When I first decided to do the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek some four years ago, all I was looking forward to was fresh air and good exercise. Perhaps some breath-taking views of snow-capped mountains would be nice too.
Instead I embarked on the most challenging pursuit of my life to date. This trek tested both my physical and mental limits in ways I never could imagine possible. To sum in up in three words: sweat, blood, tears.
That said, the ABC trek was also one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Trekking went beyond simply being another check off my bucketlist; I learnt a lot about life and myself.
And for that, I’ll keep coming back for more.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Until It Gets Comfortable
The ABC trek involved a lot of steep uphill climb. Think five to seven hours of stair climbing, every single day. That being my first trek, it worked muscles I never knew existed and stretched my body to its limits. I mentioned how this was the physically toughest thing I’ve ever done? Each vertical step up came with a silent prayer for my body to not collapse in exhaustion.
Here’s the thing though: you can’t stop. You move until you get to the pit stop, which is the rest house for the night. With nary a choice, I sucked it up, and ploughed one foot in front of the other.
Once I reached that pit stop, I didn’t just feel immense relief, I also had this overwhelming feeling of achievement. I even came to enjoy the adrenaline rush I get each time we reached a stop. Calling it ‘comfortable’ would be a misnomer, but it definitely became… less shocking, once my body adjusted.
At the end of the ABC trek, I felt like a total badass. This is what happens when you push yourself out of your comfort zone: you grow. Much like anything worth achieving in life, always test the limits of what you can do. Be persistent, and you can only get better.
Let Go of Things You Can’t Control
When doing the ABC Trek, hiking up Poon Hill is the biggest highlight. Basically, you wake up dead early in the morning before the sun rises, climb to the top of Poon Hill, and be greeted with glorious vistas of the Annapurna range.
This was what we saw instead:
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entirely disappointed, but I was surprised that I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be.
Halfway up, the massive cloud and fog made it obvious that we weren’t going to see a single peak. But we kept going anyway. They say it’s always about the journey, not the destination, same principle here.
And sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. Accept that, and you’ll welcome a world of chill. At the very least, I can say I’ve climbed Poon Hill – and Poon Hill is the most hilarious name.
Celebrate the Little Things
The ABC Trek took us past villages, lush forests, gorgeous ravines and cascading waterfalls before reaching the base of the epic Annapurna. This mountain stands tall at 8091m and is the 10th highest mountain in the world.
The trek is supposed to give amazing views of the entire Annapurna mountain range. Unfortunately, we went in monsoon, which meant the mountains hid behind clouds 70% of the time.
But every glimpse of snowy peaks that we get, I appreciated the hell out of it. Each time a cloud rolled away to reveal a mountain, I would plant myself there and stare at the glory for as long as I can. I learnt to appreciate every peep of mountain that I could get. While each mountain view was in no way ‘small’ in my books, I treated them all as little victories of the day.
There’s truth in finding happiness by celebrating daily accomplishments in your life. I’m a happier and more productive person every single day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sometimes You Just Need to Take a Leap of Faith
At one point, a landslide blocked a hike route. We had to detour and find another path, which led us right to a raging river. It just stormed too, so this river was relentless.
Our guide attempted to look for other means of crossing but none proved a safer alternative. Next thing we know, both our capable guide and porter are gingerly making their way across first. This was my thought process:
“Are they really going to cross this river from hell. Is he really planting himself in the middle of the river. Holy shit he’s holding out his hand to me. F*ck this, just go, pussypants.”
So I literally took that first leap of faith.
I remember the pressure of the raging river against my twig excuse for legs as pounding and intense. Towards the end my foot slipped – thank goodness for our porter’s fast reflexes for grabbing my flailing body.
Part of the motivation was because we did not want our guide and porter to be in such precarious positions for longer than necessary. On hindsight, this was rather reckless. Definitely up there on my scariest life moments list.
If this taught me anything: when push comes to shove, fear becomes irrelevant.
Suck it up, grow instant balls, and take a leap of faith.
There are Bigger Things in Life
Being around natural wonders such as that majestic mountain looming in front of me, I realise just how small we all are. Trekking humbles me so, and you realise what a tiny, tiny, tinnyyy piece of the puzzle we are.
I realised how much crap I let affect my life and how trivial a lot of life’s problems are. Going beyond dealing with life’s daily minor annoyances, it has helped with the ones that matter too. I still have my fair share of heartbreak and disappointment, but I don’t allow it to take up a chunk of my life space anymore.
Anytime I need a wake-up call, this is the one (and often only) phrase that I keep coming back to.
Health is Wealth
The first thing I realised coming back from the trek: My fitness levels were out of whack. I wouldn’t say I’m the most unfit person then, but my health levels were obviously not primed for comfortable trekking. Prior to the trek, I was an occasional exerciser. And I also had a nasty smoking habit.
At the end of the trek, I fell so sick because I pushed my body so hard that I needed almost a week of bed rest. I felt pathetic. I hated that feeling so much that I resolved to take better care of my health.
So I took my health more seriously and did a complete lifestyle change. I quit the sticks, for one. I picked up running first and then slowly picked up other stuff that makes me sweat my balls off. Though my goal in life now is not to be a mean and lean fighting machine, I’m definitely a stronger AND most importantly, happier person. Endorphins are a real thing.
Mother Nature is a Lovable Bitch
I woke up amidst mountains every single day. Wow. Beyond the concrete tetris buildings of the cities we’re used to, the world is a beautiful place.
This was the trek that truly sparked my love affair with Mother Nature. I learnt that she is unpredictable, and she’s not selective with whom she gets pissy. That aforementioned raging river incident thanks to landslides? Yeah. I learnt to respect her, and love her even.
Can we quickly talk about leeches? We had enough warning so we came prepared with a bag of salt. No bag of salt could prepare us for the amount of leeches we encountered.
Those bloodsuckers were EVERYWHERE. Not just on the ground, they hang out in trees too. This meant the tiniest rustle could have leeches land on your brain helmet. I went from being squirmy about the blood suckers to being cool with letting one snack on me. Finding them almost adorable now, the way they latch on to you and flounder their bodies about… Ugh nah just kidding, leeches suck.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Trekking teaches you to listen to your body. No thanks to my weak body, we had a relatively slow pace. We also stopped a bunch.
And THAT IS OK. Each stop is an opportunity to recharge and appreciate the nature that surrounds us.
The way down though, is a different story. Going downhill is not as tiring as climbing up, but it can take a worse toll on your body, especially the knees. While I was lucky to emerge fine, both my trek buddies suffered the worse hiker’s knees syndrome. They were popping painkillers like candy, just to get through that last bit of the trek.
I’m Not a Psycho Killer
Trekking for hours on end gives you plenty of time to think about everything. Plenty. Of. Time.
At some point, you’re mentally taken on a roller coaster ride. Euphoria at the beauty surrounding you at one second, and the next, wanting to give up and go back to civilization.
In my worse mental state though, I wanted to push trekkers ahead of me off the ledge. And they weren’t being annoying either. Actually, they were cheering us on with hang-in-theres and you-can-do-its. While they breezed past us, of course. For some reason, that annoyed the hell out of me.
“Shut up or I will fling what’s left of my energy to throw myself off this ledge and grab your neck along the way, I swear to the Annapurnas…” was my only response. Yeah, dark. But I didn’t act on it so I guess I’m in control of my inner villain, right?
The Power of Camaraderie
And as a frequent solo flyer, I take pride in enjoying my time and freedom of traveling alone. But sometimes companionship is your saving grace. And boy, was I glad that I had trek mates. I definitely lucked out with my trek mates, a Canadian and Swiss (therefore, skilled mountaineers, great). I’ve only hung out with them a couple of times before this in Kathmandu, and our timelines just happened to work for the trek.
They ended up being the best people, and we got along SO WELL. I mentioned earlier that my mind went to dark places? Turns out, so did theirs!
Our awesome guide and porter completed our support system, and they were the coolest (and most patient). The added encouragement and push we gave each other helped to ease the trek. Besides keeping the positivity levels up, we kept each other accountable too.
It was also a lot more fun! All those nights at the guesthouse became less dull. There’s only so much talking to yourself that you can do, you know?
Like in life, I learnt to appreciate my tribe of friends. Solo or not, life is always better when you have a support system you can rely on. I never take my friends for granted (or at least I hope I don’t) and I never take things personal.
What was the toughest thing you have done on your travels thus far?
Editor’s Note: I first wrote this article some couple of years back. My thoughts and feelings have changed now due to added experience (aka getting old wtf), but for the most part they still ring true. Reading this brought back memories, and reminded me of some life lessons. I hope they help you too. Or at the very least, push you to pull on some hiking boots and go explore.