Monday, March 18
Bill is beginning to feel better and Gene is a lot better, his appetite has returned. We were packed and on the trail by 7:30 AM. The temperature was 40 degrees. For breakfast we had rice porridge, pancakes, and eggs.
We climbed a total of 3,500' today and it was almost all straight uphill. Sean was a very strong hiker. He was only carried in the very muddy spots and at the end of the day. Lunch consisted of grilled cheese, tuna, French fries, and vegetable salad with hot lemonade. When the sun disappeared behind the constant clouds it got cold!
We passed lots of snow fields and waterfalls along the trail through the Bamboo Forest. Eventually the clouds overtook us and Sean was no longer excited about being in a cloud. We got very damp and then grapple (small hail) started bombarding us. It got much worse when we arrived at the Machhapuchhare (fishtail) Base Camp (13,000') at 2:15. Bill even considered getting a room for us at the tea house! We did get a room for the porters at a nearby lodge, since they were not prepared for the weather (90R per porter). The cooks will spend the night in the cooking shelter and the guides share a tent.
Sean and I hung out at the warming table in the lodge. The tables were built over a concrete pit where a kerosene stove was placed. A woolen blanket hung from the sides of the table to contain the heat. It was great for drying out your boots and warming your hands! The weather was bleak. Tons of pellets covered the ground, but melted when the temperature rose slightly. Sean worked on his journal and taught Dev and Wandi how to play Wild Joker. He almost fell asleep during dinner again. We ate dinner at one of the two tables in the lodge (Natang had to pay the proprietors a fee to use the table). We had noodle soup, dal bhat, bitter celery greens, potatoes and carrots tempura, and mangos for dessert. It would be nice to be able to finish my meal before I have to put Sean to bed!
I took some Diamox for my altitude-induced headache and didn't have any trouble with my respiration or heart rate. Sean doesn't appear to be bothered by the altitude either. His base respiration rate is 18 breaths per minute and did not change noticeably. It was 35 degrees in the tent when we retired. Because we need to drink so much due to the altitude, I had to get up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom tent. The sky was full of stars.
Tuesday, March 19
We woke up around tea time and it was very cold outside the sleeping bag! We quickly dressed and went into the lodge for a breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and porridge. We started hiking to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) at 7:30 and opted to leave the basket behind for today's day hike, since Sean is healthy and well rested. Wandi and Pharendra carried Sean on their shoulders or back for part of the climb. Wandi also brought a plastic sheet for sliding down the snow and ice. That was Sean's favorite part of the hike!
The climb was all uphill over frozen snow which is quite deep. My foot fell through the upper layer in some spots and the snow reached well over my thigh. We avoided the avalanche areas, but did hear some rock slides. Within 2 hours we arrived at the ABC (14,300'). The cloud cover lifted and we were surrounded by majestic mountains. The view was absolutely spectacular! Only Annapurna I remained covered by clouds. The workers at the ABC were busy shoveling snow away from the rooms. Most of the camp was covered with snow.
Sean wasn't the first kid to reach ABC this year, but he was the youngest. We met a family of 3 (kids were 12, 9, and 7) and another family with 2 older children descending from ABC yesterday. The family with three kids came from England and has been living in Nepal for 3 years.
We stayed at the ABC for 2 hours - eating lunch, exploring, and taking pictures. Bill's camera batteries died, so we shared the batteries in my camera whenever Bill needed to rewind his film. We were given a bagged lunch of Tibetan bread, yak cheese, a hard-boiled egg, and a container of crackers. Sean got his favorite orange cookies (wafers with a pink cream between them) and felt very special.
It only took 1 hour to get back to camp. The clouds covered us most of the way down and it hailed for a short time. We got the best views of the mountains while we were at the Annapurna Base Camp! Our feet were drenched (even wearing plastic bags in our hiking boots). Sean wore his snow boots and stayed dry. The heater wasn't fired up under the warming table when we got back to the lodge. On the way down Gene convinced the women from Australia and New Zealand to stay at our lodge instead of attempting an ascent at 12:30 PM. They were feeling the altitude and agreed. Gene was happy. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the lodge playing cards and other games.
Sean lost his appetite and complained of a headache. I think the altitude is getting to him. Natang told us that Sean set a new record for him. He has been a guide for over 13 years and Sean was the youngest kid to ascend to the sanctuary with him. He admitted that he had his doubts originally, but when he saw how strong and resilient Sean was he knew there would be no problems. Natang was also amazed that Sean enjoyed trying all the new foods - and so am I!
For dinner we had mushroom soup, hash brown pie, fried lo mein noodles, green beans, bitter green celery, and apple pie! We stayed up playing Hearts with Natang until 9:30 - our latest night! The temperature dropped to around 10 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. After a half hour in the sleeping bag my feet became frozen and didn't warm up all night. Bill had trouble keeping his feet warm too, but Sean slept soundly. I didn't want to get out of my sleeping bag to check the temperature!