December is the shoulder season in the Annapurna trekking region, which means that it’s getting cold, but not yet brutally cold. Generally the weather is fine, but there is the off chance of snowstorms, whiteouts and avalanches. These in turn can lead to hypothermia, frostbite and, in extreme cases, death.
Hypothermia is the condition of having an abnormally low body temperature. Symptoms of this disorder include: loss of judgement, slurring of speech and general denial on the part of the victim. Obviously, these manifestations could also rise from indulgence in chang or rakshi, two Nepalese alcoholic beverages of choice….
When preparing for the trek, I was reading The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook, written by Paul Deegan and published by the British Mountaineering Council. I learnt a lot about acute mountain sickness and how to recognise symptoms of the dreaded pulmonary oedema and cerebral oedema, both of which can be fatal. It described the merits of bringing a pressure chamber which can be operated with a foot pump, but, after ample consideration, I thought it would add too much weight to my daypack…
Other useful tips involved methods to stay warm at night: if you put up with a bursting bladder, the night will feel much colder because the body will be forced to divert precious heat to the bladder to keep the liquid at a manageable temperature (..) you’ll be better off if you get up to relieve yourself.
This was something to keep in mind when lying under cosy blankets in an unheated room with temperatures dropping below zero and where going to the loo involved a lengthy trek through dark, icy corridors to a frozen toilet.
It made the tailor made luxury trekkings very appealing, where clients get a warm towel after arriving at camp, and where a western style toilet is carried up by a porter to save clients the inconveniences of using a squat toilet which are the norm at the more basic lodges…
It was not only the cold season that meant fewer people on the trails. The past year saw a massive earthquake too, and the recent blockade at the border with India with its resulting fuel shortages, hasn’t helped much either in luring trekkers back on the trail.
Day 15: Kagbeni to Tukuche
This day was harder than I had anticipated… Although my sphincter was back in line again, I had not yet fully recovered. Still, I chose the trail rather than the dusty jeep road but had difficulty with the accumulated elevation gain that far exceeded that of the more gradual road on the other side of the river.
Tukuche was the village where Maurice Herzog in 1950 based himself and it was here that he and his team decided to climb Annapurna rather than Dhaulagiri as they had permission to climb either one of them. Their decision was based on the grounds that Dhaulagiri seemed impossible to climb which, in hindsight, is ironical because since then Annapurna has proved to have the highest fatality rate of all eightthousanders.
In 1960 a Swiss expedition left from Tukuche to reach the summit of Dhaulagiri. An important role in the undertaking was played by the pilots Emil Wick and Ernst Saxer of a Pilatus PC-6 Porter airplane who delivered supplies for the expedition at a landing strip in the snow near the North East col. They took the opportunity to return with some unusual cargo: We were staying in Pokhara, but there was no electricity. So we always carried a big drum up to the glacier, filled it with snow, flew it to Pokhara and cooled our beer. Eventually, towards the end of the expedition, they crashed on take off at he Dhampus pass and, though both pilots were not injured, they were not acclimitised eiither, but they nevertheless managed to walk down to Tukuche.
The 1973 US expedition saw Wick back at Dhaulagiri where he dropped supplies. The high flying Americans had asked for two bottles of wine and a chicken, the latter which, for reasons unknown, was still alive when it plonked down from the aircraft. Because the sherpas wouldn’t allow the chicken to be killed, as they believed it would anger the gods, it was kept as the expedition pet.
Day 16: Tukuche to Ghasa
Good views from Dhaulagiri, which was the highest mountain in the world for a while, a title that was, until then, bestowed on the Chimborazo, a volcano in Ecuador. It was measured by British surveyors in 1808, a remarkable accomplishment given the fact that Nepal at the time was inaccessible and the triangulation was done from India. Most people outside India thought the outcome was preposterous and continued to entertain the view that Chimborazo was the highest mountain in the world.
In Ghasa I drank two glasses of delicious apple cider for which the region is famous.
Day 17: Ghasa to Tatopani
An easy day along the jeep road that fortunately saw very little traffic and was mostly downhill. In Tatopani I found a pleasant lodge with a nice garden where trees were laden with mandarins. In the late afternoon I enjoyed a bath in the hot springs on the other side of the road of the lodge. Tatopani means hot water in Nepalese.
Day 18: Tatopani to Ghorepani
This was a long day with a lot of altitude gain, Tatopani being at 1190 m and Ghorepani at 2860 m. Ghorepani means horse water in Nepalese and was historically a watering hole for mule caravans.
To be continued…