14 days. 221km. 5416m high. (Part 1)

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit

Day 1: Besisahar (820m) to Shrichaur (1200m) – 24km – 6:50

After an emotional drive back to Besisahar from Kathmandu, where we had been for the weekend to renew our visas (a drama in itself) and to wave Freya off at the airport, we started our trek bright and early on Tuesday 1st April saying goodbye to our friends at Throungh Peak Guest House. We walked for 2:50 along a dusty road to Ngadi where we stopped for lunch by the river. Unfortunately we were walking alongside lorries for most of the morning which were transporting building materials to the sites of the hydro electric power stations and dams that were under construction. This meant that we were quite often covered in dust (or water as some lorries were spraying water to keep dust to a minimum but creating lots of mud in the process). After a lunch of garlic soup (supposedly good for acclimatising) and chicken momos we started walking again. We walked for 4 hours before we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Boomerang. We were the last to arrive and so were last in line for the shower. It wasn’t powerful but it was hot – a much needed luxury! After a dinner of dahl baat I headed to our room for a nap which lasted all night! I was fast asleep by 8pm!

Day 2: Shrichaur (1200m) to Dharapani (1900m) – 16km – 6:30

Breakfast was at 7am. I had Tibetan bread and banana porridge to fuel me for the day. We were walking by 8am. The first two hours were easy going as we followed the road. Then we began the 2 1/2 hours climb to Tal where we were going to have lunch. I found this much harder than the previous 2 hours and I was so hungry already. However as we climbed over the final hill and Tal came into sight, the view alone made it all worth it. I will try and post a picture of it – as they say ‘a picture says a thousand words’ and there is no way any description of mine could do it justice. I fell asleep as soon as I had ordered my food but the smell of garlic soup soon woke me up. Chicken momos followed soon after – both were delicious and much deserved. After lunch we walked for a further 2 hours on a much flatter path to Dharapani where we arrived for the evening in Green Park Guest House and Restaurant just as the rain started. By half 4 I was again in a hot shower much to my muscles’ relief. I then headed down to the dining room where I began to write my diary. When Sam arrived we ordered our dinner and then ended up playing cards with an Australian, a Chilean and two Germans. After a huge plate of mushroom spaghetti and then a bowl of rice pudding, I headed to bed rather full and praying for the rain to stop.

Day 3: Dharapani (1900m) to Chame (2710m) – 16km – 4:30

After breakfast at 7am I went back to our room to pack and promptly broke one of the buckles on my bag as I pulled too hard on it. Frustrated with myself we started walking at 7:50. After 5 minutes we had to stop at an ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit) Checkpost. Shortly after we had started walking again it began to rain. Very heavily. I was even more annoyed with myself for not buying a waterproof bag for my day bag when I had the opportunity to in Tal. By the time we had climbed for 2 1/2 hours to lunch in Timang most of the possessions in my bag were wet. We spent the whole of our ‘lunch break’ in the kitchen trying to dry off and warm up by the fire. The rain eased off in this time and when we set off for the afternoon the skies were much clearer. It has started to rain again by the time we reached our lodge for the evening – Tilicho Guest House & Restaurant. I had a shower after Sam and then headed to the Internet Cafe. There was no power so I went back to the lodge where I sat in the kitchen playing with the lodge owner’s children and drinking hot chocolate. A French lady, who knew the family well, arrived having walked down through snow and rain from Manang. She runs a trekking company from the French Island, Reunion. She recommended the pizza for dinner so that is what I ordered before I headed to the Internet Cafe. I spoke to Mum, reassuring her that I was still alive – it was the first time we had even had signal and we wouldn’t be getting it again for along time. When I got back to the lodge everyone was sat round a fire in the dining room and we ate food off our laps so that we didn’t have to move. The pizzas were delicious – a very good recommendation! I headed to bed early and our room was freezing in comparison to the fire in the dining room.

Day 4: Chame (2710m) to Upper Pisang (3310m) to Lower Pisang (3250m) – 19km – 5:30

After saying goodbye to Mimi, the lodge owner’s granddaughter, we started walking. We walked for 2 hours through pine forest – we were lucky to spot 2 mongoose running across a glacier on the other side of the river. The path sloped gently and we stopped for biscuits next to an apple orchard. It was then a steep climb for an hour and three quarters to Dhukupokharu (Dove Pond) where we stopped for lunch. After a lunch of garlic soup and veg momos it was a 45 minute walk to Lower Pisang. We left our bags in our room and then walked up to Upper Pisang to visit the monastery where we enjoyed the view and some free lemon tea. The village was so beautiful and the view of Annapurna II was incredible. I could have stayed for much longer had it not been so cold and windy. During dinner we watched a typical melodramatic Bollywood film which was very amusing even if I didn’t understand any of the dialogue! It was another early night for me at the Eco-cottage Lodge and Restaurant.

Day 5: Lower Pisang (3250m) to Manang (3540m) – 15km – 6:35

We set off on the long route to Manang at 7:45am. The first 45 minutes was a gentle path through the pine forest and we passed a beautiful green lake. When we stopped to remove layers, Sam realised that he still had the key for the last lodge. He told Jaya and when we passed a train of donkeys, he gave it to one of the boys with them. The next hour and 20 minutes was a really steep climb up to the monastery in Chyanu to aid with acclimatisation. It was exhausting. We took some photos and then started for Ngawal (3680m). It took us 1 1/2 hours to get there and we stopped for lunch here. We got out some of our damp washing and let it dry in the sun whilst we ate. It was at lunch that I realised I was quite sunburnt. Slapping on more factor 50 we began the 3 hour walk to Manang which was much more gentle. About 1/2 hour before Manang we passed through a beautiful village called Braka where we stopped to watch a large group of mountain bikers who were doing the circuit – I’m still not sure how though!! We checked into Tilicho Hotel which was huge! I started washing my clothes as we stayed here for 2 nights to acclimatise. For dinner I had a Yak burger with yak cheese which was so delicious! I stayed up until 10pm! Late for me – haha!

Day 6: Rest day in Manang – Trek up to Chongkor View Point (3800m) – 2 hours

As is usually the case with me, when I had the opportunity to sleep in, I couldn’t. So I headed to the dining room and caught up with my journal. As we headed out to see Chongkor View Point I grabbed an apple danish from the German bakery. I ate half of it on the way up and half whilst admiring the view from the top. And boy what a view it was!! It overlooked the Gangapurna glacier and one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen. Sam walked ahead of Binod, Jaya and I and when we arrived at the top he was meditating on the wall. I then wandered off along a narrowish ridge to take photos some of which included my Scotty dog, Scotty. We then headed back down to relax for the rest of the day. I stopped by the ACAP Information Centre and was surprised to see that Israel was the most common nationality of trekkers on the circuit in 2013 followed by France and Germany, the USA and then the UK. When I got back I had the last hot shower I would have before the pass! Then I headed to the Himalayan Rescue Association’s (HRA) talk on Acute Mountain Sickness and afterwards I talked to one of the doctors who said he waited 2 years on a waiting list for the job. He did say though that they take students in their 4th year of medical school on their electives and I’m definitely keen to explore that more in 4 years time!! Later on the afternoon Sam and I headed to see a film. A huge group of Israelis showed up and we had to vote for a film. The majority voted for ‘Kundun’ – a film about the current Dalai Lama as he was selected and through his childhood. After 20 minutes, and before the complimentary popcorn and tea had arrived, all the Israelis left as they weren’t enjoying the film. I really enjoyed the film. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the Dalai Lama or Tibet. We got back to the hotel just in time for our dinner – Yak steak. Yum. We were surprised to see Julian (teaching at the monastery in Besisahar) sat eating his dinner and we spent some time catching up before I headed to bed as tomorrow would be an early start.

Day 7: Manang (3540m) to Yak Kharka (4050m) – 9km – 5 hours

I woke up at 6am, before Sam, so I snuck out the room and went outside to take some photographs of the amazing views. We ate breakfast with Julian and then said our goodbyes before leaving by 8am. We walked for 1 hour to Ginsang where we stopped for a cup of tea at one of the most picturesque spots we had yet to come across. Even the loo had a view! We then walked for a further 3 hours to Upper Yak Kharka. I had a nap as soon as we arrived and then joined Sam for lunch where we met Bronwyn – the most awesome Canadian girl you will ever meet! After lunch, Jaya gave us 1/2 hour to ‘rest and digest’ before we had to climb the hill opposite the lodge for acclimatisation. Half way up it started to snow! We sat at the top for a while before heading back down to play cards and read in the warm dining room. Too cold for a shower here! After a huge portion of dahl baat for dinner I headed to bed, nervous for the day ahead.

Day 8: Yak Kharka (4050m) to High Camp (4850m) – 8km – 5 hours

I woke up in the night sure that I could hear mice nibbling at the food I had stupidly left on the windowsill but when I shone my torch on them I couldn’t see any. But sure enough, when I checked in the morning my packets of dried apple and cashew nuts had little holes at the corners. We started walking at 8:30am. It was a fairly steep climb to the next village Ledhar.We stopped at 10:30 for tea and Sam slipped on ice coming out of the toilet which proved how much colder it was up there. After tea, we had to walk through a landslide area which didn’t phase me at the time but later on when Sam said ‘Weren’t you worried about all the blue sheep hopping around above starting a landslide?’ I realised I maybe should have been. I had just been stopping to take pictures of said blue sheep which were actually grey! We arrived at Thorong Phedi (Base Camp) by 11:30 am and stopped here for lunch. The lodge was owned by a young Nepali man and his South African girlfriend/wife. After an interesting variation of macaroni cheese and some lemon, ginger and honey tea, we began the steep 1 hour and 20 minutes climb to High Camp as we all felt OK. Tired but OK. I was so relieved when we finally reached the lodge – the only one at High Camp. We unpacked a bit and then Sam and I climbed another hill to try and see if we could make out the next day’s path. We took some photos and then quickly headed back down as it was so cold and windy. The only place to be was the dining room so after layering up I headed there and spotted Bronwyn in the corner. She was chatting to some doctors from Tasmania and it was interesting to hear how different the health care system is over there (Chris studied in the UK and then emigrated to Australia). Dinner was dahl baat – to load up on carbs for the huge day ahead of us and headed to bed at 8pm as we had to be up at 4am!

Day 9: High Camp (4850m) to Thorong La Pass (5416m) to Muktinath (3800m) – 14km – 7 hours

Bronwyn knocked on our door at 4:30 but I was already up and almost shaking with nerves. After packing we headed to breakfast. It was freezing outside – all the outdoor tanks and buckets in the loo were frozen over. We set off for the pass at 5:45am and it took a gruelling 3 hours trudging through snow to get there. We spent about 45 minutes at the pass taking photos, drinking tea and eating snickers. Then began the steep descent of slippery terrain – loose shale and ice. We all fell over multiple times. It took 4 hours to walk down to Muktinath where we would be staying for the day! We stopped for a cup of tea at 4200m. By this point in the trek I had had a heavy cold for about 4 days so when we got to our hotel I had a hot shower, layered up and ate lunch in the warm dining room. I stayed there chatting to Bronwyn until dinner and we stayed chatting after until about 11pm when we got kicked out. Everyone was drinking beer or wine to celebrate but I was taking so much Lemsip that I didn’t dare. I fell asleep very quickly.

Day 10: Muktinath (3800m) to Marpha (2670m) – 25km – 7 hours

I stayed in bed as Sam, Jaya and Binod headed to the monastery to worship as I felt awful. I slept for an extra half hour, packed and then headed down to the dining hall. To my surprise they still weren’t back even though Jaya said it would only take them half an hour! After breakfast, we said goodbye to Bronwyn who was heading to a different town and we were walking by 9:15am. It was like walking in the desert. We walked downhill for 3 hours to Old Kagbeni where we stopped for lunch. It felt like we were in the wild west. I had my buff right up over my nose so I didn’t have to breathe in dust that was constantly blowing our way. I can now see why this area is nicknamed ‘Windy Valley.’ After a further 3 hours, walking past vultures eating a donkey, we arrived in Jomsom – famous for its apples – and stopped for a cup of tea. It was then a further hour in drizzle to Marpha. A beautiful white stone town. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and I had to be woken up for dinner: dahl baat, followed by apple pie with custard and then some aple brandy which sent me straight to sleep.