The Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek turned out to be quite tough in monsoon season. We had to deal with a lot of rain and a lot of leeches for most of the way. We got an insane amount of exercise and also ate very healthy because most of the food is a combination of vegetables, rice and/or potatoes. They do offer meat, but it is very expensive and according to blogs we’ve read on the Internet is not well kept. There seems to be no health regulations when it comes to food in Nepal and even less so the deeper you go into the mountains. We packed a lot of snacks which we ate instead of stopping for lunches which saved us both time and money. The lodging was very cheap, but you get what you pay for, which is basically a roof over your head and a bed with a dirty foam mattress, blanket and pillow. The community showers are very cold and expensive so we brought baby wipes instead to clean ourselves along the way. We also saved a lot of money by not getting a guide and purchasing our own permits. The average cost of doing this hike through an agency is around $1,000 CAD per person (excluding certain cost like water refills), our DIY method only cost us $340 CAD all in for both of us combined! Now here’s the story.
Day 1: Preparation in Pokhara (elevation 1,050m)
Today we took an 8 hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, which is the starting point to many popular treks in the area. Trekking in Nepal is not like it is in Canada where you can enter the park and hike anywhere you want. Here you have to have multiple permits for the area you plan to be trekking in. These permits are actually quite expensive, it cost us about about Rs.8,500 for the two of us. This money goes to a good cause because one permit is for safety reasons in case you need to be rescued, while the other permit goes towards the conservation of the area.
Day 2 : Getting to Ghandruk (elevation 1,940m)
Today we traveled by bus through some more dangerously narrow mountain roads to the starting point of our trek. They took us to the point that is no longer passable by vehicles and we began our journey up. There was amazing scenery the whole way up, basically everywhere you turn was a great photo opportunity. We decided to limit the amount of photos we would take so not to slow us down too much and get behind in our itinerary. The mountains on the ride up were full of rice terraces all the way up and down the valleys. It was strange to watch the farmers using ancient farming tools such as wooden plows pulled by oxen. It was still hot and humid at this point so by the time we reached our first resting point my clothes were drenched in sweat. We arrived in Ghandruk right before the rain hit and decided to crash there for the night. Ghandruk is a small mountain village about 2,000m above sea level.
Day 3: The Chomrong Challenge (elevation 2,340m)
Today was a lot more difficult than I had imagined. Judging by the elevation difference of the two villages I assumed it would be a relatively flat route. As it turns out, we had to travel up and down valleys, crossing rivers and eventually heading back up another mountain to the village of Chomrong. It took us about 6 1/2 hours to reach our destination, but that wasn’t the only part that made this leg difficult, we also had to fight through heavy rain and continually checking for leeches. Jireh got one good bite on her leg, but other than that we managed to remove most of them before they took too much blood. Of course, right after we reached the first hotel, we saw the rain subsided and the sun came out. So we got some nice photos from our hotel vantage point.
Pro tip: It is a common misconception that you should remove leeches using a lighter. What could possibly happen if you do this is that the leech could regurgitate some of the blood back into you. The proper way to remove them is to flick them off using a stick.
Day 4: Hero Hiking to Himalaya Hotel (elevation 2,920m)
Today was the most exhausted I have been in a long while. We hiked a total of 9 hours today with 360° of awesome views for most of the day. The day actually started quite nice, it wasn’t raining but there was still cloud cover to keep the temperature down. It also wasn’t as steep as the previous day. We saw a lot less leeches and a lot more bamboo. Although very early on in the hike we took a wrong turn and traversed a leech infested pool. Jireh had a bit of a cry said she wanted to go home, but the feeling passed and we carried on. The temperature also started dropping as we started gaining elevation which made it a lot nicer. After about 7 hours of hiking, we came upon the small village of Dovan. At that point we were feeling pretty good, but a bit over ambitious as we decided to try to make the next village. About 20 minutes into our hike, we began to start getting tired and to add to our problems it started raining. We also had to cross three rivers over some really sketchy bridges made up of relatively thin tree branches.The slope of the hill also increased dramatically making the last 2 hours excruciatingly exhausting. We probably stopped about 10 times coming up the last hill, but we eventually made it to Himalaya Hotel.
Day 5: Annapurna Base Camp (elevation 4,130m)
Day 6: The Descent to Sinuwa (elevation 2,360m)
We got up at about 5 o’clock and to our dismay all we could see out the window was clouds. But we waited around and at about 6 o’clock we got lucky and had about a 20 minute cloud free window to get some pictures. After breakfast, we began our descent. We logged on another 8 1/2 hours hiking. Because most of it was downhill, we covered some pretty good ground. The clouds were less dense on the way down, so we were able to see some of the scenery that we missed on the way up. We had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but nothing too serious. Jireh was wearing down and barely made it today, dragging herself for the last hour to Sinuwa.
Day 7: Shortcut to Siwai (elevation 1,530m)
Sometimes in life, shortcuts are great. But this was definitely not one of those sometimes.
Today turned out to be a wild day, definitely the most dangerous day we’ve had thus far. The trouble began first thing in the morning when Jireh woke up and found she was having a hard time putting weight on the ankle she rolled yesterday. But with some basic first aide and a couple bamboo walking sticks, she was able to hobble through the day. I noticed on the map that it looked like there was a shorter way through the mountains, so I asked one of the guides that we met along the trail and he told us that the route was “not good” and that we should go back the way we came. But further down the trail, we met two other groups of people that were taking the shorter route. So I rationalized that it must be fine and we could get through the mountains a day quicker. Not too long into today, the rain started pouring, but we carried on. The first sketchy thing on this route was the very long, very high suspension bridge that was under construction. We had to shimmy along side the rubble right on the edge of a very high cliff and proceed to climb around the unfinished bridge entrance to get on to the bridge. Next came the washed out road way. In four areas of the road, the run off from the mountain had turned into waterfalls and was washing out the road. We had to cross 2-4 ft of fast moving water all the while feeling the ground beneath us washing away beneath our feet with the force of the water pushing us towards the cliff side. In between these waterfalls, there were mudslides and falling rocks. We had to wade through the mudslides that had completely covered the road. We also had to dodge many large falling rocks and at the same time watch so that the roadway doesn’t collapse beneath our feet because there were many areas in which there were large fault lines in the road indicating that the entire road was giving way. To add to all of this, we also had to work diligently at keeping the leeches at bay. After 8 1/2 hours of surviving injuries and elements, we finally reached the town of Siwai in which we could ride a jeep to the city of Pokhara. We thought we were safe and that we could now relax, but on the way a huge boulder came down in front of us and sat itself right in the middle of our tiny one lane road. Myself, the driver and another guy had to get out and roll the boulder to the edge of the road. It was undoubtedly the craziest and most intense day of our lives, but in the end we survived it and lived to tell the tale.
Overall, it was an amazing journey. Our last day was pretty crazy, but other than that it was great. We finished banged up, sun burnt, dead tired and feeling every muscle in our bodies, but we left feeling extremely accomplished. We conquered ABC in less than half of the recommended time without a guide or porters and made some incredible memories doing it. We hiked 40.5 hours, most of which were in 5 days! It had everything you could want in an adventure: fun, excitement, great scenery, a little danger, adversity and in the end triumph. It was difficult and character building to say the least. It tested our perseverance and endurance, both mentally and physically. Some people think that I’m the brave one, because I manage to get Jireh through all of our crazy adventures but that’s not really true. I’m always confident and having fun in whatever we’re doing and there is really nothing brave about that. Bravery is starring fear in the face and jumping anyway, it is being so scared your knees are shaking but finishing the day, it’s finding the strength and courage to push forward when you are so exhausted and in so much pain that you feel like you can’t go on anymore. Jireh did all these things here in Nepal and that’s why I say she is the brave one.
Fun Fact #1: This occasion also marks the longest time I have been disconnected from the Internet since its inception. Being as our only means of income are currently online, we generally spend quite a lot time on the web. It was very refreshing to disconnect for a while.
Fun Fact #2: The Annapurna Mountain is actually the most dangerous of the eight thousanders with a fatality rate of 32%!