Julie and I had been planning on hiking the Annapurna Circuit for a few years and this year we were finally able to enough the time off of work to make it happen. With just over 3 weeks off, we were originally planning on only hiking the circuit, but after a little bit of research we decided that we would try to add on a trip to Annapurana Base Camp (aka the Sanctuary).
The circuit map (click for larger view). Some of the smaller villages mentioned below are not listed on this map. For a more detailed map, click here.
We arrived in Kathmandu on the evening of Nov 12th, spent the following day getting the permits, exchanging our dollars for rupees and arranging our transportation to the trailhead. The morning after that we were on our way and arrived at the trailhead in Besi Sahar later that afternoon, giving us just enough time to hike to Bhulbhule before it got dark.
From there a typical day was to get up and be on the trail by about 7 or 8am, hike a few hours, stop about an hour for lunch, then hike until around 4pm. This schedule seemed to work out well for this type of trip as we were able to get a fair amount of hiking in while also spending some time in the villages each evening.
The first few days were uneventful for the most part. That changed quickly though and after those first few days it was pretty much nothing but blue skies and amazing views.
Our first glimpse of some of the mountains:
From Dhukur Pokhari, we took the upper route past Ghyaru and Ngawal. Ghyaru was an excellent place to stop for lunch, with great views of the mountains across the valley and some teahouses to get some food.
Not too long after lunch we arrived in Ngawal and decided to make it a short day and stay there for the night. Since it was at a slightly higher elevation than Manang, we figured staying there meant we'd need one less acclimatization day in Manang. The following day was another short day to get to Manang. Unfortunately, later that day I started feeling symptoms of AMS. We had planned on hiking up to Ice Lake the following day, but after a terrible night of sleep I woke up feeling even worse than the night before and I barely left our room that day. The next day, however, I felt completely fine and we did hike up to Ice Lake. The lake itself wasn't very impressive, but the views across the valley were tremendous.
The next stop was in Thorong Phedi. The village had two relatively big tea houses to choose from. We stayed at the one on the right as you enter the village (I don’t recall the name) and it was a fun place to be. The dining hall was comfortably packed with a lively crowd and reggae music playing. I almost felt like I was back home.
The following morning we got up early and hiked up and over Thorong La pass (17,769 feet or 5,416 meters).
After reaching the pass we hiked down to Muktinath, where we ended up staying in a relatively new tea house run by a fairly young group of people. We arrived around mid afternoon, did some laundry in a bucket and relaxed on the top floor patio until the sun went down.
After Muktinath, we hiked to Jomson via Kagbeni. Kagbeni would have been a nice place to spend more time in, but since we were behind schedule after spending the extra time in Manang we decided to continue on to Jomson after having lunch and walking around the village a bit. This section of the trail was extremely windy, as our guide book mentioned.
We would have preferred to stay somewhere other than Jomsom, which was the least interesting village on the circuit (It was more of an administrative center, with an airport and all), but we decided to stay there so we could take a bus to Tatopani the following morning to get back on schedule. The bus ride was....interesting. This Video that I found on You Tube doesn't really do it justice, but gives you a general idea. At one point we decided to get off the bus the next time it stopped no matter where it was. Fortunately, that ended up being at Tatopani.
Relieved to finally be off that bus, we started the long 5,500 foot climb up to Ghorepani. From this point on was my favorite section. We made it to Sikha after getting off the bus and to Ghorepani by lunch time the following day. We considered staying in Ghorepani so that we could head up to Poon Hill the following morning for sunrise, but decided we'd rather have more time for ABC, so we continued on to Tadapani. We were told by a few other trekkers that the views from there were even better than Poon Hill, which was nice to hear after skipping that side trip. The patio outside our room was a perfect location for breakfast with more amazing views.
From there, we descended quite a bit only to climb back up to Chomrong for lunch, then descend again before beginning the climb up to ABC.
Lunch in Chomrong (Machapuchare in the distance):
We ended up in Dovan that night and Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC) by lunch time the following day. The views from MBC while we ate lunch were outstanding.
We considered continuing on to ABC that day, but since it was early enough we decided to get a room at MBC and just hike up to ABC for the afternoon. It was absolutely stunning up there and definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
The following day we hiked back to Chomrong and then back to Pokhara via Naya Pul the day after that.
Here's a few more random pictures from the trip: