Trapped at Macchapucchre


I stretch, loosen and raise myself out the final position of the Five Tibetans. I have a stunning view over the misty early-morning foothills of the Himalayas. The day before we had set off on a though ten-day hike through these immense mountains. Plenty of work-out to be done, but I decide not to miss out on my newly started yoga routine. The exercise feels good. Even better when the nearest road is a 6-hour walk back and the air that fills your lungs feels purifying. I return to our first rest place, Australia camp, and I find Annapurna II, the second highest summit in this range, peaking over the clouds to wish me a good morning.

Good morning Annapurna 2!

Back to reality. We have heavy backpacks to carry, many high passes to climb, cold early-season weather to face and we shouldn’t even be in Australia camp. We took a wrong turn yesterday afternoon and have to head back the same direction. It is not getting much better when it starts raining heavily later that afternoon and the group decides it is wise to indulge in some of Nepal’s favourite medicinal plant. How can you say no when an old local woman throws three unrequested branches of ‘the good stuff’ on your table after lunch and adds 100 rupees (60 pence) to your bill under ‘Mariwana’.

mariwana 2

Over the next two days we climb up and down terraced hills, cross gentle rivers on narrow footbridges, look up and down towering waterfalls, enjoy hot showers and face icy cold ones, snack on pizzas and devour dal bhat tarkari, view the pointy Machhapuchhre and loose our sight in the low hanging clouds. The world is ours, or so it feels until hundreds of sheep nearly run us of the steep steps.

Sheep ‘n Goats have right of way at vimeo.

It is day four and we pass few farms that together form Bamboo. On the map its pretty clear that from there the journey is one long ascend for two or three days straight until we reach our destination, Annapurna base camp. We follow a river upstream and dwindle through the jungle-like environment that is lush green overgrown with ferns and as the village name suggest, bamboo. The surroundings are filled with rocky cliffs, waterfalls, a blue sky and the winding path through the green. Unaware we are suddenly blinded by small white patches sparkling in the sun. Snow. The contrast is unreal. Like a film where an Ice Queen transforms a fruitful paradise into a winter wonderland by the flick of a spell. Soon our pace is brought to a near still as we clamber our way up out of the tree line through the knee deep snow. Gloves, jackets, scarves. All our ammunition is used as we try not to slide back down.

Snow in the jungle.
jungle-3 jungle-2

We remain at Himalaya camp that night after we climbed over 1000 vertical meters. Tiredness kicks in and for some the first signs of altitude sickness. In the bathroom I find a thick layer of ice to cover the water bucket. I break through it with my bare hands and it is the first time in 6 months I seriously regret replacing the toilet roll for ‘the Indian way’ of water and hand.

Crossing footbridges.

The next morning we are undecisive. Rest day or head on? There are only two more stations above us. We could race up and down without luggage, but how will the altitude effect us? In the end we leave late, 2pm, just to head up to the next station. I’m worried. From experiences of working in ski resorts I know how unpredictable the afternoon weather can be in mountains. I have seen it turn to quickly to often. We are hiking through a dangerously steep looking valley and clouds are coming in. I worry more, but we steady on and make it to Machhapuchre Base Camp an hour before dark. This is a safe heaven in the crossing of two valleys.

Another safe heaven on the way up.

It is a cold night, but it doesn’t matter. We are close to our final destination and a short morning hike should get us really in the midst of some of the world’s tallest peaks.

Three Californians opposite me are staring in disbelief. They look shaky and tired. It is mid-day, only half an hour ago they arrived at our camp. Their eyes were wide open filled with fear when they entered. Since their arrival they’ve gone from quiet to joking, but their laughter sounds stressed. They joke how they should have pulled out the camera to record the avalanche that hit them. They were lucky. Their group was split into two when snow thundered down between them and each of them got only slightly hit by the slide that would have buried them if they were only 10 meters to the wrong side. They had just passed our camp as they made their way down from the top. Between the white sky and white ground they had not seen the danger that was looming, but it had become pretty clear that they shouldn’t continue their way down.

We had awoken to this white scene earlier that day at Machhrapuchhre BC. Just before sunrise we were surprised to find a huge fresh pack of snow hiding our path. A path of which we didn’t even know where it was supposed to be. Our hopes and expectations to still climb up later that day were crushed by a clear ‘No way!’ from our camp leaders, Roman and Binut. “You will be stuck here for the day.” Soon the sound continuous sound of avalanches was about to start, never ending like waves crushing on a beach.

We would be stuck there for three days.

Trapped at Machhapuchhre Base Camp at vimeo.

“We need some more water.” I mentioned to Binut.
“Later we go to collect it. It’s a little walk away.” He explained.
I grabbed my bottles and packed myself in all the clothes that I brought along. The wind blasts the recent fallen snow in our faces as we wade through waste and sometimes chest deep powder. The thunder of rolling snow is still sounding all around us, but the camp’s surrounding area is safe. A sudden blast of sideways snow hurts my face and I have to cover it and wait in my own darkness for a few seconds till the gush comes to rest.
“That’s as close as they come, the avalanches. At the water tap not so safe.” Binut assures me. We reach the side of a small hill. “You wait” Binut climbs down. He digs for a few minutes, then struggles back up. “No, go back.” The snow has accumulated in this ditch he explains. “Four meters. No fresh water today.”
The next day Binut and I head off again to try to fill our bottles once more. Roman had gone before us to dig an access to our water point. The depth of the snow is actually mind blowing and deep down we find a black hose spurting out water it draws from a flow that never freezes, not even when covered by this winter blanket. I carry my 3 liters up the slippery path we have created, Binut carries 25.

Sixteen of us in total share the four bedrooms and the living room. Everyone starts finding their own way to pass time. Writing, playing cards, pacing up and down, eating, reading and sleeping. Not long and we all knew every flag and every image on the picture board in the common area by heard. Boredom kicked in.
“Let’s weave dreadlocks in my hair, that will kill time.” I suggested. An hour later I find myself undoing the one braid of hair we had created. A large group should easily be able to keep itself entertained you may think. We did for a bit of it, but it becomes rather difficult with the cold always creeping up and the altitude tiring your body and brain.

It’s afternoon and the sky clears up. The danger of snow slides is still to big, but we can prepare for our leave the next morning and we dig out the first 100 meters of path. Exhausting, but fun when you are really, really bored.

We are up the next day at 5.30, all of us. Roman and Binut will lead us down to the previous station and no one can stay behind. To avoid danger we must arrive before the sun heats the mountain’s steep slopes. We are navigating a path through a wide landscape that looked clean like a fresh sheet of A4 paper. I am like a little child in a new playground seriously enjoying the adventure. Two pairs of short Nepali legs were digging a path through the waste deep snow. My excitement to draw my own footprint lines in this empty snow sheet was unbearable and I managed to convince our leaders that my long Dutch legs were made for clearing the path. They let me go ahead and quickly my mind drifted to times of snowboarding down untouched off-piste.

Later that day we froze several times when high up and ahead we noticed snow starting to rumble. It always kept small and far away so we pushed on. We pushed on so fast that the next morning we found ourselves in an opposite world. Flanked by the peaceful sounds of streaming water and gently brushing leaves we immersed our bodies in relaxing goodness of Jhinu’s natural hot springs.

rest 2
A rest on the way down to the hot springs!

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