Back From The Annapurna Circuit

Greetings from Pokhara. About three days ago I finished my trek of the Annapurna Conservation Area. It was twenty three days of amazing scenery, and lots of walking. I did most of the trek with three friends from India who flew up for the trek – Madhu, Raj, and Santosh; and one crazy dude from San Francisco who left the group a few days before reaching the pass. The trek started off a bit shaky. We hired three porters in Bahundanda – three high-school kids who wanted some extra cash. On the first day they were struggling, and we knew they wouldn’t make it to the pass, but they insisted they could, if we paid them more…. We fired them, and found three new guys. Next, Santosh ate some questionable spaghetti at some trail-side restaurant, which lead to a few days of sickness for him. While that was happening, a massive rainstorm struck, causing landslides, streams to be un-crossable, and dumping tons of snow in the higher elevations, which closed down the pass. Everyone was stuck for a while, and many people had to abandon their shot for the pass, and turn back.

We pushed on though, and it was well worth it. The views of the mountains after Bhratang were incredible. Even being so high up, the mountains still tower above. The highest peak in the Annapurna range visible from the trail is Annapurna II, which reaches 7937 meters (26,040 feet). On Oct. 14th we reached Thorung Phedi – 4450 meters (14,599 feet), and at about 05:30 on the 15th we struck out on the 3hr climb to the Thorung La Pass. The climb itself wasn’t too bad, but it’s difficult to breath at that altitude. The pass was fantabulous! Of course it was incredibly cold – it hurt to take my mittens off to take pictures. The views of the Annapurnas, and the mountains of the Mustang region were breathtaking. We all celebrated on the pass with chocolate and good scotch. After about 45 minutes up there, we were all pretty much frozen, and it was time for the painful 1600 meter descent to Muktinath.

The trek on the other side of the pass is pretty disappointing. The terrain is beautiful – very dry high desert conditions. However, there is a road through the whole valley, and most of the trek after the pass is along that road. You are constantly getting passed by jeeps and busses that throw up clouds of dust. Hiking with a bandana is essential. Madhu, Raj, and Santosh, flew out from Jomsom, so they were spared the road hike down to Tatopani. I struck out on my own from Jomsom for the last portion of the trek. One of the highlights of this portion, however, was that I stayed the village of Marpha on the day a festival started. I spent the afternoon at the Buddhist monastery watching traditional dancing. There were really cool costumes and lots of fireworks going off. Also that night, I ended up partying with a group of guides and porters who were staying at my guest house and celebrating the festival. They were singing Nepali songs, and dancing, and they tried to teach me the songs, with out much luck…. It was a blast – good time for me to stumble into Marpha.

A few days later, at Ghorepani, I cut off from the Annapurna Circuit trek, and over to the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. While the Circuit trek follows a path around the outside of the Annapurna Himal Range, the Sanctuary trek goes right into the heart of the range. It’s a much shorter trek – I completed it in five days – but it’s a much more difficult hike. There are long days of ascending and descending thousands upon thousands of stone steps. But the view from Annapurna Base Camp made the pain worthwhile. ABC is surrounded on all sides by Hiun Chuli (6434 meters), Annapurna South (7219), Bharha Chuli (7647), Annapurna I (8091), Khangsar Kang (7485), Ganggapurna (7454), and the unclimbed holy peak of Machhapuchhre (6997). It’s also situated above and along side a large, somewhat noisy, glacier. There are huge glaciers on Annapurna South, and Annapurna I that are constantly producing loud rumbling ice falls, and avalanches. It’s a magical place to hang out for a while.

So now I’m back out of the mountains, and missing the trail already. However, I’ve got hundreds of photos to sort through and process. Unfortunately the internet connections in this town / country are absolutely horrible, so uploading the pictures will take a long long long time. Plus, I’m still very far behind in processing and posting images from China and Kathmandu. I suppose I’ll need to seriously reduce the numbers of photos I post to the site in order to keep up with the blog.

Some (approximate) trekking stats:

  • Days walking: 20
  • Days resting: 3
  • Distance walked: 240 Km (149 Mi)
  • Cumulative ascent: 9518 meters (31,227 feet, or 5.91 miles)
  • Highest point of trek: Thorung La Pass – 5416 meters (17,769 feet)
  • Number of showers taken: 4
  • Number of Dal Baht meals eaten: ~7
  • Number of Tuna, Mac & Cheese meals: ~15
  • Altitude of my highest poo: 4450 meters (14,599 feet) – freezing squat toilet in Thorung Phedi
  • Number of stone steps ascended and decended: No freaking idea, but way way way too many!

Next trek: Everest Base Camp, but first I have a 4 day white water kayak course coming up. Also, I plan to hang out in Pokhara until the Maoist protests are over – they start on Monday, and could last a couple weeks.