Manang to Yak Kharka:
We left Manang after a hearty breakfast at our usual start time of 08:00am. Last night we enjoyed the social aspect of the trail and had loads of fun chatting with a Polish couple who have been our neighbors twice in cabins, once in Upper Pisang and now again in Manang.
A couple from Colorado were also staying at the cabins and we really enjoyed their company and a young solo Russian hiker joined our table. He had been traveling in India for 3 months prior to doing the Annapurna Circuit and had only started learning English in India, and he is already pretty good at speaking it.
The trek today was spectacular and there was no more road after Manang, only mountain trail.
We were treated to magnificent vistas of Annapurna 4, 3 and Gangapurna. The branches of the low lying scrub and junipers along the way we’re laden with snow. Yaks roamed the steep mountain slopes in a very sure footed manner and eagles swooped gracefully overhead, plunging down into the valleys.
Rescue helicopters were buzzing back and forth along the trail in an unbelievably high volume. It seemed crazy that so many people needed to get rescued.
The distance we traveled today was only 9km but we had 500m of elevation gain. The halfway point was at the village of Gunsang where we stopped for refreshments. It was here that we sampled some yak cheese which was delicious!
Standing at the entrance to the teahouse was Tomas from Slovakia, whom we had met on the first night. We were all so delighted to see each other again. Since we started the hike we have also been passing back and forth with a large British group who have a guide and porters and we enjoy exchanging pleasantries with them. (Trekking company exodus.co.uk)
On arrival at our destination in Yak Kharka we found a pleasant enough teahouse, Hotel Thorang Peak where we met the German couple we had encountered on Day 2 and pretty soon all our international trail friends arrived including Ola and Cyprian from Poland, Tomas, Ziko and we met a whole new crew of people too, most notably a group of awesome Bulgarians!
Then we were exposed to the very scary reality of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). A young woman with classic symptoms of HACE ( high altitude cerebral edema) was being escorted down the mountain trail by her friends. She could not walk on her own and loped like a zombie. A rescue helicopter was called to evacuate her and landed in a yak pasture. We watched as her two friends escorted her to the rescue helicopter and were amazed that as the pilot took off, he barely gained elevation, then plunged straight off the mountainside into the river valley. We thought that he probably used this tactic so as to bring her down to a lower elevation immediately.
It was a huge wake up call for everyone who was acclimatizing here for the day. The dining hall of the teahouse was extremely festive that night with trekkers from all over the world.
We slept at 4000m/13,120 ft
Yak Kharka to Thorong Pedi:
Today was tough as we ascended slowly into the heavens. I developed an all over head pressure headache during the night and was very concerned that it was a symptom of AMS. At 04:00 am I took 125mg Diamox and 800mg ibuprofen and decided that I would re-evaluate my condition after breakfast. On top of this potential predicament, I am now suffering from the same horrible cold that Josh had and it is extremely difficult to hike and climb at such extreme elevation in a healthy state, never mind sick!
Our host at Yak Kharka recognized my accent and gave me the card for his brother Kumar’s teahouse at Thorong Pedi Base Camp. His girlfriend Kate who helps him run the tea house is from South Africa. I couldn’t wait to meet her!
We are up in the wild, wild high parts of the Himalayan Mountains now.
It was a tough 7km hike today gaining 500 m elevation to 4540m/ 14,891ft. We took it easy and slow and my headache did not appear to get worse.
It was great meeting Kate and Kumar at Thorong Base Camp Lodge. They also run the Windhorse Restaurant here which has a great vibe and great trekking food. Mid afternoon we did an acclimatization hike up to high camp without our backpacks. That way we could go high and sleep lower. We reached 15,809ft/4824m in preparation for going back up there the next day. It was tough and I moved like a snail, 400m straight up!
The rescue helicopters were in full force again today, which made me wonder what type of mistakes these hikers were making.
That night my illness took a turn for the worst and I shivered and shook in my sleeping bag and told Josh that I thought we would have to stay in place for another day as I was too ill and weak to continue the next morning.
Thorong Pedi Base Camp to High Camp:
I awoke feeling able to do a small advance to High Camp at 16,154ft/4925m.
After breakfast and a long chat with Kumar we inched our way up the 1 km climb gaining 400m/1312ft to High Camp. It felt so good arriving there and we hunkered down for the afternoon. I needed to rest to overcome my horrible cold symptoms.
That evening was very festive once again in the dining room. We reconnected with Rachel from California and got to know the group of awesome Bulgarians from Sofia a little more. Bran, Nicola and Anna sat at our table and we talked story until it was tome to go to bed. As the evening rolled by, the weather changed and it started snowing. Soon everything was covered by a thick layer of snow and it was extremely cold up there.... our water froze in our drinking bottles. I was feeling miserably ill with upper respiratory tract infection symptoms but thought I had it in me to push over the pass, get down the monstrous mountain and potentially see a doctor. I am carrying broad spectrum antibiotics but don’t want to take them for a viral infection.
Early to bed for a predawn rise to make it over Thorong La Pass and then down the mountain for another 10 km to Muktinath.
Crossing Thorong La Pass:
It was dark and cold when we awoke at 04:30 and difficult to slither out of our sleeping bags. We could hear the other hikers outside getting ready to commence their long and difficult day. Breakfast wasn’t too appetizing, the pancake and potatoes were burnt and I must also mention here that everything costs more the higher up you go.
I felt awful from the the get go and was struggling to breathe due to my infection. I had to take numerous breaks just to catch my breath and I started feeling disoriented , hot and claustrophobic even though it was freezing cold. The hike to the pass was 5 km long and 500 m elevation gain. About halfway through I was sitting on a rock in the frigid wind in a wretched state with Dreadknot trying to help me feel better when a Nepalese horse guide with a train of four horses passed by us. He asked me whether I was okay, and I replied that I was struggling as I was ill. Three of the four horses had a rider on them and he offered the fourth horse to me to get through the next 2-3km and make it to the pass. I protested stubbornly as I had planned to go on foot, but Dreadknot and the Nepalese horseman made the decision for me and heaved me backpack and all atop the small, stout mountain horse. I won’t deny that I was relieved. It felt like the cold I had was developing in pneumonia. My lungs hurt, I had a productive cough and I had been experiencing chills the night before.
Dreadknot hooked up with the fabulous Bulgarians for the final push to the top. He described that section as the gnarliest, most intense and difficult hike of his life, stopping to catch his breath every 30-40 steps in the well below freezing cold and deep snow. We all celebrated on reaching it the pass! Rachel from California was up there too, as were many of the other international friends we had made along the way.
Now was the heavy slog down, a 1600m/ 5248ft drop on an icy, slippery slope of steep switchbacks, to Muktinath , where we would stay that night. On one of the slippery slopes I slipped and landed hard on my behind, landing with a searing pain in my sacrum.... It is so painful that it feels fractured.
We had now arrived in the dry, arid desert region of lower Mustang and we made our way into the town of Muktinath hoping, in vain to find a doctor. We did however find the Bob Marley Hotel which had a wonderful ambiance and got a room overlooking the Main Street and all of its activities. Horses are the main source of transport here and we watched people trottlng past on their way to the temple.
My condition was worsening and so I made the decision to start taking the emergency antibiotics in my pack.
Goodnight from a warm and snug Bob Marley hotel in Muktinath, Mustang.... as sick as I am, I mean really.... who gets to say that?
I have guardian angels in the form of a Nepalese mountain man and his horse.