I have to be honest. My account of this trek is rather lackluster because, well…my experience was rather lackluster. I think it suffered from expectations – my expectations were very high and I was unable to get over it when the experience did not live up to what I thought it would be. Sometimes I am able to overcome these feelings…but this time I was not.
My goal here is to give an honest account of our travels and so I have decided not to sugarcoat the experience…it is what it is. I realize how lucky we are to be in this part of the world…the mountains truly are stunning and we already talk about coming back and doing a longer trek…it just didn’t work out for us this time.
Although the Poon Hill Trek is easily done without one, we had decided to hire a guide. With my complete lack of navigation skills, and Jason having to always pay attention to get us everywhere, we thought it would be nice if, for once, J could just follow along too.
I had done some research and found that a guide/porter would cost between $12 – $15 per day and that the cost of food and accommodation on the trail should be about $25 per person per day. Seemed a little high but this was from recent forums from people who had recently been trekking on this circuit. I had also read that one should try to stay away from ‘packages’ where the guide and food and accommodation are all together…and that’s the piece of advice we didn’t heed.
We met Raj in his trekking shop where we were renting sleeping bags and a better trekking pack for me. He was very nice, spoke very good English and said he was available to guide us if we like. He answered all our questions and our only hesitation was that his was a package deal…$60 per day for both of us. Although the numbers all added up to this being an okay deal my gut told me maybe we shouldn’t agree…but in the end we did…and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy myself totally. Once we were on the trail we quickly realized that the costs were much less than we had anticipated and that Raj was making a killing. I was not mad at Raj…he’s just trying to make a living and we had agreed to the price…I was mad at myself for not listening to my gut and to the advice I had read. It’s much harder to get over being mad at myself!!
The weather was also not cooperating. It had been glorious and hot in Kathmandu, Manakamana and Pokhara in the the days leading up to the trek but, on the day we left, it was cloudy and a little cool. Good for trekking, but bad for seeing mountain peaks.
We set off from Naya Pul in the mid morning and after hiking through the village we crossed the river and started on the trail. We had 1000M to climb over the course of the day but the first 3 or 4 hours weren’t too bad at all. We hiked easily up and down, chatting to Raj and enjoying the easy pace. Every once in a while the clouds would break a little and we could get a sense that the mountains were right there, teasing us. The last hour was hard. A straight climb up 3381 steps to Ulleri, and our first guesthouse of the trek.
The guesthouse was basic, but there was electricity and a hot shower to be had so we were happy. The food was good and we spent the evening chatting to trekkers that we had seen on the trail throughout the day. I didn’t sleep well though – maybe it was the cold, or the altitude, but although I must have been exhausted sleep eluded me and I spent half the night reading.
Lack of sleep did not make the next days hike any easier. It was a relatively easy 3 hour hike to Ghorepani, but it felt like forever. The clouds hung as low as my mood and we did not see any mountains.
After some tea and a nap we attempted to climb the Poon Hill for which the trek is named. From the top of Poon Hill are supposed to be some of the best views of the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. We only climbed half way and decided that it was too cloudy so we would try again in the morning for the famed sunrise climb.
As we returned to the guesthouse it started to rain…and it rained all afternoon and night. I took solace in the fact that I was inside next to the fire while others were still out on the trail, and still others were deeper in the mountains where, I learned later, it was snowing.
We got up at 6 the next morning to trek up Poon Hill for sunrise…it was not to be…a quick check outside confirmed that it was still raining and that summiting the hill would not be worth it…so back to bed we went.
It was still raining when we got up and ready the second time. We waited an extra hour for the heavy rain to subside and then we headed out. It continued to rain for most of the morning but not too badly. In fact, it made most of the day remind me of riding at home on a wet fall day. The forest here is of rhododendrons and bamboo rather than fir, arbutus and salal but, with the leaves on the trail, the clouds low and cool temperature, I could imagine myself riding down the long singletrack at home (just like Tzou-vember in Nepal!).
Part way through the day we decided to cut the trek short by a day. The plan had been to stay out 6 days but, with the weather not cooperating, we thought that 5 days would be enough. Unfortunately that meant that this days trek would have to be longer and so, after lunch, we proceeded to hike 3 more hours almost entirely downhill to reach Ghandruk. Now downhill might sound easier but, in reality, it is killer on the knees and thighs and at the end our legs were a quivering mess – 4 hours of uphill climbing and 3 hours of down – ouch! The clouds did break a little though and we got a real sense of how big and close the mountains are…how could they hide so easily when they are right there?
Ghandruk sits on the lip of a deep valley. We set out the next morning to descend into the valley (you can’t imagine how much my legs wanted to do this) and then climb up the other side – a tough morning. We crossed over the ridge and through one more smaller valley to end up in Dhampus, our final stop.
The views here were stunning – just what we had been waiting for. The clouds lifted just enough and, at sunset, we were treated to a fabulous show of nature. It was absolutely amazing and set us to talking about how we could possibly return one day to do a longer trek…the mountains have that effect.
If you’re considering trekking in Nepal (and you should!), Mark runs a great site that has tons of information…Trekking In Nepal...check it out!