Annapurna Circuit

 The long climb to the Thurong La (5416m) pass.  

The long climb to the Thurong La (5416m) pass.  

Kathmandu April 23-27, 2011

I was forced to stay in Kathmandu longer than planned thanks to a political strike one day, and the permit agency being closed another day.  But in the end rest is always good, but I was bored.

All trekking times are from when I left my hotel in the morning to when I put by bag down at the end of the walk.  All times include lunch breaks, taking photos, etc.

April 28 Kathmandu to Besi Sahr (Bus).  Besi Sahr to Bhulbule Two hours

For the most part the bus ride was fairly painless, but I was still glad to get to Besi Sahr.  The walk to Bhulbule was not that exciting; the route basically follows the main road the entire way.  You can get a bus or jeep to Bhulbule, but the road is in such poor condition that you are probably better off walking.

 The lower trail.

The lower trail.

April 29 Bhulbule (840m) to Jagat (1330m) Six hours

I was excited to start the first real day of the trek.  It was a nice walk through many green rice fields and thanks to the low altitude and the heat I was sweating buckets—the Khola River looked rather inviting.  It was a steady climb up to the sub-tropical village of Jagat.  As soon as I found a place to stay I quickly doused myself with cold water to cool off.

April 30 Jagat (1330m) to Timang (2630m)  Seven hours

Today I gained 1300 meters in elevation, but it did not feel like a very challenging day.  I got some very close up views of the River Khola.  I crossed through Tal village, which would be nice play to stay or possibly have lunch, but since I arrived at Tal early I decided to press on.  There was a decent climb from Danaque (2210m) up to Timang.   It climbs up steep for a good section and then levels out for a awhile before kicking up again at the end.  Timang is a quiet place to stay, and for the second night in a row I was the only person staying at the hotel I was at.  

 The start of the Annapurna Circuit is very green and very hot!

The start of the Annapurna Circuit is very green and very hot!

May 1 Timang (2630m) to Upper Pisang (3310m) Six and quarter hours

Today I began to notice a change in the plant life.  Pines trees become more dominant as I climbed higher.  I absolutely loved this walk as it reminded me of being back home in Canada.  The rivers, trees, and mountains were stunning, and for all I know I could have been in the Canadian Rockies.  I arrived to Lower Pisang, but I walked a further twenty minutes to Upper Pisang.  There are many hotels in both places but the higher you walk in Upper Pisang the more fantastic the views become.  I found a place to sleep and before I put fresh—or as fresh as fresh can be when trekking—clothes on, a young, local girl pointed to the mountain on the other side of the valley.  I looked and was shocked to an avalanche thundering down the snowy mountain.  It go no where near to where I was, but it was still amazing to see. 

 Sub-tropical lends to alpine terrain. 

Sub-tropical lends to alpine terrain. 

May 2 Upper Pisang (3310m) to Bragha (3470m) via the high route through Ngawal.  Four and half hours

For the second day in a row I was blown out the water with the amazingness of the walk.  There are two routes one can take to Bragha.  One follows the valley floor, and the other, higher route consists of more climbing and a couple more hours of walking, but it is beyond worth it.  I faced a long climbed that switchbacked all the way to a gompa (Buddist Temple) in the town of Ghyaru.  This was the most challenging part of the day.  Following this the trail rolled up and down before rejoining the main route just before Bragha.  The upper route was very quiet as I saw hardly any locals walking along the path and even fewer trekkers.  

 My room for $0.70 a night at Hotel Buddha.

My room for $0.70 a night at Hotel Buddha.

May 3 Bragha (3470m) to Milarepa's Cave (4320m) Four and half hours

Bragha is in the heart of the Manang Valley.  Most trekkers stay in Manang village which is twenty minutes from Bragha, however Bragha is smaller, quieter, and less commercialized then Manang.  Bragha is also very close to two amazing day hikes that one can partake in.  So with that in mind I was sold on Bragha.  For the record I stayed in Hotel Buddha, which was awesome!  The hotel is right on the main trekking route so it is hard to miss.  It was a great place to stay—great food, nice dinning area and spacious rooms.  I left just after 7am with my tiny day bag and headed for Milarepa's Cave.  Milarepa lived in the 11th century AD and frequently meditated in caves throughout the Himalayas.  One day a hunter followed a deer to the cave where Milarepa was meditating.  The hunter was so impressed with Milarepa that he gave up his bow and became Milarepa's disciple.  I walked very slowly as there are many views of the valley throughout the way up.  After checking out Milarepa's Cave I climbed along a ridge for a good half an hour to get a closer view of a glacier.  The view did not really improve, but I enjoyed the walk.

 A shrine to Milarepa 

A shrine to Milarepa 

May 4 Bragha (3470m) to Ice Lake (4620m)  Five hours

They say it is a four hour climb to Ice Lake, however I did it in about two and half.  I did not push it too hard on the climb, I just made good time.  Your fitness level will depict how long this climb will take.  For most it is long day, so make sure to bring plenty of food and water.  This hike is great and one I highly recommend.  It will also prepare you for crossing the Thorung La.  The walk starts from the doorstep of Hotel Buddha, and then climbs though Bragha village.  The climb switchbacks up to a flat grassy area where there was a tent city that consisted of many Nepali people.  There are many great views across the valley of snowy white peaks that dominate the sky, not to mention the dry Manang Valley.  I got to Ice Lake and spent some time taking photos and enjoying the scenery.  If you are a camping junkie there are many great spots to camp along this walk. 

 The magnificent Ice Lake (4620m).

The magnificent Ice Lake (4620m).

May 5 Bragha (3470m) to Thorung Phedi (4540m) Five hours

Oops...Well I was supposed to spend a night in Letdar (4230m) to adjust to the higher altitude before going over the pass.  However, I reached a couple of villages and I thought that Letdar was further along the trail so I keep going.  Basically I was moving quick and actually passed though Letdar without knowing it.  I try to avoid back tracking and since I was beyond Letdar and felt good, I decided to go to Throrung Phedi.  The trail to Thorung Phedi is very interesting.  As I climbed above the 4000m mark the landscape became more barren and dry.  It's odd not to see any trees.  Thorung Phedi is a small village, and is an interesting place to stay.  Throughout the first few days of the trek I was staying in villages that were smaller and less common, therefore I avoided much of the crowds.  It became evident that were many trekkers as the dinning room was quite full in the evening.  

May 6 Thorung Phedi (4540m) via Thorung La (5416m) to Kagbeni (2840m) Seven hours

Many trekkers leave very early in the morning to allow adequate time to reach the Thurong La.  I heard people saying that they were leaving at 3:30am!  It is not necessary to leave this early—day break is a good time, which was 6am.  I left late—compared to most trekkers—at 6:11am, but since to very decent, steady rhythm I was quickly reeling in groups of trekkers that left before me.  I arrived to Thorung Phedi High Camp after forty minutes of walking.  This tiny alpine village is only accessible by foot, and is in the middle of nowhere, but believe it or not I actually heard Justin Bieber on a radio as I was passing through.  The Bieber is everywhere!  The walk to the pass was marvellous!  As I climbed higher and higher the air became thiner and thiner, but the views become better and better.  The white mountains are just absolutely stunning.  I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I arrived at Thorung La (5416m) in only two hours and twenty-five minutes.  It was a great feeling getting to see the Thorung La.  I left the snow behind and begun my descent to the arid village of Muktinah (3800m).  After two and half hours of descending I got to Muktinah and I was not impressed, so I went to Kagbeni (2840m).  It was another two hours of descending to Kagbeni.  I arrived exhausted, after climbing 900m and descending 2600m...WOOOO!!!

 The high point, the Thorung La (5416m).

The high point, the Thorung La (5416m).

May 7 Kagbeni (2840m) to Larjung (2560m) Seven and half hours

The second half of the Annapurna Circuit has recently become slightly tarnished thanks to the road that has been built along the route.  Many people get buses or jeeps from Jomsom and completely bypass the second half.  However, the second half still has many nice features and plenty of side trails that allow one to get off the road.  So as long as you do not mind the occasional bus or jeep passing you, then it would be worth completing the second half of the Annapurna Circuit on foot.  Today was about two hours longer than it should have been.  I took a side trail that ended up looping back on itself, and I ended up where I started.  It was my own fault, for a I missed a fork in the trail that should have taken me further instead of back to where I started. I was mad at the loss of time and decided to listen to Children of Bodom to release some anger.  Hatebreeder saw me to Turkuche, and Follow the Reaper saw me to Larjung (2560m).  I was really happy to be done, and I was even more happy when I discovered that the logde I was staying at had a TV with channels in English.  I watched Man vs Wild, and in this particular episode Bear Grylls was in Siberia.  I watched him skin a yak, then eat its liver and eyeball.  I think I will stick with yak cheese and yak steak!  Following this I watched three episodes of Dexter.  What a treat to watch some TV and do nothing!

May 8 Larjung (2560m) to Ghasa (2000m) Four and half hours

After a large breakfast I set out on the walk.  I followed the Kali Gandaki River which was stunning, before doing a detour off the main road to Lake Titi.  The area around the lake is apparently good for bird watching—if that’s your thing.  Today was much shorter then the last two days, and it was great to get in a bit of rest and spend sometime reading and relaxing.

 Making friends on the back half of the Annapurna Circuit.  

Making friends on the back half of the Annapurna Circuit.  

May 9 Ghasa (2000m) to Ghorepani (2870m) Nine hours

Today was just nuts!  I headed downhill to Tatopani (meaning "hot water") which is famous for its outdoor hot pools.  Going for dip in hot water did not seem appealing since I was already boiling hot.  I ate lunch in Tatopani (1190m) and then began the massive climb to Ghorepani (2870m).  This was exhausting, and it took me about four and half hours to make the 1700m climb to Ghorepani.  From Ghorepani many people rise early to go watch the sunrise from Poon Hill.  The views are supposed to bebeautiful.  I was too tired to do this but I spoke to someone the following morning who did go and said that there were so many people on Poon Hill that it ruined it.  He said the views were good but not that much different from what you could see in Ghorepani.

May 10 Ghorepani (2870m) to Naya Pul (900m) six hours walking then an hour and half bus ride to Pokhara

The final day of the trek!  The walk was not very interesting.  I got to Naya Pul (900m)  after descending down many stone steps and found a bus to Pokhara.  I met some locals getting on the same bus as me and they encouraged me to ride on the roof.   It was very cool to ride on the top of the bus with no seats or seat belts, until it started raining.  Pokhara is a great place to finish a trek as there are many great restaurants; I went for pizza and beer!

 Chilling on the roof of a bus bound to Pokhara

Chilling on the roof of a bus bound to Pokhara

May 11 Pokhara

Rest day in Pokhara

May 12 Pokhara to Kathmandu

I enjoyed the Annapurna Circuit so much that I am deciding to go for the big one: Mt Everest.  Not to climb the mountain itself, but to visit the base camp and the surrounding area.  It is going to be a short stay in Kathmandu as I want to get most of the trek done before the monsoon season starts in earnest.

Jason ManningComment