Day 1: March 25, 2018
We left our hotel at 6am to catch a taxi to the New Bus Station (how original). We miraculously found counter 34 (nothing is in English, even their numbers are written different) even through all the men asking, “Where you go? You have ticket? Hello?!?! Follow me!” It was a bit overwhelming. After supplying our pre-purchased ticket, a guy showed us to our bus. This is what we were shown and told we were purchasing at the travel agency:
Air conditioning, bags under the bus, WiFi, manufactured within the last 5 years
This is what we actually got:
Wifi?! Pretty sure this bus rolled out of the factory circa 1950. Air conditioning?! You mean, opening the windows. Notice their E-brake? It’s a rock. Deluxe?! Quite the opposite.
Well played travel agency, well played….
By 7am, we were rolling, or should I say crawling, through Kathmandu. We had mentally prepared for a seven hour journey to go a whopping 179km. The first three hours of the trip were identical to driving into the mountains from Denver on a Saturday morning – standstill traffic for no apparent reason. The further we got, the more the roads resembled Independence Pass to Aspen – hairpin turns, extreme drop offs without guardrails, one and a half lane roads….
During the fifth hour of our journey, we popped the front driver tire. We drove on it until we came to four shacks on the side of the road, one of which repaired tires. One hour later, the tire was patched up, secured back into its place, and our journey continued. We made it to Besisahar around 3:30pm. Here the bus stopped so all trekkers could check-in and register their Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) cards. TIMS is a way to monitor trekkers’ locations on the trail so if a natural disaster were to strike, rescuers have an idea of where x amount of people are. However, their sophisticated system is just paper and pen so if a natural disaster were to come through, I’m pretty sure the notebook full of information would be gone as well.
We originally planned to only take the bus to Besisahar, but since traffic was finally moving, we decided to stay on until the final destination of Bhulbhule. Besisahar technically starts the Annapurna Circuit, but the trail is literally the road that buses, jeeps, and motorbikes drive on which can be both dusty and dangerous. Asian drivers are organized and strategic compared to the crazy drivers in Nepal. One lane road with oncoming traffic??? Sure, that is the PERFECT time to pass the vehicle in front of me.
The closer to Bhulbhule we got, the sketchier the road became. Remember those waterfall roads I frequently found myself on in the Philippines? It was like that, but with more road erosion and much higher drop offs. There were some areas that made my stomach drop, but overall I felt confident we’d make it to Bhulbhule in one piece. Flynn, on the other hand, was getting more and more nervous as we kept going along. And justifiably so. In 2015, she and her husband, Paul, were driving to a remote mountain biking area when they rolled their Ford Escape off a similar road. They were unhurt (their car was another story), but Flynn has had some PTSD on unserviced forest roads ever since, especially because she was the one driving.
Back to the current situation, I noticed her growing very quiet (quite unlike her), eyes bulging, and grabbing on to parts of the seats. “This is giving me flashbacks. I don’t know how much longer I can do this”, she said to me. During the three minutes it took me to look up how much further we had left, Flynn started to have a panic attack. I know all too well what that feels like so we rushed off the bus, climbed on top of the bus to retrieve our backpacks, and stood on the side of the road while she calmed down. It was only 3.8km (2.36 miles) to the town of Khudi so we put on our hiking boots, grabbed our hiking poles, threw on our headlamps, and began our trek on the Annapurna Circuit at 5pm (should be off the trail by 3pm at the latest) with thunder and lightning in the distance. We booked it into town in a mere 30 minutes, registered our Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP), and found a room at the first teahouse in town (you’re supposed to shop around and negotiate a free room in exchange for eating all your meals there). 300 rupees for one night? GREAT! A room with two beds? PERFECT! Bedframes made out of 2x4s and a crepe-thin mattress? EXCELLENT!
Starting out on the Annapurna Circuit
Flynn kept apologizing for how our trek started out but I gently reminded her of our conversation back in Phnom Penh; we had spent an hour talking about our expectations, our limits, acknowledging we were going to have good and bad days, and the agreement that if one of us was at our limit for the day, the other person would be supportive to stop and not peer pressure the other to keep going. Little did we know we would have to put that to the test Day 1.
Somewhere after Besisahar –> Khudi 3.8km (2.36 miles) 30 minutes
Day 2: March 26, 2018
Find the white-cloud-looking things on the horizon. I promise those are the Himalayas and they look much better in person!
We began trekking at 7:30am. We saw our first glimpse of the Himalayas in Bhulbhule. I can’t believe we’re actually doing this! We met two porters here and ended up leap-frogging with them for most of the day. They were our lifesavers at some crucial intersections in the beginning because we were just chatting along and not paying attention to signage. To be fair, the signage is a bit like Where’s Waldo… most of the red arrows and red and white stripes are either faded or in places we wouldn’t think to look. Twice we were ahead of them and then we heard, “Excuse me! This way!!!!” from behind us. Once we figured out where to look for the signage (10 minutes down a path instead of at an intersection, 2 feet off the ground instead of on the path or at eye-level), it was smooth sailing. It took us five and a half hours to reach our destination of Ghermu for the night, including about ten stops. We have plenty of time so we took way too many pictures and drank more water than we normally would have if we were hiking in Colorado.
Row after row after row of rice terraces. I stopped counting after I reached 100.
We stayed at Rainbow Lodge as it was at the far end of town and overlooked a massive waterfall. We saw three groups of trekkers from our bus ride and all were so concerned about us from yesterday. “We’re so glad to see you guys!” “Did you make it in before the rain?!” “We were talking about how dangerous it was getting off the bus where you did.” Another reinforcement that there are still good people in this world.
View of the waterfall from Rainbow Lodge
Khudi –> Ghermu 16 km (10 miles) 5 1/2 hours 500 meters (1,640 feet) ascent
Day 3: March 27, 2018
Breakfast arrived a bit late so we didn’t get on the trail until 7:55am. Ten minutes into our trek, we crossed a suspension bridge over the Marsyangdi River and were met with a herd of rice and propane-carrying donkeys with less than 20 feet left. “What should we do? They’re too wide to go around,” I said to Flynn. The bridge was barely wide enough for two locals. She forged ahead only to be pushed around like a rag doll by the first donkey. There’s no way I’m going to do that another nine times. “Turn around!!!! I’m heading back!” I shouted among the chaos. After backtracking to the original side of the bridge in the order of lead donkey, me, Flynn, four donkeys, herder #1, five donkeys, and herder #2, we attempted to cross again and were successful. Safe to say that suspension bridge can handle some weight!
The suspension bridge after our run-in with the herd of donkeys
After the village of Syange, we noticed the porters staying on the road even though the trail was marked to the left and away from the road. After some discussion, we chose to to follow the New Annapurna Trekking Trail (NATT). This proved to be a poor choice as the trail was steep, rocky, and crossed a stream while having to climb over some big rocks with a 50 foot drop to the right, only to eventually meet back up with the road. Lesson learned: ALWAYS follow the porters. They’re carrying up to 30kg (66 pounds) so they know the most efficient way.
Flynn and I have never used trekking poles before but we brought them as they were highly recommended. The first two days, we felt (and probably) looked like giraffes learning to walk for the first time – super uncoordinated and gangly. I have since figured out how to use them uphill and downhill, but Flynn still looks goofy going downhill.
One of the numerous waterfalls
We were able to see some impressive waterfalls through the remainder of our hike. The trail became steep and after Chamje. We stopped frequently for breaks to rest my legs and get more water. It was a hot day so I crushed just shy of 5 liters of water during our hike. As the trail finally started to descend, we were met with views of Tal in a valley and off in the distance, another Himalayan peak. We knew ahead of time today was going to be steep so when we finally saw our destination for the night after six hours of trekking, we were elated!
In Tal, I was able to pick up some Vaseline for my chub-rub (area where your thighs rub together). Our teahouse had a warm shower and WiFi, although it was only strong enough for Facebook Messenger (no internet, Skype, Line, or Viber). After letting my brother, Adam, know where we had made it for the night, I did some laundry in a bucket and ate a delicious pumpkin, potato, bean, and vegetable curry with homemade cornbread.
Absolutely delicious dinner!
The Annapurna Circuit is also known as the Apple Pie trail because at the end of everyday, there is hot apple pie waiting for you if you please. After today’s steep climbs, we felt we deserved it so we ordered some at dinner. It came out looking like a calzone but flaky and inside was apples and chocolate in place of cinnamon! Soooo good! I may have to bring this style of apple pie back to the States.
Ghermu –> Tal 12.87 km (8 miles) 6 hours 640 meters (2,099 feet) ascent
Day 4: March 28, 2018
We knew today was going to be a LONG day so we decided to forgo breakfast right away and were on the trail by 6:46am. We took an hour and a half breakfast break in Dharapani after going through the ACAP check point. It was a little longer break than we anticipated, but we needed some additional time to mentally prepare for a hard, steep section coming up.
In a matter of an hour, we gained 500m (2,099 feet) of elevation. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated as it was just incline and not stairs. Stairs are my nemesis. I can walk inclines all day (thanks to my previous months’ of training), but my legs (specifically my thighs) wear out so much quicker on stairs. Nine and a half hours after we first started on the trail (including our long breakfast stop), we made it to our destination of Chame, just before rain really started to come down. We gained 1,100m (3,608 feet) of elevation today and we can feel it in the cold temperatures. I hiked in my pants and thermal base layer for the whole day.
So. Many. Stairs.
After dinner, Flynn went back to our room and I stayed in the dining hall playing various versions of Solitaire with the deck of cards I brought. I attracted the attention of a local and after some conversation, I asked if he wanted to play a card game. I figured Crazy 8s was an easy game to teach. Fast forward to an hour and a half later, myself, the local, and the lodge owner were in a heated game of Crazy 8s… it was so much fun! I even learned how to say the suits in Nepalese.
Today’s Lesson: Flynn needs more time awake in the mornings before we start hiking and I can’t have long breaks.
Tal –> Chame 20.92km (13 miles) 9 1/2 hours 1,100m (3,608 feet) ascent
Day 5: March 29, 2018
View leaving Chame
Today was a mentally challenging day. We knew it was going to be a short four and a half hour day and had thought the terrain was going to be easy. While it was easier than yesterday, I wouldn’t describe it as easy. We hiked in silence for the last hour and a half. We did have some awesome views of Annapurna II and two other Himalayan peaks which helped.
We made it to our destination of Upper Pisang and have an incredible view of Annapurna II staring at us (although both of us failed to take any pictures of it for some reason). The windows in both the gas-powered shower and in the toilet rooms are perfectly placed in view of the massive peak. Our shoulders are starting to hurt from carrying our packs. I’ve rubbed off two blisters on my feet so far with two more coming in. This is the longest either of us have backpacked so all things considered, we’re actually doing pretty well!
Tonight will definitely be a chilly one as we were both in our down jackets by 5pm and the temperature is only dropping. Tonight’s teahouse is made of wood with some gaps which doesn’t help with the cold temps. Luckily there is a wood-burning fireplace in the dining hall so I plan to stay in here until I’m ready to go to bed. Gotta take advantage of all the heat I can get.
All I could think about when looking at the face of this mountain is how awesome it would be to get some fresh tracks on my snowboard.
Chame –> Upper Pisang 13.8km (8.57 miles) 4 1/2 hours 600m (1,968.5 feet) ascent
Day 6: March 30, 2018
We woke up to four inches of snow this morning. We decided to leave a little bit later today to allow for other trekkers to pack down the snow and for it to clear/warm up. All our research and previous hikers had told us to take the harder route up from Upper Pisang because the views made it worth it. We mentally prepared ourselves to be miserable for the first part of the day. After rounding a bend, we saw the mammoth beast we were about to take on. It was switchback after switchback after switchback for as far as our eyes could see. This better be worth it… After stripping down to just our base layers, we took a deep breath and began the seemingly never-ending climb. One hour later we reached the top, only to see the exact same view as we had this morning in Upper Pisang. It was so discouraging! What were all these other people thinking?! Am I missing something here?
How many switchbacks can you find? It’s so much more daunting in person!
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We hiked in silence for most of the day as we were both mentally drained. Physically our bodies are feeling pretty well (our shoulders are getting stronger, our feet more adjusted to the daily hiking), but mentally we are rundown. Neither of us were prepared for how mentally challenging this trek was going to be. Packing our bags every morning just to unpack every night is draining. Finding a place to sleep every night is exhausting. It’s getting significantly colder with each passing day. We are struggling to live in the moment and appreciate the vast Himalayas constantly surrounding us. Hiking up an incline only to descend and hike back up another incline is frustrating – I’m used to Colorado’s hikes where you keep hiking up inclines until you reach the summit.
We made it all the way to Manang which was 12 miles from Upper Pisang and took eight hours. We had already planned for an extra day in Manang to acclimate and this couldn’t have come at a better time. We plan to do absolutely nothing tomorrow. We will rest our bodies and rest our brains as we have come to accept the fact that the next three days are all going to be very hard mentally. It’s only going to get colder and steeper until we cross the pass. I feel that after Thorung La Pass, we’ll be back to our high energy selves and take everything in. For now, this is the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done.
Upper Pisang –> Manang 19.62km (12.19 miles) 8 hours 400m (1,312 feet) ascent
Our nightly meal of dal bhat. Each one was slightly different, although it always had rice, lentils, and potatoes.
This is where we did our laundry and was one option for getting drinking water.
What I expected teahouses to look like…
What a teahouse actually looks like.
Prayer wheels mark the entrance to larger villages. You are supposed to walk on the left side and spin the prayer wheels clockwise.
How the exit of a village was marked.
Where’s Waldo? One of the better trail markings.
P.S. If you’re just tuning in, I have added in pictures to my previous blogs. You’ll need to go all the way back to the post titled Flynn and Tina Have Arrived for the unseen pictures!
Flynn and Tina have Arrived!
So. Much. Fun.
Last Minute Preparations for the Annapurna Circuit