ANNAPURNA TREK, by Aishwarya Maurya, Dublin, Ireland
A hair-raising experience in the own words of the author and the trek enthusiast himself, who is also a gifted photographer
During March 2017, I set out with my childhood friend (Avijit) and my wife’s cousin (Damian) to trek the Annapurna range, covering around 250 km, and crossing the highest mountain pass at 5400 mts in 14 days (20 – 21 days is recommended). We had spent months dreaming about this trip, and only spent a couple of days completing any worthwhile training.
Below is a day by day summary of our adventure:
March 14, 2017: Kathmandu Airport: We collect our trekking gear and head for our hotel. March is not an ideal trekking season, and this year the show hasn’t melted in the mountains yet and our main mountain pass was still closed. We therefore had no choice (we only had 14 days to cram in 21 days of trekking) but to leave for sleepy town of Besisahar (alt 760 mts), a 7 hrs Himalayan bus ride from Kathmandu. This is the town where most people would begin their trek.
March 16, 2017: Besisahar (Alt: 760 mts): We had heard that a recent ‘road’ had been under construction connecting Besisahar to Chame (Alt: 2650 mts). This route would have taken us 4 days to trek, so by cheating a bit we would be able to squeeze our 14 day itinerary into21 day recommended timeframe. This 7 – 8 hrs Jeep ride was a mini adventure of a life time in itself!
March 18, 2017: Journey to Pisang (alt: 3250 mts): The water was totally frozen in the washroom of our teahouse in Chame, in fact everything was frozen. We are to leave for village Pisang this morning. The sun finally came out, it’s around 8am, amazingly beautiful, and when snowing lightly we got our first proper glimpse of lofty Himalayan peaks. In these regions, life is good, living is hard.
We started trekking, I was feeling great, but soon I realised that Avi was always a couple of hundred metres behind. I didn’t give it much thought, thinking that maybe he is just soaking in the scenery. When we took a break for lunch, Avi joined us almost an hour later. We still had couple of hours of trek left to reach upper Pisang. It was afternoon and there was enough time. Fed and recharged we resumed our journey, but Avi’s slow pace now started to worry me slightly. Surrounded by high peaks, the Sun sets very quickly here and with no other fellow trekkers in sight, you don’t want to get stuck in high Himalayas in total darkness with sub zero temperatures. Thankfully we made it to next village just before the sun went down behind the mountains.
March 19: 2017: Journey to Manang (alt: 3650 mts): Next morning we left for the village of Manang. The trek to Manang, consists of a particularly arduous steep accent. I was already getting worried about this part of the trek, given Avi’s energy and pace. It took him nearly 4 hours, double the normal, to complete the ascent, and the journey from here to Manang was another couple of hours of easy trek, but he was really exhausted. Somehow I encouraged him to keep going, one step after another and we finally reached our destination. Avi went straight to bed in the tea house. He hadn’t had any food and barely got up from the bed, since our arrival in Manang 3-4 hours previously.
One of the many bridges we had to cross (left)
For the first time I started to think maybe Avi was suffering from altitude sickness, which can be very dangerous, very quickly if not dealt promptly. This also meant the possibility that our expedition would not be completed with all three of us together.
Manang is in middle of nowhere, but due to influx of trekkers and given the altitude (3500 mts), a team of international volunteer doctors are available here. If one hasn’t had any symptoms of altitude sickness here, he/she will be probably be fine for higher altitudes (although this is by no means a deciding factor).
At 6am the following morning, Damian went for the Doctor as Avi was too sick to even get up from his bed. The Doctor checked his oxygen level and announced that he is getting only 30% of what his body required. We needed to transfer him urgently to the clinic, which was only couple of minutes away. Avi was put on a stretcher and oxygen was mask was put on him straight away.
At the clinic, we were told that we need to bring him to lower altitudes ASAP. That was possible only one way – A Himalayan Helicopter rescue. I told Damian, that I’m returning to Kathmandu with Avi, while he should finish the trek on behalf of all of us. He didn’t want to leave Avi, but agreed in the end.
We were transported back to Kathmandu in 45 mins, an ambulance was already waiting and we were rushed to the hospital. Various tests were done to check if no irreversible damage to brain was done, and he was kept under observation for next 24 hours. Everything was fine, which was such a huge relief, to us all. We waited next couple days in Kathmandu, for Damian, who did finish the trek successfully.
Looking back, I think while we were extremely lucky to get help exactly as and when we needed, although we did make some mistakes. As we feared the pass might be closed things were rushed without due consideration of all factors.
For example we gained nearly 3000 mts in altitude in just a couple of days, which in retrospect wasn’t prudent. Also, we didn’t take any rest days which may have triggered signs of exhaustion. The signs of exhaustion at an altitude must be observed very carefully as a result of which we will have to spend couple of days in Manang, it could be just plain exhaustion, but it could also be altitude sickness.
Finally, if I have to give one advise, before you travel to someplace like this, make sure your travel insurance covers helicopter rescue….Avi’s didn’t!!