A Lesson Learned on Poon Hill

The Annapurna Base Camp hike was the impetuous for Kim and I to visit Nepal. Don’t get me wrong, Nepal was high on our places of must-visit countries – the mountains and trekking trails have been beckoning my soul to join the peace and solitude of the high mountain air for a long time. Our timeline-driven factor in getting to Nepal was meeting our friends Drew and Jennifer in Pokhara, who would join us in our hike to Base Camp.

After spending a week in Pokhara and seeing the mountain peaks on the horizon day after day, Kim and I were anxious to hit the trail. Even though we woke to rain the morning of our departure, our spirits refused to be dampened. I thought to myself “we are in the Himalayas damnit! Like the postal service, nor rain nor sleet nor snow shall stop this trek!”

So we set out with rain coats zipped up to our chins, hoods over our heads, and rain covers strapped to our packs. For two days we trudged through the muddy ruts of the trail, up slippery stone steps, and drying our clothes and shoes by fireplaces each night. Over dinners of dal baht we would look to the skies, straining our eyes for any patches of blue that would indicate the possibility of a dry morning to come.

A Lesson Trekking

Waiting out one of the many downpours during our first few days of the trek.

On the third day we had planned the trek to Poon Hill at sunrise, which is said to have one of the best views in the world. From Poon Hill, you can see both the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges – and two of the ten highest mountain peaks in the world in Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I. As I laid in bed on the second night, I whispered my prayers for clear skies the following morning, asking my traveling Buddha for a little help.

A Lesson Trekking

Hopefully the traveling Buddha can help bring clear skies.

When I awoke at 4 a.m. the next morning, the first thing I did was run outside and look at the skies. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I didn’t see any stars in the pre-dawn light. Clouds had rolled in, seemingly thicker than any we had seen in the past two days. It seemed my anti-cloud prayers had gone unanswered. Maybe my traveling Buddha was a bit upset about being stuck in my backpack for days on end.

As I brought the bad news back to Kim, I found Drew standing outside our doorway. He had even worse news: a guide of one of the groups that was staying in the same guesthouse had told him to go back to bed – there would be no mountain views on this morning.

As I sat back down on my bed, still mostly asleep and my warm sleeping bag beckoning me for a few more hours of rest, I asked Kim and Drew what they thought we should do. As we hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, I could tell that they had the same internal debates running through their head as I did. The more we talked, the more the sleeping bag was winning the argument, but no one was quite ready to admit it just yet.

“Fuck it. I’m doing it.” I oh-so-eloquently said. “When are we going to be here again?”

Maybe it was pre-coffee f-bomb that shocked everyone’s senses. Maybe it was that I had somehow found the conviction to drag my lazy butt up a mountain in the cold morning air. Maybe it was that someone had simply made a decision. Whatever it was, it got everyone out of bed, dressed in their warmest clothes, out the door, and ready for a 45 minute uphill hike.

It was the best decision we made on our 8 day trek.

A Lesson Trekking

Prayer flags in the morning light on Poon Hill.

Once we reached the peak of Poon Hill, the clouds started to break up and thin rays of sunlight started to peak over the mountains. After a few more minutes, Dhaulagiri mountain, all 26,795 feet of it, appeared before us. Everyone stood in awe and started snapping pictures at the beautiful sight in front of us.

I was taking pictures alongside everyone when the batteries in my camera died after just 4 pictures. Disappointed, and still without my morning caffeine fix, I grumbled and pouted for a few minutes that I wouldn’t be able to take any more pictures. As I watched the mountains appear, glowing pink and orange in the sunrise, I jealously watched everyone taking a few pictures, moving around to a different viewpoint, and snap a few more pictures trying to find the best angle to capture the beauty.

I stood in the middle of all this movement and shutter clicks and suddenly became thankful that my batteries had died. With my dead camera at my side, I was forced to enjoy the beauty of the scene in front of me without worrying about trying to capture it in digital memory. It allowed me to take everything in without a screen in front of my face.

A Lesson Trekking

The last picture I took on Poon Hill before my camera battery died.

On the way back down the hill to a well deserved breakfast, I thought about how close we came to missing the sunrise. All it would have taken was one person rolling back over, deciding to go back to sleep, and all of us would have done the same. I thought about why I made the decision to climb up the hill: where did it come from? I definitely didn’t want to do it, I just felt like I should do it.

I came to the conclusion that I probably won’t ever know why I made the decision, and that the why doesn’t matter. My whispered prayers had been answered, and I was thankful for that.

Now I look at my traveling Buddha statue and see a little more cleverness behind his smile, a playful conniving that tells me to trust that my prayers will be answered – all I have to do is ask and trust that he will hear me.

A Lesson Trekking

I swear his smile is different now.

The only conclusion I came to was that two days stuck in a backpack gave him too much time to craft a plan of rain, clouds, and dead batteries to teach me this lesson. I gotta get him out more often.

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Author: Brian

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