Keep Calm and Trek the Himalayas | Chapter Six

Keep Calm and Trek the Himalayas | Chapter Six

My wife and I set out on an adventure of a lifetime recently.  This is our story.  My hope in sharing our experience is that it may help you get out of your own comfort zone, take ownership over your own happiness and motivate you to seek your own adventure.  Adventure is an amazing tool that can help you find the best version of yourself and give you back that feeling of “being alive.”  Thanks for checking it out.


Poon Hill

We woke up early on day 3 of our trek to climb Poon Hill.  Poon Hill is a great spot for trekkers to view the beautiful Annapurna mountain range and would be considered a mountain in any other region of the world.  But here in Nepal, it is merely a “hill”.  After a 4am wake up, we started our climb at 430am.  This climb was straight up in the dark alongside hundreds of others making the pilgrimage.  The star of the show would be the sun coming up over the Annapurna mountains around 6am.  We wanted to be in place a bit early to get a good seat for the show and so we hustled up a bazillion stairs.  It wasn’t possible to climb for more than 15 minutes at a time due to the leg fatigue so we would climb and rest, climb and rest, climb and rest.  As you can see from the picture above – I was a sweaty mess even though it was close to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can also see who wasn’t a sweaty mess.  She’s a gazelle.

Once we got up to Poon Hill it was still pitch black but there was a buzz on the hilltop the likes I had never experienced.  It felt like that quiet buzz before a big act takes the stage for a concert, only magnified.  There were people from all over the world jockeying for seating, taking pictures and video and waiting, waiting, waiting for the main attraction to appear.

As the sun came up in the east its rays started to illuminate the mountains to the west.  The faint light would begin to show the outline of the mountain peaks situated to the west and gradually as the sun came up,those outlines would turn into mountainous silhouettes.  As daylight continued to creep up over the eastern horizon the grandeur of the Annapurna peaks would gradually be revealed.  And although we had seen these giants lurking in the background during our first two days of trekking, this experience, in this spot was different.  It was like we were sitting right across from our friends having a conversation – just the peaks and us trekkers.  It was similar to a reunion of old pals seeing each other again for the first time in a long time.  With more light came more conversation between us.  The buzz amongst the crowd that had gathered was surreal – people from all over the world gathered on this hilltop together with their “old friends.”

From east to west, Machapuchere was first (far right) to be revealed.  We had been introduced to this holy peak back on day 1 of the trek but were now sitting directly across from it.  Its nickname is “Fishtail” because the likeness of its peak and measures about 23,000 feet.  Second from the right is Hiunchuli which is an extension of Annapurna South directly to the west.  Hiunchuli measures about 21,000 feet.  Annapurna South (center) measures 23,700 feet and is a sentimental favorite as it is the 101st tallest mountain peak in the world.  And to the far left is Annapurna I which is the 10th highest peak in the world measuring 26,500 feet.  It’s arrangement next to Annapurna South creates a bit of an optical illusion.  You will notice in the picture above that Annapurna I appears smaller than Annapurna South and this is because South is in the foreground and Annapurna I is in the background (and further away).

Annapurna I was summited for the first time in 1950 but since then has had quite a tumultuous history.  The 2nd summit took place 20 years later in 1970 and in 1999 54 climbers perished while attempting a summit.  The fatality-to-summit ratio for Annupurna I is nearly 40%, the highest of all the largest peaks in the world including Everest.

As the sun came up over the horizon and the coffee shop on top of Poon Hill opened, the buzz turned into a full out celebration.  We were congratulating one another, celebrating with our sherpas and porters and basking in the “high” of being among the mountain gods.  The positive energy was intoxicating.  It was in these moments that I became addicted.

A bit further to the west from Annapurna I on the opposite side of the Kali Gandaki River is Dhaulagiri.  With a small pivot to the left, from the same location on Poon Hill, we were introduced to Dhaulagiri which has the 7th highest peak in the world measuring nearly 27,000 feet.  This mountain stands on its own and actually has 5 different peaks along this massif.

Closeup of Dhaulagiri in the background.
Wide angle view of Dhaulagiri behind us.
Brilliant sunshine on Dhaulagiri’s south face.

As far as we know, there have been 358 successful ascents and 58 fatalities of Dhaulagiri with most of these by way of the northeast ridge.  There has been no known ascents via the south face of Dhaulagiri to date.

Panorama from left to right:  Dhaulagiri massif, Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machapuchare.

It was an amazing morning and an incredible experience that I will remember forever.  There are so many factors that contributed to these feelings but mainly it was the “zero dark thirty” trek up the mountain, seeing the unveiling of these incredible mountains as the sun came up, feeling the buzz, companionship and celebration of everyone in attendance and being touched in my heart by a feeling of mindfulness and inspiration.  This is what has changed me.  It changed the way I look at our planet.  It changed the way I view my own place in this world.  It changed my perspective of life and its meaning.  The mountains spoke to me in ways no person ever has.  They touched my heart with their sincerity, their wisdom and most of all their ability to inspire all of us to be better people.

Experiencing the Annapurnas in this way with my wife has created a new connection, a new memory between us that we recall and think back on frequently.  The difficult climb in the dark and the emotional high of being amongst the world’s tallest peaks is an experience we will share forever.

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