Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

August 8

August 11th, 2016

August 8 Reykjavik to Landmannalauger by bus, to Hrafntinnusker on foot (12 km)

 

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Up early for walk to the bus station and a four hour ride to the trail head of the Laugatvegur Trek. The landscape was unsurprisingly similar to parts of New Zealand’s North Island, both the product of recent volcanic activity. The American and Eurasian plates are tearing the island apart at a rate of 5 centimeters per year, so there are many earthquakes, hot springs in everyone’s back yards (it is how they heat), and regular eruptions blanketing the landscape with lava rocks and fine dark sand. In the uplands the primary plants are mosses. Trees are small and scarce. Arrival at Landmannalauger quickly disabused me of the notion this would be like hiking New Zealand unless it were the Tongariro crossing where the crowds tend to overwhelm the experience. Landmannalauger was a tent city full of trekkers preparing for the trail or relaxing in the hot volcanic pools after completion. As it was already noon and I had at least 12 km over Mount Brennisteinalda before camping, I headed straight out. Still suffering from the effects of illness, I hoped to leave the circus behind. The path was full of Laugavegur trampers but also day hikers and families up to see Brennisteinalda, the island’s most colorful mountain. It was jaw-dropping, on one flank were slides of different colored gravels forming a rainbow pattern. I had purchased a low-resolution topo map at the information center which I completely misread and, like a rookie trekker, after summiting I followed a path off the back side of the mountain to the valley floor only to discover I was heading in exactly the wrong direction, so I had to climb it again–a really rusty long-distance hiker. It is hard to write of the landscape as it was unlike any I’ve ever seen–color, texture, pattern–and luckily the light was perfect. Some fields were covered with broken rocks that looked like obsidian, black glass shining in the Arctic sun. After my initial mistake, the trail was easy to follow, packed as it was like the Camino de Santiago. Before long I found myself at Hrafntinnusker, a campsite the trekkers call the windy place. The tent sites were surrounded by low stacked stone circles to help cut the wind. There are huts with tent sites every 12-15 km along the trail where expedition companies do a thriving business ferrying luggage and cooking food for wealthy slack-packers. Life down in the tent sites was a little more spartan. Since it was a fairly short trek and you cannot fly with fuel and since I had shipped my Jetboil home, I opted for cold food– trail mix, chorizo, and crackers. By late afternoon my tent was up, half a chorizo was eaten, and I found myself napping in my sleeping bag out of the cold wind. Soon the circles filled up and, lucky me, I found myself next to some loud Americans. I still don’t understand the need for so much volume, often seems like children begging for attention. There was no waiting for dark as it stays light very late (and gets light very early), so I soon drifted off, listening to the light ticking of minute raindrops on my tent. Lying there I was reminded how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure good equipment offers. A good Zpack tent and a great sleeping bag were the definition of real comfort putting in stark contrast the last six weeks in an apartment with a big bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc. It is amazing how soft you can get in such a short time living like that.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

August 7

August 11th, 2016

August 7

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Flew out of London heading to the in-between–the inter-esse–that is Iceland. Definitely European but distinct in climate, manner and custom. I guess it is appropriate for my last stop in a year-long walkabout to be both novel and familiar. Like many smaller airports, Keflavik has a pre 9-11 feel, reminding me how pleasant and inviting airports can be when the stress-level is reduced. On boarding the bus to the terminal there was the unmistakable smell of manure drifting across the blank landscape. There are more horses than people on the island, all descended from the first horses brought many centuries ago. In the terminal arrivals and departees mingle in the common area before passing the passport station manned by a welcoming and polite agent. Those simple gestures made my entry–however transitory– memorable. A long bus ride brought me to the Oddsson Hostel, and a short wander to the old city center brought seafood soup– a staple in a maritime country. I continue to suffer from an upper respiratory infection and sore throat, so two bowls of fish soup and an early bedtime were on the menu.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

June 8

June 8th, 2016

June 8

Airolo to Lavorgo 29 km

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The unstated rules of trail designers are keeping trekkers off of paved roads as much as possible, generally avoiding large towns (unless the trek is a religious pilgrimage), and maximize opportunity for amazing views. Following those rules closely can produce uneven success. Avoiding pavement can at time lead to unnecessary detours up badly made paths while a perfectly good road remains in sight. Sometimes avoiding towns requires long climbing detours to uninteresting places. Today’s walk was a little of that, but also, in parts, the classic example of why those rules apply. The climb out of Airolo was steep but quick, and I soon found myself on Strada Alta which, when it didn’t dwindle into a narrow path and then a field of nettles, was the perfect path for the day. I found myself walking 3/4s of the way up a ridge, looking down onto the narrow river valley, and across to snow capped alps. The treat though was not the spectacular views but instead the little villages gathered around that high road. Their access was a road no wider than a compact car, as were their main streets, but each had magnificent beamed houses, some in stone, the obligatory water trough with constantly flowing water, a bar/cafe, and a church. Every three km, another would appear. The economy here is less certain. There are farms, but it seems clear that many of the people living in these towns are not farmers. Almost as evidence for this observation, for once I saw as much wildlife as if did domestic. Along with the cows and sheep, I almost stepped on a five foot snake– looked like a black snake but held it head up while moving. Later I scared up a chamois who looked at me for a moment before diving into the bushes. Perhaps the village houses could be vacation homes, or even places for commuters. All very puzzling but beautiful nonetheless. In the town square of one, a young girl sat blowing bubbles that drifted across the trail. I stopped at 1:00 for a pint in a restaurant in one. At first it seemed closed, but on entering I was greeted by a table of locals, already hoisting their day’s second pints and speaking in Italian, a language I love to hear. The bartender had a baby in his arms, and served me a pint of Gottardo, an excellent local lager. Everyone was so happy. I wish my afternoon had been as happy, but as often happens on the trail, a combination of small but significant problems makes for a difficult time. My interlude with the nettles, coupled with some wrong turns– some my fault, others because of the quick change in trail surface (road to overgrown field)– and a long final descent on a sharp rock trail made for a frustrating end of the day. Something remedied by an excellent plate of gnocchi for supper.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 17

March 18th, 2016

March 17  last day of Annapurna Circuit

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Finishing the Annapurna Circuit left me a little sad. On walking out onto the Simon Guest House deck that morning I knew that it was the last time I would be looking out on the massif I’ve been circling for almost three weeks. The peaks remain infinitely interesting as the changing light creates shadows revealing intricate formations that disappear as the sun moves on. Also there is no clear endpoint like Bluff or Kirk Yetholm, which is as it should be — a circuit has no end. Still, I found myself hiking down from Ghandruk to Kimche only to discover a long, dusty road down to the main highway to Pokhara. Not a way to spend the morning so I caught a wild ride bus from there– much more stimulating than dodging trucks and scooters in the dust and the diesel on the road down. On the walk to Kimche, the trail was completely flagged with stones and uneven steps, and I passed many people bringing up materials to Ghandruk and beyond. No porters carrying refrigerators on their backs, but plenty of people carrying bags of rice or sugar, lots of plastic drainpipe, and a pack train of eight mules carrying up sacks of something. At an early stop on the bus, a strikingly beautiful woman in traditional dress got on along with three huge bags of dried corn–easily 100 lbs. each. She and the bus helpers (conductors?), maneuvered them through the door and stacked them in the aisle, on the way to a market point about five km down the road. She seemed so slight but, like so many people living in a place where almost everything is carried by hand, she was strong and capable. Initially the road (not an accurate term) wound back and forth down narrow switchbacks with scarcely inches between the wheels and the edge which dropped off precipitously. It was like an amusement park ride, except here there are no regular inspections of the vehicle or the road. In this upper area tending to the flatland, there is an older architecture that is different from what I have been seeing. There are stone farmhouses, broad across the face with two stories. On either end are single-story rooms with sloping shed roofs, but the main house includes a bank of second-story windows with intricately carved casements and screens. The eaves have wooden brackets where they often hang ears of corn or basket materials to dry. Across the long face is a wide flat terrace where the farm produce is processed. After a long and winding ride down, the bus got to the highway at Naya Pol; then the driver opened it up, passing every vehicle he came near, blasting his horn, slamming his brakes, and swerving on and off the narrow middle band of pavement that made up the highway (the rest was gravel, potholes, and general rocky obstacles). This went on for quite some time until we arrived at the Pokhara bus stop, still quite a distance from the lake area where I had booked a hotel along with the rest of the tourists. Rather than a taxi, I opted to walk (guess I felt the need to make up for my short trek this morning) and spent an hour crossing the city past motorcycle repair shops, tailors, and open sewer/waterways. The Adam Hotel (booked via the web for good rate) is at the heart of the lakeside district near coffee shops, trekking stores, bars, and momo (dumpling) shops. A good place to unwind and organize the next adventure.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 15

March 15th, 2016

March 15 day 15 Tatopani to Ghorapani

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I’ve never seen rhododendron trees– ones with trunks over a foot in diameter, but they appeared today on the hillsides along with huge clusters of bamboo, willows, and banana trees (some with big green clusters of fruit). The walk out of Tatopani was first down a dusty road, then across two swinging bridges– the second was wood and very shaky– and then a whole lot of climbing. I passed two TIMs stations. You have to stop at them and present your credentials, primarily so they can track trekkers who may become lost on the trails. The offices (actually steel sheds) usually have a computer, but because the electricity is rarely on, they enter the information in big red ledgers. They will let you look to see if anyone you know has passed in the last few days, but I wonder what becomes of those books. I guess they end up on a shelf, like the manuscripts in the Gompas waiting to be read by some researcher checking the nationality of the trekking tourists. About an hour in, I reached a crest and there opened a hillside valley completely terraced and largely populated. Lots of green which turned out to be wheat or barley, alternating with potatoes. I stopped at a small inn for coffee at mid-morning. The outdoor seating was beneath a huge blooming bougainvillea. The proprietor was pregnant and also had a very young child, but she smiled, laughed, and made me feel at home. It was actually a pretty rigorous morning, though I got to Ghorapani by 1:00. A lot of climbing including all those uneven stairs they have built into the mountainsides. Stairs always wear me out, so I was gassed by the time I arrived. There was a winding road, but I saw no vehicles though I did see plenty of pack horses hauling bags of sand for concrete projects, and many people carrying 50 lb. sacks of sugar, flour, or rice using shoulder straps and a forehead band. They really cannot look from side to side and can only mumble a greeting, given how heavy their loads are. The foliage and architecture was different today as well. Initially lower altitudes brought bamboo and banana trees, but later in the day large rhododendron trees. At Chiffre, the middle of the village was crowded with pollarded willows which had just burst into leaf. The sun made yellow halos through the leaves, resembling something from Dr. Seuss. In many places across the trail today there were strings of withered, dried carnations (looking like the strings I saw in Kathmandu). I guess they were part of a celebration some time ago, but now they have a forlorn look, like the faded buttoniers on a rented tux from last year’s prom. While I was in Tatopani, the electricity was only on about two hours, and rumor has it that Ghorapani hasn’t had any for three days, so I might have to skip tonight’s reading to conserve power. Ghorapani is a mountain town, so I chose a hotel with a big wood stove in the middle of the common room and have toasted my feet there ever since. I did duck out for momos (Nepali dumplings) which they serve with ketchup (something I can’t quite stomach). This is the last bit of altitude unless I decide to go to Annapurna base camp (not leaning in that direction). For now, just resting some sore muscles after a very long trek uphill, hoping for clear skies tomorrow morning so I can climb Poon Hill to see Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna Range.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 14

March 14th, 2016

March 14 day 14 Kalopani to Tatopani

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In the middle of the night, I was quietly awakened by cowbells, some cattle grazing next to the hotel. I’m getting used to those bells. You hear them in the strangest places– way out in the woods, or in a steep area where you expect nothing to be around, you suddenly hear the tinkle of a cowbell and there, in the most unlikely place, some cattle are grazing on what they can find. It is between seasons here just now– the stored hay is almost exhausted but the new grass has not quite come out, so all the animals are loose and foraging where they can. It is a stark contrast to the feed-lots in the USA, and so much more sensible. It was still raining this morning a little bit, but the temperatures were not bad and the water kept down the dust, so a long day walking on the road was not as bad as it could have been. On passing a guest house, I saw two brooms on a table, wet and shining in the rain. Brooms here are bundles of straw with very short handles. An extremely dusty place, people are constantly fighting it with these short brooms that can only be used by hunching over, close to the dust, and sweeping away. They often sprinkle the space in front of their house or business with water to hold down the dust they have just swept away. Not far from the brooms, I saw a man stripping bamboo. Now I’m down low enough for bamboo to flourish so, instead of willow wands from pollarded trees, they can strip, peel and flatten bamboo to make a lot of material including very large basket-woven sheets that make roofs for animal pens and sheds. As I got further down the valley the foliage changed so now there are orange and banana trees. The buildings shifted a bit as well, with some having flatter, slate roofs with interestingly articulated eaves all about. Will watch over the next days to see if that is a one-off aberration or part of a different style. Just below was Ghasa, a town with another military site like Jomson and a lot of buses parked ready for the trip up or down-river. On the way out, I passed a cluster of buildings where a large group of men were congregated in a courtyard with solemn faces. Near them a number of women were crowded in a small building moaning and crying. I don’t know funeral procedures here, but I felt as if I had intruded into the middle of a wake and made haste to move on. Moving down to the flatlands puts me further from the Buddhist world of the high Himalayas and into the Hindu section. I had another attempted conversation with a barefoot Hindu priest who was walking in the direction I had just passed. Once again I felt the difficulties of communication acutely as he wanted to say something I could not understand. Another signal that I was getting closer to a more settled area was a waterfall near Rupse Chahara. I could see the high falls at some distance as I walked, but on arriving I found a tour bus and several Land Rovers which had disgorged a host of tourists– Nepali and perhaps some from India–all dresses in bright clothes, laughing and waving at the sweaty American hiking through their photoshoot. I made it to Tatopani just after lunch, saw Kyle who was getting a shirt repaired at the local tailor, and went straight to the hot springs. After a cold Gorkha beer, I first washed in the area where the hot springs flowed through high pipes, then eased myself into the pool and soaked while the sky’s clouded and the rain began to fall. No matter, the water was nearly scalding, and I have never felt cleaner. A trip back up the hill to the Himalayan Inn for a room and a quiet late afternoon relaxing in what is now clearly a warmer climate. Tired but clean and happy.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 13

March 14th, 2016

March 13 day 13 Jomson to Kalopani

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The western half of the trek commenced today. Started with a heavy breakfast including what the Xanadu Hotel calls hash browns. Instead of some processed potato product, they were big chunks cooked in chile oil and lots of garlic– carried me through a long day’s hike. Early on the weather cooperated though I was still in high winds with dust that made me stop and turn to avoid the sting. Walked through Marpha, a village of orchards, primarily apple and cherry. I stopped at a house with a sign indicating they sold juice, but on walking in, I felt I was in someone’s dining room. A very nice older man sold me a bottle of world famous natural Marpha apple juice– fully organic, no added anything, and repackaged in an old Tuborg beer bottle. We spoke a bit–as best we could– and he gave me one of his apples, small and tart. As I drank the juice I remembered growing up in apple country, spending my days running around the orchards that surrounded my house, and going to Beecher Bowers’s roadside stand. On route 11 just north of Woodstock VA, it was an open shed with gallon bottles of cider and all sorts of in-season produce. I remember getting our Halloween pumpkins there, and how he had huge glass containers of bubble gum, penny a piece. One interesting architectural feature all over Nepal but pronounced here are the boxes of rocks they put up on the corrugated roofs to hold them down in the wind. The people who live in houses with flat roofs stack firewood high around the edges. I’m not sure if that also holds down the roof, or if it is just convenient to keep it there. All along the paths there are piles of carefully split and stacked wood, always ready to hand for the kitchen. Part of the walk was through a pine forest where they were hauling out many more of those hand-hewn beams. Some I saw measured 16×16 and were hewn with a broad axe from full trees. On crossing the river to the eastern side, I came upon a Tibetan gompa being restored through some international agencies. A man emerged from small concrete building on the edge of the site, a Tibetan monk who had fled his country when it was occupied. We attempted to talk a bit, but ended up with a few place names and a mutual admiration for the gompa. The architecture in this area is slightly different, with the houses a little lower, flat roofs, and built with smaller, flatter stones. They often put a band of herringbone patterned thin stones across the face of the building, then paint the whole side white (usually just the side facing the street. There were also some smaller structures that had been sided with peeled, flattened bark in the manner common in the mountains of North Carolina. The path ran along the river’s edge– it really is a gravel braided river just like the New Zealand South Island– and often went up steep hills to avoid slips and rockslides. As the day progressed, the weather really deteriorated and I got my first rainy day trekking in Nepal–more often it was hail. Had to get out the foul weather gear, the thunder rolled in but, given the high mountains it was difficult to tell how close the lightening strikes were. I was hesitant to cross the steel swinging bridges that span the river at strategic points, but finally had to cross, getting to Kalopani, a town with large, comfortable but cold hotels. Decided to call it a day on arrival which was a good move as the rain intensified. Still cannot understand why, in such a cold climate, everyone leaves the door open when they enter a room. I hate to be the cranky old man, but damn, it’s cold enough without making it worse. I guess I showed my concern because Ram, the man running the hotel, went across the street and came back with a large pan of coals which he put in a metal container under the table in the dining room. It had a heavy rug over it, so when I sat, it draped over my knees, keeping the heat in, it was an amazing gesture which I completely appreciated. Then he sprinkled incense over the coals so all smelled so good. It was brilliant. Had a great, heavy dinner and will recommence the trek south toward Pokhara tomorrow.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 12

March 14th, 2016

March 12 Day 12 Kagbeni to Jomson

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Breakfast at YacDonalds included good coffee and some horses just strolling down the street outside my window. A short walk today to Jomson, so lingered a bit, then went to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. On the way I passed a pile of wooden beams. Not sure what they are for (there is a large concrete building being constructed nearby), but they are hand-hewn and some were at least 10×10. Very likely they are bridge timbers. The monastery is also a school, so the compound is a group of dormitories with lots of kids running around. It is a free school for those who get in, taught in a traditional Buddhist way. The gompa itself is 585 years old with an uneven brick or stone exterior–can’t distinguish the material because of layers of red paint. The interior walls were frescos of various Buddhas, including one with many arms which I believe is the Buddha of compassion. At one end were large golden and silver statues of seated Buddhas and more of the cloth wrapped manuscripts. While I walked about, above somewhere in the gallery sthe monks were praying and making music– a strange and wild sound. The day’s walk was uneventful, following the Kali Gandaki Nadi River downstream. It has a wide gravel bed resembling the braided rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. This area is famous for its strong winds, and rightly so. Toward the end of the walk, it was howling directly in my face, bringing a veritable dust storm with it. As part of erosion control, there are a number of newly planted willow trees along the banks. Where they are older and more established, they have also been pollarded. I imagine willow baskets are useful. On the outskirts of old Jomson, there were three women at the foot of a large rockslide. Each was seated on a pile of rocks–at least 5 tons–making gravel. They sit cross legged, pile large rocks into short cylinders about 1 foot across, and pound away with rock hammers until they get the required size. A brutal way to make a living. Jomson itself is an airport town with many hotels lining the area by the landing strip, though horses wander about the streets along with the people. It does have a military base and many soldiers were training. Not sure if these are the famous Gurkha troops whose fitness levels are legendary since many grew up at altitudes higher than 4000 m. I bumped into Marty, the Los Angeles native who crossed the pass the same day I did. He has an infected toe and is calling off his trek, but is happy he made it over Thorung La. This is the Marpha region so there are a lot of apple products–dried, bottled juice, brandy. I had a two dollar flask of apple brandy with my yak steak dinner, tasty and slept very well a included good coffee and some horses just strolling down the street outside my window. A short walk today to Jomson, so lingered a bit, then went to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. On the way I passed a pile of wooden beams. Not sure what they are for (there is a large concrete building being constructed nearby), but they are hand-hewn and some were at least 10×10. Very likely they are bridge timbers. The monastery is also a school, so the compound is a group of dormitories with lots of kids running around. It is a free school for those who get in, taught in a traditional Buddhist way. The gompa itself is 585 years old with an uneven brick or stone exterior–can’t distinguish the material because of layers of red paint. The interior walls were frescos of various Buddhas, including one with many arms which I believe is the Buddha of compassion. At one end were large golden and silver statues of seated Buddhas and more of the cloth wrapped manuscripts. While I walked about, above somewhere in the gallery sthe monks were praying and making music– a strange and wild sound. The day’s walk was uneventful, following the Kali Gandaki Nadi River downstream. It has a wide gravel bed resembling the braided rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. This area is famous for its strong winds, and rightly so. Toward the end of the walk, it was howling directly in my face, bringing a veritable dust storm with it. As part of erosion control, there are a number of newly planted willow trees along the banks. Where they are older and more established, they have also been pollarded. I imagine willow baskets are useful. On the outskirts of old Jomson, there were three women at the foot of a large rockslide. Each was seated on a pile of rocks–at least 5 tons–making gravel. They sit cross legged, pile large rocks into short cylinders about 1 foot across, and pound away with rock hammers until they get the required size. A brutal way to make a living. Jomson itself is an airport town with many hotels lining the area by the landing strip, though horses wander about the streets along with the people. It does have a military base and many soldiers were training. Not sure if these are the famous Gurkha troops whose fitness levels are legendary since many grew up at altitudes higher than 4000 m. I bumped into Marty, the Los Angeles native who crossed the pass the same day I did. He has an infected toe and is calling off his trek, but is happy he made it over Thorung La. This is the Marpha region so there are a lot of apple products–dried, bottled juice, brandy. I had a two dollar flask of apple brandy with my yak steak dinner, tasty and slept very well at the Xanadu Hotel.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 11

March 11th, 2016

March 11 Day 11 Muktinath to Kagbeni

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Even with an altitude drop from 5416m down to 3800m, I still found myself waking up in the middle of the night panting, almost as if I had just run a race. Slept in then spent a pleasant morning drinking coffee and talking with two Aussies and two Italians. Said goodbye to Kyle and Will, my recent hiking companions who are pressing on further, then set off for Kagbeni, a town I was looking forward to seeing as it is in the Mustang province and one of the few towns in that area you can visit without an expensive permit. Mustang is a region close to Tibet and one of the few places open today where you can get a sense of what old Tibet must have been like. I am also curious about the name and whether it relates to the horses we have in the US. This is definitely horse country. They are used for transportation and cartage. Kumar from the Base Camp Hotel rides them up and over the Thorung Pass, and I regularly encountered riders on the trails in Mustang as well as passing many grazing up in the pastures. It is planting time here so the first half of my walk to Kagbeni was accompanied by the strange mixture of yelling and singing that goes will plowing the fields by a yoke of small oxen and a wooden plow. I wish I could capture the sound– a sharp yell followed by a strange song and the team pulls away. Along with annual crops, this area is also full of fruit trees– primarily apple. The older ones have twisted trunks and remind me of the orchards where I grew up in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia. Here they paint the tree trunks light blue, I assume to ward off some pests, though there may be another explanation. The area has beech trees, and the older ones are pollarded (a practice that seems to be continued today). From that, the farmers can get thin branches for weaving and larger ones for what amounts to round dimensional lumber or firewood. Passing through Khinghar, I met a woman selling woolen scarfs who had set up her loom at the edge of the road beside her display. A basket full of brightly dyed yak wool and a very simple but beautiful loom. She wove away masterfully. The last bit of the walk took me across a high plateau and into the powerful winds this area is famous for–the prayers were pouring out of the flags. Dust and desolation accompanied me into Kagbeni, a town with an old gompa I hope to visit tomorrow, some high buildings, winding streets, and a hotel called YakDonalds complete with bright red and yellow decor– how could I resist?

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 10

March 11th, 2016

March 10 Day 10 High Camp to Muktinath

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A long cold night — the beds had huge blankets stuffed with something lumpy, heavy and hard like kapok, though they were absolutely necessary as it had to be around 15 degrees Fahrenheit in the room. Obviously I didn’t sleep well because of the temperature but also because it is difficult to sleep well at high altitude. We were all up at 5:30 to start the trek over Thorung La which at 17769′ is higher than any peak in the USA’s lower 48. Slow and steady was what was required and as we got higher the steps were almost a shuffle, like the figures in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I did not have proper gloves, coat, or hat, so I was very cold until the sun got up high. My sense of the Annapurna Circuit is as a circumambulation of the massif, but most the the crowd I find myself among see this particular pass as something to be conquered, more of that bucket list stupidity. It was rigorous, both up and down, and I was pleased to cross, but was more pleased to arrive at a warmer place where the conversation could shift to the rest of the trek. As we crossed in the morning, the wind had not yet picked up, so the only sound was the squeaking of the dry, crystalline snow beneath feet, and a strange creaking that came as the trekking poles shifted position during a stride. It was an eerie yet rhythmic sound that carried me up the steep. A quick moment at the top posing for pictures as if it were Katahdin and I was standing on a sign instead of in front of a huge mass of prayer flags, then a long descent to Muktinath for a warm shower that turned out to be cold, and an afternoon sitting on a warm deck in the sun relaxing and feeling grateful that part of the circuit was now behind me. The streets of Muktinath are lined with people selling woolen hats, slippers, and scarves. The man in the booth just across the street from my decktop perch was praying softly all afternoon: om mani padme hum. High above on a steep hill were three white horses playing games. That evening we went to the famous Bob Marley cafe for an incredible yak steak and “Himalayan Sunrise” cocktails (vodka and local juices). There we saw Kris and her porter (wonderful man who always laughs and embraces me when we meet) along with an Israeli couple we met at Lake Tilicho, and Marty, a Los Angeles native we have encountered most of the trip. A number of us sat by a large open fire talking quietly as the evening descended.

T. Hugh Crawford

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