November 15th, Day 1 (or 10), Tatopani to Gorepani.
After my whirlwind tour of the Annapurna Circuit I planned to use my fitness and acclimatization to easily cruise up to Basecamp in a few days. After a relaxing afternoon in Tatopani restocking, hot springing (worth the price), and planning I was all set to tackle the steep but short trek to Basecamp. Another casual 8am start down the road before the steep uphill started. The climbing was steady and relentless up through Ghara and Shirka (2:05). Views back down the lovely lush valley were quite expansive. The trail then mellowed for a bit through Phalate (3:10) and Chitre (3:50) before the final steep push to Gorepani.
I put my head down and hammered out this last section reaching town just before 1p. Gorepani was much larger than I’d expected with several small trekkers shops, bakeries and dozens of guesthouses. I took a free room with a view at the Greenview Lodge and spent the afternoon relaxing. For those searching for the best views in town head higher on the hill, you probably won’t get a free room, but those places had phenomenal decks from which to watch sunset/sunrise. 17km, 1700m+, 4:40.
Day 2 (or 11), Muldai Tower dayhike.
I stayed in Gorepani for two nights so I could go for a trail run without the big pack. The goal was the Muldai Tower at just over 3600m, hopefully with some sweeping views. Waited until the warm sunny hour of 930a to hit the trail armed with my inov8 running vest and a hand bottle, jogging past tons of people enroute to Deurali Pass. At the pass I refilled water and the fun began. I located the signed trail to Muldai behind the tea house and set off on the narrow single track all by my lonesome.
The trail was easy to follow, though narrow and steep at times, as it undulating along the ridge before sweeping around a massive rock promentory. After many switchbacks I was finally deposited back on the ridge as the views were just starting to get good. The climb kept rolling up up up, until the tower was finally in sight. At last I climbed the rickety steps to up the 10ft tall tower (2:10) and was able to relax and marvel at the views from 3637m.
Ahead were stunning views of Manaslu, Machhapuchhre, Annapurna and Nilgiri. Behind the entire sweep of the Dhaulgiri massive was visible, and far below the Pokhara valley was shrouded in haze. After several photos, some video and lots of gawking I trotted my way down the steep trail through Muldai and into Dobato (making a loop). I hung a left in Dobato at the guesthouse finally reaching the pass to Swarta… holy downhill. Before me lay 1400m of relentless downhill to the river far below. The trail was steep but offered good footing as I pounded down into Swarta (3:40). I briefly lost the trail before refinding it and reaching the crossing of the Ghar Khola at 2000m (4:40).
Note that Gorepani (and my bed) lay at 2800m, so with 1200m of climbing already on my legs I set out on the final soul crushing ascent. With only a small vest on this should not have been so bad, accept I’d consumed 100g of cashews and one pack of crackers all day…oops. So head down and exhausted away I trudged. Some good old fashion type II fun, as I finally returned to Gorepani around 3p (5:32), thoroughly exhausted but satisfied. Ate some pastry, enjoyed daal bhat dinner with Ryan and Beth (from Philly), and crashed early after the long day. 30km, 2000m+, 5:32.
Day 3 (or 12), Gorepani to Chomrong.
Slept in a bit after my longer than expected day and felt sluggish as I started up the trail toward Deurali pass. The descent from the pass followed a stream through a lovely green valley to the village of Banthanti (1:30) then dropped precipitously before the short 200m climb back up to Tadapani (2:40). I elected to take the high route from Tadapani to Chomrong, skipping Gandruk, but of course the first thing I did was descend 800m to the Kimrong Khola, before starting the slow climb back to Chomrong.
My legs were heavy and the hot sun definitely took a toll on me as I slogged past numerous small guesthouses, so I was very relieved when I finally arrived at the hill top restaurant (4:00). From here the views really started to open up and the terrain eased a bit before I finally descended into town. Chomrong is the village of 1000 steps (or more), so I settled in at the international guesthouse high on the hill in a pretty spectacular room with a view. My easy day had proved not so easy after all, so is trekking in the Himalaya. 16km, 900m+/1600m-, 4:53.
Day 4 (or 13), Chomrong to Deurali.
Down down down 200m of steps only to climb right back up to Sinuwa (0:45). Then the trail climbed much more slowly before turning straight downhill on steep stairs into Bamboo (2:15). I was very glad that the trail after Bamboo eased a bit and steadily climbed up through pleasant forest where I finally reached Himalaya (3:45). It was early so I continued to plod on up to Deurali where I took a dorm bed at the Deurali GH, as all the other places were full (first time). I did some laundry and enjoyed the sunshine the rest of the afternoon. Everything in this portion of the valley is ala cart, hot shower, wifi, battery charge all cost extra. 14km, 1500m+, 4:45.
Day 5 (or 14), Deurali to Annapurna Basecamp (ABC) + Lookout hike.
Was in no rush being I only had a few hours to reach Basecamp so got stated at the crack of 8:25a. The morning was still chilly but quite a few groups were already ahead of me, but I soon passed them and was hiking alone. The valley opened up and I was bathed in warm sunshine as I reached MBC (1:00). The final climb to ABC was quite mellow as I was now surrounded by the vast amphitheater of rock and ice. I cruised into ABC at 10:35a (2:10) and had the place to myself. I was able to enjoy a snack and relax before the masses arrived.
Just before noon I set out on the trail behind ABC bound for a high view point overlooking the valley. I made quick time up the several hundred meters and was soon perched high above ABC, but this wasn’t enough so I kept climbing the spur ridge toward Patal Hiunchuli. Stopping only once I’d reached the edge of the moraine and the vertical walls guarding the upper mountain at 4800m. It was a good lesson on feeling tiny, as I descended the lumpy grass tufts back to ABC. Sunset from the lodges was quite wonderful, consisting of pink and red hues on Machhapuchhre, followed by an equally spectacular night sky (though very cold). Another early night before sunrise the following morning.
November 20th, Day 6 (or 15), ABC to Jinhu.
Everyone was up early to watch sunrise on Annapurna, which was cold but quiet pleasant. I actually enjoyed sunset much more than sunrise, but both were lovely. After a quick breakfast I strolled back out for one last view of the valley only to run into Steven who had run up that morning from Himalaya. So we set off down valley together, picked up his bag in Himalaya (1:40), and cruised off on the long road to Jinhu. The steep climb out of Bamboo went by quickly, but the miles were starting to wear on Steve so we took a snack break in Sinuwa (4:10) before tackling the Chomrong stairs.
We ground our way up the stairs into Chomrong, checked in with the ACAP then continued up to the small German bakery for pastries. Clouds had settled in over the valley obscuring the views. Filled with pie and danish we finished off the climb through Chomrong and hit the cutoff down to Jinhu. The 400m drop into Jinhu went by quickly and we snagged a room at the Evergreen to colapse after our long day (6:42). Though we were both fairly tired we dragged ourselves out of the room and down another 200m to the Jinhu hot springs. The series of the pools along the river bank were bustling with people, but the warm water (body temp) and serene atmosphere was just the relaxation we needed. We soaked for an hour, chatting with others and relishing in what an amazing day it had been. After trudging back up to the hotel we vegged out the rest of the night and crashed early. 22km, 400m+/2800m-, 6:42.
November 21st, Day 7 (or 16), Jinhu to Pokhara.
Started the day with a skype call to the family, while slow, it still amazes me this is possible in these remote regions. Then Steve and I set off for our last day on the trail, a nice mellow downhill to Nayapul and eventually Pokhara. The trail mostly consisted of gently rolling terrain along the river, a nice change from all the steep stairs. We cruised through Kyumi (1:50) and just kept on walking. Soon after the trail ended and we were dumped out onto the road, so we began to prepare ourselves for the long dusty road to Nayapul when all of a sudden there was a bus in Siwar picking up tourist to Pokhara! Sure, why not. So for 400 rupees we hopped on the bus and ended or trek. The first part of the bus ride back to Nayapul was along a very bumpy dirt road and I was tossed around pretty good in the back. Finally at Nayapul we were back on ‘pavement’ and the drive sped up and smoothed out. After only 2:15 we were deposited at the Baglung bus station of the north end of Pokhara. Since we’d had such a short day of trekking we opted to walk the 3km to the hotel and to see a different side of the city. So ended my trekking days in Nepal. 9km, 100m+/400m-, 2:15.
When it comes to bang for your buck the Annapurna Sanctuary is worthwhile. Beautiful forest, expansive views, waterfalls, glacial rivers and of course the amphitheater at the end all make for a spectacular journey. What you won’t find is authentic Nepali culture or much solitude. Most of the trek is set up purely around tourism, you will still meet many wonderful people from all over the world, but this trek is immensely popular (for good reason). Also this was the first time as an independent trekker finding a room wasn’t easy (from Himalaya up) and I didn’t get free rooms most nights. So if you’re looking for a one week trek with lots of wow factor this is it, but if you want a more authentic experience of Nepali mountain life and culture maybe check out the Langtang region instead (see previous blog). Overall each of my three treks offered something a bit different and made for a wonderful experience in Nepal.