Annapurna Circuit Trek - Thorong La Pass 5416m

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nepal  , Himalayan Region,
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My trekking notes won't interest most, they are more a reference for me to look back on names, places, heights and what the day was like.  Even though altitudes may not look like you're going far in a day these are almost all long 6-8 hour walking days up and down along the way.  I struggled deciding which trek to do, it was between the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp trek but by all accounts Annapurna is the more scenic which I have decided on so I'll soon see.

In Pokhara I went in and out various trekking places before making any decisions, trying to guage prices and what was involved.  I decided on Annapurna to be inclusive of accommodation and food which saved me having to worry about anything while I was away.  So I met my guide/porter for the trek Buddhiman Tamang, he is an experienced guide who (fingers crossed) will be good fun. He collects me from the hotel at 6:30am by taxi to take us to the bus station, from there we get the bus to Besisahar, and the start of my Trek.
The bus journey was hot but pretty uneventful, the roads are madness though, it's amazing there's not more accidents!  Anyway we arrive at Besisahar and the start of my trek, I am only carrying my daysack with Buddhiman carrying my rucksack with warm clothes, jackets, sleeping bag etc. and we head off walking for 3 hours up into the mountains, thankfully today is a gradual walk to Ngadi Village (840m). 

We're walking beside a stunning glacier green river, which should stay by our side the whole way up the mountain.  I love the beautiful flowers of red, lilac and orange which are everywhere although I don't yet know their names.  We pass through small villages and I get to cross my first rope bridge which I have been a bit nervous about, but they seem to be fairly stable and don't sway about too much. 

So we reach our first stop which is a teahouse type accommodation which is very basic, just sheets of ply making the rooms and corrugated iron on the roofs, the power doesn't last long before we're plunged into darkness, although I didn't realise it at the time this was my first taste of load shedding in Nepal.  The beds are hand built, wood frames and slats with a very thin mattress on top, looks like I'd better get used to roughing it!  The toilet isn't far away, down the bottom of the garden and is a Nepali style of squat toilet with no running water, just buckets.  There is no hot solar shower because the cold has burst the solar panels (again the first of many) but I am offered hot water from a kettle to wash but I don't want them burning precious wood so I decline, I reckon it's going to be a smelly trek

We are staying with a lovely young family and the kids come running home from school, get their homework done and put the TV on to watch Nickleodeon before dinner, seems the same as home!  While I was waiting on dinner I had a stroll around and met a lovely young couple who would be around for the whole trek, Roman and Malgorzata, they've already done a bit of trekking so will be way ahead of me!  Anyway I'm called in for dinner with the family in their kitchen before having an early bed for an early start in the morning which seems to be the pattern for my trekking.  Its pitch black with no lights anyway so there's nothing else for it!
Chyamche Village (1440m) - I had a quick breakfast, got packed up and we're on the trail early. It's another fairly steady climb today which is great for breaking me in, only around 600m (just below 2000ft).  We pass loads of animals on the trail today, I see my first buffalo, they are massive bony beasts, lots of goats and many donkeys carrying all sorts of loads, sacks of grains, gas bottles, luggage etc.  you can hear the animals before you see them with the bells round their necks.  Some of the bells are big cow bells and some are smaller sleigh bells but they sound fantastic in the distance, it lets you sus out where they are and get prepared to get out of the way! The people on the route today are very friendly and greet you with big smiles and shouts of 'Namaste', they are very friendly and the children are adorable.

Danique (2160m) - It's quite a long walk in today and I am very aware of getting deeper and deeper into the mountains, although we're still in rich farmland areas which has rice and crops growing everywhere possible. I am staying with a lovely young family with a 2 year old daughter however she has a spinal problem which means she can't walk.  I can't imagine how she will survive in the mountain where there are no roads and you need to walk everywhere, she is beautiful though and plays away with me for hours.  It is so cold tonight but I guess we're getting higher up (7087 ft), as I am the only guest here tonight I end up eating in the kitchen with the mum and daughter and even try the local rice beer with mum.  I would say it's fairly potent stuff so I don't have too much then it's off to bed.
Chame (2710m) - we arrived here very early, it's only 11:40am.  Apparently the next village with accommodation is too far away plus we can't go too high too quick in order to acclimatise.  Although I'm a bit disappointed I can see the logic in it so instead my guide takes me down to local hot springs in the afternoon which makes up for it.   I find the hot springs really surprising as they are basically a hot pool right next to the freezing glacier river.  I stripped off as much as possible and had a shower in the spring, it was amazing! I also washed all my clothes and laid them out on the rocks to dry which took no time at all.

On the way back we end up in another local house for tea, I think my guide just gate crashes houses but it's giving me a real insight into peoples homes and how they live which is round the kitchen fire!  Because it is getting so cold everyone huddles round, the women seem to do all the work, they are out in the fields working, plus cooking, washing, cleaning etc. while the men stand around talking business.
Upper Pisang (3310m) - It was a forest walk pretty much the whole way here today, once again beautiful scenery and clear blue skies, amazing rock formations which appear to be caused by the glaciers, they're incredible!  Again the path is full of animals but many, many locals too all gathering firewood or scrub for animal feed etc. which they carry in their baskets.  We cross a very long bridge to Upper Pisang and head towards the monastery on the very top of the hill looking directly out to Annapurna II.  It's a tough climb up especially at the end of the day, the monastery provides stunning views up and down the valley and we're approx 10,860 ft up.  I book into accommodation and I am delighted that my bedroom view is straight out to the mountains in front and of the valley.  Not many come up here instead staying at Lower Pisang but I am so glad I made the effort, it's well worth it.  Before dinner I walked up and around the monastery and was shown inside by one of the monks, the colours are amazing and the decorative work really detailed, impressive.  I sit for a while just taking in the view of the valley an mountains around me.

Manang (3640m) - I thought the walk today from Upper Pisang was never going to end, up and up and up, was another beautiful clear blue day though but I'm tired!  We end up only 350m above where we started but its really deceiving, we were up really high in parts only to come the whole way down then back up again!  It was really tough going today, although the many viewpoints stunning.  It's never ending, there are viewpoints with stones piled high on top, prayer flags and vast views the whole valley to keep you going but I am relieved to arrive at Manang where we are staying for two nights to aid acclimatisation, so I should be able to rest. 

I went to the 'picture house' in Manang and watched 'Into Thin Air', the benches are covered with yak skin rugs and you're served with tea and popcorn half way through the movie. I have met lots of lovely people on route but my cinema friends I keep bumping into, Roman and Malgorzata, Chris, Giulio, Nigel.  Also Ted, Andy, and son Declan who I watch Slumdog Millionaire with the next afternoon, however before I can relax with a movie, my guide takes me a walk up around 500m to help acclimatise!  We go past an amazing glacier ice lake on way to a viewpoint and my guide doesn't know when to stop, we're away hours so much for me thinking I had a rest day, I enjoy the movie when I eventually get back but I'm fit for nothing else.

It's funny everyone knows roughly who is on the trail cause we keep bumping into the same people! Heading onwards and upwards hopefully the mountain sickness won't affect me however I am taking care, walking uphill slowly and continuously, eating foods with less oil and less spice, keeping my chest warm and nose and mouth covered to stop breathing in really cold air. So far feeling good, so fingers crossed.

Yak Kharka (4030m) - again a really short walk today and I'm in my digs by 11:30am, I saw my first sight of the pass on the way in and it looks like it's covered with snow ahead.  Hopefully the altitude sickness won't kick in but Buddhiman says if I feel unwell at all to tell him straight away.  Because we're here so early he takes me sightseeing which means a 700m climb straight up from behind the hotel, 'to help acclimatise', other people just walk to the brow of the hill ahead maybe 100m maximum but not me!  I spotted blue sheep on the hill today, they were really close before getting scared off and look more like deer, there's a big group from the UK staying here tonight, and it's good to have some company in the same digs although you meet people all day on the track.

Thorong Phedi (Base Camp) (4530m) - It's another fairly short walk today, only around 3 hours but takes us to around 14,860 ft.  We stopped at a tea shop on route which had the most amazing views, incredible - unfortunately though my camera battery is dead which seems to have a lot to do with the cold.  Thankfully though I manage to charge it up at the hotel and I even manage to get onto FB which I'm delighted at because it's my birthday today!.  I've lots of birthday wishes which was really lovely.

For my acclimatisation walk today I head up to High Camp (4900m approx) and back down, it was really windy and very, very cold brrr... The hotel made me a lovely birthday cake and I celebrated with a crowd together in the evening which was really nice although it's an early bed for everyone as tomorrow is the big day to cross the Thorong La and it's a 4:30am torchlight start.

Thorong La Pass (5416m) and Muktinath (3800m) - What a day!  I got up around 3:15am after a freezing, restless night, and had a very light breakfast with everyone.  We all put out head torches on, and as many clothes as possible as it's bitterly cold.  Everyone starts out and all you can see is the torchlight procession weaving up the path towards high camp.  Its quicker to get to high camp than I thought it would be.  We continue on and are battered by really high winds and we duck down to protect ourselves as much as possible, especially from getting blown off the path.  Some of the porters on the path today are in flip flops and fleeces, we give a few of them what clothes we can spare but it's insane the way they are climbing the pass, some are really struggling with their loads too, they've taken on far too much!  

Everyone takes refuge at the first tea shop on the way, and a hot cup of tea is well needed.  It's taken a good couple of hours to get to this point and the sun is just starting to come up.  Unfortunately all my water has frozen solid with the conditions so I didn't have anything to drink for my walk, today of all days!  It was a real slog today dealing with the elements and the altitude but I was relieved that I made it in good time.  A few of the others where put on the back of donkey's and taken over as the altitude sickness was taking a grip!  Thankfully the sun had come out and I had clear mountain views and I was delighted when I spotted the pass up ahead, I knew then that I was going to make it!

I was so relieved to make it to the top of the Thorong La at 5416m (17,770 ft roughly) I had never been up this height before and I was really pleased with myself for making it.  I was disappointed though that the signposts where all covered with prayer flags where it used to tell of your achievement!  So there's no information posts, oh well I got my pictures anyway and dived into the tea house for a well deserved cuppa and mars bar before starting my descent.  This was a knee busting 1600m down but thankfully I felt no pain on the way down.  I was really surprised that from around 40  people crossing the pass today, I was the 5th person over and down the other side, it's been an incredible day and I feel such an amazing sense of achievement for making it over.  
We stop for lunch once down the steepest part of the mountain before continuing on to Muktinath where we are staying tonight.  However before I can even get to the digs for the night, my guide takes me round one of the main temples in the area which takes us away off the track and quite honestly I'm too done in to enjoy it, too much for one day.  I'm relieved when we reach our digs and I get a hot (gas) shower, although the shower is extra, it is much needed and after wards I go for a sleep for a couple of hours before thinking about anything else... Ahhh.
Kagbeni (2840m) - It was a short walk today and I feel quite lazy, we booked in around 11:30am so it only took us around 2.5 hrs walking.  It's a dusty old road though, it's a real sand storm outside which my guide says will last for a few hours, thankfully by leaving so early this morning we arrived in before it hit us.  I'm now sitting in a sun filled room watching the locals plough the fields outside using Yak's.  It sounds like they are singing to them, I could hear singing the whole way down the mountain today, and it turns out I'm right.

The views on the way were amazing despite it being a dirty, dusty, and windy trail, it had snow capped mountains all around.  A crowd of us go a wander round the village, it's funny we pass a Yak Donald's with its red and yellow paint job and statues of Yak's at the door - I was in stitches! Its a fascinating village with a lot of history, it has really old buildings and narrow lanes and at the top end you are looking up the Mustang Valley, they're a sign saying not allowed without permit which only costs $50 per day!!  I don't think I'll be off trekking there, anyway to celebrate our achievement , we have dinner together, splash out on a bottle of wine and some nice food (well it had been my birthday!)  It was really enjoyable and a farewell to many who are flying back down to Pokhara from Jomson Airport so I'll not see them again.  Many now finish trekking at this point to save walking down the road, but my plan is to walk the full circuit!
Marpha (2680m) - It's a hellish journey today, the wind was so strong that it ended up a complete sand storm.  I had some fantastic views on the way down although I couldn't enjoy it properly because of the weather.  I passed Jomsom Airport which has tiny planes and the airstrip leads into the mountain.  I stand a watch a plane taking off, it's amazing, it looks like it is going to head straight into the mountain but ends up going through the valley then up ad over, it's quite a sight.  

I arrive in Marpha which is known for its Orchards and I have a taste of the local cider which was very good despite me not being big on cider, I actually preferred just the dried apples which were lovely.  Marpha has a huge Buddist Monastery which I walk up and around in the afternoon which was really interesting.  While I was in the village I tried my first mutton momo's, these were from a tiny kitchen and which were just the best things ever, so tasty! I would love to know how to make them.

Ghasa (2000m) - The day started ok until I pulled a muscle in the back of my leg from slipping on a rock while crossing a river!  I'm not a happy bunny!  My guide had invited along a young guy from Perth in Australia and proceeded to leave me with him as he marches off!  He's not in the good books.  Firstly today he dragged me up the wrong hill which was a really steep climb, only to come back down the same way.  It turns out that there was a massive landslide here a few years ago but because no-one walks this part of the circuit anymore, my guide hadn't been here for a long time and had lost his bearings.  Less said about today the better, I ended up walking for 9 hours on a busted leg....grrr.  Only saving grace I met a lovely Scottish guy in the digs in Ghasa.  Well when we eventually got there, completely exhausted, anyway it was nice to talk to a fellow Scot.
Tatopani (1190m) - Wow these are real hot springs, fantastic!  Despite still being in a lot of pain with my leg, I hobble down to Tatopani through stunning scenery yet again, with clear skies and as we are lower down it's back to walking through lovely villages, with beautiful flowers, fields full of orchards, orange, tomato, banana plants etc. it really is beautiful.  I end up spending hours in the hot springs which is laid out like a proper swimming pool next to the river.  Despite being in such extreme temperatures, I feel really warmed through and very chilled out after my visit, it really is bliss.
Ghorepani (2790m) and Poon Hill (3210m) - Seriously can I not give myself a break!  This is a really steep 1600m climb today and it's steps the whole way, that's 5250 ft up today which is more than Ben Nevis at 4409 ft.  I end up just plodding along on my still busted leg for the whole day, it took me around 7 hours and I was really delighted at being 2nd to arrive out of around 20 people that left this morning!  It was extremely tough going and not only that but we stayed at a guest house right at the top of the village on the way out to Poon Hill which would be the mornings adventures.  I had a wander down and round the village before heading back up for dinner, after which we sit around the fire at night playing cards, although it's another early night to get up at 5am and head up to Poon Hill for sunrise.

Although amazing, and a swift uphill which really wakes you in the morning, Poon Hill was really busy with lots of other people doing the same!  I got some great pictures, it's a real panoramic view of the mountains and is stunning, it's well worth the walk up.  After sun up I headed back down to the hotel for breakfast before moving on!  I've just realised actually that we're a day early in our trekking so instead of heading down for the bus I decide to return to Pokhara via Tadapani, Ghandruk and then down!  
Ghandruk (1940m) - after climbing to Poon Hill and back down the path to Ghandruk basically took me back up to the same height of Poon Hill again before we actually started to descend so it was a really tough walk today!  The scenery again was stunning, although the weather closed in at Tadapani (2595m) to the extent you couldn't see any views at all so I decided to keep going to Ghandruk.  On the way down we are walking through jungle which is really earie given the fog that's closing in, there's a sign saying not to walk in the jungle on your own and there are monkey's swinging about everywhere above you...  

I really love the village of Ghandruk and met a truly inspiration woman who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the work and achievements she has given to her village.  She ensures all the children are educated and provides help and support to families that feel like they can't do without the extra pair of working hands!  She has the whole village paved with steps and there's a massive bank of solar panels which keep the village running, she's quite a lady.
Syauli Bazar (1175m) - I only walked 2 hours today but this is a lovely spot right by the river, which I sit beside and just read a book!  It's my last day on the Annapurna Circuit so I just relax however, I'm looking forward to getting back to Pokhara now for some clean clothes and a proper hot shower!

Pokhara - This was another fairly short walk today just down a couple hours for the bus, then around a 2 hr journey.  It's only when I'm finally back that I feel a real sense of achievement for what I've just completed!  At every turn there was some 'extra' acclimatisation or off shoot of this walk, or detour for getting lost but it really was a fantastic experience, only problem is that it's left me wanting to do more... oh dear!
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Malcolm on

exhausted just reading this! Fantastic pictures as always too...

new_lands on

It was a bit of a long haul... but the scenery alone made it all worth while.

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