“She walked all the way???” everyone kept asking me about my 4-year-old trekking companion. She walked. And she wanted to walk more. Eighteen days in the Himalayas. Just me and my little one. Annapurna Base Camp and Poon Hill. A beautiful adventure.
About six months earlier I was showing my daughter photos of Annapurna trek that I did with a friend, way back in 2003. My Sunny kid adores mountains. With her being only 4 years old she walked, trekked and skied an amazing amount of Slovenian peaks and is an extremely enthusiastic hiker. So, when I proposed an idea of a month in Nepal and showed her photos of the treks, I wasn’t surprised when she added with utter determination, that she wants to trek Himalaya. Now, my kid really is a mountain goat, I would not have considered taking her so high and so far without knowing that she can do it and that she will absolutely love it.
I chose Annapurna base camp trek, because I knew it well, because there are lots of villages on the way, so it is easy to adjust the daily distance and you can gain the maximum altitude of 4130m slowly. And of course, the views. The views are magnificent. And holy mountain Machapuchare left a huge imprint in my heart the first time I have visited Annapurnas. I needed to relive it.
So there we were, under the first flight of the stairs leading from Phedi towards the Himalayas. Just me and my Sunny kid. One enormous and one tiny backpack. Ready to head into the heart of the Annapurna massive. The stone made stairs leading up from Phedi are a start for endurable. They seem never ending and can be a quite discouraging thing right from the start. It is possible to take a ride to Dhampus and avoid the rough start but, well, the faster you get used to the stairs, the better. You can not avoid them later on, on the trail. We walked slowly, with lots of breaks, so as not to kill Sunnys ( and mine ) excitement the first day. Worries were superfluous though since my little mountain goat was climbing up happily, eager to get high enough to see the peaks. Being used to the Alps, she was expecting them much too early on. The first three days we were walking for about 4 hours a day, sleeping in villages of Pothana ( 1900m ), Landruk ( 1560 m ) and Jhinu ( 1780 m ). Early October, monsoon rains just giving its last afternoon downpours, there was lots of water everywhere. Rivers were high, waterfalls magnificent.
There was always an opportunity to play for Sunny and for me refilling our water stock. We had three 1l bottles and I used Iodine tablets to purify it. You can also refill in lodges from the big containers brought up from the valley. The price of which goes up significantly with the altitude of course. You can’t buy water in plastic bottles in the Annapurna conservation area, which is a great step forwards stopping the pollution. Walking along the Modi Khola river and watching the crazy flow of high monsoon waters was breathtaking. A few older suspension bridges with big holes also took a few breaths away in a different manner though… Aaand, we had some fun with leeches in those first days. ” Mum, look, this funny snail is stuck between my fingers! ”
By the fourth day, we had a good walking rhythm and advanced fast through Chommorong and Sinuwa. The amount of stairs on that day was just crazy though. This trek is definitely a butt shaper. First a steep climb of 400m up to Chommorong, then waaaay down to the valley and again up to the Sinuwa. I would complain if there wasn’t Sunny with me, with her short legs, the stairs were mostly higher than her knees. I offered to take her small backpack to make it a bit easier and immediately she was climbing the stairs on all fours. Laughing at her mommy tugging behind. It was also chocolate cake day, yes, yes, when passing through Chommorong you need to stop in one of the bakeries and try their famous cakes or an apple pie.
Because of afternoon clouds, we never saw the view when arriving at the lodge, which made the mornings so much more spectacular. Crisp clean waking hours of the day served with views of Machapuccare and Annapurnas and usually lasted till about twelve o’clock. It was a good enough motivation to start walking early. Our day usually started around 6 o’clock in the morning, waking up and running out to see the view, then bundling back into the sleeping bag to warm up and preparing the backpack to start walking right after breakfast. We were usually in the lodges diner between seven and seven thirty. Black coffee with heaps of sugar for me, Tibetan bread with jam or porridge and hot lemon for Sunny were the usual breakfast mood. The toilet part after breakfast was a bit tricky cause we usually weren’t the only ones with that plan. But waiting with a view on green valleys behind and snow peaks in front, sharing daily plans and ideas with fellow trekkers from all over the world isn’t that bad for a toilet line either. Around eight o clock, it was time to start walking. The hardest part for me was always lifting my heavy backpack and putting it on a stone made ledge from where I could strap it on my back. Sunny prepared the walking sticks, checked our water bottles and led the way out of village or lodge station. By the seventh day, we have met so many trekker friends that we were hardly ever walking alone. We usually stopped for lunch and rest in one of the lodges on the way. Ordering Dhal Bhat every time and Sunny also ate an amazing amount of hard boiled eggs on those difficult walking days. Considering the prices of food and lodging that rise with the altitude, Dhal Bhat was a life saver. Rice and lentils just keep coming till you are full. We usually ate in the company of porters who were showing Sunny how to eat with hands only. They taught her good I guess, she still eats rice without utensils. Evenings in the almost warm lodge diners with new friends were an opportunity for lots of laughter, sharing and making new traveling plans and discussing everything from mountaineering experiences to sicknesses picked up on the road, football, music and life philosophy. The mix of languages and cultures in those moments are something I simply adore and where I feel right at home.
The path of the trek is really easy to follow, walking through villages, fields, and forests along Modi Khola river. There are lots of signs and boards with walking distances to next villages or lodges. Lots of suspension bridges add to the excitement, so does meeting trekkers, porters, donkeys, buffalos, horses, goats, monkeys and the feeling of getting closer to the amphitheater formed by Annapurna range.
Days 5 to 7 led us through villages of Bamboo (2310m), Dobhan (2600m), Himalaya (2920m) and Deurali (3230m) to Machapucchre base camp on 3700m. We were flying now. Sunny was in her top form and was running and jumping and climbing from dusk till dawn. She was getting lots of attention from everyone we met, which amused her at first, angered her next and then she kind of accepted it and just went with the flow. Her first full sentence in English though, was ” I said NO photos!!! “. It was getting significantly colder in the evenings and nights. Up here it really is important what equipment you carry with you. A good sleeping bag and a warm wind/waterproof jacket are a must. I packed all the top things for Sunny and definitely not enough things for me, resulting in me freezing my booty off for a few nights, warming up my feet in Sunnys perfect high altitude down sleeping bag. That was quite fun. I was so happy we bought fleece lined wool hats in Pokhara. I think they didn’t leave our heads those days around Annapurna base camp at all.
On the morning of day 8, I set myself to wake up before sunrise. I couldn’t set an alarm, cause my phone was dead since day four. It is possible to charge in the lodges, most of them also have wifi, but both are payable. And Sunny was kind of right when she said that we really don’t need to know what time it is when we are free up here in the mountains. So, with the help of freezing half of the night, I got up quite before the sunrise. It was really cold outside, but the first lines of the mountains showing from the darkness around were promising an amazing sunrise. I woke up Sunny and took her out in her sleeping bag. Waiting for the first sun rays, smelling the sweet Tibetan incense, warming up our hands on mugs of coffee and hot lemon, we were observing the world starting a fresh new day. The friendly owner of the lodge brought Sunny some coconut biscuits and I think she was the happiest kid in the world at that moment even though her little nose was frozen. Slowly the Annapurna range started changing colors from black, towards grey and then it was caught in the orange fire of the first sun rays. It was an absolutely spectacular sight, watching the high peaks around us light up. Annapurna 1, Gangapurna and Machapucchare taking the spotlight.
Immediately after early breakfast, we started walking the last 400 m of altitude to Annapurna base camp. It was the first day that I noticed Sunny started walking a bit slower. We talked about less oxygen in the air and what it means for her body. We talked about symptoms of high altitude sickness and what we would need to do if one of us would start feeling any of them. We were both feeling very good though. The surroundings were so beautiful that morning, and Anapurna base camp so close, that we really took our time and walked very, very slowly. There is a little river running down and the path is winding beside it. After about an hour of walk, we started meeting our friends from days before, who were already returning from the Basecamp. We were all so happy to see each other and Sunny was getting high fives, congratulations, and words of encouragement for the last part of the way up. It was awesome.
We made the last break just about 20 min away from the Annapurna base camp. The sun was already high and the air was warm. I was lying on the dry grass, smelling the mix of Himalayan scents. Dry manure, incense sticks from afar, water from melting snow and dry grass. Macchapuchre magnificently in front of me, the sound of the river and Sunny kid happy running around and jumping from rock to rock, completely forgetting that she is 4000 m high. My time of feeling a complete presence, a heart filled with freedom and amazement upon the beauty of our Earth. The moment of falling in love with life and making a promise to myself to never let go of wanderlust and the dream to travel the world.
After this magnificent last stop, it wasn’t far till we saw the big board congratulating the trekkers who made it to the Annapurna base camp. Sunny was totally overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do with all the excitement, so she climbed, run and jumped all around. While we did the photoshoot by the signs the clouds started gathering and in half an hour everything around us was lost in white. After finding a place in the lodge we went for a walk towards the ridge full of prayer flags. We brought some from Pokhara too and put them on. The rest of the day was spent in the lodge playing cards and trying to communicate with a group of Korean trekkers. The night was cold and sadly the morning was cloudy, so we didn’t have the full view of Annapurna range, like the day before. It was still a spectacular sight and feeling of being amongst the highest mountains in the world, soaring somewhere above. Annapurna 1 showed her white head from the clouds for a few moments and some sunrays got through to the glacier. Everything else remained like a secret behind the white veil.
The way down from the Annapurna base camp was quite faster than when going up. We stopped by the river close to Machapuchare base camp, took out the trekking map and discussed our options. Quoting my little girl: ” Can we stay up here in the mountains and do another trek? Like you know, see more sunrises and stuff like that. I don’t want to go down to the town yet. ” There were a few more underlined places on the map immediately and happily the decision was made. We will make a detour through another valley climb up to Ghorepani and to the famous trekking point of Poon hill.
We made it back to the village of Chommorong in two days. I finally managed to warm up and we took first ( cooold but so nice ) showers after a week… Ugh… I know. But it was too cold. Way too cold. And needless to say I guess, there is no hot water. We stayed two days, washed ourselves and our clothes, ate a lot, slept a lot, sat in the warm sun with friends a lot… Oh yes, life is good in the Himalayan village.
On the morning of the thirteenth day, we left Chommorong and followed the path to the valley of Kyumnu Khola and towards Poon hill. Will make that part another blog post, with lots of photos, so stay tuned.
I was and still am sooo proud of my amazing little climber who made it to Annapurna base camp like a champ, at age of four. My kid with the wanderlust. The adventure seeker. She was so genuinely happy up there. Her eyes shining as she was walking the magical land of Himalayas and singing her favorite songs out loud.
I should have taken more videos.
I guess we should just do it again.
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On the side note: I am by no means suggesting that anyone should go and do the trek alone, without a guide or an agency. Hiring someone is definitely a much better option for everyone who doesn’t have much mountaineering experiences or doesn’t want to arrange everything by himself. There are numerous agencies in Pokhara organizing treks, porters, and guides. For families, I would definitely recommend ENLIGHTENED GLOBETREKKER. An amazing mum and daughter combo can take you up there this November.