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Nepal’s Poon Hill Trek, Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani

Nepal’s Poon Hill Trek, Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani

Well, the good news is…we survived the night. I was rather happy to wake up alive this morning.

(Just for the record, though, midnight bathroom runs in a Nepali guesthouse with no heat are NOT fun. That’ll teach me to drink a gigantic pot of tea before bedtime!)

Anyway, considering the brutal nature of our first-day climb, we expected to be basically immobilized this morning. I’m not going to lie and say there was no pain – we both had sore legs and blistered toes – but it was nowhere NEAR as bad as I thought it would be. The relentless cold was actually harder to deal with than the aftereffects of the hike.

And on that note, too, let me say that it’s not actually THAT cold, at least according to the thermostat. I don’t think it’s gotten below freezing (33F/0C) the whole time we’ve been here. Being outside, warmly dressed, walking or climbing, is usually pretty comfortable. The hard part is afterwards, when you’re tired and damp and chilled and just want to get warmed up…and you can’t.

Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…

That’s what we’re struggling with. Despite our “-20C” sleeping bags and two heavy blankets, I still woke up every hour last night shivering, simply because I’ve never slept in a room this cold. And the common room/dining room is about the same temperature as the outside air, so when you’re just sitting there, weary from the trek…it gets cold really fast.

But anyway, enough about the cold. If you come trekking in the wintertime, consider yourself warned!

Dinner, breakfast, and two beds at the guesthouse in Ulleri came to a total of $23, which seemed more than fair considering we were basically in the middle of nowhere. Since it was dark when we arrived last night, we had no idea of the view that awaited us until we stepped outside and saw the magnificent peak of Annapurna South, soaring to an impressive 23,683 feet (7219m) into a cloudless sky.

Now this was the Nepal I came to see!

Today we had another 3,000 feet (900m) in elevation to climb, topping out at 9,429 feet (2874m) at the top. My Colorado-turned-Thai lungs sure aren’t used to this thin air anymore, because I was huffing harder than a 90-year old with emphysema on the way up. Okay, maybe not quite that bad…but it was a serious workout.

Today’s trek was definitely different scenery than yesterday, starting with a killer view of the mountains from the beautiful little village of Ulleri. Were we in Nepal, or the Swiss Alps? For a moment, we couldn’t be sure.

The next several hours’ trekking was very pleasant, through thick green forests, waterfalls, and the villages of Banthanti and Nagethanti.

View of Machapuchare (Fish Tail Peak)

We also made friends with some furry mountain puppies, fuzzy ponies, and adorable little goats, and we passed more than a few water buffalo and baby yaks along the way!

After a solid five hours of climbing up undoubtedly thousands of additional stone steps (because the Steps of Ulleri weren’t torturous enough), we entered the village of Ghorepani and received a wonderful surprise from Akash – we were done for the day! We thought we were only having lunch here and pressing on, so that was a wonderful surprise for our weary lungs and legs.

Another wonderful surprise? An honest to goodness fireplace in the common room of our Ghorepani guesthouse. It doesn’t give off a ton of heat – I’m still wearing four layers and my snowboarding socks, fireside – but it’s definitely warmer than any other room we’ve sat in this week.

How cold our bedroom will be remains to be seen…but let’s not think about that yet.

Dinner tonight (and lunch, come to think of it) was an incredible Nepali concoction called a potato roasty. What is this delicious delicacy? Diced potato, onion, cheese, and spices, pressed together into a thick, crispy-on-the-outside-gooey-in-the-middle-pancake, pan fried to perfection, and topped with a fried egg. It is the ultimate comfort food, and just perfect for a starving trekker!

Oh, have I mentioned the showers yet? Most of the guesthouses along the trekking route offer a hot shower option (usually 100 rupees or $1), and this may sound like a wonderful option to have, but…

BUT…

Remember that there is no heat in the building (if the shower is even inside the building – in some cases, it’s basically a “shower outhouse”). I decided I was tired of being cold and indulged in a $1 high-altitude hot shower in just such a detached room.

And I thought I was cold BEFORE? Ha!! The water is indeed hot, but it barely trickles out enough to dampen your skin, leaving you soaking wet, shivering, in a steamy makeshift “room” that’s the same temperature as the winter air outside. Then there was that wonderful moment when I’d had enough shivering, turned off the water, and realized I DIDN’T HAVE A TOWEL.

Because…why on earth would I have a towel with me, trekking into the Himalayas? I’m carrying enough crap in my backpack as it is, and I hadn’t planned on taking any showers en route.

So what does my freezing, shivering, soaking wet self do? The only thing I could do – I used two shirts to dry off as well as I could, then hung them up over the fire in hopes they’d dry overnight. And they did (kind of). Then I limped off to my below-freezing room and attempted to sleep, but between the cold and the altitude, I didn’t stand a chance.

Luxury, you guys. I’m telling you, it’s all luxury over here.

But at least our room comes with a pretty sweet view…

Nepal’s Poon Hill Trek, Day 1: Nayapul to Ulleri

Nepal’s Poon Hill Trek, Day 1: Nayapul to Ulleri

Did I just say that yesterday was a long day?

Apparently I forgot that I was waking up this morning to go trekking in THE HIMALAYAS. Apparently I whined about sitting on a bus for eight hours without thinking about the miles and miles and miles of steep mountains – the tallest mountain range in the world, in fact – that I was about to climb!

Silly ol’ me.

What was I thinking, anyway?

Today I did something I’ve never purposely done in my entire life: I got up to watch the sunrise. That may sound ridiculous to some of you, but I’m the first to admit that I’m not a morning person. If it were up to me, mornings wouldn’t exist in the first place. The world would go from pitch black night to – POOF! – instant noontime, with no transition.

However, personal feelings aside, when one is staying in the beautiful lakeside city of Pokhara, Nepal, one gets up at 6:30am to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. Because, you know…you have to. It would be a crime to sleep in while the morning sun illuminates the world’s most spectacular peaks right outside your hotel window.

Plus – travel tip #37 – your best shot at seeing any peaks in the Himalayas is first thing in the morning, because the mountains create their own weather, and they’re frequently obscured by clouds by midday. That was the case today – before we even went downstairs to have breakfast, the peak of Machapuchare was invisible behind puffy white clouds.

But early this morning? Atmospheric perfection. Not a hint of a cloud anywhere in the sky as the sun crept over the horizon and turned those peaks into a dazzling palette of gold and pink. It was truly a sight worth waking up for, even for me, who wishes mornings didn’t even exist.

The peak of Machapuchare, elevation 22,942 feet (6993m)

It was a good thing we were up early, though, because we still had a lot to do to get ready for our trek. We sorted our belongings into a “take with us” pile and a “leave at the hotel” pile, cutting down to only the barest essentials for our 4-day journey.

(Hotel Orchid, incidentally, is a fantastic place to stay in Pokhara. Aside from wonderful staff, they have a killer location right in town, close to the lake and lots of restaurants, and also a magnificent view of the mountains from the balconies and rooftop. Added bonus: Their rooms comes equipped with A/C and HEAT!)

Anyway, we had to complete the paperwork and wait for our trekking permits to be processed, which didn’t actually happen until 11am. We also had to dash back to the gear rental store for crampons (metal spikes you attach to your shoes) when our guide Akash informed us that the highest sections of the trail would be snowy and icy!

Whose idea was it to go trekking in the dead of winter, anyway? Oh, right. It was mine.

Finalizing our trekking permits

When everything was finally in order, we jumped into a cab and began the trek before the trek – a 1.5-hour drive up out of Pokhara to the tiny town of Nayapul (elevation 3510 feet/1070m). We bid farewell to our cab driver, showed our shiny new trekking permits to the appropriate authorities, and off we went!

Today’s trek: Nayapul (very bottom) northwest to Ulleri
Setting off from Nayapul
Nayapul River
Presenting our trekking permits for approval
Crossing the bridge to Birethanti
Permission granted in Birethanti – the trek officially begins!

Like everything else on this trip, the scenery was nothing like I anticipated. We wound around the valley floor for a couple of hours, past lush green farmland, rice paddies, and a crystal-clear river. The trail was flanked by tall trees and nearly vertical hills that somehow had been terraced to perfection.

Along the way we passed through lots of little villages – Mathathanti, Lamdali, Sudame, Hile, and Tikhedhunga – getting a nice glimpse at the local rural lifestyle. The trek is nowhere near as isolated or desolate as we expected – we passed plenty of other hikers on their way up or down, porters carrying impossibly heavy loads of luggage, an occasional Jeep that definitely had 4-wheel drive, and lots of friendly locals offering us food, tea, or a room in their guesthouse.

Because of our late start, however, we didn’t have much time to lollygag. Akash (kindly but firmly) pushed us uphill for a solid 3 hours before we stopped in Tikhedhunga for a late lunch – fried rice, vegetable momos, and Nepali’s famous dal baht.

Egg and veggie fried rice
Dal baht – lentil stew with rice and curried vegetables
Steamed momos – tasty dumplings filled with vegetables

After lunch was when things REALLY got interesting, as we were trying to reach the town of Ulleri before nightfall. With the sun sinking in the sky and rainclouds rolling in, we began a journey up the infamous “Ulleri Steps” – 3,421 carefully laid stone steps STRAIGHT UP the mountainside.

Yes, some poor soul actually counted. And we poor souls had to CLIMB them.

And climb we did…straight up, past more terraces, over rickety suspension bridges, and more guesthouses and teahouses. Up and up and up we climbed – drenched in sweat, despite the chill in the air – until our lungs were burning and our legs were screaming for mercy. The Ulleri Steps are the equivalent of climbing a 342-story building, if you can imagine such a horrific thing.

It is, quite literally, the Staircase from Hell. It was so hellacious that I couldn’t be bothered to take a single photograph of it.

Just picture a staircase. In hell. And that’s the Ulleri Steps.

With the first drops of rain falling and the sky nearly black, we finally – FINALLY – dragged our panting, wheezing, gasping, pathetically out-of-shape selves into the village of Ulleri (elevation 6400 feet/1960m), which means we gained an impressive 3,000 feet (900m) in elevation in one afternoon.

The victory celebration would come later, though. The first thing we did when we arrived at our little $5/night teahouse was collapse.

The only one of us who wasn’t exhausted (I don’t even think he broke a sweat) was our 21-year old, half mountain-goat guide Akash, who we affectionately nicknamed “The Beast of Annapurna.” Seriously, he’s a beast. He became not only our guide but also our porter once we realized that carrying our own backpacks was going to be impossible.

Our very fit guide, Akash

(Travel tip #29: HIRE A PORTER if you go trekking in Nepal. Don’t attempt to carry your own stuff unless you’re the Incredible Hulk or you’re on a suicide mission. These guys do this trek every day and they’re in better shape than you’ll ever be. So fork over $15/day and hire a porter, help feed their families, and treat them like rockstars, because they deserve it – they’re making your life SO much easier!)

Awesome, hard-working porters

Oh, and in case you’re wondering where we found Akash, look no further than ABC Trek and Tour. These guys seriously took care of us and told us exactly what we needed to be prepared for our trek. If you go to Pokhara, use them…they’ll do everything for you except the actual walking (that part you gotta do yourself)!

I’d love to recount you with exciting tales of village nightlife in the Himalayas, but after a big pot of ginger tea, a few bowls of soup, and one deliciously hot shower, I am signing off. At the ripe ol’ hour of 8pm.

Because guess what I get to do tomorrow? You guessed it…keep on trekking!

Our humble (and cold) accommodation for the night