The notion of trekking along a roaring glacial river, through terraced rice fields and up to one of the world’s most imposing snow-capped cirques, stopping at quaint mountain tea houses whenever you feel tired or hungry had long been be on my list of must do experiences. In late 2011 I decided that 2012 would be the year and put the trip on our schedule for October/November. In this post, four months after we completed the trip, I look back at what I would differently if I knew then what I know now. It’s just one person’s perspective but I hope it helps those who might be planning such an adventure.
When to go
Although the predictable blue skies in the fall attract the most visitors, for me, I wasn’t about to chance gray skies for more tranquility. Looking back it was way more crowded than we like, but we had 11 days of blue sky. Mornings start out clear with clouds accumulating around the peaks in the afternoon and then dissipating again as the sun goes down.
Tea house accommodations are more like indoor camping than a quaint mountain chalet. Rooms are as basic as basic can be – a cell just big enough to fit a bed. The bed is a wooden platform with a firm mattress covered with a sheet. Pillows with pillow cases are also provided. Considering the lack of washing machines and dryers, I sincerely doubt that linens are washed between every guest. Sleeping bags, therefore, are a necessity.
Nearly all guest houses except ABC had a light source in the room but not all rooms had an outlet. Most guest houses did, however, have an outlet that you could use for recharging batteries. In our 10 days, only Excellent View in Chomrong had internet access. In addition, they also had laundry services.
Toilets are generally clean but also basic, meaning there is a separate toilet room, an outdoor sink, and a shower room. Some places, especially higher up, the toilets are squat only. Lower down hot showers are available, although sometimes for a minimal fee.
Menu choices are also basic with fewer choices the higher up you go. Most items are starch based, lots of rice, noodles and flat breads, with vegetables and meat in short supply. One trekker we chatted with had actually packed in cans of tuna. You can buy them at one of the small supply stores in Chomrong.
The first question is, “do you want a guide?” Certainly many trekkers do the trail without a guide. A guide makes it much easier to find accommodations, especially in high season. They’ve developed relationships with the tea house owners and can make reservations along the trail. While in general I’m not a fan of guides and like the challenge of working things out myself, in this instance I thought our guide, Laxmi, was a great asset to the trip. Not only did she make the trip easier, her charming personality made it more fun, especially when I wasn’t feeling so well.
The second question is “how do you find a reliable guide?” When I started my research I found plenty of sources that said you should research prospective companies or guides thoroughly but found very few resources that gave recommendations on specific companies. I chose 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking because I liked the idea of company that promotes the training and hiring of female guides. We were very pleased with the company and I would use them again. See 3 Sisters for a full review of the company.
We started training in the spring 2012. At 48 and 54 we needed to be as strong as possible to get the most out of the 10 day trek. My husband and I have exercised regularly for years and have done some backpacking in the past but nothing for quite this length of time. We included in our weekly routine hikes in the nearby mountain, finding the steepest trails possible. We started with trails with around 500 meters change in elevation and worked up to 1500 meters.
The trail to Annapurna Base Camp was a lot more climbing and descending on stone paths than I was expecting from looking at the elevation plot in Lonely Planet. Every day you climb up and down about 1500 meters. It can be very hard on joints, especially knees. With our training we had no problems on the trail. I would also recommend trekking poles to help ease the burden on the knees.
Health Issues and Altitude
Getting physically fit for the trek was easy compared to staying healthy on the trail. Gastric difficulties hit the second day and both my husband and I, as well as our guide, came down with a bad cough in the middle of the trip. Take plenty of Ciprofloxacin for stomach issues and cold/cough medication.
We were taking for Acetazolamide to help ease the effects of altitude, but really very little of the trail was above 10,000 feet. On the second day around Ghorepani the trail peaks at around 3200 meters and then doesn’t get that high again until day 6 at Deurali. (ABC) Annapurna Base Camp is at 4130, something over 12,000 ft. We had very little difficulty with the altitude, but did see one person at ABC with serious altitude sickness.
Final Remarks and Trail Route Recommendations
The biggest thing I would change if I were to do the trip again is to shorten the trip. Although the scenery was even more spectacular than I had imagined, the tea house experience and crowded trails wore on me. In my opinion if you are heading all the way to ABC, Ghorepani doesn’t add much to the experience and I would instead take the trail in from Phedi. The trail from Phedi all the way up to ABC includes all the best views. On the way back you could shorten the trip by heading to Nayapul via Ghandruk. We did not do this section so I can’t vouch for it. I also heard that they are building a road to Ghandruk so it may be possible to start or end in Ghandruk.
And to conclude, by all means if you are going to do this trip and can manage the climb I would go all the way to ABC. It is absolutely worth it.
For stats on this hike including a Google Earth GPS map check out Rob Jones Blog.
Day 1 Nayapul to Tikhedgungga
Day 2 Tikhedgunga to Ghorepani
Day 3 Ghorepani to Chuile
Day 4 Chuile to Chomrong
Day 5 Chomrong to Bamboo
Day 6 Bamboo to Deurali
Day 7 Deurali to ABC
Day 8 ABC to Bamboo
Day 9 Bamboo to Jhinudanda
Day 10 Jhinundanda to Pothana
Day 11 Pothana to Phedi