Annapurna Mountain Range, Nepal: How Much Farther?! – by Clay

Ok, so we arrive in Kathmandu from Darwin, Australia after a number of delays in Darwin (not sure of the cause) and what a difference in temperature. Darwin was a balmy, humid 38C while Kathmandu was 12C when we stepped off the plane. We were met by the manager of the hotel we were staying, and he had a driver waiting for us. We quickly learned that vehicles in Nepal are often crammed with more people than the seats allow. Our duffle bags and backpacks were also thrown on top of the roof and not strapped down as we made our way to the hotel. Surprisingly, nothing actually flew off! The room was fairly small but comfortable enough.

The next day we explored the Thamel area (where we were staying) and found that there was an energy crisis due to the fact that India has blockaded the border and is not allowing the shipment of cooking and vehicle fuel through. That made driving 3x more expensive and restaurants that were open for business were harder to find. There were also scheduled rolling blackouts for the electricity. Apparently, India doesn’t like the fact that Nepal is drafting a new constitution.

We found a restaurant and I ordered a typical Nepalese dish which was called “Chicken Thali” which consisted of lentil soup, rice, curried vegetables, yogurt, and curried chicken. It was very tasty and not too spicy – just beware of the pickled root-looking things – they actually burn! Turns out that our guide and porter would eat this for every meal at every teahouse we would stop at.

After that the hotel manager took us to a trekkers shop where we could buy supplies before we head to the mountains. I had read that 90% of the stuff sold on the streets of Thamel are fake (i.e., if it’s branded “North Face” or “Marmot” or “Columbia”, it’s not the real deal) though the vendors will try to charge you as though it were and you’re supposed to haggle and bargain for everything.  We ended up buying “North Face” down vests for the Barb, Caleb, and Connor and a couple of pairs of wool socks for me (local brand).

The next day we took off for Pokhara on an 8hr, jerky-jerky bus ride to meet our guide and porter at the bottom of the Annapurna mountain range to begin our trek. We stayed overnight in Pokhara at Hotel Orchid after our harrowing drive through the mountain passes. The next day we started off early and had a cup of tea before setting out. I think our guide wanted to ensure that we had something warm and sweet inside before we started. Nepali tea is served sweet with milk. And you can see that we’re all fresh and excited to start!

Dhana, our guide, was a character. He left home in the Everest region at the age of 9 to earn money in Kathmandu by washing dishes. By age 12 he had become a porter and was carrying up to 50kg packs for trekkers! He learned to speak English very well by talking to tourists and eventually became a guide around 18.  Sangit, our porter, was about the same age and spoke less English so we didn’t get to know too much of his history.  Laws had been put in place to help protect the porters so load restrictions had been imposed. Porters could only carry a maximum of 30kg. All our stuff weighed about 20kg so we were well within the limits.

The first day of the hike was very difficult and gruelling. We began in Nayapool (elev. 1070m) and would be climbing through Birethanti and Hile to a place called Tikhe Dhunga (elev. 1577m).


It started off as a mild incline with ramp-like roads but eventually gave way to steep stair-like steps. There were points when I felt like I was climbing a ladder but with a backpack on so I was huffing and puffing pretty much all day. I thought I was going to have a heart attack! By contrast, the boys seemed to be loving the experience and were scampering up and down the path ahead of us like a couple of mountain goats. Dhana would shake his head with a smile and say, “Too much energy”. Even worse (for me) was Barb who was right behind the boys like a mama alpaca watching over them. Whenever I asked Dhana how much farther the teahouse was his reply was always the same, “Just a few more minutes of walking”. *GROAN*

When we arrived at Tikhe Dunga Dhana suggested we keep walking for a couple more hours to reach Ulleri (elev. 2073m) because the hardest part of the trek was between Tikhe Dunga and Ghorepani so it would be a good idea to get part of it out of the way. More *GROAN*


When we finally arrived my legs felt like overcooked spaghetti.

I forgot to mention that the climate changes every 5 min. of climbing due to the altitude so this teahouse was freezing. There was a common room on the ground floor with an oil-barrel wood stove where you could hang your wet clothes (either from sweat or cold water washing) to dry overnight. The lady that seemed to own/run the place seemed genuinely glad to have us there. The high season for trekking had just ended as winter weather was starting to settle in at the higher elevations so the teahouses were practically deserted. Besides us, there were two retired school teachers doing the same circuit trek as we were. Anyway, the lady who ran the place seem quite taken by the boys, Connor in particular. I think she was just a grandmotherly type of person.


Just before we left we saw a man carrying 3 sheets of plywood on his head and back heading up the mountain. I’m not sure how heavy that was but it I’m sure it was heavier than our daypacks! It was also good for the boys to see how stuff got transported up there in the mountains. We explained that the man was only probably getting paid $1 for his labour, if even that much. Dhana’s wife is a school teacher and she made the equivalent of $60USD each month.

Day 2 was just as gruelling, if not worse than the first day. Even the boys found it more challenging and asked Sangit if they could borrow the telescoping walking poles he had attached to his pack. Eventually, they heard me wheezing away at the back of the line so they handed them over to me and Barb (she had also begun to slow down). Dhana also found a couple of stick in the woods so we could use two poles each. Apparently, 30% of your climbing energy can come from the use of these poles by allowing your upper body to help stabilize and lift yourself up. Needless to say, I used the poles for the rest of our journey. We encountered several mule trains, local wildlife, and teahouses along the way. By far the most frustrating for me was the man with the plywood. We would pass him and then we’d pause for a rest and he’d pass us. Then we’d start again, pass plywood man, rest, plywood man lap us again, and the whole thing would repeat over and over. It made me realize how out of shape I am when plywood man carries 200 pounds and laps me several time throughout the day. Must be the altitude. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


We reached Ghorepani (elev. 2850m) just after noon so we had lunch at the teahouse and my legs felt like LEAD STUMPS. I told Barb that I could not go on to Poon Hill which was just “a short walk” further up the mountain to see the sunset. She suggested I take a nap to help relax my legs and that it would be a shame to come all this way and not go the last little bit to reach the top.

DSCF1429So an hour later we were again trekking straight up. The boys were actively encouraging us on. They still seemed to have lots of energy. Poon Hill is a “public park” so it had actual steps for parts of the way. You can also see a cell phone tower behind Caleb near the top of the peak. Needless to say, we had great reception on our devices here.

After an hour and a half we finally reached the top (elev. 3210m) and I’m glad Barb pushed me on as the view was spectacular! We were above the clouds.

On a side note, even though the down vests were not genuine North Face, Barb and the boys were very grateful to have them. At the very top of Poon Hill was the only time I regretted not getting a vest but that would have been silly to buy one for the 45 minutes we were at the peak.

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Dhana told us that the next three days of hiking would be easier as we were starting to head down, although there was a section where we had to go up, then Nepali flat (which means uneven up and down for a while), then down. We discovered that the trek down, in different ways, was just as difficult as climbing up. Again, the walking poles helped me a great deal. We noticed as we came down that much of the mountainside is terraced in order to grow crops.


We left Ghorepani and worked our way up and down through Deurali (elev. 2960m), Banthanti (elev. 2194m), and stayed in Tadapani (elev. 2630m) for the next night. We stayed at the Himalaya Tourist Guest House and the lady there had been stoking the oil-barrel furnace all day so that there was lots of hot water. We saw signs all over the common room – phone charging station (100NPR), hot shower (200NPR), Nepali Tea (50NPR). We were running out of money and I was the sweatiest and dirtiest one of the bunch so I won the hot shower. Turns out it was so hot that I couldn’t even stand under the stream and, of course, the cold valve was broken. I ended up splashing myself with scalding water to get the soap off. One of the drawbacks was that none of the sleeping rooms in any of the teahouses had any electrical sockets and I needed one for my stupid CPAP machine. I do have a portable battery but it takes a 12-13 hour charge for it to last for 7 hours of runtime. Basically, I had quality sleep a little less than 50% of the time due to non-existent sockets. Happily, though, since it was low season, we weren’t charged any money for my shower or to charge my phone and CPAP machine.

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From Tadapani we walked through Bhatsi Kharka and Ghandruk (elev. 1940m) where we stayed at Hotel Manisha, another teahouse where we were the only customers. My legs were STILL leaden stumps but, surprisingly, my back had not been thrown out of whack so as to debilitate me. For that I was extremely grateful. As we walked into Ghandruk and approached the hotel I noticed a bunch of fat chickens in the their yard. It looked good enough to eat so I ordered chicken for dinner that night. It was great!

And as a final testament to my weakness and frailty, as we set out on that last day we saw another man carrying a stone slate, which was likely goiDSCF1511ng to be ground and polished to be used as a tabletop. I can’t imagine it was any lighter than plywood man’s load but stone man walked along confidently as though his load were made of feathers. We passed him once but he lapped us on our first rest stop. We didn’t see him after that. I’m pathetic, I know.

The last leg of our journey took us from Ghandruk through Kimche/Dhamle, Syauli Bajar (elev. 1190m), and Birethanti (elev. 1080m) – yes, the same Birethanti that we walked through on Day 1. We were also supposed to walk back to our starting place of Nayapool but Dhana hired a Jeep to take us from Birethanti back to Pokhara and Hotel Orchid.

So am I glad we did the trek in Nepal? YES! It was beautiful, scenic, and a wonderful experience to have as a family. Would I do it again? Not unless I had properly prepared and conditioned my body to be healthy and ready to brave the rigours of the trail. Yes, the Ghorepani – Poon Hill circuit is supposed to be the easiest trek in the Annapurna mountain range but it’s all relative. When you consider the flatness of Ontario and that I’m a chubby hubby who enjoys steak, spaghetti bolognaise, bacon, and chicken wings – usually in one sitting – this is not a hike for those who aren’t prepared both physically and mentally. Yes, I managed to do the trek but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was in better shape. Dhana and Sangit, on the other hand, were absolutely fabulous. They related well with the boys, playing Chain Reaction on Dhana’s phone or patiently learning how to play Hearts or Euchre from Caleb and Connor in the evenings.

Kathmandu, Nepal: We’re Not in the Tropics Any More! – by Connor

We flew into Nepal and it was fifteen degrees outside. We walked through the terminal and I started to feel like an ice cube! We got our luggage and tried to find an ATM but there were none in sight. As we left the terminal someone came to us and asked us if we were gong to a hotel called Hotel Veda. We were and he was the manage of it!

We jumped into the van and started driving to the hotel. My dad asked if we could stop at an ATM. We stopped, got out some money and started driving again. The streets in Kathmandu are very small and filled with lots of people, bicycles, cows, tuk tuks, so you have to swerve around everything as you go.

VLUU L210  / Samsung L210


We arrived at Hotel Veda and the manager asked us if we needed any food or drinks. My dad looked at Caleb and I, we were practically falling asleep! (It was very late and we’d been up since 3 a.m.!) So, we decided that we would get into our room and go to sleep. My dad was still hungry so he went out to find some food. By the time he got back Caleb and I were already asleep.

The next day, we had the best breakfast ever! We weren’t able to have breakfast at our hotel because there was no fuel since India has blocked most of the fuel (for cars and kitchens) from crossing the border into Nepal. We went to another hotel down the street that had some fuel to cook with. They served us bacon, eggs, sausage, an stir-fried potatoes with green pepper and onion. With that, we had tea, fruit juice, and a plate of toast. I tried to eat all of that but you can only eat so much.

After the amazing meal, my mom was looking forward to doing some trekking so we needed to make some arrangements. We went back to our hotel and talked about it. We decided that we would do a five day, six night trek from Pokhara to Poon Hill. Caleb and I were very excited. We needed to get some gear for our trip so our hotel manager took us to a shop where he had a friend that sold mountain equipment. We bought everything we needed and headed back to our guest house.

The next day, it was time to start our trek. But first, we had to take an eight hour bus ride to a place called Pokhara. After the very long bus ride, we arrived at the bus stop and waited for someone to take us to Hotel Orchid. A car pulled up in front of us and we jumped in. Before we knew it we were at the hotel and it was nice.

DSCF1325After a night there, we took a one and a half hour van ride up the mountains to begin out trek. The trek started easy, going down a hill and then it was flat. We thought it was hard but it didn’t get any better! After the flat part, we had to go up a very, very, steep hill. Then we had to go up stairs and that was really painful! But then it was down hill so our legs had sweet relief! After a few hours of mountain climbing, our guide told us that lunch was a few more minutes head. Now we had something to look forward to!




We kept on passing villages with little restaurants but we didn’t stop for any of them. Finally, a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere seemed to be the lunch station. Our guide Dhana gave us a menu and there was lots to choose from. I got noodle soup and it was delicious. It took us about half an hour to eat lunch. After the amazing meal we started walking and it was only up hill for four hours. Most of that was steps. Dhana said that there were three thousand five hundred steps. We walked and walked unDSCF1500til Caleb pointed to a blue house in the distance. He asked Dhana if that was our tea house (guest house). Dhana said it was. So, we walked some more and low and behold, there was the blue house! Caleb anDSCF1360d I rushed to the blue house but Dhana said we needed to go just a little bit further. We climbed some more and arrived at another blue house. We asked Dhana if this was our house and Dhana replied just a little further! When we were walking we saw about nine more blue houses but none of them were ours. Finally, the ground started to level out and we came across a pink house and it seemed to be ours! We went inside and asked for our room key. I was frozen when we went into our little room. I looked outside our window and we were over the clouds.

The next morning we had to walk for six hours. Dhana said that this was the hardest day of trekking. We hDSCF1381ad breakfast and started walking up steps. My mom asked Dhana if these were still part DSCF1349of the three thousand five hundred stops of pain! Dhana didn’t know but he said that the steps were about to end. After about an hour of steps, Dhana said that there were only a few more steps to go. Of course, a few more meant a lot more than we expected! We climbed another while and it was finally “flat”. Flat in Nepal means a little up and a little down – Nepalese flat! After the flat part, we stopped at a restaurant and had lunch. Dhana said we were going to the top of Poon Hill so we could see the sunset.

After lunch we settled into our room and my dad was so tired he took a nap. He slept for about an hour until we had to go. We left all of our bags and DSCF1413other stuff in the room. We started up to Poon Hill and then we had more steps to

DSCF1431climb. After a few flights of stairs they curved and my dad was falling behind. After a few flights of stairs, they curved and my dad was falling behind. WE told him not to look around the corner, but he did anyway……Still more stairs! My dad started feeling like Po from Kung Fu Panda, if you know what I mean.

We managed to get to the top and woo-hoo, there were benches! After a few sunset pictures we headed back to our hostel. It was very dark so we pulled out our flash lights. We got to the bottom of the stairs and walked to the guest house. We got inside and ordered a loaf of

corn bread. After that we went upstairs and went to sleep. DSCF1463




The next day our guide told us we would need to climb the next “hill” before we would start to go down, so there were another couple of hours of up hill. Then we had to spend a couple hDSCF1405ours making our way down the mountain before we stopped for lunch. We stopped at a small tea house for lunch and you could see a cloud come right in over us. It was veryDSCF1531 cold. Even my dad was freezing and he never gets cold! We had some warm soup and decided we needed to get moving before we got even colder. We continued our way down the mountain. We were so happy to see our next tea house. They had a small steel drum inside where you could warm up. We had to wear our long underwear, toques, and socks to bed that night to stay warm. Caleb, my mom and I cuddled into one little bed, while my DSCF1534dad got the other. It was cosy as long as you stayed under the covers!

Our final two days of trekking were more down and Nepalese flat. They weren’t too bad and it started to get a bit warmer again. Our guide and porter taught us how to play a game on their phone and we taught them how to play euchre and hearts. It was fun.

Once we reached the bottom we caught a truck back to Pokahara where we stayed one more night. Then we returned to Kathmandu. Trekking was fun!




Great Barrier Reef, Australia: A Snorkeling Adventure! – by Caleb

Our last major activity in Australia was snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. We took a one and a half hour rocky boat to the reef, which none of us found very fun! When we arrived, we exited on to a massive floating platform where we would get our gear and later have our lunch. We ha the choice of either lycra suits or wet suits. We diced that it was better to be cold than to be stung by a jellyfish, especially a box jellyfish, thus we took the lycra suits. We got flippers and a snorkel along withDSCF1273 our lycra suits and were soon int he water, which was inhabited with many different coral. DSCF1266

I have a small quiz for you containing a few different questions about the reef. Question 1: How big do you think the reef is?

Answer: 2500 km long!

Question 2 (and final question): How many types of coral make up the Great Barrier Reef?

Answer: really, just two – hard and soft coral. But there are different ways to identify the many, many different hard and soft corals.

Let’s start with the hard coral – there are branching coral, plate coral, vase coral, sheet coral, boulder coral, cabbage coral, mushroom coral, slipper coral, and basket coral. There are all kinds of hard coral. With the branching coral, there are four kinds: staghorn, finger, needle, and knobby. The knobby coral looks a lot like a whole pile of stegosaurus plates all clumped together and sticking out of the sea floor. The needle coral looks, well, like a mess of needles under water. The finger coral is also pretty self explanatory. It looks like a lot of fingers sticking up and it covers a wide radius. Finally, the staghorn coral looks like moose antlers in the water. All four of these branching coral are fast growers, but they only grow to about a foot.

The boulder coral are a different story. They get massive! When I say massive I mean like six meters! However, the boulder corals are split into four different types, just like the branching coral. There is the lunar, brain, honeycomb, and golfball coral. They all look just like they sound. boulder


The plate corals are also pretty big. They can get up to two meters. However, some do get a lot bigger and then they are called table corals. Again, they look like they sound. The sheet coral look like crumpled pieces of paper and the vase coral look like an upside-down volcano. Cabbage coral looks like cabbage and the slipper and basket corals look like boomerangs. The only way to tell them apart is the slipper coral look fuzzy as opposed to basket coral which is smooth. The mushroom coral look like small squished pom poms! soft coral

The soft coral all look similar. They all look like trees swaying in the wind. funny enough, only 7% of the reef is coral. I don’t know why. I just learned it and it’s right. Corals are really animals. They are the largest living organisms and the reef can be seen from space.

Now, there are lots of fish as well. I cannot tell you all about them because they are way too complex. I can tell you the names of a few of them though and you can Google them. There is the damselfish, the surgeonfish (or Dory from Finding Nemo), the rabbitfish, the maori wrasee, the parrotfish, the triggerfish, the butterflyfish, and the angelfish.




We certainly learned a lot about coral and fish at the reef and it was an amazing experience for our family.