Into the gates of the sanctuary

Beyond Deorali, the rocky trail climbs through sparse birch and bamboo forests.  There had been a hail storm the previous afternoon (while we were cozily playing cards) so the path was slippery and we had to take our time.  I’ve never been as “sure-footed” as my peers, so the ice probably tacked on an hour to our journey.  Fortunately we convinced a man to cut us some pretty rockin’ Bamboo poles to help with stability!

As we climbed a final hill through the “gates” of the Sanctuary, the Annapurna mountains became visible – and took my breath away.  The mountain views are absolutely awesome (as in “awe-inspiring” not “gnarly dude”).  Imagine marching north for 4 days, surrounded by villages, forests, and green hills, and then suddenly – and it really feels quite sudden – climbing into an amphitheater of the tallest, most impressive mountains you’ve ever seen.

To the east is Machhapuchhre (6997m), which means fishtail in the local language.  Hiunchile (6434m) is to the immediate west, and the panorama also includes Annapurna South (7219m), Annapurna I (8091m – world’s 10th highest peak), Annapurna III (7555m), and Gangapurna (7454m).

Macchapuchare (6997m)

Tim and I were both dragging at this point (thin air) so we decided to stop at Macchapuchare Base Camp for a second breakfast.  Though there are several lodges here, “base camp” is a misnomer, as it is forbidden to climb Macchapuchre.  Again we bumped into our friends Elena and Remco, who had woken up early to see the sunrise from Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and were on their way back down.

The climb from MBC to ABC is only a gradual 430m, but given the altitude and the fresh snow on the ground (and the fact that we both turned into paparazzi), it took us a good 2 1/2 hours.  But it was 2 and a half hours of spectacular views!

When we climbed the final steps to our destination, Lydia and Jan were already at the camp and pointed out the lodge with the warmest dining room.  (Hey, when it’s minus 10 Celsius, your priorities shift!).  So I hunkered down next to the kerosene heater with my bowl of potato soup, which was more like garlic soup, a jug of hot tea, and a second hot jug of tea.  I spent the afternoon and the evening relaxing in the luxurious comfort of the heated dining room, listening to Lydia and Jan entertain us with tales of their year-long trip around the world and teaching the Nepali guides and porters how to play “BS.”

Hiunchile foreground, Macchapuchare background

I had never been at such a high altitude in my entire life.  I was grateful that we spent some time acclimatizing, and the only effects of the altitude I felt were a runny nose and a suppressed appetite.  I fell fast asleep with two heavy blankets and nearly every layer of clothing I had.  At some point I remember waking up and needing to use the bathroom, but I knew it would be so cold outside that I held it until the morning!  (Really – getting out of my warm covers to use a squat toilet in the dark in -10 degrees was the most depressing thought in the world).

Besides, I was planning on waking up early anyways to see the sunrise over the mountains…

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