Trek around Annapurna mountains

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Wednesday 7 October to Monday 19 October 2015
Total time = 13 days
Total distance = 180 km

Day 1: Besishahar (820m) to Ngadi (890m) – 13km, ~3 hours
Up and out by 6am, we caught a local bus from Pokhara to Besishahar with our guide, Santosh. Once at Besishahar, we set off for the mountains. Eager to play, the Nepalese school children took our minds off the sweltering 30-degree heat, and our 15-kilo rucksacks, to help us begin our 3-hour “initiation” trek to our first Tea house: a beautiful secret garden beside the river, which, as we arrived, was capturing the final sunglow of the day. Agreeing to be up and ready by 7-7.30am the next morning set the precedence for the coming days.

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Day 2: Ngadi (890m) to Chamche (1385m) – 16km, ~6 hours
After passing the Chinese-led hydroelectric dam being constructed on the river, we deviated away from the jeep track and along trail. The climbs were steep and often followed by quick descents, unravelling any effort towards ascending the mountain, and poking at our determination. When going up to go down to go back up becomes a psychological teaser, the lush green landscape of bamboo trees and jungle, waterfalls and steel bridges makes everything all right again.

Day 3: Chamche (1385m) to Timang (2350m) – 21km, ~7 hours
“I am my bag, my bag is me, we go as one” − Getting used to the aches in the neck, shoulder and hips, we walked on past our planned Tea house stop, not ready to settle for the day by 2pm. Today we learnt a valuable lesson: when our guide, Santosh, says ‘steep’, he means it. For our perseverance, the next hour or so was tough but, after winding through peaceful, beautiful woodland and climbing up tree roots, we were rewarded the next morning with views of Manaslu from our Tea house.

Day 4: Timang (2350m) to Lower Pisang (3250m) – 20km, ~7 hours
A climb led the way to a vast apple orchard where we were tempted by a midday stop, before entering a pine tree forest reminiscent of European scenery. Before reaching our next Tea house, we were reminded of the earthquake that shook Nepal in April earlier this year: from the other side of the valley, we saw a parallel track where 3 small figures were walking towards the evidence of a huge landslide. Although our whistles got their attention, they waved merrily and continued on the same path, only to realise that the landslide was too dangerous to negotiate and the only option was to retrace their steps.

Day 5: Lower Pisang (3250m) via trail (3700m) to Manang (3540m) – 21km, ~7 hours
After once again choosing to trek along trail vs jeep road, we ascended 500m quickly and were rewarded with an epic view of the Annapurnas: when you experience the majesty of the mountains, you realise this is stuff for the soul and the memory will last for eternity, while any suffering endured to get up to 3700m is ultimately temporary. Maybe it was the thinning air, maybe it was the view…something took my breath away.

Day 6: Manang rest day; short trek to Gangapurna glacier (3800m) – a few km, 2 hours
Possibly one of the most important days to allow the feet to heal and for the body to acclimatise. And certainly no rest. Up at an early hour again, we had an acclimatisation trek to keep us moving.

Day 7: Manang (3540m) to Letdar (4200m) – 10km, 3-4 hours
Hello buffalo! (Santosh, “Yaaaaaak”)
Along the trail are ‘Safe Drinking Water’ stations, an initiative managed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). As we had neither a filter nor water purification tablets, we re-used our plastic water bottles as often as possible and bought refills at these stations as a cheaper option. The higher you ascend, the pricier things become, understandably, and among the trekkers was the Dal Bhat index and black tea index to monitor this inflation (by ‘inflation’, I mean the meals were rising from £2 to £4!).

Day 8: Letdar (4200m) via Thorong Phedi (4450m) to High Camp (4850m) – 7km, 3-4 hours
While the mountains stand tall behind, in front, and all around us, we begin our trek wearing more layers than normal. We followed a trail that we could see snaking it’s way up and around the valley contours. At Thorong Phedi we rested before climbing slowly up to High Camp. Although the air thins, the excitement and anticipation builds, as tomorrow we cross the illustrious mountain pass.

Day 9: High Camp (4850m) via Thorong La Pass (5416m) to Muktinath (3800m) – 14-16km, 9 hours (2 attempts)
Sleeping in your clothes makes getting up at 3.30am pretty rapid, ready for a 4am start. However, after last year’s tragic events, the guides were cautious when we woke up to see snow on the ground and still falling. We left at daylight at 6am, planning on reaching the pass by 9am. It is better to get to the pass early as, by midday, strong winds bring heavy clouds and potential danger. However, about an hour into the trek, a scare of acute mountain sickness (the first in Santosh’s 17-year career as a guide) meant that I was taken back down to High Camp, where the reduced elevation and all the following helped: a Diamox, garlic soup and black tea.

~ Much love to Will, Santosh and our trekking friends Dan and Ben for their composed, immediate reactions and caring nature: for a short while, I wasn’t in a good state, but thanks to them, all was well ~

Sure I was feeling good, Santosh, Will and I departed High Camp
(again) at 9am in attempt #2. Slow and steady wins the race. We reached Thorong La Pass after midday, and, despite the clouded view, getting there felt like a triumph. At 5416m in altitude, I could only manage a few paces before needing to stop and ‘admire the view’ (good excuse while the lungs gasped greedily). At the Tea House, we realised we were their last customers of the day and, after a quick photo, we needed to move on (and off the Pass). The light snow turned to rain during our 4-hour descent to Muktinath, and stepping into the Bob Marley guesthouse at 5pm was bliss: the day had been long (longer than it should have been) and physically and mentally exhausting (more than we had envisaged).

Day 10: Muktinath (3800m) to Marpha (2670m) – 25km, 7 hours
A beautiful morning light reignited our trekking spirit as we descended through villages and down into a valley. However, exposed to the elements, we battled against the wind and dust to reach Marpha, where our determination to trek the entire Annapurna circuit dwindled.

Day 11: Marpha (2670m) to Tatopani (1200m) by bus; trek from Tatopani to Sikha (1935m) – 9km, 3-4 hours
Decision time: with our remaining 3 days, we abandoned the plan to trudge down jeep road, took the bus to Tatopani (‘hotsprings’ where tato means hot and pani means water), and were excited by the opportunity for a second climb to Poon Hill.

Yes, in Nepal, a 3200m bump is described as a hill.

Day 12: Sikha (1935m) to Ghorepani (2870m) – 10km, 7 hours
Through rhododendron forest, the temperature crept up as we ascended step by step by step. After seeing several posters alerting tourists and locals of a ‘Missing person’, it felt strange to know that the last time someone saw the man on the poster was on this trekking route. We reached Ghorepani in a sweaty state, met a lady with hairy armpits and stole some ideas for ‘Good reads’ from the local bookshop.

Day 13: Ghorepani (2870m) via Poon Hill (3200m) to Birethanti (1025m) – 14km, 7 hours
Everyone (or so it seemed) at Ghorepani woke up at 4am, turned on their headtorch and joined the train of lights that led up to Poon Hill to see the sun rise. The ghostly silhouettes of the mountains were softened by an orange glow, and the sleepy clouds provided texture and mood. We snapped up the scene and made our way down, singing ‘One more step along the world I go’ on repeat. Thinking we could relax on the bus that afternoon was a huge mistake. Although our legs had suffered during the trek, it was time for our arms to tense as we braced ourselves for the bumpiest bus ride. I flew so high my ribs hit my chin and my head hit the ceiling.


Posted by Lindsay

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