Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Day 10 (Thorung High Camp to Muktinath)
I woke up at 04:25 today, packed my bag, and dressed for the blistering cold outside. At 05:10, I left the High Camp and joined many other early bird hikers on the Annapurna Circuit trail. It was still dark outside, so I turned my headlamp on to see the trail through the snow. It was very slow going initially due to guided tour groups moving at a snail’s pace in front of me and several others, but once we reached the iron bridge, the tour groups moved aside and I was able to pick up my pace, averting the oncoming frostbite; although some of the Nepalese porters were not much quicker. Finally, the sun rose above the Himalayas and the air began to warm; unfortunately, the hose to my camel-back was frozen solid, so it would be some time before I could have a drink of water. I passed the tea house at 5000 meters, took my large winter gloves off, and then continued on through the snow. At 07:30, I finally reached Thorung La Pass (5416 meters high!); I took my bag off and had a Frenchman take the obligatory photographs of me at the pass (I, in turn, used his camera to take photographs of him and his girlfriend at the pass). Once satisfied with all the pictures I took on top of the pass, I started the long descent on the western side of the pass; the trail continued through the snow and many parts were slippery with ice (my knees were feeling the pain of the steep descent); after about an hour of walking, I downgraded my clothing, taking off my thick bottom underwear and the large down jacket I had been wearing; I then put on my rain jacket as a windbreaker, and continued down the trail. At 4200 meters, I passed my a collection of tea houses built right on the trail; after that, the trail was relatively snow-free and passed through an arid landscape spotted with green and red bushes with the Himalayan mountains towering high above (it looked like the kind of place where drone strikes occur). I then crossed a suspension bridge adorned with many Buddhist prayer flags over a gorge with a rushing stream. It was not too much longer before I reached Muktinath, passing by the temples on the outskirts of this small city; Muktinath is not quite what I expected; it has several tall buildings and many motorbikes traversing its streets; it really is more a city than a town and more modern than many of the medieval looking villages I had passed through the previous few days. I reached the center of Muktinath at 11:00, checked in to the Hotel Bob Marley, changed in to sweat-free clothes, and had lunch – a sprite and gnocchi with vegetables, tomato sauce, and cheese. During lunch, I met the two Andorrans I had met the first day of my hike, on the bus from Pokhara to Besisahar; they had crossed the pass yesterday (one suffered from High Altitude Cerebral Edema, but pressed on anyway – not the smartest move, though it worked out for him this time) and were now looking to get mountain bikes to complete the rest of the trail to Tatopani. After lunch, I took a short nap in my room before getting up again to enjoy a cup of Americano (which was very tasty), a slice of apple pie, and some coconut cookies. I then relaxed in my meat locker of a room some more (it is freezing in my room, but pleasant everywhere else in this hotel), looking forward to exploring the surrounding area and towns as a day hike tomorrow. The hotel also began to play only Pink Floyd songs at random – I completely approve, easily the greatest band that ever existed and I am looking forward to their new album on November 10th. After laying in my bed, listening to Pink Floyd, for several hours, I went upstairs and had my first beer on the trek, to celebrate overcoming the pass. I then had a Margherita pizza for dinner (viva Italia!), which was very tasty, as well as another beer; unfortunately, the music changed from Pink Floyd to AC/DC – another great band, but not in the same league. After dinner, I had another beer, this time in the company of three Australians; we talked for some time and they shared their rum with me, but I declined the hashish-laced cigarette they offered (though I admire their style). I then eventually went to sleep.