Wobbly bridge

I had just finished crossing a small river over a rather precarious suspension bridge when I saw a tall, heavy-set man approaching with a big stick, a long stride and a broad smile.

“Well hello there!”  He bellowed in a deep drawl, instantly revealing his Southern American origins.  “Where y’all headed?”

“We’re on our way to the Annapurna Sanctuary,” I answered, slowly regaining my land legs.  “And you?”

“On my way back!”

“How was it?”

“Well, you’re gonna get snowed on, rained on, hailed on, and you’ll probably think you’re gonna die a couple times but it’s all gon’ be worth it when you get up there.”

Modi Khola Valley

As this strange Teddy Roosevelt-esq man marched off in his safari outfit, I turned skeptically to my friend and travel-buddy Tim, who was grinning from ear-to-ear.  “Awesome!  I can’t wait!”

I on the other hand was not quite as optimistic.  We had just made 3 or 4 rather steep climbs up and down long, snaking stone staircases with 35 pound backpacks in the sticky Nepali heat.  “I don’t know, Tim.  We have no sleeping bags, no climbing poles, no guide, no porter, and no idea where we’re sleeping tonight.  Yeah, okay.  You’re right.  This is gonna be awesome!  Soldier on!”

Prayer Flags

Tim and I had been teahouse trekking for approximately 6 hours at this point.  A teahouse trek essentially involves hiking anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a day and spending the night at a trekking lodge, or a teahouse as they’re known in this region of Nepal.  In this way, trekkers are able to function with limited equipment and rely on local lodges for food, shelter, refreshment, and a host of other small luxuries like running water to wash your clothes, the occasional hot shower, and heavy blankets to keep you warm during the cold mountain nights.

Wheat fields

We had begun our journey late that morning in Phedi (1130m), a non-descript town on the side of a dusty road, and climbed steeply up a rocky hill to Dhampus.  From here we continued to ascend through Gurung farming villages and Rhododendron forests to Pothana and then further into the Modi Khola valley.  Each bend in the trail brought about a new and stunning view: faded prayer flags flapping high in the wind above the deep gorge, golden wheat fields terraced into the mountain landscape and one fairy-tale-like forest after another.

Comfy Lodge

Our goal was to make it to the Annapurna Base Camp, a trek that would take us from the Gurung villages to the Annapurna Sanctuary, 4200m into the amphitheater of the gigantic Himalayan mountains.  The route was to take approximately 10 days, and although we wouldn’t have the serious acclimatization problems that the Everest Base Camp trek entailed, we knew we were in for some of the steepest ascents and descents that the region had to offer.

By the time we reached Tolka (1790m), our destination for the evening, the sun had already begun to set and I was in desperate need of a shower and a meal.  Later, as I laid in bed, my legs throbbing, my stomach satisfied with a large serving of Dal Bhat, and my lungs filled with clean, fresh mountain air, I thought to myself, “this must be the best feeling on earth!”