The mountains rose and fell, sinking into clouds that wanted to swallow them whole.
Floating beneath was a row of rhododendrons, their pink flowers competing for attention but ultimately losing to the majestic peaks. Dhaulagiri stood at one end, Annapurna at the other. Between these 8,000 metre behemoths was a row of smaller summits, all giants in their own right.
It was 6 AM and I sat alone witnessing this special sunrise. I’d come here to escape the crowds that swarmed Poon Hill, which I could see off to my left in the distance. Their braying voices punctured the crisp air, drowned out by the occasional planes that buzzed over on their way to Jomsom.
Birds chattered in the trees around me, planning the day ahead. But I already knew what I’d be doing. From Ghorepani I would head to the Annapurna Sanctuary and join the trail to Annapurna Base Camp. This was a trek that normally took ten days to complete. I wanted to finish it in four. So I needed to hurry.
I left the mountains behind me as they bathed in the morning sunlight, clouds swirling and obscuring their summits. I crossed over a sharp ridge, valleys sweeping down on both sides. A mossy forest beckoned, the path damp from the overflowing streams. I followed the rhododendrons, pink flowers were scattered across the shadowed floor.
It was midday when I reached Tadapani, a small village commanding a mountain pass. I had lunch there and stared across at Machapuchare, its fish-tail shape a beacon for all trekkers.
The trail continued through a primordial forest, the trees old and wizened. The air was alive with the howls of black-faced langur monkeys, their battles raged around me, a fearsome din of snapping branches and guttural screams.
The sky turned to rain, an unholy assault that meant I was saturated by the time I arrived in Chomrong. I stopped here for the night and woke up at 5 AM the next morning for one of the toughest days of my entire trekking career. My goal was to reach Machapuchare Base Camp, which required 18 kilometres of uphill walking.
The trail descended a stone staircase before rising sharply to enter the Annapurna Sanctuary, a narrow valley with tall mountains on both sides. Lush bamboo forests swayed in the breeze, thriving in the surprisingly warm temperatures.
But the bigger shock was the trail’s busyness. It was jam-packed compared to the Annapurna Circuit. Large groups were being led by guides, rows of porters carried backpacks weighing 30 kilograms. People were holding umbrellas, dressed in flat shoes, singlets and elephant pants. Others wore high-tech trekking gear, but walked like fish on dry land.
I then passed a sign saying “don’t carry eggs or meat after this point, out of respect for the local deity”. The bamboo turned to pine forest as the trail entered an avalanche zone. Snow sat on the upper reaches of the valley, waiting to plunge down the chutes that exited onto the trail.
People had been killed by avalanches here, so it was a relief to get safely through this section. The eastern side of the valley now rose in a sheer wall, a row of peaks that never ended. The trees had all disappeared, the ground covered in scree and stunted bushes.
In the distance I could see the gaping jaws of Machapuchare Base Camp, a frozen wasteland beckoning me into its cold heart. It was 3 PM by the time I arrived, sorely in need of a rest.
I stayed in a dorm, sharing it with an Iranian man. He spoke little English but offered me some dried fruit and coffee. We looked at photos of the peaks he’d climbed in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Turkey — places I knew well.
Before falling asleep I calculated that including Everest Base Camp, this was my 40th night of trekking in Nepal. Physically and mentally depleted, it was time to complete this journey. But one last item remained: Annapurna Base Camp itself.
After I trekking from Ghorepani to Machapuchare Base Camp, trekked to to Annapurna Base Camp, which you can read about here.
You can find more about my trek around the Annapurna Circuit at the links below:
- Annapurna Circuit: Besi Sahar to Bahundanda
- Annapurna Circuit: Bahundanda to Upper Pisang
- Annapurna Circuit: Upper Pisang to Manang
- Annapurna Circuit: Manang to Tilicho Base Camp
- Annapurna Circuit: Trek to Tilicho Lake
- Annapurna Circuit: Shree Kharka to Thorung Phedi
- Annapurna Circuit: Crossing the Thorung La
- Annapurna Circuit: Muktinath to Kagbeni
- Annapurna Circuit: Kagbeni to Larjung
- Annapurna Circuit: Larjung to Ghorepani
- Annapurna Base Camp: Ghorepani to Machapuchare Base Camp
- Annapurna Base Camp: ABC to Ghandruk
Spectacular peaceful and beautiful. The Rhododendrons so colourful. Can hear the birds and the monkeys!!!! What a trek, well done.
Great pictures! We were trekking from Pokhara to Muktinath, in 1976. No lodges, no electricity, no cars, no streets, and just one flight a day from Pokhara to Jomsom. And only a few backpackers from all over the world. Unforgotten experiences til these days.
Thanks Marianne! I would love to see photos from 1976, the thought of no cars is heavenly