Nepal has a way of breaking me down, body and mind, but not spirit. On day four, I have done more than I thought I could, but I realize what is yet to come. I felt amazing hiking into Dobhan, but the trek up to Himalaya for a mid-morning tea break has me silent, clutching my tea cup. I’ve caught a cold that went from a runny nose to a cough that seems to be settling in my chest, leaving me sounding like a tobacco warning. I feel like my blood has betrayed me, that my time in Colorado should count for something in relation to the rising altitude, but I’m starting over with no advantage.
But in the midst of the body aches, the annoying coughs and other small problems, my reward comes in the form of views from a promontory at Hinku Cave; we can hear the Modi Khola and even see glimpses of turquoise water as we wind up the mountain. We reach Deurali as the clouds are rising, but before the rain arrives. I’m content to curl up in the tea house, reading and watching rivulets of water cascade down the panes. Tea houses are great opportunities for people watching, whether it’s a brash Aussie who wants to talk politics or the odd yeti-like man who wanders around, muttering to himself in a mixture of Danish and English.
We push up to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) the next morning. It’s only about a two hour walk, but after a nice area next to the river, we’re crossing an avalanche track and then up on the moraine. It’s still snow covered, mushy in spots and icy in others, making traction difficult in addition to the gain in altitude. The clouds descend quickly, bringing the first snowflakes. I’m relieved to finally get to our tea house and bundle in my sleeping bag, wearing almost every piece of clothing that I brought. Everything up here, as with every tea house, was brought up on the back of a porter, an amazing feat when I see the Western style toilet. For the rest of the afternoon I watch the snow flurry outside, thankful for hot drinks and the restful acts of reading, dun bohl and napping.
With the weather as it is seeing sunset on Annapurna is impossible, so we plan to catch the sunrise with a 4:30 a.m. departure. Dan rises early to check the weather; it’s clear and cold and we’re on the trail at 4:40 a.m. It’s a surreal experience, crunching up the snow with a headlamp, following the few other lights that trek silently before you. The mountains are visible mostly by the negative they create against the stars, which seem almost touchable. It’s cold, but I quickly grow warm and concentrate on each step over rocks and bits of tundra, keeping to the path that was tramped the previous day. We’re the only ones heading to ABC this morning.
The light comes so gradually that it takes me a while to realize that I don’t need my headlamp anymore. The few tea houses at Annapurna Base Camp are like a mirage; we see the blue roofs early, but it seems to take forever to reach them. First light touches the range, turning it a beautiful peachy gold as we reach the sign welcoming trekkers to ABC. Even as I was getting closer, it didn’t seem quite real, that I would be looking over the Himalayas from this vantage point.
We warm up with tea and breakfast at one of the tea houses at Base Camp, chatting with other folks who spent the previous night there. Some photos for prosperity (complete with one of the dogs who trot up and down the mountain at their whim posing with us), a bit of gawking at a helicopter that has arrived to take some French skiers up for a few turns, and we head back down to MBC in the sun, shedding layers as we go.