Rising majestically in Nepal’s central province, the Annapurna mountain range stretches for over 55 kilometers encompassing some of the highest mountains in the world. Beyond the gorges, the high passes, and the magnificent valleys are some of the planet’s most spectacular trekking scenery. The routes that pass through these mountains offer a degree of difficulty from the most novice of hikers to climbs that traverse the high passes between the peaks. In the midst of spring, just before the monsoon, I joined several friends to take on the Ghorepani/Poon Hill trek, a short eight day hike that would take us deep into Nepal’s north central province on the edge of the Annapurna range, and culminate with a spectacular sunrise from the Poon Hill vantage point. The trek would take us from the edge of the city of Pokhara to inns, guesthouses, and villages held together by spirituality and tradition, and ultimately into the gullies formed by the snowcapped peaks above.

©Michael Restivo

Our first day started with a rickety taxi ride from the lakeside tourist mecca of Pokhara to the small hill village of Naya Pul. The small car, loaded to the brim with backpacks and gear wound along high mountain roads, lacking little protection between the edge of the pavement and the towering cliffs below. Naya Pul sits on the edge of a winding river, and the trail was connected with wiry, dodgy-looking rope bridges above rushing torrents of white water. As we grew accustomed to the curious stares of the locals, and the occasional child asking for biscuits or candy, our group exited into wide open farm spaces, where green fields of mustard seed and grain stretched out under the foothills in the distance. After a short lunch under a waterfall, we were constantly followed by a consistent buzz and monotone trumpet section. Following closely behind us was a Nepali wedding party, complete with its own horn section. Unlike traditional western ceremonies, the bride and the groom hike to the wedding with their own band and entourage. This is followed by copious amounts of folk singing, irritatingly monotone instruments, and dancing. As the afternoon wore on, we began our first climb up a set of stone steps, through miniscule mountain villages to the little town of Tikedungha. Our group checked into a small lodge with hastily constructed rooms, separated by no more than some mismatched wooden beams, so that every whisper and conversation could be heard from four rooms down. We set to sleep, not expecting the exhausting climb that would be day two.

©Michael Restivo

We started off our second day with a hearty dal bhat the traditional Nepali staple consisting of curried vegetables, lentil soup, and white rice. Under the shadow of the perfect triangular peak of Machhapuchhare, the virgin, unclimbed sacred mountain, we trekked through a small forest trail on the side of the river before coming upon a series of stone steps leading above the terraced fields. The constant uphill climb took us up roughly 1,100 meters passing through precariously placed villages dangling off the cliffs. As the weather began to turn dark, we stopped at a solitary lodge sitting high above the valley and took a break before the final push to Ghorepani. After lunch and recuperating our legs, the trail entered a lush jungle, supplemented by small stone bridges, waterfalls, and streams that ran down the hillside into an emerald forest below. The road widened and then narrowed into passages only a couple of meters wide. As our group spread out we had to make one final push to Ghorepani: a last series of uneven steps that ran up the winding hillside. With sore and exhausted legs, we crossed the last bend in the road and made sight with the unmistakable blue rooftops of Ghorepani. We would camp out here for the night and make our way up to Poon Hill in the morning.

©Michael Restivo

We awoke at 5 am the next morning, determined to make the summit. The first thing I noticed was that it was unusually cold. Going up to Ghorepani had yielded balmy and pleasant weather. Looking out the window of the lodge revealed a steadily increasing snowfall. It was the first time the Ghorepani had seen snow in three years and it had hit our group the same day we wanted to make our climb. By 9 am, the entire town was covered in a thick powder, and a dense fog had descended. In the late afternoon we decided to move to a lodge in the upper part of town so that we wouldn’t have to trudge through the dense snowfall in the morning. Towards the early evening the snow let up and slowly, the Annapurnas started to reveal themselves. A warm afternoon glow fell on the snowcapped faces and sparkled in tones of brilliant white and silver. Sitting on the edge of the window with my camera, I was transfixed as the clouds lifted like curtains, and the peaks broke through the stormy weather. With the snow finally gone, we knew in the morning this was going to be our day.

Annapurna Range ©Michael Restivo

Ghorepani was under three feet of snow, but we trudged our way up Poon Hill as the sunrise behind the range turned the snow into hues of pink and orange. It was only a short 45 minute walk up hill but we spotted the fluttering prayer flags blowing in reverence to the majestic range in front of us. We hit the high point around 7 am, just as the clouds were lifting. In softened tones like a scene out of a painting, Annapurna stood high above her sisters. From our vantage point we could see the alternate face of Machhapuchhare and understood why it’s nicknamed “the fishtail mountain” with its twin summits. After congratulating each other on the successful climb of the hill, we began our way down.

Annapurna ©Michael Restivo

The climb down would be an intensive six hour trek to the hot springs town of Tatopani (Nepali for “hot water”) After trudging through snow for several hours, the white blanket began to thaw out. Under spectacularly clear skies, with the Annapurnas looming in the distance, we passed through several farming villages, several whose children punished our lack of available candy by giving us wrong directions. It was the longest but the most satisfying day as most of the hiking was downhill through rocky, desolate, and surreal terrain.

Our trek ended graciously in a more luxurious lodge than the spartan guesthouses that we had stayed in on the high trails. We rewarded our sore legs with a dip in the piping hot natural springs, supplemented by sulfur that bubbled up deep from the rocks. In total, we had only hiked five kilometers, but the winding roads and high passes made it feel much longer. The Ghorepani trail is an excellent short alternative or training for the longer Annapurna trails. It traverses high villages, terraced farmlands, and the ultimate hike up Poon Hill is a one of a kind sunrise vista at the edge of the Annapurna range. For the hiker looking for an easy but challenging route or for those who are preparing to hike to Everest, it’s the best way to build your skill and find an incredible Himalayan view.

Machhapuchhare – Fishtail peak ©Michael Restivo

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