After a spectacular morning avalanche off of Annapurna 2, we continued trekking.... ever upwards, ever changing life-zones and habitats. What a fabulous cross section of the Himalaya on this trek! In these next 2 days we climb through cool pine forests, cross some arid stretches, and approach the sub-alpine zone with it's shorter trees and low-lying flowers and shrubs.... An amazing transition from rice paddies just a few days back!
The girls are hiking strong, enjoying (almost) every minute, and bringing smiles to many locals faces! Plenty of trekkers and also lodge owners also ask, "will you take the small girls over the Pass? ...will you try the Thorung La?" We always reply the same way, as we've been prepping the girls from the start. We are hoping to make it over the pass, but if any of us (adults included!) has altitude problems, we'll turn back in Manang. The scenery is astounding on this side of the Pass, and if we got to see it twice, that would be a marvelous hike indeed! But we are also moving slowly, planning extra acclimatization days, and have plenty of time to change our schedule. We know the kids are strong enough to hike the Pass; the altitude is the only real unknown... We'll take it day by day, and see how we feel as we ascend.
Now the scenery is getting truly astounding! The snowy peaks and hanging glaciers are always present, and the jaw-dropping verticality of the landscape is mind-bending! We have to pinch ourselves sometimes to see if it's real. The hike into Pisang offers 2 options... Stay low on the main route, and find a lodge in trekker-oriented Lower Pisang, or ascend a long traverse to stay in less visited Upper Pisang. The upper option is certainly the better choice! What an amazing "real" village! Old stone houses, hundreds of years old... A couple of small crusty guest houses, surrounded by narrow alleyways, animal pens, stone walls, and countless prayer flags. It is a functioning town, with extensive agricultural fields all around, not dependent on the trekking industry. And what a view! Holy toledo.... I should just switch over to a few journal entries to capture the feelings of those sweet days:
From Paul's Journal - "Nice mellow 2 hour hike through pine forests to Bhratang, then some tougher uphills through trails cut into vertical granite cliffs. Ridiculous views of the massive "skateramp" glacial ridge "Swargadwari Danda." So smooth, so consistent, so HUGE! Up, up, up steep trails into cool birch, pine, and fir forests to Dhiker Pokhari. We got to Dhiker a bit early to stop for the day (2pm), so we gave the decision to the girls... They all wanted to push on to Pisang. As soon as we peeled off the main drag, with its pack trains, large trekking groups, mountain bikes, snack bars and trekking lodges galore, we were finally hiking on a "real" trail. Didn't see a soul for 2 hours on this narrow "single-track" path! Hiked leisurely along surrounded by edelweiss, juicy red rose hips galore, and marvelous bird sightings! Many times the kids remarked, "I love this place! It reminds me of Tuolumne.... or of Wyoming..." Suddenly you round a corner, and BAM, there is the authentic ancient stone village of Upper Pisang! Our little hotel, in the uppermost part of town, seems like an afterthought, built as a newer upper floor perched on top of a 300 year old stone house. Wouldn't do well in an earthquake, but so worth the climb to be hovering above this splendid village, hundreds of meters above the valley floor, with Annapurna 2 exploding 25,000 feet up into the sky right in your face."
The next day was the highlight of our year.... so far! Walking the "high route" traverse from Upper Pisang to Gyaru and Ngawal was one of the absolute finest hiking days of our lives! The ascent from Upper Pisang to Gyaru was also the steepest, most difficult push of the trek for the kids and adults.... but SO WORTH IT!!!!
From Eliza's Journal - "Have you ever woken up to the most unbelievable view of glaciers and Annapurna 2, and hiked the most incredibly steep "hill" of the entire trek that you thought you'd pass out?"
"Have you ever hiked into a medieval stone village with prayer flags on every roof flapping in the wind?"
"Have you ever done an incredible traverse with breathtaking views of the whole Annapurna Range the entire day?"
"Have you ever slept in a breezy village with barley and buckwheat growing all around, and awoken to the sound of cows and ponys and then seen your very first Yak!?"
From Paul's - "Ahhh... the arduous haul up 1,500' of steeeep switchbacks to Gyaru! Only "name that tune," frequent snacks, water breaks, and the Geography Game saved us! The kids were right on the edge of cracking, but they DID it! WE did it! And Karen even spotted 7 new bird species... After lunch, the traverse from Gyaru to Ngawal was T.H.E. highlight of the entire trip so far! Unreal views... Such a sweet hike! We felt so lucky to have earned those views, to be looking donw a couple of thousand feet to the river below, and then UP twelve-thousand-plus to Annapurna 2. What a ridiculous perfect afternoon! Mani walls on steep trails, falcons & lammergeiers soaring overhead, dizzying steep cliffs, astounding snow-capped peaks... Pisang Peak, Anna.2, Lamjung in the distance... Pine forests, alpine flowers... We felt SO grateful for today. Such a high it brought tears to my eyes a few times. The kids loved it, cruising all afternoon on a high traverse. What a sweet gift to be able to share this with them!!!"
Spent a fine night in Ngawal, another quiet town surrounded by crops being harvested, and huge herds of ponies, sheep, goats & yaks. The walk to Braga was mostly downhill!? Gaining altitude.... Losing altitude.... That's Nepal! The kids were getting hot and tired, begging for lunch or a rest, when suddenly their energy level soared! Another highlight for the girls was this surprise scree slope! Their lethargy evaporated, and as they scurried up and down the sandy hill for several whoooping leaping runs! "Can we stay here ALL day Dad? Can we come back here tomorrow too!?" They loved it! Rolling into Braga, we re-joined the main busy trail, and suddenly were back in the midst of crowds of individual trekkers, large groups with matching shirts, and pack trains hauling supplies. A shock after 2 days of quiet solitude... But Braga also offers a truly luscious bakery, and an amazing ancient monastery clinging to the ridge. We enjoyed the fine views up the wide river valley to Manang, where we'll spend a few days acclimatizing with a few day hikes. It's good to be at high altitude!!!