Annapurna Circuit - DAY 10
Photo credit: Anthony Switzer
Two separate tales are presented here: The tale of the hikers and the tale of the retreaters. Both are useful for would-be hikers, but for different reasons.
As for the retreaters, today would be our last day on the Annapurna Circuit. Not the way we’d planned, of course. According to our plans, we would be crossing Thorung La today, but bronchitis had put that dream on hold for now. No, we were taking a vehicle from Manang to Besisahar today. It had taken us five days to travel from Besisahar to Manang on foot, and today we’d do the return journey all in one go.
Yesterday That-Man had booked two seats for us on a vehicle that would leave around 07:00 today. We arrived early and were given the best seats: the two front seats next to the driver. However rough the day was going to turn out, i'd keep telling myself this one thing: “At least we have the good seats.” As soon as everyone was seated and all the cargo (passengers’ luggage as well as numerous other items) was safely stowed, we were off.
Although there were many easy stretches and relatively safe roads, many other parts of the route involved shallow river crossings and treacherous downhill tracks hardly fit for walking, let alone driving. The almost 100 kilometres took around 10 hours to complete, about twice as slow as the norm in Nepal. Given, we had to stop at a few places to load more cargo, check in at the permit posts and have lunch, but honestly, there was no faster option available to us than this. Well, we could of course have chartered a private plane from Humde, but for obvious (budgetary) reasons this was not a viable option.
Well, at last we arrived in Besisahar, found a hotel for the night, checked in, and booked places on a microbus headed for Pokhara the next morning.
Then, at 18:06, the first message lit up my phone screen.
“Hello! We crossed the pass today! Safe and sound in Muktinath!”
Then two photos of the pass.
“WHAT?!?!?!?” replied That-Man. Our friends were supposed to cross Thorung La tomorrow, not today.
The reply came (translated from Afrikaans): “Hello, WE CROSSED THE PASS TODAY! Started at 05:30 in the pitch dark chill, up the mountain with our headlamps. Just now, at 17:30, 12 hours later, stumbled into our hotel. We haven’t washed in 3 days, we’ve been hiking for 10 days, and we are extremely tired . . . I got terrible altitude sickness about 400m from the top. It was my absolute lowest point, but M and E helped me so much. He carried my bag a long way down after we’d crossed the pass. We walked our last trekking steps tonight to our hotel, from the dust track which descends from 1600 metres higher in the mountains.”
Surprise was a completely inadequate word to describe our state of bewilderment. When we had parted ways two days ago, they hikers were planning to hike to Thorung Pedi, sleep one night, then hike to High Camp, sleep there another night, and only then take on Thorung La. But Ekraj convinced them that they didn’t need the extra night to acclimatise, and so they made the trek straight from Thorung Pedi over the pass to Muktinath today.
Later, we heard bits and pieces about their summit day:
A told us that he had suffered tremendously with the cold and that he had felt extremely tired. The climb to the pass seemed endless due to the well-known proliferation of false summits. And then he was almost overcome with altitude sickness. However, as he was already so close to the highest point, it only made sense to see it through and descend as soon as possible. One foot plodded after the other and after too many hours he reached the top.
M also had many challenges. She suffers from asthma, and even though that makes her better able to cope with low-oxygen environments, the 5,416m altitude will take its toll on everyone. She told us that she focused on one step at a time, and eventually she reached the pass.
Ekraj, the guide/porter, had his own struggles. It seems that he also developed some altitude sickness symptoms, and A and M wondered if he’d make it. However, as soon as they started descending, his strength was revived. He went ahead, made a reservation for the team in Muktinath, and then returned to help A carry his pack the last part of the track. What a hero!
The track down from Thorung La to Muktinath[U1] is not the breeze a hiker would hope for after a summit such as Thorung La. Its[U2] steep and loose pebbles increases the difficulty immensely. If the team though that the toughest part werasbehind them when they’d crossed, they had a surprise on their way down. It took them many hours to descend down the roughly 10km of winding trail from Thorung La to Muktinath.
When we saw them again in Pokhara the next day, an awe-struck Ekraj told me: “That lady is very strong.” He was referring to M, and coming from a Khumbu Valley resident, that’s an impressive commendation.
As all of us were by now finished with our treks through the Annapurna Circuit, i'll tie up the loose ends. The next day saw all of us travelling to Pokhara by vehicle. As we were already in Besisahar, we arrived at our hotel before lunch. However, our friends had started in one vehicle from Muktinath that morning, then changed to another vehicle in Jomsom, and finally reached Pokhara that evening around 19:00.
To those of us who finished the trek and those who’d had to turn around, it was a marvelous adventure. Walking along quiet backroads and barely-there dirt tracks, way up in mountains higher than anything we could experience back home, drinking in the sights of the roof of the world around almost every corner, THAT’s what i have come to consider something worth spending my time and money on. It reminds me of a winter afternoon sitting on top of a Karoo koppie and listening to nothing but the wind, and it’s an adventure i'd recommend to anyone.
There is a small tea shop at the pass, but not much else. Even if you had been buying snacks along the route, this is the day to carry some form of nourishment with you.
When you book transport to Pokhara, give the name and address of your hotel to the driver and don’t be intimidated by them when they stop somewhere else and demand more money. This happened to our friends and ourselves, and while we knew how to handle the situation because of past experience, our friends got out of the vehicle and had to phone us and pay for a taxi to get to the hotel. This is, unfortunately, a wide-spread problem in Nepal and India.
The fare for 3 people (2 foreigners and a Nepali) was a total of $197 from Muktinath to Pokhara.
To travel by vehicle from Manang to Besisahar cost $50 per person.
DAY 10 PLANNED: High Camp to Muktinath via Thorung La
DAY 10 IN REALITY: Thorung Pedi to Muktinath via Thorung La (and Manang to Besisahar)
DAY 10 DISTANCE: 16km
DAY 10 WALKING TIME: 12 hours
DAY 10 ALTITUDE GAIN: 966m, then a descent of 1,616m
DAYS BEHIND: 0 (at last, the lost day was retrieved)
DAY 10 BUDGET PP: $25
DAY 10 COST PP:$35 ($75, including $50 for the vehicle from Manang to Besisahar)
ACCUMULATED SAVINGS PP: $15 (-$50)
Other stories you may like:
Annapurna Circuit - The Budget