26 days trekking the Annapurna Circuit and Khopra Danda trek
26.10.2017 - 20.11.2017
It's difficult to know where to begin describing our 26 day trek in the Himalayas. Neither of us have ever walked two full days in a row or carried 25% of our bodyweight on our backs for days on end let alone nearly a month navigating our way around the Annapurna Circuit. I felt nervous that I had bitten off more than I can chew and at times when I was gasping for air telling my body to move just one more step it certainly felt that way but for the majority of the time this basic existence of walking, eating and sleeping was one of the most incredible experiences and yet simple things we have done in our lives.
For starters, the people of Nepal are incredibly friendly and will go out of their way to help you. This took some getting used to and on our first day, when a Tibetan man with no English went half an hour out of his way walking a steep descent DOWN a mountain just to show us a shortcut, we automatically wondered what he wanted from us. Surely he wasn't doing this out of the kindness of his own heart? Won't he want some money? This negative attitude has arisen from other Asian Countries where payment is inevitable but here it simply seems to be part of the culture to help. It is fair to say that the kindness of people and the sheer beauty of the magnificent mountains are some of the reasons Nepal has quickly become one of our favourite countries we have ever visited. No wonder people return time and again and I think we will too become one of the statistics of returning tourists that flock here each year.
In regards to the Annapurna circuit many people tried to encourage us to trek a different trail believing the road construction and huge amount of visitors have ruined the area. However we're extremely happy we stuck to our plans. The circular route consists of the most incredible scenery we have ever seen. The diversity is staggering, from rice paddies to ginormous gorges and waterfalls with lots of impressive side treks to really get your heart pumping. You feel like a tiny speck of dust in the enormous mountains which surround you and you can't help but respect the nature and the weather which could turn at any moment. We felt terrified by the many landslide areas, especially to Tilicho peak which consists of the highest lake in the world and we held our breath through each stretch praying that no rocks would fall and push us off the ledge to the rushing water down below. It is fair to say that some sections seriously challenged us but it was worth every moment as most of the time we stood in awe of our surroundings.
We took our time so the altitude wouldn't be a problem having seen other people stride ahead of us at a much faster speed only to have to descend again when feeling the effects. It turned out to be an advantage that I was so slow, probably due to my small legs and sheer lack of fitness whilst carrying such a heavy pack (consisting of the heaviest sleeping bag and down jacket imaginable - I looked like the Michelin man huddled around the fire most nights). As altitude sickness tends to affect young men the most who believe they can walk faster than the 500m max a day over 3500m I was doing Rob a favour!
It is fair to say that I felt incredibly nervous for Thorong La Pass (the highest pass in the world) especially lacking sound sleep due to altitude and believing I was sleeping on a landslide area which didn't help. Although the day was long (starting in the freezing cold at 5am was a struggle on a vertical slope and my asthma certainly complained with the early mornings) we slowly ambled our way to the top and felt very proud of our achievement to reach 5413m high! It took us 16 days to make our way up there, and we'd certainly felt every step, but it is without doubt one of the best things we've ever done and something we will recommend to everyone we know. Rob was even overwhelmed by how emotional the experience was and shed a little tear at the top whilst enjoying a well deserved cup of tea and yet another huge cinnamon swirl!
At times, the repetitive motion of walking for hours on end took its toll but it was surprisingly not the 10 hour day of the steep pass which nearly defeated me but the days after when we took an alternative route down with a group of friends which nearly did me in! By now we had teamed up with Mart and Krystal, a Dutch/Aussie couple and Lanka and Charminka, our Sri Lankan buddies who were often mistaken for our Sherpa and Porter which often amused us as Nepalis animatedly greeted them on the track whilst they stood in utter confusion trying to work out what they said. It was because of these guys that we decided to change our plans and walk the Khopra Danda trek, an alternative walking route three quarters of the way around the circuit. By this time my body was starting to feel the affects of the 20 days badly, screaming out that it was time to stop but we were on the way down, surely it was time to feel the glory of all that climbing uphill before?
So it came as a shock when on the first day we started to climb heavily uphill in the baking heat. I had not mentally prepared for this and as the first day came to an end, after 1000m steeply climbing uphill, I wondered how I was going to fare the next day during 1650m of continuous walking on a ridge. Well the next day was nuts and much harder than what we had previously entailed on the circuit. It was a serious game of positive thinking and mind over matter and Rob, Chaminka and I huffed and puffed our way up often talking about anything and everything to take our mind off the sheer exhaustion that set in. It was this day that I truely realised how unfit I was compared to Krystal in particular who was a machine striding ahead. Never have I been so happy to reach a teahouse and collapse on a rather cold bed, 3800m up to consume my third snickers of the day. We had walked around 2600m straight up in two days and I could feel the sheer exhaustion and tears building. I knew I had a minimum of two days getting back down off the ridge and this was really playing on my mind. No matter the sheer beauty of the walk and the comraderie of our friends I knew I had reached my limit.
The next day I awoke hurting all over but we began our trek along the ridge. It was without doubt stunning. A panaromic view of mountain peaks surrounded us but the track was hard on the ankles. It was thin, over grown and very rough. Much more off the beaten track which was pretty amazing to experience and provided a real insight into the unspoilt landscape yet to be found by most people in this area but my ankles really struggle to stabilise on this type of ground, let alone with such a heavy pack. The steep downhill was even worse and I often had to rely on my friends to get me down the mountain as I grumbled and groaned and eventually lost my patience resulting in the tears that I had felt bubbling away from the exhaustion of it all. Eventually after another long day we were down and Rob and I made the decision that one more day of walking would be enough before we ended our trip. Our friends however still felt perky (I literally don't know how) and continued on their way to Annapurna base camp to begin climbing AGAIN up mountains.
Never have I ever felt quite so relieved to see a rickety old bus to carry our weary bodies off the mountain. Normally I am very weary of the crazy driving that occurs, especially so close to a cliff edge on some of the most dangerous roads in the world but this time I took a great big sigh of relief and sat on the bus smiling about finishing one of our most incredible achievements to date.
It was time to rest our bodies and eat our own bodyweight in western food in Pokhara!