Tag Archives: trekking

Raucous Return to Racing

Yes, long overdue post! You certainly don’t have to remind me :-)! It was a long dark winter to [in]ActiveSteve. While I would normally be all over the snowy trails of Gatineau Parc, I spent most of the winter / early spring in full-on rehab mode from my ankle ligament surgery. Whereas my surgeon had mentally prepared me for a 6-month delay before getting back into sports, my physio and hard work paid off, and within 3 months I was back on skis, and working hard at getting back fully to sport. While I’m STILL not at 100%, I AM back doing what I love, and this post is my first official 2019 race report from the Raid Pulse 8 hour Adventure Race!! Read on for all the details!

Rather than diving in head first with a purely trail running race, I decided to make this adventure race my first event of the season. Partly because I love it, and partly because I figured that in this event, my ankle wouldn’t be punished the entire time! With the volume of biking in this one, I was definitely  right on that call. Another reason to do this event was that this year, the start/finish was located in a new spot, the Kenauk Nature reserve just north of Montebello. This meant all new terrain to explore and play in! What could be better?

Race Briefing

To get an early jump on the race day fun, Deanna and I drove out on Friday and camped overnight. That way I was registered and had all my gear sorted and ready that evening, giving me more time to socialize and film in the morning. Once maps were distributed, I did a quick review to decide how to play it. I could see there would be a lot of cycling, so I figured I might actually be able to push a bit and see if I could keep up with the leaders. I wasn’t really ‘race ready’, but I had kept in shape during the rehab process. The most important thing would be to listen to my body and NOT SCREW UP (remember that for later…).

Overall Race Image

The overall race was laid out as follows: Leg 1 was a bike section with 3 checkpoints, one of which was a quick bike drop and run up to a firetower on a hill. Leg 2 was the trekking  / orienteering section made up of 4 regular checkpoints and 3 advanced checkpoints. Leg 3 was another long bike with 2 regular CPs and 2 advanced CPs. From there, it was the paddle section with 3 regular CPs and 1 advanced CP. From there, it was a straight bike sprint to the finish. My obvious plan was to ‘clear the course’, picking up all the advanced CPs (all CPs were worth the same number of points). As long as I made it under the 8 hours, it should place me quite well. As I know all too well though, anything can happen, and shortly into the first leg, it did!!

Bike Start

The weather was relatively cool, but the rain was holding off, and it looked like it would be a great day for racing. We knew the trails would be wet, but that’s to be expected in an adventure race. I set myself up about 1/4 way back in the start area, and at the gun, I just tried keeping my wheel near the leaders, not paying too much attention to the maps, as I expected the head of the snake to be on track. Getting to CP1 was like clockwork, and everything looked good. That’s when things went to shit here.

Screw up Cp1-Cp2

All the lead group missed a key turn, and we found ourselves on a disappearing trail. We kept riding, but that eventually turned into bike-whacking (carrying the bikes and fighting through brush) up and down steep slopes beside a river. Consulting my map, the topography looked right, but was obviously wrong. Eventually people either turned around or tried other paths. I foolishly pressed on before finally realizing the error. My solution was to try to cross the river to a visible trail on the other side. It took 3 tries, as the first 2 attempts led to my bike getting pulled under me in strong currents and knocking me into the river completely (yes, I was carrying the bike in fast-moving water… bad idea). Finally on try number 3 in a shallow part I got across, and hopped on a trail, which I hoped would work. Luckily it did, but I was now WAAAY back :-(…

Arriving at TA1

Once on the right track, I finally got CP2, then bombed my way to the bike drop for the sprint to the firetower CP. Deanna had been posted here, but I had no time to say anything, as I was fighting to regain time. No issues on this one, and I was soon back on the bike. From there, I was again error free, taking me up to transition 1 and getting into the trek. Judging by the number of bikes already there, I had blown it for staying with the leaders. However, I had to focus on the task at hand; a solid orienteering run.

Leg 2 Image

This is where I definitely got lucky. I nailed every single CP pretty much dead on, including the advanced ones. Although in retrospect I made one less-than-optimal route choice between two CPs, overall, it was a very well executed leg, and in what seemed like no time, I found myself smiling and coming back into the transition area. I stopped to chat briefly with Thierry to show my completed control card before hopping back on the bike for the next section. At this point, I did have to make a decision. In order to clear the course, I’d have to make a pretty long slog northwards to grab a remote advanced CP. I’d taken notes and had time checks to refer to, and still felt I was comfortable and had a margin of safety, so I attacked and went for it.

Heading out on Leg 3

The first regular CP, and both advanced CPs worked out very well, and I was feeling pretty confident finally (after the first mess-up). Looking at the map, it now SHOULD be a pretty easy southwest ski trail for a 3-4 km before hooking  a sharp left and making my way to the final CP on this section. Let me assure you, it ALWAYS looks easy on a map. However, the reality in these areas is often not what you expect. Rather than one clear trail, there are often myriad criss-crossing and/or dead end trails. That’s why I always prefer orienteering, where you can just take a bearing. Trails only serve to screw us up. However, I was not alone in my frustration trying to find the correct left trail. At one point, we were no less than 5 teams all bashing around the woods, once again carrying bikes on our shoulders and crossing swamps :-(. Just when I was about to give up, we found a trail, took a chance, and were rewarded with the elusive CP. BIG RELIEF.

Map 1

Luckily, from here, it WAS an easy bike to the next transition. However, my confidence was once again shattered and I assumed I was now far out of podium contention. That, my friends, is another thing you should never assume in an adventure race. If you are having a problem, others probably are too! Regardless, I was having a blast, and didn’t let that bother me. Just the fact that I was out there putting it all out there was totally worth it! Arriving at TA2, my spirits were still high, and I was looking forward to a nice lake paddle. Also, it looked like I should still be able to clear the course as long as I kept the pressure on myself and paddled hard. It would be tight but doable. I had to save enough time at the end to make the 6k bike back.

Leg 4 Image

Once on the water, I got right to work, and pointed my kayak for the furthest CP, the advanced one. That way, I would have no choice but to pick the rest off on my way back, forcing myself to be fast and efficient. Luckily, the navigation on this section was not tricky, and I made good time, passing some canoes on the water (and unfortunately, seeing others already returning!).  After getting the two furthest CPs, I made my way to a small portage where I’d put in at another lake to grab the last 2 CPs. This is where I bumped into one of my usual competitors in my category. He was exiting this area just as I entered. My [incorrect] assumption was that he had just finished the paddle CPs, meaning I was probably 25-30 minutes behind.

Between seeing him, and knowing of another couple folks out ahead, I once again assumed I was off the podium. Regardless, I paddled my way to the final 2 CPs and eventually back towards the transition. Once there, I took my SWEET time. Chatting with volunteers, calmly removing my PFD, packing up paddle etc. Completely unbeknownst to me, the other dude I had talked to had actually been BEHIND me, and had paddled to the 2 farther CPs after seeing me. He had then seen me ahead paddling to the TA, and was a mere 200-300m back! He then ‘snuck’ into transition, dropped his paddle, and just biked straight out, seeing me wasting time. ARGHH!!! I finally got on my bike and finished off as fast as I could.

Just after Finish

Waiting for me at the finish was the other dude, and I didn’t piece toether what had happened until the next day when he poked fun at me on facebook for ‘wasting so much time’ at the TA. I was annoyed at myself, but mainly laughed it off. Turns out he had an even worse time than me in a few sections, losing even more time! Regardless, in spite of my foibles, I ended up in 4th position for the male category, and 9th overall of 40 teams in the race. Only 12 of us cleared the official full course as well. Bottom line for me is that I can call this race a success, despite my errors. My health and fitness were good, and it looks like I’ll have a good race season!

As usual, in addition to racing, I also filmed the whole thing, so if you haven’t already checked it out, make sure you watch my race video below. It’ll give you a good overview of the whole race. Frankly, I had a blast, and once again remembered why I enjoy adventure racing. However, with an ankle on the mend, I’m guessing most of my season will be back on the trails running, so keep an eye out for future race reports! Till then, have fun, and stay active!!

Climbing the Podium Steps under Cover of Darkness

Have you heard the news?? Eco-Challenge is back! Televised adventure racing at its best! But I digress. This post isn’t about Eco-Challenge. It is, however, a post all about a recent 24-30 hour adventure race that I just took part in, Wilderness Traverse. The linkage is that the whole reason I began adventure racing, and indeed my entire athletic ‘career’ was thanks to watching Eco-Challenge so many years ago. That show opened my eyes to true adventure and challenge in the great outdoors, and I HAD to get into it and experience if for myself. 16 or so years later, here I am, writing yet another race re-cap for this blog! Anywho, read on for a telling of the tale of my race in Parry Sound!

Continue reading Climbing the Podium Steps under Cover of Darkness

Racing for Redemption at Raid Pulse

Greetings friends! So, what does a fellow do when he is 4 weeks between 2 major ultra trail running races?  Why, sign up for, and race in a ‘shorter’ adventure race of course! As the title implies, I was looking for a little redemption after a botched attempt at the earlier Raid Pulse adventure race in May. At that time, I was a little over-confident, and ended up with a major orienteering snafu costing me huge amounts of time. I was determined not to make the same mistake at the shorter 4 hour event this time around. When the race is only 4 hours, you have even less of a margin of error if you’re trying to get on the podium. So how did I do? Well, read on and find out!

Continue reading Racing for Redemption at Raid Pulse

Doing it Wrong on the Right Side of Town

When you last heard from me, I was gallivanting through the hills of Bear Mountain, NY, struggling through my first trail run of the season, which also happened to be my first race of the season. Fast forward 2 weeks, and I was back out there competing in another race. However, I opted to go back to one of my other passions, Adventure Racing! I figured that since my foot has been a problem, I should dive a bit back into multi-sport racing. So with that, I found myself at the start line of one of my favourites, the 8-hour Raid Pulse Adventure Race with many old friends. Although it was my first AR in 2 years, I had high hopes, and was racing solo. Whatever the course may hold, I knew either way, it would be fun. Did it all go to plan? Definitely not, so read on to learn more about his adventure!

Continue reading Doing it Wrong on the Right Side of Town

Nepal: Into the Jungles and Back to the Top

Hello loyal readers. I’m here today with the final chapter in our Nepal adventures. Yes, I could split this one into several shorter posts, but given that nearly 5 months has already passed, and that summer is around the corner, I decided to just wrap it up with one final post (well, that and the postscript post of 24 hour in Abu Dhabi!). As you’ll see by the map below, this part of our trekking trip was about 6 total days of hiking on the southern part of the Annapurna circuit. As you can see, we started low, worked our way back up in elevation, to finally finish off at a road where we hitched a ride to Pokhara. Read on for tales from this part of our adventure.

Khopra Region Trekking Map

Day 1: Tatopani to Chitre

Tatopani can be translated to mean ‘hot water’, and this little village is well known for its hot springs. The day before we started trekking, we’d taken a 4×4 from Jomsom, our last stop, through small villages and the beautiful mountain valleys to end at this little town (you can click through on the album embedded below). As we made our way from the northern part of the circuit, the air became thicker, and temperatures warmer. When we finally arrived at Tatopani, we were shocked at just how hot and humid it was. In fact, it truly was a jungle-like atmosphere, complete with citrus trees and dense vegetation. We stripped down from long sleeves and pants to t-shirts and shorts, and were still hot. What a difference.

Road through Valley

We ended up with a half-day and evening to relax in Tatopani, since we weren’t leaving to start the next trekking till the following day. We took advantage of this time to just stroll around the area taking in the views, as well as eventually making our way to the namesake hot springs. Upon arrival it was just Deanna and I plus one other gentleman who had made the trip from far away to take advantage of the healing properties of the pools. However, as time crept by, large groups of school children ended up there after their school day, and things got crowded! We packed up and made our way back uphill to our guest house, opting to take advantage a local ‘happy hour’, which meant beer and popcorn for a low price. It was just the two of us and the business owner, so very restful indeed!

The next morning, we got up, had our breakfast, and started our journey. We had about 14k to trek today, and would be gaining 1200m. It was already sweltering first thing in the morning, so no hope of avoiding working up a big sweat as we made our way uphill. We started out on the road, but soon crossed a river and were on the proper trails. Apparently there was a road that we could have followed uphill for a good chunk, but our guide opted for the more rustic (and steep) trails. In no time flat we all had sweat running down our brows and backs. This was STEEP terrain, and we stopped a couple times to rest.

Pause While Climbing

At one point, we popped back on the road, and paused in the hot sun to drink some water and eat apples. After a bit, another large group caught up to us there, surprised to see us. They’d left probably 40 minutes earlier than us, and never saw us. They’d taken the road, and were apparently also not big fans of the heat. They were surprised how quickly we’d gotten to where we were, which spurred us on to keep pressing on and gaining altitude, in hopes the payoff would be a respite from the oppressive heat. However, that makes it sound like this was a hardship. In fact, the hike was beautiful, and another clear reminder of the fact that Nepal truly is a land of varied terrain and environments. We felt lucky to be experiencing all the different areas of this spectacular country!

Around mid-day, we stopped in the little village of Shikha for lunch, fueling up on another great freshly prepared trekking meal. I swear as I type this I’m salivating for the food we had along the way at all our stops! For a rare treat, thanks to the heat, Deanna even treated herself to a bottle of the ubiquitous Fanta Orange pop to refresh. Lucky for us, after lunch, there was a slight breeze, and we found ourselves in a few more shady patches, so it wasn’t quite as hot!

Meandering Trail

We wrapped up our trekking about an hour and a half later, popping out at Chitre, yet another little village with jaw-dropping views. This stopping point found us a at 2,391m, but it was still very sunny and warm.  Given that we had lots of spare time again, we laid out our sweaty trekking clothes to dry while reading, playing cards, and enjoying tea and popcorn in the warm sun. We felt we could have trekked further, but got the sense that this was probably the best part to stop, thanks to the great views and fact that the next day’s trekking would again have us continue on a very much upward trajectory.

Front Lawn of Hotel

Day 2: Chitre to Khopra Danda

I mentioned climbing right? Well this day would have lots of that. In order to avoid a lot of backtracking to get to a main trail to our next destination, we opted for a less conventional track that lead us on a steep descent before embarking on the lion’s share of our climbing for the day. In fact, over a distance of less than 10k, we’d be climbint 1,800m, and would end our day at 3,660m, where it definitely promised to be a LOT cooler. However, the reason for this climb was to get to Khopra Danada, well known for it’s wide vistas of the surrounding mountains at sunset. Sadly, it wouldn’t be that way for us.

Forging Trails

Things definitely started out beautifully in the morning though. As we got underway, the sun was still lazily making its way up in the sky, and when we were in the shade, things were cool. The trail we’d chosen was not well indicated, and our guide ended up asking a few locals along the way to confirm our route. We also meandered through a village where our guide explained to us that as a young boy, he had traveled here on foot from his village with his football team to play in a tournament. What a different world. This place was over a mountain pass, inaccessible by road, and he would walk here for weekend tournaments, billeted by local families. It was actually an interesting side story that gave us more insight to growing up here.

We climbed ever higher, stopping only once at a single structure in the middle of nowhere known as  <Ever Green Rest Cottage>. At this place, we crossed paths with some wool merchants that were hiking down the mountain with giant woolen backpacks loaded down with the yak wool that they were seeking to sell. Here, we were also exposed to a neat kind of beehive that is set up within a hollowed out old log. We’d see a few more of those on our way, and that is why we were taught a bit more about how many Nepali people keep bees. Good thing they do, given the danger that bees are facing globally of being wiped out. Wanna learn more about that? Watch this TED talk on “Colony Collapse Disorder”. And yes, we should ALL care about this. But I digress (importantly).

Beehive Log

After our little rest, we kept climbing, but as the day wore on, and we got higher, we realized that we were most likely headed into a low visibility zone. It was becoming clear that not much higher above us, we’d be entering the clouds. Unfortunately, this would be the trend for the next few days. As such, the rest of this hike became a bit of a spooky walk in the clouds at altitude. For that reason, the story of the mysterious disappearance of a tourist in this very region was even more haunting. This fellow was part of a group, but had gone missing in the middle of a trek. No body had yet been found, but there were posters all over the place about his disappearance. Later, we’d learn there were rewards for finding him, and as such, entrepreneurial people were forming search parties and consulting spiritual leaders / guides to help in the quest.

More on that in the summary of the next day! Once we finally got to the higher elevation, we completed our day’s trek by wandering through large herds of grazing yaks to end up at Khopra Danda, a gathering place perched right on the edge of a high promintory. We wouldn’t see what was special about it until the next morning though, since we couldn’t really see more than 50-100 feet ahead of us!

Foggy Arrival

Day 3: Khopra Danda to Dobato

After a very chilly night up at altitude at Khopra Danda, I was anxious to see whether or not my luck had improved with the view from here. I knew that often, early in the morning, the sky is clear. As such, I was up before sunrise pulling on warm layers to go check things out. I was VERY glad I did, as I was treated to some very beautiful views. Not cloudless, but I could at least get a sense of the vistas around us (technically, what we were looking at were the  Dhaulagiri Himal) . Good thing I did get up though, as these views were quite short lived. Within an hour, things were clouded over, and the weather forecast didn’t sound good. We could have stayed an extra day in hopes of clearing weather, but from the last time I had checked forecasts, we opted to keep moving. It was the right call, as you’ll soon learn.

Go on now, click right and left to scroll through this embedded album!

Yak is Unimpressed

After marveling at the sights while eating breakfast, we packed up and headed out. Interestingly, we had two route options. The first would have us backtracking downhill only to climb back up. The second? Well, technically, it was a ‘closed’ route that was ‘not recommended’. Why? Well, remember that guy who disappeared? Yup, it was on this trail. So which did we choose? Did you even need to ask? Of course we took the ‘road less traveled’! After all, our guide is a certified mountain rescue guide. The warnings were more for people on their own. We set off on what was a very interesting trail hugging the steep contours of the hills, and semi overgrown. It would have been completely overgrown were it not for the occasional yak herders with their yaks and guard dogs. Yes, we had to step carefully around these dogs, as they are VERY protective of their yaks. No petting fido up here!

Trail Perspective

As the morning wore on, we continued winding our way along the mountains, eventually stopping in a little place called Bayeli for lunch. The morning’s trek had taken quite a bit of time thanks to the tricky footing in some places. our net elevation change on the day was -200m, but there was a fair bit of up and down.  This lunch stop was a good spot to warm up a bit with a hot chocolate. I’d opted to not wear too many layers that morning, and the cold damp wind blowing around us had put a bit of a chill on me. Also, and I’m loathe to mention it, but my foot was bothering me a fair bit that day. Grrr. At any rate, the rest, warm beverage and food set me up right for the rest of the day’s trekking, which turned out to not be too long at all, with only an hour or so of trekking after lunch.

Dobato in the Distance

Before too long, we were coming around a bend in the trail, and could see the next stop on our trip. Dobato. This collection of a few buildings once again proved that just because a place is on a map, it doesn’t imply there is much there! The guest house where we were staying, ironically named Hotel Mt. Lucky, was actually owned by a relative of our guide, so it was a bit of a homecoming, and you could see that both our guide Ram and porter Purna were getting increasingly excited as we continued this part of our trip. The reason is that we were now on ‘their turf’. They both grew up in these parts, and have many relatives. And given the sparse populations, inevitably when we passed locals on the trail, they knew who these people were.

Oh wait, I’ve gotten ahead of my self. I did say that Hotel Mt. Lucky was ironically named. Why would I say that? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because for the rest of the afternoon we sat through snow and rain storms??! Yup, after the run of great weather, we finally came face to face with some of the meteorological uncertainties in the mountains. We actually quite enjoyed getting to experience. Especially from the safety of being indoors and at the low-ish elevation of 3,426m. Higher up or more exposed, and things could be much worse. That’s why I said deciding to not stay an extra day in Khopra Danda was a good call!

Snow Flying at Hotel

Thankfully, since we were staying with ‘family’, we were very well looked after, with extra tea, popcorn, and great stories and explanations about the way that people live in these parts. We also learned a lot about the different farming implements they use in these areas, and the challenges they face in the simplest of activities like getting water, whcih they actually carry in from farther away during dry periods! All in all, a great night, and once again, we were all alone in this guest house, and boy was it cold that night. Once again, the plan was to get up early the next morning, since this place is very close to a spot called Mulde Point, from where you are supposed to be able to see 25 mountains such as the Annapurna range, Dhaulagiri range, Nilgiri, Lamjung Himal range and others. You can also supposedly see Fewa Lake from there and take good photographs of sunrise and sunset. Given the weather at night, we were apprehensive, but decided to bed down, get up before sunrise, and hope for the best.

Day 4: Dobato to Kot Danda

So, how did that early morning trek work out? Well, it was dark and cold when we got up, but it was not raining. Potentially a good thing, right? By headlamp, we stared the trek up to 3,637m and Mulde View, with many fingers crossed. We didn’t eat anything, as breakfast would be our reward upon getting back…

First Rays

Well, there you have it. Mulde View. When the sun started rising, we got a few little glimpses, but really, most of the mountains were obscured. You can click through the images in the embedded album above, but as you can tell, things weren’t quite as amazing as we’d hoped. However, in my mind, the clouds actually made it a very interesting view nonetheless, and we didn’t regret for a moment getting up early to see it. The entire place still felt very special, and we had it all to ourselves, making it that much more special.

One More Smile

Once back down, we had our breakfast and geared up for our day of trekking. We’d be covering about 12km total, with a lot of that being downhill. However, the end of the day would take us to a place called ‘Little Paradise’, and I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while thanks to the promises in the itinerary stating:

“Upon arrival you will enjoy the beauty of Little Paradise with its organic vegetable and tea gardens, beautiful flowers, and animal farming. Hammocks will be strung up in the trees, so put up your feet and enjoy some well deserved relaxation.”

That’s right, hammocks! Whee! However, to get to that point, there would be some work ahead of us. Remember how when we started this section I described jungle-like conditions? Well, given the drop in elevation, we were heading back to jungle town! And this time, with the ever-present threat of rain :-).  This part of the trek was actually really neat. The foliage was extremely thick, and we felt like we might be in some sort of west coast rainforest for a while.

Thick Foliage

To make sure we didn’t finish our day too early, we stopped along the way in a village called Tadapani where, surprise surprise, the place was also owned by someone in Ram’s family! We arrived early, so rather than eating right away, we first had a nice cup of tea to warm up. We also lingered a little longer there, as a group of trekkers coming through actually included our tour company’s owner Norbu, who was leading another group up. As such, this was a great chance to catch up with him, meet more trekkers (Canadians as well), and talk about plans in the next few days. As a result of the ongoing fuel shortage, he would be personally meeting us in Pokhara to help decide how we’d get back to Kathmandu.

After that pleasant lunch, we continued on our merry way, now with the company of raindrops. This was the first time in the entire trip I had to break out my rain gear, since it was well and truly raining. It didn’t bother us too much, given that we’d already been blessed with so many great weather days. And realistically, if you’re stomping through a rainforest / jungle, isn’t that what you’d expect?

Amazingly though, but the end of our journey, which culminated in a sort of ‘stairway to heaven’ rock staircase up to Little Paradise, the rain broke. Not only that, but by the time we’d settled into our room and I’d taken a quick shower with the available hot water, the skies almost cleared. At least enough so that we got the owner to string up those promised hammocks to enjoy a little swinging in the breeze while reading and rehydrating.

Weather Dries at Paradise

Later on in the evening, after we’d eaten, we also watched the owner (who is actually a local pediatrician that villagers from all over come to see) making butter using traditional methods. Of course, here they are also the ‘current’ method. They have simply always made their butter this way. Our meal also included some special treats including honey that was collected from his own on-site beehives. What a great treat! Time for bed and onto our near-final trekking in the Annapurna region.

Day 5/6: Kot Danda to Ghandruk and beyond…

And so we arrive at our near final day of trekking, where we started at Little Paradise, trekked down down down to Ghandruk for a single night, and then the next morning out to Kimche where we would be catching a 4×4 out to Pokhara.

Standing with the Wet Wool

And guess what? It was raining! Even more than the previous day. I even went so far as to put on my full rain gear, including pants, although with the heat, I’d live to regret that after a couple hours. However, our whole trek that day was going to be pretty short. Less than 8k, and mostly downhill. After another delicious breakfast, we headed down. With the heavy rains, we were once again reminded of the fact that this is leech country. Along the way, we saw TONS of little leeches stretching out their bodies from plants lining the trails hoping to hitch onto unsuspecting passers-by. While we could avoid them, we felt pretty bad for cattle / horses that share these trails, as they very often become leech meals!

View from Hotel

In almost no time, we found ourselves in our last Nepali guest house of the trip. We were given the choice of a traditional home-type of guest house, or to check into a more modern place. We opted traditional, and lo and behold, we ended up at a traditional Gurung guest house. Where did I know that name? Oh right, that is our guide’s last name, Ram Gurung! You guessed in, back with the family once again. Too funny. However, as with other places, this had its advantages. After settling in, we went for a good walking tour of this village, which acts as a regional center, so quite a bit larger than other villages. This included stopping in a traditional museum, as well as the local conservancy office for a presentation on their efforts to protect an enhance the region.

As we got closer to supper time, it was determined that this would be a participative affair. Deanna and another guest decided to take on the challenge of making Momo, the tasty dumplings we’d been enjoying all the way. Along with our porter Purna, another guide, and some locals, the cooking class ‘al fresco’ commenced. We now learned why we usually ordered food an hour in advance of eating each day, as it takes time to make such tasty food, especially with ‘amateurs’ cooking 😉

Having Fun

Luckily, I also kept myself busy. Remember a few posts ago when I spoke about gathering walnuts? Well, after 2 weeks+ of lugging them through all manner of mountains and carefully drying them in the sun when we stopped, it was time to reap the rewards of my harvest. Boy oh boy, I had NOT expected this to be so challenging, but they were very small, so as it turned out it took me, and 2 other people I convinced to join in the fun, longer to get the nuts out of those than it took for Deanna to make Momo! However, what that ultimately meant is that for supper, the two ‘tourist couples’ would now enjoy not only food the locals made, but also our own efforts. Admittedly, it did make that final night just a little more special, and TOTALLY justified the consumption of beer and a deep fried snickers bar 😉

Three is a Good Number

And with that, the trekking part of the trip basically comes to a close. After lingering just a little longer around the supper table sharing stories about all our collective adventures in Nepal, it was time to turn in. The next morning, all that remained was a 45 minute walk out to Kimche to grab a 4×4 to Pokhara, and ultimately, back to civilization and ‘western’ culture. As I type this, I’m already nostalgic for the simpler existence we both witnessed and experienced for ourselves. To those who feel this sounded like a tough trip with all the hiking, no real showers, electricity, or toilets, I will simply say that isn’t tough at all. We are spoiled, and while I am unlikely to every give the luxuries up, I had no problem adapting to a simpler way of doing things, and really just ‘living’ for a few weeks. There was no need to be ‘connected’, since I was. I was connected to my co-travelers, to the nature around me, and to the passing wanderers we met on the trails. Had there been an issue, it would have been resolved, and we were HAPPY, the entire time. I am SO happy that we made this trip and that I finally had my Himalayan adventure. I’m not sure yet what’s next on the list, but I’m sure it will be as equally rewarding! I hope you’ve enjoyed my stories (as long-winded as they can get), and remind you all to love what you have and take the time to marvel at the world around us! Till next time, keep exploring!

Final Farewell

Nepal: Wedding Anniversary Spent at Thorung-La at 5,416m

As you may recall, in our last post, we were bedding down over 4,800m to get some sleep before tackling the highest point of our trip, Thurong-La Pass. We had been looking forward to this day since the start of our trip. As this was our 2nd wedding anniversary, I’m already unsure how we’ll ever beat that for our future anniversaries, but that’s a thought for another day. To refresh your memories, here’s ther map of the last few days, as well as the coming 2 days. Read on for the full details!

Thorung La Trekking Map2

Thurong High Camp to Thurong-La Pass, Down to Muktinath

Well, this was it, the BIG day. Not only was this our wedding anniversary, but we’d also be crossing the highest point that we’d ever been at together on foot. The morning started out obviously very cold and dark, but we were pretty efficient at getting moving, packing up our bags yet again, and piling into the dining room to have a warm breakfast before finally taking off well before any light was to be seen. Our goal had been to sneak our before many of the other trekkers, in the hopes of having the summit all to ourselves (or close to it). Based on the distant glow of headlamps spread along the climbing trail before us, it was obvious we’d missed that boat. However, since we are pretty quick, we passed most of these people on our way up anyway, beaten only by one other group. In fact, it was a group we’d seen the past couple days on the trails.

First Appearance of Sun

Frost covered the ground as we picked our way along the trail towards the pass. Due to the cold, and general dark, there wasn’t much to do other than just walk. We could really see much, nor could I take any pictures. But that was ok, as we knew that we’d shortly be at the top, and that [hopefully] the sun would be shining. Just as I was starting to feel a little chilly, I spotted the first signs of sunlight when the peak of one of the nearby mountains was hit with the suns’ warm glow. Hurray!

Interestingly, in the past 2 days. we’d also picked up an extra traveler, in the form of a little furry 4-legged trekker. Yup, we had a doggie tagalong that was following us up and up, and would end up sticking with us all the way up and over, eventually even staying near our hotel at the end of the day. We ended up nicknaming him “Annapurna Arthur” after the adventure racing dog that joined a Swedish AR team at the AR World Championships in 2014.

Laying out the Flags

Even though it was sunny when we finally got to the pass, it was still quite cold up there. Similarly to the last pass we’d climbed over, Deanna and I took the time to bless some prayer flags and add them to the pile of other flags already there. We were also surprised by our guide and porter with a special blessing and given special silk scarves to wear to mark the occasion of our anniversary. It was obviously a pretty special day for us! Even though we were sitting at 5,316m, we spent a fair bit of time up there, since we knew we’d be dropping down pretty low by the end of the day. We posed for quite a few pictures, including the 2nd in our ‘Wedding Inception’ series, where we held a picture of us holding a picture of our wedding day. Our plan is to pose for a new picture each year with the previous year’s picture. As we get older, each picture will remind us of the special parts of each year we spend together married.

Wedding Inception Photo

After the pictures were wrapped up, we ducked into the tiny tea house situated at the pass for a warm cup of tea and some cookies. In the hut, the group of French tourists we’d met the day before and who beat us to the top today actually sang an anniversary song to us and wished us well. It was pretty cool. But let’s also pause and consider the fact that there is even a Tea House up here at 5,316m. Every morning, the owner trudges up from far below at Thurong Phedi in order to open it up, get the water boiling, and ready to serve tea to the first tourists that arrive. Obviously there was quite a premium paid for this tea, but given how hard it is to even boil water over 5,000m, it was pretty cool!

Tea consumed, pictures taken, and general happiness all around us, it was time to start making the downhill journey to our final stop for the day, Muktinath. Mercifully, this was a lot easier than our first pass. The path was a lot less steep, and wound lazily down the mountain. That’s not to say there weren’t still amazing views, because there were, but at least it wasn’t a hair-raising, quad-burning descent like last time. This would make sure that when we finally reached the bottom, we’d still have energy to do a little more hiking and properly celebrate our anniversary. Interestingly, as we made our way down, we could see the lush greenery of the village far below us, and would continue to see it the whole time we made our way there!

View of Villages Below

Once in Muktinath, we checked into our hotel, notably called The North Pole. We once again were treated to a nice room with an ‘en suite’ and with electricity. Yup. Luxury! After cleaning up, and settling in, we had a quick lunch, then joined our guide, porter, and a couple other Nepali guys to make a trek to the Muktinath Temple. This is a very unique place, as it is both a Buddhist and Hindu Temple on the same property. That is NOT a common thing. While here, we received more blessings and got to experience the spirituality of this place. The temple is visited by people all around the world, and is considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists.

After this unique experience, Deanna and I returned to our hotel, and retired to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the sun, watch tourists arriving in the village, and read while lazily drinking Fanta and Beers. Once again, since we’d been quick on the hike, we were well rested and relaxing as other tourists who’d also been to the pass gradually made their way to the village for the rest of the afternoon. We had a nice anniversary supper before turning in relatively early, since we had a pretty long trekking day ahead of us. All  in all, a very memorable way to spend our anniversary. We went to sleep feeling both loved and blessed. What more could you ask for?

Deanna Cleanses her Spirit

Muktinath to Jomsom

Interestingly, this final day in this part of the Annapurna region was going to end up being over 20km. This was rather unexpected, and was the first time we really felt the effects of the fuel shortage / blockade being imposed by India on Nepal. Originally, we were slated to walk a few hours to a place called Kagbeni before getting a jeep to Jomsom. However, due to the fuel shortage, there were very few vehicles, so we’d end up having to hoof it the entire way.

Heading Towards Kagbeni

While this unexpected trekking might have bothered some, we just rolled with it. In fact, when given the chance to cut off part of the hike, skipping the town of Kagbeni in order to walk straight to Jomsom, we didn’t hesitate to say NO and do the entire walk and make sure we got to see everything along the way. I’d love to say the entire day was amazing, but truthfully, the time we spent hiking after lunch was a bit of a struggle, but still very memorable. Let me explain.

The morning was pretty amazing. We made our way along the roads between the small villages in a nice sun. It wasn’t too hot, and the air was still, so it was a nice hike. We were heading very much downhill. Muktinath was at about 3,760m. Kagbeni was at 2,800m, and ultimately, Jomsom at 2,713m. Kagbeni itself was a charming village, with a nice feel to it. This is the gateway to another region of Nepal, known as the Upper Mustang. I suspect if / when we return to Nepal, we’d either go to the Everest region or the Upper Mustang. In Kagbeni, we visited an ancient temple, which was very impressive.

Main Temple Entrance

After Kagbeni, we continued trekking along the road to another little village called Ekle Bhattee. It was a pretty small place, but a nice break to enjoy our lunch. After lunch, things got interesting. We were turning southwards and walking along a dry riverbed. Unfortunately, there is an odd phenomenon that in the afternoons, the winds ALWAYS get whipped up. Add to the fact that this time of the year the river is pretty dry, and you will understand why I said it wasn’t so fun. There was a lot of sand and grit blowing into our faces, and the wind at times made even standing rather challenging! We made the best of it, fashioning buffs into impromptu bandanas, but after a while, I couldn’t even keep the camera out for fear of getting damage to the optics thanks to the sandblasting!

Preparing for Dusty Winds

This continued for the rest of the afternoon. We could see Jomsom in the distance, thanks to the relatively flat, straight riverbed, but it just dangled out there on the horizon for quite a while. Thankfully, the road was nearly traffic-free, so we weren’t attacked by too much flying gravel!

By the time we finally got into the village and checked in at the tourist police station (a normal formality in the permitted areas where we were hiking), my foot was getting very bothersome. I was looking forward to getting off my feet, potentially enjoying a drink, and cleaning up. Thankfully, to make up for the extra hiking in the wind, we scored another nice guest house, with a shower once again! We took advantage of this to both clean ourselves, as well as our [very] dusty clothes. Once cleaned up, and the laundry hung out in the sun to dry, we wandered / toured the village.

Along the way, we picked up a bottle of Apple Brandy from a village by the name of Marpha, famous for its apples (and associated products like this brandy). The plan was to share a nice bottle with Ram and Purna, as the next day was a bit of a ‘rest’ day, in that we’d be traveling by 4×4 from here to the start of our next hiking region, further south in the Annapurna region. We met up with a few other travelers as well that evening, swapping stories. In the end, we hung out with Ram and Purna, enjoyed the bottle, and their company. It was Purna’s first time trying the apple brandy, and he and I had talked about this being our treat after crossing both peaks. All in all, a great and memorable way to end off our time in the high Himalaya and the 2 summits we’d crossed! Next up, some trekking in a more jungle-like environment. Stay tuned for the next chapters!

A Toast to Purna and Ram