Mark JohnstonANNAPURNA BASE CAMP Mark Johnston December 20 Nepal, Travel As Britnee and I descended from Annapurna Base Camp, (A.B.C.), we passed many trekkers still making the brutal climb up. Some already looked quite haggard but further down they still looked fresh and eager, having just started a day or two prior. No matter their demeanor I thought the same of all as we passed them by, “You poor, poor souls, you have no idea how much misery is still to come…” The A.B.C. trek is a very popular route that leads trekkers up a steep and deep river gorge between the impressive Machhapuchhre, (6,997m), and Annapurna South, (7,219m), ending at the base camp of Annapurna I, (8,091m). The trail climbs well over 2,000 meters up thousands of flag-stone steps that one quickly learns to detest—but given the impenetrably-steep terrain there appears to be no other way. Simply put, the trek is more a form of self-imposed punishment than an enjoyable hike in the Himalaya. But we kind of knew this going in. Having already spent 20 days on the Annapurna Circuit and nearly two weeks in Pokhara recovering from giardia, Britnee and I returned to the conservation area looking for an up-close experience with the impressive peaks of the Annapurna Himalayan Range. Throughout the circuit trek we had been treated to a variety of climates and landscapes with breathtaking views around every corner. When it was all said and done, though, I felt like something was still missing from our time in Nepal. I fell in love with the mountains as a teenager when I first hiked the Wasatch Range in Utah. While I never got serious about mountaineering, I still enjoyed reading books on the subject and idolized many of the sport’s superstars such as Reinhold Messner. During one of his lectures hosted at Snowbird, I recieived a signed copy of Messner’s book “All 14 Eight-thousanders” and spent countless hours poring over pictures of his expeditions to the 8,000-meter peaks of the Himalaya. There is so much more to Nepal than just the world’s largest mountains and the brave/crazy people who climb them, but a visit to the base camp of an 8,000 meter peak was something I’d long dreamed about. So after renewing our permits to the Annapurna Conservation Area, Britnee and I caught an early taxi to the village of Kande and immediately found those steep steps that would haunt us for the next six days on the trail. On our previous trek we chatted with others who had visited base camp before and the most common response regarded the steep trail. “It’s a lot of stairs. I’m serious, you’ll turn another corner and say, ‘Are you serious?’ when you see more steps,” was one memorable response. Of course this didn’t quite register until we got to experience the misery ourselves, climbing steps or steep terrain for what felt like 90 percent of the trail. To make matters worse, the views of surrounding peaks were shrouded in heavy clouds for the first two days, providing little motivation as our thighs and calf muscles burned up the endless climb. Then on our fourth morning we awoke early to clear skies and the hope of reaching A.B.C. that afternoon in sunny weather. This was a bit hopeful as it would require another 1,210 meters of elevation gain, far more than recommended for healthy acclimatization. Our first clear views of Machhapuchhre spurred us on though, and feeling strong we reached base camp early that afternoon in glorious sunshine. There we sat and admired the near-vertical south face of Annapurna I glowing white and gold while we sipped sweet milk tea and rested our tired legs. The altitude eventually caught up with me that evening and by midnight I was suffering with a splitting headache and nausea that kept me awake until the early morning. When my alarm went off after a few restless hours of sleep, I arose feeling somewhat better and was rewarded with the best sunrise I’ve ever seen. Sitting with Britnee and friends in an amphitheater of giants, we waited patiently as the stars faded and mountains began to glow with the coming dawn. As the sun crested Machhapuchhre at our backs, its golden light began to creep down Annapurna I, Annapurna South and Patal Hiunchuli, turning them a deep orange in contrast to the silver-blue of the sky above. All the punishment of the previous four days on those steep steps of the trail were forgotten as we sat in silent awe of the beauty surrounding us. After breakfast we packed our things and began the descent, warmed by sunlight that had finally reached the valley floor. Motivated by thoughts of hot showers and better food than that offered on the identical teahouse menus, Britnee and I cruised down at a blistering pace—yet somehow, on the descent, still managed to find more steep climbs! We pushed far to the village of Sinuwa by that evening and then all the way to Australia Camp, close to our starting point, by the end of our sixth day. As we arrived at our last teahouse we watched the sunset light up the now-distant peaks under which we had been sitting. Descending to an awaiting taxi the following morning we passed fresh-faced trekkers heading up the trail just as we did one week prior. Back then my wife and I had been well rested from time off in Pokhara and were eager to see the beautiful mountains again, hiking in high spirits despite the immediate steepness of the trail. But now, a week later, I realized what every descending trekker must have been thinking when they passed our smiling, naive faces—“You poor, poor souls. You have no idea how much misery is still to come… but it’s oh so worth it.” See more photographs from this trek in our Annapurna Sanctuary photo gallery, or take a look at our 20-day journey along the Annapurna Circuit.