We should have hired a guide. A year earlier we hiked through The Enchantments, a cluster of glacier fed granite lakes high in the Cascade Mountains. On that particular trip we’d overcome some challenges that left us with a heightened level of misguided confidence. This overconfidence led us to Nepal.
Arriving at the trailhead for the Annapurna Circuit was arduous and we had already trekked about 10 hours that first day. Our packs were excessive which further exemplified our inexperience. Locals celebrated the new road, which hikers viewed as a scar on the otherwise untouched landscape. We wanted to see Nepal not the road, and by that afternoon we’d decided not to listen to the well-intentioned residents who steered us from the scenic yet difficult path. At 4:30pm we came to a sign at the head of a suspended cable bridge which read: "Hikers don't miss this trail! The natural hot springs, the incredible village of Bahundanda and the breathtaking vista of Besi Sahar!" A man spotted us about to cross the bridge and tried to talk us out of it. He drew a map in the sand with one of our trekking poles and explained that if we stuck to the road we’d be at the village of Jagat in two hours, whereas the other way would take an entire day. The third option however, the village of Bahundanda, was only 45 minutes, but a very steep climb.
The sun was lowering and the road seemed quiet. The closest towns behind and ahead of us on that road were two hours away. The town across the bridge a mere 45 minutes, but straight up. He watched from afar as we ignored his advice and crossed the bridge anyway. We turned left at the fork with arrogant confidence and followed the river which ended at the hot springs. Beyond the hot springs we saw another narrow, steep trail that began with rock hewn stairs leading straight up the side of a mountain. At the crown of this steep trail we knew must be Bahundanda. Despite the lowering sun, temptation was overwhelming and we threw off our clothes and lowered our bodies into the steamy, inviting water.
At dusk we dressed ourselves and began the steep climb upward, armed with the headlamps my father had given us only two days prior. The trail continued to narrow along a sheer drop on our right side. Soon there was a sheer drop on our left side as well. The darkness increased and fruit bats the size of small children flew uncomfortably close to us. Night fell as we crested the mountain and the dangerous, narrow trail faded. We descended slightly and assumed the village lay in the valley below. An hour passed and in the darkness we lost our trail, but not the uncomfortable awareness that sheer drops were all around us. "I didn't come here to die" I relayed in a less than pleasant tone to my partner (now husband). "Especially on our first day". It was a teahouse trek and not planning to camp we hadn’t brought camping gear with us. Nevertheless it seemed preferable to spend the night on the mountain, amidst large insects, than to continue stepping blindly on this dangerous trail in the dark. The trail reappeared however, so we cautiously resumed our descent. At points the path was a mere two feet and the drop at it's edge a black abyss. Our bodies ached. We thought we had trained. We were self-proclaimed adventure travelers and our first world imprudence was painful. We were foolish.
We continued downward and another hour passed. The lights and hope were beginning to wither when the path opened up and we actually reached bottom. We just stood staring, and all was silent. Facing us were the hot springs. We were where we began.
The sun came up early and silhouetted the mountains next to river, under the rocks which served as our beds the night before. Birds were everywhere and we were humbled by splendor. Oh… and the hot springs were still there. We bathed again before starting out.
*The sound clip below that accompanies this story is what we awakened to the following morning and will air today on KUOW's 'The Record' as their "sound of the day". This program aires at 12:00pm P.S.T. 6/10/2014.