Trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
Trekking in the Himalayas ranks as one of the most memorable and incredible things we’ve achieved together in our travels. Climbing to over 5,000 metres (17,769ft) is a real test of endurance. But the views made every sweat and tear worthwhile.
Nepal itself is one of our favourite countries in Asia. It’s had its share of bad luck over the past few years, but with careful planning, trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal will definitely be an experience you’ll never forget.
The Annapurna Circuit
Thorong La Pass is the climax point of the Annapurna Circuit at 5,416 metres (17,769ft) altitude. Most trekkers start from Besisahar village and work their way around the circuit anticlockwise to Pokhara over a 2-4 weeks period. This allows for a break mid-way at the mountain village of Manang (3,550m/11,646ft) to acclimatise before heading higher.
We cannot stress enough the importance of using a local guide. It costs around US$20 a day
Starting point: Kathmandu
Most people’s entry point into Nepal will be the capital city, Kathmandu. It’s not the prettiest of places, but the centre Thamel is all geared to the trekking community. Our advice is to spend a few days here to shop around for the best guide and to buy or rent your trekking gear. Meeting your guide beforehand to ensure he (or she) is the ideal person for you is the single most important thing to do.
We cannot stress enough the importance of using a local guide. It costs around US$20 a day and you’ll not only be supporting the local economy but most importantly, if something happens, you’ll be confident knowing you’ll have an experienced local helping you out.
The arduous trek to the acclimatisation base
The first week of our trek involved intense trekking, around 6-8 hours every day. This is not without its rewards: the Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular treks in the world due to the variety of beautiful Himalayan scenery and the many Buddhist and Hindu mountain villages you pass through. We passed waterfalls, dodged the herds of yaks and goats and crossed many scary (though perfectly safe) handmade suspension bridges. The experience of just existing in the Himalayas was what made this so special.
In addition, we stayed with locals in their “tea houses”, which is a guesthouse with food provided. The staple food in Nepal (and very popular in the mountains) is dal bhat, which is a tray comprising rice and several curries, usually vegetable, sometimes meat. Dal bhat is a simple dish, but delicious and wholesome. Our guide, Kiran, swears by it and would often tell us Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour was his way of dealing with the altitudes.
Acclimatising and altitude sickness
Altitude sickness starts to kick in after you start trekking up from around 3,500m/11,482ft. It can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level or age. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches and exhaustion.
Acclimatisation is when you gradually build up to the high altitudes, giving your body time to adapt. We took a 1-day rest from trekking at Manang village (3,550m/11,646ft) to let our bodies acclimatise before going any higher.
The altitude affected us when we reached heights of 4,800m/15,748ft at the base called “High Camp”. For example, we needed to stop every few minutes to rest before continuing further, panting hard like old men.
Our guide was instrumental in coping with the altitude, encouraging us to drink hot drinks like lemon with honey or mint tea as well as coca cola to alleviate the headaches – which actually works!
But even with the breathing problems and headaches, whenever we stopped to catch our breath and look around; the views made every pain and ache disappear.
Crossing Thorong La Pass
The climax of the Annapurna Circuit trek is crossing Thorong La Pass at 5,416m/17,769ft). On the morning of our ascent to Thorong La Pass, we had to start very early to get there before the dangerous heavy winds settled in at midday.
Waking up at 4 am is hard. But waking up at 4 am at 4,800m/15,748ft altitude is even more of a challenge. The headaches and breathing issues really started to kick in; our hearts were racing like crazy, trying to cope with the high altitude. Our guide was instrumental in motivating us and encouraging us to plough on.
It took us 4 hours to climb the final 600m/2000ft. It was completely dark. We were dependant on headlamps to see where we were going and had to stop many times to catch our breath. And it was freezing! At these high altitudes so early in the day, we were really grateful for all the trekking gear we’d purchased back in Kathmandu. The woolly hats, thick gloves and down jackets were a godsend.
At 8 am, we reached our goal: Thorong La Pass. We were over the moon! The adrenaline and excitement quickly overcame any altitude symptoms, as we stood watching the sun rising over the mighty Himalayas we’d just conquered.
By 8:30 am our guide was anxious for us to press ahead with the long, arduous descent to Muktinath village (3,800m/12,467ft): the closer you get to midday, the more dangerous it can be up at Thorong La Pass as the strong winds typically begin.
We will never forget those moments trekking through the darkness at over 5,000m/16,404ft altitude, needing to stop every 5-10 minutes to catch our breath, but watching the views slowly unfold as the sun started to rise.
For more information on planning your trip to the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, visit the blog of Nomadic Boys.
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Annapurna Peak | Photo: Nomadic Boys
Thorong La Pass | Photo: Nomadic Boys
Bagarchhap Buddhist Stupa Gate | Photo: Nomadic Boys
Hundred Lama Temple |Photo: Nomadic Boys
Manang Village | Photo: Nomadic Boys
Suspension bridge near Ngadi Village | Photo: Nomadic Boys