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Hummel Meets the Mountain

The Story of
the First (and Only)
All-American, All-Cat
Himalayan Expedition

Part 4

Chapter 9: Hike to the Mountain

At sunrise, as prearranged, the porters gathered in front of the boys house. All the food had been packed in boxes so that each days meals could be easily reached. All the equipment for the higher camps had been carefully sorted. Each cat porter had an assigned load. While all the expeditioners carried their personal gear in specially designed backpacks, the porters used traditional head straps to carry their boxes. Although it looked hard and cumbersome, to the porters it was easy.

The cats all waved goodbye to the boy who had helped them. Hummel was profuse in thanking the boy and his parents for their hospitality. The cats were finding that people all over the world, no matter how strange in their ways, were always willing to lend a helping hand to friends. And the best way to make a friend was through a smile.

Just outside of Pokhara the cats came to the Tibetan tea house that Hummel and Athena had visited. Tibet is an ancient land that is now part of China. Many Tibetan cats did not like the Chinese and left Tibet. Some settled in Nepal. The expeditioners had their last regular breakfast here with their Tibetan brothers.

Then the trek to the mountains began. A long flat plain unfolded before the cats ... rice paddies were everywhere. All Tabby could think about was how terrible it would be to have to eat rice everyday.

By evening the cats had left the plain behind and had climbed to the top of a narrow ridge over a thousand feet above Pokhara. They came to a tiny village called Naudanda which sat atop this ridge. Since the ridge was only 50 feet wide the village had enough room for only two rows of houses on either side of the trail. The cats spent their first night on the trail at the home of some cousins of their Sherpa cats.

Sunrise was inspiring. Finally they were on their way ... in the mountains of their dreams. The air was invigorating. In front of them were the mountains; their white caps reminded Hummel of his favorite treat; whipped cream atop chocolate ice cream. Behind them the ridge dropped steeply down, down, down to the plains, over a thousand feet below.

"I can't believe we climbed all the way up here," exclaimed Cuthbert.

"This is only the start," counseled Hummel, "only the start."

Breakfast was a local blend of goat kidneys and chicken liver mixed with rice pudding. The cats needed the extra calories for they knew that this would be a very long, hard day. They continued along the ridge for over an hour, past another narrow village, until the ridge began to dip. Suddenly the descent began in earnest and the ridge turned dramatically to the north. There in front of them, seemingly so near, was the elusive fishtail of Macchupachere beckoning the cats onward. Ever downward the cats grudgingly gave ground. Winston complained loudly, "why did we climb up here only to climb back down? It isn't fair!"

It was little B.C. who pointed out that Winston himself had chosen this route as the fastest approach to the mountains.

Down, down and further down the cats went. Below they could hear and soon they could feel the rushing waters of the Modi Khola. Khola is a Nepali word that means river and the Modi Khola flowed from the very side of Macchupachere itself. The cats were pleased; now they could follow the river to the mountain itself. Again B.C. had to caution ... "it will not be easy. The trail will be a long, hard climb."

And indeed, in front of the cats the trail came to a great rock staircase that seemed to climb forever .. straight up the side of the gorge. And indeed it did. Back at home the trails in the mountains NEVER went straight up. They always went back and forth, twisting their way up and up. These are called switchbacks. But here in Nepal the trails are literally straight up the mountain.

The particular trail the cats were walking on was part of an ancient trade route. It was the main link to the outside world for the ancient land of Tibet. The expeditioners marvelled that men and cats had been walking those very paths for untold thousands of years.

Unfortunately this realization didn't make the trek any easier. The cats still faced the almost 3000 foot climb to Ghandrung, where they would stop for the night.

And so they climbed, one step at a time. Cats legs are much shorter than humans and even though they could scoot up and down short staircases with great ease, they became tired after a few hundred steps and, as the afternoon wore on, the cats wore out. That day, for the first time, they realized the difficulty of the task ahead.

"Why if a few thousand feet has us gasping for breath down here, what will happen at the really high altitudes? After all, there are still 15,000 feet left to climb."

Night fall found the expeditioners flat on their backs, sound asleep in Ghandrung, still 1000 feet from the top of the stairway. They surely had earned their rest and, more importantly, the respect of their Sherpas. Sirdar Nefri Cat had told his trusted aides Pahu and Mali Cats that he had never seen such strong and resolute foreigners. It made him proud to be a cat.

For you see, although the Sherpas were strong cats, having lived in the mountains all their lives, they lacked the technical knowledge necessary to climb the big peaks. It would only be through an international partnership that this expedition could succeed. The combination of the American technical know-how and mountaineering equipment with the Sherpas inner strength and deep knowledge of the mountains might be enough to make history.

Over a cold cheese breakfast the cats could see the notch in the next ridge they were to climb to. By 10:30 they had reached the notch and were on their way down again, this time down to the Kyammu Khola, a tributary of the mighty Modi. Again they were faced with a long climb, but first they stopped at still another tea house.

Each cat was allotted, every day, a bag of 'gorp'. Gorp is the mountaineering term for high energy food that could be easily put in ones pocket and munched on during the day. For humans, gorp meant M&M's, raisons, and nuts. For cats gorp meant kitty bitties, freeze dried grasshoppers, and fresh worms. They would stop once in the morning and once in the afternoon at a tea house, pull out their gorp and munch away. They found this to be an excellent reward for the work of the day.

And so it went ... climb to the top of the next ridge ... down to the valley below ... and then another climb to the next ridge, always a little higher than the last one. After a few days the cats reached the tiny village of Chomro, perched high above the Modi Khola. Winston regarded Chomro as somewhat of a milestone and had asked Tabby to plan for a special dinner. The cats were curious as to why Chomro was different than their other stops, but Winston was secretive.

"You'll see in the morning."

There was nothing anyone could say or do to get the secret from Winston. Hummel didn't even try. He went straight for the food and the others soon followed. Yak intestines and cheese made a perfect Nepali feast with some kitty bitties for contrast. After several bowls of warm milk the cats could barely stumble to their sleeping bags before falling asleep.


At 6:00 the expeditioners were awakened by an obnoxiously loud Winston. "Everyone outside ... now you will see why we've come."

And sure enough, there it was, Macchupachere ... its snow glowing in the early dawn light.

"Just like the pictures," said Monster.

"No," Hummel was resolute, "pictures are just pictures ... this is for real."

They all agreed on one thing; it was the most beautiful sight they had ever seen. And it was only the start.

The real milestone was that, after the descent from Chomro, there would be no more up and down, up and down. It was all up river from here to the mysterious Annapurna Sanctuary where they would set up base camp.

Sanctuary. The name had a spiritual ring to it. The cats anticipated a very warm and friendly base camp.

At the occasional rest stops some of the cats took to climbing trees to keep their skills and claws sharp. On this day Herman climbed some wooden stalks and could not believe what had happened. His claws went through the wood and nothing was on the inside!!

"That is bamboo," said Athena.

She had been doing research about the area for her job as cultural officer.

"Feel how light it is." She easily broke a piece in half. "See how the center is hollow. I'd suggest you all find a piece of bamboo to use as a straw."

She quickly found a tiny piece of bamboo, maybe three inches long. Everyone was puzzled over this rather bizarre behavior as they watched Athena tuck the straw into her pack.

A few hours later the best smellers among them sensed a very very sweet aroma. What could that be? Before long they were surrounded by the reddest flowers they had ever seen. Again Athena had the answer.

"Rhododendrums"!! And she produced her bamboo straw and stuck it in the biggest rhododendrum she could find.

"Slurp, slurp," a satisfied look came over her face. The nectar from the rhododendrum was delicious. All the cats ran around "slurping" as many rhododendrums as they could find. They were so busy that they hardly noticed the sky darkening.

Suddenly Hummel felt the rain.

Oh, oh, now the expeditioners were in for it.

The cats were quickly alert. They got out their rain gear and began to walk quickly. They still had six miles to go before they would come to Hinko cave, their shelter for the night. There would be no more villages from here on.

The cats got soaked!! The rain fell harder and harder and soon turned to hail. And the hailstones got to be the size of golf balls. They had never seen anything like it. They were frightened, wet, and miserable. They stood under the trees, in their raincoats, awed by the fury of the storm.

"This can't continue much longer" said Ernestine.

And she was right. After 20 minutes the storm abated.

The effects of the storm could be seen for the rest of the day. Waterfalls flowed from the cliffs into the river. One entire cliff face across the river was totally engulfed in running water.

"They call that the weeping wall" said Athena.

"Really," responded Raison sarcastically.

All of the cats were a bit annoyed with Athena and all her little facts. Her rhododendrums had caused them to be caught unawares by the storm.

They arrived at Hinko Cave after nightfall. They wondered if they would miss it in the dark. After all how could they recognize a little cave. But there was nothing to fear ... it was a huge overhanging rock that covered an area large enough for a big cat camp. Without much ado they ate dinner and fell asleep, content in the knowledge that they were only a few hours from the anticipated sanctuary..

If you are enjoying the Hummel Mountaineering story please Let Us Know. We will be putting the rest of the book on the Web with some great photos of the peaks and images of the expeditioneers. Check back to keep in touch with Hummel.

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