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afraid of his response. "You can do running and fitness

Time:2018-03-13 02:17Shoes websites Click:

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Sunrise at Himalayas.

Sunrise at Himalayas. Photo: Shutterstock

"Do you have a health problem at the moment?" asks Harka, our quietly spoken guide, who I come to regard as a Yoda-like figure. "Are you taking medicine?"

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I am sitting at a table in the empty dining area of Kathmandu's Radisson Hotel with two fellow trekkers, my son, Isaac, 25, and Jo, a 50-something Melburnian who is coming to the end of five months of solo travel across Europe and Asia. She looks fit and eager. I look and feel dreadful. I'm battling my fourth bout of sinusitis in as many months and my right ear has remained blocked since the flight from Guangzhou to Kathmandu, which saw me gripping my head in my hands, tearfully. I mention my ear and antibiotics to Harka but withhold another key detail: I am utterly exhausted.

My son and I are here to mark mutual significant birthdays. It is also 20 years since our last visit to this small, land-locked country, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in April 2015. I feel ill-prepared. I am usually so organised and conscientious, but preparing for this eight-day trek – despite a detailed outline by organiser World Expeditions – had been repeatedly pushed to the bottom of my monstrous to-do list. My gear was bought at a camping store sale during a rushed work trip to Melbourne and after a few drinks. I have broken the cardinal rule of trekking and only worn my new shoes twice, one of which was in the shop when trying them on for size. I predict blisters the size of apricots. 

A week ago I made the mistake of Googling "Poon Hill trek" and reading a post that mentioned the grind of climbing stone stairs for hours. When I imagined the setting, stairs had not come to mind. "How hard is it going to be," I ask Harka, afraid of his response. "You can do running and fitness, but it is up here," he replies, lightly tapping the side of his head with his right hand. My husband had a similar, encouraging message before I left. "I reckon it's going to come down to determination and stubbornness and you've got plenty of both."

Fast-forward three days and a gentle knock on our lodge door just outside the village of Dhampus prompts me to drag my leaden legs out of bed. My hamstrings feel as though they will snap and my thighs have turned to stone. I dress quickly and step outside into the cool air and am startled by my first glimpse of Machapuchare, a peak regarded as sacred by Nepalese and off-limits to climbers. At almost 7000 metres it is by no means the tallest mountain in the Annapurna range, which looms large throughout our trek, but its jagged, double summit distinguishes it from its more rounded, snow-covered neighbours.

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When contemplating our trip, I envisioned crowded paths full of serious trekkers with spiffy fluoro-coloured high-tech gear and young pseudo-hippies in Dunlop Volleys and backpacks held together with shoe laces. While we see both, I am unprepared for the isolation we experience given the 30-year popularity of trekking in the Annapurna region (World Expeditions established treks here in 1975).

Because of time constraints, we chose one of the shortest but stunning treks offered by World Expeditions who add a couple of days' walk beyond the main trail after you have taken in Poon Hill and its breathtaking view of the significant peaks of Annapurna South, Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Hiunchuli and Machapuchare.

What I am also unprepared for is the stillness and overwhelming quiet. Hours pass without spotting anyone other than a couple of sheep herders or a villager nimbly navigating steep stairs in thongs. The four of us walk at different paces while the agile, fast-moving crew, which includes a couple of porters and kitchen staff, are always in front. Isaac and Harka lead, then I am in the middle, with Jo following behind.


There are few opportunities to talk while we walk because the challenging terrain demands your full attention. When we stop for a break, we're all too busy skulling water and downing sugar-laden snacks to converse. Sweaty fatigue eliminates any desire for polite chatter. 

I lose myself in the effort. I don't think about much at all and the trek becomes one long mindfulness exercise. Free of distractions, I notice everything around me – the movement of thin branches caused by flitting finches, buzzards gliding ominously overhead, the star-shaped patterns left by fallen leaves on rocks in a stream, and the subtle, comforting scent of daphne. 

I don't worry about a thing. My to-do list consists of getting to the next destination without twisting an ankle or giving up halfway through a toe-crushing descent. I didn't realise going down would be so hard. Up and down, up and down – for up to seven hours. Each day offers different terrain; from misshapen, moss-covered stone paths through eerily silent, fog-shrouded rhododendron forests to narrow dirt trails on the exposed sides of steep foothills that are more than a kilometre higher than Australia's tallest mountain, Kosciuszko. And those damn stairs, of which I count more than 4000 during one stretch.

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