The Climber's Wife

What to pack for Annapurna Base Camp

Posted on April 4, 2014

There are heaps of packing guides available online, but this is what worked for me. You could certainly do this trek with a lot less stuff (or less technical stuff) but you run the risk of being sunburnt/windburnt/freezing/wet/carrying an inordinately heavy bag etc. That is not how I roll.

Equipment:
- Backpack with rain cover
- Camel back and a one litre and a 400ml Nalgene water bottle. The smaller water bottle wasn’t really necessary but I did find it handy in juggling water purification. Having a Nalgene (or other heat proof bottle) means that you have have a hot water bottle at night and pre-prepared first purified litre of water each morning.
- Gently worn in walking shoes or boots
- Sleeping bag (I borrowed The Climber’s and it was very warm but insanely heavy – if I didn’t have a porter I would have just taken my 2.5 season and worn more clothes to bed)
- Walking poles (yes, you look like an oversized praying mantis but this trek is ideal for poles – no undergrowth to get in the way and endless stairs for which the knee joints will appreciate a bit of assistance)
- Space blanket (for emergencies)
- Pocket knife
- Head torch
- Climbing tape (for preventing blisters, fixing things and making finger puppets)
- She pee (quite useful in very cold conditions, do practice at home while wearing long johns and trousers).
- Trail mix and chocolate (be prepared to share what you bring, private snacking in a group is very rude)
- Sunglasses (I had cheap but polarised ones. They were completely inadequate and the snow gave me a blinding headache in about three seconds flat. I then managed to loose them before the three days of hot sunny walking back in the hills. Buy fancy snow/water sport ones and don’t loose them).
- Three dry bags – one for your extra warm layers, one for clothes and one for smelly things (like damp socks). Plastic bags also work but I have turned into a gear junkie.
- Camera

Toiletries:
- Two rolls toilet paper (good to have extra for digestive emergencies and it’s lightweight and the size prevents you packing extra stuff you don’t need).
- Hand sanitiser
- Shampoo and conditioner decanted into little travel containers (I used these as body wash and clothes wash as well).
- Face wash decanted into tiny travel container (in my view shampoo inadequately removes sunscreen from the face).
- Sunscreen (if you are coming from Australia buy at home, they only sell the useless European stuff in Nepal, as far as I can tell).
- SPF lipbalm (I only had the useless European stuff and so smothered my lips in sunscreen during the day and only used the lipbalm at night.
- Travel sized toothpaste and toothbrush
- Deodorant (I actually wouldn’t bother bringing any on my next walk. I am not a smelly person and it’s fairly heavy. Stinky types should consider the olfactory comfort of others before making their decision).
- Tiny tub Clinique SPF moisturiser and travel mascara (obviously totally unnecessary, but worthwhile luxuries for those who can no longer afford to get their eyelashes tinted regularly and who have an aversion to having a leather face).
- Arnica oil decanted into a little travel container (completely awesome for a daily leg massage).
- Spare contact lenses and liquid and pair spectacles (for those with mole-like eyesight)
- Bag for all of these things

Drugs:
- Poo stoppers and anti-bacterials (I had a combination The Travel Doctor gave me)
- Anti-nausea drugs (didn’t have any but REALLY wished that I did)
- Water purification tablets (cheap to buy in Nepal). You can buy boiled water pretty much everywhere, which should be safe to drink, but I prefer to be doubly sure and also use purification tablets. The tablets themselves (like iodine) are ineffective in nuking cryptosporidium, which can however be fixed by keeping water at a rolling boil for a minute. Buying bottled water is environmental vandalism and not actually possible at high altitude.
- Diamox. I didn’t bring any, but it is an option. I suffered mild altitude sickness – headache and nausea – at 4000 metres but acclimatised within six hours. I also saw a very buff and fit guy vomit all over himself and pass out at 2855 metres. Contrary to the immovable belief of my challenging fellow trekker, his fruit salad had little to do with his blacking out and you most definitely can be adversely effected at any altitude over 2000 metres. Dehydration, alcohol and exertion make it worse.

Clothes:
It is seriously rude to bare your shoulders and legs in Nepal (this goes for men and women). It is also unnecessary – long lightweight trousers and a t.shirt or shirt will provide you with sun protection and are reasonably cool on hot days. In terms of technical performance, generally speaking, cotton is rotten. It is heavy and when wet it is bloody cold. Wool, silk and that magic quick dry stuff is what you want.
- Four pairs woollen socks (this is excessive but guess who had warm dry feet everyday?)
- Two pairs ice breaker long johns and one top (I meant to bring two tops). One set is probably enough but it is quite reassuring to have a clean dry set for sleeping and emergencies.
- Three pairs lacy underwear (they dry quickly) and one pair boring black briefs to wear with a t.shirt for the soak in the hot springs. You really should wear long tights but there are limits to my cultural sensitivity: at least I wasn’t in a thong bikini like the Germans. Gentlemen may prefer fewer pairs of underwear, with greater coverage.
- Two singlet tops with built-in bras (I wore the ice breaker top over these everyday). Gentlemen and sweaty ladies may prefer t.shirts or quick dry shirts.
- Long sleeved, lightweight sun shirt – preferably silk as that can also provide warmth in a layering system on other days, as necessary. I didn’t have one and wished I did on the last few hot days, I would quite like to get one made with excessively long arms that can also provide sun protection for the hands.
- Sun Hat. I forgot to bring a sunhat. I am a moron. A cap style hat or visor in combination with a wide light scarf for the head and neck is what I would recommend: rock that Lawrence of Arabia look.
- Pair of quick dry trousers (you could bring a spare pair but I don’t think it’s really necessary)
- Wool jumper
- Down jacket
- Wooly hat
- Warm gloves
- Waterproof mittens (or just one pair of waterproof gloves – I prefer the combo as I don’t appear to have any circulation to my fingers)
- Rain jacket
- Buff style (the loop thing) wool scarf – awesome for sunshade, warmth etc etc
- Silk robe (preferably calf length but anything over the knee is ok) and decent/thickish cotton hand towel. This combination is HIGHLY recommended. Much easier than trying to get changed in the fairly icky and wet bathrooms or carrying a towel that is big enough to provide even a modicum of modesty.
- Flip flops for the bathroom and evenings
- Warm Japanese style socks (with the separate big toe so you can wear them comfortably with flip flops). I didn’t have these – I had down hut booties which were completely awesome but also completely unnecessary. Japanese socks are much smaller and you don’t have to keep swapping to flip flops to visit the toilet.
- Loose trousers or skirt for the evenings. I brought a pair of cotton harem style pants for $1.70 in Kathmandu and wore them over the top of clean long johns. These are particularly unflattering and break my-non cotton rule…but come on…$1.70!

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Posted on April 4, 2014

I had a couple of weeks to spare in Nepal before my yoga class started and so decided to go on a trek. The yoga course is in Pokhara, making trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area the easiest option. I decided to go with an organised group for a few reasons. Foremost of these is that I am a lazy sod and found the idea of someone else carrying my sleeping bag and spare clothes extremely appealing. This is especially so as our GR20 trip is coming up and I thought it would be a good idea to get in a bit of leg strengthening hill climbing without an injury inducing heavy pack. I was also pretty keen to hang out with some Nepalese women and some friendly other trekkers. I was also a bit concerned about my route finding ability and had general woman-walking-alone type concerns.

In retrospect, the chance to spend some time and have fun with the guides and assistants was the main advantage of this approach. They were absolutely lovely and I learnt a lot about socio-cultural-gender related stuff from them as well as a smattering of Nepalese. I also quite liked having someone hold my hair back for me while I vomited my guts up for days on end. At the other end of the spectrum, the only other trekker in my group had what is politely termed a ‘challenging personality’ and had I been alone, I would have adjusted my itinerary accordingly.

In relation to my other reasons for having a guide and porters: the route finding was incredibly simple (although bad conditions in the snow could conceivably make this more challenging), I would have no particular safety concerns about walking by myself in these areas and the terrain wasn’t difficult enough to justify not carrying my own pack. In terms of general safety you’re very rarely actually alone, there is always someone just ahead or behind you, but of course normal precautions apply. General mountain safety awareness is required (i.e. don’t linger when crossing avalanches!) and on the snow days it would be sensible to tag along with some other people. Unless you don’t like asking for weather and other local advice as you go or you have a guide who is competent in mountain rescue (almost none of the trekking guides are and they don’t carry ropes or anything likely to be particularly helpful in fishing you out of an ice crevasse) there is no real safety advantage. Having said that, it was absolutely delightful to have someone holding out a helping hand whenever it could conceivably be needed. I carried the porter’s packs for an hour or so each day (which included their stuff as well as mine) for the purposes of getting a bit more of a workout on the walk. I could definitely have managed my own pack for the full trek. On the other hand, it was really quite delightful to not have to: even after a six hour day of steep walking I felt fine. A quick DIY massage each night prevented much in the way of lingering stiffness and I had no actual soreness at all. Of course, for the masochists out there (I am looking at you Roboslov), this kind of comfort is a disadvantage. You kind can carry some extra bricks in your pack if it makes you happy.

It was also good to know that I was providing relatively easy and well remunerated work in a country where people (women especially) usually get paid very little for often difficult or, indeed, dangerous work.

I tipped about 15% of the cost of the trek and even split three ways that alone is about the same as a rural primary school teacher gets paid in a month or a cleaner gets paid in about 50 days. Note that tipping in Nepal is more of less the same as in Australia – as in, you don’t need to and it’s not really expected. But it is a nice thing to do you when you get exceptional service.

On our first day we squashed into a jeep for the drive to Nayapul. I celebrated our departure with a pre-drive vomit followed by a celebratory arrival vomit. An auspicious beginning. I was profoundly grateful to only be carrying my day pack and that it was only a short (four hour walk) to our guest house. However, had I been well, this would have been an overly short day of walking as were a number of other days on our trek. Our schedule allowed for a day or so of ‘harder’ walking followed by short easy days. I personally prefer longer/harder days followed by total rest days but of course, everyone is different.

We traipsed through very pretty terraced farmland complete with lazy buffalo and nonchalant cows. I celebrated our arrival in the village of Hille in my traditional manner and then watched a thrilling hail storm from the comfort of my bed. My guide was very kind and sympathetic and delightfully mothering. Dinner was a non-event.

The following morning I had some plain pancakes and then promptly regurgitated them. This was followed by the allegedly fool proof folk remedy of a cup of Coca Cola with salt, administered by my ever watchful guide. I felt a surprisingly improvement thereafter.

The way to Ghorepani was paved with an unbelievable number of stone stairs. These were quite beautifully and carefully crafted and there were stone resting benches every so often in turns in the path. Incredibly, these stone paths and stairs more or less continued all the way to the snow line – six days ahead. Apparently each village is responsible for their section and intermittently everyone gets out to make necessary repairs. After a few hours of walking I had a lunch consisting of three small boiled potatoes. This was possibly the best meal I have ever had.

In terms of ongoing nutrition, despite finickity eating, obsessive soap hand washing and liberal applications of hand sanitiser, I estimate that about one in four meals on the first week of the trek stayed inside my body long enough to provide any kind of sustenance. Nevertheless, by drinking a minimum of three litres of water per day (plus ginger tea, gastrolight and the occasional dose of coke and salt) I quite easily managed to keep going. I might have been in a bit of a pickle if it had gone on much longer than a week though. Most guest houses had more of less the same menu: pancakes, porridge or eggs for breakfast and then noodles, soups, sad pastas and dhal bhat for dinner. Dhal bhat is of course the Nepalese national dish, combining a dhal soup and bhat (rice) with a bit of vegetable curry and some spicy pickle. I have eaten quite a lot of it now, in towns, guest hoses, home stays etc and can say that while almost inevitably tasty, it is never truly delicious. It’s just kind of too bland and texturally boring: even when it is ‘spicy’ it’s just chilli-hot, not many-spices-that-combine-to-make-your-mouth-melt-in-ecstasy hot. On the other hand, if you are ever going to order a plate of boiled vegetables, this is the place. No matter what the vegetable combination, it is always cooked to perfection and the vegetables themselves are pow! boom! type fresh and flavoursome.

The afternoon’s walking was in the blooming rhododendron forests. I had read about these and in my mind’s eye they were going to be scenes of particularly large rhododendron bushes, crowding onto the path. No. They were actual trees, not bushes, and they were HUGE. As in, really very big for trees, let alone the bushes I was expecting. The flowers were concentrated on the top of the canopy, with a few dripping down on railing branches. Fortunately, due to the steepness of the terrain, you could really enjoy the dazzling pink and red flowers in the canopy. I loved it.

The Ghorepani guest house was quite comfortable and had a wood heater in the dinning room. I had an enjoyable chat with some Dutch girls and with one of the assistants who was delighted to find that her guide husband was at the same guest house with his tour group.

All of the guest houses were basic but comfortable. Until the snow line many of them had dazzling displays of garden flowers. In little gardens or squashed into every probable (and improbable) container you were greeted by bright pink and red geraniums, amber marigolds, red lilies, roses of every imaginable colour, occasional flamboyant orchids and hydrangeas just coming into leaf. The bedrooms were fairly austere: the norm was a small cell-like room with two beds with firm foam mattresses and a pillow each. Blankets were supplied as necessary. All were reasonably clean and all lacked sufficient hanging hooks. Some alleviated the prison vibe with walls painted Miss Piggie pink or a rainbow of other happy hues. These were, predictably enough, my favourites. Most guest houses had a toilet room with a squat toilet (occasionally a western style one) and a shower room with some kind of warmish bathing option. All were supporting various interesting life forms (ranging from ordinary grouting mould to mushrooms, lizards and a very bright green lichen) and flip flops were essential. Probably best not to look to closely if you are squeamish about these sorts of things: although I know a certain Tasmanian who would have been fascinated by it all.

Early the next morning we set out to climb Poon Hill, aiming to arrive in time to see the sunrise. The view as the sun gradually lit up the mountains was absolutely magnificent. The Climber would have hated sharing it with the zillion brightly jacketed other tourists but I quite enjoyed the party atmosphere as well as the tea station at the top. I’ll confess though that I would have happily swapped both the tourists and the tea for a snuggle in my Climber’s awkwardly huge puffer jacket.

On the way down the hill I saw a number of hugely tall blooming magnolias as well as some more flower drenched rhododendrons. These both continued intermittently all the way to Tadapani and provided a delicious thrill every time I saw one. The walk took us along a ridge for some time that provided quite inspiring views of the snow capped himals. On the ridge I had a chat with a rather overweight American who was seriously struggling up the comparatively easy incline. At a guess I’d say he was carrying about 30-40 extra kilos. He was sweating like an oinker and huffing and puffing with every step. Even given height and build differences, I figure the extra effort would be the same as me carrying a 25 kilo pack but without the fun of taking the damn thing off at the end of the day. He said that his Himalayan exercise regime: (insert broad American drawl) “Sure beats the stairmaster at the gym”. He had an insanely happy grin on his face. I thought he was pretty awesome.

I was sick again in the evening but this was made up for with the most incredible breakfast view you can imagine (and a quite tasty pancake). The ice cream mountains put a bouncy skip in my step from the moment I got out of bed. On the way to Chomrong through the mossy forest we saw a tiny little grey bird with an enormous crest, yellow fantails, a pompous looking black and white woodpecker, a very attractive electric blue bird and a gorgeous red and green warbler.

Somewhat incredibly we also passed a number of yaks – including some calves!

They are very rarely kept at such low altitude and were a delightful surprise. We walked along the rushing river for some time, until it slowed and spread. Here, stone cairns had been built all across the water as memorials. Resuming our walk, the air became progressively heavier with water until at last the rain and tiny hail began. It was quite refreshing, in its way.

Over dinner I chatted again with our team as well as the Dutch girls (their contingent having shrunk due to injury and illness to just two), a delightful older couple from the USA and a rather opinionated Brazilian whose lobe stretching earrings were a target of uncontrolled curiosity among the Nepalese. At this altitude (2170 metres) it was quite chilly at night and the unheated guest houses are quite cool (only a few degrees warmer than outside). The North Americans and Northern Europeans seemed to suffer the most and complained of aching cold. It turns out that a childhood and university years in Canberra (home of cool weather, crappy building standards and completely useless/non existent heating systems) gives one comparative super-powers of indoor cold weather endurance. Pro tip: there is nothing wrong with wearing two sets of thermals, downie, beanie and gloves to the dinner table.

The next day we walked through gorgeous bamboo forests on the way to the aptly named village of Bamboo, where we rested for lunch. We crossed a few very scenic swinging bridges (fortunately, many of them very new and reasonably confidence inspiring) and from one I saw the electric blue bird again (the females are black). From a hill I also spotted the smaller (and brighter blue) sapphire flycatcher hopping around in some trees. We spent the night in Dovan where the Dutch girls were warned by an elderly compatriot of fresh avalanches before the Base Camp. Great.

By day six we had more or less become one group (with the Dutch girls and their guide) which made for quite fun walking. We were all quickly named by Miss Monkey (one of the assistants) and Donkey, Butterfly, Chicken and Mieow (guess who that was!?) enjoyed lots of singing, laughing and shouting on our short walk to Durali. We passed through dripping green forests and crossed in front of some beautiful and faintly Scottish waterfalls just before the village. That night we had a completely unsafe gas heater under our dining table (basically just a massive open cooking flame) and played Uno, ‘less than five’ at cards and the ever-popular spoon game.

The next morning we began the ascent to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC). There were some gorgeous mountain views as we started and the river we crossed was breathtakingly beautiful. The snow was thick on the ground and the dark bamboo against the white of the snow was particularly striking. It was quite icy underfoot to begin with and I appreciated not having to carry a heavy pack and the availability of a helping hand and a giggle whenever I wanted it. We quickly crossed a few avalanche fields and stopped for a long lunch and incredible views in the sunshine at MBC. While we were there we heard the awful crack and boom of an avalanche somewhere in the distance. A hundred winged prayers must have gone skywards with that sound.

By the end of lunch I had a pulsing headache from the bright snow, and or the altitude. Nevertheless, after some discussion, we decided to head upwards to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Note: this was fairly stupid. As the saying goes “never take a headache higher”. If I had been by myself I would have stayed the night at MBC, just to be on the safe side, and added a day to my trip. By the time we had walked up in the snow to ABC I felt wretched. I’ve never walked more than a few feet in snow before and it took a while to get used to it – my flailing around used up a lot more energy than necessary and my headache now also included some fairly acute nausea. On the upside, we walked into the cloud, which was a seriously eerie, strange and amazing experience. The snow muffles any surrounding sound and all you can see are your feet and white all around and above and through you. It would be terrifying without an obvious path.

The welcome sign to ABC rather unexpectedly popped up at us out of the cloud and we gratefully made our way to the guest house. Neither my headache or nausea were improved by the evil smelling open gas heaters in the dining room but luckily, by the time it was getting dark, I felt quite a bit better and felt reasonably happy about my decision to not turn around and walk back down. By morning I felt fine but the headache returned after spending the morning out in the snow watching the incredible sunrise. El cheapo sunglasses clearly need replacing with something a bit more protective.

But wow, it was beautiful. The folds of the mountains mean that ABC feels like it is laying in a little hollow completely surrounded by the soaring mountains. You really understand what they mean about mountains being the cathedrals of nature. Completely awe inspiring.

View from Annapurna Base Camp

View from Annapurna Base Camp

Before breakfast I had time for two hours or so of enraptured gazing and happy snapping as the light crept over the mountain tops and the soft blues and pinks and greys of grainy dawn were blazed by illuminating fingers of dazzling white. I also spent a serene and uplifting half hour meditating on my own perfectly placed and sun warmed stone in a sea of snow.

It was magical.

Having finally acclimatised, I would have preferred to have spent another night at ABC for the opportunity just to indulge in a bit more mountain gazing, snow yoga and meditation.

Nevertheless, the walk back down to MBC was really enjoyable. It was a perfectly blue morning and while the mountains gloried in the sun we threw snowballs and made snow angels and skied in our shoes and laughed and giggled and generally had a fabulous time. We paused for a cup of tea at MBC before continuing towards Deurali.

On crossing the avalanche field we had some problems with the challenging personality in our group who refused to follow the well trodden path and instead tried to cross on a path of her own design. Don’t do this. Only our frantic waving prevented her tumbling over an ice cliff and it seriously slowed down our crossing. The necessity for speed was amply illustrated when I looked upwards to see snow and rock starting to fall towards us. I would like to have helpfully shouted ‘Avalanche!’ at this point but the less articulate ‘Faaaaarkallllaaanche!!!!!!’ came out in a strangled scream. Fortunately, combined with my horrified expression and pointing finger, this was more than enough to motivate our group into a swift trot and, pausing once there was no more snow above me (falling or otherwise) I saw that the avalanche was thankfully only very small and that we should all be quite safe. The now frenzied challenging one raced past me shouting ‘be smart! don’t stop for them!’. Nothing uplifts the soul quite like the beauty of human charity.

Between Durali and Dovan there was a significant new avalanche fall – perhaps the one we had heard the afternoon previously. The many porters and trekkers who make the passing each day had already made a good pathway and we scooted across as quickly as was safely possible. I shiver to imagine being the first person to edge across.

We paused to enjoy a snug lunch as the rain fell outside and the resumed walk in the light hail was again quite enjoyable in its own way (I fully appreciated my rain jacket and change of socks though!). The bamboo forest was even prettier than it seemed on the way up and we delighted in the fecund dripping green, the slanting sunlight, bird calls and occasional butterflies. We walked right under a family of gambolling monkeys (Grey Rangurs perhaps?) which, for monkeys, were quite cute.

Actually, cuteness is one of several reasons (the others being less crowding and more flowers) to visit Nepal in March rather than the true high season (October). March is the Himalayan spring and we must have encountered hundreds of incredibly cute baby animals: tiny chicks, puppies, goat kids, buffalo, cattle and yak calves, foals but, sadly, no kittens.

The next day’s walk to Jhinudanda was very hot and I cleverly remembered to apply sunscreen on my face, neck and hands. Pity I neglected my wrists, which were pink for several days afterwards. We passed many porters who were carrying quite insane loads – weighing as much as or even more than the porters themselves. Apparently most of these were in aid of camping trips for tourists. One older man I met at a rest stop had a huge dent in his head from years of carrying these ridiculous loads. If you couldn’t happily carry it on the flat I don’t think you should be asking someone to carry it uphill, especially when you are paying next to nothing.

From Jhinudana those with animal names walked down to the hot springs. On the way we passed some absolutely luscious white orchids, dripping from trees and rocks. It was delightful to relax enjoy the view of the river and it’s huge smooth boulders and white tumbling water from the comfort of the warm baths. The mouthful of rum and coke was also surprisingly enjoyable. After a good long soak we walked back up, spotting more orchids, a jungle fowl and a few quail.

Dinner was tasty and involved being mesmerised by Indian T.V soaps. I could so easily become addicted.

Day ten of our walk dawned bright and sunny and I draped all available scraps of fabric across my pink wrists and over my head. We left the Dutch girls at a fork in the road, as they turned down towards their lift to Pokhara. We ambled on, stopping at all the shady places, rising up through terraced farms. At one point we came across a perfect ferny gully – cool and shady and green. We were also lucky enough to spot a couple of Ospreys circling quite low. I wouldn’t want to be the mouse they were hunting.

Our guesthouse in Ghandruk was comparatively fancy (I got a towel!) and after lunch there we visited the local museum and I hugely enjoyed dressing up in traditional Garung costume (lots of draped red fabrics and huge jewellery) and having a dance. $1.15 well spent. We also walked to see the old end of the village. The houses are absolutely gorgeous – wattle and daub style with beautifully carved wooden windows and roof trusses and slate tile roofs. There is a steep hill behind the village as as you climb it there is a spectacular view of the village and, on a clear day, of the mountains. It is also an ideal place to play mimic games with the ant sized girls in the village: try not to tumble down the stairs while attempting a triangle pose.

The next day’s walk to Landruk was steep down to the river crossing and then equally steep back up the other side. Fortunately we were in delightful green shade for almost all of this and it made for a very pleasant morning. The afternoon was not nearly as enjoyable as a road has recently been put through most of the way to Tolka. Obviously, this development is very helpful for local residents (jeeps and tractors can now access the whole area) but walking for hours on a dusty unshaded road in the midday sun just isn’t that much fun, no matter how hard you concentrate on enjoying the scenery.

Eventually we stepped off the road into the cool delicious Eden of the forest and the well remembered stone paths took us to Tolka and an afternoon on the lawn with tea and card games.

As it was our last night I treated myself to two pots of Masala tea and we shared the end of my chocolate supply. Living it large!

On our final morning there was a steep but slow walk down through the farmland to Phedi and a short drive to Pokhara. I spent an afternoon luxuriating in the comforts of civilisation (taking my clothes to the laundromat and ordering a birthday cake for Butterfly – told you I live large) before a very tasty final dinner with the group.

Overall, I hugely enjoyed the experience and can’t recommend hiking in the area highly enough. The scenery is absolutely magnificent and the trails easy to find and well maintained. There are comfortable guest houses along the whole route and the cheap, tasty and nutritious restaurant food means that, unless you are on a very tight budget, you don’t have to carry anything except your water, sleeping bag, clothes and personal items. Being in a group meant that I had a very comfortable and easy introduction to the region and I really did value the time spent with my lovely guide and assistants. However, if I knew earlier what I know now about the low level of physical and cultural difficulty of the trek, I would have preferred to spend a few days having Nepali lessons with a female tutor in lazy Pokhara and then to have done the trek by myself, hooking up with other independent groups for the snow days. Although I am very lazy, I’m not quite lazy enough to enjoy not carrying a pack and having arrangements made for me more than I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction and the freedom you get from walking independently.

Climbing Chulilla

Posted on March 17, 2014

Chulilla is about 45 minutes inland from Valencia and boasts a gorgeous canyon, picturesque white washed village, hill top castle ruins and (of course, or why would we go?) awesome sport climbing. We drove down from Mother’s Garden to meet up with a robotics obsessed Slovenian (Roboslov?).

Nobody seems to mind the gaggle of VW’s parked up from the village for days on end, which allows for a very cheap stay (toilets and wifi can be found in the cafe in the village). The canyon is very beautiful, tall pink red walls dipping down into the creator river – clear and clean and cold. We were there just as the rosemary and wild irises were coming into flower.

Climbing-wise there is heaps of hard (6b – 8c+) climbing. There is one little crag at the far end of the canyon for the lower level climber. It is a perfect spot, just on the river. I would have enjoyed it if it had been a little less garden-y and if I had been in the mood. I’d like to go again and just do some walking. Anyway, some happy snaps are below for your perusal…

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Walking near Siurana, la ruta dels refugis

Posted on March 16, 2014

My darling Climber had, by a certain stage, an overwhelming need to go climbing. In light of my abject misery while previously belaying in the arctic temperatures in Siurana, he had the forethought to find a climbing partner for the weekend. This could not be said to be truly altruistic: I had heard loud grumbles to the effect that my shivering was interfering with his onsight ability. Hrumpf.

So I had four whole days to myself and, with the assistance of a map purchased down in Reus, I decided to tackle la ruta dels refugis, a four day circuit that passes through Siurana. The day three leg looked ridiculously long (about 35 km of steep ascent and descent) but I figured that if I wasn’t up for that (more than likely) I could give myself a little short cut back to Siurana by way of overnighting twice in la Mussara.

We camped up in Siurana the first night which, apart from a change of sleeping venue due to a van full of incredibly noisy people, was very pleasant. I set off early (for me) in the morning towards la Mussara, leaving The Climber to enjoy himself without annoying teeth chattering sounds.

The path began with a steep descent to the river level, with many fine views of the Serrat dels Colls on the way. The path then followed the river for a while, taking me past an old boat that had been repurposed as a tent/house (very cool) and the picturesque ruins of a paper mill and some old houses. After rock hopping across the river, the path turned to start zig zagging up the hill. On one of the zigs (zags?) I found a hunter with an impressive moustache wearing camouflage fatigues and a bright orange safety jacket (which I felt somewhat defeated the effect of the camo gear) and shouldering a very large rifle. I must have looked a little concerned and he tried to reassure me with a “is ok, is ok…you be careful”. I should be careful!? You’re the one with the whacking great firearm, you be bloody careful.

As I continued up the hill I crossed two terrified Frenchmen who spoke not a work of English or Spanish (or, at least not the ten Spanish words I know) but who mimed shooting guns and pointed excitedly behind them. I returned the favour and alerted them to the presence of the moustachioed fellow. I decided that it would be prudent to hum extremely loudly for the rest of the day.

Determinedly humming, I soon came across el Gorg, a beautiful waterfall and pool. In fact, there were a number of small pools, all a gorgeous turquoise colour. I stopped to munch an apple and to watch for fairies. No luck unfortunately: it was a rather loud apple.

As I approached Gallicant I heard the jingle of goats bells and thought to myself “how nice, I like goats” and scanned the forest for the approach of the floppy eared cuties. So, I was off put when a gigantic hunting dog (with jingly bell) trotted into sight. Being familiar with the complete insanity of Australian pig hunting dogs (The Climber has a lovely story about a cat being beheaded in one bite) I was horrified and started scouting around for a suitable tree to climb. Unfortunately, at that point, another ten of the beasts hove into view. Wonderful. I started climbing. The first dog was by now about ten metres away and he kept going…right past me. Apparently spanish hunting dogs can tell the difference between a pig and a human and, blessedly, have no interest in or aggression towards the latter. I sheepishly scrambled down and resumed my walk. I soon crossed the posse (I think a better collective noun would be ‘tread”) of hunters belonging to the dogs and was again assured that I was perfectly safe, but that I should be careful. I shook a fist at their retreating backs.

Gallicant (a biggish farm complex) was quite pretty (in an eerie, deserted winter kind of way) and, after a surprising number of wrong turns, I reached the ridge line that I was to follow to la Mussara. Most of this was a four wheel drive track that wasn’t especially scenic. The highlight was my two minute noodle soup with fresh garlic. Yay for the JetBoil! The last half a kilometre or so up to la Mussara was however extremely pretty and involved a little bit of quite enjoyable (i.e. well marked and lacking scratchy plant) scrambling. I popped my head out on the top of the hill and nearly gave two elderly tourists heart attacks. After a few ¡perdón! ¡perdón!’s, and some time to enjoy the amazing view of the Barranc, I continued up to the Monastery ruins. They were picturesque (except for the giant ‘do not enter’ signs) and I quite enjoyed poking around for a while. From there it was just a few minutes walk to the Refugi de la Mussara. I had a hot shower and delicious dinner by their hazelnut shell fire before sleeping soundly in the dorm that I had all to myself.

The next morning breakfast was the usual sad European affair of white bread and coffee. It was however improved when the dishy Argentinian (who mans the refugi) offered to leave the key out for me the next afternoon so that I wouldn’t have to wait outside for him to get there at 6pm.

The walk to l’Albiol began quite pleasantly with a walk past some crags and into the forest. After a couple of hours there was a very confusing moment when I poped out of scrub onto a road. In a Powell-esque and way, I realised that I was not where I thought I was but I was where I was and (with the navigational aid of the road and giant electrical towers), I knew where I was was where I was and so I had to take a detour back to the correct path. This involved a climb to a cool cave thing (complete with wall and little stone table) and seriously steep 50 metre descent with a fixed line. I took some photos but you can’t really appreciate the steepness of it from them. Suffice to say that it was in fact completely vertical but with some lumpy boulders, so that you had reasonably good foot and hand placement. Conveniently, there were also metal holds (like via ferrata ones) drilled in where necessary. It did occur to me that perhaps this descent was best attempted while roped. I was very impressed that I didn’t cry and treated myself to a congratulatory spoon-standing-up hot chocolate when I reached l’Albiol.

I then set off for Mont-ral. There was four wheel drive track for some time (but quite pretty) and then at Mas de Tinet the path forked. Or, it should have forked. I walked back and forth trying to work out where the path was. It simply wasn’t there. Forking hell. So I decided to follow the ‘other’ path for a while to see where it went. It went up an enormous hill from the top of which I could see Mont-ral…but with no obvious way of getting there. After a bit of head scratching I realised that I must have come up Grau de Malpas and so tried to navigate from there. Nope, nothing seemed to work out and after an hour of frustrated walking (stomping) I accidentally found a way back down to the track that I had been on before, thinking that I must have just had a brain melt and that I needed to look more thoroughly for my missing fork. The descent was actually very scenic and, thinking calming thoughts, I enjoyed it. I can’t say the same for the retracing of my steps along the track, which had by now lot much of it’s scenic value.

Back at Mas de Tinet, I started hunting around. No, I hadn’t been stupid the first time. There definitely was no track matching the one on the map. Gah! I was getting rather grumpy and contemplating giving up and returning to l’Arbiol for the night when a gentleman and his little son walked past. I asked him if he knew where this invisible path was, no he’d never been out here before. Where was I going? Ah! He was going past there on his way home, would I like a lift? And so, just on dark, I reached Mont-ral by car. I figured with my circuit walking I’d probably more or less covered the appropriate distance anyway.

As I mooched around the Refugi waiting for the custodian to return I had a look at the maps they had pinned on the wall. One was entitled “Ruta de los Refugis”. It was of this area, but it didn’t look like my map. The route took a completely different way, including more villages (and no 35km third day). I was trying to work out where my fork was when the custodian arrived. I said Hola and asked about the maps – oh, he said. The old map hadn’t been updated from the 1950′s, they just put a new photo on the front. You don’t mean to say someone sold you that thing? There was a re-survey a few years ago and that’s all in the new map along with the better suggested route. How didn’t you get lost coming from l’Arbiol? The path on the old map disappeared years ago.

I ordered a very large decanter of wine.

The beginning of my third day was really lovely. I walked along the Serret dels Avencs past an impressive natural stone arch, with incredible views back towards Mont-ral. There were fun little slab walks with rickety chains (fortunately unnecessary) and masses of rosemary and thyme fragrance-ing the path. At the shoulder of the Avencs path I took half an hour for meditation. My spirit soared on the fresh breeze to play up among the clouds and dance over the mountains and trees. It was glorious. I then took my own little detour, combining both the new and old routes and passing la Creu Trencada (a big wrought iron cross in the middle of nowhere). I arrived back at la Mussara ridiculously early and was extremely grateful for the hidden key and the delightful hazelnut shell burner.

On day four I again made my own little route, as I’d been told that la Febro was particularly pretty and so I headed off in that direction. The little town is nestled in an arc of mountains and does indeed have quite wonderful views: it was worth the detour. I then followed the river back to Siurana which (except for the big scary dogs at the farmhouse leading out of la Febro), was absolutely delightful. The clear rushing water and steep sided hills meant that it was particularly quiet, and it felt like I had the whole world to myself. The trek up the mountain back to Siurana was quite warm (I got down to only one layer!) and I quite enjoyed the scary final ascent of the Grau de la Trona. I had some celebratory two minute noodles at the top (oh yes, living it large). After walking the 50 metres or so to the campsite, it was about 2pm. I was four hours early. Bother. After skulking about, bored, for twenty minutes I decided that I would risk the wrath of The Climber and walk down to Cornudella hoping that he would get my “uh, sorry, can you get me from a different town” message either directly or via Maggie and Martin.

The walk down the hill was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole walk, so I’m glad I went. There were great views of some of the crags, complete with climbers hanging off everywhere. Once I got down to the river again there were a couple of kilometres of enjoyable strolling on gentle hills and by the dam lake. I walked past a few hazelnut groves and saw an incredibly delicate and beautiful bird’s nest balanced in a hazelnut bush.

Once in Cornudella, I had a glass of wine, a snack and a conversation with a very friendly Romanian waitress. Needless to say, The Climber was thrilled about having to drive past Cornudella up to Siurana to meet me, find I wasn’t there, drive back to Cornudella and then back again to Siurana to have dinner with his new friends. Lucky he was happy to see me!

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Walking from Mother’s Garden to Capcanes

Posted on March 15, 2014

I took a little day walk over the ridge from Mother’s Garden in a big arc to Capçanes and then walked back along the river.  Here are a few pictures from a beautiful day…

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Mola de Colldejou

Posted on March 15, 2014

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Sometime in winter I decided that it would be a good idea to walk up la Mola, the limestone cliff fringed mountain that rises towards the sea from Mother’s Garden. Of course these kinds of expeditions are always more fun with a friend, and so I invited Joe to come along. He had done it before, and even camped on the windswept top, but was reasonably keen to go again (after a bit of begging).

Our preparations involved some serious sandwich making and an amusing debate between Joe and his mother concerning the necessity of taking a warm jacket with one, when attempting to hike up a mountain in the middle of winter. I’ll let you guess who prevailed.

I think you could summit the mountain walking directly from the farm, although in the shorter days of winter you’d want to be walking by day break and expect to be getting home by torch light. During the rest of the year you’d be more or less confident of doing it all in daylight. In our case, not wanting to make too epic an outing of the experience, we were very grateful when Maggie offered to drop us halfway up the mountain. There is a convenient stopping place where the trail crosses the road, and so we got out there.

Maggie fussed over us, double checking our lunch supplies, and I suspect she was starting to wonder what on earth had possessed her to entrust her baby boy to the flighty Australian with no know aptitude for navigation. I think he was starting to wonder the same thing.

So off we set, up the tree covered slope. There were the usual holm oaks, rosemary bushes, and a very well defined path underfoot. It was reasonably easy going, made more so by frequent stops to admire the scenery. Joe showed me a rocky outcrop with a particularly fine view out across the mountains.

The path eventually rose out from the trees to steep grassland. Which is when the howling wind hit us. We had been so well protected in the forest that we didn’t even notice the wind, and it had evidently decided to make up for this by blowing us sideways as soon as we were exposed. And it was cold, seriously chilly. We pushed our way through the wind until I shouted that we could stop for a snack in a protected hollow. ‘Protected’ is probably over-stating the matter, it was still uncomfortably windy but at least it didn’t feel like we were about to take off.

Refreshed by a bit of fruit we made the final windy and rocky ascent to the summit, and popped up into an airy golden meadow (albeit a cold and windswept one). The summit is a long and gently rolling field, dotted with stunted trees and occasional hardy bushes hiding behind rocks. It is crested by the remains of a castle, or probably more accurately, an overgrown observation post. There is a stunning 360 degree view, taking in the wide blue sea and the blue grey hinterland. We played among the cold stones and reflected on how pleasant it was not to be a medieval soldier stationed up here for the winter.

Exploring a little, Joe managed to find some extremely cute goats and we watched them meandering and grazing. We wandered to the very far end of the summit and there seemed to be a difficult scramble down that way. I wasn’t convinced – the walk up had been extremely well marked and very easy and it seemed very odd that the way down should be an unmarked scramble. So we investigated further…and further…and further. Eventually I decided that we’d have a better chance of finding the path without grumbling tummies, and so we picnicked and enjoyed our sandwiches. Sure enough, while we were munching them, a middle aged man, a little girl and two discontented and fashionably attired teenaged girls walked past us on one of the goat trails. Ah ha! The path. We finished our lunch and took their trail, soon passing a few comforting markers.

The descent is quite gentle and pretty, twisting back and forth against the south side of the mountain. At what feels like the foot of the hill there is a little car park, which would make a good pick up spot if you wanted a shorter walk. We however descended on the fire trail out towards Mother’s Garden. This was actually a rather boring and ugly stretch and if I did at again I’d perhaps try to find an alternate route to avoid it. Nevertheless, following the interminable four wheel drive trail we eventually returned to our valley. The last of the walk home was through farmland on paths hedged by bramble bushes alternating with stone walls and almond and olive groves. It was very sweet returning to the old farmhouse in the warm pink glow of the late afternoon. It was even sweeter having a hot shower and then snuggling into bed for a little nap.