The Manaslu Diaries: Days 4-6

March 9, 2018: Day 4
Jagat to Dyang
Altitude: 1800m
Distance: 19km
Hours: 9
Elevation gain: 390m

What a day. It’s so hard to recall all that happened; it all becomes such a blur so quickly when the mind settles down after the long hard day of trekking. Let’s see what I can uncover. I guess I should introduce our crew a wee bit better since you’ll be hearing all about them. Travis is my partner. We’ve been travelling together for the last 5 months, in Mexico. Jan is Travis’ Auntie. She trekked in Nepal the year before and fell in love, so it worked out perfect that we could meet up here. Travis and I were both relieved to have someone along who knew what the heck they were doing! Bhim is our porter turned friend (whom was all Jan’s porter on her last Nepal trip!). And Tek is Bhim’s older brother, and he is our amazing guide for this journey. Okay, onwards with the adventures. We awoke around 6am on our own as we seem to do each day. Jan did her meditation in bed and I did some seated bed yoga to stretch out my stiff body. It was so lovely to wake up and stretch like that as my body desperatly needed it after the last few days covering so many kilometres. After packing up and a breakfast of hot milk and muesli and pompushkas (a fried flat bread they called Tibetan bread, but Travis’ family calls them pompushkas!), we hit the trail around 8:30am – an early start for us, but the last to leave yet again! So far we have been the last to leave the tea house and the last to arrive at the next tea house each day. We have dubbed ourselves Team Zero Fucks Given! We are that laid back.

Soon we were in the sunshine and sweating from our slow, gradual uphill climb. We crossed our biggest bridge yet which was slightly off kilter and a wee bit wobbly! I was keeping up a quicker pace and staying ahead of the group today, which is making me realize that I quite enjoy hiking all by my lonesome. It gives me so much time to think and ponder, time to be with my thoughts, to process them, to daydream, time to be alone with myself- which is something I have not really been able to do since I left home five months ago as I am always with Travis. It gives me the space to enjoy the beauty around me. However, I can’t say that I was feeling the same energy that I had yesterday, unfortunately (where’s the Fanta when you need it)! Even though I was keeping ahead, my energy was low, I was feeling fatigued, and the hiking was hard!  I know it’s not the altitude since we are only at 1800m today. But the others were feeling it towards the end too, thankfully it wasn’t just me. The last two and a half hours were agonizing! My body felt like lead. We stopped for tea and after sitting for just 15 minutes my legs felt stiff and cramped. I’m a bit worried for what this means for tomorrow.  We have another long eight hour hike tomorrow with our biggest elevation gain yet- nearly 900 metres… Yikes!!! So let’s hope a good nights sleep and some Advil help the situation.  

The views were remarkable today. How can each day be so much more amazing than the last? How is this sustainable?! The sheer black walls of the canyon shot up at dizzying angles all around us . The narrow dirt path carved into the mountainside precariously, carrying us along, high above the foaming turquoise river raging below. Giant spruce trees clung to the cliff sides and we walked beneath them, dodging their huge pine cones on the trail. And all around us, the giants themselves peeked above the canyon walls. The immensity of this place is indescribable. My mind seems to struggle to compute both the beauty and the immensity of it all. And we’ve not even see the really big peaks of the Himalayas yet!

A quicknote on the food, as my dinner arrives while I write this. It’s been surprising pretty decent. It gets pricier as we head up higher each day of course, as it takes that many more resources to get the supplies to these remote locations. Tibetan bread with honey is to die for (pompushkas as our troop calls them). The porridge is horrendous, but the muesli with hot milk is delicious and has become my go to for breakfast. The Swiss roastie is awesome – it’s like a giant hash brown with veggies and an egg on top. The cheese pizza was better than I thought it would be, but still not very good.  The pumpkin soup is excellent. So far the best food has been here at Dyang. Popcorn even! I guess it’s a popular treat in Nepal!

I have a confession to make.  I am starting to get a bit nervous … I guess because today I started to feel sore and tomorrow seems so daunting, but most of all I am nervous about the altitude and doing the pass. We talked about it in a lot more detail tonight with Tek and Bhim, and on the day of the pass we have to get up at 4am to beat possible bad weather – wind – which makes the pass very dangerous. Then we go to over 5100 metres – that’s almost 17,000 feet… yikes! We cross this altitude through the pass in potentially deep snow and then two hours of very steep downhill trekking in snow. Exciting, but scary. It’s good to have a healthy fear of it I suppose, a respect for the mountain.

Time to dream of trekking and prepare for the long hard day tomorrow!

March 10, 2018: Day 5
Dyang to Namrung
Altitude: 2660
Distance: 16km
Hours 9.5
Elevation gain: 860m

Whenever I am walking, I think of a million things I want to write about, to remember, and at the end of the day when we have settled in to the next tea house and I have time to write… I remember nothing. It feels like not only my body, but my brain too, is fried at the end of these long days; my mind turns to absolute mush and I can’t recall anything- the last few days all blur together. But I will always try of course. I didn’t sleep again last night.. I even took two Benadryl as I was getting desperate for sleep- what the hell! I’m not having any luck at all on this trek with sleep, which is scaring me. I need my rest! Once we get into high altitude (basically this day onwards) the lack of sleep will be the ruin of me, and could potentially ruin the trek. So let’s hope I can sleep tonight! How can sleep evade me still, when I am so physically exhausted day after day?

Anyway, it was such a rough start to the day. I was miserable, angry, irritable and just wanted be alone, away from everyone. Which is hard to do when you’re trekking with five other people. I couldn’t just run ahead like I did in earlier days because I was just so utterly spent! I had no energy. And to make it worse I didn’t have my morning poo! Nothing makes a lady angrier than that to start her day, especially when you don’t know the next time you’ll have access to a hole in the ground – the old reliable squat toilet, as that is all they have up this way.

It took a couple of hours until I could feel human again, and let the sour mood slough off my back. But when it did I was able to appreciate what a beautiful day it was. Sunny and clear, we traversed through continuously epic scenery. From the steep canyon walls along the river, to the tall pine forests, to the mossy rain forest – it kept changing. We had to pass over several treacherous landslide areas – remnants of the big earthquake. Loose sand and gravel no more than six inches wide on the unstable path, with a steep fierce drop off into oblivion below. A few times we were walking along and huge rocks came crashing down from above us. If we had been just a few seconds faster as they would have smashed right into us as they barrelled past our trail. This trek is definitely turning out to have some adventure! I think part of me feared it would be a real cut and dry trail- but Manaslu is anything but!

There are some things I did not expect to see while trekking in the Himalayas. Cacti. Lizards. Huge pine trees. Millions and millions of butterflies. Yet here they all are! But nature always surprises you. What was truly unique to see was the way of life of the people who live in these valleys. We passed two women in a small village, one weaving, the other pulling wool and separating it for the weave. These villagers make their own clothes and grow their own food. Its a very different way of life to see coming from Canada, where we are so privileged that we just buy everything we need. Village life here must be self sustaining because they don’t have the option to just buy what they need – there are no stores here. Sure you see the modern world encroaching – the rubber sandals, the food brought in for the tea houses and trekkers on the mules backs. But then you see people cutting and shaping 2×4’s with their hand tools – no power tools. People crushing rocks by hand with a hammer, literally making gravel by hand from boulders… Life without roads is a very different life, indeed.

So what else happened today… ? I got my first taste of stinging nettle! Luckily only on my finger and not my butt! This stuff is everywhere. They even make soup out of it! But I can confirm from experience – it sucks! For hours!

We walked along through the verdant rain forest and beautiful horses came trotting along the trail towards me, looking like wild horses from a fairytale. Their hair was so long an uncut unlike all the other horses and mules we see, and they were unburdened, no heavy load to carry. The first one that appeared walking along the trail was all white. Her coat shone brightly set against the lush green backdrop. I was sure she was a magical mirage! 

When we arrived to our camp, the greatest thing happened. I got to pet a cow! You have no idea how exciting this was for me! Everyone piled inside the tea house for food and company and here I was hanging around outside petting the village cow and talking to it. But something even more exciting than petting a cow happened at camp… You can purchase a large thermos of hot water at camp. I am not sure what most people do with theirs (soak their sore feet like Jan, perhaps? Make tea?), but Travis and I decided we would use the bucket Jan found to soak her feet in (which was more like a three foot wide, two foot deep pan), and have a ‘splash bath’ for lack of a better term. So after dinner, we snuck off to the rickety bathroom together, shivering in the icy wind blowing through the gaps in the ramshackle wood walls. When the sun goes down here, it gets fiercely cold, fast. We stripped down, teeth clattering, and poured the boiling water into the bucket, adding a bit of cold so we didn’t burn ourselves, as we hopped from foot to foot in our flip flops trying to stay warm. I ungracefully squatted into said bucket and most inelegantly began to splash the warm water all over my bits. I screamed at Travis to help me to hurry the process up and he started scooping water up from the pan and tossing it all over me. Hysterical laughter ensued, along with a bit of screaming as I tried to balance in the tippy water pan, ensuring I didn’t tip and fall into the squat toilet which was a mere two feet away, wasting our very precious, very expensive hot water. It was fast and furious and my skimpy travel towel didn’t do much to dry the water from my body, but the frigid wind offered an icy hand. Travis’s turn was up and I helped him in the same way, giggling manically, half from how cold I was and half from how hilarious this was. I think it easily ranks as one of our top bonding experience of all time. And while it was no hot shower, when you’ve gone a few days of hard trekking, sweating copious amounts, peeing in filthy squat toilet bathrooms… you still feel a deep sense of relief at how much cleaner you are. At least until tomorrow when you’ve wearing your dirty sweaty clothes for the third day in a row.

Alas I can remember no more. We are at our highest altitude yet, though not so high, merely 2660 metres, but boy did it get colder! I am quite worried about how much I am going to freeze as we only get higher and colder from here! I feel so unprepared. Walking should be okay as the movement will keep us toasty, but the second we stop moving… Oh boy.  I am getting so nervous about it, but nothing’s to be done now …!

March 11, 2018: Day 6
Namrung to Lhogaon
Altitude: 3180
Distance: 9.5km
Hours: 3
Elevation gain: 520m

Ah yes, another sleepless night! How I am still functioning, I do not know, let alone climbing up to 3160 metres! Oh well, somehow I have done it and that is all that matters. My only real complaint is that my back is seizing up from my pack. I’ts only maybe 20 pounds, but I’ve surely pinched something and now my muscles are seizing up and I am getting intense pins and needles in my back left side. I can’t say I am looking forward to tomorrow – today was painful enough. I will just have to drug up on Advil and hope it helps. So, gross story – because I love sharing my bathroom woes with the world. Yesterday I was totally constipated and this morning I felt my guts cramping up bad so I grabbed the TP roll and headed to the “pit” as I call the squat toilets on this trek. I squatted down, my heels touching my back thighs and I felt like I was going to pass out from pain, yet nothing would release. I had to grab ahold of the tap on the side of the wall to keep myself from falling over as I was feeling so woozy and dizzy. I was stuck there for over 10 awful minutes before release came. And let me tell you – if you haven’t deep squatted over a hole in the ground full of others peoples piss and shit for 10 minutes and nearly passed out in the process – have you even really lived? I had to go back for round two after breakfast. And then round three. And four. Diarrhea, constipation, diarrhea again, insomnia, asthma, pinched muscles… who brought this hot mess?! 

Well, we had a slow start (as usual!) which was fine with me because we only had a three hour stretch today to cover. We set off just behind the two boisterous Czech boys around 9:30am. Their excuse  for such a slow start was they had been drinking. We didn’t have one, we just didn’t care when we left! We loved our slow moving mornings, taking our time, stretching out, waking up early but slowly, hanging out over breakfast and packing up. These things take time!

The morning was glorious. The peaks were behind us and ahead of us, snowy ones towered on either side. It felt amazing to be surrounded by the majestic Himalayas. There was a 560 metre elevation gain today so we spent a lot of the day going up, up, up which seems to be the trend now! The views were so beautiful all day long and it was a tiring trek at times on the uphill with the altitude and lack of sleep. When we got close to our stop, after an especially steep climb, two local women were sitting aside the path. One had her mule and he was standing across the path and blocking the whole trail . So I stopped, smiled and greeted them with my palms rested together.
‘Namaste’, they greeted me in return, and the younger girl asked me in excellent English, ‘Where are you going?’
When I told her to Lhogan, she asked why.  I explained that I was trekking and asked if she was from this area.
“Yes, from Lehi village up this way.”
I told her I loved this place and how beautiful it was and she in turn asked me where I was from. When I told her Canada she beamed a big, beautiful smile and said  ‘I like Canada!’
As we chatted a wee bit more a chicken in a white bag with its head poking out tried to escape from her friends care. The white bag rolled around on the ground comically with the little flustered chicken head sticking out. I laughed and gave the mule a smack on his bum with my hand and bid the ladies goodbye. It was a brief, unexpected and lovely encounter.

Our team stopped for tea in Lehi, the girls village, where we caught up with the Cezch’s . We sat at the small tables outside the tea shop with our milk tea sharing biscuits we had all bought from previous tea shops. We were surrounded by snowy mountains all around and a stunning monastery dominated the tiny little village. A colossal dead tree stood towering next to us as we chatted, and it began to fill with crows. An entire murder found its way into the dead gnarled branches and they watched carefully over us. This was my favourite tea stop so far on our trek. We stopped daily for tea and/or lunch but this place was perfect. The sun was blazing down, the snowy surroundings making the world seem brighter than ever, yet despite all the snow around us it was lovely and warm. I savoured the sun kissing my cheeks as I sipped my hot,  sweet milk tea and wondered in awe at where I was in that very moment. 

It was a challenge to pick myself up off my chair and leave this little paradise to keep trekking, but onwards we went.  On the way out of the village a small old cow was on the path and I stopped to pet him – another cow pet, yay! I’ve said hello, I believe, to every single animal I have come across on the trail – and there have been far more animals than people! It was just before 2pm when we arrived into the village. The north face of Manaslu stood in front of us. Our first site of the 8th highest mountain in the world, and the namesake of this trek! It was exciting to at last have our first sight of the this mountain that felt almost mythical to us.  It was breathtaking. And this evening we bathe ourselves in the shadow of her might at last. 

Speaking of bathing, that’s a thing of the past for us humans now, however we did get an opportunity to wash a few pieces of clothing in icy water in some buckets, as we arrived early enough in the afternoon that they just might dry by tomorrow! After laundry we had a delicious lunch of garden potato curry – the best dish yet. Jan and Travis split their first large beer and I had a warm Fanta and some popcorn as my treat to celebrate making it this far and seeing Manaslu at last! We were all feeling great at this altitude. Tomorrow we reach 3600 metres and have a rest day to acclimate.  Tek broke the surprising news to us that we would be sleeping in tents at the highest camp, Dharmasala, which sits at over 4500m…! We are absolutely going to freeze…! Oh well, no going back now!

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