Day 15: Dana - Ghorepani
Total distance: 340.55km
Total Ascent: 16313m
Total Descent: 14331m
Look at that elevation! And when you consider that the first 8km were nearly all downhill, I packed in a huge amount of uphill in a short distance - about 1700m in 15km. For all you runners out there: imagine doing a 50km run with over 5000m of elevation, or a 100km with over 10000m - that's the sort of steepness I was experiencing today. Then imagine doing it with a 12-14kg backpack. To say it hurt was an understatement.
I'm not sure which day was harder, today or going the pass. At least the hard part of the pass was over in three hours. Today stretched on forever.
All I really saw on my trek today were stone steps. Thousands of them. Jagged, misshapen, uneven, never-ending stone steps. And I swear some of them were the size of boulders, requiring me to use momentum to get up to the next one. From the start I was using a strategy of counting steps, 10 at a time. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Repeat times a million. That's all that went through my head for most of the day. It seemed to work, as I often arrived at the top of a set of stairs without realising I had been climbing up them for the last 10 minutes. I think I will dream of steps tonight.
Despite the evil stairs the hike was still beautiful. Up through forests, away from roads, through small villages where the kids would run out to meet me. They always asked for sweets, which I didn't have, but it was nice to talk to others. The weather was hazy again, meaning I didn't even glimpse a snowy peak today, but as I was staring at my feet the majority of the time it didn't really matter.
I missed five turn-offs. Twice the track I was on led around to meet up with the path anyway, twice local villagers called out to point me in the right direction. Once I had just passed a tour group, and the tour guide called me back (down a couple of dozen stairs I had needlessly climbed). I was lucky I was on a busy section today, with plenty of hikers to follow or pull me in line when necessary.
I stumbled into Ghorepani mid-afternoon, earlier than expected but relieved it was over. Ghorepani is a town on several trekking routes, so it was already busy by the time I arrived. It took me a few attempts to find a guesthouse that wasn't booked out. I saw one off the main path, behind a couple of others, that looked like it would fill up last. I walked up to the main door to find the sign, "Reception 3rd floor". Are you serious? I stood at the bottom for several minutes, contemplating whether it was worth pushing myself up yet more stairs. I eventually forced myself up, happy to find a room available. Their dining room had floor to ceiling windows looking directly out over the invisible mountain range, obscured by clouds. Hopefully it will be on full display for breakfast.
The rooms at the guesthouse are all named after famous sportsmen. I'm in the room of some Indian hockey player I've never heard of. On either side of me are Michael Schumacher and Viv Richards. Above me is Shane Warne. I'm glad I'm not staying in that room.
Today marks the end of the Annapurna Circuit for me. While there is officially one more day of the trail in guidebooks, it is mostly on the road and doesn't hold much appeal. From here I cross over to start the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, heading up again to 4130m. At least today's climb has given me a good start.