The Trek4BrainCancer Nepal trek just ended, with the team experiencing the majesty of the Himalayas as they trekked for six days through the Annapurna foothills. Find out how the team faired below!
The group arrived bit by bit over the first day, both from delayed flights and white water rafting excursions across the country. We congregated in the rooftop bar and watched the sun go down over a couple of drinks, hearing everyone’s stories that have brought them to Nepal to hike in aid of the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
We’ve raised a phenomenal $135,000 between us. Many of us have had close friends and family pass away from brain cancer and are looking forward to a hike into the Himalaya in memoriam.
After catching up on some much needed sleep and putting jet lag firmly behind us, we set off to explore Kathmandu. Our first sight was the main Durbar Square, where we witnessed the devastation caused by the earthquake 5 years ago, and the efforts internationally to repair these damages. We learnt of the tradition of the living Goddess, a five year old girl who was selected at the age of three to be worshipped until puberty. Her main responsibilities include appearing in public twice a day and not smiling – if she were to smile this would cause grave consequences for those observing. We left, slightly baffled, for the two main stupas in Kathmandu: Boudhanath and Swayambhu. Luke here helpfully highlighted that it appeared to be prayer flag changing day, and so we were fortunate enough to see how these flags were exchanged, as well as how the stupas themselves were repainted. The stupas are said to contain important relics, often Buddha’s property or in this occasion, the eternal light.
We stopped for lunch by Boudhanath, ravenous for more momos and eating ourselves into a collective food coma. Back at the hotel we enjoyed a few more drinks, the admittedly already low barriers coming down and we heard of Anthony’s adventures fighting off “rabid” hotel pets, Dennis falling out of his raft and carrying a box of chickens in a bus, Candice’s mountain-relevant experience in hostile takeovers, and Danny’s fun fact about his eyes. This might be a difficult bunch to keep under wraps!
We spent the day on a bus. I can try to make that sound exciting but I’ll fail. However, after waking from a slightly shaky nap or two, and a couple of urgent toilet stops, the mountains came into view! We began to see the snow capped summits pop into sight and before long we realised the clouds we were trying to peer through were actually the Himalayas themselves! We stopped in Pokhara to stock up on momos, mojitos, mug shots and money and then went to bed excited to start the hike early tomorrow.
With some trepidation we started the hike today, warned that today’s route was pretty much entirely uphill. It was pretty tough, but we learned some useful life lessons along the way. Salvation is always 10 minutes away. Pole skills are crucial. There are udder ways of identifying a cow’s gender than just looking at horns. Something about pimp rods.
Then the thunderstorm hit and those still on the trail got soaked to the bone, some narrowly avoiding the rain just making it to the tea house in time. We settled in for the night watching the clouds fill and empty from the valley as the sun set.
The second day on the trek saw us weave through cool forests and small villages, traverse stone bridges and hop around waterfalls. We stopped for a tea break as the clouds parted and the sun beamed down on us, suggesting wonderful weather to come. While this wasn’t strictly accurate a prediction, we all made it into the protection of the tea house before the hail set in, followed by thick snow! A number of us had a bit of a dance around in the snow before snuggling around the fire and playing some cards, looking forward to summiting Poon Hill tomorrow.
This was a big day. We woke at 4am to climb in the pitch black, through the hoarfrost, lit only by the light of Mars and Venus, up to the summit of Poon Hill at 3200m. With extremities suffering frostnip we waited, the sky gradually transitioning from black to orange. When the clouds began to disperse it was evident it was a struggle worth making. The dramatic peaks of Annapurna South and Annapurna I came in to view, flanked by the fishtail mountain Machhapuchhre and Nilgiri. The dawn breeze rustled the fading prayer flags as we toasted Andy with medicine cups filled with Tui beer.
Donning our new crampons we trudged back down the hill through black ice, glad to have earned our breakfast of fried Tibetan bread and bean curry. After an all too brief respite we set off again to put some ground behind us, winding along the ridgeline through Himalayan forest thick with snow. Many comparisons were drawn to heaven on this section! After a long hike we made it below the snowline and lunched surrounded by chickens beside a river.
We were grateful to make it to our resting point for the night at Fishtail Mountain Hotel just before the hail set in again. We’ve been amazingly lucky with weather timing this trip (so far!)
Today was a day of ups and downs, and a challenging one. We made our way down the side of a valley and back up the other, crossing an exposed bridge over some hairy looking rapids in between. We crossed paths with some angry cats, a cute puppy (probably with fleas), a number of chickens, and a flock of mules. The highlight of the day really was the camaraderie when we all eventually made it back up the hill to the guesthouse.
Everyone was cheered in with high fives all around, and our dinner ended up a shared affair with plates passed around the room to share the likes of yak cheese and local “wine”. The cards came out, and the beer went down. The overwhelming noise was the cacophony of laughter from almost everyone at the table (but especially Tanya) and we crawled into our beds already by 8pm, utterly exhausted and content.
We set off into the drizzle today after resting our aching knees. We’ve become accustomed to the fact that “flat” and “no stairs” mean different things to what you might expect in Australia. A catchphrase of the trip became “where do you get your facts from?” although more often referring to our team leader’s questionable sources. We continued past stunning panoramas of snow capped mountains, drank more lemon and ginger teas, and eventually made it to our stop for lunch.
The initial plan was to rest there for the night, but half the group were so energetic they couldn’t be tamed into staying, and pushed on to Pokhara that day. Those who remained in the mountains were treated to a cultural show (again starring Danny) and those in Pokhara wined and dined themselves before hitting the local club with an unusual mix of retro Western and contemporary Nepali music.
The hikers today completed the flat, no stairs walk and joined up with the Pokhara bunch for lunch. With our free time some chose to sleep, some chose to get a massage, and some chose to go paragliding – all equally earned! We met together for a big celebratory dinner. We’ve done it! For many of us our first experience at altitude, our first experience of snow, our first experience of crampons and walking poles, our first hike through the greatest mountain range in the world. Will there be a second for each and all of these? You’ll have to ask us personally!
We flew out from Pokhara, watching the Himalayas sweep past to the North. We touched down into a city in full swing for Holi, the festival of colours, and joined in the merriment plastering each other with paint. We met for our last hurrah at dinner and saw ourselves out in style and with a birthday cake for Geoff! While we’ve only been here a little over a week, we’ve created memories and friends that will last far beyond that, with reunions already planned!