Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trekking to Hell and Back: The Annapurna Circuit

Now that I'm back on level ground breathing oxygenated air and not carrying a backpack full of trekking gear everywhere I go, I can look back on my time trekking along the Annapurna Circuit of the Nepalese Himalayan mountain range and say that is was, by far, one of the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done (this is my FIRST attempt at any form of "trekking"). Suffice to say, the 14 (yes, 14!) days I spent trekking up to a height of 5416 meters to Thorung La, the highest point along the Annapurna Circuit, were well worth it for the spectacular views, the physical challenge, subsequent victory and lifelong experience, despite the toll on my body and mind.

Prayer flags flying in the winds of Thorung La
I'm glad I trekked the Annapurna Circuit but I have to admit, when I agreed to go trekking with Matt and Craig, I didn’t really understand what I was signing myself up for. I only assume that they didn’t fully divulge the actualities of trekking in the Himalayas to me because they knew I probably would have stayed in my nice, warm, low-elevation hotel room.

Matt and Craig relaxing after day 1 of trekking
First off, and this may be somewhat apparent to most people and it should have been to me except it somehow wasn’t, trekking is HARD! Besides the obvious fact that waking up at dawn to hike up a mountain into thinner air for five or more hours a day is physically draining, it’s also mentally exhausting.

Along the trail, Matt and I overheard someone say that "50% of trekking is 100% mental" and at the time, the guy just sounded ridiculous and I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but he was right. So much of trekking IS mental and on the days where I wasn’t mentally prepared for the hours of walking, I found myself dragging my feet and needing more "time-outs" often than days where I was “in the zone.”

Clearly, this was a day I was NOT "in the zone"
Secondly, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is actually a bit fun. Yes, AMS is very dangerous and people can and have died from AMS, but when you’re up at a higher elevation and your brain isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs, things can get really funny really fast. AMS is, in fact, a cute mountain sickness. In my uncontrollable fits of laughter, something in my throat must have dislodged itself because whenever I laugh hard, a distinct rattling sound emanates from the back of my throat. I think the rattling sound is still there though it’s hard to tell since I’m longer prone to low oxygenated fits of laughter that I’m down from the mountain.

Matt suffering from "a cute mountain sickness"
Thirdly, trekking is expensive. Ridiculously expensive, comparatively speaking to other travel costs. The cost of equipment, trekking permits, lodging along the trail and the (mostly bad) food at the lodges all add up to a large sum in the end. Matt and I didn't take out enough cash in Pokhara and since ATM machines are non-existent along most of the trail, we ended up having to borrow money from Craig. I guess we shouldn't have splurged on all that garlic soup and pots of milk tea... Or we should have just been better prepared and brought more cash with us.

Lastly, I learned a lot about myself while on this trek. I learned that I can achieve anything (namely, trekking for 14 days up to a high altitude) if I put my mind to it. I learned that between the option of taking a freezing shower surrounded by freezing cold mountain air and NOT taking a shower, I'm okay with NOT taking a shower for at least three days. I learned I'm okay with not changing clothes and socks for that same duration if it means not having to get naked in that same freezing cold. I learned that I can feel no shame in squatting down and relieving myself pretty much anywhere, even right outside my lodge room door (especially on cold nights because that means no need to walk in the cold to get to the squat toilet outside). I learned that I don't function well in the cold (as evidenced by all the other things I have learned). And I guess more importantly, I learned that I'm not such a princess after all. Or maybe I'm still a bit delusional from the lack of oxygen...

All in all, trekking the Himalayas in Nepal was an incredible experience and I'm so glad that I did it (and made it over the pass)! The memories of it will no doubt last a lifetime!

© Connie Hum 2010

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