Apr 292012
 

Every place we visit, I snap photos that capture the everyday magic of the place.  The Annapurna Circuit trek was filled with magnificent views, but the everyday life of villagers are equally special.  Hope you enjoy!

Annapurna Yarn

Spooling Yarn from Lambswool

Mani Prayer Wall

Prayer Wall

Annapurna Cat in Window

Blue-Eyed Cat

Annapurna Dried Chili

Chilis Drying in the Sun

Annapurna Schoolchildren

On Their Way to School

 

Annapurna Hen and Chicks

Mama Hen

Annapurna Archery Game at Upper Pisang

Upper Pisang Villagers Playing at Archery

Annapurna Hawk

Circling Hawk

Annapurna Donkey

Porter Donkeys

Annapurna Buddhist Monk

Monk Gazing Out

Annapurna Chicken Backpack

Carrying Chickens Up the Mountain

Apr 282012
 

The biggest thing we were excited about coming down the pass was warmth!!  Even though Muktinath was still pretty high (same as Manang), it was much warmer because the climate is different on this side of the range.  Still not hot but it felt good to put on flip flops.

There is a jeep road starting from Muktinath which goes down almost the whole West side of the Annapurna Circuit trek.  We had read many reviews that said it’s not that nice to hike on the jeep road since every time a vehicle passes, it raises up a ton of dust.  So we opted to take jeep/car down the West side all the way to Tatopani.

Jeep Park in Muktinath

It took about 4 total hours, and you do have the transfer at certain cities.  We took a crowded jeep from Muktinath to Jomsom, then at Jomsom you can transfer to a bus to Ghasa, and transfer again to Tatopani.  We found a taxi willing to take us from Jomson all the way to Tatopani and shared it with Gal, a Phd student from Israel trekking independently.  Travel wasn’t cheap but it was nice to get down to Tatopani where we felt like we were dropped into a tropical paradise.  Cicadas buzzing, bright flowers, and banana and orange trees.  Since the road makes it pretty accessible, the food prices were much cheaper here too.  Prices go up the higher up you are in altitude and the further you are from the road.  The tourism board fixes all the prices, so pretty much every teahouse will have the same exact menu with the same prices.  Meat is very hard to come by on the trek (and expensive), so we ate vegetarian every day.  There were other trekkers trying out the yak dishes up on the mountain, but they cost a small fortune.

Tatopani is known for their natural hot springs.  They’ve built 2 pools by the river for the hot springs—the idea of hot springs is what kept us going in the cold!  The two pools are different temperatures: hot and really really hot.  We relaxed in the evening in the hot springs, Mike had his first beer on the trek; it was nice and relaxing.  Coincidentally, we ran into Sean, the social worker/surfer from SF, who we met on the first day of the trek.  He had done the trek amazingly fast, and even did the steep hike to Tilicho Lake.  It was so nice in Tatopani that we decided to take an extra rest day here to rest our sore legs.  We did a short day hike the next day and just bummed around the small village.

Crossing the River on a Bamboo Bridge

On our day hike, we came across a small village that was butchering a sheep or a goat.  When we stopped to watch, they explained that they were going to have a feast that night.  It’s not every day you get to eat meat!

Village Feast Preparation

Tatopani has patches of marijuana growing wild everywhere.  The Bob Marley restaurant next door to our teahouse even advertises Space Bread on their sign and a South African girl we met at the hot springs was telling us about getting her lassi (a yogurt smoothie) with weed.

Ganja Growing Wild

After Tatopani, it was back to hiking uphill to the next village, Ghorepani.  We broke the 7 hour uphill journey into two days to take it easy. Many people do it in one day.

Goats on the trail to Ghorepani

Ghorepani is back up high in altitude and known for the sunrise hike to Poon Hill, where you can see a panoramic view of the mountain range.  It was cloudy that morning, so we didn’t see much, but it was still beautiful colors.

Sunrise View from Poon Hill

Rhododendrons were in full bloom here and really neat to see the mountain side covered in red and pink blossoms.

Rhododendrons in Full Bloom

By this time, we were about done with trekking overall, so we decided to push from Ghorepani all the way down to Birethani in one day.  It’s all downhill and we hiked about 7 hours to Birethani—tough again on the knees.  From Birethani, we hailed a taxi and drove the rest of the 2 hours to Pokhara, a lakeside down where we could relax for the next few days.

One memorable moment I forgot to mention happened on our 3rd day of hiking.  We were resting along the trail on a mountain path, when all of a sudden, Mike’s backpack fell off a rock and starting tumbling towards the edge of the path.  It was like slow motion–backpack falling down the hill.  We ran to the edge of the hill thinking it would stop, but nope it kept going and every time you thought it would stop it just kept tumbling down and down and down.  Our hearts just dropped into our stomachs.  Ack!  Mike and Min went slipping and sliding down the hill to try to find out and Min luckily found it and it got snagged on a branch before the cliff the dropped off.  So insanely lucky.

Success, done with the trek!!  Such a mix of emotions: relief, exhaustion, and excited to eat something other than daal bhat. =)

 View Everyday Magic photos

 

 

 

 

 

 April 28, 2012  Posted by at 11:13 am Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 262012
 

Summit day!!!  So much anticipation had built up for this, that we were too excited to feel tired when the alarm went off at 3:30am.  Breakfast at 4am, then we headed out at 4:30am.  The reason you head out so early is starting around 9 or 10am, there are such high winds at the pass that it makes it difficult to hike. We banded together with a Dutch couple, Ingrid and Sjoerd, and Katherine (American from Menlo Park who was living in Jordan and on her way to MIT Sloan) and Sabina (from Germany) so we could have a sizeable group going up to look after each other.  Ingrid and Sjoerd were doing the trek independently, carrying their own packs—impressive! With our head lamps on, we headed out on the snowy path.  We have to ascend 1,000 m/3,280 ft to get to Thorung La pass which is the widest mountain pass in the world.  It’s never a great idea to ascend this many feet at this altitude but as long as you acclimate and sleep at a lower altitude, you should be okay (we will descend 2,000 m/6,561 ft down the other side).

Headlamps On, Ready to Go at 4:30am

15 minutes in, Sabina starts feeling ill and can’t keep going, so we were forced to split up.  Katherine and Sabina stayed with their guides and porters and Mike and I moved on with Min, Ingrid and Sjoerd.  The path was completely covered with snow and we were thankful we got the Gore-Tex Merrels even though it was quite slippery on the bottom.  Watching the sunrise over the mountains was pretty amazing and we were grateful for some warmth as well.  We were extremely lucky it wasn’t snowing and the sky was clear.  We heard from people that the day before was snowy and cloudy and the views weren’t that good.

 

Pink Sunrise Glow On Peak

The sun was rising just as we hit High Camp, so it was bright snow hiking from here on out.

Gradual Sun Reflecting Off Peaks

Halfway between High Camp and the pass, there is another tea house so you can rest but we felt pretty good so we kept going.

Snow Covered Trail By Teahouse

Bright Peaks

We finally get to the pass!  Made it 4.5 hours from Thorung Phedi.  The crazy high winds started about 5-10 minutes before we got to the pass so we definitely got a lashing.  The snow would just come rushing at you in small pellets and sting your face.  We were practically running inside the tea house at the top since the winds were so intense.  We had a cup of tea in the teahouse and then rushed outside to take our obligatory pass photo at 5417 m/17,749 ft before running down the back of the mountain.

We Made It! Windy and Snowy Thorung La

Once you cross the pass, it’s pretty steep downhill and still covered in snow, so we were slipping and sliding our way down.  There were definitely a few icy patches where I went down.

What’s amazing is the landscape is totally different on the other side and once you get down past the snow line, you’re in a desert land.  Since you’re descending 2,000 m in about 3 hours, it’s pretty tough on the knees.  3 hours took us to the base of the mountain and then we had another hour to walk to Muktinath village.  So in total, it was an 8.5 hour day of intense hiking.

Desert Descent Down the Mountain

 Read about Days 13-17

 April 26, 2012  Posted by at 2:06 pm Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
Apr 262012
 

We arrive in Manang and it feels so good knowing that we have a rest day!  Woohoo! It gets pretty tiring having to pack up every single morning—amazing how nice it feels to be able to relax a bit knowing you’re going to stay all of two nights in one place.   On the way to Manang, we had some amazing views of Annapurna 3 (7555 m) with the moon still out.

Moon Over Annpurna 3

Manang is where all the trekkers converge since almost everyone does the recommended rest day to acclimate.  We had seen very few trekkers along the way, but here we made many friends that we would keep seeing all the way through to the summit.

You meet a lot of interesting people on the trek.  Since the trek takes over 2 weeks, you usually get people who are like us, doing the trek in the midst of a longer trip.  Our favorite was probably Magnus, a Swedish guy with an Irish accent who just spent 2 months in India and was doing the trek in flip flops and socks (hey, it was cold).  He was also in Nepal for a psych-trance festival en route to an ashram for vipassana (he recommends 10 days of silent meditation).  There was Susanna from New Zealand, who had spent 2 weeks helping at an orphanage in Kathmandu; Dutch Thomas and his friend on the way to India who we taught how to play gin rummy; and a group of 6 Australians in their 60s who belong to a Sydney hiking club.

Our teahouse in Manang was the best, mostly because they had the best heater ever!!  This is crucial when your room is freezing and you need to kill a lot of the day playing cards.  I think Mike and I are officially sick of gin rummy.

On our rest day, we did a day trip up to a viewpoint and went to Gangapurna Lake nearby.  The color of lake was gorgeous and is fed from Gangapurna glacier.

Mountain Top Yoga

Beautiful Gangapurna Lake

In Manang, I finally start taking Diamox after going to the altitude sickness briefing—they recommend taking half a tablet if you’ve already starting feeling symptoms.  Apparently the capsules we bought in Chame was for glaucoma, so the doctor on staff recommended buying the tablet form so I could take half a tablet for preventative measures.  The Diamox did make me feel better so I was thankful for that!  While we were in Manang, unfortunately a helicopter came in because a Korean guy had died from pulmonary edema altitude sickness while trying to cross the path.  That really freaked us out and made us wonder how many die from altitude sickness while trying to cross Thorung La.  I still cannot find the statistic, but our guide Min says maybe a couple per season.  It’s highly preventable though and usually people get into trouble when they think they can push on, but really the only cure is to descend and go back down.

From Manang, we went up to Yak Kharka and Thorung Phedi, 3 hours a day but gaining about 500 m a day.  They don’t recommend gaining more than 600 m a day above 3,000 m.  So those were short hiking days but it also meant huddling in a cold common room playing cards for the rest of the day!

High Winds + Slippery Snow = Scary Suspension Bridge

Snowy Path to Yak Kharka

From Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi it snowed almost the whole time, so we were getting pretty worried on what the conditions would be like for summit day.

Yaks on the Way to Thorung Phedi

There were people staying at Ledar, then High Camp, but we opted not to since it meant you would be sleeping at 4,833 m/15,856 ft and likely would not have a good night’s sleep at that high of an altitude.  I guess at Thorung Phedi (4,450 m/14,599 ft) it’s still pretty high, but we felt it was safer.  High Camp is an hour above Thorung Phedi, so we would have to get up pretty early on summit day since it takes 5 hours to reach the pass from Thorung Phedi.

 Read about Summit Day

 April 26, 2012  Posted by at 1:48 pm Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 262012
 

From Chame, we decided to take the Upper Pisang route versus Lower Pisang.  Our guide Min told us the views were much better from the upper route but it was much longer than the Lower Pisang route.  He recommended taking an extra day and staying at Ngawal.  We need we had extra days at the back, so we took two days for Upper Pisang.  We’re glad we did because this was one of our favorite sections of the trek!

Above a certain altitude, the deciduous plants give away and you enter a pine forest.  The contrast is pretty amazing.  I felt like we could have been hiking in Colorado and the pine smells were so fragrant.

Hiking Through the Pine Forest

You also pass by bright green wheat fields on the way which was a beautiful contrast with the blue sky.

Beautiful Valleys

Right before you get to Ghyaru village, there is a killer 40 minute uphill climb that we had to do in the hot sun.  I think this is where I started feeling sick from the altitude since Ghyaru is at 3,670 m/12,040 ft.  Many people will start to feel the effects of altitude starting at 3,000 m.  At this altitude, you only breathe in about 70% of the oxygen you would normally receive at sea level, and when we would get to the pass, we will only be getting 50% of oxygen per breath.  You really feel it on the uphill, constantly being out of breath.

Good thing there was a fantastic view at the top for my reward!  We could see the peaks of Annapurna 2 (7937m) and 4 (7525m).

View of Annapurna 2 from Ghyaru

By the time we got to Ngawal for lunch, I was not feeling well at all!  Nothing to do except wait it out and see if you feel better in the morning.  I didn’t start taking the Diamox, because we had a rest day in Manang coming up to help acclimate and I wanted to see if I would feel better by then.

In Ngawal, it snowed all night, so we had a snow covered morning!

Overnight Winter Wonderland

It was beautiful (but cold!) watching the sun come up over the mountains and amazing to have such an incredibly close view of them.  Every morning we usually got up at 6am to get an early start and be at a village for lunch.

View from Ngawal - Stunning Morning

 Read on for Days 8-11

 

 

 April 26, 2012  Posted by at 1:30 pm Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 262012
 

To start on the Annapurna Circuit trek, you take a minibus to Besi Sahar and go in a counter-clockwise circle around the Annapurna Mountain Range.  We hopped into a minibus that was crammed 4 rows deep and 4 across for the 5 hour ride to Besi Sahar.  The seats were so cramped and we kept picking up more and more people along the way, we looked like a clown car!

Minibus to Besi Sahar

This is before 4 more people came in the minibus

After we got to Besi Sahar, we opted not to walk along the jeep road and took a bus to Khudi.  There was no room left in the bus, so Mike and I sat on top of the bus for the hour long ride.  The dirt road is very rocky and uneven, so I spent the hour gripping the side rail for fear of falling off!

Bus to Khudi

Hold On Tight!

We got to the Khudi teahouse just in time before the rain started – little did we know it would rain almost every afternoon like clockwork on our trek!  Most people on the Annapurna Circuit do teahouse trekking versus camping in tents as there are lots of teahouses to stay at and they are convenient and inexpensive.  The rooms are usually just $2-3/night, but they make their money on your meals, which all have to be eaten at the teahouse.  Most rooms come with 1 light bulb, but electricity is pretty spotty so we made good use of our headlamps.  Everything runs on hydro-electric power.

Our Little Double Room

If You're Confused, Bathroom Means Shower (and not always hot)

The next day we went off the main trek route and headed up to a village called Siurung.  6 hours of uphill!  We gained about 1000m that day.  It was really beautiful walking up the hills covered in terraced fields.

Usually Growing Corn, Millet, or Wheat

There is water running everywhere from taps—crazy that there is so much water up here but it’s still a problem in Kathmandu.  We brought iodine tablets with us to purify the running water up here, it’s much better than buying water as the plastic accumulation is a problem up here as well.

Iodine Treated Water - We Also Had Tablets to Neutralize to Iodine Taste

Siurung was my favorite stay of the trek because it was the closest we got to experience village life.  There is one family who keeps a cabin for trekking guests and they cook you meals in their kitchen.  We chanced upon their 13 year old daughter Dipa, who was on holiday from school in Kathmandu.  She took us on a tour of the village and explained to us that her father helped built the school in the village and her mother is a teacher as well.  Dipa’s been living in Kathmandu with her cousins since she was 3 and only gets to come back to the village twice a year.

Dipa (right) and her sister and cousins

Just One Wood Burning "Stove"

Dinner was the usual daal bhat set which is what all the porters and guides eat for every meal.  You get unlimited helpings of rice, daal (lentils), and usually a veg curry.  Mike committed to eating daal bhat at least once a day until we crossed the pass since our guide Min told us daal bhat is “power for 24 hours.”  Mike also had his first drink of rakshi here, which is the local homemade wine made out of millet. Kind of tastes like sake and it’s clear.

From L-R: Daal, Pickled Vegetables, Veg Curry, Rice

When we left the village, the family gave us tikka, which is a blessing for visitors.  It was kind of a vinegar with rice on your forehead (sometimes it’s red) and an herb to put behind your ear.

Mike After Tikka Blessing

 

From Siurung, we hiked to Chamje which was another 6 hour day.  All along the path, you pass Nepalis walking from village to village and everyone greets each other with “Namaste!”  The kids are especially fun.

Our days after the first 2 long days usually ranged from 3-5 hours of hiking a day depending on how much altitude we were gaining in a day.  It’s amazing how all these villages are so high up on the hills!  The hike was really pleasant and there are tons of white butterflies everywhere—kind of surreal and out of a movie (Tomb Raider specifically =)).

Bamboo Forest

It’s quite warm and tropical before you gain altitude, which of course means I got demolished by mosquitoes.  Not sure how many bites I accumulated over the course of the trek, but I’m sure it’s over 20.

Looking Back on Siurung

Everything built up on the high villages was taken up the mountain by porter or donkey and it’s at least 5 hours down the mountain to get to the road.

Supply Donkeys

From Chamje we went through Danakyu, then to Chame, which was the first bigger village we would come across.

In Chame, we decided to get some Diamox for altitude sickness from the health “stand” just in case.  We had heard other trekkers who were worried about the altitude and knowing how I got sick in Quito before (Quito’s at 2,800 m), we decided to stock up.  Diamox doesn’t cure altitude sickness, but it helps you acclimate faster.  I had thought about getting it before our trip, but it required a prescription—no prescription needed here!

I also managed to sprain my foot a bit by the time we got to Chame as well, so we hunted around for an ankle brace.  It was hurting to go uphill and I probably hurt it from the rocky paths.  Luckily, after a few days of wearing the brace, I was fine.

Up until Chame, it’s relatively warm, and once you get to Chame, you’re at 2,670 m/8,759 ft. It gets pretty cold at night!  But, alas, it would get colder still the higher up we went!

Read on to Days 6-7

 April 26, 2012  Posted by at 1:23 pm Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 262012
 

The Annapurna Circuit trek!  Let me start by saying that I don’t think either of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into.  3 weeks is a long time to be trekking, especially for newbies like us.   We initially were planning on trekking for 21 days, doing the Annapurna Circuit as well as the Base Camp trek.  Maybe 3-4 days in, it sunk in…how many more days of this?? Ha!  Our guide/porter, Min, also didn’t recommend the Base Camp trek as it’s not as scenic and not a circuit loop.  So we decided to cut our trek down to 17 days and just do the circuit with some rest days built in.

So, here’s the recap:  April 5 – April 21, 2012

  • Total days on trek: 17
  • Total days hiking: 15
  • Distance hiked: 83 mi
  • Distance we took a jeep/bus/taxi vs hike: 42 mi
  • Highest altitude gained: 5417m, or 17,769 feet at Thorung La Pass
  • Average lodging cost: $2-3/night
  • Average spend on the trek: $40/day
  • Times Chris got sick: 2

We didn’t anticipate how cold it was going to be and we also didn’t anticipate rain/snow every day.  It was a little bit nuts!  By the end, we were exhausted and couldn’t wait to unwind in Pokhara, a lakeside town north of Kathmandu.

The day of the actual Thorung La pass crossing was the highlight as well as the Upper Pisang trek.  I’ll go over the sections of the trek in more detail in the following posts!

Days 1-5

Days 6-7

Days 8-11

Day 12: Summit Day

Days 13-17

Everyday Magic photos

Annapurna Circuit Trek - View from Ghyaru

Annapurna 2 Mountain Peak - View from Ghyaru

 April 26, 2012  Posted by at 6:26 am Annapurna, Nepal Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »