We met a number of backpackers who had done the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek and discouraged us from doing it. Apparently it is overrun by backpackers and lost a bit of its charm. Instead everybody was talking about how worthwhile the Annapurna Circuit is. So it was an easy decision. We completed 133km in eleven days and mastered Thorung La Pass at an altitude of 5,426m/17,802ft which is slightly higher than Everest Base Camp (5380m). The view from Thorung La Pass over Gangapurna, the Annapurnas, Chulu West, Thourungste, the Kali Gandaki and the upper Mustang region were absolutely stunning. We started our Annapurna Circuit hike from Besisahar with a fun bus ride up to Bhulbhule (840m). The dirt road was narrow and the bus swayed dangerously close over steep drops. We started our hike with a side track to Siurung (1854m) to experience a home-stay. The hike was very challenging and steep and we only managed to arrive after nightfall. Having to hike up the last hour in complete darkness. However, we got rewarded with a great home-stay experience.
Sitting on the kitchen floor next to the fire to see how our host prepared a delicious Dal Bhat. Dal Bhat is a traditional Nepalese dish consisting of lentils- Dal, rice- Bhat and some veggie side dishes varying by region. We ended up eating Dal Bhat for the entire hike as it gives great energy for hiking and is most affordable as you always get a top up if needed (in Mathias case three). On day two we made our way to Jagat and our friend became very ill and unfortunately wasn’t able to continue the hike she decided to go to Pokhara to recover over there and we continued.
We continued our hike through lush green landscape and hot temperatures.
However, the higher we got the more alpine the landscape turned until we started seeing the snow peaks coming closer and closer.
On day five we hiked up to Upper Pisang and from there continued to Ghyaru view point which was a very steep climb up to 3700m altitude which was tough but good for acclimatization and absolutely beautiful.
In the first few days we were able to hike up to 20km per day. Afterwards, the higher we got the colder and thinner the air became and the hiking became more and more challenging. Once you reach a sleeping altitude of 3,000m, it is advised not to increase sleeping altitude by more than 500m within a 24-hour period. It is also advised to take a rest day at 3,400m for acclimatization. Day six was supposed to be our rest day in Braka and we decided to hike to an ice lake at 4,635m which turned out to be a very tough hike and didn’t feel like a rest at all.
Getting closer to Thorung Pass moving uphill only became possible in slow motion. The headache got more intense but the excitement of crossing the path was overwhelming. In the tea-houses everybody talked about the next morning and everybody expressed the fear of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
On day nine we were supposed to hike up to Thorung Pass. We set our alarm for 4.30 am and it turned out that Mathias was suffering from a strong headache and we decided to postpone the crossing for the next day. Instead we made our way up to high camp to be closer to the pass for the next day crossing. It was only one kilometer up to high camp but it was steep and felt like the longest kilometer with many switch backs. At such high altitude every step uphill becomes a struggle. We reached high camp just before noon and only 8 bed dormitories were left as high camp books out quickly but can accommodate up to 200 people.
On day ten we woke up at 4am to hundreds of headlights. The excitement was incredible. The day had finally come to master the pass. We had a hot soup for breakfast before we disappeared into the freezing dark. At night it got as cold as -20C. So as soon as we step out our water bottles froze. After an hour of slow motion hike in the dark and cold our water froze solid.
However, expecting the worst we were surprised to hear people cheering in the distance only 2.5 hours later. We made it. We reached the pass at 5416m.
The walk up was tough due to the cold and altitude but not as bad as expected as we luckily didn’t experience high winds or snow fall. We spent about 30 min at the pass to take pictures, enjoy the view and celebrate with other hikers. We then started a steep descent. It was steep enough to feel your legs and knees but not scary or too challenging as described from many sources. We took it easy on the way back with several breaks and visited the temple in Muktinath. Around 1pm we reached our tea-house . We celebrated our success with Yak steak and local beer.
On day eleven we had a sleep in and continued our descent late morning from Muktinath to Kagbeni and Tiri. From Kagbeni we got a ride to Jomson where we got a bus the next morning to Nayapul to start our next hike up to Annapurna Base Camp.
Day 1: Bhulbhule (840m) to Siurung (1854m) 10km.
Day 2: Siurung (1854m) to Jagat (1300m) 15km.
Day 3: Jagat (1300m) to Danagyu (2300m) 19km.
Day 4: Danagyu (2300m) to Dhikur Pokhari (3060m) 21km.
Day 5: Dhikur Pokhari (3060m) to Braka (3438m) 21km.
Day 6: Braka (3438m) to the Ice Lake (4635m) and back, 12km.
Day 7: Braka (3438m) to Yak Kharka (4050m) 11km.
Day 8: Yak Kharka (4050m) to Thorung Phedi (4500m) 7km.
Day 9: Thorung Phedi (4500m) to High Camp (4800m) 1km.
Day 10: High Camp (4800m) over Thorung Pass (5416m/17769) to Muktinath (3710m) 13km.
Day 11: Muktinath (3710m) to Kagbeni and Tiri (2804) 9.6km and continued by jeep to Jomson.