KATHMANDU, Nepal // The nitty gritty details if you ever wanted to do a Nepal Trek. We booked the 14 day Annapurna Circuit trek with the Nepal Hiking Team. I picked this company because they were top 10 on Trip Advisor, they were the first to respond to my email inquiry, and all subsequent responses to my questions were received within 24 hours. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far on the trip. We decided to go with the company for peace of mind since none of us had been in Nepal before.
You can trek here without a guide or porter, or with just one or the other, but since we had never really climbed in altitude we thought it would be best to have both. Though the trail is well marked and there are always several other hikers to ask, it allowed us to focus on trekking, the views, and conversation, rather than constantly wondering if we were going the right direction and where we would be sleeping that night. Taking those decisions out of the equation and just being the non-responsible individual made the trip so much more enjoyable. Also our guide and porters were such characters and submerged us in local flare and information. They made the trip. 14 days was from airport pickup to airport drop off so no additional travel days are needed. Once they pick you up, everything is taken care of. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, transportation, flights, permits, porters, guides, maps. We only had to pay for waters, beers, and souvenirs, which mainly consisted of patches for us.
The full circuit takes 21 days to complete and goes from Besisahar to Pokhara. You can trek it faster, but the faster you hike the more prone you are to altitude sickness. We bussed to Besisahar and off road jeeped 3 hours to Jagat where we started hiking. We ended in Jomsom then flew to Pokhara and bussed back to Kathmandu. The jeep ride was terrifying. It was along a cliff with a driver who was so young it didn’t look like he could have grown a hair on his chin if his life depended on it. We were bouldering rocks, stream crossing, and sliding through mud all holding on for dear life. It was probably the most dangerous part of the entire trip and it made us thankful for trekking the next day. You can actually jeep all the way to Manang, but I think you miss so much by doing that, plus you leave no time to acclimatize.
We decided to do the Annapurna Trek over Everest Base Camp for two main reasons. Everest is supposed to be more crowded and also the same trail up and down. Annapurna has a more diverse terrain (rain forest, mountain covered peaks, desert) and is a circuit so we never back track on trails. At first I thought Everest Base Camp was a tougher climb just due to its name, but in all honesty the Thorong La Pass we went through at 5,416m (17,769 feet, higher than even the highest mountain in the lower 48 states), is actually higher than Everest Base Camp. Annapurna Circuit also has some simple but clean tea houses along the route and required no camping.
I also did not put enough thought into the high altitude pass. We hit snow the morning we went through and the altitude had a bigger affect on us than I thought. We played a game called Categories to distract our minds but we found that we couldn’t think up there. We played, “Name any word that starts with the letter P" and after only a few words I found myself struggling for words. P… Pa…. Pe….Pu…. Think Jenny! Think! There is an entire section of the dictionary dedicated to this.
We also had a fellow Dutch hiker friend get altitude sickness at High Camp the day before we were supposed to go through the pass. He was fit and young and a runner / super hiker. Him and his girlfriend were strong, experienced hikers. We went for an acclimation 100 meter hike before dinner and when we came back down he started feeling bad. His face was beet red and his eyes kind of bulged. He had a headache so bad it made him cry and his sinus passages opened up and his nose continuously ran. They were forced to hike back down the mountain to ease his pain. After watching that happen the 4 of us were all a little on edge sleeping that night knowing that we would be climbing higher tomorrow, and that the same could hit us at any moment.
When it started snowing more stress was added to the pass as the trail became slicker and less apparent. Also back in mid October 2014, over 30 people died in a freak snow storm that dropped 5 feet in 12 hours. This was another reason we brought the guide. Though it was a huge triumph to get to the top of the pass, I didn’t really feel the anxiety leave and joy return until we started heading downhill on the other side. Downhill meant no more worries about altitude sickness. Downhill meant no more snow. Downhill meant carefree.
Though I love Nepal and its people, the Annapurna Circuit trek was priceless. I don’t know if I would do it again with the high altitude pass. That's probably the highest I will ever be in my entire life and I am okay with that. I will 100% do another Nepal trek as there are 100s to choose from, with equal beauty that don’t involve high passes.
Things we learned while trekking Nepal //
- The cliffside jeep ride will kill you, trek as soon as possible
- When trekking, the jeeps passing will kill you, stay mountainside when they pass
- Don't jump in front of the jeep to get mountainside, stay cliffside if you don't have time
- When in deserts with jeeps passing, stay upwind or eat a cloud of dust
- Don't trek and look around at the same town
- Always take Bal size tiny steps, slow and steady is the best
- Snickers bars make for great energizing snacks
- Wear sunscreen, you're closer to the sun at high altitudes
- Pack like you're going to carry your own bag. Less clothes, more socks and underwear
- Nepali milk tea helps everything
- Popcorn is the best post hiking snack before dinner
- The long rain ponchos were worth the $5 investment
- Categories is a wonderful altitude trekking pastime to distract your brain and stay mentally strong
- No beer above 3000m, unless it's your 60th birthday
- Don't play Dhumbal (Nepali card game) with Nepali for money, they are good
Annapurna Trekking Itinerary //
- Day 1 // Kathmandu (1400 meters)
- Day 2 // Jagat (1100 meters)
- Day 3 // Dharapani (1960 meters)
- Day 4 // Chame (2630 meters)
- Day 5 // Lower Pisang (3300 meters)
- Day 6 // Manang (3570 meters)
- Day 7 // Manang, acclimation day (3570 meters)
- Day 8 // Yak Kharka (4100 meters)
- Day 9 // Upper Camp, Thorung Phedi (4900 meters)
- Day 10 // Throng La Pass (5400 meters) to Muktinath (3800 meters)
- Day 11 // Jomsom (2600 meters)
- Day 12 // Pokhara (900 meters)
- Day 13 // Kathmandu (1400 meters)