Manang was about 6 or 7 nights into the trek – the very sound of it like Shangri La – this is where we’d get a rest day to acclimatize to altitude. By this stage I was getting fitter, the odd blister aside I was doing quite well physically. Not so much luck for Caro who got the mother of all blisters on the back of her foot, turning into massive hole. At Pisang we parted ways, promising to meet in Manang the next day. She took the low road – the easier route - and Lawd Help Me I decided to take the High Road, climbing up to 3310m to stay the night. My companions were Oz, Liol, Mike and Jen. The High Road promised spectacular views but on the map had one of the steepest climbs we’d tackled so far. I don’t know what made me do it, but I figured I risen to the challenge so far, I’d probably never be back that way, and hell it was one day out of my life where I had to really push myself physically.
The climb to Upper Pisang was bad enough. We bounced up over 150m of steep stairs but where we stayed had amazing views of one of the Annapurnas (I have no idea which) and the valley and Lower Pisang. Bloody freezing night though, and our first glimpse of snow. The next morning we set off early, our hearts dropping as we descended down the track. See, the thing is if you go DOWN on the Annapurna Circuit trail, you have to go UP even higher. The ideal is flat, or gradual ascent, but this rarely happened. We descended almost to the level of Lower Pisang and then after an hours walk through lovely forest, we hit a suspension bridge and a mountain of steep switchbacks climbing over 500m. And man, was it tough. The increased altitude made it hard to breathe, and I’d take about 30 steps, stop to get my breath, push on. Or I would pick a rock or a bit of mule shit or a rock, and walk to that. I had a little walking song where I couldn’t think about anything more than putting one foot in front of the other: “Chick-chick-chick-chick-chicken, lay a little egg for me. Chick chick chick chick chicken, I want one for my tea.” Please don’t ask me why, for some reason this song would pop into my head every time I saw a chook and it seemed a good hiking song, although I think I got it confused with the Cadbury's “Finger of Fudge” tune as the second verse would go: “It’s full of Cadbury goodness, and very small and sweet…”. I guess altitude and physical fitness does weird things to the brain. The 22 year old lads I was walking with all had walking poles – I didn’t (probably stupid in retrospect) but I gradually made my way up and up, switch-backing past the treeline, my gaze drawn upwards as I wished desperately for the top. An hour and a half later we were collapsed at the Stupa at Ghyaru, 3730m above sealevel and surrounded by the most beautiful vista I have ever seen. We snapped our obligatory pics at the top, completely elated by the achievement, hugging people we knew and full of beaming smiles.
The day didn’t stop there however. I had to get to Manang to meet Carolyn which meant at least another 4 hours. The trail was decent though. The Israeli lads and I said goodbye to Mike in the next town after lunch (best mushroom pizza I’ve had to date) and we pushed on the dusty trail, muscles aching in protest, ascending a couple of hundred metres, although the trail was easy compared to what we’ve done. As we stumbled into Manang about 4pm – the longest day on the whole trek – Carolyn popped out of the Yeti hotel, looking remarkably fresh and clean, where she’d been sat all day since she arrived bless her, wondering if I would wander down the street!