March 3 Day 3 Chame to Upper Pisang
There is a regular crew of trekkers on the circuit with many of the same target towns. Three young Spanish women who hike in tights, Jack from Taiwan, Marty from Los Angeles, three women from Australia who have hiked all over the world together, Patrice from Quebec, and Ville and Kristen–two fascinating PCT hikers, Ville is from Finland but they currently call Bend, Oregon home. Today and the next are planned short days to acclimatize, so I made the 13k to Upper Pisang by noon. A fair amount of elevation gain, but it was gradual and so an easy day. Tomorrow will be the same length but more elevation. A day of amazing views, making a slow sweep around the northern part of Annapurna II. At 7937m, it is not quite as tall as Annapurna, but a welcome sight across the trek. Much of the trail was on the road, though it did branch off up into a beautiful pine forest. The path was well-formed and the smell of sap was refreshing. This whole area is being logged off in small patches by hand. I walked through several abandoned logging camps with small huts and pit-saw platforms. At first I thought it was a base where they brought in a portable sawmill, but looking at the structure and at the saw marks on some leftover beams convinced me they were sawing out boards in the traditional way: a two-handled saw with a topsawyer guiding while the poor wretch beneath had to chuck the saw back up in a cloud of sawdust. I passed a number of foresters but heard no machinery, just men with axes and two-handled buck saws. Along the side of the trail were carefully stacked rough-sawn boards drying out. Later I passed a newly planted apple orchard with what looked to be a large processing house under construction, beautiful building. A couple of kilometers before the end the path passed through Dhukurpokhari, a pretty village, so I stopped for black tea. Learning to slow down and just let the day unfold. I was first to the Hill Top Guest House, but soon the place filled up with the crew, and we all had lunch out on a deck looking down at the village of Lower Pisang and up at Annapurna II which had the midday sun lighting up the glaciers, making them seemingly transparent in some places. Inside the guest house eating area there are the large color prints of family members tacked to the wall, but incongruously in their midst is a large poster of the boy band “One Direction.” I stole away from the crew and followed the winding paths up through the village. It is a very old town with no main street but instead winding paths between old but tall stone structures. The pedestrian traffic was more likely to be bovine than human. Eventually I got to the top and the probable reason for the village in the first place, the Pisang Gompa. They have just constructed a new Stupa with magnificent polished stone, and are building some other structures in the complex. Unfortunately the main monastery building was locked, so I sat in the sun on the large stone landing in front. Across the valley rose Annapurna II giving reason for it all. I sat for a long time, much with eyes closed emptying all concerns. Then for moments I would look at the massif in front of me. Crows were circling, floating on the thermals where I would expect hawks. Five defined peaks, each a different texture and all changing with the light. There were two razor-edged points to the left with shining columnar ice making reflective ripples, and just below the main peak were blue-green glaciers ready to disgorge blocks of ice in the early-spring, mid afternoon sun. To the right were other ridges, some with trees edging up to the ice and waterfalls that were actually ice falls. It was a place both peaceful and overwhelming–nothing else matters.