Posts Tagged ‘Himalayas’

The Annapurnas, Nepal – April 2011

Regardless of all the hype, the Annapurnas somehow still managed to exceed both Katherine and my expectations.  Our 29 days of trekking proved to be nothing short of spectacular.  Despite recent road building, the Annapurna Circuit remains one of the world’s greatest treks: a truly epic hiking destination surrounded by innumerable snow-capped peaks.  A plethora of ‘tea houses’ in the villages en route offer decent food and hot showers ensuring that this is anything but hardship trekking!

After departing Bhubhule we soon left the road behind and slowly climbed up the Marsyangdi River towards Pisang and some of the best views on the entire circuit.  We fell in love with the quaint Buddhist village of Braga and ended up staying at the New Yak tea house for three nights before finally rousing ourselves to move on!  After passing through Manang (where Katherine visited the Himalayan Rescue Association doctors to get some medicine for her cold and hacking cough) we ploughed through a snow storm to reach Thorung Phedi Camp at 4500m.  After a cold night we were greeted by idyllic conditions and a picture-perfect day for the long climb over Thorong La and down to Muktinath.  It was hard work slogging over the 5400m pass, but the views were incredible and well worth the effort.

After detouring to Kagbeni at the entrance to the restricted Upper Mustang Valley, we slowly descended along the Kali Gandaki River taking numerous detours along the way to avoid the Jomsom road and visit hilltop gompas (monasteries).  We spent a rest day in the apple-growing village of Marpha where we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our South African wedding celebration before making our way to Tatopani and climbing up an exhausting 1900m in 24 hours to reach the famous view point atop Poon Hill.  We then met up with family in Gandruk for the week-long ABC trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary.  Annapurna Base Camp, surrounded by an amphitheatre of high snowy mountains, is difficult to describe and words fail to do justice to this special area … it’s an incredible place with views to die for stretching up towards the heavens on every side!

After 29 days of trekking we descended (narrowly avoiding a monstrous hailstorm) to Pokhara where we could enjoy some well-deserved steaks and cold beer.  We learned that on our lengthy walk our cumulative ascent was equivalent to climbing Everest from sea level – twice!  No wonder we felt a little tired and like we had really earned our first beers in over a month!

Next on the itinerary is a white-water expedition down the Karnali River in Nepal’s wild west, followed by four days of luxury at Tiger Tops lodge where we go in search of rhinos and tigers before returning to Kathmandu and moving northeast to Everest.  We can’t wait for May and the chance to get stuck into the next exciting chapter of our Nepal adventure!

Ladakh Floods & Climbing Mountains, India – August 2010

Two days before I was supposed to depart for Leh and an expedition through the Grand Canyon of Asia on the Zanskar River, disaster struck Ladakh.  The torrential rain that had uprooted millions across Pakistan spilled over the border into northern India.  Massive thunderstorms and heavy rain triggered flash floods across Ladakh.  Villages were washed away, landslides blocked roads, bridges were destroyed and hundreds of lives were lost.  The runway was even submerged and all flights into Leh were cancelled.  Aquaterra Adventures was forced to take the extreme decision to abandon our river trip as tour operators and travel agents across India scrambled to cancel their Ladakh departures and expeditions.

A week later the situation in Leh had stabilised, a massive relief effort was underway and I climbed aboard my Kingfisher Airways flight to check out the situation on the ground for myself.  Vehicles wedged inside building, massive boulders and collapsed buildings provided irrefutable evidence of the scale and ferocity of the water by the time it reached the downtown areas of the city.  Higher up in the tourist zone, there were virtually no signs of the calamity that had ravaged the city just a week earlier and the Ladakhi people were unanimously happy to see the few tourists who had stuck with their holiday plans to visit Ladakh.  The words of a local shopkeeper summed up the viewpoint of locals in the face of the terrible situation that had befallen them: “We all survive off the tourists.  Visitors come here and spend money and that is what sustains us during the long cold winter.  Now everyone is staying away because of the flood and we don’t know what we will do.”  I estimated that tourist numbers had plummeted to 20% of what they were in August last year.  The bottom line is that people who cancelled their visits out of respect for the Ladakhi people, not wanting to burden them during a difficult time, were actually exacerbating the problem and perpetuating their woes.  Now is the time to go to Ladakh and by spending your money up there, you can really  help the locals get back on their feet.

After a couple of days acclimatising and exploring monasteries, we headed for Zingchen and the start of our trek.  During the course of the following days we crossed the Stok La pass at 4890 metres before making our way to Stok Kangri Base Camp.  The campsite had a picturesque setting on a high altitude meadow next to a stream in the shadow of towering snowy peaks.  This was our base for the next four days as we adjusted to the challenges of walking and climbing at altitude.  During these ‘rest days’, we practiced walking in snow shoes with crampons and tested our climbing equipment on the Stok glacier above camp.  It was necessary preparation for the summit bid that lay ahead.

On Friday the 20th of August at 10pm we set off from camp on what would prove to be a 14 hour round trip slog to the summit.  We reached the foot of the glacier at midnight and stopped to attach crampons and rope up for the journey across the ice.  Under the expert guidance of two seasoned Stok Kangri climbers our group of four intrepid amateurs concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling onto any of the crevasses.  It was hard work as long snow sections were interspersed with tricky obstacles of slippery ice and exposed rock.  Throughout the night we continued climbing upwards in the dim glow of our headlamps.  Just before dawn we reached an exposed ridge with steep drops on either side that demanded a careful traverse.  A final push over treacherous rocky outcrops and deep snow carried us onto the 6,153 metre summit.  Our celebrations on reaching the peak were anything but raucous as everyone collapsed exhausted and it took real effort just to gather the tired troops for a victorious summit photo before we retreated to a more hospitable altitude.  After a half hour on the top of Kanglacha, we turned and retraced our steps towards home.  Descending in the daylight we enjoyed spectacular views down onto the glacier bowl and noticed that our route descended between the debris of two recent avalanches!  Climbing Stok Kangri was a seriously exhilarating and exhausting adventure.

Finally, on the subject of my Indian admin woes… After six weeks of trying I still don’t have approval for opening a bank account, but at least I am legal.  Thankfully my visa extension finally went through on the 25th of August allowing me to remain in India until the end of January 2011.  An Indian friend recently told me that India is officially rated the sixth most difficult country in the world for foreigners to conduct business in… I have no plans to try and track down any of the top five!

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