Saturday, April 7, 2012

Trekking in the Himalayas

We started with a night in Pokhara and the next day we made our way to the beginning of the trek in the Annapurna area. We started our trek at around 900 meters elevation and ended at 2750 meters. It was about 50 kms round trip. However, the more important measurement is that it was very steep! We spent our first night in Hille in an average trekking tea house. The unheated room consisted of two wooden platforms with foamie mattresses, a bottom sheet, pillow and blanket. The tea houses and rest stops along the way generally have a non-flushing squat toilet, which you have to throw a bucket of water down after you are finished. The first day of trekking was tiring but enjoyable. It was a steady incline up to the first tea house.

The second day nearly killed me. The trek was straight up on stone stair cases carved into the side of the mountain. I kept hoping for a flat spot around every bend and instead I was met with a seemingly unending climb. I was not grateful for much at this point, but I was certainly grateful for my trekking poles. They are amazing devices and I am a convert to hiking with poles from now on. It's like having a personal hand rail. At one point our guide tried to reassure me by saying that the lunch break was just up and over the trees where some other hikers could be seen as faraway dots. I promptly burst into tears. He then offered that a donkey ride could be possible. I assure you that the donkey would not say the same thing. The poor donkeys already haul up the supplies for the tea houses and villages, they certainly do not need to haul me up! Besides it seemed like less of a defeat to just turn around. However, I regained my composure and made it to the lunch spot. After that the worst of the climb was over. It was still steep but there were flat spots and more reasonable height gain. I was in awe of the local people zipping up the steep trek, often in flip flops, hauling heavy loads. Below is a photo of part of the trek and a donkey hauling up chickens.

We made it to our second stop for the night in another simple unheated tea house. As you climb up it gets colder and I slept with long johns, pants, shirt, fleece, socks and toque, but I stayed warm! It's funny how much more you enjoy things when there are less distractions and time is slowed down. The tea house made the best corn bread, which was actually more like fry bread (bannock). After all the hard work and cool air it tasted like magic. In the evening we gathered around the dining room fireplace, made from an old metal barrel with a stove pipe jutting out and up through the roof. A sweet young cat made me break my rule of not petting animals as we travel. Actually she broke the rule by jumping on my lap and settling in for a snuggle. It made me miss having a cat and I look forward to adopting a rescue kitty when we return. It was blissful to sit around the warm fire, full belly, satisfaction from a day of successful trekking and a warm kitty in my lap.

The evenings have left time to make progress in the Positive Psychology book I am reading; Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. From a social work perspective, it does focus much more on the individual versus environmental impacts but it comes from a strengths based approach. (I think both individual and environmental factors are important to address.) It is about building upon individual strengths regardless of the persons past or circumstance. It has some helpful insights into the role of mindfulness, savoring, gratitude, kindness, self talk, finding more meaning in your work (regardless of what the actual job is), sense of purpose, in building happiness. I also really appreciated its strong foundation in research and evidence based practices. The author also has a website,, with many of the insightful questionnaires used in the book where you can gauge your own areas of strength and development.

I really enjoyed the following story on mindfulness from the book;
After three years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of his teacher. He enters the room, bursting with ideas about knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics, and well-prepared for the deep questions that await him in his examination.
'I have but one question,' his teacher intones.
'I am ready, master,' he replies.
'In the doorway, we're the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?'
The novice retires, abashed, for three more years of study.
(page 109, Martin E. P. Seligman)

On the next day of the hike I resolved to be more positive and mindful as I trekked. The day offered many opportunities to connect to the present moment. The path way was slick from the last evening's rain and I had to carefully plant each foot on the stones to keep from slipping. Sadly as I rounded one bend I was met with a sickly smell and over the edge of the path, down the embankment was a dead donkey who had obviously slipped from the trail. Along the way you also need to dodge the ample donkey dung. As we headed into the more heavily forested area I noticed a great number of lady bugs dotting the path. This offered another mindfulness moment as I did not want to squish any on the way. So each step and pole was carefully placed to avoid slipping, dung and the little creatures. I am quite sure our porter, who dutifully followed behind me not matter how slow I was, thought I was nuts as I snapped photos of lady bugs, side stepped them and occasionally turned one right side up. As I connected more fully to the present moment I also found I enjoyed the trek more.

We successfully made it to Ghorepani at 2750 meters elevation. J bravely got up at 4:30am and did the hike to Poon Hill, (with an elevation of 3150 meters it should be called Poon Mountain) while I slept. This stop was even colder so I added gloves to my bedtime ensemble. It was so cold that my trusty timex watch stopped working during the night, but once warmed up it started working again, We spent two nights in the village before heading back down. The views of the Annapurna range from Ghorepani are glorious. We opted to cut the trek short by one night and therefore only had one night, two days, to make it down from Ghorepani. The trek down was nearly as hard as the steep day up, as it is so hard on the joints. My legs are burning! It rained a bit on the way down but we missed the worst of it.

The food during the trek has been simple but mostly good. We ate a lot of Dal Bhat, a traditional Nepali dish of lentils, rice, potatoes and a green vegetable. We have now returned to Pokharaand I am looking forward to some more diverse food options, heat, internet, clean clothes, more consistent electricity and western toilets (although the squat ones are really not that bad just a little tougher to navigate at times, such as when one has seized up leg muscles).

The trek was an amazing experience and for me quite an accomplishment. It made me miss our lovely Canadian wilderness and national parks. At this point J and I are planning to come back to Canada for a few weeks in August to take our electric car - Joanie the Tesla, on a road trip, before head to the USA. We are planning on heading to two of our favorite spots, Waterton National Park andKaslo, BC. We are still in the planning stages and will add in other stops along the way for battery charging and exploring. Check out my trek photos here:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Debra Curry said...

Wow Capri that is a huge accomplishment for both of you. Kudos!! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insights... oh and the authentic happiness website... I shall check that out. Take care!

Anonymous said...

Capri this sounds incredibly trying at best. I'm glad you found some inner strength - I'm proud of you sister. I couldn't do what you did. I'm glad there was a kitty to sit on your lap... that would have made things substantially better I'm sure. xox

voyagevixen said...

Thanks Debra and jodi. It ws tough but I am glad I made it. I hope to continue to have lots of physical activity over the year off.