A load knock on the door brings me back to the world from a dream about an office relocation. Siling is calling us outside to see the sunrise. In the thin morning haze, Annapurna South and Fishtail are silhouetted against a pale sky. With cameras at the ready, we await the show—Alex consults her users’ manual for a last-minute lesson. Then orange light fingers the top edge of Annapurna South. It is an impressive sight. Surely one of these photos will have National Geographic stamped all over it.
The valley is already filling with haze as we sit down to eat breakfast. Soon we are off and walking up the valley to Deorali. We are in woods most of the way, meeting again many of the people we passed yesterday. After an initial descent, it is a day of climbing. We get another view of the mountains at Deorali, where we arrive earlier than expected—10.45 am—too early for a proper lunch. But I eat anyway the thick pancake that finally arrives after everyone else has finished eating.
There is more climbing, and then we reach a level ridge, still shrouded in trees. Fog is blowing up onto the ridge from the left side. Occasionally, we catch fleeting glimpses of Dhaulagiri (a massive 8167 m) and Tukuche, members of the Dhaulagiri range some way to the north-west, Annapurna now being nearly behind us.
Suddenly, we are out into hot sunshine as we enter a clearing. Then a medley of blue roofs hoves into view as we descend into Ghorepani. Compared to last night, this seems like a thriving metropolis. New wooden houses are being rapidly constructed on the outskirts as we enter. There appears to be a definite hierarchy of lodges as we follow climb the hill: ‘Nice View Lodge’, ‘Super View Lodge’, and finally, ‘Hill Top Lodge’, our destination.
You don’t get this far on a trek without learning that when you arrive, you get in the shower before the hot water runs out. While Val stakes out the shower block outside the dining room, I find another shower round the back. It’s dark, and I have to kneel down to get under the shower-head. I momentarily lose a foot down the drainage hole and decide to keep a careful hold of the soap from that point. My strategy pays off though—the water is scorchingly hot.
The staircase up to the rooms is steeper than the mountains, with the additional hazard of potential head-injury on a low beam. Through the plywood walls, every sound can be heard, a situation not helped by a two-inch gap where the skirting board should have been. There is even an upstairs loo next to Martin and Nicky’s room, although Siling has this promptly closed off for the night.
Dinner consists of a colossal spring roll. If that were not enough, the slice of chocolate cake James orders is even bigger. I feel compelled to offer assistance. The playing cards come out again that evening. We have progressed to whist and half-remembered card tricks.