Annapurna Circuit - Reaching For The Sky
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
- T.E. Lawrence
Hiking in the Himalayas has been a dream in our hearts for many years now, and at last we made a firm decision to take the plunge and hike the Annapurna Circuit. Even though infrastructure development has eaten into the route in some places, the natural splendour, diverse landscapes and the challenge of trekking through Thorung La (“the largest pass in the world”) at an altitude of 5,416m still provides the hiker with much more than the average hike back home.
In this post, we’d like to answer some questions we’ve had to answer while planning our trip, in the hope of providing information for future hikers. We do not claim to know everything and are also new to this adventure. For professional advice, please contact your preferred medical practitioner, travel agent and trekking operator.
The total distance of the route varies according to each group. You could hike between 160km and 230km. It all depends on where you start and finish, and where you’ll use vehicles for transport. We’ve decided to start our hike at Chamje and end at Muktinath. In this way, we’ll miss most of the roads accessible to vehicles.
Depending on your route, side trips and acclimatization days, a trek should probably take about 10 – 20 days. We estimate that we’ll trek for 10 days. Read the blog post on our route and trekking time soon.
When to go
Initially we wanted to trek in December, as we looked forward to the relative peace of less trekkers on the route. However, since our friends could not travel with us in December, we decided to change the dates to accommodate everyone. While December may offer less hikers on the route, it is also mid-winter, and temperatures are more extreme. In October, more teahouses are open for business, but the amount of travelers is much higher, which means that you might have to be flexible on where you’ll eat and sleep. The main advantage is that it’s not yet that cold, and as the rainy season has come to an end, there would be better opportunities to have clear views of the Himalayas.
Spring is also a popular time to trek, but summer is the least advisable time to travel, as the rainy season may hinder your views of the mountains.
On average, the cost per day should be $20-$25 per person per day for accommodation and food. We’ve allowed for unforeseen expenses, so we’re taking $35 per person per day. Adding to this our travel costs from and back to Kathmandu, permits, a porter and insurance, and we arrived at around $720 per person for a group of 5 travelers for a 10 day hike, including 2 nights in Pokhara afterwards. We expect to return with around $120 each if we have no emergency expenses. For more information on our budget, read the blog post on our budget which will published within two weeks.
The ACAP (Trekking Permit) costs $30 and TIMS registration is another $10. Our trekking operator handles the applications on our behalf.
Guides and Porters
After much discussion and research, we’ve decided to go without a guide, as the route is clearly marked, and there are many fellow hikers on the route. However, we’ve decided to employ a porter. They carry a maximum of 25kg. He also speaks English, which is a huge benefit, so he’ll be able to help us navigate the local languages. Cost for the porter is included in our budget blog post here.
Insurance is not compulsory to obtain a permit, however if you do not have insurance and an emergency situation should occur, one of two options are available: pay cash for helicopter rescue, or hire porters to carry you down the mountain. Those who have insurance for high altitude hiking will have access to helicopter rescue free of charge. Contact your local travel insurance provider for a quote.
Annapurna offers teahouse trekking, which means that hikers stay in teahouses along the way, as opposed to camping. Expect basic amenities and don’t expect a hot shower everywhere. You should be able to sleep on a bed and we’ve been told that blankets are offered. However, in peak times you may have to fight for a bed or blanket, so arrive early and bring a good sleeping bag. Teahouses offer affordable prices on accommodation if you eat there. If you decide to eat elsewhere, expect to pay more.
Food will vary more at the beginning of the route, and will slowly decrease in variety as you ascend the mountain. Expect Dhal Bat (rice and lentils) everywhere, as well as pasta, chop suey, pancakes etc. Of course each of these come at different prices, and the higher you go, the more expensive everything will be. Tea, cold drinks, coffee and water is also available. Filtered water is available for sale at safe drinking water stations on a few places along the route. You could take water filters or purifier tablets to limit the amount of money you spend on water.
The most common medical issue in the Himalayas is AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), often referred to as Altitude Sickness. As we climb higher on a route such as this, our body will have to acclimatize to decreased levels of oxygen in the air. Of we ascend too high too fast, our bodies will not be able to make the necessary adjustments in time and will respond with any number of these symptoms: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, light-headedness and/or difficulty sleeping. Anyone can get AMS. Your fitness level or previous experience at high altitudes does not influence your likelihood of experiencing AMS. The same person might not have AMS on one trip, but it might strike on the next trip. According to what we’ve read and advice we’ve received, the best precaution for preventing AMS is proper acclimatisation, in other words: ascending slowly. Read our blog post on planning our route here to see how we’ve included acclimatisation into our itinerary. Please consult your doctor. He/she might prescribe Diamox to prevent or treat AMS. We’ve received wildly varied advice on this matter. Some have told us that you should start taking Diamox as a precautionary measure once you reach a specific altitude. Others advised not taking Diamox unless AMS symptoms are severe. Our advice is: consult your physician.
We’ve read many articles and books on the Himalayas, mountaineering and expeditions. Two of our favourites (one fictional based on a true story, and the other an autobiography) are Paths Of Glory by Jeffrey Archer, and The Kid Who Climbed Everest by Bear Grylls. Even though we won’t attempt the top of the world, both of these books were inspirational to say the least.
Well, that’s a wrap! During the next two months we’ll publish 9 more blog posts about our preparations for the Annapurna Circuit, as well as our experience on the route. Watch this space for the extraordinary adventure of a lifetime from the perspective of two ordinary people.