Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nepal, Annapurna Circuit....Manang

Acclimatisation day in Manang, 24 hours extra to get used to the altitude in preparation for the next couple of days which would see us doing the highest part of the Annapurna Circuit. Manang is a pleasant place to stop and spend some time. Unlike other villages on the circuit, there is a division between tourist Manang and the real village; the hotels and shops are all on one side leaving the traditional part largely untouched. Which is not to say that Manang does not have any signs of modernity. Those who are familiar with the Spanish blogosphere will know about the HOYGAN, those who comment on web pages almost always using capitals and often very ungrammatical Spanish. Well one of them has got a job in Manang doing the advertising for the telephone service.

Now it would be a big mistake, at least in our case, to confuse acclimatisation day with a rest day. Our program had us set to do the ascent to the Iced Lake, almost another 1000 metres above Manang, the idea being that you go higher and then come down again to get the body used to the altitude. The weather was still not good, from Manang we should have enjoyed magnificent views of Annapurna 3 and Gangapurna. But the clouds were not going away and we were resigned to another day of seeing just occasional glimpses of the higher parts of the range.

The climb up to the Iced Lake is short in distance, but steep. We were soon high above the valley floor and at least we had the view of the glacier of Gangapurna and the lake that lies at the bottom of it. We had to imagine the upper part, shrouded in clouds.

Up here vegetation is sparse and the tree line seems to end around 4000 metres. A bit higher up and we got what would be our only significant wildlife sighting on the whole circuit, assuming you exclude donkeys, dogs, yaks, goats and chickens from the definition of wildlife. These are Himalayan blue sheep, a favourite meal of the much more elusive snow leopard.

As we got higher I started to feel the effects of the altitude. It was a steep climb, but not more so than many others I have done at lower altitudes. The last part of the ascent was very difficult for me and at one point I seriously considered turning around and going back down as my head started to throb and I felt nauseous. Instead I kept on going, but very slowly and having to stop every 50 or 60 metres. I've been in this situation enough now to recognise the difference between being tired and being affected by altitude, even though it can feel a bit like the same thing in terms of energy to keep moving.

The last part of the climb followed a stream gully, and a walk that would normally have taken me about 15 or 20 minutes turned into an agonisingly difficult hour long struggle. At the top of that gully I saw a tiny lake and learnt that the real one was still a couple of hundred metres ahead of us. In my state at the time this was bad news, but at least the rest of the walk was not so steep. I was very relieved to get to the lake. The landscape that we saw in front of us now could very easily have been in the Pyrenees of Huesca, were it not for the ever present Buddhist flags by the water.

By this point it was cold and had started to rain, so we didn't spend much time by the lake. I was more or less ok descending but felt a bit worried about what was to come given the problems I had going up, and the altitude headache that I still had. Despite the indifferent weather in the afternoon, we still got a fine view of the continuation of the valley after Manang.

Once we were back down in the village I was happy to do as little as possible. I went off with my book to one of the cafes where I could have a coffee and a big slice of apple pie. An hour later I no longer had my headache and I felt fine, maybe the acclimatisation walk had worked the way it was supposed to. The next day would be the first test.


Jan said...

What fabulous scenery, although a shame that it wasn't as clear as it might have been. Some rest day though!!!

Pueblo girl said...

That's exactly what climbing the last 100 m or so of Mount Kenya was like. It took and hour. Shuffle one foot forawrd, rest, shuffle another foot forward, rest again. I couldn't believe how difficult it was.

Graeme said...

I know that shuffle. I think the first time it really hit me that it was caused by altitude was when I went to Teide, unwisely going from sea level to summit on the same day (not walking all the way!). I was fine carrying all my stuff until we got to the refuge. Then, leaving the big bag behind, I suddenly couldn't do more than 50 metres without stopping. It's hard to comprehend when you seem to be going so well and then suddenly every step becomes hugely difficult.