November is a weird middle zone. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s sunny in the day and drizzles in the evening. Trees stand bare without leaves. Dogs mate in the streets. If there’s an award for the dullest month in a year, November will win it hands down.
On one such dull early November evening in 2017, Mr. AP texts me to ask if I’m interested in a trek to Annapurna base camp in Nepal at the end of the month. Mr. AP, Mr. SV and I have been planning on doing a long trek for quite some time, yet, I reply that I’ll think about it and let him know in two days.
Trekking in the mighty Himalayas in Nepal would be a dream-come-true event. High mountains and Everest, caught my imagination after I read Jon Krakauer’s book ‘Into Thin Air’ some years ago.
It’s an autobiographical book about Jon Krakauer’s Everest experience in 1996. His team summits Everest, but the euphoria of standing at the top of the world soon vanishes as a deadly blizzard set in reducing visibility to zero and temperature much below zero. It becomes a fight for survival and eventually, eight people would freeze to death on that day. The 2015 feature film, Everest, is inspired by this event.
Into Thin Air doesn’t show high-mountain climbing in a favorable light but it lit a spark in my head to try Everest. I went on to read many books based on Everest and watched documentaries for months. Sanity, though, eventually prevailed. I began to ask myself, why should I pay an exorbitant amount of money and walk, die several times in the process, to ultimate death in a place where there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe even a sentimental last breath. I decided I would rather die, without having to pay a fee for it, in a place like Goa, facing the beach with a beer bottle in my hand.
A trek to the base camp of Everest, however, continues to be at the top of my bucket list. If for nothing else, in my old age I will be able to look at the far horizon, stroke my beard thoughtfully and say, “Yeah, I have shat on Everest.”
Unfortunately, Everest will have to wait for some more time. Annapurna may not be as glamorous as Everest but it is no easy game either. Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek is 8 to 10 days, 4130m in elevation and 120 km in total.
I form many rationalizations. ABC trek is one of the best in the world. It would be good preparation for my dream Everest Base Camp trek. I would be able to test my endurance. It would give November a positive spin and I can end the year on a high.
The downside of the trek is – without mincing words – death is a possibility. People have died. In the Himalayas, like the writer, Bill Aitken puts it, “the glory of aliveness is evenly poised with the mischance of death.” In October 2014, about 39 people including 21 trekkers died on the Annapurna trail when a blizzard struck them. Death by high altitude sickness is common. Every trekking season there are at least seven deaths in Nepal related to altitude.
On the positive side, various sources say the chance of rain in November is nil, ruling out a blizzard attack. Hypothermia can be avoided by wearing appropriate clothing and altitude sickness by following necessary precautions.
But then, studies indicate that climate change has increased the odds of unpredictable and never-before events. Nature has not signed a treaty that it will not strike in November with a blizzard. I also read about the human-bear conflict in the Annapurna Conservation Area (the entire ABC trail falls within this area) so why wouldn’t a bear want to pick up some interest in me for a happy-hour snack?
The Asian black bears usually live in areas 1,500 to 4,000 meters above the sea level so I will be right in their zone by default. Maybe I should find a bear and do some practice fights before I leave for Nepal.
Anyway, after weighing up the pros and cons, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go. Risk is always present in the Himalayan environment, but every year, thousands of trekkers hit the trails in the Nepal Himalaya and only a few people have any problems on their trek.
I decide to go.
To be continued…