in Bali. Love, Mum

  2. WOW!!! You GO GIRL!!!

    Did you get a picture of that sunrise? Somethings you just have to get up early for. Sending happy thoughts for healing feet :)

    Val & Harreson