Day 20: High Camp - Deurali
via Mardi Himal Base Camp
Total distance: 454.93km
Total Ascent: 24187m
Total Descent: 22868m
My last full day of trekking turned out to be a great one. For a change I was up early, 5am, to start trekking up to the Mardi Himal Base Camp. I knew this would be my final climb on my trek, and I was looking forward to it all being downhill after this.
Light had already started hitting the skies by the time I commenced, making it easy to see the path along the crest of the mountain. The entire time I had clear 360 degree views, causing me to stop and take photos every few minutes as the sun slowly lit up the peaks. A layer of clouds filled the valley well below me. It's not often I get to see a sight like that but (once again) it was one of the most picturesque and memorable moments of my entire trek.
As this was an out and back hike I didn't have my backpack on. I thought my legs would be dead after yesterday's effort but I was bounding up the mountain. Even the altitude didn't appear to be too much of a problem. I later found out that other hikers and guides commented on my speed, nicknaming me the 'mountain goat'.
I reached the first viewpoint in just over an hour, although it seemed a pointless name given the constant views on the way up. A local man was setting up a tea station on a few stones, ready for those who wanted a break. I didn't want a break. I continued on up the hill, eager to reach the Base Camp that was supposedly a 3-4 hour hike from High Camp.
Two hours after starting I came to the second viewpoint, the final stop before base camp. The views weren't all that different, just a little higher and closer to the peaks in front of me. There was a hand-painted sign there indicating that I had reached base camp at 4500m, but my watch told me I was only about 4200m so I knew there was further to go. I saw the path leading off into the distance so I continued following it.
That lasted all of five minutes. The path gradually disappeared into nothing, and I wasn't on a path anymore. My last climb couldn't be a simple one, could it? I guess it wouldn't be a typical day without getting lost at some point.
I continued to head straight up the mountain in front of me, but after a while I got the feeling it wasn't going where I wanted it to go. I checked my phone map and it said I should be further around to the right by now, so I carefully made my way along the side of the mountain, over clumps of grass and patches of snow. My map eventually told me I was on the right path, but there clearly was no path in sight. I tried heading up again, but I was surrounded by loose gravel that sent me slipping backwards whenever I took a step. I decided it was too dangerous and started to head back down.
Two minutes later I spotted what could have been described as a path. I followed it as best as I could, but after a hundred metres or so it also vanished. I couldn't see any semblance of the base camp around me, so I gave up and scrambled my way back down to the second viewpoint. All up my search lasted an hour - it's times like these a guide would have been handy. Later on I heard other hikers say that the sign I came across at this second viewpoint was the official base camp, and I had wondered off unnecessarily. That is definitely something I would do.
I half ran back to High Camp, doing my best to stay on track as the clouds crept up and slowly obscured my view (only once did I go off course). I ate a late breakfast at 11am then started my descent. The clouds had completely enveloped the area by this stage, so I saw nothing on the way down except the ground under my feet and the trees directly in front of me. The entire journey was through forest, so there wasn't much to see anyway.
From High Camp I could have walked down to a village called Sidhing and caught a jeep directly to Pokhara, thereby ending my trek. I didn't do that. I decided I wanted to complete the hike at Phedi (the traditional start or end point for the Sanctuary trek), on the highway where I would get a bus to Pokhara. I felt as though a jeep would be taking a shortcut and I wanted to see this journey through to the end, even though it would add an extra half day of walking.
Despite seeing nothing but fog, the trek was still beautiful. I hardly saw another person and there was no river or wind on this section, so all I could hear was my footsteps and the birds. The Mardi Himal hike was probably the best marked route in the region - whoever was responsible for painting the blue and white stripes knew what they were doing. I almost never took the wrong path the entire way down.
The moment I reached Deurali was the exact moment it started to rain. There was a choice of two lodges, run by the same family, so it was an easy decision. The lodge ended up being probably the nicest I had stayed in the entire time - it looked fairly clean, semi-soundproof (except for the boarded up window), Western bathroom, electricity most of the time, and not cold due to the lower altitude. There was no wifi, but I was used to that by now. It was almost luxurious compared to many places I had stayed. It rained most of the night, which usually indicated that tomorrow would be clear blue skies. I was looking forward to heading back to civilisation and relatively modern amenities (as well as saying goodbye to the backpack for a few days).