Trekking Around Annapurna (1/3)
After the gorgeous Langtang trek, I kept thinking about a face to face with Himalayan summits again. A few days later I give a call to a new friend I just met, Dan: “What a coincidence, I planned to leave for the same place the exact same day!”. That’s how I am about to begin a whole new adventure, the Annapurna Circuit. And the adventure starts quick enough with a young lady particularly sensitive to the vibrations of the bus. She will spend the next 6 hours sleeping on my shoulder when she is not vomiting in small plastic bags that she then throws through the window – Hmmm, Nepal…
The first days
The first days are not really fascinating. We are driven on a seesaw track by a bus to Chamchye, spend the night here, then walk something like 20 km before getting stuck because of an over-active waterfall. We are about to go back to the previous village in order to find out a solution to this problem when we luckily find a way to bypass the fall. Here we are lucky enough to hitch hike in a truck — or what’s left of it — that drives us to Chame, the “true” start of the mountain trek, where things become interesting.
Kilometer after kilometer, we walk through Alpine landscapes and typical villages. Stunned to experience such a beauty, walking becomes easy despite heat, sunburns and the difficulty of some passages. The presence of chortens and prayer wheels is a reminder of the Buddhist influence in these high and remote places where provoking mountains dominate. Annapurna II, Annapurna IV, … Their name resonate in our mind and drives us wild with desire. But they make light of us, continually hiding behind a chaste finery of clouds before gently unveiling to our eyes, as nocturnal queens teasing our senses without ever showing everything.
Every single day, from a village to the next, we climb to better go down before climbing again. The sun is at its highest when we walk through a surprising landscape making us think about Sierra Nevada, without the cowboys. We are literally burning and the liters of water we carry are flowing with an extraordinary speed. Until now, we have always gone further than the objective we set before, but this time might be different. A totally unexpected village appears to our tired eyes. Bathed in dust, surrounded by horses and yaks, it is lazily hiding behind a dried grass bump in a North African look — Bragha. Temptation is too strong and makes us forget about today’s target. We will sleep here tonight.
Despite our wounded feet we keep on, always further, always higher. Our eyes cast an envious glance at a specific spot on the map: one of the highest lakes in the world, Tilicho lake, 4919 m high. Discovered by Herzog and his team during the famous 1950s expedition aimed to reach the top of Annapurna I – the first 8000 m climb in human history — it has become the next target. But this time walking like we did so far will not be enough. That would be too easy. You have to deserve a lake like this and we will have to cross an important zone of landslides. We however do not really worry about it, ignorant as we are, but quickly understand what we’re in for when we walk on an unstable sand and gravel path, barely large enough for our feet, which inclination sends shivers down your spine…
Now we are a team of three, a new recruit under the name of Fabrice joined us. We already met him a few days ago but got separated. He has been traveling alone so far, however he has been awaiting for some company to cross this risky zone. We will then walk through it together.
At the beginning everything goes well. We do not especially feel secure but the hostile and arid landscape bewitches us. On one side, the steep slope separates us from the sky, on the other from the river, maybe more than a hundred meters downhill; falling here would probably be fatal, this is an evidence. The path becomes thinner, then nonexistent when Fabrice suddenly hesitates. “We can’t cross here! Look, there is no track anymore and gravel is crumbling!”. He is right. The thin layer of gravels left make this part of the path unstable, slowly disintegrating under our steps and dragging us down little by little towards the chasm. I remain however confident and give it a try. It’s a success! Fabrice follows me, still hesitating. As he is leaning on the slope — an illusion of security — the ground crumbles under his weight and he finds himself stuck, laying on the slope, clinging to it as much as he can…