In October 2009 I flew out to Nepal to embark on the Annapurna Base Camp trek in aid of the Himalayan Cultural Conservation. This is a classic 9 day Himalayan trekking route taking us to a height of 4130 metres. Staying in traditional tea houses, our destination was Annapurna Base Camp (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary).
It is arguably the most intensely scenic trek in Nepal. From the Annapurna Base Camp the towering peaks of Annapurna I (8091m), Annapurna South (7273m), Annapurna Fang (7647m), and Machhapuchhare (6997m) bathed in snow set the scene as one of the most spectacular mountain settings in the Himalayas. This is my journey.
Day One: Nayapul to Ulleri (2070m)
From Pokhora, it’s a 2 hour precarious drive over the foothills to Nayapul (1070m), where the majority of Annapurna Sanctuary treks begin. This poor run down shanty town on the outskirts of the bigger Birethanti is a blur when whisking your way down to the river crossing. First, we stopped at the Tourist Check Post to ensure our trekking visas were in order, at Birethanti. Already, we could see one mountain dominating the skyline; our eyes fixed on Machhapuchhre in the distance.
The day was oppressive, and before long I was faltering in the heat. Our late start meant forgoing a tea break so the ascent was telling on me before lunch. It wasn’t long before an emergency stop at a house in Hille was necessary and I was rudely introduced to the wonders of a squat toilet!
Lunch was had at Tikhedhungga (1520m); some dioralyte, a couple of cups of lemon tea and daal bhaat saw me rally, and set me up for the afternoons ascent up 3280 steps to Ulleri (2020m), our first teahouse accommodation.
The teahouse was a pleasant surprise. Comfortable, welcoming, and with stunning views of Annapurna South (7219m), pictured above, and its smaller neighbour Hiun Chuli (6441m). If the rest were to be as good, the goal was going to be easier to achieve!
Day Two: Ulleri to Ghorepani (2860m)
Early rise from our sleeping bags, for breakfast al-fresco in the morning sunshine, then off on the ascent to our destination of Ghorepani (2860m).
A tea stop this morning, at Ban Thanti (2210m), helps break up the incessant climb. My lungs had not acclimatised to the task yet, and I was having to dig deep. I’m thankful for the excuse of some magnificent views to stop and catch my breath! I adopted the policy of “Slowly slowly, catchy monkey!”and plodded up at my own pace.
An extended lunch break at Nangge Thanti (2430m), partly due to the length of time it took to cook our meals. I had some delicious fried vegetable momo’s and the obligatory lemon tea, which I was becoming quite partial to! It was becoming apparent that some initial worries I had about eating on this trip were unfounded and my calorie intake was going to be more than enough to get me to the end.
The afternoon was further 400 metre ascent up to Ghorepani (2860m). Once again, done at a steady pace, whilst the majority tore off up the hill. Whereas the rest trailed through the town, those of us at the back followed the porters up a steep short cut, to the ideally located “Hotel Snowland” Tea House, boasting another great view of Annapurna South (7219m), and the lower hills.
Ghorepani is a fairly large town, and the last where you can get internet access, so, as my mobile had no service anywhere in Nepal, I took the opportunity to email home and let all know I was still alive.
Another good meal; which turned out to be our last chance for meat – roast chicken and then an early night in preparation for the morning ascent of Poon Hill for the sunrise.
Day Three: Ghorepani to Tadapani (2630m)
Up at 4:30am, and a significant personal record for me of 3210 metres on Poon Hill; higher than I had ever been! The trail to the top was ridiculously busy, a long snake of head torches wriggled its way up to the summit. Poon Hill boasts a superb panorama of the Annapurna Range. Peaks included are Dhaulagiri (8172m), Annapurna South (7219m), and Machhapuchhre (6997m).
Once sunrise was complete, we descended to the tea house and breakfast. Today, we were off on what our leader Will has always said is his favourite day. It wasn’t long before I could see why.
Once down in Ghorepani, there is a steady ascent on to a high ridge called the Deurali Pass which reaches the height of 3210 metres. This is a shaded ridge of rhodedendran and bamboo forest, with glimpses through the trees, to the left, of the snow capped mountains, and the valleys and foothills to the right.
Tea at Deurali and a discussion about the wrong position of the villages on the trail map, which turned out to be the same for the actual trail! The contours, however, did appear to be trustworthy.
We descended a beautiful steep gorge, which reminded me of the Blue Mountains in Australia, to lunch at Ban Thanti (3180m). The afternoon saw further descent, then a climb up to Tadapani (2630m) our objective for the day.
Day Four: Tadapani to Sinuwa
A pretty gruelling nine hour day, especially for Will who became the second to come down with a virus! Whereas Jim had suffered the day before but had come through it, his fever stage had been at night. Will, however, had to endure his high temperature bout through the day.
This was always going to be one of the longer days. From Tadapani we descended to Ghurnang (2060m) and contoured the hills on some dusty and narrow tracks with some nervy drops, to Chhomrong for a recommended pizza lunch.
Will wandered in late with Tanya, who had also succombed to an illness and she slept the length of our break.
Chhomrong has some crippling steps down to the suspension bridge crossing of the river which bears it’s name, and then a punishing climb up to finish the day.
On the other side of the river, Diane, Jim and I looked back to see Will labouring down the steps, a long way behind, so we opted to wait while the others went ahead. When Will finally caught up with us, a porter took his rucksack and he continued the ascent to Sinuwa (2360m) taking plenty of rests.
Sinuwa Lodge was a welcome sight, and Will went straight to bed. My fear was that my two room mates had both come down with a virus, and I wondered if I would be next!
Day Five: Sinuwa to Deurali (3200m)
A lot of ascent today, 1125 metres in all, and most of it above the 2500 metre mark. We left Sinuwa early. Will had been grateful for the 12 hour sleep he got, and, although lightening his rucksack, was able to carry a substantial weight again.
We descended to Bamboo (2325m) for tea, something that was always a little disheartening given that any downs at this stage meant bigger ups! The valley we skirted boasted great views of Machhapuchhre (6997m), known as “Fish-tail” for it’s distinctive shape.
We had lunch at Himalaya, where I spotted a dish I’d keep in mind for my evening meal.
Our long day was complete after 8 hours, and we reached Deurali. The drop in temperature at 3200m was noticeable, and the lack of a shower for the first time on the trek, saw most of our group order hot buckets of water to wash in. Some of us just chose to stick with wet wipes!
And so to the highlight of the day, and an evening meal of Egg and Chips!!! Just the way it used to be made! Superb!
Day Six: Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)
The day had arrived to reach our objective, and my personal altitude record would be broken yet again. As soon as we started walking, I noticed the lack of oxygen. I felt a little dizzy but I slowed my pace, took plenty of rests with drink stops.
By the time we reached Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3700m), I was finding the going easier. Our rest here was lengthened to a lunch stop, to help acclimatisation and I enjoyed a tomato soup and chapati.
Then the clouds rolled in, and it appeared our walk into the Annapurna Sanctuary was to be veiled in mist. We headed off, up the final 400 metre ascent, a gentle easy stroll through a valley akin to the highlands of Scotland and a welcome contrast to the previous terrains we had trekked through. With the weather and cool temperatures, this added to the ambience of the walk to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m).
Arriving was a special moment for us all, despite the weather, but we didn’t have to wait long before we could see the sanctuary, although in glimpses through the ever swirling clouds. We could eventually see the summits of Hiun Chuli (6441m), Annapurna South (7219m), Bharha Chuli or Fang (7647m), Annapurna 1 (8091m), and not forgetting the sacred Machhapuchhre (6997m) which was lit up at sunset.
Day Seven – Annapurna Base Camp to Sinuwa
A sleepless night. Will was constantly getting up to see to another virus victim, this time it was Lesley. I was beginning to get paranoid, as I had sat next to her through dinner and we teamed up for a game of scrabble. I was beginning to wonder if I was the carrier!
I didn’t get up for the sunrise. I was way too tired to stir from my sleeping bag for a bunch of pink mountains. In hindsight, my decision was the correct one as it wasn’t particularly inspiring, the sunset being much better the night before!
After breakfast, we had our group photo with Annapurna 1 in the background (see right), then started the long journey down. Our Nepali guide, Padam, started to get quite agitated by our slow descent. The day was beautiful, and a few of us took advantage of taking pictures to make up for the missed opportunity on the previous days ascent in the mist.
A decison was made to split the team. Will would stay with Lesley who was very poorly, at Bamboo. The rest of us would continue on to Sinuwa where we had booked in. Padam was conscious that at our current rate, we would be walking in the dark! Although, being a bunch of British hillwalkers, most of us carried torches, this wasn’t considered an ideal situation by our Nepali counterparts.
So the day was a bit of a march once we had reached Machhapuchhre Base Camp. We stormed through Deurali and, after Jackie hitting a bit of a brick wall, we stopped for quick lunch at Dobhan (2600m). My lungs were enjoying the lower altitudes and by the time we reached Bamboo it looked like we would make Sinuwa in the last of the days light. Whilst Jim, Diane, Sarah, Tanya and I made it without the use of head torches, Jackie and some of the others did get caught out, but there were no real dramas.
Day Eight: Sinuwa to Jhinudanda
A later start today, thanks to the fact we had to wait for Will, Lesley and Vicky to arrive from Bamboo. Also, a change of route, to make things easier.
We headed down to Chhomrong for tea, and diverted down some extremely steep steps to Jhinudanda (1780m). This was a real test of my head for heights, and as Will later said, it was “kill or cure!”
I contained my fears, but was relieved nonetheless, to reach the teahouse. Not long after, Jim arrived, in a lot of pain and distress. His knee was suffering, and the thought of another day walking must have been a big worry. But he can be a stubborn mule, and took it as a challenge! Fortunately, a fellow walker had a knee brace that he gave to Jim to ease the pain for tomorrow.
The afternoon was spent either relaxing, or as others did, descending to the hot springs by the river below. I chose the option of staying at the teahouse, as I didn’t relish the steep climb up, all for the sake of a bit of hot water!
Day Nine: Jhinudanda to Nayapul
The final day and a long walk out. It happened to be one of the highlights of the trip. Whereas normally, the route out should have meant a climb up to Ghandruk, various illnesses and injuries meant we took a different lower route along the steep banks of the Modi Khola (river). We passed through terraces of paddy fields and millet, seeing the Nepal I had imagined, with locals working their crops, and going about their daily routine.
For some reason, I failed to take any photos of the scenery! Perhaps it was because I was so engrossed in it, or because I was maintaining a good pace. I now began to realise why athletes trained at higher altitude, as I was in my element walking this route feeling stronger than when I had started eight days ago. I could have quite easily have carried on for another week!
We hooked up with the official trail once again, descending the steep steps to Syauli Bazar (1220m) where we had lunch.
From this final stop on, we began to notice the traces of urban civilisation appearing. Birethanti and our final destination, Nayapul, were a bigger shock this time around. The squalor and filth had been barely noticeable thanks to the view of the mountains on day one, but after 8 days in the hills, it was a rude awakening.
The bus was already there to meet us and whisk us back to Pokhora. We’d done it, but a part of me wished it could have gone on for longer!