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The Annapurna Circuit

Reader Warning: The following article is very long. To save time, the reader is advised to go ahead and let his/her eyes glaze over and begin predrooling.

Well, I am back now from my epic 23 day hike around the Annapurna Sanctuary. The scenery was stunning and the weather was good when it really counted. I did get sick in the end but that will be told in due course. To keep the article length down some, the article will probably not be as detailed as normal and I will hit the high points. For those interested in following along, there is a good map of the towns in the Annapurna trek at under Annapurna trek Active Map.

Colin and I caught our early morning bus to Besisahar. I decided to ride on the roof of the bus as the seats were very cramped. I was joined on the top by three or four other people including Andy who I would meet later on the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. The top of the bus was more comfortable and I spent part of the five hour trip napping on some bags (safer from low hanging wires this way). Upon arrival in Besisahar, Colin and I ate lunch at a lodge and then squeezed into a jeep to be taken to Bhule Bhule. The road extended this far and I really didn’t feel like hiking next to honking buses and motorcycles. In Bhule Bhule, we got out of the ridiculously crowded jeep (four Nepalis were hanging on the outside). We crossed the river on a suspension bridge and headed down the trail. My pack for this adventure weighed in at about 35 lbs or so. Somehow Colins weighed about 2 lbs. The weather was cloudy obscuring the views. The trail followed the Marsyangdi River. We would walk up this river all the way to the pass and then cross the pass and follow another river back down. We stopped for the night in Ngadi (2900 ft) at a lodge set among rice fields. The lodge was run by a brother and sister team. It rained that evening but before the rain, we sat outside and watched porters go by carrying everything from brillo pads to pigs on their backs. On the Manang side of the pass, everything is carried to the villages by people or mule. The first night sort of set out my daily pattern. I did laundry in the tap and went to bed around 7:30. Before this, the lodge owner reintroduced Colin and I to the age old card game of spoons.

Day 2 saw us walking through jungle and more rice fields. The morning was clear but soon clouded up again. This would be th pattern for most of the hike. We stopped for lunch in Bahundanda. There we met Steve an Australian who was living in Kathmandu studying Nepali. He was walking with a English Baptist preacher and his wife. We all decided to walk together and ended the day in Jagat (4281ft). The day was hot and the walk was difficult as the trail was very ill behaved and went up and down causing us to constantly have to make up altitude. There were lots of goats being driven down out of the mountains to be sold in the big towns for the festival of Dasain. During this two week festival many temples in Nepal turn red with the blood of sacrificed goats. We also had to constantly get out of the way of mule trains. The trail is very narrow and the packages that the mules carry can knock you from it.

Day 3 was also a very steep day. The valley turned steeply upward. The highlight of many people on this day were the fields of marijuana that grew along the river. Many trekkers couldn’t resist the temptation to help themselves and for the rest of the trek. It was hard to go anywhere without the aroma of hashish in the air. We seperated from the British couple but Steve continued to walk with us and would remain with us for the remainder of the hike. We ate lunch in Tal which sits on the bank of the river right before it plunged down a steep incline. The town looks like something out of the old west with many wood paneled buildings. It looked like it could have been transplanted out of the Yukon Gold Rush Era. The cliffs around the town were full of waterfalls and a huge snowcapped Himalayan peaks dominated the background. We spent the night at Dharapani (6107 ft).

Day 4 saw us begin to leave the lush jungle area and begin to enter an area more alpinesque with big fir and pine trees. On the way to our night time stop of Chame (8759 ft), we encountered the Maoist in Koto. Even though they were “requesting” donations, we decided to pay as they had radios and didn’t know if they had anyone ahead on the trail. They gave us a paper to read explaining the purpose of the party (Duh with a name like Maoist). Colin and I each paid 25 (64.5 rupees = $US1) rupees. This is much less than the old rate of 100 rupees per day of trek. The group was part of the young people arm of the Maoist party which is more known for its thuglike behavior. At least I did get a reciept which makes a nice souvenir. Once in Chame we stopped at a lodge at the beginning of town. Here I got my cheapest bed of my trip so far. Colin and I together paid 32 rupees for a double room. There is a set pattern to the way the lodges work. It’s sort of like a budget airline. You pay next to nothing for the room (usually 50 to 100 rupees a night). You are then supposed to eat and do all of your shopping at the lodges. They make more of their profit on food and goods. The price goes up linearly with altitude. When a friend of mine (Llew) did this trek three years ago, a lodge owner complained to him that the Israelis break this system. The struggle is still apparently going on as during my first night on the trek, the lodge owner complained to Colin and I for 10 minutes about how the Israelis don’t understand the system. I really enjoyed Chame. The town was laid out on a ledge above the river. It was big enough to have a bank where I managed to break some of my 500 rupee notes for 100 notes as apparently sometimes $7 equivalents are too big. I played chess that night with one of the sons of the family owning the lodge and was soundly beaten. I do have to say that part of it was due to the fact that the bishops and the pawns looked exactly the same and I lost my bishops very quickly thinking they were pawns. Tonight marked the transition to using my sleeping bag. Before I had been warm with just my silk sleep bag.

Day 5 was a fairly easy walk to Pisang. Pisang is divided into upper and lower Pisang. We decided to spend the night in Upper Pisang (10,800 ft) as we were going do an upper portion of the trail which was a little harder but more scenic. The view from Pisang is dominated by Annapurna 2 which fills the sky or it would if it wasn’t obscured by clouds. We did get brief glimpes which were jaw dropping. I had never been that close to something seemingly so massive. There was even a huge avalanche visible coming down the slope. We spent the evening climbing above the town and trying to catch glimpses of the peaks. We met Paul at our lodge. Paul was a 32 year old New Zealander who was doing the trek during a transition between jobs. Paul decided to walk with us and our trio became a quartet. He would also walk with us for the rest of the hike.

Day 6 started with a snowstorm that lasted all day. We decided forgo the high path and walk to Manang along the low route as we wouldn’t see any view anyway. The snowstorm only got worse blocking out any views. I put my Tough Guy trash bag that I got in New Zealand over my pack. I didn’t even realize it said this. This got much teasing from the others in the group. We walked for hours through the snow before reaching Manang (11614 ft). The biggest city on this side of the pass. It actually has a small airport. We originally had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay as the town was full as people were staying behind to wait out the storm. We finally found a place a Mavis’s Kitchen and Guesthouse. Mavis had the added bonus of having a stove in the restaurant. She allowed us to use the stove to dry our shoes after the restaurant closed. We passed the evening by going to an altitude sickness seminar given by a volunteer doctor from New York and then went to a small movie house to watch “Into Thin Air”. A movie about people dying while climbing Everest. As we were going to cross one of the highest passes in the world in the next few days, this may not have been the wisest choice.

Day 7 was a rest day in Manang. The day was crystal clear. Many people spend a few days here to acclimate before going any higher. It’s sort of the reverse of scuba diving. You are supposed to climb high and sleep low. There are numerous hikes around Manang which allow one to do this. We climbed up 1500 ft to the home of the 100 rupee lama. He gets this name because he will bless you for 100 rupees. The trail was very slippery due to the new snow. The views were stunning though. The town of Manang spread out below. It sat on the edge of the river. On the other side of the river sat the towering Himalayas full of fresh snow. I bought some gaiters and sun glasses from Mavis’s husband in their trekking shop in anticipation of crossing the pass. With all the snow, the area was very bright and I didn’t want to get snow blindness as I was already feeling some eye strain. During the climb, I began to feel the altitude for the first time.

Day 8 was another rest day. My legs were hurting from the continual strain of 7 days of walking 10-20 kms a day uphill with a full pack. Steve and Paul decided to walk up to an ice lake. Colin and I did a short walk to a nearby village called Braga and explored an old gompa that we had passed up due to the snowstorm. In Manang I once again made a transition and had to begin to use both my silk liner and sleeping bag due to the cold.

Day 9 saw us heading out for Letdar (13818 ft). Even though the walk wasn’t that far. It provided a good acclimitization point. During this day we finally left the tree line behind for good and walked along a barren landscape similar to Tibet. At Letdar, we met two American ski instructors (Keri and Heidi) that had volunteered in Chitwan National Park. They also decided to walk with us. Our quartet was now a sextet. They walked with us over the pass and we would see them again on and off during the trek.

Day 10 again saw us walking in a barren landscape. The day was clear and the Himalayan peaks were out in all their glory. I passed a group of porters wearing red and yellow uniforms. Maybe it was the lack of oxygen but for the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but hum the Oscar Meyer Wiener song much to my annoyance. We stopped in Thorung Phedi for tea. This is where most people stop for the night before crossing the Thorung Pass. There is one camp higher though. Getting to it proved to be the toughest part of the trek yet. It involved a 1100 ft climb up very steep switchbacks. At 15,900 ft, the oxygen is very thin making this very difficult especially with a 30+ lb pack on. We spent the day in the lodge in the dining area where it was warm. That night it began to snow again causing some worry as the pass can be dangerous and the path hard to follow in new snow or a snowstorm. That night I slept fully clothed, with a big blanket, and all my bags to stay warm. My water bottles froze overnight.

Day 11 we woke early so that we could leave by sunrise to cross the pass as it is a long day. Many groups leave by 4:00 am but this is very dangerous due to the darkness and the risk of hypothermia. The first 100 ft or so of the trail was the most scary to me. It was only about a foot wide and was covered in ice making it very slippery. The trail was bordered by a very steep snow bank. If anyone had slipped off the trail, it would have been a very long fall before stopping (if one didn’t get pounded on the rocks). I managed to make it across but did lose my footing several times. When carrying a pack, one has a lot more inertia than normal that the body isn’t used to compensating for. Once past this treachorous section, I enjoyed the hike immensely. The sky was crystal clear and the ground powder white from all of the new snow. The trail wound itself up many false peaks before arriving at the teahouse at the summit of the pass (17,816 ft). I walked with a group of Germans to the top. My group was going a bit slower than I wanted to walk as I was trying to keep warm. My water bottles still froze despite being sloshed around as I walked. I summited after about three hours of walking. At the summit, I took pictures at the sign and had the most expensive cup of tea in Nepal (80 rupees). When my group arrived, they all took pictures and had tea. You could see others summiting as well. Some were sick from the altitude and crossed on hired horses. The wind soon picked up blowing snow everywhere. Deciding to head down, we began the 5400 ft descent to Murktinath. We soon left the snow. This side of the pass is known as the Jomson and is much more arid and dry than the Manang side. During the descent, we could see straight down the valley and see Murktinath (12250 ft) growing in the distance as we walked. Upon arrival in town after the knee breaking descent, we checked into the Bob Marley Hotel. We got a six bed dorm as that was all they had. The hotel walls were lined with pictures of cannabis and Bob Marley. That night we had a celebratory dinner with drinks and food. The entire bill for six people including a room, dinner, snacks, breakfast, at least 15 (650 ml) beers, and my vodka came to about $90. You have to love Asia.

To give you a break, I am going to break this article into sections. The next installment will be about the descent.

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One Response to “The Annapurna Circuit”

  1. Tony Garren Says:

    Good to see you made it safely Barry. Man you don’t have to make any of your entries short, I love the details. Unbelievable what you are doing, beats the hell out of doing start-ups in plant 15!

  2. Posted from United States United States

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