Originally, I planned on hiking the Annapurna Circuit trail in September with Saroj (From Sunrise Farm) joining me for a few days then continuing on my own. Then, I changed the plan to October, after finding an EBC partner for September. Then, I met Jenni at Eco-Park, who wanted to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek at the end of August, before she leaves Nepal. So, I arranged plans so that the three of us could all do the Annapurna Base Camp trek together the final week of August.
Off season trekking meant we wouldn’t have the best weather, and we would need to get lucky in order to get a good view, but it also meant a relatively deserted trail, on one of the most popular routes in Nepal, and cheaper prices. Foregoing the circuit mean giving up Throng La Pass, the highest pass in the world that I really wanted to trek through, but it also meant avoiding a trek that had seen better (more authentic) days as a real trek, before a paved road was built all along the trail. So the base camp in off season, with two friends (no guide no porter just a map), turned out to be the best option.
The day before we had applied for our permits and gotten then that day. The permit office is within walking distance from Lakeside and you need two separate permits, each 2000 Rupees (around $20) one general trekking permit and a specific one for the Annapurna Conservation Area. Along the trail there were a few checkpoints where we had to stop and show our permits and get entry and exit stamps.
We started in the afternoon, and left the tourist area of Lakeside in Pokhara to the central bus station.
From the Baglung Bus station, we caught a taxi to Phedi and from there started our hike around 3pm.
We thought we would at least make it to the second small teahouse village of Pothana, like the man at the tourist office suggested, but, our energy and our excitement was soon quelled by a steep stone staircase. As we got higher we walked through terraced rice patties and got some nice views of Pokhara and the river. It was an hour and a half of sweating up the stairs before we reached Dhampus around 4:30. We debated whether or not to continue, but it started to rain and we were exhausted so we decided to stay and call it day 0.5 instead of a full day one.
Our accommodation was a double room with a bathroom attached and even luke-warm showers! For only 300 a night per room. Which wasn’t bad until we saw the food prices and figured out that’s how they make their money. For the duration of the trip we paid 300 for a double room, except the few lucky occasions we were able to bargain and just pay for dinner and not the room. But dinners started at 150 for chow mein, the cheapest thing on the menu, in Dhampus, to 450 for chow mein up at the base camp. We ate a lot of chow mein.
As we prepared our things for the next day. We got our first glimpse of the mountains as the sun was setting. I was mentally unprepared for what I experienced. At first, just the peaks poked through the clouds, my heart was pounding as I was waiting for the clouds to move out of the way, and as soon as they parted they left me awestruck. These mountains that had been hidden the whole time, my first look at the Himalayas, it was hard to describe in words. Something I’d been waiting for my entire life, and I knew in that moment I was in the exact place I was supposed to be, witnessing the power of this thing that was so much greater than myself. I felt like jumping into the air and screaming with joy, I felt like crying, and like I could run 100 miles non-stop, all at the same time.
I think that moment, will stay with me for as long as I live. And that didn’t even compare to the view we had the next morning with the sun rise.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise, and a clear view of the Annapurna Range.
We started from Dhampus to Pothana, about 45 minutes of flagstone step path. And in Pothana we stopped for breakfast.
Then we continued along the stone path, dodging cows and massive piles of cow shit along the way. Until about 12 it remained clear and we had good views of the mountains when we weren’t in the thick bamboo forest. Most people on the first day make it to Tolka or Landruk, we stopped at each but only for a short rest and concluded our first full day in New Bridge.
In Dhampus we were at 1650 meters and then the highest point was Bhichok Duerali at 2100 meters and then we stopped for the night in New Bridge at 1340 meters. So it was a long way up and a long way down in one day.
New Bridge to Bamboo. Almost a 1000 meter climb in one day. But a straight 1000 meter incline, would be just to easy.
From New Bridge to Jinhu, 300 meters, then Chomrong another 100 meters or so, and then descended all the way into the valley, down 300 meters, and then back up 300 to Sinuwa.
We stopped in Sinuwa for some coffee, my knees were ready to give up. But we pushed on another two hours to Bamboo.
One good thing about trekking during monsoon season is that everything is lush and green. The trail, though tough, was gorgeous. Most of it was stone steps (a bit treacherous when wet), cutting through glacial waterfalls, with many small wood and stone bridges to cross.
We had no real itinerary for the entire journey, just to get to as far as we could for the day and stop wherever for the night. On a teahouse trek like this it was easy enough. Every few hours there was another small village equipped with tea houses and restaurants to accommodate tired hungry trekkers.
We thought on day 3 we would be able to make it to Macchupuchre Base Camp, the final stop before the Annapurna Base Camp. And we were on track to do it, but then we caught some rain and heavy fog and decided it was too dangerous to make a 500 meter ascension from 3200 meters to 3700 meters in the rain and the fog. So we ended up cutting our day short around 3 and staying in Deurali for the evening. We hung out in the lodge watching trekkers come in from the rain, luckily we stopped when we did because it was a popular stopping point for the night.
Eventually it did clear and the next morning we even got a bit of a view.
It only took us 4 days to get to ABC, and it could have been 3 if not for the rain. But stopping in Deurali the night before turned out to be a good decision. We started the next morning for M.B.C, a 500 meter incline in two hours. It was only 3200 m to 3700 m, which I’d done a few times before so I thought there would be no problem. However, after about 45 minutes of walking along the river I started to get some mild symptoms of Altitude sickness. A headache, dizziness, and a faint unfocused feeling between my eyes. It was pretty disorienting, it took all my focus to put one foot in front of the other and keep drinking water. I looked back on my partners we were all feeling it. And then M.B.C appeared, and it was if by just seeing it the sickness went away.
When we got to M.B.C we got the last views of the day of Gangapurna, and Machhupuchre before it turned to fog. We took a rest and had our garlic soup (garlic soup is great for AMS because it opens your blood vessels and helps your circulation which allows more oxygen to get into your system), we drank a lot of garlic soup in those two days.
After a break we continued on the last two hours, a further 400 meters, to A.B.C. It was a rather anti-climactic approach. As we got closer, the fog got thicker and thicker, and we were barely able to see outside of the bubble that surrounded us. We had no sense of time or space, each of us individually concentrated on walking, when the sign for A.B.C seemed to rise of out the foggy nothingness.
We made it by noon, 4,130 meters and we weren’t able to see a thing.
So we had another day of lodge chilling waiting for the fog to clear, watching trekkers come in from the rain. Each coming in smiling and excited while the rest of us inside greeted them with a “yeah great you made it, its cold, shut the door” foggy days made for anti-climactic arrivals. Right before sunset it cleared just slightly for a view of Annapurna South and Machhupuchre.
We kept ourselves busy with overpriced hot chocolate and cards.
The next morning, it was the moment we’d been waiting for. We woke up just before five and nearly ran to the viewpoint outside of the lodge. At 5 it was too dark to see anything, 5:30 still too dark, at 6 we started to get a view, and by 6:30 in what sunlight we were allowed in the cirque of the base camp, we got the little view we were going to get.
We were able to see half of the mountains while the low hanging clouds covered the peaks. We took our time and had a morning mountain coffee (the kind that tastes the best even if it is just nescafe) and waited to see if we’d get a better view before heading back. Which we did eventually.
We left the base camp at 7:30 with no plans for returning other than to see how far we got and asses how we felt.
The path back down, that we couldn’t see the day before because of all the fog, turned out to be my favorite part of the trail. It was an open valley with a stream cutting down the middle and all different colorful wildflowers. I went on a wildflower picture spree.
What took us 4 hours the previous day had now taken us two, and we were back in Deurali by 10 am. This part was actual trail (no stone steps) so it was ideal for coming back down. We hit a bit of rain once we stopped for lunch in Himalaya camp, but it ended shortly after we finished so we carried on stopping in Sinuwa, at 2340 meters. Descending a little less than 2000 meters in a day. Just before it rained that night we got a glimpse of the mountains.
We woke up in the pouring rain and had our breakfast as the rain cleared. Our plan was to finish if we could, but to go as far as possible pending the weather holding out. From Sinuwa, we left for Chomrong, only a difference of 200 meters, but one that took three hours because of the massive stone staircase that dipped all the way into the valley and then all the way back up.
From Chromrong the weather was still good so we pushed on an hour further to Jhinu. At Jhinu we stopped for lunch just as the clouds turned dark and it started to rain again.
Here we had to decide which way to return to Pokhara. The trail split right after Jhinu in two directions, one towards Tolka and Landruck, the way we came up, and one towards the Ghandruck area where it split then further to Kyunmi and Kimche, at which either place we were told we could get the bus.
For the sake of variety, we decided to go towards Ghandruck and take the bus at Kimche, where we were originally advised to start the trek. As we continued it became clear that the path was not as clear as we thought, and varied between the different lodges maps and our own, and the actuality of the trail. After New Bridge we started up a small path that we thought would bring us to Kimche, but we were stopped after about 20 minutes by a local who told us it would take an extra two hours and was a lot steeper than the path we initially decided against. So we turned around and took the easier path. He’d told us in two hours we would reach Kyumi in 2 hours and we can take a bus from there.
We arrived in Kyumni around 5, and asked where we could get the bus, and we were informed still it was another hours walk to Siwei. So despite it only being an hour away, we opted for one more night in the mountains and left the next morning.
The first bus left siwei at 9am so we tried to leave by 7:30 just to make sure. Lucky for us buses in Nepal, especially in the mountains, run on their own schedule. The last part of our trail turned out to be an hour in a half over dirt path, gravel road, and some village farm fields.
When we got into the town of Siwei we had to ask for directions.
But then heard the distinct honk of the bus breaking through the peaceful mountain silence. We were allowed one final glance as the bus departed down the mountainside to Pokhara.
From Siwei it took a further three hours to get back to the Baglung bus station in Pokhara, and then we took a taxi back to Lakeside from there.
In 7 days we completed the Annapurna Base Camp trek. We got lucky with weather and timing so that it fit in to each of our schedules and so that we were able to enjoy the most popular trek away from the in-season crowds and prices.
My first glimpse of the Himalayas was only enough to light a spark. Mountain fever has begun.