Nepal had been a destination that I had wished to travel and trek in for years. I’ve had a fascination of Annapurna since I was at Plas-y-Brenin for Mountain Leader Training and Alan Hinkes was sat at our table whilst we ate dinner and mentioned his climbs to our group whilst eating his custard… (true story!)
He was giving a talk that night about his book and experience of climbing all 14 of the peaks over 8000m, the world’s highest mountains, and mentioned about Annapurna having a 50:50 survival rate (at least in 2002 it might have, currently the fatality-to-summit ratio is 32% making it the highest of any of the eight-thousanders). It is one of the deadliest mountains in the world because of the avalanches it experiences and the huge seracs (ice cliffs) which break off so many attempt it via it’s North face and not South.
So yes, a fascination was planted and I suddenly wanted to see this ‘deadliest mountain’, this “Goddess of the Harvest” (Annapurna is a Sanskrit name that literally means “(She who is) Replete with food”) and wasn’t satisfied with Google images. So fast forward to my impulsiveness and booking tickets for The Adventure Show in London to go and see what was on offer so we can see this mountain.
Terry and I browsed and spoke to companies who would offer this trek at the show and settled on Exodus. Not only are they highly recommended, the Guardian’s best tour operator but they seemed to know the country very well and we wanted to go with a company rather than attempt anything ourselves just yet.
(We had issues with a flight in Delhi and Exodus sent us a nice letter and ‘gesture of goodwill’ vouchers for the inconvenience we experienced – fab!)
So we decided on something more adventurous; both of us have had many many days in the UK mountains in our time and enjoy walking. We didn’t want to go up and down a mountain (least I didn’t) but to go on a trek where we’d be immersed in the culture. Our timing was such that it needed to be during a school holiday (although not during the summer school holiday when the monsoons are in Nepal) and at the time I was fortunate enough to work part-time at my school based job – I approached the headteacher with an offer of working during the GCSE period for having an extra couple of days off over the Christmas period and she agreed. It was fated!
So, two years prior we paid a deposit and the trek was confirmed. The rest… well, that can be read about in this blog, day by day…
Now I’ve had time to reflect I ask myself, would I do it again?
I look back at the photos and marvel at the views we had. How gargantuan the mountains we passed were, how cold it was, how long we trekked for and how much we thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, there were times of struggle (bad stomach, headaches) but that’s a given on any trek – you’ll have both good and bad days – you just got to keep walking…
If you’re considering trekking the Annapurna Circuit I would highly recommend it. We went during December to avoid the crowds (we didn’t see any other trekkers on many days) and view the blue azure skies – yes it is cold, but you can layer up. We had glorious sunshine, no rain and very very few clouds during our trek so took some great photos and had great clear views.
Nepal is one of the most tourist-friendly countries and Annapurna Circuit is one of the most well-developed and popular treks. You’ll pass through a village approximately ever 2-3km where locals will help you if you need it so there’s no worry there but I would highly recommend a guide (and porter) as they’ll be able to tell you about the country and the sights you’ll see (ensure though that they’ll be taking you as much off the road as possible). Also, by hiring a guide and porter you’ll be providing them with a much-needed wage and they can liaise with other Nepalese for you.
We had special permits to trek in this area: a TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card and a trekking permit (for Annapurna area – ACAP – Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). During the trek, there was checkpoints in several villages (at least one checkpoint almost every day) of which our guides had to get our permits stamped.
There were no worries about miscommunication (though I had a bottle = butter moment!) as many of the Nepalese speak good English. Shops are stocked well (check sell-by dates!) and have items you probably will need (Bounty, Mars and Snicker bars…). The food is good and nutritious and tea (and coffee) aplenty!
Toilets aren’t all squat toilets (although putting used toilet paper in the bin provided takes some getting used too) and cold showers are generally available at all lodges with many having solar showers.
Overall, you’ll be comforted to know that the Nepalese provide good basic accommodation, food and items all over this trek.
What’s the best advice I can give for this trek?
Take a buff/face cover as there was a lot of dust from the road which caused a lot of coughing. Jelly babies are a good pick me up. Photos/items from home are good to show others about your country and culture. Take clothes you’re willing to donate to the porters at the end of the trek and extra money to treat them to dinner.
Treat your porters well.
So that’s it. I’m left with this experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, found very memorable and have left me a with a longing to return to Nepal. I can’t articulate just how much of an impact it has had on me but I can tell you it has planted a seed for another adventure overseas.
What’s next? I’m looking at another long trek in Nepal and have made enquiries – I will try to fit it in, hopefully in 2019! For now, I have two big upcoming ‘adventures’ I will need to concentrate on this year… but that’s for another blog post…