“You don’t really conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself”
Humble words by a famous climber. How true. So here we were, closeted inside a dimly-lit, cold and cramped 4-bedded room with no other furniture. We were only too eager to get up and going over the pass to conquer ourselves.
At 4am the next morning, while it was pitch dark and freezing cold (like 7-layers-of-clothing kind of cold. I didn’t check but it couldn’t have been anything less than -5Cº, maybe even -8Cº) we headed out towards the hardest part of this 7km section – 2kms of winding, steep, narrow and gravelly switchbacks.
By now, the trail was clearly marked, not by the sun, but by a snaking column of hikers’ headlights as they slowly trudged their way towards the top.
Even with padded thermal gloves on, I was quickly feeling the severe cold bite into my hands and feet. How cold, you ask? Well, the water dripping out of the nozzle of my water bottle froze into a icicle before gravity could take over. It was hard going.
One by one, the hikers overtook us. It was no fun pushing a fully-loaded bike up this punishing trail. Only the raw, rugged spectacle of nature’s imposing beauty surrounding us made it worth the while.
Richard is ready to roll
Don’t even bother trying to ride the first 2kms
Hiking is definitely faster than biking
You know it’s cold is when water dripping down the bottle freezes before it hits the ground
To cut some hiking time up to Thorong La, some hikers stay 2kms further up at this, the last and highest hotel on the Annapurna Circuit. It’s a real dump, literally.
Breathtaking views take on new meaning here at this oxygen-starved altitude.
The change in scenery is often very dramatic.
Joy is finally reaching Thorong La after 8.5 gruelling hours (for me anyway), mostly pushing my bike. I arrived some distance behind my young friends.
Tired, totally spent but immensely happy. Good thing the sun was out to warm things up a bit.
Mike P celebrates.
I had no doubt I would have made it as a solo effort but when you have good friends along for the ride, it’s anytime more fun and more encouraging for each other. Annapurna is no walk in the park if you do it on 2 wheels.
We rolled down the mountain reaching the first semblance of civilisation in the village of Muktinath (3,710m) in just three hours. Gravity is no longer a foe but a good friend. Even so, we were careful, choosing instead to walk our bikes on some sections that were narrow and covered with loose gravel. Sudden braking meant a very long drop down the sheer mountain face – not the climactic ending we were looking for.
We decided to lodge at this masterpiece of a hotel. Time for a well-deserved break, and hot showers. We were beginning to feel a little skanky…