Oct 29, 2010 at 10:20 am #1264934
Panorama looking east towards the Annapurna Massif. Left to right – The Nilgiris 7,134m (23,405ft). Annapurna I and the Fang – 8,091 m (26,545ft). Annapurna South and Hiunchuli – 7,219m (23,683ft)
Full Flickr slideshow is here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/35831538@N00/sets/72157625265733850/
The Annapurna Circuit has long been one of Nepal’s “Classic Treks.” In other words, it’s crowded with tourists, is not very authentic in terms of village life, has been sold out to western trekkers interests, and is logistically easy, including a new road that has caused many trekkers to simply stop walking after about half of the journey. Not exactly the recipe for a wilderness experience I usually seek out.
But what it lacks in authentic charm or wilderness qualities, the Annapurnas still rank as some of the prettiest mountains in the world. That won’t be changed any time soon. What’s more, the place is jam packed with history both from a cultural stand point, and also the story of men and high mountains. So while I knew there would be plenty of compromises to make, I also knew this was a vacation for me, and a proper trekking vacation it turned out to be. I just wanted to see some mountains, anything else was a bonus!
I set off trekking from the little town of Besi Sahar, on the eastern flanks of the Annapurnas, and intended to walk entire “Annapurna Circuit” and then spend a day or two cutting across from Ghorepani to Chomrong, and into the icy Annapurna Sanctuary for some more intimate mountain views.
From Besi Sahar, the trek climbs through the hot and humid middle hills at modest elevations, following the glacially fed Marsyangdi river, tracing the huge 50 km long Annapurna Massif, that contains the 10th largest mountain in the world, Annapurna I, as well as dozens of other smaller, but equally majestic peaks, including fleeting views of Manaslu and Himalchuli, to the east. (8156 meters, 8th highest peak in the world.)
As it rounds north and begins to head west towards Manang, the valley becomes more arid, more Tibetan, more Buddhist, and more majestic. Annapurna II and IV dominate the skyline for miles, eventually leading to huge views of Gangapurna, the unbelievable Gangapurna Icefall, and the daunting Great Barrier (of Maurice Herzog fame). The elevation climbs steadily above 3500 meters, and acclimatization becomes crucial, prior to crossing Thorung La, the high point of the trek at 5416 meters (17,700+ feet).
We crossed Thorung La in the midst of an impressive early snowfall that limited visibility, but painted the pass in an untouched beauty. Sharp winds and freezing temperatures got us off the pass quickly, across the Tibetan Plateau, and into the blue skies and arid valleys of Muktinath and Kagbeni.
From here, it’s a few days walk through apple orchards, winding through tibetan villages, across braided rivers, and through dust choked headwinds that wrecked havoc on my respiratory system. But more big mountains quickly come into view, and Dhaulagiri (8167 meters, 7th highest peak) becomes the dominant fixture on the horizon for the next 6 days or so.
Eventually, the roads and trails lead back into the heat of the middle hills, and the big climb up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill, where there are impressive views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. From here, I cut across to the Sanctuary, and eventually past the extremely beautiful peak of Machapuchare, and into the heart of the Annapurnas, known as ABC, Annapurna Base Camp. Huge views of a 4000 meter wall of ice and rock block the northern wall of the sanctuary, and are the site of one of the most famous climbs of an 8000 meter peak, led by Chris Bonington in 1970. It’s f___ing huge.
I deided to stay a couple days in the sanctuary, and hopefully catch some sunrises and sunsets. On the morning I was set to walk out, I awoke to another snowstorm, that left about a centimeter of snow on the ground, and obscured the peaks. I figured that was a worthy end to the first month in Nepal, and began the walk back to civilization.
Two days later, I made it back to the road, and after an hour or so of trying to catch some local transportation, we nearly gave up on the buses and were keen on hiring a more expensive taxi. But then, a guy motioned to the roof of a passing bus, and implied there was room. Without much in the way of discussion, we forked over the dollar for the fare, climbed on top, and enjoyed 2 hours of the finest bus ride I’ve ever had, back to the lovely town of Pokhara, where I was quick to find some pizza and a beer.
Amazing trip!Oct 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm #1659356
Oh my, those are some gorgeous views! Great work on those images – they are inspiring. Thanks for sharing :-)Oct 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm #1659364
On the way to Pokhara we saw two people that had fallen off their bus (separate accidents)
It was during Dashain so the roads were clogged with folk returning to their village for the celebrations.
A lot of buses had all of the roof loaded with people.
We were there when they started the new roads. Glad I did it before but still would do it again now.
(only did part of the circuit…)
FrancoOct 29, 2010 at 4:22 pm #1659376
Amazing photos !Oct 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm #1659406
scary to hear about people falling off the roof… but it can work both ways too. being inside is just as dangerous around here. at least if you are on top you have a chance to get away. inside, if the bus rolls or crashes, you are stuck.
there was a group of muktinath pilgrims who died while we were trekking, only survivors were on the roof, because they jumped off.
needless to say, nepal is not well known for the safety of their public transit.Oct 29, 2010 at 5:39 pm #1659407
hi willy – camera is a panasonic gf1, a micro 4/3 kit. small, but not too small. it's nice compromise.Oct 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm #1659842
Thanks for posting.Oct 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm #1659866
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
Speechless.Nov 5, 2010 at 4:55 am #1661359
@trevor83Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Amazing pictures! It sounds like a great trip. Thank you for sharing.Dec 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm #1673362
Fabulous pictures and description. We're thinking of Circuit+Sanctuary next fall. How many days did you take? Would you share your itinerary?Dec 15, 2010 at 6:25 am #1674420
i spent 26 days total out there, which is very slow by standard trekkers routines. however, i tended to travel fast and light, and get to a place and wait for good weather for photos. most people do the circuit and sanctuary in about 21 days, some even less.
the circuit was good. the sanctuary was fantastic.
i walked the whole thing from besi sahar to naya pul, many people are skipping the western side now because of the road. the itinerary on this side is pretty standard. if i could do it again, i would trek the restricted area of nar-phu as well. it looks amazing, and is not heavily traveled like the rest of the circuit. adds maybe an extra day or two.
my itinerary was something like 6 days to manang, then a few days there to explore. be sure to stop in upper pisang for the night as well. i'd take 4 nights in the manang area if i did it again, and go see ice lake and tilicho, as well as bragha, and get a bit of rest as well. then as follows –
1 night at gunsang, with the best view on the circuit, imo.
thorung phedi, wake early to cross the thorung la.
annapurna base camp
and then down the hill to the road at your own pace, depending on how well your knees handle the punishing 3000 stone steps… 2 or 3 nights is common. it's not hard at all to hike a long ways up there and cover multiple towns in a day. but, for me, it wasn't so much about putting in big miles as it was just taking a vacation, one that just happened to involve using my feet for transportation. a wilderness experience it is not!
it's possible to do the whole thing in maybe 18 days if you acclimatize well and move efficiently. it's also possible to do it in 35 or 40 days with side trips. i spent about 1500 rupees a day, up to 2000 rupees in the remote villages. could be done much cheaper if you want to carry more of your own food, or really look for budget food places in the villages.
info is kind of off the top of my head without looking at a map. hope it helps.Dec 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm #1675732
Hi Dan – Thank you so much. We are planning for two months in Nepal next Oct/Nov.
We have friends interested in Annapurna – we know its a tourist trip – but the mountains are amazing – and we go for mountains! So are planning Annapurna Circuit + Sanctuary with friends, then a few days in Pokhara, then Manaslu just the two of us (probably with guide and porters etc. because at 63 I don't carry a pack well at those altitudes!). We were looking at Nar Phu areas too – but right now we are pushing the time – 53 days as it stands – so not sure yet about extending the itineraries.
We've traveled in Nepal before – to Kanchenjunga North and South base camps (very rural, hardly any tourists,great people and mts.), and the Gokyo/Everest over Cho Lal circuit – more infrastructure, more tourists, more people – but absolutely amazing too. We are very excited about being able to return to Nepal…
Thank you so much for the details – we may be back in touch with a few specific questions as our planning proceeds – if you don't mind!
Jane and GlennDec 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm #1675740
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
Jane, Dan's information looks good. You will go a long way in Nepal if you figure out a few pieces of the spoken Nepali language. Look at his list of places. XXX-pani means water. Tato-YYY means hot. Tatopani means hot water, or a hot spring. Chiso-YYY means cold. La means a pass.
–B.G.–Dec 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm #1675807
I'll have about 14 to 16 days there this summer. Can you recommend a shorter trip or part of the circuit that would work?Dec 20, 2010 at 5:27 pm #1676140
Jane – you are welcome. Sounds like you've already seen some great parts of Nepal! I'd love to see Kanchenjunga. Maybe next time…
JP – there are many shorter options. very common to just do bhulbule to muktinath or jomson, and then take a bus. or do 10 days in the sanctuary. however, summer is a pretty rough time to be in nepal, as the monsoon is usually there until late september, starting in early june. oct-nov and feb-may are the best bet.Dec 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm #1676540
thanks for the advice regarding monsoon. i'm in south korea and knew it happened here…just wasn't sure how far west it stretched. but all my mid-summer vacation options are probably going to be pretty wet. would you say that monsoon season there is as bad as japan/soko?
how cold would nepal be in late january/early february? i can also get 3 weeks off during that time, too.
Johnny TDec 23, 2010 at 5:00 am #1677000
monsoon is pretty rough in the mountains. winter would be no problem, just cold. beautiful thoughDec 23, 2010 at 8:58 am #1677036
Wow, those are wonderful and dramatic pictures. They bring back a lot of memories for me – I did the Sanctuary trip in 1988. It was a wonderful experience! It's possible I may never have really gotten into backpacking had I not been invited to go on that trip – it definitely changed my life. It was my first prolonged 24/7 outdoor experience (other than camping in campgrounds as a little kid), and I met my significant other who was also a member of the trek!Nov 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm #1806382
Just found time to upload the first 4 parts of my Annapurna Circuit Trek in April 2011. This can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD98FF7095E21A496Nov 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm #1806519
@yeoldehipsterLocale: New England
Damn, dude. That first picture has got to be extremely doctored… right? Just fantastic.Dec 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm #1813951
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