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A modern girl’s guide to trekking Nepal

I’m convinced I’m new hybrid of woman – the one that seeks adventure and exhilaration of the outdoors, but one that also craves the finer things in life. But this was not always so – having been stereotyped as the girl with a lavish life style, who wouldn’t stay in anything below a 4* hotel, I was adamant to prove to the rest of the world, and myself, that I could do it.

When I set off for Nepal, I knew one way to shed this princess image was to challenge myself with a trek. I wasn’t convinced of my ability to do it, or indeed if I was ready to resign myself to a life of hiking shoes, but after being reassured that the Royal Trek was mainly a flat, leisurely 4 day walk, I was slightly more optimistic.

As a rule, most places of natural beauty rarely look as sensational up close as they do in the glossy magazines, but the Annapurna range was picture perfect – in fact, it was better. The fresh air combined with the isolation was a welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of life I had experienced for 2 weeks in Kathmandu.

Having stocked up on a wholehearted breakfast 800m up in the midst Nayapool hills, we set off to tackle the mammoth that lay ahead of us. I immediately felt at ease with the pace of walking, the gentle green, hilly terrain and the presence of the sun. However, about 2 hours into the trek, it was clear that I had over-prepared for the cold at this relatively low altitude: I found myself in quite a fluster under my thermals, vest top, t-shirt, fleece and a wind proof jacket. The only problem was, I was in the great outdoors with three other men – impressively, I manage to strip off my thermal and vest tops without removing any of my other layers. I continued quite effortlessly until we stopped for lunch, and was certain that this was going to be a piece of cake for me.

The portion after lunch turned out to be quite a struggle – almost certainly because I ate so much food. Let’s face it, it was probably the only time I could ever justify indulging so many carbs without wanting to kill myself (an incident that occurred everyday). As the sun got veiled under a mass of thick cloud in the afternoon, I started to crave some comforts: a warm shower, a cup of tea, a comfortable bed. But instead, all I had in front of me was 3,300 steps to climb before I could begin to realise my castle in the sky (which at the time, it quite literally seemed). After what felt like a never ending feat, we finally reached Ulleri, the village where we would spend our first night. Though it was a far cry from a castle, I was merely relieved at the prospect of relaxing.

The shower facility (I deliberately use the singular) was quite inconveniently located outside, which meant taking my entire backpack with me to wait my turn. I watched in anticipation as the steam escaped out from the shower room into the brisk mountain air. Finally, my turn came, and as I carefully removed my hiking boots and socks, letting my feet touch the icy ground, I eagerly turned the tap on, only to discover the lady who had used the shower before me had finished all the hot water. And since the guesthouse ran on solar power, and the sun had said its goodbye long ago, I had to, rather irritably, settle for a cold shower – but I reassured myself that it was all a part of the experience.

Sometimes the best part of trekking was reaching your destination triumphantly, the trekkers lodge. With cold, often wet feet, exhausted, and in need of a hearty meal, it was almost decadent warming myself by a cozy fire with a hot drink. The lodges, though basic, boasted a lively, spirited atmosphere, where fireplace banter and exchange of travel stories with fellow trekkers was the primary source of entertainment. On this particular night, not content with my cold shower, I stubbornly assigned myself by the fire as long as I could manage. Come 9pm tired hikers began to drop into their beds. I followed in suit, but not after taking a few painkillers to subside any potential aches.

The next morning began well, and I felt fairly invigorated, especially as a Dutch couple’s guide had told us that we had been through the worst of it all (which subsequently turned out to be a lie). We started to see the diversity of the landscape as it became more mountainous and snow-laden. As we progressed to higher altitudes, more exertion was required, and I began to get out of breath a lot quicker, although walking downhill in the snow turned out to be a more arduous and difficult task than it first appeared. After slipping and falling more than a few times, I found myself wishing for a pair of skis – it would’ve been faster and probably a lot easier. The boys were slightly more adventurous than me going down the big slopes, sliding down on their bums – something I refused to do at first, because let’s face it; frost bite on your behind is never a good thing. Eventually I became increasingly infuriated at my lack of pace compared to them and attempted to crouch and slide down a hill. But whilst I tried not to get too close to the edge (as there was a considerable drop down), I managed to flip myself over onto my side and crashed into everyone. I endeavored to keep my cool as I struggled to stand up, but it was too late – the deed had been done.

At 2,800m, we arrived at Ghorepani for our resting point relatively early, at 2:30pm. I decided to tackle a shower immediately before anyone else could use up all the hot water. Alas my dream was once again crushed, but at least there was lukewarm sentiment this time. I decided I would wash my hair, as I had bought a travel hairdryer along with me – only the electricity wasn’t working, so I had to dry it au natural. I shared my misfortune with the Dutch lady, expecting sympathy, but she was only puzzled at why I had weighed down my backpack with a hairdryer, and I was safely established as the bimbo of the trekking lodge that night. Thoroughly exhausted, I shamefully climbed into bed at 7:30pm that evening.

No amount of spin classes at the gym could have ever prepared me for what was in store the next day. It began with climbing Poon Hill to see the sunrise. Even though this was an incredible highlight of the trip, getting up at 5am and then going out into the bitter cold and total darkness of the early hours, aided by only a torch to climb 400m was not my idea of the perfect Sunday morning. Nevertheless, making it to the top in time to see the luminous hue of orange creeping into the sapphire blue skyline, casting its warm rays onto the snow capped mountains whilst sipping on hot chocolate was absolutely sumptuous. What came to follow the spectacle of the sunrise, however, was possibly the hardest thing I have done – I think I pushed every bone, muscle, ligament, and all my other body parts to the maximum.

We knew we had a good 8-9 hour walk ahead of us, so we set off straight away. It characteristically commenced well, with the sun shining across the immaculate snowy landscape, which was completely breath-taking at this point. I felt as if I was in the magical land of Narnia walking through forests of trees draped in thick blankets of pristine white snow. As we got to the summit of a snow-topped peak, we were greeted with the most amazing and incredible 360 degree view of the whole Annapurna mountain range – I was filled with a complete and utter sense of being on top of the world.

By 11am we had been walking for 5 hours straight, and pangs of hunger began to surface. Our lunch stop was at least another 2 hours away, so relentlessly, we persevered. During this stretch, the sun disappeared, and as we reached a valley point, the snow began to melt and mix with yak dung, so we were extra vigilant not to fall over now. The surfaces became more slippery as the snow that had begun to melt in the morning’s sun was now refreezing in its absence. This made it increasingly frustrating as I struggled to climb down the mountain side without slipping to cross a valley, only to be confronted with the same distance to climb back up. For the first time I was beginning to think, “Why am I doing this to myself?” –  I was cold, tired, and hungry, my feet were wet, and our destination seemed unattainable. The time painfully dragged completing this small challenge before lunch, and by the time we reached Tadapani, we barely had time to warm our drenched feet by the cooking fire or consume the instant noodles prepared by the welcoming guesthouse hosts before we persisted on.

As the scenery began to change once again, and the snow diminished, I found myself with a refreshed burst of energy. We were entering a woodland area which was reminiscent of the English country side where I had done my Duke of Edinburgh award (and only the one mind you, as it turned out aged 15, camping was so not me). Suddenly, it was like an innate spirit had awoken inside me, and I was jumping over fallen trees and muddy puddles in the manner of Lara Croft, albeit rather more frazzled. My trousers and shoes were wet and muddy, and my feet were throbbing, but it failed to cease me because I could sense we were close to our destination.

I’ve never been happier to see a trekker’s lodge than I was at that moment we reached Ghandruk. I remember hugging one of my hiking companions and saying, “We did it!” – 10 ½ hours of walking, finishing in one day what most people take a day and a half to do. I felt such an incredible rush of accomplishment as I rested my tired feet on the stone wall outside the lodge overlooking the local hillside – and finally, after 3 days, I had my first hot shower.

The pain in my body the following day was horrendous – I literally couldn’t move. I blamed it on the poorly constructed beds I had slept in over the past few nights, but I knew it was due to the lack of stretching after each day’s walking. I instead cheated, popping a few Ibuprofens’ before bed, and I was paying for the grave mistake. This made the final day’s portion even harder, though it was largely downhill. Three hours of walking through a more familiar green terrain, feet blistered and aching, I saw the point at which we ate breakfast on the first day in Nayapool, and I knew it was nearly over. Soon I would be back to comforts – back to the real world.

As I sat in the cab looking at my hideous hiking shoes, covered in mud and discolored in patches from the snow, I felt a strange sensation – were they actually growing on me? Undoubtedly, the hike had been taxing at times, and it was a far cry from the comfort I was used to, but the stunning views had more than compensated for this – coupled with the enormous sense of achievement at the end, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I think it’s safe to say this girl might be ready to swap her Jimmy Choo dream for a pair of hiking shoes…

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