The following morning I set off at 5am. I had decided 3 things: I) I wanted to go back to the peak of Poon Hill for sunrise, ii) I wanted to see as much of the loop as possible, so wanted to do some of the next stretch eastwards before heading back to Uleri, and iii) I wanted to do both (I) and (ii) before checking out of the guesthouse so I didn't have to carry all of my stuff the whole way.
The second ascent of Poon Hill was no easier than the first. Unfortunately it was not as rewarding as the peak was relatively crowded and the view of the other peaks wasn't as good.
The view in the opposite direction, however, was quite lovely in the early morning light.
After returning to Ghorepani I continued east towards Tadapani. On the map it looked like there was a relatively easy stretch going up only 500m to another look-out point in total over a distance that I estimated would take me about 2 hours. I was therefore surprised that the first 30 minutes or so was yet another steep ascent. The positive of this, however, was that it allowed nice views of the mountain peaks periodically appearing from behind the clouds behind me.
After that the terrain was a bit mixed, going up and down for short sections at a time; this meant that it was much slower going than I had anticipated. My heart was also given a further test by a rather unpleasant encounter with a bull. As I was walking along with a steep upwards slope to my right and an extremely steep drop down the mountain to my immediate left I spotted what I initially thought was a cow grazing about 10m away up the slope. I looked at it for a few seconds contemplating whether the sight of the “cow” grazing with the sun behind it was suitably nice to warrant getting my camera out. The bull looked right back at me for those few seconds, and then promptly charged down the slope straight at me. I instinctively rushed forwards up the path just as the bull skidded down the final couple of meters of the slope and then continued with its momentum down the path. It is no exageration to say that if I had been a second or two slower then I would have been very severely injured both by the impact of the bull's horns and by falling at least 20m down the mountainside. This was not the peaceful mountain experience I had signed up for!
After 2 hours it became apparent that I wasn't going to make it all the way to the look-out point and back within a suitable time-frame to get to Uleri before it started to get dark. In any event, it was so cloudy/misty that any decent views looked unlikely. So I made a 180 degree turn and headed back. The return to Ghorepani was made more interesting by virtue of periodically bumping into people I had met during my two trips up to Poon Hill who were continuing along the loop. It turned out that I was a bit of a celebrity, with a few people pointing me out as “the guy who left his wife half way up a mountain”. Not a claim to fame I was hoping for.
Somewhat inevitably I also bumped into my friend the bull, along with two of his bull friends (it was on this occasion that I had the time to assess that he was a bull and not a cow – the ring through his nose was only half of the clue). With our previous encounter all too fresh in my memory I immediately took cover behind a tree a little too close to another steep drop for my liking. Two of the bulls casually passed without paying me any attention but the third, who I am convinced was the same one who rushed to greet me an hour before, stopped to eyeball me for a few seconds before slowly, oh so very slowly, turning away and continuing up the path. When he was out of sight I rushed down the next section of the path with a few nervous glances over my shoulder.
I passed back through Ghorepani, checked out of my guesthouse, and started the descent towards Uleri and Monique. About an hour from Ghorepani I saw a familiar face in a restaurant window – Monique had braved the climb to come up and meet me. We sat in the restaurant for a while as Monique ate and we filled each other in on what we had been upto. It turned out that the mountain views from Uleri had been beautiful and that Monique had witnessed a stunning moonrise (an even which neither of us had seen before, or had really thought happened).
As we caught up, however, the rain started again. Within minutes the path running past the restaurant turned into a river, and we sat for some time waiting for it to abate (partially because Monique hadn't brought her poncho with her). When the rain lightened we set off on a slow and treacherously slippy descent to Uleri. The rain stopped before too long, but the water continued to run down the path. It also became apparent before long that I had pushed myself a little too far with 10+ hours of trekking on one day, and so I was extremely grateful to arrive3 back in Uleri.
Downhill. Dry. Downhill and dry. These two factors were both very welcome. Our final descent was still fairly steady, however, as it was not terribly easy to climb down the irregular and occasionally wobbly steps (in some ways it was harder than climbing up them) but after the steps finished and path returned to a normal path the walk was really quite pleasant.
Further down the mountain has the added interest of more local people going about their daily business which made for some interesting sights.
I also noticed a rock which looks (to me at least) uncannily like a face.
It became apparent that the heavy rain had caused a number of landslides since we had walked up along this route. On our way up we had passed two sections that had clearly been victim to landslides recently, however on the way back there were two or three additional such sections, and we passed multiple people heading up with tools, buckets etc who I assume were going to start clearing the damaged sections. It really dawned on me that what we had been doing, especially when we had been walking alone, was really quite potentially dangerous. We have since mat up with people who have also trekked around that area (albeit on much longer and harder treks than the Poon Hill loop) and who were aware of a number of deaths in the mountains at the same time. As beautiful as the area is, and as tempting as the challenge may be to some, it really isn't something to be taken too lightly.
By the time we reached the village at the bottom of our trek we were extremely glad to be getting on a bus back to Pokhara, even though we were a day earlier than planned. I would have loved to have walked the whole route, and maybe I will do a longer trek in the Himalayas when we inevitably return to Nepal, but for the time being the idea of a good meal, a comfortable bed and a lie-in was much more tempting than another day of trekking.