Climbing to 20,305 ft.on  Imja Tse (Island Peak): An Adventure Into Himalayan Mountaineering

Dad gives me a longer hug than normal when setting off from Island Peak base camp. He and our guides walked me up to the 16,400 ft camp and left around noon so they’d be safe in the lodge after a grueling and windswept three hour walk.
 

Imja Tse is the farthest peak to the left, peeking out among the Khumbu hills

 
This trip came together only the day before when I got the thumbs-up from our lodge owner that my climbing permit from Kathmandu was secured. I had heard about Island Peak before and was interested in climbing it, but didn’t think it would work within our schedule or budget. As luck would have it, we only had to adjust one day of our three week trek to fit in the climb.
I’m camping and dining with a group that is headed to Everest in a few weeks. If I get nothing else from this climb, it’s all made worthwhile by getting to talk to these ambitious, sharp, and fun people hoping to summit the world’s tallest mountain. Their plan is to make a “high camp” at 6,000 meters (that’s 20,000 ft), just below the summit, beneath the tall, intimidating vertical ice wall that awaits climbers on their final push. They’ll acclimatize there instead of the dangerous and unstable Khumbu Ice Fall, and use the wall to practice climbing techniques.

  
Base camp is a wind tunnel at the top of a long valley which ensures every one of your belongings will be covered in dust before you’ve even unpacked in your tent. Unfortunately we have had two choppers try to land here today to pick up ill climbers who couldn’t reach the top. We aren’t sure the state of the rescuees but hear that they are simply exhausted – so the rest of us discuss whether this is a desperate situation, or just a really expensive ride home.
After lunch we jump right into training. My guide Dawa takes me to two connecting ropes up a ridge and refreshes me on the art of ascending with a jumar and descending with an eight. Once we’ve gone up and down a few times the real fun starts. The Sherpa crew has set up an elevated ladder that we’ll use to practice crossing with our crampons and ropes. We safety ourselves in on either side with carabiners and lean our weight forward, relying on the security of ropes tied behind us. The best technique is to secure the front two points of your crampon into each ladder rung as you inch slowly forward. Even though it feels unnatural and scary to rely on just these two prongs, we’ll have full visibility of the front of our feet, and absolutely zero of our backs – so trying to put any weight on your heel could throw off your balance and send you toppling over the side. Practicing is actually a lot more fun than I thought it’d be, but I remind myself that I might feel differently when it’s THREE ladders I’m crossing, strung together with ropes, waving in the wind, above a never-ending crevasse. Dawa tells me if it’s too windy, we will need to crawl across on hands and knees.

Our base camp crampon and ladder practice

After dinner I lie restlessly until I hear my new friends go to bed themselves. My body is comfortably warm head to toe thanks to the second down sleeping bag I was given, and a boiling hot water bottle at the bottom of the bag to warm my feet. Midnight comes quickly, and the hectic wind from earlier in the day has vanished. Stars dazzle from horizon to horizon, and I can faintly see the alpenglown from our neighboring 6,000ers reflected from the moonlight.
We start walking at 1am and pass High Camp in about an hour, reaching the crampon point around 3:30. I put on my down parka, helmet, glacier gloves, harness, mountaineering boots, crampons, and finally clip in to the fixed line at the base of the ice. It isn’t until hours later when the sun rises that I realize what hard, smooth, slick ice I had been walking on all day. 

 

A look back up what we’d climbed, around 8:30am

 
Dawa and I finally get to put our ladder practice to use. The first is a 10-foot long combination of two construction ladders strung together with rope. The second, however, is three combined ladders whose rungs are spaced out differently than the first. Dawa’s crampons are actually too small to reach from rung to rung, so he is forced to walk on a tip-toe across this 15-foot long man made contraption suspended hundreds of feet over a crevasse. We high five after each successful crossing.

 

A daylight look at the shorter of the two ladders we crossed in the pitch black of night

 
  

Sunrise over the Himalayas as we begin our ascent of the ice wall

 
Just as the sun is beginning to light up the mountainsides, we reach the famed ice wall that leads to the summit ridge. A Ukrainian guy at one of our hostels had shown me photos and told me of this infamous 100 foot tall vertical wall that delineates trekkers from true climbers. Upon seeing the wall, I quickly understand he meant to say meters – not feet. I misjudge this distance and leave my pack at the base of the wall, handing Dawa just a bottle of water to carry up. It takes us about 1.15 hours to reach the top.

 

Another daylight version of the ice wall we’d climbed just at dawn

 
This ice wall is way tougher than I’d made it out to be, it is the one obstacle that’s turned this day into the most technically challenging feat on my climbing resume. I’m using my entire body to propel myself up this unrelenting vertical ice. My arms and shoulders pull upwards to ascend my jumar, and my thighs, hips, and glutes push my legs and hold my feet steady as I front-point my crampons at a 90 degree angle into the wall.

 

Looking down at the “high camp” – perched at 20,000 ft.

  
  
At 6:30am we’ve reached the summit at 20,305 ft. We are the first people to summit today, and soak in the serene, windless calm and watch the sun begin to creep across the peaks around us. It is an incomparable feeling, a moment of fulfillment and pride and complete awe at the landscape around us. I can’t remember ever feeling happier.

 

All smiles at the top!

 
We descend slowly, making it back to base camp by 11:30 and finally arriving back to our lodge in Chukkung at 2:30. I’m wiped, but reenergized by seeing my dad again and getting to tell him all about my adventure. He reminds me how close I was to the altitude of the tallest peak in America, Denali in Alaska, just a mere 15 feet off… I mentally bookmark that statistic for the next time I try to scare myself.

3 Passes Everest Trek: Part I

It wasn’t until a month or two before I was leaving for Nepal that my dad officially decided to join me in my quest to hike around the tallest mountains in the world. And here we are, in the thick of the Himalayas, completing the most challenging trek in the Everest region. For the next 20 days we’ll be living off of one of the most popular trails in the world, the trek to Everest Base Camp – with a twist. 

The “Three Passes Trek” takes the long way to and around base camp, adding on three intimidating obstacles that will take us over 18,000 ft. Our Lonely Planet guidebook rates this trek’s difficulty as “hard” and warns us it is “only for the truly adventurous.” Given our climbing resume and years of gear-testing, mistake-making, and navigational-learning, we consider ourselves a tough enough father-daughter team to be up for the challenge. 

  

Day 0: Kathmandu (4,593 ft.)

I arrive at the Yak and Yeti the morning before I’ll meet Dad and am hit in the face with the stark contrast between the hotel’s lavish courtyard, outdoor swimming pool, tailored garden, and the polluted, crowded streets of Kathmandu right outside its doors. The Yak and Yeti is a haven for newcomers and veterans alike. It’s the home-base to some of the world’s most successful mountaineers as one of Kathmandu’s most popular hotels. For Westerners freshly arrived in the other-worldly culture of Nepal, the Yak and Yeti feels a bit like home. For climbers and trekkers, it’s an energetic hotel whose sprawling backyard caters to the dumping and sorting of expedition goods, as well as hosting large groups.
Dad and I saw and met various people from teams around the world hoping to summit Everest this spring. Some of these groups would become familiar faces on the trail who we’d run into time and time again. Before taking off, we meet our two young and fit compadres Pasang (our official guide) and Ang Dawa (our porter) who will turn out to give us valuable advice and support throughout our next three weeks of sweat, dirt, and discomfort.

  

Day 1: Lukla (9,315 ft.) to Phakding (8,560 ft.)
We wake up from the Yak & Yeti to begin our first official day with an early breakfast and 7am ride to the Kathmandu airport. 5 hours of delays later, we are en route on a 35 minute journey to Lukla, as popular as it is infamous. Lukla is known as the “world’s most dangerous airport” for its many unfortunate accidents. The runway itself is only 500 meters long, ending sharply at the edge of a cliff. Landing doesn’t seem to be a problem, but we’re already crossing our fingers for a safe departure.

 

Lukla’s infamous runway, around 500 meters long

 
The other reason Lukla is so well-known is for its unparalleled popularity during trekking and climbing months. Flights only operate in the morning when wind levels are down, so in times of bad weather, people can be stuck either in the mountains or in the city for days awaiting a safe passage. We were flying on the first clear morning after a four or five day long storm, so delayed passengers took precedent and we patiently awaited our turn. Our guide tells us that a few years ago all flights were delayed for an entire month; there were thousands of people at either airport every day waiting morning after morning.

  
We hike downhill through an overcast afternoon to arrive at Phakding, a small and quiet village where our guide finds us a quaint and comfortable lodge. We’re offered gas-heated showers and wifi at a few dollars each, but pass on both.

  
Dad is getting used to his new La Sportiva trekking boots purchased in Kathmandu. One look at his veteran leather Columbia shoes and our guide told him they would not do on the high passes. He was more than happy to replace his tried-and-true hiking boots from home, but still complains about forgetting his gaiters and their expensive replacements. 
Day 2: Phakding (8,560 ft.) to Namche Bazaar (11,302 ft.)

  
Today’s trail takes us up and down, gaining and losing elevation all the way to Namche Bazaar. Our guide instructs us at the beginning of the day that the route will be “Nepali flat,” my dad nods agreeably but I warn him of what I learned on the Annapurna Circuit – nothing in Nepal is truly flat, especially in the Himalayas. Dad would call these sections “substantial and steep.”

 
A huge, long suspension bridge overlooking a thousand feet of thin mountain air marks the beginning of our steep ascent to Namche. We move slowly on a dirt trail through a forest that strangely feels like home in the Northwest. This comparison is quickly nullified when through the trees, at a distance, we see our first view of Mt. Everest.

  
Namche Bazaar is an impressively large village spread out over a corner of the Khumbu Valley. We hear that the entire village was created from the economy generated by Everest climbers, and I believe it. Endless shops dotting the main route sell mountaineering books, high-altitude medications, cold weather gear, and any type of toiletry, snack, or delicacy you could imagine. This is one of, if not the only, village where you’ll find a half a dozen bars with Asian beers, American cocktails, Italian wines, and everything in between.
This is the last stop we’ll order non-vegetarian dishes from. It is illegal to kill animals in the Khumbu Valley, so all meat must be slaughtered in the city, flown up to Lukla, and carried up to town. We’re comfortable with the amenities and level of hygiene in Namche, but watching porters carry up 40, 60, and 80 kilo loads of meat (that’s 176 lbs) all the way to Everest Base Camp in the heat of the day makes our stomach turn and extinguishes our appetite.

 

Namche Bazar from above

 
We share our lodge with a team of Chileans attempting Everest from the North side. They’ll hike all the way to the Nepali base camp before heading back to Kathmandu, flying to Lhasa, and driving to the Tibetan base camp. Their team consists of ten older gentlemen who don hats and shirts naming themselves “Seniors on the Summit.”
Day 3: Acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar

  
Of this day, Larry would like to say: “In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have obtained clarification as to what ‘rest day’ actually entails. I had envisioned a day of my feet in an elevated position, eating fattening pastries, absorbing the sun with a good book in my hand.”
To his disappointment (and my own delight), today is not a “rest day” – it is an acclimatization day! The goal of the day is to hike high and sleep low, getting our muscles used to the work we’ll look forward to for the next few weeks.

  
Dad sleeps in while I set an alarm for 4:30 to gain 1,500 ft. for a sunrise view of Mt. Everest at the highest hotel in the world, rightly named Hotel Everest View. Pasang and I are the only hikers on the trail, and we enjoy tea on the balcony in the quiet of dawn. We’ll continue walking towards Everest, just out of reach, for the next few days. The trail is easygoing and I wear my town sneakers all day long.

 

Sunrise tea at Hotel Everest View, which really holds up to its name

 
After joining up with Dad for breakfast and a few hours of leisurely reading, writing, and checking in at home, we set off for a mid-morning hike to Khumjung (3780 meters). It’s warmer and windier than the first few hours of the morning, and we’ve already worked up quite the appetite by the time we climb the 2,000 ft. to reach our lunch destination. I eat the most delicious piece of apple pie I’ve ever encountered in my life, and then we feast on dal bhatt.

   
The afternoon is an easy stroll back into town, a refreshingly hot shower (our first one since Kathmandu), and a few fun shopping trips. There are lots of herders taking their yaks through town, loaded up with expedition supplies on their way to base camp, or packed with mountain goods ready to fly out from Lukla. We don’t pay them much mind until Pasang tell us that they’re incredibly aggressive animals and we need to be sure to step out of their way, preferably closer to the wall, given the alternative option of a cliffside. We agree on both counts, especially after considering their impressively sharp, curved horns.

 
Day 4: Namche Bazaar (11,302 ft.) to Debuche (12,565 ft.)
We set off at 7 and follow a trail that hugs the cliffside for a few hours in the hot morning sun. We’re walking towards Everest, waving at us from just a week’s walk away.

  
Dad is in great spirits until we start to descend about a thousand feet to the riverbed, where we follow the gushing Himalayan runoff waters that remind us all too much of our first shower in Namche. After a carbohydrate and sugar-filled lunch, we ascend close to 2,500 ft. to reach our hilltop destination of Tengboche. This town is home to the oldest monastery in Nepal, perched atop a sloping field of green with 6,000+ meter peaks surrounding us.

 

Mountain style: Neck buffs protect from wind, dust, sunburn, apart from looking ridiculously cool

 
Unfortunately the hotel we’d planned to stay at is totally booked with an 80-person large movie crew filming a French movie called “Everest.” We walk 15 more minutes downhill through the forest to our new destination, Debuche at the Rivendell Lodge. To our delight we find an attached hot shower and electric-heated mattresses waiting for us. I spend 11 hours enjoying that heated bed tonight.

That tiny little peak above my right shoulder is Everest!

Day 5: Debuche (12,565 ft.) to Dingboche (14,245 ft.)
We have a short hike to our destination today and arrive before noon. Everybody seems wiped, so I spend a few hours of the early afternoon taking a short walk to the neighboring village of Pheriche. We were considering both towns for our second acclimatization stop, but (1) Pheriche is smaller with fewer lodge options, (2) the town experienced more earthquake damage that’s still in repair, and (3) Dingboche wards off the wind a little longer and the sun remains in the valley later than its neighbor.

  
On one of the many hills between the two, I experience my first 360-degree panorama of Himalayan peaks. Everywhere I look, I’m surrounded by these mountains seeming to topple over me, each demanding my attention for their breathtaking heights and seriously intimidating rock pitches.

  
Tonight I convince Dad to order dal bhatt again. I can’t get enough of this mountain-power meal: rice, curried vegetables, lentil soup, and of course, endless servings. I have two full plates of everything. We’re both getting used to the menus here, which are all variations of: rice and vegetables, potatoes and vegetables, noodles and vegetables. Breakfast foods are similar, with the opportunity to douse everything in honey. The one affect of high altitude that I have yet to experience is a lack of appetite. 

  
Day 6: Acclimatization day in Dingboche
Today feels like our first official full rest day. We sleep in and eat breakfast, then walk up the same hill that separates us from Periche to a monastery and lookout point. There are 75 or 100 people walking up the hill, some to the top for a demanding 4,000+ ft. day hike, and some veering west to continue onto Lobuche. Nobody else is cutting the hill in half like we do to enjoy the monastery, so we enjoy the trail to ourselves.

  
Back in town we divert from our standardized “lodge food” (re: rice and vegetables, potatoes and vegetables, noodles and vegetables), and stop by a few bakeries before settling on one with pizza. We each get our own, enjoying the unique flavor of yak cheese and “prosciutto”: canned chunks of ham.

 

Literal pile of shit: Now that we’re above the treeline, lodges burn yak dung instead of fire wood

 
Walking around town it’s easy to forget that we’re sleeping near the altitude of the tallest point in the contiguous states. Only half a minute of talking while moving slowly uphill and we feel our chests tighten, our breaths shorten, and our paces quicken. The most either of us have experienced from the thin air have been mild headaches and light-headedness. We’re sure to check in on each other (just as our guide is) to make sure we’re pacing ourselves slow enough for success.

  

Our days are shortening as we gain and adjust to altitude – in just a few short days we’ll be crossing our first formidable obstacle of the trek, the Kongma-La Pass. We are all smiles so far, let’s see how long we can keep this up for!

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part III

Our bodies had absolutely collapsed in the city of Muktinath following our longest day yet over Thorong-La pass, and even though The hard part is over, we still have a significant portion of the trek left to complete. With whatever strength we have left, we cram the 4-day Tatopani to NayaPul section of the trail into a mere 2 days, leaving our legs more tired and our schedule complete almost a week before we’d planned. 

View of Muktinath from the temple atop the city

 

Day 10: Muktinath (3800 m) to Jomsom (2720 m): 19 km, 1080 m descent



We wake up early after much-needed rest to visit the holy city of Muktinath, which consists of a temple and series of religious shrines atop a hillside that marks the start of the Jhong Khola. This is one of the most important cities to Nepali and Indian Buddhists (the most important in the Nepal Himalaya), their version of “the land of dreams,” and most will visit at least once in their lifetimes. 

We pass the Gompa Sambha (First Monastery) and a Shiva Temple that is encapsulated by a pool with 108 brass waterspouts – a sacred number in Tibetan Buddhism. We walk left to right, touching the water from each of the cow-head-shaped spouts for good luck. We also visit the Jwalamai (Goddess of Fire) Temple to see the natural gas from the mountain burning behind a grill as a holy flame.

  
Our five hour walk today is dry, dusty, and a monotonous flat. We arrive in Jomsom hot and thirsty from long and relentlessly windy day. Jomsom is actually a very large town, stretching two kilometers and hosting a popular airport. Except, the airport is also unpopular enough where we are warned by multiple guides and lodge owners to avoid these flights because of unpredictable mountain weather and a less-than-squeaky-clean resume of airplane crashes.

  

Day 11: Bus ride from Jomson (2720 m) to Tatopani (1190 m)



There are trekking options for this day, but all of them involve continuing to walk along the Jeep road in Jomsom Valley, “The Windy Valley,” notorious for its strong gusts and dust storms. We avoided some monotonous, dry and dusty riverbeds by spending 5 hours on a local bus to Tatopani, the lowest elevation we’ve been at since Day 2 of our trek.

  
In Tatopani I’m shocked and delighted to suddenly find myself in a tropical jungle. I spend the afternoon on our lodge’s patio reading and enjoying the sunny 70 degree day. Later on I wander around the town, perched high on a cliff overlooking the river and famous hot springs. Tatopani literally means “hot water,” and its stone pools full of 37 degree (Celsius) water attract tourists and locals alike. 

  
Way off in the distance I can barely see the mountains I’ve just left, peeking through the valley walls and promising to show their faces on our steep ascent tomorrow.
Day 12: Tatopani (1190 m) to Ghorepani (2870 m): 17 km, 1680 m gain



After two nights of too many glasses of Roksy, Hira and I leave Tatopani around 7:30 am for what will be our greatest elevation gain of the entire circuit, nearly 1700 m (granted, at a fairly low altitude).

  
A few hours into the day and I’m complaining that I’m tired. By noon, I’m exhausted and barely carrying myself up the final steps through the entrance of Ghorepani. A conversation with Hira hours later would reveal that most people do this climb in two days. In fact, the 17 km trek is estimated to take folks between 8 and 11 hours to complete, where Hira and I have managed the task in no more than 5. I felt a little better after that.

  
Ghorepani itself is host to a number of shorter treks for travelers with less time on their hands. This area is known best for its brilliant rhododendron blooms in March and April, with bright red and pink flowers lighting up the hillside against a dramatic backdrop of the world’s highest mountains.

  

Day 13: Ghorepani (2870 m) to Poon Hill (3200 m) to NayaPul (1070 m)


We have another long day today, one that many trekkers do in two, but we have crammed into a mere 7 hours. By early afternoon and the official end to our trek, I am hotter than I’ve been in the last two weeks, I am done taking photos, I am mentally begging for sleep and a hard, immediate divorce from my hiking boots.

Our morning begins with a 5am wakeup call that reveals the weather is good, the sky is cloud-free and clear, and we are ready to make our ascent up Poon Hill. I’d read that this was by and far the most popular part of the Annapurna Circuit trek, and for many other treks in the Ghorepani area as well. A hundred or more people made the slow and steady walk up the stone steps to the top of Poon Hill this morning to see the fabled views of Dhalugiri and Annapurna.

 

Our first head-on view of Annapurna I throughout the entire trip

 
  
Words do little justice at describing the morning alpenglow on two of the most famous peaks in mountaineering history. Standing on Pool Hill, I looked at the valley separating Dhalugiri and Annapurna, reliving the moment 66 years ago when Maurice Herzog and the French Expedition stood in this spot, deciding which 8,000 meter peak to attempt. A long approach and huge waste of supplies on Dhalugiri forced the team to give up that peak in favor for Annapurna. In the end, their tough decision made mountaineering history as we know it today.

Sunrise over Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world

The proceeding six hours followed a series of endless steps down to the village of NayaPul where we once again experienced the unbearable heat of the dry pre-monsoon season in Nepal. Despite the weather, or even because of it, the Ghorepani region attracts many short-term trekkers with tighter schedules. We passed hundreds of people making their way up, undoubtedly reaching for the summit of Poon Hill within the following few days.

  
Josh and I walked away from our trek – him to Myanmar and myself to the cozy town of Pokhara – feeling stronger, braver, and tougher from the last couple of weeks. The lessons I learned from Annapurna will definitely help improve my success on the Everest Region’s Three Passes trek, and strengthen me as a hiker for the rest of my life.

  
Stay tuned to see my next developments in Nepal, and feel free to leave a comment or question for me below!

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part I

At the end of February my friend Josh and I ventured to Nepal to begin one of the most famous treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit Trek. After delaying ourselves from having so much fun in Kathmandu and Pokhara, we woke up on March 6 to begin a 3 week journey from the Himalayan foothills through one of the most important ranges in mountaineering history, the Annapurna Massif.

In 1950 the French expedition led by Maurice Herzog became the first team to reach the summit of an 8,000 meter peak, Annapurna. Of the 14 mountains above 8,000 meters in the world, Nepal is home to 8 of these. The Annapurna Circuit trek not only attracts mountaineers, but geologists, bird watchers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels who will take between 12 and 20 days to complete the full circuit trek.

Day 1: Ngadi (890 m) to Jagat (1300 m): 12 km, 410 m gain


   

We take a bus from Besi Sahar to Ngadi, where we begin our hike. Bus services end here, where private Jeeps are available for a hefty price to continue on up through the valley. A huge portion of the Annapurna Circuit follows this same road as it winds up the mountainside. Since the time that my Lonely Planet book was published in December of 2015, the road expanded 34 kilometers all the way from Chame (2710 m) to Manang (3540 m).

  
Today is a relatively easy day, but it is hot. After a couple of hours, we reach a huge tree that frames the perfect vantage point for what’s to come. We overlook the Marsyangdi Valley and see our path curve along the hillside up towards another village on the opposite end. It’s the perfect taste of what we’ll see in the next few weeks.

   

Day 2: Jagat (1300 m) to Dharapani (1900 m): 15 km, 600 m gain
We have lunch in Tal, a beautiful town situated at the end of a valley and the tongue of a river. I bought a bracelet from a local man who promises me that the Tibetan Ohm will give me luck when crossing the Thorong-La Pass in a week.

 

Descending into our lunch spot in Tal

 
 

Josh gives a quick camera lesson to some Nepalese children

 
The valley walls rise dramatically towards the sky on either side to make up these lush, green mountainsides. Even though we haven’t reached the glaciers yet, snow speckles the upper reaches of our day’s hiking destination. Nowhere in America will you see such stark differences between the plunging valley floor and the towering hilltops.

  

Almost even more impressive are the villages that dot the skyline, perched on cliff ledges overlooking thousands of feet of thin air.

 

The perfect afternoon spot for a tea break

 
Today I buy a pair of trekking poles, socks, chapstick, and a chocolate cake for $12. I also experience my first cold shower, courtesy of Himalayan runoff water. “Cold” seems like too nice of a word to describe the feeling of melted ice dripping through my hair.

Our lodge is near a river, so I borrowed a washbin and hand washed my smelliest gear. In the morning I’ll clip them onto the outside of my pack, and by midday they’ll be completely dry from the intense sun. I feel very self-sufficient.

Day 3: Dharapani (1900 m) to Chame (2710 m): 16 km, 810 m gain
Our third day was by far the most exciting, for it’s the first time we get to see the 7,000 and 8,000 meter peaks we’ve been reading and seeing so much about.

  
Our first glimpse is of Annapurna II, part of the greater Annapurna Massif which I mentioned above was the first ever recorded ascent of an 8,000 meter peak. Herzog, the leader of the group, lost both hands and feet in the process.

We were surprised to encounter our first real chilly evening in Chame. After experiencing my first ever hot bucket shower, I went off to explore the town and ended up walking up past a school, a monastery, and up to the upper reaches of the village. There, I was greeted with the late afternoon alpenglow coming off of Manaslu, the 6th tallest mountain in the world.

  

Today brought to life the stories I’d read from history’s most famous mountaineers, and I know that in the days to come we’ll only be more impressed and surprised by the sights of the full Circuit.

   

Day 4: Chame (2710 m) to Upper Pisang (3310 m): 14.5 km, 600 m gain


We woke up today with our breath frosting the air in our lodge room, and the temperature too cold to hold a book in bed with one hand for longer than a minute, before needing to switch out under the covers with the other. But by the time we’d gotten up, had breakfast, and stepped outside, the sun was blazing hot.

  
If we thought we’d gotten used to the mountains from yesterday, we were wrong. Every uphill and every turn granted us jaw-dropping views. The weather was crystal clear, as perfect as it could’ve been, with these gigantic jagged peaks cutting across a flawless blue sky in what was probably the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever experienced in my life.

  
We pass by an apple orchard, and it’s not the first time we’re told that these high-altitude apples are great additions to any meal. I order an apple pie for Josh and I to split as an appetizer for our dinner. We continue to enjoy apple porridge, and apple pancakes throughout the trek.

  

Our lodge in Upper Pisang is this humongous pink building perched over a cliff, and our guide tells us that only two years ago the entire structure resided in Lower Pisang, where it was manually torn apart, hauled up 300 meters, and reconstructed. Annapurna II looms over everything in this town, even the beautiful new monastery sitting at the very top.

  
  
Day 5: Upper Pisang (3310 m) to Manang (3540 m): 19.5 km, 600+ m gain



There are two routes out of Lower and Upper Pisang; a lower route that follows the Jeep road along the river, and a high route that soars above the valley and nearly touches the surrounding 6,000m+ meter peaks. 

We chose the high route, planning only to make it to Ngawal, about half the distance it would take to reach the larger town of Manang. We were stronger and faster than we’d anticipated, and after a well-deserved lunch following a brutal morning ascent, we took the rest of the “Nepali flat” route to Manang (Pro hint: Nothing in Nepal is truly flat, be wary of your guide’s route description).

  

 
As the story goes, each day has been better than the previous, and the sights we saw and peaks we seemed close enough to touch followed us along our trek all day long. Today we mostly walked in silence, getting lost in the beauty around us.

   
   
In Manang we settle into the room we’ll stay at for two nights, to acclimatize. We did some laundry and got our first hot shower in three days.

From here on out, our trekking days will get shorter as we reach higher altitudes. Read onto my second part of our time on the Annapurna Circuit Trek to see the stunning photos of our climb to Ice Lakes.

Taking a hike

Sometime last year, I decided I wanted to take a hike. Get rid of my stuff, get out of the country, and get a different perspective for a while.

Like many things in life, this trip seemed to appear out of nowhere and manifested itself on its own. One day I was talking about how badly I wanted to see the tallest mountains in the world, and the next day I had a one-way flight into Kathmandu, Nepal. The big idea behind this trip initially included a working opportunity that would land me at Everest Base Camp for around a month and a half. When that fell through, I’d already promised friends travel plans and set my sights on spending spring in the heart of the Himalayas – and I knew there was no turning back.

The best and most surprising thing about this trip have been the people I’ll be able to meet along the way. When some of my friends heard about my initial idea, they insisted I make a side trip to wherever they’d be. That’s essentially how a 1.5 month long trip turned into an epic 6-month adventure, over a series of persuasions.

  • Month of March: Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
  • Month of April: Three Passes Everest Base Camp trek, Nepal
  • Month of May: Lhasa, Tibet and Leh-Ladakh, India
  • Month of June: Beijing, China and Trans-siberian Railway through Russia
  • Month of July: Tour du Mont Blanc trek through France, Italy, & Switzerland
  • Month of August: Trekking and touring through Italy

I still don’t have a return plane ticket to the United States, an equally terrifying and thrilling idea. Now that I’m a week away from taking off, I feel prepared, confident, safe, and of course, overwhelmed. I’m scared, but more excited than ever to be embarking on such a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

It’s tough to leave San Francisco, and even harder to have to say goodbye to a great job, an amazing apartment, and the most incredible group of friends… but I know this goodbye is only temporary, and am already looking forward to returning home again.
Follow along on my adventures on my blog, and please get in touch if you or someone you know may cross paths with me across the world in the next half year!