The sky blazed with starlight, a conflagration that overwhelmed the inky blackness of space.
It was night-time as I shuffled up the glacier towards Annapurna Base Camp. I could see faint outlines of the mountains that surrounded me, dark jagged patches where no stars shone. I continued forward, enjoying the silence and happy to be alone with the night sky.
Dawn had invaded by the time I reached the tiny settlement known as Annapurna Base Camp. The lodges had their lights on and chimneys smoking.
I ignored these and walked to the cliff-face, sitting down at the glacier’s edge. Stretching before me was a sea of gravel, a monstrous pit that you could drown in. Rising from its depths was vertical mountain wall, a true ampitheatre that stretched skywards until stopped by gravity and the erosive winds.
This was the Annapurna Massif, those incredible giants that I’d walked around while doing the Annapurna Circuit. Now I was in their frozen heart, ready to watch one last morning performance.
It started and ended in an instant. From thousands of miles away the sun’s rays struck the Earth’s atmosphere and scattered, casting a lurid pink glow across the mountain-tops. The Earth’s spin continued which focused the light into orange, then yellow, before turning to a dull white that mirrored the snow.
I exhaled deeply, my breath spreading into a thick cloud. This was one hell of a panorama, but after so much trekking, it failed to move me. I knew it was time to leave.
But first, I took a moment to look at the memorials for dead climbers. Annapurna 1 is the most world’s deadliest mountain, due to its inaccessibility and high avalanche rate. I found the memorial I was looking for — Anatoli Boukreev — who survived the 1996 Everest disaster, but died here a year later in an avalanche on Christmas Day.
I returned to Machapuchare Base Camp and continued through the rugged valley, not feeling sad that this was end of my time in the high mountains. Machapuchare stared back at me, its peak like a machete in the morning light.
I rushed through the avalanche zone, acutely aware that I was crossing it during the riskiest time of day. The waterfalls were in full voice, crashing down the sheer cliffs. I walked so fast that I almost fell off a log-bridge into one of the streams that crossed the valley.
By midday I’d reached the humid lowlands. Clouds made an unwanted appearance entrance and hid the valley’s jewels. I arrived in Chomrong before sunset, the lady running the lodge was shocked to see me back so soon.
The next morning I treated myself to a sleep-in to 6 AM. My legs felt like glass as I started out, placing each step delicately. The scenery was unspectacular, but it wasn’t a long day either. I arrived in Ghandruk around lunchtime — photos of this village had originally inspired me to go trekking. It was therefore a fitting place to finish.
I spent that afternoon looking around Ghandruk, which is the second-largest Gurung settlement in Nepal. It was a maze of stone buildings and steep pathways, ornate temples and Buddha statues hidden throughout.
That evening I sat down for my final meal of the trek, and couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. It had been 21 days of the same food (porridge for breakfast; noodles for lunch; dal bat for dinner), the same clothes (I wore one shirt the entire trek), no showers (obviously), and grueling terrain. I was happy that it was ending.
But these three weeks had also been unbelievable, packed with so much beauty and excitement. The high mountains, the ancient villages, the hardy people. It had felt like a real expedition, much more adventurous than my Everest Base Camp trek. And to do it alone had been so rewarding.
Satisfied, I went to bed as a brutal hailstorm began. The noise was so loud that a thousand men could’ve been hitting the roof with hammers. Ice burst through the ceiling and I thought that the tiles would shatter.
It was over by the morning, but this relief came at a great cost. I walked around the village, elated that I’d be finishing the trek that day. Meanwhile, families were gathered outside their homes, sobbing in disbelief at their crops which had pulverised by the hail.
This image stuck in my head as I walked to the last town, Naya Pul, and found a car back to Pokhara. I kept thinking about it as we zipped along the winding road, crashing through potholes and into the city.
For me, this trek had been a bit of fun, a chance to see an incredible part of the world and then duck out when I’d had enough. I was a bystander, my trials and challenges mere footnotes in the daily events of the locals, who were playing a much harder game.
Living and surviving in the Himalayas.
That’s the end of this 12 part series about trekking in Nepal’s Annapurna Conservation Area. If you’ve missed any, or want to read more, check out 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