Drive to drop-off point and set off on foot to Suikhet. In the afternoon, after an unhurried lunch, we climb from Phedi steeply up to the main trail along the ridge to Dhampus. Here our first night’s camp is in full view of Machhapuchare. Overnight in Pothana.
Dawn should bring a spectacular sunrise: ‘Fishtail’ pink turning to gold, the more distant bare rock wall of Annapurna II still in shadow. Today we will start our ‘secret trail’ leaving tourists, other trekkers and even villagers behind. We enter an enchanted forest of birch, giant rhododendron, mountain oak, maple, hemlock and daphnie, camping in a small clearing far from the beaten trails. Overnight in Kokar Forest Camp.
As we climb the flora has turned to classic ‘cloud forest’ with mosses and lichen, tree ferns and orchids hosted by the hardier trees. There are natural windows in the woods that look out onto thrilling panoramas – towards Hiunchuli and the knife-sharp traverse towards Annapurna South. Far below, to our left, we can see the Modi Khola Valley leading up into the Annapurna Sanctuary. We reach camp for lunch; for it is wise not to go too high too fast. Though still surrounded by forest, we have spectacular northerly views of the ever-closer ‘Fishtail
Just a short, steep climb and we are out of the forest. A ridge, now grassy and sometimes under snow, takes us up to High Camp which we shall reach at lunch time and where a second consecutive afternoon is spent acclimatising and awestruck by the views. Annapurna South seems near enough to throw a rock at and Machhapuchare itself close enough to touch. Overnight in High Camp.
|Day 5||Trek from High Camp to Base Camp (4500m/15,764ft) , back to High camp (3700m /12,139ft) - 5hrs|
Our breakfast will be earlier than usual. Then with packed lunch we set off to reach our objective. Conditions being favourable, our party should reach up to 5,000m and only the crest of Mardi Himal itself separates us from the south face of Machhapuchare. The great ice fields and blue glaciers of the Sanctuary Wall lie below. Annapurna I, highest of all is beyond, and around us, and an arc from horizon to horizon, from Dhaulagiri to the Ganesh Himal, are a dozen or more glistening snow-bound giants. You are standing on a spot that has been your constant aim for days now. A place, a time, a view that is almost impossible to equal – and you’ve earned it. Whatever our achievement, by 1300 we need to descend, returning to the welcome steaming mug, the hot food, the shelter of High Camp
After a relaxed breakfast, tired bodies make an unhurried decent through the shade of the forest and out onto terraced fields, down 1600m in all. This is a different route down – down to the upper Mardi Khola, the torrent that has been the ice and snow of the Mardi Himal. Although remote and still away from all the much-used ‘Tea-house’ trekking routes, our expedition now takes on the mood of the arm valley and the friendly villages. Here we make our way along the banks of the Mardi Khola from the hill-side village of Siding, down through the lovely fields, past the simple farms and over the interesting bridges. There is no doubting this is indeed the idyllic Nepali countryside. Overnight in Siding Village.
The path from Siding now follows the contour of the river valley gradually down between the pastures and through Tamang and Gurung villages. Further on the trail skirts an outcrop – there’s the road, where our transfer vehicle for Pokhara will be waiting. Overnight in Milanchowk.