When we left Australian Camp on the morning of the second day, our destination was Forest Camp. As you might’ve guessed, Forest Camp is situated even deeper in the forest. Australian Camp sat along a ridge that overlooked the valley, but Forest Camp was just a cleared section of jungle a few hundred meters further up the mountain.
We set out after watching the sunrise and hit the trail at 8:00 AM. We expected about five hours of solid trekking, so we wanted to get right into it. I won’t lie — the hike from Australian Camp to Forest Camp was incredibly uninteresting for me. I love the woods, but after hours of the same foggy surroundings I was aching for a change of scenery. My trekking companions didn’t exactly share my sentiments and spent a long time talking about how beautiful the day’s route was. It was undoubtedly beautiful, but I was going insane.
When we came upon a large staircase leading away from the trail and up to a ridge, I was all too happy to have something to shake up the monotony of the day. Despite my legs being considerably fatigued from the long ascent the day before, I hurried up the stairs to see what I could see.
At the top was a small temple wreathed in a web of prayer flags in the typical Himalayan fashion. Bells hung from the trees around the structure and the wind carried their lonely chimes away into the fog. The ledge overlooked the entire valley. I sat for a long time, wondering about the purpose of this shrine and falling ever further behind my trekking partners. It was a serene place, and a welcome change from the miles and miles of forest.
After some time, I begrudgingly made the descent down the stairs back to the forested path to continue on the way to Forest Camp. The path crawled up and down, winding through steep ridges and climbing ancient tree roots that had been worn into stairs by years of use. Sometimes, the trail would run along a ridge that overlooked part of the valley much like the temple had, and I was grateful for those sections.
When the sign for Forest Camp emerged from the brush, I was genuinely ecstatic. For some reason, I was dying to drop my pack and get out of the woods. And after nearly six hours, we had arrived. We went straight to get a room arranged in the guest house at the camp, which was a barren room with as many beds as could fit crammed inside. Floor space was in short supply. Bedding free of mysterious stains was nonexistent. We were too tired to really care. Instead, we went to the common area where there was a wood-burning stove warming the room, and dug into tea and rice.
As the night slid by, we got acquainted with the group of Germans we shared the space with. I took turns playing a drum with their guides and received high praise of questionable authenticity from our cheery proprietors. A middle-aged couple became the ninth and tenth Nepalis to preach the superiority of “local chicken.” As the fire in the stove began to die out, we made the group decision to head for Low Camp in the morning and to push to High Camp if we made good time.
I went to bed excited. High Camp was above the treeline, and would mark the beginning of what would be the most rewarding part of the trek. We all agreed that Mardi Himal was all build-up. After the brief view of the mountains from Australian Camp, we knew what was in store for us. The next two days would be the realization of that buildup.