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The approach to Annapurna Base Camp

Machhapuchhre from Machhapuchhre Base Camp
Annapurna from Tharpa Chuli Base Camp

For longer than I would have liked, non-stop rain and persistent cloud cover concealed the mountains enveloping me. Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, the sky cleared. As if from nowhere, the hallowed mountain emerged to my right. A lone cloud floated above the summit, which resembled a fishtail and gave the mountain its name, fishtail peak, or Machhapuchhre in Nepalese. The unclimbed face enticed the explorer in me, but alas she remained off limits to climbers after being declared sacred in 1957.
The gradually ascending trail from Deurali to Machhapuchhre Base Camp ran parallel to a raging river below fishtail peak to my right. Directly in front of me, Annapurna III rose sharply above the well-defined V shaped valley below it. The sun glittered of its precipitous, snow-covered couloirs. I sauntered along with camera in hand capturing the towering peaks, the subtle waterfalls that cascaded down the cliffs to my left and the lush vegetation that enclosed the straightforward trail.
Three days earlier, I began my expedition to Tharpa Chuli, or tent peak. I fell asleep through the one-hour drive that brought me from the popular tourist destination of Pokhara to the tiny village of Nayapul. Densely packed street vendors lined both sides of the path as we began the voyage into the wilderness. A continuous drizzle forced me to don my red gortex parka. Crossing one of the few stable bridges I encountered on the trek, I departed from civilization and entered nature’s domain. The gentle trail served as a fitting acclimatization for adjusting to the routine of life in the mountains. But the final section before arriving at Jhinu, my first overnight stop, steepened into the rock staircase that characterized much of the movement to Annapurna Base Camp.
The hike from Jhinu to Siniwa to Deurali proved to be deceptive in relation to the slight elevation changes depicted on my map. The trail did not just climb for a few hundred meters as illustrated.
A seemingly everlasting stairway of stone rose and fell with the ebb and flow of the Himalayan landscape. Every shift from ascent to descent and vice versa offered a brief, but pleasant relief from the monotony. Torrential showers and a veil of whiteness accompanied me for every step up and down these endless steps.
On the fifth day, I crawled out of my yellow tent to blue skies and a calm breeze. I gathered up my gear, eager to get moving in such idyllic conditions. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and bread I left Machhapuchhre Base Camp. Sunlight appeared far off in the distance as alpenglow touched the tips of the outlying peaks. I continued on in the shadows of the Gods.
Climbing over a grassy incline, darkness became light. The cold turned into warmth as the sun’s rays pierced into me. At long last, she revealed herself. I felt her presence before my guide pointed her out to me. At 26,547 feet, the tenth highest mountain in the world remains the most treacherous of the fourteen 8,000 meter peaks. For every two climbers that set foot on her summit, one never returned. And I now stood beneath the Goddess herself. Annapurna.


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