Trekking in the Himalayan mountains has been something that I’ve dreamed of doing for awhile now, so when a friend of mine living in Nepal told me about an all women’s trek that she and her sister were organizing, I didn’t miss a single beat before agreeing to join. Without a doubt, the best decision I made all year was this one that I didn’t even have to think about! And less than five months later, I found myself in Kathmandu.
Originally, we had planned to fly out from Kathmandu to Pokhara — a short 30-minute flight (or alternatively an 8-hour drive) — the day after I arrived. But apparently a political strike was called for that day, forbidding all forms of driving, so we rescheduled our trek to start the day after the strike instead. I actually welcomed the extra time to gather my thoughts and repack a bit since I had made a brief work trip to Sanliurfa, Turkey on my way out to Kathmandu. And it gave me the chance to meet two more members of our trekking group for drinks and trip planning.
The following morning we were joined by the final two members of our group to get started on our big adventure. Together, we were four Americans (two sisters living in Nepal, me in Germany, and one actually living in the US), a Brit (also living in Nepal), and a Nepali (who had grown up in New Zealand) and although many of us had literally just met, we got along famously. So famously, in fact, that our all women’s trek developed a bit of a reputation along the trail — no one was quite sure what to make of us, and there was no simple or quick explanation for how we came to be in the mountains together or why were having so much fun!
I won’t go into a day-by-day retelling of our trek, simply because I have waited too long and I’m afraid a lot of the details of when and where and how high are a bit muddled by now.* But here are some basics… We chose the Mardi Himal trek, which is just east of the more popular Annapurna Base Camp trek, and takes you for 6 days along the ridges above the ABC trail up towards Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4500 meters (14,764 feet). Established in 2012, the route is still relatively less traveled and bit more rustic — absolutely perfect for our purposes. And we had the best guide and porters in the world from Three Sisters Adventure Trekking.
At certain points along the trail there were tea houses where you could purchase a hot meal and pay for a very basic shared room for the night. No showers and pit latrines were standard. There was also no heating in the rooms (and sometimes no electricity), so after watching the spectacular sunsets over the mountains and feeling the corresponding drop in temperature, we had the choice of playing cards in the dining area near the wood stove or diving into our sleeping bags and turning in for the night (usually by 8/8:30pm).
Basically, every morning we would wake up around 6am with the sun, layer up for breakfast by 7am, and try to hit the trails by 8am. We lucked out and had amazing weather and views every single day — with hardly a single cloud in sight the whole week! During the day, I would say it was at least 65F/18F (if not warmer) in the sun — letting us trek in t-shirts even. But by the evening, the higher up we got, the more layers we had to wear once the sun went down. At our highest tea house — High Camp at 3600 meters (11,811 feet) — in the evening I wore two pairs of wool socks, thermal pants, hiking pants, a merino wool t-shirt, a merino wool long-sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, a down jacket, and a wool hat.
Usually we spent about 4-6 hours trekking per day, and then would spend the afternoon and evening relaxing at the tea house we had arrived at. Living at sea level in Bremen, I was very respectful of the effect that the altitude had on my body. But since we had such a gradual acclimatization (Kathmandu is about 1400 meters), I found it much easier to adjust to than arriving at 3400 meters from sea level via airplane like I did in Cusco, Peru about 11 years ago.
The longest and most difficult day had us trekking from about 7am until 4pm or so — from Badal Danda (3200 meters) to High Camp (3600 meters), where we left most of our heavy stuff, to Mardi Himal Base Camp (4500 meters) and back to High Camp. We definitely underestimated the amount of time we were going to need once we had left High Camp to reach the Mardi Himal Base Camp and did not bring the appropriate amount of food with us.
We were all moving very slowly any way due to the elevation, but still feeling relatively good by the time we made it to a look out point at about 4200 meters elevation. After taking a group photo and a bit of a break for snacks and water, two members of our group decided to turn around and return to High Camp. The rest of us were too tempted by having our goal so close, so we kept going. But those extra 300 meters were definitely harder than the whole rest of the trek combined. By this time the elevation was kicking in, and in addition to having to move very slowly, I was getting lightheaded and a bit groggy. But we eventually made it and had a somewhat subdued celebration at 4500 meters — the highest point on this trail, with out-of-this-world views of Annapurna South (7219 meters) and the sacred Fishtail mountain (6993 meters).
After taking a million photos, we started our 3+ hour trek back down to High Camp. At this point I was feeling pretty terrible — probably a combination of altitude and not enough to eat — and the only thing that was keeping me going was imagining a big can of sour-cream-and-onion Pringles and a bottle of Sprite (which are, funnily enough, two things that I definitely don’t consume at home). By the time I made it back down to High Camp, I was completely physically and emotionally spent — evidenced by the fact that I broke down into sobs in my friend’s arms when I learned that there were no Pringles! But they did have Sprite, so I made do with that and some fresh dal bhat instead.
With some food in my stomache, I felt more like myself again, and could enjoy the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. Free from pollution of all kinds, in complete darkness, and just that bit closer to the heavens, I saw more stars that night than I have in my entire life. I gaped as long as I could stand the cold temperatures and tried to burn the image onto my brain.
Really, the entire trip I just felt so incredibly grateful to be near some of the highest mountains in the world, forced to focus on the moment and be present in every step I took, completely removed from news and social media (the perfect antidote for post-election depression), and laughing harder and more often than I have in a very long time.
I really don’t know if I can describe my trip any better than that. So maybe I will leave you here with some of my many photos (even more can be found here) and with the encouragement to seek out the small adventures in life, whatever they may be.
* For those curious, I’ve listed our itinerary below as best as I can remember — but I make no guarantees of its accuracy!
Day 1: Pokhara – Australian Camp – Deurali (2100 meters)
Day 2: Deurali – Forest Camp (2600 meters)
Day 3: Forest Camp – Low Camp (2970 meters) – Badel Danda (3250)
Day 4: Badal Danda – High Camp (3600 meters) – Look Out Two (4200 meters) – Mardi Himal Base Camp (4500 meters) – High Camp
Day 5: High Camp – Low Camp – Siding (1280 meters)
Day 6: Siding – Lumle Bazar – Milan Chowk