When we arrived in Nepal we talked about spending three or four days trekking but a 10-day trek was not part of our vocabulary. Though in a country with 1,300 peaks above 20,000 feet there is no such thing as a couple day trek so we rolled up our sleeves and decided to dig into the Himalayas.
We went to the town of Pokhara at the foot of the Himalayas and it was as if the legendary Annapurna Mountains were whispering our name, “HoneyTrek, you know you want me.” Before you know it, we rounded up two new friends we had met back in Kathmandu, hired a guide, and were mapping our route to the Annapurna Base Camp.
Our amazing hiking mates, Seb of the Netherlands and San Francisco Emily, our fearless local guide Dilip, and Emily’s porter Shiva (she’s a professional photographer with a whole lotta gear…more on that later) all standing in Phedi village at the foot of our 150km trail to ABC. This would be our first hike longer than three days and greater than 65km…I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous.
The trail leading to the 13,546-foot high plateau of Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) is fairly well marked with the occasional hand-drawn map posted so the trail is actually doable without a guide. However, to have Dilip’s knowledge of the area’s terrain, geology, history, and local language was invaluable. Plus, Dilip and Shiva were such great guys they added a ton of fun and peace of mind to a monstrous hike.
Tucked between two massive glacial mountains, with Modi Khola River cutting in between, the trail boasts an incredible variety of ecosystems. The north-facing shadowy slopes have a drier colder climate similar to that of the nearby Tibetan Plateau and the south-facing slopes are covered in dense tropical jungles. On our first day it was all about the lush foothills with terraced rice paddies and tiny farmhouses perched over the gorges.
One truly unique and lovely part about the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is that there is no camping equipment required. Every few miles there is a guest house (or tea house as they call it), no matter the altitude or gradient of the terrain. Our first night we settled into this little cliff-hanger and celebrated our first ascent with an Everest beer.
We woke up to a crystal clear sky and were so stoked to get our first glimpse of the 23,684-foot Annapurna South Peak. Oddly, half the enjoyment of viewing these mountains comes from the fact that they are usually shrouded in clouds. So each time the veil peels back, it’s a whole new thrill.
As we hiked our way out of the rice fields and deeper into the mountains, the terrain got tougher and we became more desirable outdoor clothing models. Emily Polar came to Nepal to photograph gear for her clients Patagonia, MSR and ExOfficio, and she, for some odd reason, thought HoneyTrek would make cute models for the job. Aside from occasionally have to hike over the same bridge a few times for “the shot,” it was a great opportunity to try cool new threads and mix up a 10-day hike with a few fun glam sessions.
If there were two words to describe the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek it would be awe-inspiring mountains and ass-kicking stairs. We would climb thousands each day, scaling a peak then descending it on the other side only to start up again toward the next ridge. Though this may have been the most taxing aspect of the hike, beautiful rock steps and the occasional string of decked-out donkeys helped to keep the stairs interesting.
At the end of our second day the ultimate reward awaited us in the town of Jhinu…hot springs!!! Our weary bodies practically ran to the river to soak up these steamy, soothing, beautiful pools.
This was the point in the journey that Annapurna mountain culture started to really shine through. Days away by foot to the nearest city, the people of the Annapurnas have carved out their own way of life from the mountainside–using local materials for their homes, eating only what the earth can yield, and finding pleasure in the simpler things. The native Gurung people believe these mountains to be sacred with Annapurna as Goddess of Harvest…I think they may be on to something.
Everything that can’t grow in the high altitudes (mostly fuel and food for tourists) gets carried on a man’s back. We would see porters racing up and down these trails at record speeds carrying absurd poundage. Seeing their relentless hustle, sometimes with over 100kg on their back, always kept our complaining at bay.
Ascending out of the forests of bamboo and rhododendron, the quaint river streams we’d been crossing started to rage. We crossed this gusher on a series of leaf-lashed wooden planks (hand-rails not included).
In the thin, crisp air at 11,000 feet, we could feel we were getting close to the Annapurnas in our lungs and hearts. We’d never hiked harder and longer in our lives and it was about to pay off with our final ascent to Annapurna Base Camp. To see the Himalayas in all their glory and our celebratory shenanigans, don’t miss our next post.