22 Apr - 06 May 2015 Annapurna

The Himalayas and 7.8 Richter… 
Matt: Trekking into the frozen heart of the Annapurna Range, the Annapurna Sanctuary, a magnificent amphitheatre of soaring 7,000m and 8,000m peaks, and encountering en-route a devastating earthquake accompanied by substantial and impressive avalanches, rock falls and land slides.

Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones): "D'you know the most destructive force in the universe?"
Agent J (Will Smith): "Sugar?" - Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones): "Regret."
(Men in Black)

Matt: Preparing my upcoming independent Annapurna Sanctuary Trek to the South Annapurna Base Camp with the help of the reasonably adequate 1:62,500 Annapurna Base Camp trekking map from Nepal Map Publishers (available for NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- from any book shop in Pokhara; cheaper than a local guide who asks for up to US$ 30.- per day), teaming up with fellow trekker Lis from Switzerland (many thanks, Lis, for being such a great hiking buddy), taking together one of the regular city buses from the bus stop at Pokhara's Rastra Bank Chowk to the somewhat sleepy Baglung Bus Park (NPR 30.- or US$ 0.30 per person) and hereafter a jam-packed local bus from the Baglung Bus Park to Phedi (c. 25 km, ½ hour, NPR 60.- or US$ 0.60 per person), a cluster of shacks, from where the trail starts up a series of stone steps.

Packing List for the 15-day Annapurna Sanctuary Trek:
38l backpack, light rain poncho, bush hat, waterproof Gore-Tex jacket, outdoor trousers, sneakers, socks (3 pair), 3 T-shirts, 3 briefs, small towel, single bed cover, fleece jacket and fleece trousers, documents (reading glasses, trekking map, passport, T.I.M.S. card with valid A.C.A.P. permit, cash, small notebook with pen), wrist watch, camera with battery charger, small flashlight, pocket knife, lighter, small pad lock, 0.5l water bottle, toiletries (toilet paper, soap, tooth paste and tooth brush, antibiotics, pain killers, camphor oil, mosquito repellent).

Matt (1st trekking day: 22 Apr 2015): Exercising my femoral musculature and climbing together with Lis for 1 ½ tough hours the steep stone staircase from Phedi (c. 1,130 m altitude) to the sprawling village of Dhampus (c. 1,650 m altitude), thus overcoming a difference in altitude of c. 520 m, comparable to scrambling the CN Tower [1], [2], [3] all the way up to its very top; Holy Toronto!

Matt: Spending the night in the recommendable Hotel Raju Gurung +97761690690 GPS: N 28° 18.01' E 083° 51.52' (clean twin room with north-facing balcony, attached bathroom, hot solar shower and stunning mountain views for NPR 300.- or US$ 3.- per night for the room), situated right on top of the Dhampus ridge.

Matt (2nd trekking day: 23 Apr 2015): Enjoying a spectacular sunrise from the hotel's balcony with the complete snow-capped Annapurna Range right in front of me: from the majestic Annapurna South (7,219 m) on the left via Annapurna I (the world's tenth highest peak with 8,091 m), Hiunchuli (6,434 m) and Singuchuli (6,501 m) all the way to the vertiginous Machhapuchhare (6,997 m) on the far right - an unparalleled mountain panorama.

Matt: Growing my trekking legs and hiking together with energetic Lis for 5 ½ hours from Dhampus (c. 1,650 m altitude) via the spread-out settlement of Tolka (c. 1,700 m altitude) through forests that are alive with birds, ferns and orchids to the Gurung village of Landruk (c. 1,565 m altitude).

Matt: Spending the night at Landruk (c. 1,565 m altitude) in the recommendable Super View Guest House +9779846362753 GPS: N 28° 21.97' E 083° 16.50' (clean twin room with attached bathroom, hot solar shower and nice views of the traditional Gurung village of Ghandruk on the opposite side of the Modi Khola valley, for NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- per night for the room).

Matt (3rd trekking day: 24 Apr 2015): Hiking for 3 ½ hours from Landruk (c. 1,565 m altitude) along the Modi Khola valley through dense mixed forest to Jhinudanda (c. 1,780 m), saying goodbye to Lis, who was going to trek the Ghandruk-Ghorepani loop, and climbing for another 1 ½ hours from Jhinudanda (c. 1,780 m altitude) a very steep trail with many stone steps via Taulung (c. 2,150 m altitude) to the scenic mountain village of Chhomrong (c. 2,190 m altitude), the last permanent settlement in the Modi Khola valley.

Matt (4th trekking day: 25 Apr 2015): Taking a day of rest and spending two consecutive nights at Chhomrong (c. 2,190 m altitude) in the well-managed and recommendable Hotel Heaven View +9779816645203 GPS: N 28° 24.85' E 083° 49.11' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom and hot solar shower for NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- per night for the room).

Matt: Surviving unharmed the deadly 7.8-magnitude April 2015 Nepal Earthquake aka Gurkha Earthquake (…and its continued nasty aftershocks), which killed more than 8,000 people, injured more than 19,000 people and triggered a devastating avalanche in the Langtang trekking area [1], and observing at first hand: (i) the violent rock'n roll of the hotel as a whole which sits on a precarious cliff over the steep Modi Khola valley, (ii) the total collapse of a residential house right next to me, and (iii) a huge, deafening land/rock slide on the opposite side of the Modi Khola valley, just a few hundred metres away, near the confluence with the Dichha Khola.
"...the maharajah came up to ask questions about the regions of eternal snow. This Annapurna venture had fascinated and disquieted them. We hoped that if national misfortunes followed, they would not attribute them to us for having infringed the divine law..."
(Maurice Herzog)

Matt (5th trekking day: 26 Apr 2015): Taking a decision to continue with my trek, against all the odds, descending for ½ hour on a set of stone steps through the village of Chhomrong to the new suspension bridge over the braided Chhomrong Khola and ascending immediately afterwards for 3 ½ hours on a rocky contour path along the upper Modi Khola valley through oak and spectacular rhododendron forests, with great clusters of pink and red flowers, via Sinuwa (c. 2,360 m altitude) all the way to remote Bamboo (c. 2,310 m altitude), a collection of five lodges crammed into the narrow valley.

Matt: Spending the night at Bamboo in the cosy Bamboo Lodge +9779846257488 GPS: N 28° 27.42' E 083° 51.41' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom for NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- per night for the room; hot gas shower for NPR 150.- or US$ 1.50) and meeting quite a few shell-shocked guides, porters and trekkers who are breaking off any further ascend to the South Annapurna Base Camp due to the still ongoing risk of fresh avalanches caused by the earthquake's major aftershocks.

Matt (6th trekking day: 27 Apr 2015): Trekking for 4 ½ hours from Bamboo (c. 2,310 m altitude) on a leech-free contour path along the steep Modi Khola gorge over several avalanche chutes (first snow at c. 3,100 m altitude) via Dobhan (c. 2,520 m altitude) to Deurali (c. 3,230 m altitude), thus surpassing the altitude of Germany's highest mountain, Ze Zugspitze (fritzactly 2,962 m altitude).

Matt: Overnighting at Deurali (c. 3,230 m altitude) in the welcoming Deurali Guest House +9779846005200 GPS: N 28° 29.84' E 083° 53.89' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom for NPR 200.- or US$ 2.- per night per room; excellent food).

Matt (7th trekking day: 28 Apr 2015): Slogging for 4 ¼ hours through thin air and without crampons over fresh avalanches from Deurali (c. 3,230 m altitude) via Machhapuchhare Base Camp (c. 3,700 m altitude) to my final destination, the South Annapurna Base Camp (c. 4,130 m altitude), entering the mysterious Annapurna Sanctuary (not penetrated by outsiders until 1956 CE; until recently, the local Gurung people forbade anyone from bringing eggs or meat into the Annapurna Sanctuary, and women and untouchables were prohibited from going there as well) through its only entrance, a narrow pass between the peaks of Hiunchuli (6,434 m) and Machhapuchhare (6,997 m), soaking up the scenery of rock and ice, meeting only a handful of other independent trekkers and gulping a precious ice-cold beer from the Annapurna Guest House's store room: 330-ml cans of Tuborg Gold Premium Lager (5.5 % alc./vol.) for the stiff price of NPR 460.- or US$ 4.60 per regular can; cheers, job done!

Matt: Counting the surrounding mighty summits of the Annapurna massif, recceing the vicinity of the South Annapurna Base Camp (c. 4,130 m altitude) and the impressive South Annapurna Glacier, watching and hearing the still ongoing thundering rock slides on the opposite moraine cliffs, visiting the memorial chorten to Anatoli Boukreev, who was killed in 1997 CE by an avalanche, and spotting beautiful birds near the glacier: (i) a couple of striking blue grandalas (Grandala coelicolor), (ii) a small flock of white-capped water redstarts (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus) and (iii) plenty of shy snow pigeons (Columba leuconota).

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve,
they are cathedrals where I practice my religion."
(Anatoli Boukreev)

Matt: Spending the cold night (c. minus 10°C) in the well-managed and recommendable Annapurna Guest House +977994610001 GPS: N 28° 31.83' E 083° 52.70' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom for NPR 150.- or US$ 1.50 per night for the room).

Matt (8th trekking day: 29 Apr 2015): Getting off early so as to take advantage of the hardness of the snow after the night frost, descending for 5 ¼ hours from the South Annapurna Base Camp (c. 4,130 m altitude), first following my Korean friend Kim's descending tracks through fresh snow, later climbing over rocks and hiking through lovely rhododendron forests, their gnarled pinkish limbs festooned with epiphytic ferns and orchids, back to Dobhan (c. 2,520 m altitude) and enjoying the Himalayas' lonely hiking trails almost for me alone since most trekkers, especially those uncouth and obnoxious Chinese tour groups, had fled the mountains immediately after the earthquake and many lodges were closed.

Matt: Overnighting at Dobhan (c. 2,520 m altitude) in the almost deserted Tip Top Lodge +97761621655 GPS: N 28° 28.20' E 083° 52.20' (clean and basic double room with shared bathroom for only NPR 150.- or US$ 1.50 per night for the room since I was the only guest in the lodge).

Matt (9th trekking day: 30 Apr 2015): Hiking uneventfully for 5 hours from Dobhan (c. 2,520 m altitude) back to Chhomrong (c. 2,140 m altitude).

Matt: Spending the night at Chhomrong (c. 2,250 m altitude) in the very friendly and highly recommendable Himalaya View Guest House +9779846342678 GPS: N 28° 24.85' E 083° 49.11' (clean and basic double room with shared bathroom and excellent sun-rise views for NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room; great food).

Matt (10th trekking day: 01 May 2015): Descending for 1 ¼ hours the steep trail from Chhomrong (c. 2,250 m altitude) to Jhinudanda (c. 1,780 m altitude).

Matt: Soaking in the rock pools of the nearby hot spring (c. 38°C water temperature; compulsory entrance donation: NPR 50.- per tourist) and thinking a few heretic thoughts about some common trekking myths of the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: (i) "You need a guide and/or a porter." Wrong. If you need a guide you might have an aptitude problem; if you need a porter you might have an attitude problem… (ii) "You need a high-quality sleeping bag." Wrong. The lodges and guest houses along the trek supply enough warm, sometimes lived-in duvets... (iii) "You need water purification tablets." Wrong. There are plenty of springs along the trek which provide deliciously fresh and clean water; your runs are probably anxiety-driven and you should better see a couch doctor... (iv) "You need heavy-duty hiking boots." Wrong. Any light-weight sneakers are perfectly OK; if in the Himalayas, do as the porters do... (v) "Hiking the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is expensive." Wrong. Between Dhampus and Tikhedunnga, I averaged only NPR 1,200.- or US$ 12.- per day for accommodation, basic vegan food and plenty of raksi

Matt: Overnighting at Jhinudanda (c. 1,780 m altitude) in the conveniently located but empty Hot Spring Cottage +9779856036459 GPS: N 28° 24.60' E 083° 49.45' (clean enough, basic double room with almost cockroach-free, shared bathroom for NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room).

Matt (11th trekking day: 02 May 2015): Climbing for 3 ½ hours from Jhinudanda (c. 1,780 m altitude) via remote Magar dwellings to the traditional Gurung village of Ghandruk (c. 1,940 m altitude), located only c. 1 ½ hours north of the end of the dirt road at Kimche, but already with the usual attributes of modern tourism: (i) begging children ("…chocolate, chocolate…"), (ii) adipose village beauties, (iii) two-tier pricing system, (iv) young balderdash-and-bubble volunteers as the latest livestock, and (v) at least five "German Bakeries".

Matt: Overnighting at Ghandruk (c. 1,940 m altitude) in the empty Hotel Milan +9779846398197 GPS: N 28° 22.54' E 083° 48.50' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom and a great hot solar shower for only NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room).

Matt (12th trekking day: 03 May 2015): Ascending for 3 ½ hours from Ghandruk (c. 1,940 m altitude) to Tadapani (c. 2,630 m altitude).

Matt: Overnighting at Tadapani (c. 2,630 m altitude) in the pleasant and highly recommendable Grand View Lodge +9779846257686 GPS: N 28° 23.81' E 083° 45.93' (clean and basic twin room with shared bathroom and great views from the communal terrace for NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room).

Matt (13th trekking day: 04 May 2015): Hiking for 4 ¾ hours from Tadapani (c. 2,630 m altitude) over the Deurali Pass (c. 3,210 m altitude) to upper Ghorepani (c. 2,860 m altitude).

Matt: Spending the night at Ghorepani (c. 2,860 m altitude), a rather ubertouristed and uberpriced shanty town on the trekking highway, in the old-fashioned and friendly Annapurna View Lodge GPS: N 28° 24.15' E 083° 41.98' (clean and basic double room with shared bathroom for NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room).

Matt (14th trekking day: 05 May 2015): "Attacking" Poon Hill (c. 3,210 m altitude, ¾ hour uphill and ½ hour downhill, compulsory entrance donation: NPR 50.- per person) before sunrise and watching the golden dawn light inch down the frozen panorama of peaks from Dhaulagiri I (8,167 m) and Tukuche (6,920 m) to Nilgiri (6,940 m), Annapurna South (7,219 m), Annapurna I (8,091 m), Hiunchuli (6,434 m), Tarke Kang (7,193 m) and on to Machhapuchhare (6,997 m).

Matt: Descending for 4 ¾ hours from Ghorepani (c. 2,860 m altitude) via the steep, knee-cracking stone steps below the large Magar village of Ulleri (c. 2,020 m altitude) to Tikhedungga (c. 1,520 m altitude), dodging the occasional mule/pony train and overhearing quite accidentally an interesting dialogue between a villager and a female Russian tourist: "Do you need pony service?" - "No, I'm married." 

Matt: Spending the night at Tikhedungga (c. 1,520 m altitude) in Laxmi's pleasant and welcoming but empty Tikhedungga Guest House +9779746019199 GPS: N 28° 21.06' E 083° 44.53' (clean enough and basic twin room with rugged shared bathroom for NPR 100.- or US$ 1.- per night for the room; excellent food).

Matt (15th trekking day: 06 May 2015): Descending for 3 hours from Tikhedungga (c. 1,520 m altitude) along the Bhurungdi Khola valley via Birethani (c. 1,025 m altitude) to the paved road near Nayapul (c. 1,070 m altitude), saying my good-byes to the mountains and catching a jam-packed local bus straight to Pokhara's (old) city bus park near Prithivi Chowk (c. 45 km, 2 ¼ hours, NPR 110.- or US$ 1.10 per person).

Matt: Licking my wounds, relaxing in the highly recommendable, tried and tested New Summit Guest House +97761461421 GPS: N 28° 12.32' E 083° 58.07', making time for the latest news about the aftermath of the huge 7.8-magnitude April 2015 Nepal Earthquake, exchanging emails with family, friends and foes, catching up with overdue admin work and discovering at Pokhara's almost totally deserted Lakeside ghost-town an interesting drop in the beer prices: 650-ml bottles of Nepali San Miguel Pale Pilsen (5 % alc./vol.) for only NPR 170.- or US$ 1.70 per bottle from the helpful Sadish Cold Store; cheers, I am back! 

Matt: Surviving unharmed a second big earthquake within two weeks, the 7.3-magnitude May 2015 Nepal Earthquake, and preparing for more aftershocks.

Matt: Taking an expensive and just comfortable enough tourist bus from Pokhara's tourist bus park to Sauraha (c. 140 km, 5 ¼ hours, NPR 500.- or US$ 5.- per tourist), a sleepy village in the malaria-prone Western Tarai with many working elephants and a lively backpacker scene on the northern fringes of the 932 sqkm Royal Chitwan National Park, home to a sizeable population of tigers, rhinos and elephants.

Am 25. April 2015 gab es in Nepal ein sehr starkes Erdbeben. An diesem Tag war ich unterwegs ins Annapurna Sanctuary und hatte mich wegen des starken Regens bereits am Morgen entschlossen, im Bergdorf Chhomrong (c. 2,190 m hoch am Eingang zur steilen Modi-Schlucht gelegen) einen Ruhetag einzulegen.
Als Mittagessen hatte ich mir im Berghotel "Heaven View" einen Teller mit leckeren vegetarischem Momos fuer 300 Rupies bestellt und wollte sie gerade verputzen, da begann ploetzlich das ganze Haus wie verrueckt zu wackeln und zu schwanken, so als waere es ein Schiff auf hoher See. Der Fussboden unter mir tanzte Rock'n Roll und ich spuerte es am ganzen Koerper.
Also habe ich schnell meinen Teller mit den zehn dampfenden Momos ergriffen und bin durch die Tuere nach draussen gelaufen. Einerseits wollte ich nicht, dass mir die Decke auf den Kopf faellt, und andererseits wollte ich auch nicht zusammen mit dem doch recht abenteuerlich an einen steilen Hang gebauten Hotel ins Tal hinunterrutschen.
Beim Aufstehen habe ich noch schnell einen Blick auf meine Armbanduhr geworfen und festgestellt, dass es genau 12:00 Uhr war; high noon. Mein erster Gedanke: Die Natur kennt keine Uhrzeit und sie weiss auch nicht, dass es in Nepal jetzt genau 12:00 Uhr ist, also muss das Ereignis irgendwie durch die Menschen verursacht sein. Dieser Gedanke war zum Glueck falsch und seitdem glaube ich zum ersten Mal in meinem Leben an Zufaelle…
Auf der Terrasse vor dem Hotel standen dann alle ganz irritiert und aengstlich herum, die Erde bebte unter unseren Fuessen. Keiner hat gelacht oder dumme Witze gerissen. Am gegenueberliegenden Hang der Modi-Schlucht, nur wenige hundert Meter entfernt, krachte mit viel Laerm eine grosse Steinlawine ins Tal. Die Erde wackelte immer noch unter meinen Fuessen und direkt neben der Hotelterasse brach ein altes Steinhaus in sich zusammen; das Wellblechdach rutschte ins Tal.
Zum Glueck war der ganze Spuk nach ca. einer halben Minute vorbei und ich konnte meine immer noch dampfenden Momos endlich aufessen, sicherheitshalber draussen auf der Terasse.
Als ich spaeter in mein Hotelzimmer ging, war ich dann noch einmal erstaunt: Ein Teil der Zimmerdecke war heruntergekommen und auf meinem Bett lag allerhand Bauschutt. Waere das Erdbeben etwas spaeter, waehrend meines Mittagsschlafes, passiert, dann haette ich bestimmt mindestens eine fette Beule abbekommen…
Am naechsten Morgen habe ich dann doch meine Wanderung ins Annapurna Sanctuary fortgesetzt. Ich war der Meinung, dass es jetzt sicherer als vor dem Erdbeben sei, denn alle losen Felsen und Schneemassen lagen ja nun bereits im Tal. Manche Bergfuehrer und Wanderer hatten da eine andere Meinung und sind lieber umgekehrt…
Hier in Central Ontario gibt es kaum Erdbeben. Dafuer haben wir zerstoererische Tornados, denen man auch nicht ausweichen kann. Ziemlich genau vor 30 Jahren, am 31. Mai 1985, hat ein schwerer EF5 Tornado unsere Stadt Barrie ueberfallen, und erst im vergangenen Sommer hat ein EF2 Tornado viel Schaden im nahegelegenen Angus angerichtet. - Wie seid Ihr darauf vorbereitet, wenn ein Tornado Eure Farm heimsucht und die Grunzis mit den Huehnern um die Wette fliegen?
From Nepal, with Love!

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