Annapurna Circuit – Part 1

After 31 wonderful days in the Everest region we found ourselves back in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. It is not a relaxing place. Motorbikes weave through pedestrians with horns blaring. An endless stream of touts offer drugs, guides, bus tickets, girls – you name it. Litter is strewn everywhere and stray dogs rule the night. The upside is that you can find whatever you might need and there is a nice spread of good restaurants. After a month of potatoes, noodles, and rice we were primed to indulge.

After a few days of gorging ourselves we were ready to move to Pokhara. The difference between Kathmandu and Pokhara is staggering. The claustraphobic laneways of Kathmandu were replaced by wide treed boulevards. Pokhara is built around a large lake and has a spread out, almost quiet feel to it.

We found a simple hotel offering cable tv and a view of the mountains, we were in heaven.

On October 28th we started the Annapurna Circuit trek from Besi Sehar. The first week was largely on the new road, which now plies through much of the trek. Watching jeeps blaze past us was both disheartening and dusty. The Everest region had also spoiled us in the scenery department. It was a lackluster few days made worthwhile by the addition of two new friends, Jo and Tate. Jo had an entire bottle of whiskey stashed in his pack, we helped him lighten his load and had some fun nights.

When we reached the village of Upper Pisang the trek began to shine. The town has a beautiful monastery where monks served us delicious lemon tea. Annapurna II and Gangapurna take center stage, rising above the distinctly Tibetan architecture. Many of the homes seemed to be hundreds of years old.

Manang is a relatively large town and kind of a midway point in the trek. We stayed there for days 8-10. We took hot showers, ate ean burritos, and watched movies at the local projector house. We lost Tate somwhere along the way but still had Jo. We figured it was our turn to resupply the whiskey and once again laughed and drank our nights away.

From Manang we headed for Tilicho lake where we reunited with Tate. Jo had to skip the side trip due to ever increasing foot pain. Tilicho is the world’s highest lake (5,100m – 16,830ft) and it is massive at 4.5 by 6 kilometers in size. The view was the visual apex of the trek, hanging glaciers rose right in front of us, looking jagged and forbidding. The wind was ferocious, I took pictures for about twenty minutes before my fingers went numb, it was our coldest day in Nepal.

Back at our lodge a few thousand feet below Tilicho lake we noticed a scuba diving fin pegged to the wall. A polish team set the world record for the highest deep scuba dive (30m – 100ft) in the lake. The logistics of this would have been a nightmare – an impressive feet.

It was now time to cross the trek’s main pass, Thorong La (5,400m – 17,900ft). Our previous pass crossings had taught us that starting early only made for a miserably cold day. None of the other trekking parties agreed, the village was empty by the time we started climbing. It was still freezing. I desperately b-lined for the first patch of sunshine I could see up the hill, hoping to thaw my fingers and toes. I was nearly to salvation when I heard, “I fell.”

A lone porter was laying down near a pool of blood spattered around a sharp rock. The man’s face was bleeding profusely but he did seem overly disoriented. “What’s your name?” I asked, immediately starting to clean his wounds. “Beam,” he replied. He had an inch long gash just above is left eye and a host of other minor scratches. His wound was filthy and covered with dirt and pebblles. After getting him to a comfortable position on top my pack and putting my jacket on him I begane to pressure irrigate (think squirt gun) his wound. The frigid water slowed the bleeding and I got a true look at how deep his wound was, I could see his skull. Beam was a champion, the cleaning process must have been excrutiating but he didn’t flinch. Val arrived at that time and was my steadfast assistant dressing the wound.  We applied wound closure strips with tincture benzoin, a little gauze and a large bandage later and Beam was looking a lot better.

There was a lodge another ten minutes up the hill. Val helped me hoist Beam’s pack onto my back, it weighed 65kg – 144 lbs. The ensuing twenty minutes were probably the most physical demanding experience of my life. Beam walked gratefully beside me, thankfully not staggering. Carrying his load allowed him to rest without having to ask him to do so. Beam is a mountain hard man, and this is his livelihood – he was going to get that load to it’s destination no matter what I advised. I gained a profound respect for Nepali porters that day. This all occurred above 5,000m – 16,500ft.

At the lodge I turned Beam over to his fellow Nepalis, advising that he not use his traditional Nepali headstrap to carry his load. Hanging 144 lbs from large gash seemed like a bad idea. I thrust more IB profen into his hand and bid him farewell, he stared straight into my eyes, thanked me, and bowed.

With Beam in good hands I ran halfway back down the hill to where Val was humping both our packs. The rest of the day was unspectacular, which is sadly includes the view from the 5,400m – 17,900ft saddle. On the way down the other side we occasionally saw Beam, who would quickly remove his headstrap so I wouldn’t see – tough as nails. Our day ended in Muktinah, Nepal’s most sacred pilgrimage site. I found Beam’s employers and politely demanded they take him to get stitches – they were unaware of what had transpired and were eager to help once I informed them.

We had walked for more than two weeks to reach this point and we were exhausted. Tate, Val, Jo, and I enjoyed a well-earned feast at the Bob Marley guesthouse. We desperately needed showers, but none of us could rouse the energy. Perhaps tomorrow.

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Scott Dusek is a freelance writer specializing in travel and photography. He has extensively traveled to over 50 countries. When Scott is not writing you can find him trekking, climbing, or scuba diving.